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C.B. 2: City ‘should not move forward’ on Chinatown homeless shelter plan

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated April 27, 2:25 p.m.: Heeding Chinatown’s outpouring of concern and outrage over a planned homeless shelter on Grand Street, Community Board 2 on Tuesday evening overwhelmingly opposed the plan. In doing so, the board bucked the position of its Human Services Committee chairperson, who had strongly advocated against the board coming out against the contentious project. In the end, the vote was not close, 37 to 6.

In a surprisinging twist, the board’s Human Services Committee issued an advisory resolution opposing the Safe Haven-style homeless drop-in center with stabilization beds, which is planned to open in the heart of Chinatown late this spring. The shelter would be run by Housing Works along harm-reduction lines, meaning people could freely use drugs inside of it.

The resolution was posted on the board’s Web site Monday, with the full board’s vote set for Tuesday evening.

Previously, Susanna Aaron, the committee’s chairperson, had said she would not write or support a resolution opposing the facility, planned for 231 Grand St. Ultimately, though, the resolution was a “team effort,” according to Aaron: She wrote a first draft that William Benesh, a member of the committee, then added to, including the resolution’s closing, with bold and underlined type added by the committee for emphasis: “Community Board 2 believes the city should not move forward with the current proposed 231 Grand St. shelter consisting of a drop-in center and stabilization beds at this time.”

The vote on the resolution was 5 yes to 3 no, with Aaron voting no, along with Ryder Kessler, who is running in the June Democratic primary election against Assemblymember Deborah Glick, and Wayne Kawadler, director of community relations for Lenox Health Greenwich Village.

Speaking before Tuesday’s full-board vote on the resolution, former City Council candidate Susan Lee, a leading opponent of the Housing Works plan, said she was glad the committee came out against the contentious project. However, over all, she called the resolution “lukewarm,” noting it could have been more forceful.

“I believe Susanna should have recused herself from writing the resolution,” she said. “I think it would have been a stronger resolution if she was not involved.”

The building, at left, which is now vacant, was formerly a Best Western hotel. It sits at the corner of a bustling Chinatown intersection. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Told of Lee’s comment, Aaron told The Village Sun, “I did not recuse myself from the resolution. I voted against it. I remained involved in writing it because our committee shared a lot of common ground, and because it is a long reso with a lot of information…and it was helpful to the committee for me to remain involved. … Our committee agreed on the attention Chinatown deserved [on] issues it is facing in its neighborhood. That was not a point of contention. …

“We collaborated on most of it and then [Benesh] went into the direction of building argument for opposition [to the Grand Street shelter]. We agreed on the…clauses regarding Chinatown needs — but the conclusions of the majority [to oppose the shelter] were a point of divergence.”

Concerned that “lobbying” was going on to try to reverse the committee’s resolution at the full-board vote, Lee’s group, the Alliance for Community Preservation and Betterment, rallied at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, at 62 Mott St.

There were, in fact, a relatively small number of people who did testify for the Housing Works plan on Tuesday night, but they were vastly outnumbered by speakers from Chinatown vehemently opposed to the project, who accused the pro-shelter speakers of being “lobbyists.”

“This is not fair share, this is dumping,” said former District Leader Jenny Low. “I urge you not to destroy our neighborhood.”

Similarly, Ed Cuccia said, “People in Chinatown and Little Italy are not opposed to homeless and homeless shelters. It’s about fair share. Keep it simple.”

“This is a real-life manifestation of structural racism,” added Denny Salas, a candidate for Assembly. “We need to step up and realize that working-class communities of color have a right to say what communities look like. Stop [this plan].”

On the other hand, speaking in favor of the Housing Works plan, C.B. 2 member Kessler said, “I would love for there to be a shelter like this in the West Village. I would love for there to be a shelter like this on my street.”

A memorial outside the building where Christina Yun Lee was stabbed to death by a homeless man in February is just a block and a half away from the proposed Housing Works facility’s location. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Chris Dignes, another C.B. 2 member, who is a firefighter, noted that he responded to a fire call on the Lower East Side where a homeless man sleeping or nodding out in a public-housing stairwell was intentionally fatally burned.

“He was set on fire because they didn’t want him there,” he said. “I oppose this resolution. I saw a guy die because he was homeless.”

However, fellow board member Rocio Sanz, owner of Tio Pepe restaurant, said, “No one wants to see people on the street, but how much can the community take?”

Hundreds of concerned Chinatown residents had turned out at two previous C.B. 2 meetings on the Housing Works shelter, begging the board to write a resolution in opposition to it. Initially, the committee had only written an informational letter that took no position on the heated issue, so it took another month to draft and vote on a resolution.

Speaking at last month’s Human Services Committee meeting, Keen Berger, a former Democrat district leader, said, “I’ve been on the board a long time and I’ve never seen such a passionate and collective outpouring as I did the other night [at the March full-board meeting] from the Chinatown community. They feel overwhelmed. They feel unsafe. And I think the resolution should reflect that.”

