Shelter moves forward despite opposition


Laura Spalter, member of Community Board 8’s land use committee, summarized the board’s interaction with the proposed men’s homeless shelter at 6661 Broadway in two words.

“We lost.”

Spalter was the chair of CB8 itself when the men’s shelter was first proposed in 2021. Over the course of the last three years, throughout the proposal and acquisition of the land, the debate on why a homeless shelter for men should not placed on such a prominent road has been plentiful. Spalter argued Broadway is already saturated with supportive housing, referring to facilities like The W Assisted Living and Kingsbridge Homeless Shelter.

Nonetheless, the property was purchased by Westhab, which provides transitional and permanent housing for the Westchester and New York City area, for $4.8 million in November 2023.

Spalter said census data indicates the section of Broadway inclusive of the shelter is an environmental justice area, meaning it meets or exceeds one of three statistical thresholds: an urban area with at least 52.4 percent minority group members, a rural area with at least 26.3 percent minority group members, or an urban or rural area with at least 22.8 percent of household incomes below the poverty level.

Environmental justice as defined by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights as the fair treatment of all people with respect to “their meaningful involvement in the decision-making processes of the government.” Historically, Black and brown neighborhoods often become targets for facilities other communities do not want, as these communities often exist without political influence, making them an easy target for decisions that lead to adverse consequences.

Spalter said the community around 6661 Broadway disapproved of this decision and residents attended numerous CB8 meetings to vocalize their disapproval.

CB8 did not approve of the shelter moving forward in the neighborhood.

According to Spalter, the shelter will be managed by Westhab and house 130 to 140 men at a time.

State Senator Gustavo Rivera, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowtiz, and Councilman Eric Dinowitz have all opposed the new shelter.

Councilman Dinowitz said he supports the growth of housing and shelter for his constituents but takes issue with this particular facility.

“The proposed men’s shelter in North Riverdale would be detrimental to both the people to be housed there and the constituents in the neighborhood,” Eric Dinowitz said, citing the construction costs, which he said will outweigh any benefits the shelter could provide and the location, which the councilman said would negatively impact current neighborhood residents.

Although the site was first proposed as a shelter for the African American Planning Commission, Inc. —handpicked by city officials to be awarded the contract to run the shelter — but it later backed out. Westhab then bought out the contract for nearly $200 million more than the site was originally listed.

No explanation was ever provided for the jump to a $390 million price tag for the contract at 6661 Broadway, and the public was left with plenty of questions.

Spalter said she wrote city officials numerous times with questions and concerns about the handling of the property and the lack of transparency.

“The community would be fine with housing, but not warehousing,” Spalter said, referring to the housing model Westhab will be using, in which multiple men will share one room. Spalter said this will lead to the facility hosting too many people into one space, making it uncomfortable for the people the shelter is supposed to be assisting.

Spalter said when the department of homeless services presented at CB8 last June, officials said clients at the new Westhab shelter will be accepted into the program regardless of criminal records, sex offender status, mental impairment or drug abuse.

This lack of screening raised safety concerns for community members. Not only is the shelter directly across from Van Cortlandt Park, Spalter said, “it’s in a community of people who have worked hard and bought co-ops and bought homes.”

During the process, Spalter said, she called Councilman Robert Holden from District 30 in Queens about a Westhab facility there and was told the facility has been the center of numerous 911 and 311 calls since its inception.

Westhab assured CB8 it would run a safe shelter, Spalter said.

Riverdale’s city councilman remains unconvinced.

“Transparency is crucial to address the issue of housing and homelessness, and to proceed with any construction without first addressing and rectifying public concern on this matter is a blatant statement against community interest,” Eric Dinowitz said.

Westhab did not respond to requests for comment at press time.

Men's homeless shelter, Broadway, Community Board 8, Laura Spalter, Westhab, housing controversy, neighborhood opposition, safety concerns, transparency issues.