By David Cruz
Elected officials and groups say they were blindsided by the recent move of several people diagnosed with mental illlness from Brooklyn and Queens into a Pelham Bay apartment complex.
They met Dec. 28 at Community Board 10 offices to meet with Services for the UnderServed, a respected state-backed nonprofit temporarily housing 65 clients in the long-vacant Pelham Grand.
The tenants are former mental care services patients who are dealing with their illness and working or attending school, said the nonprofit’s chief operating officer, Dr. Yves Ades. He’s promised walking tours to anyone interested.
Officials with Community Board 10, Senator Jeff Klein, Councilman Jimmy Vacca and Ben Randazzo, Chief of Staff to Assemblyman Mike Benedetto attended, though they say the meeting wasn’t publicly announced simply because they were invited guests.
They discovered the transient tenants had already moved into 1870 Pelham Parkway South a day before the information meeting.
State law says no open meeting is required when setting up a supportive housing facility within a neighborhood since it doesn’t have to go through the NYS Site Selection Law process, a move CB10 chairman John Marano opposes.
Still, Marano understood this was an emergency situation. He insists the meeting was not “secret” as others have characterized it.
“For all those naysayers that say it’s a secret meeting is sad,” he said.
The public will still have a chance to air their concerns at the next CB10 general board meeting Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the Villa Barone Restaurant in Pelham Bay.
Despite little public disclosure, elected officials agreed the gathering was publicly represented by Anita Valenti with the Pelham Bay Taxpayers Association.
But Assemblyman Mike Benedetto maintains he would have reached out to the public to alert them of this move.
“If I was running the meeting I would think it’d be responsible of me to call the media,” he said, adding he’s cautiously optimistic tenants won’t wear out their welcome by staying beyond the nine-month max as agreed upon on the lease terms. For now, Benedetto intends to keep an eye on SUS to make sure their brief stay doesn’t expand to two years.
“Am I nervous about it, yes,” said Benedetto. “But I also realize this is kind of an emergency.”
Senator Klein also will keep a close eye on the residence, said spokesman Eric Soufer.
“The non-profit organization has committed to provide full-time security and to make social workers available around the clock for those tenants in need,” Klein’s spokesman noted.
The new neighbors were left homeless after Hurricane Sandy destroyed their Far Rockaway, Queens building, forcing them to stay at hotels, other SUS-sponsored buildings and community centers.
SUS and the state Office of Mental Health teamed up to find the six-story high-end apartment residence, vacant for the past three years.
SUS is funded by the OMH since it operates supportive housing buildings that combines affordable housing with supportive, recovery-oriented services like on-site social workers.
Traditionally, OMH pays higher rents than regular tenants. The steady rent flow is also reliable.
The current owner of the building is East 110th Street LLC, according to Propertyshark.com, a real estate database.
Reach reporter David Cruz at 718-742-3383.
David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383