Bill de Blasio got elected mayor largely on a promise to rewrite New York’s tale of two cities – gaudy wealth existing alongside grinding poverty. The rewrite has proven easier to promise than to execute. With more than 60,000 people now homeless in the city, de Blasio’s plan to sprinkle 90 new homeless shelters throughout the five boroughs has drawn intense backlash – from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to Manhattan’s Billionaires’ Row.
Nowhere is the backlash – or the city’s enduring divide – more stark than in the battle over 158 W. 58th Street, the former Park Savoy Hotel, which the city is trying to turn into a 140-bed homeless shelter. The building happens to sit on Billionaires’ Row, where it abuts one of the poshest new condo towers in the city – 157 West 57th Street – and it’s a block away from the Central Park South tower where a penthouse condo apartment recently fetched $240 million, the highest price ever paid for a home in American history.
Last month a judge gave the West 58th Street homeless shelter the green light – over strenuous objections from neighborhood activists. Now an appeals court judge has put the plans on hold, the Commercial Observer reports, giving the opposition West 58th Street Coalition until May 20 to prove its claim that the Park Savoy is a fire trap.
The Fire Department of New York and the city’s Department of Buildings have both given their approval to turn the nine-story building into a homeless shelter. The Department of Homeless Services has upgraded the sprinkler system, added more smoke detectors, and upgraded room doors to make the building safer. The shelter will have 24/7 security and a 10 p.m. curfew.
“This building is a fire waiting to happen,” says Les Fischer, a member of the coalition who has lived on the block for 13 years. “I asked the commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services [DHS] to have a heart for these homeless people, don’t put them in a death trap.”
Translation: Not In My Back Yard. And now you begin to see why even Charles Dickens would have a hard time rewriting contemporary New York’s tale of two cities.
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