City Journal Summer 2014

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Summer 2014
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James Panero
Upper West Side Madness « Back to Story

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Move the Aguila 400 sro rooms complex to Harlem 125 street or further down like west 155 street since,most people who live in there sro are people of color,then they should be moved to areas ,where people of color live at
It is not just in the 90s. The new owners of the SRO on West 71st street between WEA and Riverside Blvd, Icon Realty, are considering making it a homeless shelter, which would make this great neighborhood unsafe and undesirable. Icon must be stopped in its tracks. What does Donald Trump think about one of his buildings being next to a house filled with MICAs (mentally ill, chemically addicted)?
Why don't they ever carry out these social experiments,releasing felons and mental patients back into the community, in neighborhoods like Sutton Place, or Central Park West, or Park Avenue in the '70s and '80s? I am sure that the folks at Temple Emanu-El would just love to have a building full of recently-released psychiatric patients right next door to the temple. The temple members would probably fill the newspapers with letters to the editor praising the opportunity this has given them to interface so intimately with the mentally-ll homeless population of the city.
My God, this is deja vu all over again! I lived on the Upper West side, West End and 95th to be exact, in 1968-1969 when the last great experiment with releasing the seriously mentally-ill population was undertaken. This was done, as I recall, because of changes in the law and legal rulings that the mentally-ill could not be kept institutionalized if their condition could be controlled by medication. Hundreds of seriously mentally-ill individuals were released into the SRO's that lined the streets 93rd st thru 95th st on both sides between Broadway and Riverside Drive. The plan was for a local hospital, which will go unnamed but is located right across the street from Columbia University to have a psychiatric nurse set up an outpatient center right in the neighborhood where the released patients could go and get their medication.
What happened was that the hospital took the generous public grant that was given them for this service and rented a room in one of the SRO's, where a nurse was sent twice a week to dispense meds. The few patients who did show up were a tiny fraction of those now seen wandering the streets in various stages of psychiatric meltdown day and night on Upper Broadway. Most of the money given to the hospital for that project was used by the hospital to refurbish and furnish unused space at the hospital itself to attract upscale physicians to locate their offices there, at appropriate rents, of course. There were several excellent muckraking weekly newspapers serving the West Side at that time, and they exposed this misuse of public funds fairly quickly. The hospital had (and still has) a very impressive and very influential board of directors, and nothing was ever done, and the mainstream local press (that's you, NYT) did not pick up or follow up this story.
I remember standing outside of my building with the doorman watching two homeless men across the street slamming a third homeless man's head repeatedly against the concrete sidewalk, then calmly walking away from the body. Someone called the police, no one intervened. The police showed up about one half hour later. There was no investigation, no follow up. (this was the 24th Precinct, eventually exposed in the Serpico scandal as the most corrupt in the city). I also remember learning to avoid that part of Riverside and Joan of Arc Park during my early morning walks with my dog because the homeless used those outdoor venues to have public sex with each other and anyone else to cared to participate for the price of a bottle of cheap wine. One of our doormen, an auxiliary police officer,and a huge guy, a police wannabee who could never score high enough on the academy exams to get into the police force, earned a fair amount of extra spending money during the late afternoon hours (his shift was midnight to 8 a.m.) by meeting women from our building and neighboring buildings and escorting them down the hill the one or two blocks to the safety of their own doorman guarded building from the 96th St subway exit. He did especially well in the fall and winter, when it was already dark when the women came home from work.
Prior to the release of the mentally ill into the neighborhood, this had never been necessary, according to the super of my building, who had been there since the late 1950's.
Sorry for the length of this post, but as the saying goes, "those who will not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it."
Why not use the SRO rooms for what they are intended - LOW INCOME RESIDENTS? That's the real issue here. Owners, more than anything, want to avoid Rent Stabilization laws. The irony is, these landlords perform little tricks to get the rent stabilized tenants out of their buildings. A lot of these formerly rent stabilized tenants end up homeless, then the city and state end up paying landlords a couple thousand dollars a month to house these homeless people in a room that would only cost $400 a month if that same person were living there as a rent stabilized tenant.

This isn't about budget hotels, dorms, or emergency shelter. This is about lack of compliance, and lack of enforcement, if rent stabilization laws, which results in increased homelessness.
Condign punishment for the bien-pensant. These are the 1% who were up for closing the mental institutions in the '80s and '90s.
Turns out they don't like their own cooking!

Moral: Be careful what you wish for.
Do SROs have a viable economic model to exist in the 21st century. Author James Panero suggests a realistic approach that would allow tourists to help provide the revenue stream to keep the properties viable while protecting existing SRO tenants. The pious pursuit of protecting SROs by eliminating tourists by our elected officials was plagued by two major flaws. First, if the tourists were removed, who would fill the vacuum? The Bloomberg Administration knew the answer--shelters. The community knew, and repeatedly warned its electeds who chose to wallow in outdated dogma. The second issue is the myth spread by the fringe elements that SROs could return to the old rent structure. People like Council Member Gale Brewer patently refuse to look at the incredible rise of heating oil costs, property taxes, water, insurance costs which make the old SRO business model impossible. The Brewer Crew then argues that the buildings should be subsidized, which is a case of good, but naive intentions. The homeless numbers have expanded to all time highs because other programs have been slashed by Bloomberg and Cuomo. How them could we subsidize another class of housing. Tourism, which most people liked, including SRO tenants, at least provided a nongovernmental funding stream. It helped the hotels, and the local business district, since tourists buy local and the locals buy online.
Wait a minute, wait a minute. You mean there are actually people who are mentally BALANCED in NYC? Where? I lived there 17 years and didn't find a single one! LOL!