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Vacant luxury apartment building in Harlem will be used as shelter for long-term New York City families, mayor says

Mayor Adams attends Harlem community meeting to address new shelter
Mayor Adams attends Harlem community meeting to address new shelter 01:58

NEW YORK -- There was confusion and anger Thursday night from Harlem residents over a homeless shelter coming to the neighborhood.

CBS New York's Ali Bauman was in the room for a community meeting when Mayor Eric Adams made a surprising change of course.

Harlem residents went looking for answers Thursday night about a once-luxury building on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.

The building was first marketed as a luxury doorman building. Condos include kitchens with granite countertops and marble bathrooms. Renderings show it even has an indoor swimming pool on its roof.

Am artist rendering show a swimming pool inside the 35-unit complex on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem. NY Nesting

But records state its developers defaulted on loans.

The development has sat empty for the past decade, until this week when neighbors noticed boxes of bunk beds being loaded in.

"We were trying to find out what was going on, and we weren't getting any answers to our questions," Harlem resident Regina Smith said.

They learned City Hall was planning to turn the building into temporary housing for asylum seekers.

"No, I don't agree with it turning into a sanctuary for asylum seekers knowing we have people right here that need the space," said Tiffany Fulton, executive director of Silent Voices United Inc.

While neighbors were gathering to share their concerns, the mayor dropped in to answer questions.

"You are the mayor. We do not want to hear excuses," one Harlem resident said.

But the mayor announced a change of course.

"I told the team, 'Find out what's going on here. We're not moving folks into a brand new building when you have long-term needs into a community. That's not gonna happen,'" Adams said.

The luxury building will instead be a shelter for long-term New York City families.

"You will not have migrants and asylum seekers in that property," Adams said.

Watch John Dias' report

Harlem residents concerned luxury apartment building may become migrant shelter 02:02

Residents told CBS New York they're relieved for the change but frustrated by the city's lack of transparency around opening a shelter in the first place. Many wish they had more input about the building's future.

"We have too many homeless shelters in this community," Smith said.

Smith says she'd like to see it become affordable housing. Forty-four percent of households in the neighborhood are rent-burdened, meaning over a third of their income goes toward rent.

"We have a dearth of affordable housing we're being priced out of the community ... The lack of respect is absolutely appalling," Smith said.

"These apartments could be used for us to go into," Leslie Johnson said.  

A New York City Department of Social Services spokesperson sent CBS New York the following statement:

"Despite the developer's initial plans for market rate condominiums, development had been stalled and this building left indefinitely empty-- it would not have advanced as luxury housing. Instead of sitting vacant, this site will serve as high-quality transitional housing for long-term New York City families with children experiencing homelessness. We will be working with an experienced not-for-profit provider to help these families stabilize their lives and ultimately move into permanent housing. As we have always done, we will continue to maintain open lines of communication and work closely with the community every step of the way to ensure that we are collaboratively working to provide critical services for our neighbors in need."    

City officials say they do not yet have a timeline for when this family shelter will open.

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