After the city announced that the West Side Inn Hostel will no longer be used as an emergency shelter for homeless women, owner Mark Hersh said he wants out of operating single room occupancy (SRO) buildings.
“I’m selling the [Colonial House Hotel], I’m getting out the business. I’m moving to Florida,” Hersh told West Side Spirit. “I’m disgusted with the SRO business.”
Hersh limited his comments during the brief phone interview. He would not disclose how much the Department of Homeless Services is paying him for housing its clients, or discuss the decision to scrap the plan for a shelter at the 237 W. 107th St. hostel. But he flatly denied all allegations of tenant harassment.
“There’s never been harassment at this building,” he said of the hostel.
A 2006 finding by the Housing and Preservation Department that he harassed tenants at the Colonial House Hotel was “unjustified,” he said.
Hersh added that he feels it is unfair to bring up decades-old accusations today.
“It’s 2010. That’s 20 years ago. Twenty years of my life, I try to do the right thing and treat tenants right. Maybe I did something wrong 20 years ago—allegedly,” Hersh said. “How you make amends in life? I tried for last 25 years to do the right thing. It seems your past just doesn’t want to go away. It’s not fair. It’s not right.”
Hersh returned a call for comment from the West Side Spirit almost a week after the city backed out of plans for a full, transitional homeless shelter for 135 women at the hostel. Last week, Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito brokered a compromise with the Department of Homeless Services that would allow the hostel to offer bed space to 80 women until November, rather than a long-term plan.
“[Department of Homeless Services] conducted an investigation into the landlord of the building and decided not to move forward with a contract for a long-term women’s shelter at this site,” Commissioner Hess wrote to Mark-Viverito in a March 2 letter. “We would welcome the opportunity to establish a community advisory group to work directly with DHS to deal with concerns about the site, provided the community would like to participate.”
West Side Spirit reported Feb. 23 that there were open violations at the property and that the hostel’s owner, Hersh, had a history of tenant harassment allegations. The department recently began paying him an undisclosed amount of money to house homeless clients at the hostel, which offers single room occupancy (SRO) rooms for low-income tenants and accommodations for tourists (that use is considered illegal by the city). The department took heat for not giving the community notice about the homeless plan, which was described as an emergency situation. The hostel had been housing approximately 40 homeless women, a number that grew to more than 50, according to community members involved in the matter.
But some civic groups and community leaders are not happy about the compromise. Kurt Pohmer, a member of the West 107th Street Block Association, is organizing neighbors to oppose the plan. Originally, he says the group was told that only 40 to 58 women would be housed at the site.
“How do we know it’s not going to be more than 80? We thought it was 40,” Pohmer said. “Numbers jumping around, extended. Nothing concrete. I feel we have to keep the pressure on, and we will.”
Rev. John Duffell, pastor at the neighboring Church of the Ascension, at 221 W. 107th St., says the matter is far from settled. Duffel criticized the department for leaving the building under
“There needs to be a credible agency not just for services, but maintenance and security of the building,” Duffell said.
And because the number of homeless women has changed over the last two weeks, Duffell said he wants further proof that the emergency shelter will only house up to 80 women.
“It’s not adequate enough, as far as I’m concerned,” Duffell said of the comm-issioner’s letter.
Mark-Viverito defended the compromise, arguing the deal is a balance between helping those in need while addressing community concerns.
“The community seemed pleased when I presented it,” Mark-Viverito said. “We are all doing our share. These individuals are going to need support.”
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