Crown Heights

Families face eviction from Crown Heights homeless shelter over $4M debt

September 27, 2019 Kelly Mena
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Homeless families at a Crown Heights shelter are facing eviction and could be out on the street in the coming weeks due to $4 million in overdue rent and utility payments, according to the building’s owner. 

Samuel Fleischman is a member of E.N.Y. Plaza LLC, which owns a building at 1040 East New York Ave. Since 2009, that building has been a homeless shelter for women, couples and families with children. The shelter is operated by a nonprofit called Bushwick Economic Development Corporation, a city-contracted service provider for the homeless.

For the past decade, the city would provide funds to BEDCO, and BEDCO would use those funds to pay rent and utilities at its sites across the city, including the one in Crown Heights. But after the city decided to phase out its contract with BEDCO in 2017, the money stopped coming.

Now, Fleischman says he is being forced to take legal action.

“We have acted in good faith and worked tirelessly to keep our tenant[s] in place, and, by extension, 68 families who would otherwise be homeless,” Fleischman said in a statement. “But the city has been acting in bad faith and now our mortgage is in jeopardy, not to mention the fates of 68 families in distress. The city’s actions are a disgrace.”

A spokesperson from the Department of Homeless Services told the Brooklyn Eagle that there are 49 families living in the shelter.

The city began efforts to terminate its contracts with Brooklyn-based nonprofit in 2017. The previous year, two girls — a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old — died following the explosion of a faulty radiator at one of BEDCO’s Bronx sites. The explosion triggered an investigation into BEDCO’s shelter conditions, after which the city announced it would stop using the nonprofit as a provider.

The city has since shuttered all sites except for three, which are scheduled for closure, including the Crown Heights shelter.

Fleischman told the Eagle that his lawyers received an eviction judgement — the first step in the process — on the property in early September. They expect an eviction issuance — which terminates the lease agreement — in the coming days or weeks. 

This is the second threat of eviction the shelter site has received. The last one was in 2018 for an overdue $1.3 million. Brooklyn Civil Court Justice Harriet Thompson sent a letter to the city’s Human Resources Administration, imploring the agency to require DHS to cover the $1.3 million. The city did not pay, and the amount as now ballooned to $4 million, according to Fleischman.

DHS contends that of that $4 million, the agency is only responsible for $500,000 in back rent, which it cannot pay because BEDCO has not provided the appropriate paperwork to allow for the release of funds. The remaining $3.5 million are utility bills that BEDCO must pay, according to DHS spokesperson Issac McGinn. 

Arianna Fishman, another DHS spokesperson, claims that the city reached out to Fleischman about changing providers at the shelter. Fleischman says he refused, citing the need to get paid for the dues the property had accumulated. 

“I told them, ‘No problem, do whatever you want to do, but I have to be paid,’” he told the Brooklyn Eagle.  

The city says they will not allow the current Crown Heights shelter tenants to be left on the street, but they did not provide a definitive plan. 

“Under no circumstances will we allow our clients to be forced out onto the streets … we are phasing out facilities that don’t deliver what our clients deserve,” Fishman said.

BEDCO did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails and an in-person visit to the site requesting comment.

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