The future of Manhattan College’s former Overlook Manor may be as an asylum seeker migrant housing facility based on a letter provided to The Riverdale Press and a building permit posted on the city buildings department website.
A new permit, dated Nov. 28, says the facility will be classified as a “philanthropic or non-profit institution with sleeping accommodations (settlement house).” The listed contractor is Christopher Miele of Miele Solutions, LLC.
Since the Stagg Group purchased Manhattan College’s former 95-unit, 400-bed dorm earlier this year for $18 million it has been unclear whether the building would be used for affordable housing, a homeless shelter, or a migrant shelter.
A letter provided to The Riverdale Press from Westhab Inc addressed to the Department of Buildings dated Sept. 8 showed the non-profit institution’s interest in using the building as a migrant shelter.
“Westhab Inc. will be providing supportive and social services and sleeping accommodations for migrant families/woman and children at the building to address the migrant housing crisis in New York City,” wrote James Coughlin, Westhab’s chief operating officer. “The existing apartments (currently 95 units) will be used for sleeping accommodations/housing for the migrant families/woman and children and on-site social and supportive services will be provided by the Non-profit in the existing offices in the building.”
The Press reached out to Westhab Inc. for a comment but did not receive a response.
The lack of transparency regarding the dorms future resulted in a “bi-partisan community rally” led by former New York City mayoral candidate and head of the Guardian Angels Curtis Sliwa and Waldo Garden residents who had concerns about the building being used to house migrants.
Those concerns have not dissipated. On Monday Waldo Garden residents held a board meeting to discuss what exactly is taking place in their neighborhood. Sliwa, was asked by the board to be their unpaid advisor on the issue due to his work in the five boroughs.
“Clearly they have a license posted on the windows from the Department of Buildings to begin their work,” Sliwa told The Press. “The understanding, at least originally from what they first said a while back when pitching the idea, was that it would be affordable housing for veterans, for women with children and some homeless. Now the question is, is it being rehashed for migrant housing? Will it be a homeless shelter for single able men? Or women? But we can’t get any answers from either Stagg or the assemblyman or the city councilman or the community board. Nobody is forthcoming with that information.”
The Press reached out to Community Board 8 and Councilman Eric Dinowitz for a comment but did not receive one by press time.
The Press did not see any new permits posted on the window but did observe a stripped lobby and concierge desk, as well as plastering walls, paint buckets and garbage bins.
“I know as much as you do,” Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz told The Press. “It certainly looks like they’re going to move ahead but it’s not 100 percent clear. The fact that they have a permit means they have a permit. It doesn’t mean more than that.”
Assemblyman Dinowitz said it’s unfortunate that the city, who has claimed there is a huge housing crisis, is seemingly not taking the opportunity to have affordable permanent housing at the site.
“We need affordable housing,” Assemblyman Dinowitz said. “I think it’s just a mistake not to have done that here.”
One local resident Lois Harr shared concerns of the scope of the work, the habitability of the building and seemingly quick turnaround time. Harr said a group of neighbors wrote to the buildings commissioner to figure out what was happening.
“Whoever lives there it needs to be decent,” Harr told The Press. “It’s been in a bad way for a while, and when students lived there, there were a lot of problems in the building. I think it’s important that it’s a decent place for people to live whatever the situation. And that if it is migrants, make sure they’re well cared for.”
The asylum seekers staying at Van Cortlandt Motel have had numerous complaints about the living conditions there, from moldy ceilings, bugs biting them, to management entering rooms without permission.
“It’s very much in limbo as to what the intention is,” Sliwa said. “Unfortunately, Stagg has a reputation from other units in Riverdale of first promising upscale housing and then immediately reverting to a different plan of turning it into a shelter. I advised everyone we need to do a deep dig to find out what in fact the use will be. I think everybody was in agreement if it’s for veterans, if it’s for women and children.
“That’s the concept that everyone had originally, affordable housing for them. Let’s see what in fact happens, we know the city needs more migrant centers, as the migrants continue to come into the city. And now that winter is upon us they need more shelter spaces for our own homeless.”
Mayor Eric Adams and his administration recently cut 5 percent from all city agencies as part of a government-wide spending reduction in response to the migrant crisis. The city is expected to spend nearly $11 billion on the asylum seeker humanitarian crisis over the next two fiscal years
According to a census from NYC Comptroller Brad Lander, as of Oct. 29 the city had approximately 65,700 people seeking asylum and more than 136,500 have come through the city’s system since the spring of 2022.