Gowanus residents challenge 400-bed migrant shelter within ‘toxic building’, saying it’s for asylum seekers’ own good: lawsuit

Mayor Eric Adams’ administration intends to open the shelter at the intersection of Third and Bond streets, right along the shoreline of the canal. This specific area was identified as toxic by the US Department of Environmental Protection back in 2010.

Although a $500 million cleanup project has been carried out and the neighborhood is gaining popularity, a resident group claims that the shelter’s location is still contaminated.

The Third Street Block Association expressed concern over the decision to choose a hazardous building located in a manufacturing zone, run by one of the city’s notorious landlords, as a shelter for vulnerable migrants. They strongly believe that this choice has the potential to result in a disastrous situation.

One of the co-owners of the company that owns the building, David Levitan, was previously listed as one of the “worst landlords” by the city public advocate in 2015. The association and other plaintiffs specifically targeted Levitan in their comment.

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The lawsuit, filed in Brooklyn state Supreme Court, alleges that the city, as well as 130 Third Owner LLC and BHRAGS Home Care Corp, the entities responsible for operating the shelter, have neglected to carry out an environmental review as required by state law. Additionally, the lawsuit claims that there has been a lack of consideration for the extensive and widely recognized history of environmental contamination in the area.

Lawyer Christopher Rizzo from Carter, Ledyard & Milburn argued in court documents that the City’s failure to impose development restrictions on the homeless shelter site in Gowanus is inconsistent with the measures taken to safeguard the health and safety of residents in the neighborhood. He emphasized that the homeless population should be afforded the same level of protection under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

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According to the plaintiffs, the city’s zoning law and administrative code prohibit the conversion of industrial or commercial buildings in a manufacturing district into residential housing or “rooming units,” unless certain exceptions apply.

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The lawsuit highlights that the shelter site was not incorporated into the 82-block Gowanus Rezoning District, which permits both residential and manufacturing use, by the city Planning Commission.

The lawsuit stated that HPD made the decision to allow hundreds of people to live in a location with a known history of environmental contamination without conducting any environmental review. This is particularly concerning considering the extensive and well-known history of contamination in the area.

The lawsuit is currently being reviewed by a spokesperson from City Hall.

The city Department of Social Services/Homeless Services has partnered with BHRAGS Home Care to run the sanctuary site for up to 400 recently arrived migrants. Despite being an emergency site, local residents in Gowanus were informed months ahead of its scheduled opening.

In a statement to The Post, the DSS emphasized their commitment to ensuring a secure and safe environment for the migrants in Gowanus. They have implemented round-the-clock security measures and established a 24-hour open line for community feedback. While the statement did not directly address the site in question, it highlights the agency’s efforts to provide a secure setting for the migrants.

According to a representative from the DSS, the number of migrants arriving in the city has exceeded 178,000 since the spring of 2022. In fact, hundreds more continue to arrive on a weekly basis. To address this unprecedented need, the city has established 216 emergency sites in all five boroughs. However, this has pushed the city’s shelter system to its limits and beyond, reaching a breaking point.

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According to an agency spokesperson, there is an urgent need for additional capacity and it is crucial for every community to unite in order to identify suitable shelter options across all five boroughs.

“We are utilizing all available resources to tackle this pressing issue, reaching out to our federal and state partners for further assistance. Our primary goal is to address this humanitarian crisis and provide necessary aid to vulnerable households, ensuring they receive the support they need to progress towards their next phase.”

The Post contacted David Levitan, the owner of the building, to get his comment on the matter.

According to the plaintiffs, Councilwoman Shahana Hanif, who represents Gowanus, has not raised any objections to the shelter.

The Adams administration has faced criticism for awarding numerous expensive emergency contracts for migrant services without competitive bidding. This includes one vendor who was contracted to provide pre-paid cash cards to asylum seekers, as well as other private firms that charged excessive fees for security and staffing.

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