The site, 231 Grand St., was formerly a Best Western hotel, but during the pandemic, was used by the city as a non-congregate homeless shelter from spring 2020 to summer 2021. Locals said the shelter’s presence hurt the neighborhood’s quality of life and that people were sometimes “harassed” by some individuals housed there.

The Mayor’s Office of Contracts may have already issued a contract to Housing Works for the eight-story, 49,000-square-foot building, to run from March 1 through June 2027, with a three-year renewal option. The contract would pay Housing Works nearly $63.8 million to operate the facility. Housing Works also seeks to buy the building.

It’s not clear exactly where the contracting process for the building stands at the moment. However, the project is reportedly included in the city’s budget.

The facility’s catchment area for outreach to street homeless people would range from Sara D. Roosevelt Park on the east to Washington Square Park on the west. Clients would not be screened for drugs or weapons since it would be a “low threshold” facility, so as to attract people who have been resistant to coming in off the streets. Lower-level sex offenders — who do not have residential restrictions — would also be allowed to freely visit and live in the facility. Opponents, though, charged that half of the building’s clients would come not from the surrounding area but from outreach in the subway system.

The C.B. 2 committee’s lengthy resolution notes the impact of COVID on Chinatown, the recent surge of anti-Asian violence — including the horrific murder of Christina Yuna Lee in February just a block and a half away from 231 Grand St. — concern over the state of Chinatown’s economy and the principle of “fair share” in siting homeless facilities in the area.

The proposed homeless facility is located on one of Chinatown’s main corridors. (Photo by The Village Sun)

The resolution, however, could have hammered home more forcefully the idea that the area is oversaturated with homeless shelters — opponents’ main argument.

Board 2, which covers the area between 14th and Canal Streets west of Bowery/Fourth Avenue, wants to do its “fair share” in terms of accepting homeless facilities. It currently has none. However, four are currently in the works: Paul’s Place, a drop-in center with 70 overnight recliner chairs and two-dozen stabilization beds slated to open any day now at 112-114 W. 14th Street, next to the Salvation Army building; 231 Grand St., the planned Housing Works facility in Chinatown, which is at the corner of Bowery and would have 50 overnight recliner chairs and 94 stabilization beds; the former Larchmont Hotel, at 27 W. 11th Street, planned as a 90-bed shelter for employed or work-ready women; and 349 Canal St., at Wooster Street, slated for a large, congregate shelter for 200 homeless men. The W. 11th Street women’s shelter is currently tied up in a lawsuit filed by neighbors.

Chinatown opponents charge their neighborhood is already doing more than its fair share in terms of housing such facilities. In its resolution, the C.B. 2 Human Services Committee acknowledges this fact, noting, “Although the [Grand Street] site is located within Community District 2, which currently has no homeless shelters, the neighborhood of Chinatown currently hosts shelters in [the adjacent] Community Districts 1 and 3, with an additional shelter in development in Community Board 3.”

Further compounding the impact on Chinatown, the committee noted, is the city’s plan to demolish the existing Manhattan Detention Complex a.k.a. The Tombs, and replace it with a new jail.

Aaron and some other C.B. 2 members had cast doubt on the accuracy of claims by Lee and others that there are currently six homeless facilities in Chinatown, with four more planned. However, Lee stands by her numbers. She added that she never said all 10 sites were actually in Chinatown but within a half mile of it.

“I’m a grant writer, I’m very precise,” she told The Village Sun on Monday. “I don’t say things for the sake of saying things. I know these shelters because I hang out in Chinatown, so I see them. I visit them. Two of the six are private shelters — one is BRC [Bowery Residents Committee] and one is Bowery Mission. Sixty-one Chrystie St. is a halfway house,” she added, noting she felt “unsafe” when she visited it.

Lee grew up in the East Village and now lives in Tribeca but said that, for her, as for many, “Chinatown is the mothership.” As a kid she was there all the time and now visits the neighborhood “at least four times a week.”

A photo of Michelle Go, the Upper West Side straphanger who was pushed to her death in Times Square by a homeless man in January, was also hung on the tree outside Christina Yuna Lee’s building on Chrystie Street near the proposed Housing Works facility’s location. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Aaron previously claimed that the rallying cry that Chinatown cannot support 10 homeless shelters — as in, six current ones and four more coming — was “not accurate.” She noted that the opponents’ materials specifically say, “No to 10 shelters in Chinatown.”

“I don’t think that the problem is the shelter,” Aaron said last month, though adding, “I think there are problems in Chinatown.

“The saturation in Chinatown…is not nearly what people feel it to be,” she stated of the actual number of homeless shelters. “What is undeniable to me is that people are unhappy in Chinatown and no one is paying attention to them.”

