A new shelter for migrant adults that quietly opened last week is slated to become the largest dormitory-style shelter in the history of New York City.
City Hall on Tuesday morning confirmed plans for up to 2,000 people to stay in dormitories spread out across multiple floors in two previously vacant buildings of a block-sized complex at 47 Hall Street, near the Brooklyn Navy Yard in Clinton Hill, but the number could be even higher, THE CITY has learned.
An administration source not authorized to speak to reporters, however, said that city officials hoped to increase the capacity at the complex beyond 2,000 people.
Mayoral press secretary Fabien Levy told THE CITY: “Our plans are subject to change based on operational needs,” declining to provide specifics on the city’s future aspirations for the site.
If The Hall, as it’s called, reaches the 2,000 people the city say it expects to shelter there, only the Row Hotel in Midtown would house more migrants as families with children are spread out over the hotel’s thousand rooms.
Plans for the site were further confirmed by City Hall in a press release Tuesday morning, which went out several hours after THE CITY inquired about the roughly 450 migrants who have already been moved into the previously undisclosed Hall Street site.
Levy confirmed that the “respite center,” overseen by the city’s Office of Emergency Management and intended for shorter stays, was already in operation and said it had a capacity of 600 people. A second shelter in the complex run by the public NYC Health + Hospitals system and intended for longer-term stays will have a capacity of 1,400 people, according to the city’s announcement on Tuesday.
As the city has grappled with the ongoing arrival of migrants over the past year, it has opened sprawling congregate facilities inside school gyms, the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and on Randall’s Island. But those have all topped out at around a thousand people. A warehouse at JFK airport and the Candler building, a repurposed Midtown office tower that’s still in use, are still operating at around that capacity, officials said.
The 2,000 people the city says it expects at the Hall Street shelters also would surpass the capacity of what was once known as Camp LaGuardia, which before the migrant crisis of the past year, was widely understood to have been New York City’s largest shelter at around a thousand beds. Though it was located upstate in Orange County, NYC officials sent homeless men there for around 70 years until it was closed in 2007 by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Housing migrants appears to be a boon to the property’s developer, RXR Realty, which has struggled to fill its office properties. The company purchased the Hall Street building for $162 million in 2018, property records show, most of which was debt, according to The Real Deal.
‘The Dream of Coming to New York’
Outside the new shelter on Monday afternoon, clusters of young men kicked a soccer ball, while others sat along a loading dock smoking cigarettes.
Some of the men had just arrived in New York City days earlier, spending a night or two at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown, where the city is currently organizing intake for migrants, before getting sent on a bus to Hall Street.
“I had the idea, the dream of coming to New York,” 32-year-old Mohammed Bedane said in French. He’d left behind his wife and 10-month-old daughter in Mauritania, following friends who made the journey weeks earlier. He had been struggling to feed his family and feared the West Africa nation’s oppressive military regime, Bedane said.
“I didn’t want to leave my country, but there comes a time when you don’t have another choice,” he said.
Others who spoke with THE CITY said they’d been living in New York City for several months in hotel rooms provided by the city, when they were abruptly told they had to move out.
Such shuffles have been going on for months, as the city opened up new congregate shelters with the goal of freeing up rooms in hotels for migrant families with young children. Over the winter, a group of migrants took a stand, camping outside the Watson Hotel in midtown Manhattan for days in protest of a sudden move to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook. Those reassigned to the Hall Street shelter did so with frustration and anguish, but without dramatic protest.
“They told us they needed it for families,” said Orlando Teran, 39, sitting on a ledge around the corner from the new shelter with a group of friends from the hotel in Gowanus where he’d been staying since January. Staff at the hotel told him Sunday night he had less than 12 hours to get out, he said, speaking in Spanish. “I grabbed all my things.”
A Russian man who said he’d been staying in a hotel in Brownsville, Brooklyn, before he was moved declined to give his name. He held up his phone where he had translated the words: “We have very terrible conditions. It is impossible to spend the night there.”
“Having that many people in a congregate facility raises all kinds of issues around security” health, and staffing, said Dave Giffen, executive director of the nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless, which has repeatedly urged city officials to reduce their reliance on large congregate shelters and move toward more single room occupancy units.
Giffen credited the city for spreading cots out across multiple buildings and floors, as opposed to one cavernous space at the JFK warehouse provided by New York state.
“There’s no excuse for the state’s failing to take a leadership role in terms of funding, coordination, facilities, staffing, everything that’s needed to help find safe places for these people to come stay after their horrendous journey,” Giffen said.
A spokesperson for Gov. Kathy Hochul didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from THE CITY.
The quiet opening of the Hall Street facility comes as the city passed a grim milestone late last month: more than 100,000 people are staying in city shelters across the five boroughs. More than half of those are recently arrived migrants who have fled hardship, economic strife, war and abuse in their countries, according to city officials.
City officials have estimated the crisis will cost New York City taxpayers an estimated $4.3 billion by the end of next year.
Brooklyn’s Next ‘It’ Campus?
Hall Street complex owner RXR in 2018 announced its plans to refurbish the early-20th-century complex and turn it into office spaces, dubbing it The Hall. But when it was completed in 2021, the city found itself in a post-COVID reality of surging office vacancies as many office workers opted to work remotely.
Neither the city nor RXR would say how much the city is paying to rent the two buildings.
RXR previously had donated $10,000 to Adams’ now-defunct nonprofit One Brooklyn Fund, which he launched as borough president, as the developer attempted to garner support for a condo tower, THE CITY reported.
“RXR has been looking to convert this facility to a mixed-use site with residential and commercial for the past couple of years,” said Garten, the spokesperson for RXR. He said the developer had been in talks with city officials for several months with the goal of securing a potential zoning change to allow a combination of residences, self-storage, and commercial space.
Garten said most of the complex was vacant except for a few office tenants.
Despite the grim office rental market, materials on The Hall’s website remain aspirational, describing the complex as a “vibrant neighborhood destination” bustling with an expected 3,000 office workers.
“The goal is to create an attractive environment for office employees to maximize work-life integration,” the site reads. “Welcome to Brooklyn’s next ‘it’ campus.”
Now hundreds of men are sleeping head-to-toe on cots, taking showers in trailers parked out front.
It’s become a familiar sight, as New York City officials have repurposed an emergency housing model typically reserved for coastal flood evacuations — hastily unfolding cots in school gyms, tents, warehouses, church basements and office buildings — for weary migrants who’ve traveled to the U.S. from all over the world seeking a better life.
Adams administration officials at first said such “respite centers” would be glorified “waiting rooms” for extremely short-term stays. Now officials have walked that back. Some migrants have been staying in such waiting rooms for weeks and months on end.
Speaking in Spanish outside the warehouse, Johnny Nazariego, 29, said he had spent several months sharing a hotel room before he was unceremoniously told he had to leave this week. He managed to stash his valuables in a friend’s car, taking with him a bag of essentials.
“I love New York, it’s a city with so many opportunities,” Nazariego said. But this, he added — “it’s a nightmare.”
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story included a speculative estimate about what the shelter’s capacity could reach. That sentence has been removed.