OPINION: Brooklyn is Finally Addressing NYC’s Critical Housing Needs. Why Won’t the Upper West Side Be Next?

This is an op-ed written by Rachel Nazarian, Heather Groeger & The Friends of Ederle Playground Community Group

protest homeless shelter 59th street

A September 2023 protest at the site of the women’s shelter being built at West 59th Street. Photo by Bobby Panza.

For four decades New York City has maintained its “right to shelter” mandate, helping to establish one of the lowest rates of unsheltered homelessness in the nation. However, despite this fact, New York City simultaneously maintains one of the highest populations of homelessness nationwide. As it stands, we are struggling to support over 100,000 individuals, and with a record number of asylum seekers arriving in 2023, the city’s promise to shelter all of those in need is becoming nearly impossible to keep.

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There is no denying the demand for immediate action. Vulnerable populations should not have to resort to sleeping or living on the streets. Existing buildings, hotels, and available spaces are well-suited for providing temporary support. However, our lack of long-term solutions seems to be perpetuating a growing problem, rather than empowering individuals with a place to turn after their shelter stay.

In January of 2022 Mayor Eric Adams acknowledged the housing crisis here in New York City by appointing an Affordable Housing Leadership team. Together these individuals are set to spearhead the administration’s affordable housing strategy by supporting a variety of measures including upzoning areas with robust infrastructure and around major transit hubs, creating a new housing supply around the five boroughs, legalizing basement apartment dwellings, and converting underused hotels and office buildings into affordable housing.

Ironically, the exact opposite seems to be happening on the Upper West Side. In fact, at this time, New York City nonprofit, Project Renewal, is in the process of constructing a $500 million shelter from the ground up on West 59th street. Originally approved under the DeBlasio administration, this women’s shelter is set to temporarily house 200 women, many of whom are suffering from chemical addiction and/or mental illness. In addition, the facility will also include a street-level health clinic that provides suboxone to the general public in walking distance from a popular community park.

While the goal of this project may be well-meaning, it will not significantly move the needle in our battle against homelessness. This is because the solution New Yorkers are calling for (which has been acknowledged by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development) is one that offers permanent support. In a financial climate where housing affordability has worsened and government cutbacks continue to target low-income communities, we need ways to link those in danger of long-term homelessness with subsidized housing. Otherwise, shelter stays become cyclical for the vast majority of homeless New Yorkers. In fact, both research and experience have shown that investments in permanent affordable housing are extraordinarily effective in reducing homelessness.

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With support from the State and City of New York as well as passionate elected officials, the Brooklyn Public Library and Fifth Avenue Committee recently completed a first-of-its-kind, mixed-use development project that couples 100% affordable housing with a 20,000 square foot public library. In addition to doubling the size of the previous branch with modern amenities and community spaces, the Sunset Park Library and Apartments project offers 49 units for low- and moderate-income residents, as well as units designated to receive Section 8 subsidies. The successful completion of this project has not only provided a tangible response to the critical housing needs of the community, but also acts as a model for future developments throughout the city.

Calls for permanent, affordable housing exist in all five boroughs. However, unlike in Brooklyn where community voices are finally being heard, Project Renewal is turning a blind eye to mounting disapproval. For that reason, the Friends of the Ederle Playground, a local Upper West Side community group, is publicly requesting that Project Renewal’s development be used instead to create apartment units for families and individuals battling homelessness.

Will the Department of Housing Preservation and Development stay true to its word and consider offering the city a more permanent solution? Here’s to hoping.


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  1. Puneet December 28, 2023
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