Homeless advocates and some elected officials expect Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to move homeless men out of an Upper West Side hotel will only foment more opposition to shelters across the city—and maybe already has. 

The mayor last week made a final decision to move the occupants of the Lucerne Hotel to another hotel in the Financial District which the city is turning into a permanent homeless shelter. The move came after pressure from a group of Upper West Side residents who had hired a former deputy mayor and threatened to sue.

“If the mayor's decision is truly final and they've made this decision just because of the threat of a lawsuit, that becomes precedent setting,” said City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side. “Any community could threaten that they're going to sue because of a temporary hotel.”

The mayor's office and the Department of Social Services did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Following last week’s announcement that the men would be moved to the Radisson Hotel on William Street, Financial District residents took a page from the Upper West Side residents’ playbook and formed a new group to oppose the influx of homeless residents. And on Friday, state and local representatives for midtown Manhattan sent a letter to the city, objecting to “the overuse of commercial hotels as shelters” and demanding that the de Blasio administration address the “precipitous decline in quality of life.”

At the height of the pandemic in the spring, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, around 10,000 homeless adults were moved out of dorm-style shelters—where 10 to 12 people on average share a room—into hotels across the city. In the hotels, residents would have a room to themselves or share it with just one other person. 

But in some neighborhoods, most prominently the Upper West Side, residents fiercely objected to the relocation, arguing it had worsened the quality of life. They formed a Facebook group, Upper West Siders for Safer Streets, and a non-profit group, hired a well-known attorney, Randy Mastro (who was a deputy mayor for former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani), and threatened to sue if the men weren’t moved out the neighborhood.

Armando, a resident at the Lucerne who didn’t want his last name used, said he was pretty certain he won’t be welcomed in other neighborhoods either.

“There's good people on the Upper West Side,” he said. “But there's also people who don't want us here. And that's not a good feeling. But we're going to get that everywhere we go.”

Homeless advocates and officials said the mayor’s reversal on the Lucerne could have long-lasting consequences, with more opposition to shelters, temporary and permanent, everywhere in the city. This, they said, is especially complicated as the city continues dealing with the pandemic and while in the midst of the mayor’s plan to open 90 shelters by next year.

“It's going to be harder and harder to find locations and open them and get a footing in the neighborhood and build constructive relationships,” said Catherine Trapani, executive director at Homeless Services United, which represents homeless shelter operators.

The newly formed group in the Financial District, Downtown New Yorkers for Safe Streets, which has an affiliated Facebook group, said on their website that the neighborhood already has 10 hotels being used as shelters and that they would not allow the Radisson to be converted into a permanent shelter.

“A permanent or temporary transplant of the hundreds of men who have wreaked havoc in the failed experiment of the Lucerne Hotel to this neighborhood WILL NOT be tolerated,” they said in a statement.

They declined to be interviewed. 

Real estate developer TF Cornerstone, Inc., which manages a residential building in the Financial District, also recently advised its residents to reach out to local officials “with concerns regarding the conversion of the hotel into a shelter,” according to an email shared with Gothamist/WNYC. 

In the letter sent to Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks, Community District 4 representatives claimed the area, which includes midtown Manhattan, has been overburdened by the relocation of 2,100 homeless clients across at least seven hotels.

“There have been numerous reports of physical and verbal assaults, open drug use, public defecation and urination, and a general precipitous decline in quality of life,” they said in the letter.

Trapani said this kind of opposition could lead to new shelters being located in low-income neighborhoods, where many already exist.

“Shelter services get pushed further and further to the margins,” she said. “And we perpetuate a history of environmental racism where we're going to site shelters in areas with the least political capital to push back.”