Judge: Narco Freedom’s residents won’t lose their homes

2640 Third Ave.at the corner of East 142nd Street, which serves as temporary housing and is owned by Narco Freedom, is expected to be sold.

2640 Third Ave.at the corner of East 142nd Street, which serves as temporary housing and is owned by Narco Freedom, is for sale.

Two organizations will take over its drug rehab and housing operations

A judge has approved a plan devised by a team of lawyers, city officials and social service organizations to prevent hundreds of people in Melrose and Mott Haven from losing the roofs over their heads.

At a Sept. 11 federal court hearing, Judge John Koetl heard the plan to keep at-risk clients from further harm after the dramatic fall from grace of nonprofit group Narco Freedom. For years, Narco Freedom has operated methadone clinics and other facilities in Mott Haven and other neighborhoods, but a long-running investigation by the attorney general’s office led to indictments of its CEO, Alan Brand, and his associates, on Medicaid fraud and other charges. 

Tense negotiations had stretched out for months over how to shut down 18 temporary housing facilities across the city—-otherwise known as three-quarter houses or “freedom houses”— that were run by the disgraced nonprofit, while continuing to house the formerly homeless and provide treatment services for drug addicts.

When Narco Freedom’s $40 million network of substance abuse treatment programs, healthcare clinics and housing facilities closes on Sept. 21, its operations will be taken over by Samaritan Village and Acacia Network, two nonprofits that provide services similar to Narco Freedom’s. Counseling services and methadone treatment clinics will continue to run without a hitch, according to the plan.

The two groups say they are interviewing Narco Freedom’s employees in an effort to preserve existing jobs. All of Narco Freedom’s clinics will remain open, except one in Queens.

Samaritan Village and Acacia will assume responsibility for formerly homeless adults in all 18 of Narco Freedom’s three-quarter houses, along with three residential facilities for people with HIV/AIDS. The majority of those facilities will eventually be closed, but the city has agreed to help residents who might be displaced to find new housing.

“We believe that this plan does represent the best outcome for the residents and the patients of Narco Freedom,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Cristine Phillips at the court hearing.

Since the indictment, the organization’s employees and clients have been stuck in limbo. Despite an emergency measure by the state’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services to increase funding for Narco Freedom, the housing facilities were found to be financially unsustainable. That became a sticking point in negotiations over the transition.

Details of the agreement between the government agencies, Samaritan Village and Acacia have not been made public. Although the city’s Human Resources Administration declined to discuss details of the agreement, a spokesman said all of the residents living in the three-quarter houses would be provided funds to help pay rent in new housing arrangements or transitioned to other facilities.

“We have a contract with Samaritan Village under which they will provide relocation services to freedom house residents,” said David Neustadt, the agency’s deputy commissioner for communications, in a written statement. “Residents will be assessed for their housing needs by Samaritan Village and assisted in transitioning and appropriate next steps. For many this will be permanent housing; for some it may be a more intensive treatment setting.”

One of the Mott Haven buildings that will be closed as a result of the transition, 2640 Third Ave., will be put up for sale. The rest of Narco Freedom’s three-quarter houses in Mott Haven and Melrose are leased.

Members of the Three-Quarter House Tenant Organizing Project, an advocacy group made up of residents who live in temporary housing throughout the city, attended the Sept. 11 hearing.

“To hear that there are not immediate closures is a huge deal for people,” said Paulette Soltani, an organizer for MFY Legal Services who works with temporary housing residents citywide. The next step should be a meeting between Samaritan Village, Acacia and tenant representatives to ensure their needs are met as the freedom houses are shut down, she added.

The two healthcare providers will officially take over operations on Sept. 22, a day after Narco Freedom officially closes. A follow-up court hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 30 to finalize the details.