Community Board 11 voted 30-4 to write a letter of objection to the Just Home proposal Thursday night in a more orderly meeting than last month’s raucous hearing.
The vote was preceded by a unanimous vote from the board’s Leadership Committee last week to write the letter, in a signal against a proposal to house formerly incarcerated individuals on the Jacobi Medical Center campus that has caused an emotional stir among residents of Indian Village, a northern Morris Park residential neighborhood. Both the committee and full CB11 votes are purely advisory.
The Just Home proposal would offer affordable leases and supportive services to individuals released from Rikers Island with complex medical issues in a currently vacant building on Jacobi’s grounds, operated by the nonprofit Fortune Society. Prospective tenants would be released from sentences of a year or less, released after being held in Rikers Island pre-trial and taking a plea, or those who are still fighting their case but permitted by a judge to move from Rikers to the Just Home facility. The building would also provide low-income housing for the general public.
CB11 board members Christine Culpepper, Malcom Gray, Christian Amato and Miguel Dyer voted against the letter of opposition while Avril Francis abstained, saying she needs to research the project more. Cynthia Rodriguez abstained because she is a NYC Health and Hospitals employee.
Gray requested that the board delay the vote, saying he doesn’t think members have all the necessary information to make a decision. But a motion had already been made to vote on the letter of opposition.
Board secretary Hazel Miura, who chairs the Housing Committee and sits on the Health and Social Services Committee, accused project representatives of providing inconsistent answers to her questions and said she doesn’t think the board will ever get all the information it needs.
“Yeah, they are dumping on the Bronx,” Miura said, echoing a popular sentiment among nay-sayers. “Because we do have shelters, we have group homes, everything that you can think of, they bring it to the Bronx.”
Prior to the board vote, residents testified largely against the project. But before Diana Finch spoke, a community district resident who was shouted over at the board’s Sept. 29 public hearing for supporting the project, CB 11 Chair Yahay Obeid made it clear that the behavior that was allowed at the last hearing would not be tolerated.
“We’re in America,” he said. “Everyone has the right to their opinion. We are civilized. Last week I was asked to make this meeting virtual by numerous community board members. I said no, it will be held in person and it will be a civilized meeting. … If you disagree with someone, don’t clap. But don’t disrespect them.”
His plea was largely respected, with opponents of the project standing up and turning their backs silently when Finch spoke. When Roxanne Delgado spoke, another resident who has faced blowback for supporting the project, some did the same, while others resentfully left the room.
The quiet form of protest was a sharp contrast to the hostile environments at a Morris Park Community Association meeting about the project in July (CB11 Vice Chair Al D’Angelo leads the association) and a Community Board 11 hearing in late September.
In further contrast from the board’s public hearing on Just Home last month, Obeid asked Daniella DiMaggio to leave for disrupting the meeting, who had begun screaming at Finch following the board vote.
Much of the passion against the proposal surrounds a fear that it will lead to an increase in crime and a decrease in property values. But that fear and anger has unleashed “not in my backyard” sentiments that Fortune Society Deputy CEO Stanley Richards described as reminiscent of the Civil Rights movement, with residents saying they don’t want “criminals,” “inmates” and even “animals” coming to their neighborhood.
And residents’ distrust in the Fortune Society has been heightened after Queens resident Roderick Compass shared a horror story at the hearing last month about renting his home to a formerly incarcerated couple who were clients of the organization, as reported by the Real Deal. He told the board Thursday night he did not have issues with the clients for 4 years until he didn’t allow them to break their lease. Compass, who was allowed significantly more time to speak than other residents at the public hearing last month and was asked questions by the board Thursday night, has made various accusations about the Fortune Society and politicians he claims are involved with the organization.
Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes