housing

Seniors Fight Homeless Charity Pushing Them Out on Street

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson speaks about the potential sale of a senior housing complex in Hell's Kitchen, Dec. 11, 2019.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson speaks about the potential sale of a senior housing complex in Hell’s Kitchen, Dec. 11, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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Elderly tenants being pushed out of a Manhattan senior citizens residence called foul Wednesday on a homeless charity that contends it has no choice but to make them homeless.

Homes for the Homeless told THE CITY on Tuesday it would sell The Riverview in Hell’s Kitchen — booting 31 elderly residents sometime in the new year — because it couldn’t find enough tenants for the building’s 80 units.

But that doesn’t make sense to residents of the West 49th Street building, who said they were repeatedly informed by administrators as recently as this fall that the independent living facility was doing well.

“We met with the director every month and were consistently told that there was no concern about the place,” said Joel Riff, 68, a tenant of Riverview since July 2018 and a former member of the building’s residents committee.

Help in Battle to Stay

Riff and his neighbors, reeling from the news that the building may be sold, gained some powerful allies in their fight to stay put.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson promised Wednesday to find a way to prevent a sale, as he slammed the charity, whose leader reaps more than $600,000 in annual salary and benefits.

“They should be shamed,” he said of Homes for the Homeless during a City Hall news conference. “It is shameful to scare senior citizens and announce this in the midst of the holiday season.

“Any pressure that I can bring to bear to call this sale off, or have it transferred to another nonprofit housing developer … that’s what the best option would be,” he added.

The Riverview apartments for seniors in Hell’s Kitchen, Dec. 11, 2019.
The Riverview apartments for seniors in Hell’s Kitchen, Dec. 11, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Leaders of Homes for the Homeless, which operates Riverview under the umbrella of the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness, have agreed to meet with elected officials, Johnson said.

He and several other area leaders, including State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and State Sen. Brad Hoylman, signed a letter urging the nonprofit to come to the table.

New York Attorney General Letitia James also is looking into the situation, Johnson said. Any sale of a building by a nonprofit must be reviewed by James’ Charities Bureau.

The Attorney General’s Office has not yet received an application for the sale. Linda Bazerjian, a spokesperson for the owners, said talk of a sale is “a bit premature,” noting the process of seeking a buyer has not begun.

‘A Victim of Gentrification’

This is not the first time Homes for the Homeless has planned a big change at the 15-story building near 10th Avenue.

The facility previously operated as a homeless shelter for women and their families until 2015. That’s when Homes for the Homeless CEO Ralph Nunez called the shelter “a victim of gentrification” in increasingly upscale Hell’s Kitchen.

Nunez, the longtime leader of the service provider, took home $626,823 in salary and benefits in the year beginning July 1, 2017, according to the most recently available federal tax documents filed by the group.

That figure includes work he does for all of ICPH, the homeless policy group founded by pet food magnate and former Village Voice owner Leonard Stern. ICPH, through various divisions, runs three homeless shelters, summer camps for homeless children and another senior residence, the Island Shores, on Staten Island’s South Shore.

Bazerjian said the nonprofit considered putting the Manhattan property on the market in 2015, but changed course.

“We thought we would sell the building outright, but then thought we would contribute back to the community. We thought it would work out,” she said.

“After two years running at a deficit, this didn’t work,” Bazerjian said of Riverview.

‘It’s So Devastating’

But Riff said the idea that Riverview — which offers services like housekeeping, laundry, daily meals and social activities — was not in-demand was “just invented.”

People seemed to move in all the time, he said — the newest resident arrived in October. And Riff noted the cafeteria is more full than it’s ever been since he moved from Chicago to be closer to his two sons.

“No one had ever been given any indication that this was in any way temporary,” Riff said.

Riverview resident Muriel Fisher doesn’t know what to do next.

She told THE CITY she left an $811-a-month rent-stabilized apartment in Queens — her home for 52 years — to move to Riverview to be near her only living relative, her grandson.

“It’s so devastating. I don’t know where to turn,” said Fisher, who pays $3,400 a month. “I’m 86 years old. I’m disabled. I walk with a walker.”

Still, Fisher said she’s better off than some others residents, including a 99-year-old Holocaust survivor with memory issues.

Riff said he’s tried to help tenants who are impaired or don’t have relatives close by. Some have started searching for new places to live.

Riff, an attorney who once practiced in California, he’s “prepared to fight” for his Manhattan home.

“To be honest, if I were licensed in New York, I might be in court tomorrow,” he said.

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