Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bronx Activists Score A Win In Shelter Fight

The scales of justice may once again be tipping toward the Bronx, with local activists scoring another court victory against the city Department of Homeless Services.

st peters ave.jpgOur Daniel Beekman reports:

An appellate division judge has ruled that the agency must cough up records related to the controversial siting of a 38-unit homeless shelter in 2009 on St. Peter's Ave. in Westchester Square.

Mayor Bloomberg “has used dubious and underhanded methods” to house the city’s growing homeless population, charged Sandi Lusk, director of the Westchester Square / Zerega Improvement Organization.

“We hope the discovery in our case will shed some light on these machinations...going on in the shadows for too long,” she said.

The decision by Justice Leland DeGrasse means the lawsuit against DHS by a group of Westchester Square merchants and residents will move forward.

Last month, DeGrasse upheld a May decision by Bronx Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Wright, denying the city’s request for leave to appeal.

“We disagree with the court’s denial to hear our appeal,” said DHS Commissioner Seth Diamond. “However, we believe in a transparent process and are working expeditiously to respond.”

The Westchester Square group filed the suit after DHS and BASIC Housing, Inc., a nonprofit service provider, opened the shelter in a new apartment building without consulting the community.

Wright’s decision gave the plaintiffs the right to see correspondence between the city and BASIC and to depose officials such as former DHS commissioner Robert Hess.

Wright originally tossed out the suit in January 2010, with DHS citing a loophole that allows it to open temporary shelters during a homelessness crisis. The agency claimed the 1564 St. Peter’s Ave. shelter was temporary because it signed no formal lease at the building. But the Bronx judge reopened the case in October 2010 after DHS went on to sign a lease there.

The activists claim the agency failed to follow the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure and conduct a local hearing before opening the shelter. They argue that the temporary shelter loophole only covers converted motels, not apartment buildings, and claim DHS is overpaying for units at more than $3,000 per month.

“The taxpayers are being forced to overpay for services and accept homeless shelters,” said John Bonizio of the Westchester Square Merchants Association. “The people who pay taxes should have the loudest voice, not the commissioner of DHS.”

The city claims it did nothing wrong.

“We believe that the lawsuit lacks merit and are confident that the city satisfied all applicable requirements,” said a Law Department spokeswoman.

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