Skeptical Bronx neighbors got a first hand look last week inside a “temporary” supportive housing facility in Pelham Bay.
Some walked always pleased, others remained on the fence.
But they did get one positive step – the nonprofit sponsor agreed to create a community advisory board, with follow-up meetings planned.
They gathered at the Pelham Grand, a long-vacant, modestly posh five-story building. Last month, 62 tenants recuperating from mental illness moved in after their permanent housing in Queens was completely gutted by Hurricane Sandy.
They’re looked after by Services for the UnderServed, an experienced nonprofit with 14 facilities in the Bronx.
Sponsored by Community Board 10, the get-together included a tour of the building and a question-and-answer session with SUS Chief Operating Officer Dr. Yves Ades.
Besides 24/7 security, Dr. Ades explained the building was retrofitted with surveillance cameras and emergency panic bars on doors.
Some tenants, many working or attending school, have been living under SUS sponsored care for years, he said.
“Tenants are happy to stay in a place that’s safe,” he said, re-assuring tour members that his group will leave once the six-to-nine month lease expires. “We do not intend to stay in this community.”
SUS personnel guided neighbors along the softly-lit corridors, equipped with beige carpeting and framed oil paintings.
They spoke with tenants, many settling into their furnished apartment for the night, listening to music or preparing meals. In a one-bedroom apartment, a young man hung around with other tenants, watching Internet videos on their laptops.
On the third floor, a tenant named Teresa was watching TV when neighbors stopped by, briefly chatting with her, a woman in mid-40s with a fondness for art.
“They’re probably all good people,” said Joe Maiorana of the Pelham Bay Taxpayers Association. But he said he was not completely convinced, adding, “You never know.”
Scott Barnard, a family man living a couple blocks from the Pelham Grand, remained skeptical, despite the adequate security.
He hoped for round-the-clock social services to be on site.
“They said there’s a social worker on staff, but what happens at night?” he asked.
But Mike Maskara’s concerns were quelled after the tour. “I have no objection,” said Maskara, a retired electrician who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years. Maskara said he remains “cautiously optimistic.”
But after the tour, locals blasted SUS for their “under the radar” move into the neighborhood.
“You should let people know what’s going on,” said Connie Fella, a homeowner living several blocks from the building at 1870 Pelham Parkway South.
Mary Jane Musano with the Waterbury-Lasalle Civic Association wished public disclosure by SUS was handled better.
“You’re eventually going to confront the community,” said Musano. “Why not do it so we have faith in the situation?”
Neighbor Mary Collins wished she was given a firsthand explanation from SUS, though she has nothing against the nonprofit so long as “SUS keeps their word” in vacating by September.
David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383