An overflow crowd of more than 300 people and local politicians packed a school auditorium in Carroll Gardens last night to hear from and question officials about the proposed homeless shelter at 165 West 9th Street in Carroll Gardens. The meeting was punctuated by angry outbursts from the crowd, and ABC, Fox News, and NY1 were there filming. At issue are possible conflicts of interest between the building’s owners, nonprofit shelter operator Housing Solutions USA, and the New York City Department of Homeless Services; the suitability and legality of the long-troubled and empty luxury apartment building to house 170 homeless men; and the lack of oversight and transparency in the emergency shelter contract process. While the meeting raised larger issues about whether the citywide emergency shelter process lacks sufficient oversight and is leading to abuse and corruption among shelter operators or contract awards, it appears likely the shelter will open despite intense opposition among both residents and politicians, including Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, as long as the facility meets city code for number of bathrooms and space per person.
The requirements are 60 square feet of space person and one toilet per ten people, so the building must have at least 17 toilets. It is not known how many bathrooms are in the building, although it seems likely the number is close to the minimum, since some of the ten apartments in the building contain at least two. However, the building has sat empty and been dogged by DOB problems for years. While it does have a valid certificate of occupancy, the building size exceeds the maximum FAR space allowed by city building codes. Also, the CofO is for ten residential apartment units and one commercial unit, a medical office. (It is not clear why the owner has not attempted to rent or sell the units since receiving the CofO in 2010.) According to an audience member and architect who spoke, the current CofO allows only 30 people to sleep there, and only in 6,600 square feet of the building. To operate legally as a shelter, “the building will need a new CofO, which takes six to 18 months,” he said. Officials said they intend to open the building for six months under the emergency system, and then they have to qualify through the normal procedures after that.
A shouted-out comment from the audience, “Why is it that a building that is not occupied and is not suitable for occupancy suddenly is OK to be occupied by homeless people?” was met with mad clapping and cheering. “If there has been no change in the CofO, and you haven’t gotten any approvals yet, how can you [operate as a shelter]?” asked another member of the audience. When Robert Hess, chairman and chief executive officer of proposed shelter operator Housing Solutions USA explained residents are free to leave or stay during the day, an audience member shouted out “Why would they want to stay? They’ll be packed in like rats!”
There is brown paper in the windows so outsiders cannot see what is going on, but neighbors whose backyards overlook the facility said they have seen beds throughout the building, close up to the balcony windows. Hess confirmed beds have been moved in, and said the nonprofit must set up the shelter first to get approval from the necessary city and state agencies. The city pays an average of $102 per night per bed — not necessarily directly to shelter operators — said a DHS employee, citing published reports. The audience expressed concerns that homeless people would be moved in without public or city oversight to ensure the facility is suitable. Hess said that won’t happen, and added there are plans to create a community advisory board after the shelter begins operating.
A DHS employee said the homeless will not be screened for criminal backgrounds or substance abuse, which contradicted Hess’ earlier statement that the shelter would be used only to house employable men with no substance abuse problems or history of criminality. There is already a methadone clinic and a battered women’s shelter in the area. The counsel for Housing Solutions USA said the shelter proposal will be made public only after the contract is awarded and signed. (Upon hearing this, the audience reacted with boos and hisses, and one man shouted out “That’s not very transparent!”)
The politicians present said they all opposed the plans. “This proposal is ill conceived, ill thought out,” said New York State Senator Daniel Squadron, who lives in the neighborhood with his family. “On that block, 170 people — whether they are seniors, college students, homeless or anyone else — doesn’t make sense.” One audience member commented, “I’m a lady but a lot of the answers were BS answers.”
Homeless Shelter Plans Met With Resist [NY1]
Insider Operator Mum on Lucrative Shelter Deal [Capital NY]
Public Hearing on Proposed Homeless Shelter [ABC News]
Homeless Shelter Proposed Near Brooklyn Daycare [ABC News]
Meeting on Shelter Tonight, More Disturbing Revelations [Brownstoner]
Pushback on Planned Carroll Gardens Homeless Shelter [Brownstoner]
Homeless Shelter Proposed for Scarano Building [Brownstoner]
Rentals of the Day: 165 West 9th Street [Brownstoner]
Housing Solution USA’s Robert Hess speaks.
Local politicians address the crowd.