For months, a 130-bed homeless shelter proposed for 6661 Broadway in Riverdale — which would prompt the closure of three local establishments upon its 2023 completion — has drawn intense brushback from Riverdale residents at various community forums.
The shelter could soon possibly be an investigatory matter, as Riverdale politicos Jeffrey and Eric Dinowitz, members of the state Assembly and City Council, respectively, are calling for a formal city investigation to look into what they call “secretive dealings” between the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and shelter operator African American Planning Commission Inc. (AAPCI) in the siting of the shelter.
The Riverdale politicos petitioned the matter to the NYC Investigations, who told the Bronx Times that their rulings are decided on a matter of substantive or not substantive ruling. Officials did not confirm if the inquiry will turn into an official investigation.
AAPCI, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit, was selected to build and run the shelter through an open-ended request for proposals process, with plans to tear down the 6661 Broadway building and create a new facility housing 4-6 men per room with on-site services and 24/7 security.
The site is across from Van Cortlandt Park and a block south of the Yonkers border and contains a handful of active storefronts, some of which have been there for 30 years.
According to the father-son Riverdale duo and local business owners, three businesses— Claribel Deli, J-MAQ Solutions and King’s Wong Kitchen — all received letters indicating that they would have to vacate their stores by the end of the year, despite an insistence from the city comptroller’s office that the $195 million contract has not been approved by their office.
The proposed shelter would be a 34-year commitment totaling $195 million, funded by DHS. However, residents have taken major issues with AAPCI, the operator of the proposed shelter, which was the center of an official city investigation regarding nepotism in its organization ranks.
A New York Times report found that AAPCI’s CEO Matthew Okebiyi hired his brother Raymond as the company’s CFO and appointed his sister-in-law to a prominent board position. Additionally, AAPCI had been scrutinized for relationships with private for-profit vendors that also had familial ties to Okebiyi.
DHS officials told the Bronx Times that AAPCI complied with their requests to remove Raymond Okebiyi from his role as CFO in April and noted confidence and transparency in their dealings with the organization, which include a corrective action plan to address present and future conflicts of interest.
“We prioritize community engagement and transparency as part of our equitable shelter siting process and commitment to honoring our moral and legal obligation to provide shelter,” said DHS spokesperson Neha Sharma. “Our agency has comprehensive and robust mechanisms in place to ensure that we are doing our due diligence whenever we approve a shelter proposal to provide meaningful transitional housing services for our neighbors in need.”
Jeffrey Dinowitz, however, feels the controversy around the shelter is a failing of the city’s congregate shelter layout, which DSS has implemented as a reversal of a former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani-era shelter cluster program. Under the cluster program, individuals were sheltered in “cluster sites,” or privately owned apartments rented by the city, usually at very high costs, or in commercial hotels.
“The congregate shelter model is broken. We all know it,” Jeffrey Dinowitz said. “But it seems to me that DHS is choosing to double down on their bad investments by forcing through a $195 million contract to a well-connected and well-compensated so-called nonprofit provider.”
The Bronx Times reached out to AAPCI officials for comment and is awaiting response.
In the Bronx, community boards and residents have grappled with an influx of transitional living facility proposals in recent months. By their last count in November 2021, DHS told the Bronx Times that 111 of the city’s 249 transitional living facilities are sited in the Bronx, with high concentrations of shelters in the west and South Bronx.
With the exception of the proposed 6661 Broadway shelter, CB 8 has 1 DSS-operated shelter in its boundaries. Citing increasing homelessness among Bronxites, DSS officials told the Bronx Times their facilities are sited to ensure those in the shelter system are close to their support systems and familiar surroundings.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.