District 39

Brad Lander

Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Columbia Waterfront, Gowanus, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Borough Park, Kensington

535 & 555 4th Avenue Homeless Family Shelters FAQ

This spring, the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS) provided notice to our community that it plans to open two shelters for homeless families with children later this year, to be operated by the not-for-profit organizations WIN (formerly Women in Need) at 535 4th Avenue and 555 4th Avenue in Park Slope.

Shelters are cited by DHS pursuant to an “emergency declaration,” so the City Council does not have a formal role in reviewing or approving sites or contracts. Nonetheless, my office is working hard to get answers to your questions. This FAQ is intended to provide information about the shelters, answer questions neighbors have been asking, and help us work together to address concerns.

The siting of new homeless shelters often comes with anxiety and some opposition. We all wish for a city where no one was homeless. No one wants to be in a shelter; permanent affordable housing is far preferable. But around 60,000 of our fellow New Yorkers are homeless each night: 70% of them are families, including about 24,000 kids. New York City has a moral and legal obligation to provide them with a safe, decent place to sleep, and that translates into providing shelter.

In some communities, elected officials have joined neighbors in opposing the siting of shelters, leading protests and filing lawsuits. In this case, the local elected officials are choosing instead to work with DHS, with WIN, with other City agencies, with community organizations, with neighborhood public school P.S. 124, and other stakeholders — to get and provide as much information as we can, to address concerns and help insure the shelters operate smoothly, and ultimately to welcome the women and children who will be our new neighbors.

One small but important note (at least to me me):

My family and I live around the corner from these shelters (we’re on 13th Street, between 4th & 5th Avenues). We care about what happens here, just like you and your families do. So while I understand there’s anger at me, and suspicion of my motives (it’s a time of very low trust in government, that’s for certain), I promise that I’m approaching this as a neighbor, just like you. We all want to make sure our neighborhood is safe and welcoming, with locally-owned small businesses and great schools, reflective of our shared values, a wonderful place for our families to thrive. I pledge to keep working hard toward those goals.    

If you have additional questions after reading this FAQ, or if you want to be on our e-mail list for updates, please email me at lander@council.nyc.gov.

Brad

Why are homeless shelters coming to our neighborhood?

As part of its “Turning the Tide” plan initiated in 2017, the City of New York is working to open 90 new, purpose-built shelters, operated by quality social service organizations, in neighborhoods across the city. While the number of homeless New Yorkers has levelled off at around 60,000, the City aims to replace commercial hotels and “cluster sites” where many homeless families currently stay, but which are far from ideal for providing high-quality services and offering stability to families.

Historically, the City’s shelters have been concentrated in low-income communities of color, even though homeless families come from every neighborhood. Some communities in the Bronx and eastern Brooklyn have thousands of shelter units in their neighborhood. Through “Turning the Tide,” DHS is opening shelters in communities that do not currently have many units.

Community Board 6 is well below its share of shelter beds (even just to house the number of families in the homeless system who come from our area). In 2017, DHS informed CB6 that they would be looking to site additional shelters in this community board.  

How many shelters are coming to 4th Avenue, and what kind of shelters are they?

The City is opening two shelters, at 535 4th Avenue (between 14th & 15th Streets) and 555 4th Avenue (between 15th & 16th Streets). Both will serve homeless families with children. The typical family will be headed by a single mom, with either 1 or 2 kids (although a few may be families with two parents, a single father with kids, etc).

  • 535 4th Avenue will have 148 shelter units.
  • 555 4th Avenue will have 105 shelter units (80% of the building), as well as 29 units of permanently affordable housing (pursuant to an agreement the developers made when they built the building, that is unaffected by the shelter contract).

Although they are across the street from each other, they will be operated as separate shelters, each with a full complement of staff, its own director, etc. WIN currently operates shelters that are larger than either of these two. At one location in East New York, they operate two shelters across the street from each other, totaling more units (in that case, 412) than will be in these two buildings combined (in this case, 253).

Who is running the shelters?

