A group of Lower Manhattan residents and businesses sued the city Wednesday morning to prevent Mayor Bill de Blasio from moving about 240 homeless men from the Lucerne Hotel on the Upper West Side to a former Radisson Hotel in their neighborhood.
“The city has reacted recklessly and erratically by repeatedly uprooting these individuals based on political pressure,” said Christopher Brown, co-founder of Downtown New Yorkers Inc.
De Blasio announced his plan to move the homeless men from the Lucerne West 79th Street in September after a lawyer representing a UWS neighborhood group threatened legal action over their continued presence in the area. Locals had complained that recovering addicts and other homeless men at the Lucerne accosted residents, openly used drugs in the street and caused other quality-of-life issues.
The move is expected sometime this month.
Officials dramatically expanded their use of hotels to provide emergency shelter space for New York’s least fortunate during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as the usual congregate shelters lacked the needed space for social distancing.
Before the pandemic, there were roughly 3,500 homeless people placed in hotels — a figure that quadrupled to more than 13,000 as the coronavirus ravaged the Big Apple.
When Lower Manhattan residents discovered the de Blasio administration’s plans to move the Lucerne occupants to a shuttered Radisson Hotel on William Street, they organized, hired the law firm Cozen O’Connor, and started raising money to bring a lawsuit.
The mayor has promised to end the use of hotels to house the homeless, but his administration wants to make the Radisson Hotel a permanent shelter.
The Downtown New Yorkers’ new Manhattan Supreme Court suit says “the city is exploiting the current humanitarian crisis to cover up its own mismanagement” because there’s no “public health rationale” for the proposed transfer.
There’s no contract with the shelter operator, Project Renewal, to assure accountability and transparency, according to court papers. City officials haven’t performed an analysis to see if the location is appropriate.
Residents argue it’s not because of the congested streets, the proximity to several schools, and the lack of support systems.
“We believe that the homeless men are better served by remaining on the Upper West Side, where they have access to extensive social programs — including a powerful jobs program — that are not available in Lower Manhattan,” Brown said.
The suit even quotes a Lucerne resident named Shams who told the local community board at a recent meeting that he and others living on the UWS prefer to stay put.
“Many of us at the Lucerne do not wish to move. We don’t want to move because we’ve been moved around quite a bit. And just up and moving like that, especially with such short notice, is traumatizing, to say the least,” Shams said, according to court papers.
A spokesman for de Blasio’s Law Department said, “The entire city has a moral and legal obligation to provide safe shelter to all who need it.
“This shameful attempt to dodge that obligation through a technical procurement challenge will fail in court. Using this hotel to provide shelter during this unprecedented pandemic is not only a justified use of the Mayor’s emergency powers, it is absolutely the right thing to do,” the spokesman said.