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Comptroller John Liu speaks in Morningside Heights in March. Liu rejected a contract for two controversial Upper West Side homeless shelters on Wednesday.

Updated, 7/14

Comptroller John Liu rejected a proposed $47 million contract for two controversial Upper West Side homeless shelters on Wednesday, leaving their future uncertain.

Nonprofit corporation Aguila Inc., which operates the shelters on 95th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive, had asked for a new contract that would last up to nine years.

Local politicians and community leaders have objected to the shelters since they were opened on an emergency contract with little community input in August 2012. That contract ran out in February, according to public records, but the shelters have continued operating.

In a statement, Liu said that the city Department of Homeless Services should clarify how many people the shelters would serve and for how long. Moreover, Liu said that the size of the shelters—which can hold 400 people—may not be compliant with local laws.

“Transparency is paramount when siting homeless shelters, and these contracts failed the test on many counts,” Liu, who is running for mayor, said. “Contracts need to be clear and specific, to ensure that the DHS requires the vendor to stay within the parameters of the program.”

Liu also rejected the proposed contract for another Aguila shelter in the South Bronx.


It's not clear whether the shelters will be closed.

At a July 9 meeting, Liu told Community Board 7, which voted overwhelmingly to oppose the shelters last fall, that his decision "doesn't force them [DHS] to shut everything down and force everybody out, but the reality is organizations that are operating without contract won't get paid."

CB7 housing committee co-chair Louis Cholden-Brown told Spectator that Aguila and the DHS could re-apply for a contract. 

“This unfortunately is not the end of the saga,” he said in an email.

Still, shelter opponents see the decision as a victory.

CB7 chair Mark Diller said he was pleased that community concerns had been “heard in such a tangible way.”

“We were pleasantly surprised,” he said.

“We feel strongly and agree with what he recommended," said City Council member Gale Brewer, who represents the neighborhood, adding that she hoped Liu's ruling would convince DHS to "cancel the whole project."

Cholden-Brown said he hoped Liu's rejection would ultimately mean that the shelters would “be precluded from continued operation at this scale.”

Aaron Biller, president of community organization Neighborhood in the Nineties, which opposed the shelters, applauded Liu's decision.

“The shelter should be closed in some sort of orderly way,” he said.

Liu has been a long critic of the Bloomberg administration's homeless policies, which he said “have failed both the homeless and communities asked to accept shelters.”

“It would be unconscionable to compound past errors with these faulty contracts,” Liu said.

Diller said he hoped the ruling would lead to “a more cooperative, back-and-forth, mutually respectful dialogue about all aspects of the shelter”—including where it will be located, who will operate it, and how large it will be. 

“Hopefully everything is back on the table,” he said. 

Eva Kalikoff contributed reporting.  |  @avantikaku

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