Bronx Community Board 4’s leaders say they feel like they have no power over the social service programs the Department of Homeless Services and other city agencies authorize in their district. Right now they’re concerned about 1387 Grand Concourse, a 45-unit building they worry will only add to community struggles.
Jose Rodriguez, CB4’s district manager, and Kathleen Saunders, the board’s chair, keep talking and writing letters about the building, which is already being used to house the formerly homeless, but they doubt they’ll have much influence until the city and state change their homeless policies.
Rodriguez and Saunders know that the city needs space for a myriad of critical facilities. But they think it’s harmful to the area’s safety and growth that more than 40 social service facilities in CB4 — including programs for troubled adolescents, methadone clinics for drug addiction, and facilities for those need needing mental health support — particularly in the neighboring communities of Mount Eden and Highbridge. In one recent letter, Saunders said the community’s greatest concern is the “inundation of supportive facilities in District 4.”
CB4 particularly objects to plans that are not raised with the community more than a day before work begins, as was the case, they say, with 1387 Grand Concourse.
The Grand Concourse building is now operated as a Tier II Transition Housing Facility —very similar to cluster-site buildings the City Limits Bronx Bureau reported on in May . The main difference is that the building will be entirely occupied by the homeless, whereas there are many regular tenants in cluster-site buildings.
Though the building is undergoing significant reconstruction visible from open windows and doors facing the street, six families are already inside, according to Rodriguez.
Tenants were removed from the building due to dangerous conditions, Bronx housing experts charge. It “has a history of problems over many years with illegal construction, tenants being forced out [by] conditions … and now it looks like it’s going to become another shelter at a great expense to the city,” says Jack Doyle, executive director of New Settlement Apartments in Mt. Eden.
While the details of the arrangement with 1387 Grand Concourse were not available, the average monthly city payment per apartment in Cluster Site buildings is $3,000, often more than twice as much as average rent costs. That money is to make way for a variety of services including helping residents find jobs and apartments. Almost no residents we interviewed in several Cluster Site buildings found those services helpful.
When a reporter visited 1387 Grand Concourse this week, an employee of Housing Bridge (one of several companies the city hires to operate homeless projects in privately-owned apartment buildings) escorted him out of the building. Asked if Bronx Bureau could enter the building, the employee said that only the Department of Homeless Services would comment.
“Those tidal waves are not meant for me,” he said, referring to questions he would not answer.
The owner of the structure, 1387 Realty LLC, has not registered with the city’s Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD). “This property is not currently validly registered with HPD,” a bold heading indicates on the site for this address.
But DHS expects the company will be registered shortly. “The building owner is working with HPD expediently to register the building,” a DHS spokesperson stated in an email. New York City is under a unique legal obligation to provide homeless shelter to all who demonstrate a need. As of Wednesday, more than 51,000 people were in homeless shelters in the city.
Joel Shafran signed the mortgage for 1387 Grand Concourse. (He did not return a call from Bronx Bureau by press time.) On the HPD website, no violations have been listed for the building since 2011, when there were 151, making it likely that tenants have not been in the building since then.
Rodriguez questions how the extensive rehab work has been allowed to begin. “I just don’t understand how a city agency allows this to happen without the building having its proper permits,” he said. “It’s just beyond me.”
“One half of the building is under renovation,” Rodriguez said. “You transition families in that type of atmosphere? In that environment?”
He’s not opposed to care for those in need. We’re just looking at fair distribution.”
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