By Sydney Pereira
October 14, 2020
A group of Lower Manhattan residents is suing the city to stop the transfer of a group of men experiencing homelessness to the Financial District after the de Blasio administration bowed to legal threats from an Upper West Side group.
Downtown New Yorkers, Inc. has filed a lawsuit in Manhattan supreme court arguing that the city is only moving ahead to relocate the residents to Lower Manhattan to “cover up for their public relations disasters.”
The plaintiffs argue the de Blasio administration is not permitted to proceed with the transfer because of an expired contract between the Department of Homeless Services and the Hotel Association of New York City to operate the facilities—which were converted from hotels to shelters for homeless residents to allow for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Residents were set to be relocated from the Lucerne Hotel on the Upper West Side to the Radisson Hotel on William Street in FiDi next week after legal threats from UWS neighborhood groups and residents who had threatened the homeless in a Facebook group. Before the FiDi move, the city had considered moving the residents to the Harmonia shelter in Midtown—which would have displaced other families. Throughout the process, de Blasio has been widely criticized for treating residents at the Lucerne, operated by Project Renewal, like board game pieces.
Downtown New Yorkers Inc. is arguing the latest planned relocation to FiDi under public health emergency orders would be “plain subterfuge and a response to protests on the Upper West Side, not to protect the public health.”
“The residents of Lower Manhattan fully support these homeless individuals and we recognize the homeless crisis facing our city,” Christopher Brown of the Downtown New Yorkers group who lives nearby the Radisson Hotel, said in a statement. “However, the City has reacted recklessly and erratically by repeatedly uprooting these individuals based on political pressure.”
Though Radisson Hotel, at 52 William Street, had been used already as a shelter this summer, the group maintains the site needs more “analysis and consideration” because it is near schools and the nearby streets are narrow and congested. The group noted that members have seen “a noticeable increase in drug use, public indecency, and loitering by this population in streets and parks” near an existing hotel-turned-shelter in the neighborhood on Water Street, according to the lawsuit.
Downtown New Yorkers Inc. had been working to raise $1 million to file the lawsuit.
Corinne Low, co-founder of the Upper West Side Open Hearts Initiative, which has been supportive of the homeless men sheltering at the Lucerne, said she wants residents to remain on the Upper West Side, but felt the FiDi group is suing to say “not-in-my-backyard either.”
“Mayor de Blasio can hopefully see now that this is setting off a chain of legal battles in every neighborhood of the city that he doesn’t want to have, where whoever doesn’t want shelters—there’s always going to be somebody—you just have to hire a lawyer to try to kick them out,” Low told Gothamist. “He needs to take a principled stance now and say, ‘No, I was wrong, the right way to handle shelters moving into an area and maybe creating a little bit of disruption and confusion, is to work with those shelters in that place to remedy whatever issues there are in harmony between shelter residents and community members.’ That’s the right thing to do and that’s what we’re doing.”
The suit and press release referenced Upper West Side hotel shelter resident Shams “Da Homeless Hero” DaBaron saying it would be traumatizing to move once again. In an Op-Ed on Tuesday, he wrote that facing another relocation from the Lucerne “brought back thoughts of traumatic experiences from my past, as a young child growing up in New York City’s foster care system.”
“I keep thinking that it’s strange that a few months ago, the mayor would honor a movement and paint a street to show that Black Lives Matter, but when it comes to actual Black lives, suddenly we are expendable,” DeBaron wrote. Gothamist has reached out to DaBaron for comment on his words being cited in the FiDi group’s lawsuit.
While this FiDi group is suing, another one—Friends of FiDi—started meeting this week to prepare a way to welcome the Lucerne residents to the neighborhood, replicating UWS Open Hearts’ organizing.
The Department of Social Services and City Hall deferred to the Law Department, whose spokesperson called the lawsuit “shameful.”
“The entire city has a moral and legal obligation to provide safe shelter to all who need it,” said a Law Department spokesperson. “This shameful attempt to dodge that obligation through a technical procurement challenge will fail in court. Using this hotel to provide shelter during this unprecedented pandemic is not only a justified use of the Mayor’s emergency powers, it is absolutely the right thing to do.”