Bronx Leaders Call for Official Investigation into Secretive Dealings Regarding Proposed Congregate Shelter

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, Council Member Eric Dinowitz, Bronx Community Board 8 Chair Laura Spalter, and others joined together to respond to termination notices received by small business owners at 6661-6669 Broadway.

BRONX, NY – A group of local Bronx leaders held a press conference on Tuesday morning to criticize the opaque and secretive process that seems to be occurring related the proposed construction and operation of a new 130-bed adult men’s congregate homeless shelter at 6661 Broadway. Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, Council Member Eric Dinowitz, Bronx Community Board 8 Chair Laura Spalter, and Bronx Community Board 8 Land Use Chair Charles Moerdler spoke at the press conference, which was also attended by dozens of community residents who showed up with less than 24-hours notice.

The proposed congregate shelter, which would be funded by the NYC Department of Homeless Services at a cost of $195 million in public funds over thirty-four (34) years, was announced last year and was swiftly met by nearly unanimous community opposition. Residents and local leaders have cited extensive problems with the congregate shelter model as the primary reason for opposing such a facility, but there have also been substantive ethical questions raised about the would-be non-profit provider selected by DHS to operate the shelter.

A set of New York Times exposé articles from the past year have raised questions about the African American Planning Commission, Inc (AAPCI) regarding the organizational structure as well as relationships with private, for-profit vendors who appear to have familial ties to the CEO of AAPCI, Matthew Okebiyi. According to the New York Times, DHS has requested that AAPCI remove the CEO’s brother, Raymond Okebiyi, from his current position as Chief Financial Officer as well as remove the CEO’s sister-in-law from her current position on the board of AAPCI. Additionally, the New York Times cited contracts given out by the non-profit AAPCI to private for-profit vendors which are owned by siblings of the CEO or owned by the CEO himself.

The immediate cause for the press conference was because local business owners who would be displaced by the construction of the proposed congregate shelter facility recently received termination notices from the current landlord. These notices cited an apparent clause in their lease agreements that allowed the lease to be terminated if the building was going to be fully or partially demolished.

The concern from local leaders is that businesses are being told to cease operations, even though the $195 million contract from DHS has not even been submitted to the NYC Comptroller for approval. In a letter sent to the NYC Department of Investigations Commissioner, Council Member Dinowitz, Assemblyman Dinowitz, and Community Board 8 Chair Spalter request that DOI investigate the potential for ex parte communications between DHS and the non-profit providers as part of a larger pattern of systemic ethical concerns in how DHS manages congregate homeless shelter facilities.

The letter can be viewed here.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said: “The congregate shelter model is broken. We all know it. But it seems to me that DHS is choosing to double down on their bad investments by forcing through a $195 million contract to a well-connected and well-compensated so-called non-profit provider. New Yorkers deserve to know that their taxpayer dollars are being used for the betterment of our city, and not to line the pockets of a few individuals while the most vulnerable among us continue to suffer.”

“Our city agencies have a responsibility to transparently meet the needs of our neighborhoods and provide for the most vulnerable among us. This opaque deal with AAPCI fails on those fronts,” said Council Member Eric Dinowitz. “The city not only wants to invest $195 million in the failed congregate model but wants that money to go to an organization that would rather enrich its CEO and his family rather than provide the services that the most vulnerable among us need. Though no contract has been submitted to the city, it appears that the deal is moving forward regardless, and this must be investigated by the DOI.

Bronx Community Board 8 Chair Laura Spalter said: “There has been an appalling lack of transparency. The recent incorporation of the 6661 Broadway Investors LLC is troubling because it appears to allow the purchase of the lots and the building to be built without the contract between DHS and AAPCI being approved by the Comptroller’s office.”