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Court Discusses Housing for the Homeless

A New York Family Lawyer said on this appeal the Appellate Court is asked to review the sufficiency of the New York City Board of Estimate’s compliance with environmental review procedures in implementing a plan to construct 11 transitional residence facilities in various locations throughout the city to house an increasing number of homeless individuals and families seeking shelter. The City of New York is mandated by law and by consent decree to provide housing to every homeless family and individual who so requests.

The city asserts that as of January 1988 it was providing shelter for approximately 8,900 men, 1,300 women and 5,150 families in various locations and types of facilities throughout the city. While the city recognizes that a long-term solution to the problem lies in providing more units of permanent, affordable housing for low and moderate income people, there is also a need for emergency facilities such as shelters, and for transitional residences which are designed to afford a measure of privacy and to provide their residents with intensive social and welfare services and assistance in locating permanent housing. The appellants-respondents contend that these transitional residences will reduce the reliance on expensive hotel space for housing families, improve the quality of housing offered, and alleviate the overburdening of some communities by dispersing the homeless population throughout the city.

A New York Child Custody Lawyer said that in order to implement this plan, the HRA submitted land use review applications for the proposed transitional residence sites to the DCP pursuant to New York City Charter which governs approvals of site selection for capital projects. This was the appropriate procedure and the Court disagree with the petitioners’ contention that these separate, discrete construction projects involved the type of long range plans for the future growth and development of the city which are governed by New York City Charter.

In order to comply with State and city environmental review procedures, the HRA prepared a Project Data Statement for each proposed site, identifying the possible areas of environmental concern. These Project Data Statements and the environmental issues identified therein were reviewed by staff of the DCP and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the co-lead agencies designated by CEQR for the purpose of implementing the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), to determine whether the proposals were actions, as defined in CEQR which may have a significant effect on the environment. With the exception of the proposal to locate a family residence center in Guy Brewer Boulevard in Queens, the co-lead agencies determined that each of the other 10 proposed actions would have no significant effect on the environment if modified in certain respects, and they prepared as to each a Conditional Negative Declaration (CND) in accordance with CEQR. As to the Guy Brewer Boulevard proposal, a full Environmental Impact Statement was prepared.

A Queens Family Lawyer said the completed land-use review applications were submitted to the affected community boards and to one borough board which held hearings and without exception unanimously disapproved each of the projects. A public hearing was held before the City Planning Commission and dozens of residents, community leaders, local and State politicians and other interested persons stated their reasons for opposing the projects. The most frequently expressed objections were that the city’s resources would be better spent on rehabilitating vacant in rem housing stock rather than on new construction, and that the burden of housing the homeless is not shared equally in the city but is borne primarily by the poorest, most densely populated neighborhoods, which are already saturated with social services facilities.

Following the hearings, the City Planning Commission prepared a report to the New York City Board of Estimate with respect to each of the proposed facilities. With the exception of the proposal to construct a family residence center on Commonwealth Avenue in the Bronx, a site which was deemed inappropriate, all of the proposed projects at issue on this appeal were recommended by the City Planning Commission for approval by the Board of Estimate, provided that the conditions of each CND were complied with.

A Queens Child Custody Lawyer said the Board of Estimate held public hearings and its members heard similar objections to those expressed before the City Planning Commission. The Board of Estimate, by separate majority votes, approved 11 resolutions to construct the facilities challenged herein (related resolutions concerning zoning changes were also approved for some of the sites).

The petitioners herein brought the instant proceeding to review the resolutions of the Board of Estimate on various grounds. Their arguments are persuasive only as to two of the eleven resolutions, that is, those approving construction of transitional facilities for homeless singles on East 119th Street in Manhattan and on Commonwealth Avenue in the Bronx.

The HRA originally applied to construct transitional residence centers for families on East 119th Street and Commonwealth Avenue. After completion of the review process described above and issuance of CND’s for the two projects, the CPC issued its reports to the Board of Estimate recommending approval of the East 119th Street project but concluding as to the Commonwealth Avenue site that the proposed family residence center is an inappropriate land use for the location (primarily because of inadequate open space for outdoor recreation in the area and overcrowded local schools). At some point prior to the hearings before the Board of Estimate, the HRA decided to modify these two projects to house homeless singles instead of families, and the co-lead agencies were directed to evaluate the environmental significance of these modifications. Modified CND’s were issued as to both projects, concluding that there would be no significant impacts if the required mitigation measures were modified to provide for recreation space appropriate to adults rather than children.

However, the HRA did not consult with the City Planning Commission on these modifications and the two projects appeared on the calendars of the Board of Estimate as proposed family residences. Just prior to the voting, and after the completion of the public hearings, the Commissioner of the HRA informed the board members of the modifications and the amended CND’s. This led to a dispute between some of the Board members and the Corporation Counsel regarding the proper vote margin for passage of the modified proposals.

Given that the two proposals underwent what found to be major modifications which altered the essential nature of the projects, and they were first presented to the Board, they each required a three-fourths vote for approval. The simple majority votes by which they were approved were, therefore, improper. The New York City Charter requires an opportunity for public comment on any resolution prior to a final vote, and that this requirement was violated since the two proposals were modified and approved after the conclusion of public hearings.

It was recently held that a sufficient environmental review was conducted with respect to the proposed facility on 134th Street in Queens and that holding is binding on this appeal under established principles of stare decisis. As for the other eight Board of Estimate resolutions approving transitional residence facilities for the homeless in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, the appellants-respondents have complied with the provisions of SEQRA, CEQR and the Uniform Land Use Review procedures of the New York City Charter. The appellants-respondents identified the relevant areas of environmental concern, took a hard look at them and made a reasoned elaboration of their decisions. Specifically with regard to the proposed Neptune Avenue site, the court’s conclusion that the environmental review failed to sufficiently consider the potential impact of the facility on existing population patterns, neighborhood character and an adjacent historic building, since all of these concerns were addressed in the CND.
Contrary to the petitioners’ argument, there is no fatal defect in the environmental review process in this case resulting from the designation of the DEP and the DCP as co-lead agencies for the purpose of conducting the initial determination of significance or non-significance. Lastly, the Board’s approval of certain zoning map changes with respect to some of the projects was proper.

Having a decent place to live to is one of the responsibilities of the parents to their children. When parents fail to provide a shelter for their family, the government is there to support them. If you want to pursue a family related dispute, approach the Bronx County Family Lawyer. You can also seek the help of the Bronx County Child Custody Attorney together with the Bronx County Order of Protection Lawyer from Stephen Bilkis and Associates.

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