The shelters will be operated by WIN (formerly Women In Need), which has been improving the lives of NYC’s women and children for over 35 years. WIN provides safe housing, critical services, and ground-breaking programs to help homeless women and their children rebuild their lives.

WIN operates shelters of this size and bigger throughout NYC.  In the past year, WIN served close to 10,000 homeless people — including more than 5,000 children — and helped more than 700 families transition out of shelter into homes of their own.

When will the shelters open?

DHS has indicated that 535 4th Avenue is projected to open in September 2019, and 555 4th Avenue is projected to open before the end of of 2019. Neither building will open until construction is fully completed, sign-offs are given by the NYC Department of Buildings, the Fire Department, and the NYS Office of Children and Family Services.

What programing will there be?

WIN will provide on-site services including case management, housing placement assistance, health and mental health services, recreational programming for children, and employment counseling.  Off-site services include, health care, mental health services, education, and legal services.

How long do people stay in the shelter?

The average length of time a family with children stays in a NYC DHS shelter is about 15 months. There is not a time limit for families, as some people have mistakenly reported. During their time in the shelter, families work with housing placement staff to find a permanent place to live, and they move out when they find one.

How will this affect our neighborhood?

While there is often understandable concern in advance, shelters generally do not have adverse impacts on the surrounding neighborhood. There is a family shelter in Kensington (operated by CAMBA), which houses a very similar population (albeit a smaller number of units). The building is located in-between the PS 230 Upper School and Lower School. There have not been problematic incidents.

There is no evidence that homeless shelters reduce nearby property values. This 2008 study by the Furman Center looked at supportive housing (different from shelters, but useful as a comparison for the purpose of analyzing property values) found that the opening of supportive housing does not lead to a reduction of property values nearby.

What security measures will be taken?

WIN provides around-the-clock, on-site security in all its buildings. For each of these two buildings, this will include include six security guards and one supervisor. There will also be a total of 90 security cameras installed throughout the buildings and across the grounds, both inside and outside the buildings. WIN has offered to work with neighbors to make sure all angles all covered, so that problems can be prevented and any issues addressed. The NYPD also works closely with the NYC Department of Homeless Services to promptly address any security issues that arise in DHS shelters. The two NYPD precincts that serve the two buildings (535 4th Ave is in the 78th Precinct; 555 4th Ave is in the 72nd Precinct) would be part of the Community Advisory Board.

What will the impact be on P.S. 124? What support will be given to the school?

Making sure that P.S. 124 receives the resources it needs to support all its students, including those who would be living in the shelters, and to help all of them succeed is absolutely essential. That will be my top priority in this process.

P.S. 124 has made great strides in recent years, thanks to active parents. Just before this school year, a leadership change brought a great new principal, Maria Interlandi (who was previously a classroom teacher, academic intervention specialist, and then Director of Early Childhood for District 15), and she has the strong support of District 15. We are going to make sure it continues to build on success.

DHS provides the option to families to continue to attend the school where they were enrolled before entering the shelter system, or to attend the school for which the shelter is zoned. According to DHS, most children housed in shelters continue to attend the school in which they are already enrolled to help maintain continuity. In addition, a high percentage of children in shelters are younger than elementary school age.

My office has asked the DOE and DHS to provide a projection (based on their existing family shelters) of the number of students likely to attend P.S. 124 once the shelters are open. DOE and DHS have committed to provide that information with plenty of time to plan for next school year.

My office has met with the P.S. 124 principal, the School Leadership Team (of parents and faculty), the PTA, District 15, DOE, and DHS to begin to make plans for next year. In part because it is currently under-enrolled, the school does not currently have a guidance counselor (all schools should have one), or a full-time social worker. In addition, while there is room in the school, resources will need to be provided for adequate teaching and support staff. And resources will be needed for after-school programs, etc. In a joint meeting with DOE, DHS and the PS 124 Principal and the District 15 Superintendent, DHS committed to making sure that additional resources are available for these needs. I promise to continue working aggressively to make sure the school receives the resources it needs to fully support all its kids and help them to succeed.  

