A West Side construction project on the border of Hell’s Kitchen and the Upper West Side has triggered a polarizing debate: Should a $500 million 40-year City contract awarded to Project Renewal for a women’s shelter be better spent on affordable housing? Councilmember Gale Brewer and local activists argue for the latter, while the non-profit advocates for the shelter.
CM Brewer and Friends of Ederle Playground, a local community group, held a rally last week calling for the women’s shelter currently being constructed at 537 W59th Street (between 10th and 11th Avenue) to be utilized as permanent affordable housing. The site was home to the Manhattan Neighborhood Network before being sold to Project Renewal last year for $19 million.
The heart of their argument is that affordable housing is much more effective than homeless shelters. The shelter was approved under the Bill DeBlasio administration and is currently under construction. It is expected to open in 2025.
“If a building’s going to be converted, that exists and is a good non-profit, I’ll support it,” said CM Brewer. “I do not support a brand-new building being anything but affordable housing.”
Project Renewal, a non-profit organization that provides the homeless and low-income men and women with programs to help them find jobs and homes, would be operating the potential shelter — housing about 200 women, with eight to a room. The facility will have an 800-square-foot kitchen to serve residents three meals a day, along with a Federally-Qualified Health Center open to the community.
“We’re working with Hudson Companies to construct this modern, purpose-built women’s shelter, with robust social services, health care and security to help our clients on their paths to permanent housing. Our work will build on our 55 years of experience providing housing, health care and employment support for our fellow New Yorkers. Project Renewal greatly values relationships with our neighbors and community members at all sites we operate, and we have reached out to and met with many local stakeholders about the shelter,” Project Renewal said in a statement.
“New York has a runaway shelter problem that has spent billions in taxpayer dollars on a failing technique,” said Dr Rachel Nazarian, a local resident and supporter of affordable housing. “The spending is out of control. The strategy is failing.”
Opponents argue that Project Renewal’s shelters have a history of violence across the city in recent years. One concern is that the shelter’s smoking courtyard will be located directly next to Gertrude Ederle Playground, where children play. There is also concern over potential drug use occurring so close to the playground. Those at the rally asserted that their views on the situation are not anti-homeless, but rather that affordable housing is a much more effective mechanism than shelters.
“Large-scale shelters are an antiquated and ineffective system of homeless mismanagement,” said Heather Groeger, a local resident. “What we need here is affordable housing.”
Friends of the Ederle Playground has collected over 2,250 signatures in a petition calling for the new building to be utilized as permanent affordable housing.
“While we support a compassionate solution for individuals experiencing homelessness in New York City, we strongly oppose the proposed location of this large-scale temporary shelter given that it would be located directly next to the Gertrude Ederle Playground and its closeness and proximity to several schools,” reads the petition.
Bennett Reinhardt, spokesperson of Open Hearts — an organization that gained prominence during the pandemic when it supported single homeless men relocated to The Lucerne hotel on W79th Street, said in a press release: “Councilmember Brewer’s decision to join these dehumanizing calls is deeply disappointing.”
This story was modified to clarify that the $500 million awarded by the City to Project Renewal for the women’s shelter covered costs over 40 years. “The City’s contract is over the duration of 40 years and annual operating costs are also included in the 40-year contract. The amount is not just for the physical construction of the building,” Project Renewal said in a statement via email.