The city Department of Homeless Services (DHS) is mulling over two locations for its next homeless shelter in Norwood. They include a carpet store on Webster Avenue, and the site of a former social services nonprofit on Jerome Avenue, drawing ire from neighborhood residents.
Should DHS consider Sam’s Floor Coverings at 3041 Webster Ave., it would signal yet another setback for a broad vision to turn the wide corridor into a bustling residential and commercial destination.
Community leaders have expressed outrage over news of an impending shelter in Norwood, which they initially heard about in a story published by the Norwood News in October last year. DHS insisted then that the property was not being eyed as a site.
But building records reviewed by the Norwood News show the owner of Sam’s Floor Coverings, Carmine Rossi, submitted paperwork proposing that business at the corner of East Mosholu Parkway North should be reconfigured specifically for “philanthropic or non-profit institution with sleeping accommodations.” The phrase is common for properties that house the homeless, as indicated by documents for 233 Landing Rd., a shelter/affordable housing hybrid that’s slated to open in Fordham this fall.
Rossi did not return calls to the Norwood News despite numerous attempts.
More than 200 people would be able to sleep inside the Webster Avenue property, according to the documents, which also show that another floor would be built atop the existing two-story building. Building a parking facility would also be waived, according to the documents.
Across the street from the carpet business is PS/MS 20 with the local 52nd Precinct next door to the school. A major fear is of the shelter being so close to the school.
“I do not understand how they can put a shelter directly opposite an elementary school. There has to be a more appropriate location,” Barbara Stronczer, president of the Bedford Mosholu Community Association, which holds monthly meetings just a block from the proposed site, said.
Sheila Sanchez, a resident living near the proposed Webster Avenue site, is weary of a shelter near a school. “We already have homeless people sleeping on the parkway,” Sanchez said at an emergency Community Board 7 Land Use/Housing & Zoning Committee meeting on Aug. 14. “I know for a fact that 6 o’clock in the morning every shelter asks the people that sleep in them to leave. So six o’clock in the morning we will have 200 men—we don’t know if they’re good, they’re bad, they’re criminals or whatever—walking around when our kids are going to school. And I know some parents who have their kids walk by themselves.”
A source familiar with ongoing discussions tells the Norwood News that DHS is now reviewing another Norwood property once owned by the Federation Employment and Guidance Service Inc. (FEGS) at 3600 Jerome Ave. The property, slightly isolated, though two blocks from the Woodlawn subway station at the end of the 4 line, has been vacant since the social services firm went bankrupt in 2015.
In a statement, Isaac McGinn, a spokesman for DHS, said, “No final determinations have been made regarding the use of this [Webster Avenue] site.”
The property has since been purchased by 3600 Jerome LLC, according to a review of records on PropertyShark. Its head officer, David Levitan, is linked to shelters across the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. Levitan was named in a 2012 wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a homeless man fatally shot inside the hallway of a Southern Boulevard shelter operated by another limited liability corporation Levitan was linked to. The case was dismissed, according to court records.
Levitan had filed permits for a $783,000 renovation project for the Jerome Avenue property, with plans to remove walls, mechanical ducts, plumbing fixtures and cooking equipment. Levitan did not respond to calls for comment.
As in most DHS-funded shelters, a nonprofit shelter provider would likely be picked to manage the shelter’s operations. In the Norwood News’ original story on Webster Avenue, sources had told the paper that Eduardo LaGuerre, CEO of Neighborhood Association for Inter-Cultural Affairs (NAICA), a Bronx-based shelter provider, had approached Rossi to consider repurposing his carpet business to a shelter. The nonprofit owns four shelters in the Bronx, records show. It also housed the homeless at the troubled Van Cortlandt Motel in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. In October, the baby of a homeless mother had died inside a hotel room reserved for the homeless. LaGuerre did not respond to emails for comment.
In January, Rossi began submitting paperwork for converting the 14,782-square-foot property. In April, Rossi’s plans were approved by the Buildings Department.
The plans seem to conflict with a victory community stakeholders secured in 2011 when they lobbied the city to rezone 80 blocks of Webster Avenue, between East Gun Hill and Fordham roads, opening opportunities for residential and commercial space. New buildings going up were now required to set aside storefronts. The results have been mixed, with supportive housing sites, exempt from building storefronts, opening alongside affordable apartments.
The Stagg Group was among the first to build a new affordable housing property on the strip. It’s now in the middle of building Norwood Gardens at the corner of Webster avenue and East 203rd Street.
The proposed shelter represents a shift back to traditional shelters, with the de Blasio administration phasing out the cluster site shelter model that places the homeless in regular apartment buildings. Mayor Bill de Blasio has stood firm that everyone shares in seeing the construction of shelters across the city. For more than 30 years, the city has been under a federal mandate to build homeless shelters. That mandate has been amplified more in recent years given the substantial increase of homeless throughout the city.
Developers and nonprofit shelter providers have since capitalized on that, knowing city contracts can be in the millions of dollars. The Stagg Group, though building affordable housing, is also in the business of housing the homeless, facing backlash by the community for turning its newest property in Kingsbridge into a shelter.
The city has currently promised to end the use of 217 cluster site apartments in 22 sites across Community Board 7, where the proposed Webster Avenue shelter resides. Over the next few years, the city intends to identify new shelter space within CB7 to accommodate 1,000 or more homeless residents.
But even as the city grapples with securing shelter space, it still does not have enough units to accommodate every homeless resident, making it a developer’s market. Right now there are 674 cases of homelessness within CB7. The city has identified 1,537 homeless residents within the district.
The pressure to build is there, though much of the antagonism towards DHS has been aimed at its meagre 30-day notification to the community about a shelter’s opening.
“I think that is tough road to go in terms of siting shelters,” Councilman Andy Cohen, whose district overlaps with the proposed shelters, said. “I’m sympathetic to DHS, but I think just because it’s a tough road doesn’t mean you don’t have to go down in it and I think you need to treat communities with respect and tell them that this is the plan, and tell them why.”