How did DHS obtain this site?

In order to meet its legal and moral obligation to provide shelter to eligible New Yorkers in need, DHS maintains an open-ended Request for Proposal process through which non-profit social service providers submit proposals to augment shelter capacity. Although DHS does not target specific areas to open shelters, the agency looks for shelters in all neighborhoods, and strives to keep families near their communities as much as possible. All suitable proposals are reviewed by the agency on an ongoing basis as received.

Not-for-profit social service agencies such as WIN enter into a contract with DHS to cover the rental costs, staffing, and services. The contract would likely be for five years, with a four year renewal option. The not-for-profit agency enters into a lease with the building owner.   

How much is the City paying? Can we see the contract?

The contract will be made available to the public, and a hearing will be held, in advance of the shelter opening. Pursuant to Section 326 of the New York City Charter and Section 2-11 of the Procurement Policy Board Rules, City agencies are required to hold Public Hearings on proposed contracts valued in excess of $100,000 that are being awarded by a method other than competitive sealed bidding.  

All contracts are publicly advertised in The City Record (available online here) prior to the hearing affording the public an opportunity to testify on the proposed contract.  Testimony must be considered by the Agency after the hearing is concluded and before the Agency makes its final contract award (and therefore, in this case, before the shelters open).

The process for review goes through the Mayor’s office.  They will have a public hearing (MOCS hearing) on June 27th at 22 Reade Street at 10am.  There will an opportunity to submit public testimony there. The contract then becomes public record and is available for public viewing. Our office does not receive the contract prior to the public hearing.

Draft contracts are available for public review at the office of the respective agency in advance of the hearing. For comparison purposes, the most recent notice for DHS sites (from May 2019) including sites on Staten Island, in the Bronx, and Brooklyn is here.

Won’t the rent be very high for these two buildings?

Yes, the rent the City will pay for these buildings will be high, since DHS will pay market rate for these buildings. The amount will be disclosed in the contract when it is made available sometime this summer (see above).

In the past, the vast majority of shelters were sited in low-income communities, where the rent is lower. As part of the Turning the Tide plan, the City decided it was important to locate shelters in communities around the city, aiming to have roughly as many shelter beds in each community board as there are people from that community board in shelters. In 2017, the indicated to Brooklyn’s Community Board 6 that they would be looking to site shelters somewhere in our community, as a part of the plan.

If the City were not willing to pay market rents in neighborhoods like Park Slope, then shelters would continue to be concentrated in low-income communities.

I’ve heard that Slate and Adam America are bad actors. Why are they being rewarded with a contract from the city? Are you just helping to bail them out? Do they contribute to your campaign?

I’ll be honest: I’m not a fan of Slate Property Group. In a couple of small multi-family rental buildings in Park Slope, I felt they were pressuring out rent-regulated tenants, and I’ve seen no evidence that they care about the communities in which they are located, or helping to solve the city’s affordable housing crisis. I worked hard to help tenants win better conditions, and made clear to Slate and publicly that I did not like their approach. (I don’t have any experience with Adam America).

At the town hall we held in May, several neighbors reported that the construction of these two buildings had damaged their homes, and that Slate and/or Adam America had handled it poorly. My office would be glad to assist any neighbors who had such an experience.

I have consistently sponsored and supported legislation in the City Council to hold developers and landlords accountable to their tenants, neighbors, and the public, and have consistently pushed for reform of tax incentive and other programs (e.g. I was one of the first advocates to push aggressively for reform of the 421-a program, nearly 15 years ago).

But if DHS were only going to rent buildings from angels, we would have many more homeless families sleeping on the street. We can’t change the fact that these buildings were constructed pursuant to the zoning for Fourth Avenue. They were going to be rented up as market-rate rentals. So from the City’s point-of-view, in order to take a “fair share” approach to siting shelters around the city, they need to pay a market-rate price, and do business with people who have built and own real estate.

