Homeless project divides community


Two petitions. Two points of view. All over one location — 5731 Broadway.

A meeting set for Aug. 17 to finalize the contract for a proposed transitional housing facility for 83 homeless families kick-started the creation of two rival petitions.

North Bronx Racial Justice has organized one petition in support of the housing plan asking the community to welcome the incoming families, while another organized by an anonymous self-described Kingsbridge resident is against the facility.

“I’m in favor of the transitional housing because I do think that the de Blasio administration’s borough-based approach … is a far more humane one than the earlier program where homeless folks with families and children were shipped far from their neighborhood of origin,” said Jennifer Scarlott, a founding member of Bronx Climate Justice North.

Scarlott is working with the newly formed North Bronx Racial Justice group to gather support for 5731 Broadway. It also was formed to correct some of the misperceptions about homeless families, she said. For example, 70 percent of the city’s homeless population are families with children, and most are headed by women in their late 20s who are mothers of two, according to a flyer the group has posted around the community.

Scarlott admits 5731 Broadway developer Stagg Group and the city’s homeless services department were not upfront with their intentions for the space with Community Board 8 and neighbors. While that has created some tension, Scarlott feels it doesn’t mean the project should be killed completely.

“As our petition says, we do understand the CB8 board members and local elected officials do have to do due diligence, and they do have to make sure that there’s consultation and transparency, and that they are allowed every opportunity to calmly represent the interests of the area,” she said. However, some disparaging remarks about the shelter is nothing more than a “smokescreen” attacking minorities and people of color, including some comments posted on The Riverdale Press website.

“Part of our petition … asks our local officials and Community Board 8 members to also call out racism as its really being expressed by some people … and to say there is no place for hate in any community,” Scarlott said.

Created over the weekend, “Welcome Homeless Families With Children to Bronx Community Board 8” had 153 of the 200 requested signatures as of Tuesday afternoon. Copies of the petition will be sent to elected officials like U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Councilman Andrew Cohen.

The petition “Deny Stagg Lies: Affordable Housing Bait and Switch in the Bronx,” was organized by someone identified only as “Kbridge Resident.” It offers a different perspective on the transitional housing facility.

“Kbridge Resident” called the homeless shelter a “classic story of bait and switch.” The petitioner added that the community was excited to learn of the new, luxury, affordable apartment complex because it improved the area while providing affordable housing.

By switching it to a transitional homeless facility, the petitioner said, the community loses all that.

The petition called out Stagg Group president Mark Stagg for repeatedly denying to local leaders 5731 Broadway would be used as a site for the homeless.

Praxis Housing Initiatives, who is set to manage 5731 Broadway, is expected to populate the shelter with “consistently homeless, drug-addicted, mentally-ill, criminals,” according to the petition.

“Kbridge Resident” also cited the January 2016 murder of Adam Garcia, a night manager at the McDonald’s in Kingsbridge, as a safety concern for the community when it comes to the homeless. Arrested in that attack was Rafael Gonzalez, who police described as homeless.

As of Tuesday, 312 of the requested 500 signatures had been collected for that petition. Some of the parties expected to receive it include Stagg Group, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Praxis, and the homeless services department.

Both petitions were started on the website Change.org.

The plans at 5731 Broadway could become official Aug. 17 when the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services meets at 10 a.m. at 1 Centre St., Mezzanine, in Manhattan. Anyone wishing to speak at the hearing would need to prepare their comments in advance, limit it to three minutes, and provide three copies of their comments to the committee.

Scarlott’s group has scheduled a meeting with Praxis leaders Thursday to review the group’s plans, and to “hold them accountable.”