For the second time in less than a week, New York City canceled plans on Monday for a shelter in Chinatown, where community opposition has complicated Mayor Eric Adams’s efforts to move homeless New Yorkers off the streets.
The 94-bed shelter would have been in a closed hotel at the busy intersection of Grand Street and Bowery. The location is near where an Asian American woman was murdered in February in an attack for which a homeless man has been charged. The shelter’s would-be operator, Housing Works, had planned to allow illegal drugs in the building, a move that drew fierce condemnation from local residents.
Both canceled shelters are of a specialized type known as safe havens or stabilization hotels, which offer more privacy and social services and fewer restrictions than traditional shelters. Mr. Adams announced plans last week to open at least 900 rooms in such shelters by mid-2023.
The city Department of Homeless Services, which had previously said that the large street-homeless population in the neighborhood made it a crucial place to add shelter capacity, said on Monday that it would instead open a facility in an area with fewer services for the homeless.
The department said in a statement, “Our goal is always to work with communities to understand their needs and equitably distribute shelters across all five boroughs to serve our most vulnerable New Yorkers.”
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This was the same reason that city offered last week when it announced it would not open the other Chinatown shelter, at 47 Madison Street.
But a tussle over which union’s workers would staff the conversion of the hotel may have actually killed the Grand Street shelter.
Charles King, the C.E.O. of Housing Works, said that the organization’s contract with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union required it to hire that union’s workers at the project.
But the powerful New York Hotel and Gaming Trades Council, which has close ties to the mayor and is better known as the Hotel Trades Council, said that it has an existing contract with the owner of the building, a former Best Western hotel, requiring the building to use its workers.
“There’s only one contract with this building, and it’s ours,” said Rich Maroko, president of the Hotel Trades Council. He said that an arbitrator had recently issued an injunction saying that future uses of the building must comply with the contract.
Mr. King said that Housing Works proposed a compromise under which the building owner would hire eight Hotel Trades Council workers. But he said Gary Jenkins, the city commissioner of social services, who oversees the Department of Homeless Services, told him that the city was pulling the plug on the shelter at the Hotel Trades Council’s insistence.
“It’s really clear to me that the mayor is more concerned about pleasing this one union than he is about addressing the needs of homeless people,” Mr. King said.
The Department of Homeless Services did not respond to a request for comment on Mr. King’s assertion. Mr. Maroko said that the hotel union had urged City Hall not to go through with the shelter conversion.
During the 2021 mayoral campaign, the hotel union, which has nearly 40,000 members, gave Mr. Adams his first major labor endorsement.
The union’s lobbyist, Jason Ortiz, is also a co-founder of a super PAC, Strong Leadership NYC, that backed the Adams campaign.
Susan Lee, founder the Alliance for Community Preservation and Betterment, a Chinatown group that mobilized protests against the shelter, applauded the city for “listening to the concerns of the Chinatown community.”
She said she hoped the hotel would reopen as a tourist hotel and help the neighborhood recover from the pandemic.
Dana Rubinstein contributed reporting.