I wish much more of the residential property in New York City were owned by not-for-profit developers (as some of you know, I ran the Fifth Avenue Committee, a not-for-profit affordable housing organization, from 1993 to 2003). Then we would have a lot more affordable housing, and we would not have to bargain with for-profit developers — who are, of course, in business to make money and are going to take the best deal they can get — for homeless shelters, affordable housing, child care, and much more. I am pushing DHS and HPD to consider much more work with not-for-profit developers, community land trusts, and limited equity cooperatives; but for now, we are stuck in a world with the property owners we have.

I have never taken a contribution from anyone affiliated with either Slate or Adam America (to my knowledge, and will gladly refund any contribution if someone finds a link I was unaware of). And I have stopped taking contributions from real estate developers entirely (per the New York Communities’ for Change pledge).   

What public review is required?

As noted above, the siting of shelters is done by the NYC Department of Homeless Services through the City Charter contracting process, pursuant to the City’s emergency declaration on homelessness. The contracting process does not involve a vote of the Community Board, Borough President, City Planning Commission, or City Council. All that is required is public notice and a contracts hearing. DHS is legally required to provide only 7 days notice of a shelter; as part of the Turning the Tide plan, they agreed to give at least 30 days notice. In this instance, they have provided 5-6 months notice.

Shouldn’t we be building a lot more permanent affordable and supportive housing?

Yes, we absolutely should. I have been working to build and preserve affordable and supportive housing for my entire career, as the executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, a not-for-profit, community-based affordable housing group (where we built or renovated over 500 units during my tenure), as the director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, and as a City Council Member (where I have championed policies to create and protect hundreds of thousands of affordable units, the like policies to provide legal counsel to tenants facing eviction, which has resulted in a dramatic drop in the rate of evictions leading to homelessness).

The need to create affordable housing is one of the primary reasons that I believe we should rezone the Gowanus area for mixed-use, mixed-income development (with deep attention to sustainability & resilience; ensuring sufficient schools, transit, and other infrastructure; affordability; a genuine mix of uses; and extensive community planning, as I’ve discussed here).

I pledge to continue to work aggressively for policies that will create and preserve affordable housing, for households at a wide range of incomes (we need permanent affordable housing for those who are homeless, as well as for low-, moderate-, and middle-income families), and I welcome your ideas for how we can do that.

At the same time, tonight more than 60,000 New Yorkers will face homelessness, and we have a moral and legal obligation to provide them with safe and decent shelter. So, while we will continue to work aggressive to build and preserve permanent affordable housing, we must work together to provide shelter as well.

I support shelters, but aren’t these just too big?

As noted above, WIN (and other social service agencies that contract with DHS) operates shelters of this scale and larger. At one site in East New York, WIN operates two adjacent shelters that total 412 units (versus the 253 total here). They are confident, based on their experience, that they can operate these shelters in a way which does not have a negative impact on the community. Each shelter will have a full complement of staff, to support the families and insure smooth operations.

How would neighborhood concerns be address in an ongoing way?

WIN will organize and host regular (likely quarterly) meetings of a Community Advisory Board, which would include representatives of all of the relevant agencies (DHS, DOE, NYPD, Community Boards 6 & 7, elected officials) and would be open to any neighbors who wish to join and attend. They are willing to have one Community Advisory Board for both buildings, or two separate ones, depending on what neighbors and the community boards prefer.

My office will also continue to take your questions, get all the information we can, provide updates to this FAQ, and work together to address neighborhood concerns.

What can we do to support the families and children?

We are grateful to all those who have reached out to ask what you can do to help, to make our new neighbors feel welcome and to offer your time and support. WIN works with an extensive network of volunteers to provide supports and connections, field trips, holiday gifts, and more. Anyone interested in volunteering can reach out to my office at lander@council.nyc.gov, and we are happy to put you in touch with WIN.

What if I have other questions?

We will do our best to answer questions and provide transparent information. Please e-mail us at lander@council.nyc.gov, or call us at (718) 499-1090.

Last updated on May 28, 2019.