For the second time in less than a week, New York City on Monday canceled plans for a shelter in Chinatown, where community opposition has hampered Mayor Eric Adams’ efforts to get homeless New Yorkers off the streets.
The 94-bed shelter is said to have been in a closed hotel at the busy intersection of Grand Street and Bowery. The site is close to where an Asian-American woman was murdered in February in an attack for which a homeless man has been charged. The shelter’s aspiring operator, Housing Works, planned to allow illegal drugs into the building, a move that drew strong condemnation from local residents.
Both canceled shelters are of a specialized type known as safe havens or stabilization hotels, which offer more privacy and social services and fewer restrictions than traditional shelters. Mr. Adams last week announced plans to open at least 900 rooms in such shelters by mid-2023.
The city’s homeless services department, which had previously said the neighborhood’s large street-homeless population made it a critical place to add shelter capacity, said Monday it would open a facility instead in an area with fewer homeless services.
The department said in a statement, “Our goal is always to work with communities to understand their needs and distribute shelter equitably across all five boroughs to serve our most vulnerable New Yorkers.”
An increase in anti-Asian attacks
This was the same reason the city offered last week when it announced it would not open the other Chinatown shelter, at 47 Madison Street.
But a struggle over which union workers would man the hotel’s remodeling would have actually killed the Grand Street shelter.
Charles King, the CEO of Housing Works, said the organization’s contract with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union requires it to hire that union’s employees for the project.
But the powerful New York Hotel and Gaming Trades Council, which has close ties to the mayor and better known as the Hotel Trades Council, said it has an existing contract with the building’s owner, a former Best Western hotel, which the building to use its workers.
“There’s only one contract with this building, and it’s ours,” said Rich Maroko, president of the Hotel Trades Council. He said an arbitrator recently issued an order stating that future use of the building must be in accordance with the contract.
Mr King said Housing Works proposed a compromise whereby the building owner would hire eight employees from the Hotel Trades Council. But he said Gary Jenkins, the city’s social services commissioner who oversees the Department of Homeless Services, told him the city pulled the plug on the shelter at the urging of the Hotel Trades Council.
“It’s really clear to me that the mayor is more concerned with pleasing this one union than meeting the needs of the homeless,” Mr King said.
The Department of Homeless Services did not respond to a request for comment on Mr King’s claim. Mr Maroko said that the hotel union had urged city hall not to allow the renovation of the shelter to go ahead.
During the 2021 mayoral campaign, the hotel union, which has nearly 40,000 members, gave Mr. Adams its first major labor approval.
Union lobbyist Jason Ortiz also co-founded a super PAC, Strong Leadership NYC, which supported the Adams campaign.
Susan Lee, founder of the Alliance for Community Preservation and Betterment, a Chinatown group that mobilized protests against the asylum, praised the city for “listening to the concerns of the Chinatown community.”
She said she hoped the hotel would reopen as a tourist hotel and help the neighborhood recover from the pandemic.
Dana Rubinstein reporting contributed.