“Someone Is Getting Very, Very Rich”: Neighbors Call For More Details To Be Released About Park Slope Homeless Shelters

PARK SLOPE – Opponents of two planned Park Slope homeless shelters alleged at a public contract hearing on Thursday that the city, the homeless services provider Women in Need (WIN), and the developers Slate and Adam America have inflated the contracts’ value by approximately $73.7 million, money they said was making someone “very, very rich” off of public money designated for homeless New Yorkers.

535 4th Avenue & 555 4th Avenue (Photo: Pamela Wong/Bklyner)

The alleged $73.7 million discrepancy is part of the $261 million total contract value over nine years that the city is paying WIN to operate the two shelters which will include 253 units for homeless families and various services such as childcare, mental health services, and assistance in finding jobs and permanent housing.

The shelters, at 535 and 555 4th Avenue, are scheduled to open in September and December of this year, respectively, but the draft contracts available for public review at the offices of the Human Resources Administration are extremely scant on details, only listing the total aggregate amount the city will spend on each shelter and not breaking it down into per-unit rents, personnel costs, or shelter operating budgets.

Both supporters and opponents of the proposed shelters packed the room at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services’ (DCAS) Spector Hall in Manhattan for the contract hearing, and their testimony dominated the proceedings, which included several other contracts of far smaller dollar amounts.

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In his testimony, Fourth Avenue Neighbors member Daniel Price broke down how he had arrived at the alleged $73.7 million figure: he calculated that 555 4th Ave’s per-unit monthly cost was $10,557, substantially higher than the area’s average market rent.

He then factored in a market rent estimate of around $2,600 based on a Zillow search, and compared that to monthly costs at another WIN shelter in Brooklyn, on Junius Street in East New York—where he acknowledged that rent would be lower but argued that services should cost the same—and multiplied the difference in service costs by the number of units.

“Someone is getting very, very rich off this contract, and it isn’t my fellow New Yorkers experiencing homelessness,” Price said.

Price also expressed disdain at the secrecy of the process and, in concert with other opponents, said the alleged discrepancy may warrant a criminal investigation.

“The secrecy, dishonesty, and lack of transparency in this process, at best, violates nearly every principle of good government and, at worst, coupled with the extreme cost inflation, is either conducive to or indicative of possible corruption or misappropriation,” Price said. He and others insisted that the opposition to the shelter was rooted in the process and in the discrepancies rather than in NIMBYism, noting that he was in support of permanently affordable housing at the site rather than temporary shelter.

In an email to Bklyner, a representative for DHS provided documents stating that annual costs at the shelters would be $17 million at 535 (including $6.3 million for rent) and $13 million at 555 (including $4.6 million for rent); per-unit monthly rent would be $3,500 and $3,600 respectively. DHS said that the costs were explained by services, staffing, overhead, and other factors that make it very expensive to run a shelter in New York. WIN declined to comment.

Price called for the extension of the public input period until the draft contract provides more details, arguing that the public cannot give informed input on a contract without more information. When he and other FAN members confronted Paul Romain, the Human Resources Administration’s Chief Contracting Officer, after the hearing, Romain would not commit to extending the public comment period.

“I cannot answer anything on that,” Romain said. “What we showed you was a draft contract.”

Those in favor of the shelters also showed up to the hearing in force, with the largest contingent being affiliated with the Brooklyn Children’s Theater (BCT). Supporters argued that locating homeless shelters in Park Slope offered children resources for success such as good transit and schools—resources not present in more far-flung neighborhoods that are further from where people work.

“Park Slope offers unparalleled access to resources and enrichment opportunities like free after-school programs for children of all ages that other neighborhoods do not,” said Amy White Graves, executive director of BCT. Others said that while the lack of transparency in the project was concerning, homeless families shouldn’t be punished for the malfeasance of city officials and developers.

Helen Ho, a Park Slope resident, disputed the opponents’ numbers as inflated and noted that the non-rent costs would be spent on numerous expensive services. She also said that the shelters would allow the city to stop housing the homeless in less cost-efficient cluster sites and hotels, and criticized the opposition as disingenuous.

“We need traditional shelters with services,” Ho said. “Some of those opposing the shelters fear our neighborhood is too weak to help families going through a tough time, but they’re wrong.”

