Just over a year ago, it was the homeless shelter that may never be built. Now, the proposed living facility at 6661 Broadway in North Riverdale is the one whose costs seem to be increasing exponentially.
The pending contract for the proposed 140-bed shelter has now skyrocketed to $390 million for the new Yonkers-based service provider Westhab. And that’s a 10 percent jump from the price listed in the city’s public contract portal just last month when Westhab was chosen to replace the original provider.
Westhab was selected by the city’s homeless services department when African American Planning Commission pulled out of the proposed $195 million contract to build and operate the men’s shelter this past December.
Since Fall 2021, neighbors of the site as well as Community Board 8 members have fought the idea of the city placing a homeless shelter in that location citing fears ranging from crime to plummeting property values. For nearly 18 months, the saga of the homeless shelter has continued to hang over the heads of neighbors, and the merchants currently located at the site who have been asked to vacate.
What has added to the bureaucracy of building the shelter was an ethics investigation into AAPCI, which led to the company being put on probation in 2021. That contractor was probed over complaints of nepotism and conflicts of interest regarding its management.
At the same time, Court Square Real Estate Partners had filed permits to build the six-story shelter late last fall. Those plans — drawn up by Manhattan-based RKTB Architects — called for 28 dormitory-style rooms accommodating 140 people, plus a dining room, kitchen, computer lounge, and other multi-purpose rooms.
By the end of Summer 2022, storefront tenants at 6661 Broadway were notified to vacate by Dec. 31. CB8 officers and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Councilman Eric Dinowitz held a news conference across from the proposed site calling for an investigation into what they called “secretive dealings” with AAPCI and the city.
By the end of the year, AAPCI suddenly pulled out of the project “in order to focus on its existing shelter and supportive housing projects.” That left the door open for Westhab, which entered the picture last month.
So, the situation is this: Most of the tenants at 6661 Broadway have closed their shops. A new proposed contract has been awarded for nearly double the cost of the original one. And no construction of a homeless shelter has begun.
And to make matters worse, the New York Post wrote an editorial recently calling into account the integrity of Westhab and the city’s homeless services department administrator Jocelyn Carter.
The paper charges Carter with violating the city’s conflicts of interest law because she doesn’t recuse herself from contracts totaling $1.7 billion given to Westhab, which employs Carter’s sister, Valerie Smith, as its vice president.
Meanwhile, both the Assemblyman, councilman as well as CB8 chair Laura Spalter penned a letter to Mayor Eric Adams, telling him that “to proceed with this contract without restarting the standard contracting process would be a gross dereliction of good governance, and would cast a dark pall on public confidence that our city is spending money ethically and responsibly.”
Whether one supports the building of a men’s homeless shelter in North Riverdale, the huge increase in the contract’s cost over the past year is reprehensible.
Between the bureaucracy and conflict of interest and nepotism charges of the two operators chosen by the city since 2021, it is apparent the process needs to be reviewed so that a shelter that would serve the area can be built and serviced properly.
The city’s homeless services department needs to listen to the CB8 and greater Riverdale electeds on getting this right, because there is no room to get it wrong.