Residents of 941 Intervale Avenue in the Bronx were abruptly informed via letter on Tuesday that the building’s owner, Aguila, Inc., will no longer be operating the apartment building as a city-subsidized homeless shelter, and they are being forced to leave.
The letter, just three sentences long, was scant on details. “Over the coming weeks and months, you will be provided transfer information for placement in a new shelter,” it read. No specific timeline was given, but residents say case managers showed up that day to help them pack up.
In fact, other than a phone number to contact for any “questions or needs while you [sic] stay at the Bronx Neighborhood Annex continues” they were given no information at all.
941 Intervale is one of dozens of privately owned residential buildings in which the City pays as much as $3,565-a-month to house homeless families. Department of Homeless Services calls them “cluster site housing.”
Aguila, which operates 18 cluster site shelters in the Bronx alone, is one of the chief beneficiaries of the city program, which was created as a stopgap measure in 2000. That year, there were only 50 units in the program; in 2013, there were more than 2000 units.
Last year Aguila collected more than $28.5 million from the city. (Aguila’s late CEO, Robert Hess, was a former DHS commissioner. Hess died in January.)* This, despite the fact that a 2011 audit by then-City Comptroller John Liu revealed Department of Homeless Services didn’t check to make sure Aguila’s invoices were accurate, or that expenses for which the company billed the city were justified. The audit also found the city paid Aguila $10.3 million for services rendered without a formal contract.
In January, DNAinfo reported that roaches, vermin, leaks, and mold were common at 941 Intervale Avenue–and that was before a fire forced residents to evacuate the building in December.
At the moment, the building has 9 unresolved Department of Building violations, and 12 unresolved Environment Control Board violations, but a D.O.B. spokesman tells the Voice that a vacate order has not been issued for the property.
The memo distributed to residents on Tuesday advised them to direct any questions to program director Jenny Rivera, but when the Voice called the number, Rivera told us to direct any inquiries about the move to the Department of Homeless Services.
The Department of Homeless Services offered a statement with almost fewer details than the notice from Aguila. “The provider has elected not to continue to work with DHS at this site. DHS will work with the provider and the landlord on a plan to ensure the safety and sheltering of these families. It’s our expectation that all parties involved will act in a responsible manner, so as not to create a stressful environment for these families.”
DHS declined to provide any specific timeline for families who will be displaced, but said that families should not have been made to feel that they need to leave immediately. That’s little comfort to residents of 941 Intervale, like Anoinette Redman. In the absence of any assistance from DHS, Redman says she’s staying put. “I’ll be here. I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Residents of 941 Intervale and supporters from Picture the Homeless plan to march from the building to Aguila offices on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. to protest their treatment.
*This story was updated at 10:32 a.m. on Wednesday, August 6, to reflect the fact that Aguila’s former CEO, Robert Hess, passed away in January. The company’s website does not a list any CEO at present time.