In August, the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS) gave notice to our community that a new shelter for adult families will be sited in Gowanus at 399 3rd Avenue (at the corner of 6th Street). The shelter will be operated by the non-profit organization Praxis Housing Initiatives, Inc. 

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 committed to providing information to our community, and we worked quickly, along with Community Board 6, Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon and Senator Zellnor Myrie, to convene a public meeting.

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 underlying causes of homelessness — lack of affordable housing and income inequality — are compounded by triggers that send people with no safety net into the shelter system, like eviction, domestic violence, or job loss. On any given day, nearly 60,000 New Yorkers (including 24,000 kids) sleep in the City’s shelters. 

We all want a city where no one is homeless. I’ve spent much of my career dedicated to building permanent affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families, and will keep working hard to do so (including through the forthcoming Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning, about which we will also be having much more conversation in the coming months). 

But New York City has a legal obligation, and a moral responsibility, to provide shelter for those who need it now. Providing safe, decent shelter with the services that individuals and families need to stabilize their lives requires creating new shelters. 

Why is another homeless shelter coming to this area? 

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. The City has committed to replacing commercial hotels and “cluster sites” where many homeless families currently stay, but which are a poor substitute for facilities that are equipped to provide high-quality services and offer 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, and we all share the moral and legal obligation to house them. If we were to evenly distribute the approximately 60,000 people who need shelter each night across the 59 community boards, each community board would have about 1,000 shelter beds. However, some communities in the Bronx, eastern Brooklyn, and southeast Queens have over 2,000 (and in two cases, over 3,000) shelter beds in their community board (far more than the number of people from those communities who are homeless). You can see how many shelter units each neighborhood has in this data published by City Limits. 

Brooklyn’s Community Board 6 currently has 526 shelter beds: 100 in the women’s shelter at the Park Slope Armory (operated by CAMBA), and 426 in three commercial hotels, that will be phased out as part of the Turning the Tide plan.

Through Turning the Tide, DHS is opening shelters in communities that did not previously have many units. In 2017, DHS informed CB6 that they would be looking to site additional shelters in this community board, and this shelter, as well as the shelters for families with children sited for 4th Ave, are the result of that effort.

What kind of shelter will be at 399 3rd Ave?

The City is opening is opening a shelter for adult families at 399 3rd Ave. The shelter will serve a population that includes adult couples without children and parents with adult children (i.e. two related adults per room). Unlike the shelters going up on 4th Ave which are for families, and serve a population of mainly single women and children under six, no one in the shelter will be under the age of 18. This shelter will have 58 units. 

Who is running the shelter?

The shelters will be operated by the non-profit Praxis. This will be their first shelter in our district, but the City contracts with them in several boroughs. Praxis has provided both transitional housing, like the coming shelter on 3rd Ave,  as well as more permanent supportive housing and affordable housing across the City for more than 20 years. They were founded in 1995 to provide supportive housing for special needs populations — initially addressing the HIV crisis. 

Praxis runs a facility Upper West Side that serves a very similar population of adult families, though with twice as many units as the shelter proposed for 3rd Avenue. The UWS facility has 116 units, 40% of which are occupied by individuals who are fully employed. We have reached out to local elected officials of that shelter, and we are not aware of any complaints. 

You can also read more about Praxis on their website here: https://www.praxishousing.org/

When will the shelters open?

DHS has indicated that the shelter will open November 2019. The building cannot open until construction is fully completed. It will need approval from the NYC Department of Buildings, the FDNY, and NYS Office of Children and Family Services.

What services will be provided?

Praxis provides a variety of on and off site services. Upon entry into the shelter families receive food, clothing, and emergency medical care for those requiring it. The shelter cafeteria provides three meals a day, and there are laundry facilities in the building.

Residents of the shelter are paired with a social worker dedicated to their case to provide support and help transition them into permanent housing. They receive assistance in accessing health care services, and Praxis provides ongoing support with life skills such as money management, to help people secure and retain permanent housing.

How long do people stay in the shelter? 

The average length of stay for adult families without children is currently approximately 15 months. There is not a mandated timeline or deadline. During their time in the shelter, residents 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?

The siting of new homeless shelters often comes with anxiety and some opposition. But the reality is, shelters generally do not have adverse impacts on the surrounding neighborhood. The family shelter in Kensington, which is operated by CAMBA and  located between the PS 230 Upper School and the Lower School, has not been the cause of any problems in the neighborhood since it opened in early 2016. 

We have not seen evidence that the presence of shelters drives up crime. When this question came up at a previous shelter meeting held by CB7, which has a higher shelter density than CB6, the Commanding Officer of the 72nd Precinct affirmed that the addition of shelters has not affected crime in the area.

We have also not seen evidence that homeless shelters reduce nearby property values. This 2008 study by the Furman Center looked at supportive housing (different from temporary shelters, but perhaps useful as a comparison for the purpose of analyzing property values)and found that the opening of supportive housing does not lead to a reduction of property values nearby.

Will there be security measures? 

Yes, Praxis provides 24 hour security which includes a minimum of four security guards and 60 cameras in and around the building. Praxis also provides a hotline to call that is answered 24/7 for community members to raise issues. There is also a 10 pm curfew for residents, and Praxis works with residents to accommodate personal and work schedules that run later.

How did DHS obtain this site?

In order to meet its 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 Praxis enter into a contract with DHS to cover the rental costs, staffing, and services. This contract would likely be for five years, with a four year renewal option. 

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

The contract is now available to the public for viewing and a hearing was held on September 12 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.  The Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS) held a public hearing on September 12th at 1 Center Street with an opportunity to submit public hearing.  The contract is now public record and is available for public viewing.

For comparison purposes, a recent notice for DHS sites (from May 2019) including sites on Staten Island, in the Bronx, and Brooklyn is available here.

Won’t the rent be very high since this is a new development?

Yes, the rent the City will pay for this building will market rate. The amount will be disclosed in the contract when it is made available (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, they 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 Gowanus, then shelters would continue to be concentrated in low-income communities. No one is thrilled about the City paying large sums to developers, but it is necessary in order for the City to meet its commitments to equitably distribute facilities around the city to house everyone who needs shelter. 

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 a few 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 need a place to sleep, and we have a moral and legal obligation to provide them with safe and decent shelter. So, while we will continue to work aggressively to build and preserve permanent affordable housing, we must work together to provide shelter as well.

How would neighborhood concerns be addressed in an ongoing way?

Praxis, along with DHS, 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 Board 6, elected officials) and would be open to neighbors who would like to join. This CAB is by invitation so if you would like to be involved we are happy to connect you to DHS and Praxis.   

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 if I have other questions?

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