Park Slope residents have been engaged in a fierce battle over the shelters for weeks. After the announcement of the two planned facilities, opponents launched a petition on change.org arguing that the shelters would be out of character, bring in a large “transient” population uninvested in the neighborhood long-term, and would “strain” the neighborhood’s resources. 

Shelter supporters launched a counter-petition to demonstrate the community’s support for having homeless families as neighbors and to counteract some of the claims that the shelters would overburden the neighborhood.

As of Thursday, the pro-shelter petition has over twice as many signatures as the anti-shelter one, with 2,700 people signing in support compared to 1,300 against.

 

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Ben Brachfeld

Ben Brachfeld

Ben Brachfeld is a freelance reporter based in Brooklyn. His work has also appeared in Gotham Gazette, City & State, and Gothamist. Reach out to him via email at benbrachfeld@bklyner.com, or on Twitter @benbrachfeld.

Comments

  1. If this goes through as is, the children in these shelters should be allowed to attend any of the desirable Park Slope schools because education is critical in helping kids improve their socio-economic status. They shouldn’t only be given the option to attend only the small school that this section of South Slope/Gowanus is zoned for, or bused across the city. People assume they will be given equal access to the resources given to those children further north in proper Park Slope, or even closer to the park in South Slope, but this is simply not true.

    I’ve asked our local elected official Brad Lander why the children can’t attend the numerous, great schools in Park Slope, and the only response he would give was a smile, and “They can go to the school they are zoned for.” Please contact your local represented officials to let them know that we want these children to have the option to attend some of the best schools in Park Slope, despite zoning.

  2. OMG! That is a lot of missing money! And the link that DHS gave just proves the point: a shelter in Riverdale costs $63,600 per family per month and this one costs $126,684 ($10,557*12). Rent in both places is about the same.

    Let’s cut the garbage and make both of these buildings deeply affordable housing. Exactly the same people–people who are experiencing homelessness–can live there and they can live there permanently. The Brooklyn Children’s Theater folks will be happy: previously homeless people get homes right here; the neighbors will be happy, taxpayers will be happy and, most importantly, neighbors experiencing homelessness will be very happy with permanent homes.

    Of course, the developers, WIN, Christine Quinn and the politicians will lose out on $74 million, but I won’t cry for them.

  3. I’m sorry… Were the transplant gentrifiers of Park Slope complaining about… transplants…?????

  4. Brooklyn Children’s Theater got at least $22,000 in city budget earmarks arranged by Brad Lander. They are located 17 blocks away, making their claim to be neighbors of the shelters kind of hilarious.

    So, let’s review: Fourth Avenue Neighbors wants deeply affordable housing *on their block* for people who have experienced homelessness. BCT wants shelters, as long as they are at least a mile away. Christine Quinn wants shelters as long as they are nowhere near her Chelsea home. CB6 loves shelters, as long as they are nowhere near the wealthy parts of their district.

  5. I am against the homeless shelter and agree strongly it should be affordable housing.I laugh at the people who want the shelter the problem here is that they don’t live next to the shelter I do I need to live with people who will definitely bring drugs and crime to my block and I know this for a fact my relatives work for the city and they tell me what goes on in the shelters. I don’t understand Cristine Quinn she was against a homeless shelter to be build in her neighborhood and she fought against it and now she wants to put two big shelters in my back yard she is a big hypocrite and I can imagine her salary what she plans to make on this project she acts like she is so concerned yeah okay she wants to make big Money on our tax dollars.

  6. According to the Better Business Bureau Christine Quinn’s salary at WIN is $ 350,000 per year. But the real benefit she receives from working there is political. She is working hand-in-glove with both City agencies and elected representatives like Brad Lander that will help her politically in the future.

