Pols call for halt to mental health home

Elected officials have joined homeowners in urging Governor Cuomo not to subsidize a residence for tenants with mental illness in Mott Haven, complaining the area has already done its fair share. But construction has begun and Cuomo has been silent.

This 2010 map based on data from the city’s Department of Planning shows thick clusters of chemical dependency and mental health residences and facilities, along with food pantries, in parts of Mott Haven. The centers are represented by the dots. Residents say several more centers have been added in the last two years.

“Mott Haven’s done enough,” they tell Cuomo

Four elected officials who represent Mott Haven have locked horns with the state’s top politician, urging Governor Andrew Cuomo to back out of a commitment to fund construction of a six-story residence on E. 144th Street that would include 42 apartments for tenants with psychiatric diagnoses.

In a letter dated Aug. 15, the group of four and Community Board 1’s district manager argued that the state has ignored the wishes of residents, and that the area is already overburdened with similar services.

The letter was also sent to the state’s housing and mental health commissioners, Darryl Towns and Michael Hogan. Neither Cuomo nor the commissioners have responded.

Last October, some two -dozen residents who live within a few blocks of the proposed building urged the community board to stand by them in their opposition to the project. Weeks later, the homeowners expressed outrage when they discovered that their representatives had known about the plans but hadn’t informed them.

Those elected officials appear to have taken notice.

The Aug. 15 letter, signed by Councilwomen Maria Mark-Viverito and Maria Carmen del Arroyo, State Senator Joseph Serrano and Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo along with District Manager Cedric Loftin, states that the area “is home to an overwhelming number of supportive service programs.” It goes on to “express our serious frustration with what appears to be a total disregard for our community’s opposition to the proposed project.”

“If you would examine a map containing markers for the various types of supportive service programs offered within the boundaries of CB #1, you would appreciate the serious level of frustration our community residents, leaders and elected officials experience related to the issue of over saturation,” the letter states.

But the director of the non-profit group behind the project says opponents are mischaracterizing it.

“We’re not a shelter; we’re not a treatment program,” said Daniel Johansson, director of the Association for Rehabilitative Case Management and Housing.

“These are people who can function with medication,” he said, who will be carefully screened.

Not good enough, said some residents.

Carmen Santiago, who has lived at 148th Street and Brook Avenue for 12 years, points to The Brook, which opened two years ago across the street from her home to house formerly homeless single adults. Many of its 190 tenants have mental health disabilities.

Santiago said she often sees tenants from The Brook loitering on the corner, and buying and selling drugs after 5 o’clock, when caseworkers have left for the day.

“You’d think they would spread it out a little more among the boroughs,” she said.

Marian Rivas, who lives in her childhood home on the same block as the proposed building, says the concentration of social service and chemical dependency agencies has brought back problems that afflicted the neighborhood decades ago.

“We didn’t have a drug problem around here until all this started,” she said. “Now we have a problem.”

“If they were set up to take care of them, it would be okay,” she said of the agencies that run the facilities, adding the area needs more supportive services for children with disabilities, and fewer chemical dependency and mental health services.

“We have to take care of everyone,” she said.

The homeowners say the value of their homes continues to slide as more and more transients are brought into the neighborhood.

David Hornedo, a 53-year-old postal worker who lives a few doors away, says he worries about the safety of his 7- and 13-year-old children if tenants with psychiatric problems move in.

“This is a nice, respectable block,” he said, but he worries about a return to the time when “people used to shoot up,” and “there were drugs and guns” on the lot, before he and his neighbors cleaned it up.

The concentration of social service facilities is just one of several reasons the officials asked the governor in their letter to reconsider his pledge of $19 million to the non-profit group.

They also charge the agency with a conflict of interest, saying it has a cozy relationship with a Lincoln Hospital official, a charge Johansson calls inaccurate and “offensive.”

The president of the association’s board is Amy Hoffman, who was also chief of psychiatry at Lincoln when the proposal was announced last year. The agency “sought and obtained a linkage agreement with the Generations+ Northern Manhattan Health Network,” of which Lincoln Hospital “is a prominent member,” the letter to the governor and commissioners points out.

It also criticized the case management association for failing to reveal that the new residence will offer outpatient services when it made its first presentation to Community Board 1. That would have galvanized local opposition that could have endangered the project, the elected officials believe.

Additionally, the officials expressed concern that building above Mill Brook could cause damage to nearby homes.

“We want to correct the misperception” about clients with psychiatric diagnoses, Johansson said, predicting his group will come to be recognized as “just another good neighbor.”

Residents can submit a zoning challenge to the Department of Buildings before Oct. 27, picking one up at the department’s Bronx office, at 1932 Arthur Avenue, or they can download the form at http://www.nyc.gov/html/dob/downloads/pdf/zrd2.pdf.

This story was updated on Oct. 24th.

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