Under fire from neighborhood groups and homeless advocates alike, City Hall is pausing plans to move dozens of disabled New Yorkers from a Midtown shelter to make space for the homeless removed from an Upper West Side hotel that Mayor Bill de Blasio said was no longer needed.
It’s the latest in a stunning series of developments after de Blasio bowed to a wave of outrage over quality-of-life concerns and ordered the transfer of the nearly 300 men staying in the emergency shelter the city opened in the Lucerne Hotel on West 79th Street.
After threatening a lawsuit, the Legal Aid Society announced Friday that the de Blasio administration is pausing the relocation of disabled New Yorkers from the Harmonia shelter in Midtown. Seventeen families had already been moved, the group said.
“Basically I’m here to say to the mayor, you made a mistake and you have got to fix it and you need to fix it,” said longtime state Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), at a press conference held outside of the shelter. “These people should not be thrown out.”
The facility can house as many as 170 adult families, according to an undated fact sheet posted on its website. Local officials say about 150 called it home.
Residents told The Post on Thursday that everyone had received a letter informing them they were about to be moved, igniting a storm of condemnation from elected Manhattan officials.
“Stop this madness, stop those games. These are real people’s real lives. These are real people being shuffled around,” said Councilman Keith Powers (D-Manhattan), whose district includes the Harmonia.
Someone yelled out during his speech: “Where is the mayor?”
Powers replied: “I don’t know.”
At its peak, 283 men called the Lucerne home. They were among the 10,000 hard-luck New Yorkers moved by DHS to hotels on an emergency basis during the COVID-19 outbreak because social distancing is virtually impossible in the barracks-like setups typically found in city shelters.
The Hotel Association of New York City was tasked with finding and procuring the rooms under a $78 million contract. City officials have said they expect the federal government to cover much of the cost because the move was related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Friday’s rapid-fire developments were the latest in the weeks-long saga surrounding the pitched fight between Upper West Siders over the opening of the hotel-turned-emergency shelter on West 79th Street.
Local opponents argued the Lucerne’s homeless residents — many of whom are recovering addicts — were responsible for a decline in the neighborhood’s quality of life. Complaints poured in of apparently homeless men panhandling, harassing pedestrians, suffering relapsing and sometimes overdosing in public.
One group even hired prominent attorney Randy Mastro, a top adviser to then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani who also represents Midtown residents in their years-long battle to stop DHS from opening a shelter on West 58th Street.
De Blasio took their side after touring the area, describing conditions there as “not acceptable.”
But the opposition earned its own opposition from locals and elected officials, who accused opponents of the Lucerne of betraying the neighborhood’s famously liberal politics and suffering from ‘not in my backyard’ syndrome.
“We are deeply disturbed that the Mayor is caving to political pressure to move homeless New Yorkers out of temporary pandemic shelter at the Lucerne Hotel in a way that will displace 150 adult families living at the Harmonia, none of whom deserve to get caught up in this politicized process,” read a statement put out Thursday by a slew of prominent Manhattan Democrats, including Krueger, Borough President Gale Brewer and longtime Assemblyman Dick Gottfried.
Those criticisms mounted Friday after WNYC co-published an article with Gothamist that quoted vitriolic postings about homeless New Yorkers and the Lucerne’s residents that were made on a private neighborhood Facebook page.
City Hall and DHS both declined to provide any details about the agreement with Legal Aid.
Nor would they confirm that 17 families had been transferred from the Harmonia, provide any clarity about the status of the remaining residents at the Midtown facility or clarify if the agreement has changed the timeline for ending shelter operations at the Lucerne.
“We are continuing to assess on a case-by-case basis the needs of the families at the Harmonia shelter as well as the needs of the single individuals we are relocating from the Lucerne,” said spokesman Isaac McGinn.