Battle Underway over Homeless Shelter that City Wants to Place in Former Calhoun School

UWS Council Member Gale Brewer is calling on Mayor Eric Adams to abandon plans to covert the former Calhoun School on W 74th St. into a woman’s homeless shelter and instead use it to build new affordable housing.

| 10 Feb 2024 | 11:26

City Council Member Gale Brewer appealed to Mayor Adams to block the city’s plan to convert the former Calhoun School on West 74th street to a women’s shelter, saying the site was better used for affordable housing.

“It is troubling to me that converting the building into a shelter and leasing it to the city is considered by investors to be the most profitable use,” Brewer wrote the Mayor on February 5.

Brewer noted that when the developer, Bayrock Capital, bought the building from Calhoun last summer, the company “announced that the building would be converted into luxury residences.”

Residents on the block, well known for the original Levain cookie store at the corner of 74th and Amsterdam, became upset when, in December, they were notified that the plan to convert the Calhoun building to apartments had been scrapped and changed to a 146-bed women’s shelter.

“The five-story building will need significant renovation to transform from a school to a shelter,” wrote Brewer, who said she was writing to the Mayor now because work does not appear to have begun. “I am requesting that 160 West 74th street be renovated for affordable housing and not as a shelter.”

She noted that another shelter for women was being constructed on West 59th Street. “Yet from every corner of the city and state, there is a cry for more affordable housing, particularly when a building is a full renovation or new construction. It makes sense to address long-term need for housing at this site.”

Neither the Mayor nor Bayrock Capital responded to Brewer’s letter. But the city agency in charge of housing the homeless, The Department of Social Services, has defended the plan.

“This high-quality transitional housing facility will provide women experiencing homelessness the critical opportunity to receive the quality care and supports they need to get back on their feet and ultimately transition to permanent housing,” a DSS spokesman said. “Transitional housing programs like this are vital to helping vulnerable New Yorkers stabilize their lives as case managers work to address their unique needs while making essential connections to rental assistance and other housing supports, and we need every community to come together to address the citywide challenge of homelessness.”

The DSS spokesman noted that the shelter would be operated by an experienced not-for-profit, Volunteers for America, and that both the city and the not-for-profit are committed to working with the neighborhood “so that, together, we can ensure this facility is integrated seamlessly into the community and our clients receive a warm welcome.”

The location is part of the city’s “equitable shelter siting” to ensure “that every community has the critical safety net resources to help our neighbors in need,” the spokesman said.

“My neighbors and I are quite concerned that there has been no communication with the community from either New York City or the Volunteers of America,” said a resident of the block, Deborah Sale, a former Albany official and former chair of the Community Services Society. “We’d like to know more about how the shelter will operate and the population they propose to shelter there. Shelter is a temporary solution to homelessness. The neighborhood would welcome permanent housing, the true challenge for New Yorkers. 160 West 74th Street presents an exceptional opportunity for permanent housing.”

“The location will serve single adult women, including those experiencing mental health challenges,” the city spokesman explained. Volunteers of America will provide around the clock security, including security officers at the entrance to control building access and to monitor 65 security cameras inside the shelter and its grounds, the spokesman said.

“There will be a minimum of four security staff per shift and one supervisor overseeing security staff per shift,” the city spokesman said.

The block is no stranger to social services. The building immediately west of the former Calhoun school was used for a number of years by Phoenix House, the drug treatment program, as transitional housing for recovering drug users.

That building was sold in 2016 and converted to condos.

West 74th street is part of a Landmark district. The Landmark’s Commission recently gave Bayrock Capital permission to make changes in the property, including installation of a stair lift to make the entrance accessible. But the commission said it does not pass judgement on proposed uses for the property.

Community Board 7’s Health and Human Services committee will meet February 27 at 7 p.m. to consider the use of the property as a shelter.

The Calhoun building has operated as a school since it opened on October 5, 1893, as the new home of Mademoiselle Veltin’s Day School for Girls.

It went through several incarnation’s including the De La Salle institute, a boy’s catholic school, and later the Baldwin School, a private coed academy.

The Calhoun school took over around 1990, using the building for preschool through first grade.

But in 2022 Calhoun merged with Metropolitan Montessori school and offered the 74th street building for sale.

Cushman & Wakefield, the realtor, marketed the property as a “ripe opportunity for a boutique residential conversion or as a single-family mansion.” The sale price was announced as $14-million.