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Homeless Shelter Divides Chelsea

Homeless Shelter Divides Chelsea

The Wall Street Journal 5/19/2010


A nonprofit group plans to build a 12-story, 325-bed homeless shelter on West 25th Street, adding to the city’s capacity to care for the homeless but stirring controversy in Chelsea.

The group, Bowery Residents’ Committee Inc., has signed a lease to build the shelter along with offices, a roof garden and space for outpatient programs in an existing office building between Sixth and Seventh avenues.

BRC would relocate existing facilities that care for the mentally ill and people with alcohol and drug problems and create a new, 200-bed shelter for homeless men.

“We’re going to create a vertical campus,” said BRC Executive Director Muzzy Rosenblatt. “Instead of going in and out of a lot of front doors people will go up and down within a building.”

Robert Benfatto, district manager of Manhattan Community Board 4, which includes Chelsea, said that board members want BRC to reduce the number of beds in the shelter, but that they don’t have the power to stop the move.

Mr. Benfatto said the board hopes to meet with the group next month.

“We’re not going to be able to get rid of them, but maybe we can make it more palatable for the area if we can bring them in to discuss it,” Mr. Benfatto said.

The city’s homeless-shelter population stood at 38,187 at the end of March, one of the highest levels since 1983, according to the Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group.

The move will cost about $16 million, Mr. Rosenblatt said, with the space scheduled to be ready for occupancy by the end of this year. The building’s landlord, Dan Shavolian, will pay for about $4 million of the move’s costs and lend another $8.5 million.

A nonprofit group, Nonprofit Finance Fund, is making a $2 million, seven-year loan. And the rest will be paid for out of revenue from contracts with the city and state, Mr. Rosenblatt said.

BRC, founded in 1971, took in $26 million in grants from government agencies and other organizations to care for the city’s neediest in the year that ended June 30, 2009. The group says it employs 500 people and provides services to more than 10,000 people out of locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens.

David Lebenstein, who represented BRC and focuses on nonprofits for commercial real estate brokerage Cassidy Turley, said it took more than a year and a half to nail down the 33-year, 100,000 square-foot lease on West 25th Street. As a homeless shelter, he said, “they have limited choices on where to go.”