More than 1,600 people have signed a petition supporting the city’s plan to open two homeless shelters in Park Slope, backing the effort which has drawn fierce opposition from some locals since it was announced in April.
“I felt that people in the neighborhood were supportive of the plan, but where’s the evidence to back that up?” said Kathy Price, who stated the petition on June 13 on behalf of the civic engagement engagement group Citizen Squirrel. “I wanted to show the receipts.”
When city officials unveiled their proposal to open the two neighboring shelters — located at 535 and 555 Fourth avenues, and offering a combined 253 housing units — some Slope residents blasted the plan as harmful to the neighborhood.
In an effort to get the city to reconsider the plan, one community group launched an opposing petition protesting the shelters, which has gathered over 1,100 signatures since its creation on May 26.
The pro-shelter effort came as a direct response to that petition, which Price said dramatically overstated the anti-welfare sentiment among Park Slopers.
“I was disappointed by that petition when it was signed by 200 people,” she said. “When that number climbed to 800, I felt that it wasn’t reflective of the neighborhood.”
Within days, the supportive petition overtook its protesting counterpart, which Price said proved her presumption.
“I was relieved and happy to see that what I felt about the neighborhood was panning out in the numbers,” she said. “1,500 signatures is where we can really declare victory.”
The shelters figure to occupy two buildings — a 12-story tower and its 11-story neighbor — which were originally intended as market-rate rentals before the city brokered a deal with the developers to house homeless families there.
Anti-shelter advocates raised concerns in their petition about the inevitable increased population density in the neighborhood, the potential impact on local schools, and the high price the city figures to pay to rent the space.
Local Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope) defended the shelters — which are the brainchild of the Department of Homeless Services, not the City Council — arguing that the developments would bring more residents whether they were used for shelters or for private residents.
Additionally, Lander committed to providing the nearby public schools with additional resources to help integrate any new students who enrolled as a result of the shelters.
Paying market-rate prices for the units is unavoidable, according to Lander, who said the city does not own nearly enough housing units to dent the homeless problem. Still, critics charged that the agreement is providing an undue windfall to the properties’ developers, who stand to charge the city almost $11 million annually. Price started the petition before the city unveiled the project’s steep price tag, but called the cost-critique unwarranted, speculating that spending-hawks were using the criticism to hide anti-shelter bias.
“If we’re really talking about technical, financial details, it makes me wonder — would this ever apply to another building that was both useful and necessary to a community?” she asked. “I don’t think so.”
The major point of tension for many anti-shelter demonstrators, however, is the potential negative impact on local property values. Shruti Kapoor — who authored the anti-shelter petition in May — questioned Department of Homeless Service reps’ claims that shelters do not affect the value of neighboring homes.
“Even though in the town hall they said historically there’s no data that shows property values aren’t affected by shelters, the fact is there’s very little date on this type of huge… we’re not talking about one shelter, we’re talking about two huge shelters near our properties,” Kapoor said. “There’s no doubt this will have a negative impact on the property value.”
Price bushed off the property value questions, pointing to a Kensington homeless shelter that has ingratiated itself with the neighborhood, as evidence that shelters can be a net-positive neighbor.
“All I can do is look at the facts,” said Price. “I’ve decided that, based on what we know about other family shelters and the effects they have on other communities, that this can be a good thing for the community.”