Greenwich Village site eyed for shelter has asbestos issues: lawsuit

Tenants claim construction would agitate asbestos and lead paint throughout the building

Project Renewal CEO Eric Rosenbaum, Attorney Adam Leitman Bailey and 27 West 11th Street. (Google Maps, Facebook via Project Renewal, Bailey)
Project Renewal CEO Eric Rosenbaum, Attorney Adam Leitman Bailey and 27 West 11th Street. (Google Maps, Facebook via Project Renewal, Bailey)

A lawsuit filed last week by four tenants of a Greenwich Village apartment building could stall plans to turn it into a shelter for homeless women.

The complaint cites high levels of lead paint and asbestos throughout 27 West 11th Street — toxins that could prove hazardous for the property’s elderly residents once construction begins, according to attorney Adam Leitman Bailey, who is representing the tenants — all of whom live in first- and second-floor single-room occupancy units — in the lawsuit.

The city had proposed overhauling the building as part of the mayor’s “Turning the Tide” initiative to move homeless individuals out of hotels and cluster sites and into 90 new shelters. The Department of Social Services tapped homeless services nonprofit Project Renewal to operate the shelter, and Community Board 2 greenlit the project last summer. The Department of Environmental Protection conducted an asbestos assessment last spring that found no hazardous materials.

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In December, Bailey’s clients caught wind of the demolition plans, which call for construction on the first- and second-floors to accommodate 90 additional residents in the 77-unit building.

“It looked like the construction was going to intentionally drive them out of the building,” Bailey said.

The notice specified the project was “not evicting any tenants.” But the four SRO tenants, each of whom is over 60, feared the work would stir up hazardous materials in the building.

Bailey scheduled a second survey of the building — one that included a lead paint check — and found that the city had erred in its assessment.

The city’s report showed samples had been taken of the building’s facade and roof ahead of a work order that would repair the outside walls and replace windows. The interior hadn’t been inspected for asbestos, because it wouldn’t be affected by the work.

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Bailey’s survey checked the tenants’ apartments, plus common areas, and found levels that were a “cause of concern for the entire building,” wrote Kenneth Friedman, an inspector with Shaindel Environmental.

“Special mitigation efforts are necessary to perform any demolition, construction or renovation work in the building so as to protect these elderly tenants,” he wrote.

Paint samples showed lead levels above federal and state guidelines. The shelter will be built for women who are not living with children. However, the survey details that a six-year-old boy regularly visits the building with his father.

Landlords must ensure that any peeling paint or surfaces that may have deteriorated are properly remediated, and must follow safety guidelines for construction work in buildings that may have lead-based paint (which is assumed to be any structure built before 1960) or asbestos.

The suit names the Department of Housing Preservation and Development as a respondent and asks that the agency remediate the asbestos and lead issues and put any work on hold until the building is free of hazardous materials. An HPD spokesperson did not provide a comment by the time of publication.

Bailey’s hope is that the clean-up will take enough time that the project seeks out an alternative shelter site.

“Our goal is to get Project Renewal to find another building so my clients can live the rest of their lives in peace,” Bailey said.

Project Renewal is neither a party to the suit, nor the owner of the building; rather, they would operate the shelter once renovations had wrapped. As of last summer, Project Renewal planned on a two-year construction timeline.

A Project Renewal spokesperson said it had no comment on the lawsuit.