viernes, 14 de enero de 2011

Concern Over Law on Apartments as Hotel Rooms


When Albany passed a law last summer preventing landlords of rental buildings from using their apartments as hotel rooms, neighborhood activists on the Upper West Side, where many of the conversions had taken place, were ebullient. No longer would tenants in these buildings have to contend with European backpackers and other transients traipsing through their halls. No longer would landlords force out long-term residents to make way for more lucrative hotel guests.

But now some backers of the law, which makes it illegal to rent out most residential rooms and apartments for less than 30 days, are wondering if they have opened a Pandora’s box. To the dismay of many on the Upper West Side, at least one building that was stopped from operating as a hotel is now being turned into a homeless shelter for 200 men.

This was not the outcome the law’s supporters hoped for or, they say, expected. They also fear that more such buildings will follow suit, in a neighborhood that many residents contend is already saturated with homeless shelters and homes for the mentally ill and recovering addicts.

“The purpose of the hotel bill is to have permanent housing,” said Councilwoman Gale A. Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side. She fought the proliferation of the informal hotels, and opposes the shelter. “We do not support transient housing. There’s going to be 200 people. That’s too many.”

The law, which goes into effect in May, closed a loophole that allowed the buildings to operate as hotels, so long as most of their rooms were occupied by permanent residents. Supporters of the law said the so-called illegal hotels were stripping the city of much-needed cheap housing; some of the buildings were single-room-occupancy residences, or S.R.O.’s. “We’d see harassment of permanent tenants to get them out of their units,” said Marti Weithman, director of the SRO Law Project at Goddard Riverside Community Center.

But the law did not, and perhaps legally could not, decree what the S.R.O. owners should do with their buildings once the tourists were outlawed. Many of the buildings are warrenlike, crowded with tiny bedrooms and shared bathrooms and kitchens.

Alexander Scharf, the managing partner of the Alexander Hotel, on West 94th Street, and David Satnick, who represents three other S.R.O.-slash-budget hotels on West 94th and West 95th Streets, said the layout of their buildings limited their uses. Absent the income stream from tourists, they said, the low rents generated by long-term residents could not cover costs. “We had to make use of the current layout, and there are very few other uses,” Mr. Scharf said.

Seth Diamond, commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, said his agency signed a nine-year, $7.9 million contract with a nonprofit group, Samaritan Village, to run the shelter at the site; $3.7 million of that amount will go to rent.

He said there was no plan to convert other S.R.O.’s in the area to shelters. Mr. Satnick said the hotels he represented — the Mount Royal, the Continental and the Pennington — would most likely be put up for sale.

State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, two sponsors of the bill, said it was wrong to blame the law for the arrival of the homeless shelter. “If a homeless shelter was legal on 94th Street today,” Mr. Gottfried said, “it was legal before anything that the Legislature did.”

Renovations are already under way at the Alexander. It is unclear what will happen to the roughly 10 permanent residents left. One, Frank Kinkele, 70, a former traffic controller and waiter, has lived at the Alexander for 29 years; the hotel and his three decades of sobriety are among the few comforts and constants in his life. He fears that the influx of homeless men will bring with them the dark temptations of drug and alcohol abuse. “Everybody deserves a second chance,” he said. “I just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

It is unclear whether Mr. Kinkele will be allowed to remain at the hotel. Mr. Diamond said the homeless men could not move in until the place had been emptied. Calls to Samaritan Village were not returned.

Barbara Brancaccio, a spokeswoman for the homeless services agency, said that the department usually encountered local resistance, and that the city had to house the homeless wherever there was space.

Yet several community members said the Upper West Side was already home to enough units of so-called supportive housing. According to one neighborhood association, Neighborhood in the Nineties, the Upper West Side was home in 2007 to nearly 2,000 such units, one of the highest concentrations in Manhattan.

“We have an allergic reaction to having any more special-needs population,” said Aaron Biller, president of the association, which is also fighting the conversion of St. Louis Hall on West 94th Street into a home for addicts and the mentally ill. “How much is too much in an area?”