2008-12-24 / Features

Board 1 Opposes Urban Pathways' Building

BY RICHARD GENTILVISO

From the outset, there were concerns and Community Board 1 overwhelmingly voted against a proposed 50-unit building for homeless people who have also been diagnosed with mental illness and/or substance abuse issues.

"It's unfair to house people in an area without basic needs—no supermarkets, drugstores, banks, and limited transportation," said Jean Marie D'Alleva, chairperson of the health and social services/ seniors committee at the Board 1 December meeting.

"There are three bus lines across from the Astoria Houses," said Frederick Shack, executive director of Urban Pathways. Shack asked Community Board 1 for a letter of support to develop and construct the 50-unit building at the northwest corner of 27th Avenue and 2nd Street for its clients.

Urban Pathways, under a concept called supportive housing, provides services for homeless and formerly homeless adults, including those who are seriously and persistently mentally ill and/or chronically homeless, including those who may have other disorders like HIV/AIDS and/or substance abuse.

"Your population is using drugs, has HIV/AIDS and the area for your proposal has drug problems to begin with," said Board Member Rose Marie Poveromo.

"Your population is vulnerable, said Board Member Juanita Brathwaite. "You're bringing them into an area that is already impoverished."

Occupying 32.3 acres, from Hallet's Cove to the East River and along 27th Avenue to 8th Street, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Astoria Houses is home to 3,135 people. It has 1,102 apartments and consists of 22 buildings, some six- and some seven-stories high.

A member of the Astoria Houses coalition, said, "We're not against anybody having another chance in life, but we are saturated, we are inundated, we already have our own concerns. We live in a peninsula that is desolate. We don't have what we need to embrace our own community. We are fighting to sustain the people who already live in our area. We can't afford to bring any more people into that area. We don't have anything to offer them."

Shack, in a visual presentation to the board, pointed to the success of Urban Pathways, a 55-unit supportive housing development completed in 1997 on Manhattan's gritty West Side, the Ivan Shapiro House at 459 W. 46th St.

Our location in Manhattan on Ninth Avenue was similarly plagued [by drugs and other problems] at the time, it's very nice now," he said. "It is my hope that in 10 years, five years, from now we'll be able to say the same thing [about the new proposal].

Zoning and Variance Committee Chairperson John Carusone said the proposed development in an undeveloped area located near the waterfront will deter future waterfront development.

A recent study by the Furman Center School for Real Estate and Public Policy of New York University shows values actually increase slightly for properties closest to supportive housing, said Shack.

Asked by D'Alleva if Urban Pathways had investigated other locations, Shack said, "Siting is a challenge. We've been priced out of Manhattan and I'm looking for properties we can afford and that are large enough."

The property at the northwest corner of 27th Avenue and 2nd Street is under contract to be purchased by Urban Pathways. Funding is provided by the New York State Department of Mental Health.

City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., in a November 18 letter to Governor David Paterson, said he opposed the $14 million plan for the 50-unit supportive housing residence.

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