shelter

State Agency Stalls Open of Billionaires’ Row Homeless Shelter

The shelter at the former Park Savoy hotel is nestled between new construction on Billionaires' Row.
The shelter at the former Park Savoy hotel is nestled between new construction on Billionaires’ Row. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Despite a court ruling this week giving a Billionaires’ Row homeless shelter the green light, the state agency with the power to allow people to move in still refuses to let it open.

The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance says it is still reviewing the building’s certification, on an application first submitted two years ago — while taking into account a lawsuit brought by the West 58th Street Coalition, which opposes the shelter.

The coalition, represented by former Giuliani administration deputy mayor Randy Mastro and other attorneys, has been appealing directly to state officials and the governor, asking them to not grant the shelter necessary approvals, according to letters obtained by THE CITY.

A spokesperson for the state agency said the shelter’s application includes a request to waive state regulations, which “relates to ongoing litigation.”

“Therefore, the state continues to carefully consider the shelter operator’s application,” OTDA’s Anthony Farmer said in an email.

He would not say which regulation was causing the hold-up, or how it related to the lawsuit.

An attorney for the coalition told THE CITY the group plans to continue with its appeal, which will be argued in the fall. The case, first filed last summer, could continue for months.

The coalition had previously asked the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court to grant an injunction to keep the planned shelter closed while the appeal is prepared. But the court on Tuesday rejected that request, paving the way for the city’s Department of Homeless Services to legally move homeless men into the building.

City officials said the shelter’s services provider, Westhab, is ready to go and the building is fully prepared to welcome new residents.

But that can’t happen until the state signs off on the shelter certification, the application for which was first submitted in August of 2017.

In the 58th Street case, the process “seems to be taking an unusually long time,” according to  Catherine Trapani, executive director of Homeless Services United — a nonprofit organization that represents shelter providers, including Westhab.

“The fire department has approved it. The Department of Buildings has approved it. The provider is ready. They have staff at the ready. The only thing holding this up is the prejudice of the neighbors,” she said.

The West 58th Street Coalition did not respond to a request for comment.

‘Compassionate New Yorkers’

The group, led by fashion executive Suzanne Silverstein, describes itself as “compassionate New Yorkers with deep concerns” about the city’s plan to open the 140-bed men’s shelter at 158 W. 58th St., the former Park Savoy hotel. The coalition says its primary concern is the safety of the building, which has only one way to get in or out.

In April, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Alexander Tisch rejected a challenge by the coalition, which claimed, among other things, that the building was unsafe and not in compliance with current-day building and fire codes.

A woman walks by the shuttered Park Savoy Hotel, on Feb. 28, 2019.
A woman walks by the shuttered Park Savoy Hotel, on Feb. 28, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

From court papers, it’s clear what those fighting the facility have in common: They all live directly next to or down the street from the shelter site, which is adjacent to the high-rise strip known as Billionaires’ Row.

Since it formed last year, the group has spent at least $155,800 to hire four different individuals and firms to lobby city officials, according to public records. There is no record the coalition lobbied any state-level officials.

However, according to letters obtained by THE CITY, both Mastro and an attorney from the firm  Rivkin Radler repeatedly went to the state to make their clients’ case, asking high-level state officials to keep the facility closed as the court case went forward.

“I write again … to ask OTDA to continue to refrain from certifying this dangerous shelter in its current condition while the legal process is playing out and the appeal is pending,” Mastro wrote in an April 30 letter to Cheryl Contento, the deputy commissioner of OTDA, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo — the day after a city judge rejected the group’s challenge in New York Supreme Court.

A representative of Rivkin Radler echoed the ask four days later, underlining the coalition’s consistent focus on the safety of the shelter building.

“In order to prevent needless injury or loss of life while the appeal is pending … refrain from issuing any certification,” attorney Jeremy Honig wrote.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeless Services says it is working with OTDA to get certification for the shelter as soon as possible, but has no estimate for when that may happen or when shelters residents will move in.

“We look forward to opening our doors to hard-working neighbors in need at this location as soon as possible — and will continue to work with the community to ensure our clients are embraced and supported as neighbors,” said DHS spokesperson Isaac McGinn.

To Trapani, of Homeless Services United, the state’s indecision throughout the case amounts to a de facto legal block.

“It’s almost as if they’ve gone ahead and issued a stay even in instances where the judges haven’t,” she said. “There’s no legitimate reason for this site to not be open.”

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