Shh-ocked! HIV-AIDS center’s clients blast city for withholding details on its closure to make way for 80 Flatbush complex

Shh-ocked! HIV-AIDS center’s clients blast city for withholding details on its closure to make way for 80 Flatbush complex
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

This silence could be deadly.

Local HIV-AIDS patients slammed the city for keeping them in the dark about its plans to close and relocate a health-services center on the edge of Boerum Hill next month, which officials said will shutter because its building is set to be demolished to make way for a controversial megadevelopment on the site.

The HIV-AIDS Services Administration center at 94 Flatbush Ave. — one of three such borough facilities, where patients are connected to government programs that help them combat the illnesses — occupies a property owned by builder Alloy Development, which plans to raze the structure to erect its five-building 80 Flatbush complex if the city approves a necessary upzoning.

And officials, who rent the current space from Alloy, likely have known of the developer’s plan to destroy the building since the firm revealed plans for 80 Flatbush last year after buying the lot in 2016, but have yet to inform clients of its July 13 closing date, putting many lives at risk, according to a staffer at a nearby needle exchange who works closely with the center.

“None of those folks have been consulted or informed,” said Jason Walker, who works at Vocal New York, where the mayor wants to open a polarizing safe-injection site for opioid addicts. “It’s deeply concerning for us, especially for an agency whose clients’ lives literally depend on accessing these services.”

Officials are moving the HIV-AIDS center’s operations to a nearby Third Avenue building that already houses a similar city-run facility, before it relocates to its new permanent home on Evergreen Avenue in Bushwick inside another complex set to open in 2019, a spokeswoman for the city’s Human Resources Administration said.

The HIV-AIDS center’s lease for its current space between State and Schermerhorn streets expires in December, a spokesman for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services said, and the city likely would have renewed it if plans for the development weren’t in the works, according to the human-resources agency spokeswoman, who said officials chose to move the center before its lease expires but did not say why the center is closing months before its lease ends.

A seven-year client of the center was shocked to learn he will need to schlep to a new site in less than a month — and possibly a different, less-accessible location next year — when this reporter shared the news with him.

“This is the first I’ve heard, and I am directly impacted by this decision. It’s insane and wrong,” said Reginald Brown, who lives in Brownsville and sits on the HIV-AIDS center’s advisory board. “I’m 66, I am a long-term survivor, right now [this center] is very convenient for me. No idea where Evergreen is in Bushwick.”

Brown claimed he never got a call or letter about the move, but said he isn’t surprised the city would be cagey with the details because fellow patients have complained about the human-resources agency’s lack of communication before.

“That has been one of the things other people have said,” Brown said.

And although reopening the center in Bushwick will bring its resources to another neighborhood in need of them, officials should have alerted the community about their plans months ago, so they could include clients and advocates in developing a long-term solution that works for everyone, Walker said.

“We’d love to see a center in a community that’s impacted by HIV, but where it’s situated it’s not as accessible, so that’s another concern for us,” he said. “A lot of this can be addressed and answered with engagement.”

The Councilman whose district includes the Flatbush Avenue HIV-AIDS center — who also leads Council’s General Welfare Committee, which oversees several agencies including the Human Resources Administration — expressed concern that clients didn’t know about the move, and promised to push for transparency going forward.

“There should be ample communication, and if there are clients that don’t know, that warrants further scrutiny,” said Councilman Steve Levin (D–Boerum Hill), who has so far been silent on the 80 Flatbush megadevelopment, despite his likely being the deciding vote on the rezoning request when it reaches Council. “Communication with clients needs to be seamless, and if it’s not, that’s really concerning.”

Human-resources agency staffers told local pols and community boards about its plan for the Flatbush Avenue center in May, according to the spokeswoman, who said they will inform clients this week about the looming closure and relocation.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.