“That comes with the territory,” Lee said of skeptics of her efforts. “That’s what happens when you’re outspoken and you’re challenging people.”

Lee noted she has personally felt anti-Asian prejudice. She said that last February, at the World Trade Center subway station, a man shoved her down the stairs. Then, two weeks ago at the same station, she sneezed into her face mask and a guy cursed her out, calling her a “Wuhan bitch.”

“That’s not my perception,” she said. “That’s my reality.”

Speaking at last month’s Human Services Committee meeting, Carter Booth, a former C.B. 2 chairperson, said City Hall itself really needs to take a closer look at what’s going on in Chinatown — and how its decisions are impacting the area.

“Where is the town hall that addresses the Chinatown community,” he asked, “so that the voices can be heard as a whole? There’s a voice here that regularly is not listened to.”

As for her findings on the existing shelters listed by Lee, Aaron shared them with The Village Sun. By her reckoning, two of the current six facilities — including the one Lee said made her feel unsafe when she visited it — are only temporary.

“227 Bowery [Bowery Mission] and 197 Bowery [The Andrews/Breaking Ground] are on Bowery between Prince and Spring Sts. by the New Museum,” she said. “78 Catherine St. is next door to New York City Housing Authority housing in Two Bridges — and from what I was told, the only residents who attend its [community advisory board] meetings are residents of Smith Houses.

“61-63 Chrystie St. is a hotel,” she said. “These are supposed to close by the end of 2023, per the de Blasio homelessness plan.

“90 Lafayette St. is also [operated by] the Bowery Mission. 5 Allen St. is being used temporarily as a shelter by women who normally reside in an East Village shelter that was damaged by fire [which destroyed Middle Collegiate Church]. They are due to return to their normal location before the end of the year.”

Lee said that, just as they did for last month’s C.B. 2 full-board meeting, Chinatown residents planned to gather again at the C.C.B.A. to watch the livestream on a big screen.

11 Comments

  1. LES3025 LES3025 April 26, 2022

    This is really shameful. Good on Aaron, Kessler and Kawadler for opposing the resolution. I said enough about the reasons the shelter is good and needed in other threads. If I had known there was a meeting on this, I would have tried to show up to speak in support, but that’s the exclusionary nature of CB meetings for you.

    What strikes me here is Susan Lee. Honestly shocked to learn she lives in Tribeca rather than Chinatown. There’s a lot of talk about fair share, but it doesn’t seem like she’s advocating for putting a shelter in Tribeca, where there are none. If that day comes and she supports it I’ll gladly eat my words, but I won’t hold my breath.

    It’s also really gross for her to exploit anti-Asian sentiment and general fear of crime to try to deny housing to our most vulnerable neighbors. And I have seen the posters talking about 10 shelters. They are obviously meant to convey the impression that the shelters are IN Chinatown. She knows that and so do the rest of us.

    I shouldn’t be surprised anymore when CBs do awful things like this, but somehow I still am.

    • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | April 26, 2022

      LES, please read the monthly community board agendas, which are posted in The Village Sun around the 1st of the month for C.B. 2 and C.B. 3. Or just check the community board agendas every once in a while to see what isues are on tap. Like they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink… .

      • LES3025 LES3025 April 26, 2022

        I do read the agendas, but it’s not clear to me when the resolution was considered by the committee and voted on. It didn’t happen at last month’s meeting, wasn’t on the committee agenda for this month, and was apparently just posted online yesterday. I also read the article covering the last meeting where Aaron said the committee would not write a resolution against the shelter at 231 Grand. So between those two things, I don’t think there was any reason to expect a resolution against the shelter that would be up for consideration at full board tonight.

        This is kind of my point though. I follow local politics closer than most and if it’s this hard for me to follow the process, think of how inaccessible this all is to normal people.

      • LES3025 LES3025 April 26, 2022

        I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about this, so I went back to look.

        It seems like Jeannine Kiely said to you, in a statement printed after initial publication, that the public comments and resolution would be considered at the March 31 meeting (https://thevillagesun.com/we-live-in-constant-fear-chinatown-slams-grand-st-homeless-shelter-plan-as-c-b-2-concedes-to-write-a-resolution). But this agenda item was never listed on the March 31 agenda (https://cbmanhattan.cityofnewyork.us/cb2/event/human-services-susanna-aaron-chair-8/). And CB2’s notice of meetings, which you reprint (https://thevillagesun.com/community-board-calendar-soho-homeless-shelter-edie-and-thea-way-the-mental-health-crisis-and-pepe-rosso-to-go) doesn’t list a specific agenda for the full board.

        So cut this “read the agenda” nonsense. The resolution against 231 Grand was never on any agenda. How many hours-long, weekday evening meetings is someone supposed to attend to follow what is happening and maybe have a minute or two to be heard on an issue? There’s a reason that the only voices that show up for CB meetings are organized special interests.

        • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | April 26, 2022

          Yes, this is the new YIMBY talking point on community boards.

    • Keri Flaherty Keri Flaherty April 27, 2022

      LES3025, Have you considered that local residents are not NIMBY, but feel overburdened by the number of shelters in the community? Safety issues?
      Have you met Susan Lee? Had conversation with her? She is one of the most decent human beings you could meet, standing up for her community and giving a voice to the voiceless. Her tireless dedication is inspiring.
      I notice you comment quite often on local issues… . Care to unmask yourself to engage with those of us who have a different perspective? Happy to meet in person and buy you coffee.

      • LES3025 LES3025 April 27, 2022

        I’m not sure what distinction you are drawing between “NIMBY” and “feels overburdened by the number of shelters.” Saying “we support providing services to homeless people, it just shouldn’t be in my neighborhood for XYZ reason” is classic NIMBYism. If you have seen my comments on other issues, you know how I feel about the purported safety concerns associated with homeless shelters and you should understand why I think opposing a shelter like this one is shameful.

        As for who I am, I promise you it’s not that interesting. I’m just some guy with a bunch of opinions on local issues. Happy to engage here like we are now.

  2. keen berger keen berger April 28, 2022

    If this person had come to the meeting, which was posted, they would have witnessed CB2 at its best, listening to the communities and hearing all sides of the issue for a total of 14 hours of meetings open to the public. The final resolution had over 40 “whereas” clauses to include all the information considered, and I was proud to support it — with almost all my fellow board members. We appreciate Housing Works, we look forward to shelters in CB2, but we also respect the community of Chinatown and realize that our mandate is to truly be a Community Board. Keen Berger

    • LES3025 LES3025 April 28, 2022

      It sounds like what happened is what has happened at basically every CB or other public comment session I have attended. An organized special interest showed up to flood the meeting with opposition to the topic of the day, and the CB calls those people “the community” and sides with them.

      This isn’t a specific criticism of CB2. It’s just the structural dynamic of public comment generally. I support well-run shelters like this. But the city’s plan was to add 90 shelters in 5 years (I think they are halfway there). It makes no sense for people who support that to attend multiple hours-long meetings for each and every one of those just to maybe speak for one or two minutes. Even trying to just send e-mails in support would take a huge amount of time and effort. But you know who will show up in droves? The people who live next door to each of those shelters and don’t want them there. Local groups organize them so they know the time and place, they only have to attend a few meetings, and the decision on the one shelter they care about is more important to them than the decision on any particular shelter is to someone who supports the overall plan. The whole system is stacked to oppose, and the CBs just go along with it.

      I also read the resolution and would be ashamed to have my name tied to it. It explains how the CB considered testimony from elementary school children exploited by their parents to testify against the shelter. It lists a whole hosts of facts that were considered that shouldn’t have any bearing on whether we support housing for our unhoused neighbors, like the closing of Jing Fong. It talks about how the opposition is driven in significant part by fear of crime, without considering if a shelter like this actually contributes to crime (there is not much evidence that it does). And it briefly credits the “positive” work of Housing Works, without going into details like in Susan’s excellent comment below. This is a notable contrast to the depth of treatment of the reasons for opposition.

      At the end of the day, saying you appreciate Housing Works and look forward to shelters in CB2 is meaningless if you oppose every shelter that faces opposition (which is all of them). And if your mandate is just to present the NIMBY voices that show up to oppose, then the CB is not providing a worthwhile service. You can’t call yourself progressive if you cater to reactionary forces like this.

  3. susan stetzer susan stetzer April 28, 2022

    Writing as a private citizen and as a neighbor of Housing Works’ 9th street facility since 1997, I have to comment on Housing Works’ standing in the community. HW does not detract from the community — they add value. The facility has an adult daycare and medical facility but there are never people loitering. The medical facility serves low-income people in community and provides much-needed harm reduction and mental health services. HW has since its beginning provided free community meeting space for local community groups. The facility responds to community needs by offering harm reduction in parks such as Tompkins Square Park and SDR park. During COVID they provided PPE to those in need. Additionally, they provide 36 residence units for formerly homeless single adults living with HIV, as well a a primary care and behavioral health clinic. HW is a great neighbor and any community would be fortunate to host one of their facilities.
    Not including the HW residence, the East village hosts 8 shelters and there are 11 above Delancey Street. This has not presented a problem to the community and has hopefully provided a benefit to many in need on their way to permanent housing.

    • ------ m ------ m April 29, 2022

      I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Stetzer about housing works.
      I stand with Chinatown residents on most issues, but not this one. And, btw — this area is Little Italy!
      The Bowery Mission and Breaking Ground are great organizations and the majority of long-term Bowery residents care about them.
      I am one of those Bowery residents.

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