More than a dozen sex offenders residing in unmarked Prospect-Lefferts Gardens building
Prospect-Lefferts Gardens residents were alarmed to discover that a nondescript, unmarked building in their neighborhood has been home to more than a dozen sex offenders. 1785 Bedford Ave., between Sterling St. and Lefferts Ave., began housing the dangerous residents about two years ago. While neighbors and community leaders are outraged at what they say is a lack of proper notification, the landlord claimed all proper procedures were followed to establish the facility.
“1785 Bedford Avenue between Sterling Street and Lefferts Avenue is a half way house for VIOLENT SEX OFFENDERS!” wrote lawyer and local community leader Richard Hurley, Esq., in his e-mail newsletter.
A 71st Precinct Community Council meeting Thursday evening is where many residents said they heard the news for the first time – but not from Precinct leaders.
“Someone asked if there were sex offenders at 1785 Bedford Ave. and the response was that it was a homeless shelter,” said Carmen L. Martinez, president of the Sterling Street B&W Block Association. “I therefore felt compelled to clarify that it was not a homeless shelter, but a half-way house for violent sex offenders.”
Martinez said that a large number of men were consistently seen converging in front of the property about two years ago, and it was assumed that a homeless shelter had begun operating at the location. Indeed, the building’s address matches a listing for the Horizon Hope Center, which claims to provide “support services to persons who are homeless or who are close to homelessness.”
But the Department of Homeless Services, when contacted by Martinez, advised they had no records of a contract for a shelter at the location.
“Instead it was suggested that it may very well be a state contracted facility for sex offenders and, if that was the case, they were able to do so without notification to the community,” Martinez said. “If the Department of Homeless Services is required to give notification to communities when it plans to place homeless people in their neighborhood, some of which are merely victims of circumstances, how can the state be allowed to release violent sex offenders without notification to unsuspecting communities?” Martinez asked.
Martinez said she further contacted the Department of Buildings (DOB) to report the site, because city records still list the property as housing medical offices. But DOB personnel were unable to gain access whenever they tried to inspect the location, she said.
Nearby residents were exasperated.
“It’s crazy; there are so many kids around here,” said Cheryl Kelly, who lives nearby. “What can we do now? You can’t shame them out of existence. And I get that these people have to live somewhere, but the fact that we weren’t notified at the outset is wrong.”
Lensley Reece, who lives across the street with his wife and two of his three daughters, said his family became aware earlier than most as a result of some investigation. “My wife looked up registered sex offenders and saw that a lot of them were listed at a location across the street,” Reece said. “I’m very worried about my daughters now. Sometimes the door to that place is wide open. I don’t let my daughters travel anywhere without someone accompanying them.”
Out of some 75 registered sex offenders listed as residing in the 11225 zip code, about 16 (whose victims range from 3 – 19 years of age) reside at the location presently. Previous searches indicated as many as twenty individuals at the location.
“The alarming thing is the proximity to the schools in this area,” said attorney Richard Hurley. “In addition, for the State of New York to refer these individuals there and circumvent the system that requires notifying the public is outrageous!”
But while critics claimed a lack of proper community notification, the landlord insisted nothing was amiss.
“The proper procedures and notifications absolutely took place,” said Dr. Ezekiel Akanda, who owns the property through an LLC. “It’s a mix of people, both the homeless and sex offenders. No one is ‘violent.’”
Though it appears no sexual or violent assaults upon nearby residents have taken place, people in the area say they have witnessed rude behavior, unsanitary conditions and loud, often violent arguments between groups of the residents outside the building.
“I saw one of the guys, he knew he would get in trouble if he got into a fight, so he tried to offer money to someone on the street to fight for him,” Reece said.
Another resident expressed a concern about tenants who were evicted from the building in which the sex offenders now reside.
“We have this story time and again of tenants being illegally evicted in order to rent vacant apartments at higher prices,” said Elizabeth Mackin, a resident who walked by the location Friday afternoon. Mackin said that in this instance, there were rumors the landlord was getting a better deal (perhaps upwards of $3,000 per apartment, housing 2-3 residents each) under the program from which these residents were referred to him.
“The former tenants have been pushed out, and the remaining tenants are very upset,” Mackin said.
Dr. Akande dismissed claims that he was enriched by the new residents, though he declined to specify the amount he was paid to house the residents referred to him.
Matthew Taub has contacted the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services, Horizon Hope Center and the 71st Precinct for comment. This story will be updated if they respond.