Housing for homeless raises neighbors hackles
December 24, 2009
By Aliza Appelbaum
Residents of Kingsbridge’s Cannon Place, a narrow, mostly quiet street between the Major Deegan Expressway and the Jerome Park Reservoir, might soon be getting some new neighbors: a 90-unit facility mainly for formerly homeless people with special needs.
At a recent meeting held by Community Board 8’s Land Use Committee, more than 100 people living on or near Cannon Place showed up to voice their concerns.
“People had problems with having those facilities in the area,” said Charles Moerdler, chair of the Land Use Committee. “Those units, they now tell us, are going to be occupied by people who have substance abuse issues, who have schizophrenia issues, who have other issues. There are concerns.”
Sixty percent of the facility would be set aside for formerly homeless people who require special assistance, whether with substance abuse issues or because they have some form of mental illness. The other forty percent will be affordable housing, set aside for people who could not otherwise afford to live in the area, said Frederick Shack, executive director of Urban Pathways, the not-for-profit organization that would build and maintain the facility.
The people being helped by Urban Pathways “are able to participate and work in the community,” and should not be a cause for concern, Mr. Shack said.
“People are afraid because of the fact that our clients have special needs,” Mr. Shack said. “There is an assumption that our clientele are a threat to the community. It’s just not the case.”
But area residents and local officials have many concerns, ranging from whether the affordable housing units would be appealing enough for people to rent, to the size of the facility to safety in the neighborhood.
“I know of many people in need of affordable housing, but my guess is that the fact that two-thirds of the building consists of formerly homeless people who are mentally ill would not be attractive to people, and people would not want to live there, and those units would remain open,” said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who attended the meeting.
Is it safe?
Donna Malloy, a resident of neighboring Fort Independence Street, shared Mr. Dinowitz’s concerns about security.
“Why should we have to have our safety compromised?” Ms. Malloy wondered. “I have read that some of those people could be off their medication. But how long have they been off? What is the criteria there?”
Ms. Malloy said she also had concerns about the size of the facility, noting that something smaller might face less opposition.
“As it is, I don’t feel as though it’s the right fit for the neighborhood. It would create more problems than make things better,” Ms. Malloy said. “If it was something like 20 [units], I think we would all jump for it.”
That sentiment was echoed by many in the community.
“We don’t oppose supportive housing in our community, but something of that scale is just way more than the community can absorb,” said Kristin Hart, a resident of Cannon Place who attended the meeting. Eight to 10 units would be appropriate, she said.
But before that can happen, construction on the building is still an issue. The proposed site, 3469 Cannon Place, is a rocky hill that would prove difficult to build on, said Mr. Moerdler. The resulting structure would tower over the rest of the block, he added.
But Community Board 8 was specifically chosen, said Mr. Shack.
“We wanted to see a community that would be best-served by the affordable housing units, a set-aside for local residents who can’t afford housing,” Mr. Shack said.
Additionally, Urban Pathways is committed to hiring from the community, and to making the facility safe with full-time staff and 24-hour security, according to informational materials provided by the organization.
This is part of the December 24, 2009 online edition of The Riverdale Press.
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