The number of drug rehabilitation facilities in the South Bronx has long exceeded the neighborhood’s ability to absorb them, say Hunts Point residents who fear the opening of yet another one. Members of Community Board 2 rallied in Longwood on June 5 to protest a new transitional housing facility for drug users, slated to open soon, saying that those facilities are a burden on communities and other Bronx neighborhoods should accept their fair share.
Some two-dozen residents, Board 2 members and Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr. rallied in front of 915 Dawson Street across from Bill Rainey Park to denounce the project. In a letter, Board 2 said that it was “not objecting” to the project, but recommending that the nonprofit that will administer the project “find a new location.”
Board 2’s chair Roberto Crespo said that the Dawson Street property’s corporate landlord, Propco Holdings, should create housing instead.
“There’s no reason why that place cannot be made into affordable housing,” said Crespo. “We have NYCHA right around the block that’s falling apart; (those) people could move in here.”
In June 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo awarded $1.5 million to a new treatment nonprofit called Light of Hope Services, to open a facility anywhere in the borough, as part of an expansion of residential addiction treatment services in the city. The organization came in front of Community Board to seek permission for a facility in Mott Haven, but Board 1 denied them. Soon after, they teamed up with Propco to convert 915 Dawson Street.
Because the building is privately owned, Light of Hope did not have to present the project to Board 2, but did so regardless. Although it was coldly received by Board 2, the project is continuing.
Last year, Propco announced an affordable housing lottery for the 29-unit, eight-story building, for nine apartments for middle-income tenants earning 130 percent of the area median income, or $1,404 for one-bedrooms and $1,575 for two-bedrooms. The landlord touted the building’s proximity to Bill Rainey Park as “the perfect enclave for families,” with “a baseball field, football field, and playground,” and nearby public transportation and schools. Its website still lists 915 Dawson as a residential site.
But members of Board 2 suspect that when Propco realized it would be unable to get a return on its investment for those rates, it instead opted for a surer thing: a state-funded rehab program.
When called for comment at the phone number listed on Propco Holdings’ website, there was no answer and no option to leave messages.
Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr., whose district includes Hunts Points, Longwood and Melrose, said the opioid epidemic is not just a local problem, and other parts of the Bronx should accept their fair share of the burden by opening facilities.
“Not everyone that’s addicted to opioids or heroin is from the South Bronx,” said Salamanca, rejecting Light of Hope’s claims that a new facility would primarily serve drug users from the neighborhood. “This is a citywide issue. Other parts of the borough are suffering from the opioid crisis as well. Why do they need to be referred and transferred to our community in the South Bronx?”
The South Bronx has become a magnet for opioid users as a result of the saturation of treatment centers, he said, pointing out that 40-some homeless shelters and rehabilitation programs have opened in recent years.
In a phone call, Light of Hope’s founder and president Guillermina Martinez said that the program will not have a negative effect on the community, and the center will be carefully monitored.
“This is not a shelter, not an outpatient program [and] not a methadone program,” said Martinez. “This is a residential rehabilitation treatment program, in which the clients are going to receive all the services in-house,” and added the program will “help the community because we cannot deny the fact that it is a need.”
“Under Governor Cuomo, what they’re trying to do is to have programs, rehabilitation programs, inpatient residentials,” in which substance users are treated for their addictions close to home, she said.
State Sen. Luis Sepulveda, who first announced support for the project when it was first announced, later came to oppose its proposed siting on Dawson Street.
“To best understand the project and facilitate dialogue between the stakeholders, Senator Luis Sepulveda has personally met several times with both Community Board 2 and the Light of Hope Services organization, as well as attended CB2 community meetings,” said a staff member from Sepulveda’s office in a statement.
“While the Senator recognizes the need for rehabilitation centers in our South Bronx community, he has made it clear that he could only support this specific project if they had the support of the local community and Community Board. In this case, it does not, and therefore cannot support the project at this location.”
Additional reporting by Alexa Beyer.