Square homeless case to proceed, judge denies city’s appeal

This building at 1564 St. Peter’s Avenue is the location of the homeless shelter that opened in 2009.

A move by the city to block the releasing of documents related to the controversial opening of a St. Peter’s Avenue homeless shelter in August 2009 has been denied by the Supreme Court Appellate Division.

The case of Westchester Square v. the Department of Homeless Services was allowed to proceed into the discovery phase when Associate Justice Leland DeGrasse denied a motion by the city’s lawyers to stop the release of documents and testimony related to the opening of shelter at 1564 St. Peter’s Avenue.

The decision upholds Bronx Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Wright’s decision in May that granted the merchants and residents of Westchester Square, along with the city Comptroller’s office which has joined in the suit, the right discovery, said Square attorney Steven Kaufman. These actions are part of the “Article 78” proceeding.

“Now we go through discovery,” Kaufman said. “We bring in some depositions, and we want them to produce documents — the whole nine yards.”

The plaintiffs in the suit are going to show that the city acted improperly when it opened the shelter, Kaufman said.

The issue at stake is can the city take a building planned as a permanent residential facility and convert it into a shelter without going through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure or Fair-Share Analysis, which is mandated by the City Charter, Bonizio said. The city has been relying on a decision in the case of Ferrer v. Dinkins, which gave the city the right to operate a homeless shelter in a transient facility, like a motel, if an emergency was declared, Bonizio stated.

“We were very blessed to have a judge who did not rubber stamp the arguments made by the city but had the guts to look into it,” Bonizio said.

The Bloomberg Administration’s policies on affordable housing and housing the homeless have led to an increase in homelessness, said Square plaintiff Sandi Lusk.

“[The administration] has steadfastly refused to be realistic about the causes of homelessness, [and] the critical need to transition the homeless into permanent housing or allow them to enter public housing,” Lusk stated.

The city has used dubious and underhanded methods to warehouse a growing population at “at risk” buildings like the St. Peter’s Avenue facility, and overwhelmed communities by bypassing normal ULURP proceedings and hearings, Lusk said.

“We hope the discovery in our case will shed some light on these machinations, which have been going on in the shadows for too long,” Lusk said.

The lawsuit lacks merit and the city Law Department is confident that the city satisfied all applicable requirements when it opened the shelter for families with children, a Law Department spokeswoman said. The shelter will remain open as the case moves into discovery, said Seth Diamond, Department of Homeless Services commissioner.

“We disagree with the court’s denial to hear our appeal,” Diamond said. “However, we believe in a transparent process and are working expeditiously to respond to the petitioners’ discovery requests. At the same time, we will continue to provide contract-based services with full supports at St. Peter’s shelter to homeless families with children, working with them to return to the community in permanent housing as quickly as possible.”

Patrick Rocchio can be reach via e-mail at procchio@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3393

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