The trendy New York Loft Hostel at 249 Varet Street between Bogart and White streets near the Morgan Avenue stop on the L train in East Williamsburg is about to become a homeless shelter, Bushwick Daily has learned.
The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) says that the hostel, which is currently accepting bookings through the end of the month, will soon be operational as a shelter under the direction of the agency Project Renewal, which was established in 1967.
The shelter will house 140 men aged 55 and older. The men are expected to remain residents of the shelter for about 9 months each, which is the average length of time single men spend in the DHS system as clients.
Clients will observe a 10 p.m. curfew and will eat all of their meals at the shelter. The men will have access to supportive services including case management, medical and psychiatric services, substance use treatment, assistance in obtaining entitlements, vocational services, referrals to permanent housing, and recreational activities all overseen by Project Renewal.
No sex offenders will live at the shelter, which is a block away from Williamsburg Charter High School, and Project Renewal has contracted with security firm QBS to provide 24/7 security coverage for the shelter (though it has happened in the past that homeless shelters in Queens were unable to prevent registered sex offenders from establishing residence at shelters that could not support those clients).
Additionally, the shelter plans to work with Community Board 1, local elected officials, and neighbors to ensure that employment opportunities are made available to locals.
Project Renewal will also launch a Community Advisory Board soon, which “will hold regular meetings to ensure that any community concerns are proactively addressed and to work with interested community members who may wish to volunteer their time and talent to further assist the shelter residents.”
Some nearby residents who are distraught by the city’s high numbers of homeless individuals and families (the Coalition for the Homeless estimates that on the date of publication, more than 60,000 New Yorkers were without homes) welcome the shelter.
In emails to Bushwick Daily, other neighbors to the hostel expressed surprise and frustration upon discovering they will soon live near a shelter.
At least one local business owner who wanted to remain anonymous was concerned about the effect the shelter would have on business, and another long time resident of the block was disappointed by the lack of transparency during the planning phase of the project.
Dealice Fuller, the chairperson of Community Board 1, tells Bushwick Daily that the board has not heard from anyone at DHS or Project Renewal about the project.
An employee at the New York Loft Hostel who declined to be identified by name tells Bushwick Daily that “There is interest from the state [in buying] the building. The chances are about 90 percent that the hostel will be turned to a homeless shelter. The dates they’re working with are August 30 to mid-September.”
Public records don’t show any recent transaction records for the property, which last transferred hands in 2006 and was valued at slightly over $7.16 million earlier this year for tax related purposes by the Department of Finance .
The hostel is well positioned for the conversion to a shelter as the building contains 16 multi-bed units and is zoned for non-permanent residence.
New York’s Citywide Statement of Needs for the coming fiscal year lists replacement or upgrade of transitional shelter facilities as a city priority, in the amount of 400 beds for individuals as well as separate accommodations for families.
A rundown of how the city awards shelter contracts is included in the Statement of Needs and provides some insight into how the hostel was selected. “DHS ensures that there is sufficient capacity to meet demand through an Open-Ended Request for Proposals (RFP) Process maintained by DHS and authorized by the City’s Procurement Policy Board (PPB) Rules. Through this process, nonprofit organizations submit proposals in which they offer their services as shelter operators. DHS will then review and rate the proposal and determine whether it will enter into a shelter contract for sites and services proposed,” the statement reads.
Neighbors noted the hostel’s proximity to the area’s many recently established commercial ventures, which include Roberta’s, Beacon’s Closet, Syndicated, Swallow Cafe, Pine Box Rock Shop, the 56 Bogart gallery spaces, Fine & Raw Chocolates, Momo Sushi Shack and many other small, locally owned businesses.
Some locals are worried that the shelter might depress further economic growth on nearby streets and hurt real estate values for the neighborhood, which may already face depreciation now that an 18 month L train shutdown has been decided upon by the MTA.
The area is currently the subject of the North Brooklyn Industry and Innovation Plan, a Department of City Planning effort to create a cohesive plan to preserve the industrial businesses in the area with effective zoning and restrictions on land use.
This is not the first time a hip local spot offering short term accommodation has come under scrutiny because of DHS use: as recently as May, local politicians blasted the de Blasio administration for using the Beaver Street hotel BKLYN House as temporary housing for the homeless.
Antonio Reynoso, the council member whose district includes 249 Varet St., told Bushwick Daily that “My district, especially Williamsburg and Bushwick, has readily helped the City of New York comply with its legal and moral obligation to provide shelter for the homeless population. But at this point, I am calling on this administration to present an honest and serious plan detailing actions they are taking to achieve equity, which is a social justice issue in the 34th District that has yet to be addressed.”
The owners of the New York Loft Hostel could not be reached for comment.
Update: Mitchell Netburn the president and CEO of Project Renewal, tells Bushwick Daily that “For 50 years, Project Renewal has helped New Yorkers who are homeless to renew their lives with health, homes and jobs. We look forward to bringing our proven programs to the vulnerable population of homeless men over the age of 55 who will be living at the Varet Street Shelter. Our services there will include on-site medical and psychiatric care, occupational therapy to help seniors maintain their independence and mobility, and transportation to our dental, optometry and job placement services for any resident who wants them. Through these comprehensive services, we will help residents obtain permanent housing.”
Cover photo: Jemartti/Instagram