City homeless services officials have selected Yonkers-based Westhab Inc. as the new nonprofit provider to build and operate the proposed 130-bed single adult homeless shelter at 6661 Broadway in North Riverdale. The proposed contract award amount for the new vendor has jumped to $355 million.
The mayor’s office of contract services has not yet received the contract for review, said an agency spokesperson.
A spokesperson for the city’s social services department told The Riverdale Press a new public hearing will take place for the contract with Westhab, and the agency will make another presentation to Bronx Community Board 8. They do not have dates for these events yet, she said.
The city has inched forward with a contract for a “purpose-built” shelter in Riverdale since 2021. African American Planning Commission Inc. backed out of the proposed $195 million contract to build and operate the site late last year, leaving a vacancy that may be filled with another vendor, according to the agency’s open-ended request for proposal process.
A new proposed contract with Westhab appeared in the city’s public procurement database this month in AAPCI’s wake. The nonprofit firm founded in 1981 has built an expansive shelter network in New York City in just seven years. It was awarded its first homeless shelter contract in 2016 for Willow Shelter at 781 East 135th St. in Mott Haven, Bronx.
In 2021 Westhab was awarded a $317 million contract to transform a commercial building at 138-50 Queens Blvd. in Briarwood, Queens, into a 175-bed men’s shelter.
It’s one of the city’s first “purpose-built” shelters built from the ground up by the nonprofit providers that operate them.
That’s an initiative that dates back to former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing agenda.
Briarwood opened last month.
The city’s current contracts with Westhab now total $1.7 billion.
The cost to build and operate the same 130-bed shelter in Riverdale leapt more than 80 percent with the new provider.
The increase is difficult to explain even with the rising cost of construction in New York City and 10 percent inflation that has occurred during the intervening period.
But what’s raising eyebrows most is Queens city council member Robert Holden’s discovery that homeless services administrator Jocelyn Carter and Westhab’s top leadership are related. The organization’s assistant vice president of New York CIty shelter services, Valerie Smith, and Carter are sisters.
The social services department confirmed the revelation first reported in the New York Post.
The organization’s most recent tax returns show Smith is the seventh highest-paid employee at Westhab. She earned $120,669 in 2019, the most recent year available.
In response to The Riverdale Press’s inquiries, a spokesperson for the agency said homeless services officials follow strict policy that ensures compliance with the Conflicts of Interest Board’s rules.
That “means that the DHS administrator had no role in the selection of Westhab as a partner through the competitive request for proposal process,” the statement continued.
“Carter has always recused herself from any and all matters pertaining to the organization’s work with DSS-DHS.”
Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom also weighed in with a letter to the editor The Post published March 19.
Carter is “a dedicated public servant who has always conducted herself with integrity and transparency,” Williams-Isom wrote.
“That includes recusing herself from any involvement with the nonprofit shelter provider her sister Valerie Smith works at, despite The Post’s implication of misconduct.”
The update triggered a new flurry of letters from elected officials and Bronx Community Board 8’s officers.
The social services contracting process is “closed and opaque” wrote Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, Councilman Eric Dinowitz, and CB8 chair Laura Spalter in a joint letter to Mayor Eric Adams last week.
The system “funnels money to preferred providers at the expense of New Yorkers in the greatest need of assistance,” they wrote.
“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.”
The Bronx director of the city’s social services department Jocelyn Bennett replied to Councilman Dinowitz last Thursday.
The agency “intends to move forward with this high-quality, transitional housing facility,” she wrote in an email forwarded to The Press.
The city anticipates the shelter will open in 2025.
Abigail Nehring is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.