The brick building, currently a homeless shelter, is quietly tucked away on a corner near 4th Avenue in Sunset Park, and despite complaints from neighbors to the contrary, it was quiet when we approached. It stands out among other buildings in the area because of its modern look. Its sliding doors open up to a small lobby with new furniture that is reminiscent of a Crate and Barrel advertisement. There is one very small elevator that carries residents to their designated floor.
Two women, one a security guard, worked the front desk. When The Brooklyn Ink asked questions about the building and its ownership, the women offered up an envelope with the words “To Our Neighbors” written on the outside.
The letter was meant to address questions and complaints from local residents about the building at 235 24th Street. Back on September 21, at the latest Community Board 7 meeting, neighbors had voiced complaints, and had wondered aloud about the building’s future. Basically: Would it finally become a hotel or remain a homeless shelter?
Barbara Lee, who has lived in her home for 28 years, was the first to speak in the public meeting. “I’m in a weird position because I know that people need homes,” Lee said. “They need a place to stay, however transient. But, at the same time I feel that my living situation should not be compromised.” Lee and other residents spoke about what they said was a loss of security and peace near their homes. “They congregate right under my window in my building,” said Lee. “Sometimes they’re not outside, and sometimes they are outside talking up until 1 o’clock in the morning, with their babies, and playing music, and talking loud. I don’t know what to do, because I work and I need to sleep at night.”
Homeless shelters are scattered throughout the city, according to NYC 311 representatives. Sunset Park has witnessed multiple homeless shelters pop up, often in former hotels. A total of four hotels in the neighborhood have rented rooms to homeless families and individuals within the past year.
According to city records, on the website NYC Property, the building on 24th Street, is classified as ‘H3,’ meaning that the building has ‘limited service; many affiliated with a national chain.’ According to simple web searches of the address, that chain is the Howard Johnson franchise. Howard Johnson is a company owned franchise that has been affiliated with hotels such as the Days Inn, Baymont Inn & Suites, and Ramada Hotel.
At the community board meeting, the big question about the building was, “What is this property supposed to be exactly?” The answer seems to be that it is currently being used as a shelter for homeless families, but according to the letter handed out by the security guard, it is in the process of becoming a nationally franchised hotel.
The letter reads, in part:
While we have been approved by the Department of Buildings to operate, we haven’t been approved fully by our franchise, due mainly to construction and furniture delivery delays. We anticipate opening as a hotel within 6-12 months.
As we await the approval by our franchisor, we have been contacted by a Queens based non-profit, Children’s Community Services, to rent our facility. We do not have a contract with CCS and can remove them at any time. Part of our agreement with CCS is that all occupants have to respect the hotel and the neighborhood at all times. This includes rules placed on occupants against loitering etc. We have listened to the neighbors’ input and already made many changes to ensure this (installation of fencing and strict non-smoking policies). This also includes 24-hour security whose main purpose is to ensure the peaceful neighborhood that existed prior to opening. This is not a facility that caters to rehab or mental conditions, only working families fallen on hard times.
The letter continues to discuss the problem of affordable housing in New York. It reads: “As you may or may not know, NYC is facing a housing crisis. Mayor De Blasio has recently approved zoning changes in parts of Brooklyn and other boroughs to increase the affordable housing supply. Put simply, rents have recently skyrocketed (as we all know!) and certain working class families have been squeezed out. In order to help the situation, hotels have been asked to carry some of the load until permanent solutions are found.”
An NYC 311 representative confirmed that the owners of properties, such as the one on 24th Street in Sunset Park, have the option to operate as a shelter or to transition back into a hotel.