The city announced today it removed all its resident clients from a four-story Bedford-Stuyvesant walk up illegally converted from a 14-unit apartment building to a 42-unit single room occupancy (SRO) shelter.
But the entire incident, in which the owner of the building at 529 Monroe Street appeared in some form of collusion with both the city and the non-profit organization that has a contract with the city to house homeless in an illegally converted building has local officials deeply concerned.
“I am deeply grieved that 14 families in our community have been displaced by an investor-owner who illegally converted their building to an SRO. I am awaiting a response from DOB [Department of Building] and HRA [Human Resources Administration] to explain how such a conversion was allowed to happen, undetected and then to have a City funded organization use an illegally converted building as a shelter,” said Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant, Northern Crown Heights).
“Homelessness is a major concern throughout the City and I am a staunch supporter of permanent housing solutions. I look forward to working with our partners in City government to find shelter for those residents placed in the illegal SROs, ensuring the 14 families have housing and realizing systems so we are never again faced with such a debacle,” Wright added.
According to Community Board 3 District Manager Henry Butler residents have filed complaints about the building with CB3 as far back as the spring of 2017 when construction first began on the 4-story walk up.
Despite repeated complaints that the construction was illegal, the owners Monroe Lewis LLC, one of the shadowy landlords that operate out of 199 Lee Avenue in Williamsburg, was able to not only complete the illegal work, but secure a contract whereupon the city contracted with the non-profit Core Services to turn the site into a SRO homeless shelter.
The owners were able to do this even after the DOB slammed them with several fines including one for occupancy exceeding nearly three times the building’s Certificate of Occupancy and for altering plumbing without a permit.
Then, since September 2017 – around the same time the city passed legislation that would ramp up penalties as well as allow the Department of Buildings easier access to buildings suspected of illegal home conversions, the city began to illegally fill the building with tenants.
Despite the DOB leveling fines at the building’s owners for the illegal conversion, the HRA continued to house the homeless there, netting the landlord and Core over $40,000 a month in guaranteed city funding to split up as the city pays $1,047 per SRO unit.
While the owners of the property couldn’t be reached, the city and Core Services all pointed fingers away from themselves for breaking the law.
“The building operator did not submit the request to amend the Certificate of Occupancy to the Department of Buildings,” said HRA spokesperson Lourdes Centeno. “Due to his failure to do so HRA is initiating the process of relocating these residents effective immediately.”
Core Services spokesperson Lupe Todd-Medina said, “HPD and HASA [HRA’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration] approved the site before CORE occupied the site.”
But to Butler, the illegal conversion is one of a series of examples, in which the city is dumping homeless shelters in the neighborhood.
“I find it ironic that the city is complicit with a building that has been illegally converted,” especially when they just passed a bill to crack down on landlords who build outside the parameters of their certificate of occupancy,” said Butler, noting that Bedford-Stuyvesant residents have repeatedly criticized the city for ignoring the 1989 Fair Share guidelines which sought to equally and fairly distribute shelters throughout the city.
“Bed Stuy has more than a dozen buildings dedicated to the department of homeless services while other neighborhoods have none. So you tell me if the city is in compliance with Fair Share policies. How many are there in Park Slope or Kensington where the mayor is from?”