Group battling home for mentally ill says residents were blindsided
The developer of a controversial housing development set to break ground in Mott Haven notified local politicians of the organization’s plans nearly a year ago, according to a document he released this week.
But neighborhood residents fighting the project say they didn’t find out about the plan until early autumn, when they saw action at the construction site on 144th Street.
Daniel Johansson, CEO of the Association for Rehabilitative Case Management and Housing (ACMH), sent a letter detailing plans to build an affordable housing facility for low-income families and people with mental illness to several local politicians in December 2010, records show.
The letter was addressed to George Rodriguez, chair of Community Board 1, and was also sent to City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito, State Senator Jose Serrano, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo. Copies of FedEx receipts were included, all signed by the officials’ respective offices and dated Dec. 21, 2010.
“We did all that in December of 2010 and we have all the documentation,” said Johansson.
The politicians did not spread the word to their constituents, according to residents, who said that when they contacted their representatives, these officials claimed that they had never heard of the project.
“I called Viverito. I called Ruben Diaz’s office. I called Arroyo’s office. I called Community Board 1,” said Marian Rivas, who lives near the proposed project. “None of them knew anything about it.”
Residents were concerned that time had run out to fight the development. The Padavan law gives residents 75 days from the time of notification to challenge certain types of housing facilities. By this point, more than six months had passed.
In fact, though, the Padavan law, which is intended to strike a balance between the rights of people with mental illness or developmental disabities and homeowners, doesn’t apply in this case, according to Leesa Rademacher of the Office of Mental Health. But she said communication with local residents is still encouraged.
The law is “for community residences from four to 14 beds. This is a single- room occupancy and more than 14 beds,” she said. “We ask providers, like ACMH, to notify the community anyway.”
If community members didn’t know, Johansson said it wasn’t for lack of effort on his part. In addition to the other documents, he also released a personal log of attempted contact with local politicians.
“It’s important that they be informed of what’s going on in the district so they can inform their constituents,” he said.
Of all the attempted contacts Johansson made, he said only Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz accepted his request to meet. He never heard back from Serrano, Arroyo or Viverito, he said.
At last month’s community board meeting, Serrano Jr. told board members that until they brought the issue to him, he hadn’t heard about it either. He, Viverito, Arroyo and Diaz did not return calls seeking comment.
Many residents and members of Voices of the People, the activist group working to stop the development, blame both Johansson’s group and the local politicians. Asked who was responsible for failing to inform the community, resident Marilyn Ramos didn’t hesitate.
“If anything the developer, because he didn’t let us know anything. And also the politicians in the area- they are doing nothing to stop it. It’s just going through,” she said, “like our opinions don’t matter.”