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West Harlem Leaders Oppose New Shelter, Call For Housing Instead

Patch logo Patch 1/25/2021 Nick Garber
a group of people standing in front of a building: Zead Ramadan, interim executive director of the West Harlem Development Corporation, speaks during Monday's rally calling for affordable housing at the site of a proposed shelter. © Michael Palma Mir Zead Ramadan, interim executive director of the West Harlem Development Corporation, speaks during Monday's rally calling for affordable housing at the site of a proposed shelter.

HARLEM, NY — Community leaders in West Harlem rallied Monday against the city's plans to construct a shelter for homeless families at the site of a historic church, saying the lot should instead be developed into affordable housing.

Until 2017, the site — at 1763-1771 Amsterdam Ave. between 147th and 148th streets — was the home of Childs Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ, which notably held the funeral of Malcolm X after his assassination in 1965. The historic building was demolished in 2017.

Since 2019, Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration has sought to build a shelter on the now-vacant lot, serving about 84 families with children experiencing homelessness.

Local leaders, however, attacked those plans on Monday, saying they would waste a rare opportunity to build permanent, affordable housing in the neighborhood, rather than temporary shelter beds.

"If you want to end homelessness you have to give people homes," Community Board 9 chair Barry Weinberg said at Monday's rally at the site. "You cannot build an ever-growing homeless shelter system."

a group of people standing outside of a building: Community leaders and officials rallied Monday at the proposed shelter site at 1763-1771 Amsterdam Ave. (Michael Palma Mir) © Provided by Patch Community leaders and officials rallied Monday at the proposed shelter site at 1763-1771 Amsterdam Ave. (Michael Palma Mir)

The proposed building will contain studio apartments that the city plans to lease as a shelter for just seven years, Weinberg said. After that lease ends, he said, the building could become unaffordable market-rate apartments.

Weinberg called on the Department of Homeless Services to work with the neighborhood to help a local nonprofit acquire the site from its developer and build permanent supportive housing for homeless families.

The community board would be willing to "upzone" the site, or change zoning codes to allow for more development, to pave the way for new housing, Weinberg said — a rare pledge for any Manhattan board.

The effort has the support of elected officials including City Councilmember Mark Levine, Assemblymember Al Taylor and Borough President Gale Brewer, who criticized the shelter as "an insane proposal by DHS."

"There are very few pieces of land available for housing," Brewer said, adding that the property's owner is willing to build affordable housing instead of the shelter.

A spokesperson for DHS said the new shelter would help the city achieve its goal of replacing stop-gap facilities around the city with "high-quality" shelters that serve residents in their home borough.

"Working together with neighbors and nonprofit service provider Urban Resource Institute, we’re confident that these families will be warmly welcomed—and through collaborative support and compassion, we will make this the best experience it can be for all," spokesperson Neha Sharma said.

If built, the shelter is expected to open in 2023.

a car parked on the side of a building © Provided by Patch
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