From Billionaires' Row to Soho, Homeless Shelters Must Go

SoHo, Manhattan

The parking garage at 10 Wooster St. in Soho could become a 200-bed homeless shelter.

April 5, 2021 — Co-op and condo residents push back against shelters in posh hoods.

It started on Billionaires’ Row, when co-op and condo residents – few of whom are billionaires – pushed back against a plan by Mayor Bill de Blasio to convert the former Park Savoy Hotel on West 58th Street into a homeless shelter. Now the pushback has traveled south from Billionaires’ Row to Soho.

At a recent meeting of Community Board 2 in Soho, a dozen residents and business owners spoke out, NIMBY style, against a de Blasio proposal to convert a four-story parking garage at 10 Wooster St. into a 200-bed shelter for homeless men, Crain’s reports. People expressed concerns about crime, noise and the potential hazard of housing people in a site once filled with car exhaust.

"They're jamming this into our community," William Bialosky, who owns an architecture practice on an adjacent block, said after the meeting. "And it's not the answer to our homeless problem."

Executives at Westhab, the Yonkers-based shelter operator, are not surprised by the pushback within Community Board 2, since the company was set to convert the Park Savoy Hotel into a shelter, a project that remains unbuilt because of community resistance. Last summer, a state appeals court overturned a ruling that the 150-person men’s shelter on West 58th Street could go forward. The reversal said more information was needed on whether the building’s conversion to a homeless shelter is consistent with “general safety and welfare standards,” sending the matter back to a lower court for further review.

But Westhab points out that the Soho shelter will employ 40 security officers, 10 of whom will be on duty at any time, and that men convicted of sex crimes will not be among the residents, some of whom will commute to classes and jobs. "It's really important that our programs are safe, that our programs are secure and that our programs are clean," says James Coughlin, the firm's chief operating officer.

Under the deal, Westhab will lease the buff-brick garage at 10 Wooster St. from Liberty One Group, a Manhattan developer. Liberty is in talks to buy the garage from Park-It Management, city officials said.

Under an effort begun in 2017, the mayor is reorganizing the shelter system by converting apartments once used as temporary shelters into permanent housing and creating 90 temporary shelters; so far 44 have opened. Although some neighbors of the Wooster shelter defended the initiative, most seemed firmly opposed to Soho as a location.

Mark Flannery, who lives a few doors away, is an opponent. "This,” he says, “is going to cause some trouble.”


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