State Sen. Gustavo Rivera is carving a new path in the northwest corner of the Bronx, where a proposed new homeless shelter across from Van Cortlandt Park remains a hot-button issue in 2023.
“As it is currently proposed, I cannot support the development plan for 6661 Broadway,” Rivera told The Riverdale Press.
He said his staff reached out to the former shelter provider for the site African American Planning Commission, city homeless services, and city hall to ask for details about the shelter plan in mid-November, but has still not received a response.
“My team and I do our due diligence for every proposed development we’re asked to weigh in on so we can address community concerns accurately and thoroughly in cooperation with stakeholders,” Rivera said.
He wants to know how the community will be updated on the city’s plans as the search for a new provider gets underway. AAPCI withdrew their proposal to operate the shelter last month, saying in a statement that they plan to focus on their existing shelter contracts across the city.
The newest twist leaves homeless services officials scrambling to find a new provider more than a year after they first unveiled their plans to Community Board 8.
The move raises new questions for the board’s officers. And in a break from the past, North Riverdale’s delegation in Albany and city hall is also now speaking out in unison.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Councilman Eric Dinowitz have been critical for months, raising concerns about the city’s secretive decision-making process in selecting and planning new shelter sites.
By contrast, former state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi supported the proposed shelter.
CB8 chair Laura Spalter said it was “very refreshing” to see Rivera taking a different approach. All three elected officials took part in a phone call last month with Spalter and CB8 land use committee chair Charles Moerdler. It seems they left the call on the same page.
The Dinowitzes and Spalter raised their latest concerns in a Dec. 16 letter to social services commissioner Gary Jenkins, insisting that with AAPCI out, “we strongly believe that the contract process must start over from the very beginning.”
Two weeks later, Rivera followed suit. His own letter to Jenkins, which he sent a week before he officially became Riverdale’s state senator, raised concerns with the city’s process of vetting new shelter providers and questioned the congregate shelter model altogether. Due to redistricting, Rivera’s new district now includes Riverdale.
His criticism echoes that of advocate groups like the Coalition for the Homeless, which has pressed city officials to move away from dormitory-style shelters in favor of safe haven beds and supportive housing options.
Rivera said the congregate model “dehumanizes the individuals it purports to help.”
In his letter to Jenkins, he wrote, “throughout my twelve years in the state senate, my office has followed a process when evaluating proposed developments in our district.
“While evaluating this proposal, numerous issues have come up that prevent me from supporting this proposal at this time.”
Rivera said the city hasn’t yet responded.
Nor have they responded to the Dinowitzes’ joint letter with Spalter. Jeffrey Dinowitz said a city official confirmed they had received it, but they haven’t said anything further.
“This was a bad idea when they proposed it, and it’s a worse idea now,” Dinowitz added. “The city needs to start the process all over again.”
In a statement to The Press, Rivera said New York needs to make “real investments” in affordable housing amid a mounting crisis.
“Unhoused New Yorkers need dignified places to live, and if they would benefit from services, that support needs to be there,” he said. “While I understand that the construction and placement of shelters can be controversial, every neighborhood needs to play its part given the severity of the housing crisis.
“We must ensure the local community board is well-informed so that our community can be involved as critical stakeholders throughout the process.”
A social services spokesperson told The Press the city will continue to pursue the shelter at 6661 Broadway, but the only proposal they will accept is “a finished product that is ready for occupancy, operated by a qualified not-for-profit provider-partner.”
The $211 million contract with AAPCI is still listed as pending in the city’s public contracts portal.
Abigail Nehring is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.