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Friday, January 23, 2009

Outrage, Apologies Over New Bedford Park Homeless Shelter

The outrage was on the part of local residents who, at a Community Board 7 housing committee meeting inside the Bedford Park Senior Center, vehemently opposed the opening of a new homeless shelter on Briggs Avenue, directly across the street from PS 8. Teachers, parents and other residents found out about the shelter only after it began taking in homeless families on Christmas Eve.

The apologies came from Peter Rivera, the director of the firm, Aguila, Inc., that manages the new facility (and several others in the city), who said he took "ownership" for making the mistake of not coming to the community sooner. "Mea culpa," he said, trying to explain, but was soon drowned out by a chorus of angry yelling.

This story is a can of worms that we'll only open slightly on the blog today, but here's a few notes of interest.

-The homeless shelter will cater only to homeless families -- parents with children. However, there is no guarantee that the residents will not have prior criminal records (something residents were extremely apprehensive about). Most of the families currently in the building are single mothers with their kids.

-One woman, who's 91-year-old father lives in the building, said the families all seem "earnest" and that conditions and the atmosphere of the building had greatly improved in the past few months.

-The building, 3001 Briggs Ave., has a terrible history of housing violations and landlord neglect.

-There may be evidence that previous tenants were harassed out of the building to make way for the homeless shelter. If the evidence is compelling, the Dept. of Homeless Services says it will terminate the contract with Aguila and move the transitional residents elsewhere.

-If the evidence is not compelling, it's very unlikely DHS will terminate the contract or move the facility elsewhere simply based on residents' complaints.

-PS 8 teachers are worried the influx of children from the shelter will overburden an already vastly overcrowded elementary school. But only one child from the center has enrolled at PS 8 and they have yet to show up for school.

-Housing advocates say the bigger issue, aside form overcrowding or bringing in criminal elements to the neighborhood, is that the city is knowingly taking away affordable, rent-stabilized housing, and replacing it with transitional housing. This only perpetuates one of the main factors of homelessness, which is a lack of affordable housing.

-Rivera, the son of Bronx Assemblyman Peter Rivera, did not lose his cool once, despite an incredible amount of anger and animosity directed at him. He also couldn't explain why he didn't come to the community beforehand or how the building became empty and available for lease as a homeless shelter.

-The owners of the building, Briggs Realty, LLC, declined to show for the meeting.

-In the end, the CB7 housing committee said it would not support the new shelter and they would bring it up at the next general board meeting, Feb. 17, at the Bronx Library Center. At that meeting, they will also discuss Rivera's plan to open a similar shelter just a couple of blocks away at 2903 Valentine Ave.


  1. It would be interesting to find out what the Dept. of Homeless Services has established for their daily/monthly reimbursement rate and what social services have to be provided in their contract. Given the past history of this type of approach to housing the homeless, it can often turn into a cash machine.

    Using a stealth approach when it comes to opening such a facility certainly raises questions about the owner/operator's good faith and intentions. It is not a path that leads to good relations with a community.

  2. "Rivera, the son of Bronx Assemblyman Peter Rivera... couldn't explain why he didn't come to the community beforehand or how the building became empty and available for lease as a homeless shelter."

    Those are the three biggest questions, right? How do you vacate a rent stabilized building? Generally speaking, you can either pay the tenants to leave or you can harrass them (sometimes by not providing services).

    I just went on ACRIS to see what I could find out. The building had been owned by Reneis Realty / Nathaniel Eisner for a very long time. The sale to Briggs Realty was last January for only $1 million. Financing ($1,280,000) was provided by New York Community Bank, who some claim will finance just about anything.

    The only thing I could find out about Briggs Realty LLC is that their address (1293 EAST 5TH ST., APT 1G, BROOKLYN, NEW YORK, 11230) may match up with Eli Miller Management Company. I don't have confirmation on the apartment number, though the name that signed the mortgage for 3001 Briggs is Yaakov Miller.

    The other building you mentioned, 2903 Valentine Ave, is the large new construction just below 199th next to the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall.

  3. Most countries have to deal with homeless issues, especially this severe winter. I guess there are good and worse ways to address it.. but if people have to leave the building to make space for others and maybe even become homeless themselves, well that would be one of the worst ways in my opinion, no matter the good will of the owner. For those interested in reading about Toronto solution, see here.


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