Westchester Square Zerega Improvement Organization

In 1 week, on December 7, our case Westchester Square v Commissioner Hess et al (the DHS) will be heard in the Bronx County Court House at 851 E. 161st Street at 9:30 a.m. The case was spurred by the surreptitious placement of the homeless shelter on St Peter’s Avenue, as was our series of protests in September and October, and is an Article 78 proceeding brought in Supreme Court, Bronx County, challenging the Department of Homeless Services’ policy of paying excessive “day rates” to landlords for the housing of transitional homeless families, and its resultant bypassing of the City Charter and the requirements of due process [fair share hearings and notification to the community]. Specifically, DHS is using the “temporary” emergency power granted to them during the current homeless housing crisis to circumvent the law, and implement a change without community input as mandated by the City Charter. DHS will go into any community, artificially increasing the market for rental apartments, and (as seen recently) the $3000 per month rent offered will encourage landlord evictions of paying tenants in favor of homeless tenancy paid for by the city.

For the past three weeks, I have been making the rounds of the community association meetings (often as Councilman Vacca’s “opening” act) to advise people of this situation, and explain the urgency and necessity of banding together to let the city know that this is unacceptable. While no one would question the need of the homeless for shelter (and are issue is not with the homeless, who are victims and caught in the middle here), this policy has serious ramifications for the taxpaying, resident homeowners and community at large as well. This point must not be overlooked in DHS’s intention to house the homeless in any “financially distressed” property for which they receive a proposal (from a landlord who can make big money from the city).

I would like to ask a question: What is going to happen to all the luxury buildings now being built or on the drawing boards during this recession/depression? Don’t forget that one of Mayor Bloomberg’s main policies has been to encourage developers to build luxury apartments instead of affordable housing for the middle class. So now what will happen to all these “white elephants”? What happens when they can’t be sold and they can’t be rented? Will they be subdivided or sublet? Or auctioned off (as in Riverdale recently)? Or will they become prime candidates to become homeless shelters? Think of it: homeless families living in luxury condos; apartments no one could “afford” but the DHS. We, the middle class homeowners and property owners, form the tax base for this city; our taxes are paying the $3000 a month rent for these apartments, even though most of us could not afford to rent or pay the mortgage on these apartments for ourselves and our families. Does this make any sense? Something is very wrong here.

The other major issue is the failing policies of the Bloomberg administration, focusing on low-income families to the exclusion of homeless families through timed and cut housing subsidies and their exclusion from city housing. I have already gone into depth on this issue in a previous column, so I won’t go into it here. But, suffice to say that this is a very complex issue, and the only ones for whom the policies seem to really work are the landlords.

And so, if you agree with us, and want to let the city know that we are mad as h— and won’t take it anymore, come to court with us to show you support our fight to get respect from the city of New York for the hardworking, taxpaying, very generous middle class.

Join us on the steps of Borough Hall to protest the placement of Homeless Shelters in Bronx neighborhoods without community notification.

A court hearing in the case of Westchester Square-Zerega vs. Department of Homeless Services will be held immediately after a press conference at 9 a.m. Buses will leave from 25 Westchester Square at 8 a.m. and return after the hearing. To reserve a seat on the bus, call: (718) 824-6806 or (718) 597-4629 or e-mail wszio@aol.com. We hope to see you there.

A special shout out to our friends Colleen and Christine at Quality Donuts on Crosby Avenue, which has the best breakfast in the Bronx and is one of our favorite hangouts.

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