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Homeless shelter gets one last debate ... in Manhattan

Borough president now supports 5731 Broadway

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The decision to turn new apartments at 5731 Broadway into a transitional housing for the homeless is now in the hands of the agency who developed the idea in the first place — the city's homeless services department.

But it won't come without hearing one last earful from some upset community members and elected officials, who trekked to Manhattan on Thursday to challenge the five-year, $26.4 million contract DHS wants to finalize with Praxis Housing Initiatives.

"People say, 'Not in my backyard,' but this is literally in our backyard," said Paul Sawyer, who told representatives from homeless services he represents a number of residents at the 3424 Kingsbridge Ave., apartments.

"Many of our residents are very concerned about the location of the homeless shelter, he said. "Bottom line, I am holding a petition of over 1,000 signatures from the residents in the community essentially saying 'no' to that homeless shelter."

DHS has proposed to move in more than 80 families to newly constructed apartments at 5731 Broadway in an attempt to transition them toward independence. During a late July meeting, not long after the plans were announced, hundreds of residents crowded into a Community Board 8 land use committee meeting to either oppose or support the facility.

CB8 members were angry at the 5731 Broadway developer, Stagg Group, for what they have called a bait-and-switch. They said they questioned Stagg a number of times whether there were plans to turn the property into a homeless shelter, and each time they were told that it would actually be market-rate apartments.

Outside of that meeting, residents have had little opportunity to say anything about the homeless shelter, something Councilman Andrew Cohen complained about Thursday.

"I have to say that I am extremely frustrated," he said. "I don't believe a contract hearing is an appropriate hearing to talk about the way we've been treated in this process."

The hearing, part of a larger event Thursday at the David N. Dinkins Manhattan Municipal Building, is the only time DHS officially heard public comments about the contract. After the hearing, DHS is free to sign and execute the contract, however, the city department has not yet indicated by late Thursday it has done that.

Cohen suggested DHS wait a little longer and try to explore options, including CB8's recommendation that the agency open permanent housing at 5731 Broadway for the homeless, rather than transitional.

"I think that the members of our community board have expressed a willingness to come up with a plan that works with our community," he said. "It's not the contract — it's the process that we're really upset about."

Not all comments were against the homeless facility, however. Borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. — through a surrogate, Paula Richter — expressed concern about the process DHS used to inform the community about its plans, but supported the facility overall.

Ivan Braun, who lives near 5731 Broadway, said he walks by the site on a regular basis on his way to the subway.

"Everyone deserves to have a safe place to live," he said. "CB8 has a moral obligation to play its part to help with the homeless crisis."

A Riverdale Press review of the proposed contract showed the facility would cost taxpayers $5.3 million each year, or more than $63,600 per family. 

Only a portion of that money — $2.4 million — would actually go to rent, while the rest would pay for social services and other employees there. 

Payroll alone, however, would cost $1.4 million each year to pay 35 people, including 14 security guards.

As part of its plans for 5731 Broadway, DHS has committed to closing down its facility at the nearby Van Cortlandt Motel by the end of the year.

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