  7. The support for siting shelters at 535 and 555 4th Avenue is not being organized by ordinary citizens but by the local political machine, including Community Board 6 and Councilmember Brad Lander. A previous comment pointed out that the largest contingent of supporters at the Contract Hearing were from the Brooklyn Children’s Theatre, which got funding from Brad Lander (as well as the City, State, and corporations). The petition in support of siting the shelters at 535 and 555 was organized by Kathy Park Price who is the Chair of Community Board 6’s Human Services Committee and co-VP of Community Education Council (CEC) District 15. She is a political science graduate who moved to NYC in 1996 and has lived in Park Slope only since 2011. Other members of Community Board 6 who have supported 535 and 555 are the District Manager Mike Racioppo and Board Member Eric McClure. Half the members of CB6 are nominated by Councilmember Brad Lander. Another important local group with political connections to the above is Park Slope Parents. The children from 535 and 555 will be attending PS 124 next door at 515 4th Ave., not PS 321 or the other schools in the brownstone neighborhoods of Park Slope proper. Connect the dots.

  8. Ben mischaracterized the petition opposing 535 and 555 4th Avenue. Readers should click the link to the petition and read it for themselves. http://chng.it/kj5sSJHyG9 The petition objects to 535 and 555 for several reasons but the main focus is on the excessive concentration of shelter units in one location and the disregard for the City’s own Fair Share Criteria. It does not complain about the strain on neighborhood resources except to say that a large influx of high needs children at PS 124 (already a struggling school) will require much more additional funding (which Brad Lander recognizes and says he is working hard to secure).

  9. Exactly the reasons I left NYC and eventually they will be bankrupt. Its one thing to help those in need and another to rob the city residents. Mayor Dibalsio and his cronies should be locked up. Im on the beach in Florida. Best move ever for the family.

  10. Proponents of this solution are conflating two issues. Neighborhood politics aside, there is a lack of transparency on the financial side , why does this location cost $60k more than a simulator facility in other areas? ‘What about the children?’ Is not a correct answer to that question. Show us the proper budget, justify this expense!

  11. We have many homeless shelter families at our South Slope school, and they have only enriched our community. Please be open minded! These are Women In Need for goodness sake! Everyone says they want to help the homeless, have more equality in our schools, “I am not racist!”. But as soon as you feel like something is being taken away from you, you show your true selves. No one is perfect, but remember the Golden Rule

  12. Question… How do you “make these buildings affordable housing”? These are privately owned sites… Are you proposing some sort of eminent domain?

    And to the “Concerned Neighbor.” More than 75% of people in shelter’s are homeless families and more than a third are kids! They are not drug dealers and criminals.

    https://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/CFHStateoftheHomeless2018.pdf

    And Rosa… the petition can say whatever you want it to say, but the fact is the the people complaining aren’t fiscal conservatives…. They aren’t opining on homeless costs in other parts of the city or comparing the costs to the hotels operating as shelters… they are ignorant individuals who think homeless people are drug dealers and criminals (see comment above) and will do or say anything to get their way

  13. Being Realistic:
    1) Re: how you create affordable housing, you either a) rent them at actual market rent, not these inflated values and then provide them to families who would otherwise experience homelessness; b) purchase the buildings and do the same; or c) provide vouchers and enforce the law against these sleezebag developers requiring them to allow families of all incomes into their buildings. This isn’t rocket science.

    2) This article is about neighbors who want exactly these people–families who previously experienced homelessness–to live in their neighborhood. We want them to have permanent homes on our block. This is a far cry from the hypocrits in the rich parts of CB6 and Christine Quinn who want the homeless out of their own neighborhoods.

    3) Neighbors are absolutely talking about cost, although most of us would never call ourselves conservative-anythings. These shelter units will cost 2x as much as the hated hotel rooms and will cost about double what family shelter units cost in other parts of NYC *even after you include the higher rent in Gowanus/South Slope*. So, let’s be crystal clear: the argument is not to put shelter units only in low rent parts of the city. The argument is that wherever you decide to put shelters, you should pay the actual market rent and the actual cost of services, not vastly inflated and padded amounts designed to line people’s pockets.

    Let me put it another way: one of the shelters will cost $126,688 per year for each family. That does not include food, health insurance and other costs which are provided separately. Do you think that is the very best way to use those funds to help that family or perhaps could you pay the rent for multiple families *here in Park Slope* for that amount of money?

    Who’s being realistic now?

  14. Brad Lander’s opponent in the comptroller race is going to have a FIELD DAY with this. “So, Brad, you pushed through a $74 million contracting fraud and now you want to be in charge of stopping contract fraud?

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