Homeless shelter critics: Building is too little to house 170 men

Carroll Gardens residents: Don’t give us homeless shelter
Community Newspaper Group / Natalie O’Neill

Critics of a planned homeless shelter in Carroll Gardens are going to the courts — and they say they can scuttle the project because the proposed site is simply too small.

Opponents of the men’s shelter say the 10-unit W. Ninth Street building cannot legally hold 170 occupants — the number Aguila Incorporated and Housing Solutions USA are calling for under the plan.

“The city’s housing maintenance code prohibits more than three unrelated persons from occupying any dwelling unit,” said Steven Kirkpatrick, an attorney representing shelter opponents under the name the Coalition for Carroll Gardens. “Since the building contains only 10 apartments, the maximum permitted occupancy is 30 unrelated persons.”

Kirkpatrick and the Coalition for Carroll Gardens tried to block the shelter plan by filing for a temporary restraining order against the city and the service providers leasing the building between Court Street and Hamilton Avenue.

A state Supreme Court judge ordered that the building not be used “in violation of applicable laws and requirements,” but he allowed construction to continue at the site.

Now the courts will determine whether or not a homeless shelter violates those “applicable laws and requirements.” The next hearing is on Dec. 7.

Critics of the shelter plan view Judge David Schmidt’s minor decision as a big win.

“In many ways we got what we wanted,” said Coalition for Carroll Gardens chair Steven Miller. “Having the order gave us more than we had before because any violation of laws could now subject the wrongdoer to punishment, including imprisonment.”

Representatives from Housing Solutions USA and Aguila Incorporated steered all questions to the Department of Homeless Services, which declined to comment except to say it would not violate any laws.

The controversial plan drew the ire of Community Board 6 — which voted against the plan, 31–1 with three abstentions, on Nov. 14.

Last week, board chair Daniel Kummer blasted the proposal in an open letter to Department of Homeless Services commissioner Seth Diamond, claiming shelter operators have not yet released a formal plan despite numerous requests.

“[W]hen a process is not a process, and when we see the city working with service providers and property owners of questionable fitness to develop contracts under secretive conditions, and when the public is left out of any meaningful and ongoing planning discussions, we believe we have a duty to shine a bright light on the situation and demand change,” wrote Kummer, who claims that although he understands homelessness is a real problem in the city, the shelter belongs somewhere else.

The building was originally slated for luxury condos, but was never occupied until 120 homeless male veterans moved in last month after Hurricane Sandy ravaged their Queens shelter. The vets were out within 10 days.

Many residents contend that the proposal for a long-term homeless shelter is unsafe and unfit for the kid-friendly neighborhood.

“Carroll Gardens is in an absolute uproar about this,” said longtime neighborhood activist Buddy Scotto. “Putting them on this particular block will present an incredible threat.”

Photo by Bess Adler