Homeless Moving On Up in Brooklyn

by Tommi Avicolli-Mecca on June 8, 2009

It seems like a case of the meek shall inherit the Earth. Or, more to the point, the homeless shall inherit the high rise. At least in Brooklyn, where some lucky homeless families now have a chance to “move on up” to a better place than they were.

A luxury condo development, which featured $350,000 units that a person could custom design, has been turned into a homeless shelter, with the city picking up the tab, to the tune of $2,700 per month ($90 a night) for each apartment. That includes the cost of social services and other help that residents need to get their lives back on track.

The reason for the switch is all-too-obvious in these hard economic times. The brokerage firm, HQ Marketing Partners, couldn’t sell the apartments when the market took a nose dive. So developer Avi Shriki came up with an alternative he could live with — he signed a 10-year contract with the Bushwick Economic Development Corporation to make the condos into shelters for homeless families.

It could be the first time that such a thing has happened, at least according to Steven Spinola of the Real Estate Board of New York.

One thing’s for sure, Shriki is happy about how it’s all turned out. He told the New York Daily News: “The outcome is not as bad as some people I know who had to surrender the whole building to the bank.” He added, “with the market being the way it is you have to be creative.”

Some neighbors don’t agree with his creativity. Window salesman Desmond John summed up what a lot of others are feeling: “I’m a hardworking taxpayer, and I don’t think homeless people should be living better than me.”

City officials see it differently. According to Heather Janik of the Department of Homeless Services, “this is a case of innovation and outside-the-box thinking that benefits all those involved.”

Homeless residents also don’t agree with John’s sentiments. A man who identified himself as “Boss” and who lives with his mother in a two-bedroom condo said that “just because a person fell out doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a place to stay.”

Who can argue with that?

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is co-editor of Avanti Popolo: Italians Sailing Beyond Columbus, and editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation, which will be published this month by City Lights Books. His website: www.avicollimecca.com

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