About the Varick Center
For fifty years, the James Varick Community center at 151 West 136th St. served the community. The neighborhood is a residential area and one of Harlem’s most historic, home to:
- The Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture
- Harlem Hospital
- the former house of Madame C.J. Walker
- Abyssinian Baptist Church
- Striver’s Row
The Varick Center was formerly owned by the storied Mother AME Zion Church and used for community enrichment activities, often for children and teens. In the evenings, generations of local residents celebrated birthdays, baby showers, weddings, dances, graduation parties, wakes and other family events, while during the day the facilities were used as a preschool and day care.
In 2015, deeply in debt, Mother Zion AME Church sold the property, intending it to become condos or affordable housing for the community. Instead, in violation of both NYC’s shelter siting process, and Community Board 10’s Shelter Moratorium, David Levitan is trying to turn this mid-block location into a homeless shelter.
Levitan’s Attempt to Bypass the Community
Levitan, is near completion on what many believe is an illegal project, despite a community-wide moratorium on new shelters, and without taking any of the city-required steps for public notification and input. After misleading the church and purchasing the Varick Center, Levitan subsequently began converting the 18,000 square foot property into a homeless shelter. This is being done in direct defiance of an existing moratorium in Manhattan Community Board 10, given an over-saturation of such facilities in the area, and the belief that “the Community has borne the weight of more than its ‘fair share’”. According the city’s own “Fair Share” criteria, city facilities should be evenly distributed to “lessen disparities among communities”. Community Board 10 currently has more service providing facilities than almost any other area in all five boroughs.
City regulations also require that the designation of new shelters be preceded by public notification, a 90-day period for public comment, and a public hearing by the City Planning Commission. There has been no public notification and there have been no public hearings related to the shelter Levitan is creating.
The False Claim of a Shelter ‘Relocation’
Levitan argues that his facility is not subject to the moratorium, as it is not a “new” shelter, but merely a relocation of the Kelly Transitional Residence on West 127th Street. However, the Kelly Residence says they have no plans to close, no relationship with Levitan, and no agreement for relocation whatsoever. Levitan is bypassing all protocols for opening a new shelter, perhaps illegally doing so in violation of a standing moratorium. The city should not tolerate this arrogant disregard for protocol by rewarding Levitan with a contract for city services.
How You Can Help
The W136th Street Block Association plans to vocally address these issues at the following upcoming meetings, and invites distinguished members of the press to attend:
Land Use Committee, Community Board 10
June 16 at 6:30pm
215 west 125th street, 4th floor
The Health and Human Services Committee
June 20 at 6:30 pm
215 west 125th street, 4th floor
Contact Your Elected Officials
Community Affairs, 32nd Precinct
Officer Collado and Detective Pena