Why Run a Slum If You Can Make More Money Housing the Homeless?

Shelter properties owned or controlled by the Podolskys and their associates. Photo: Andrew Rice; Cassandra Rose Tannenbaum (203 W. 145th St.)

The Continental Hotel, a turn-of-the-century pile on West 95th Street, was a vintage flophouse. In the sixties, a man could pick up the phone, dial UNiversity 6-1420, and find a bed there for a few bucks a night. It was never a place for nostalgia, and over the years it filled with drunks, vagrants, and deinstitutionalized mental patients. But the hotel did serve a function: providing a reservoir of dirt-cheap housing. As recently as a few years ago, the Continental’s tenants, protected by rent regulation, were paying just $330 a month on average. So, in 2005, the owners sold it for $3.1 million to Jay and Stuart Podolsky, brothers with an unsentimental eye for the potential of seedy properties.

The Podolskys had been active players in Manhattan real estate since the roughneck days of the eighties, when landlords all over the Upper West Side rousted low-paying tenants from single-room-occupancy properties like the Continental. Few were as ruthless as Zenek Podolsky and his sons Jay and Stuart, who became neighborhood legends and tabloid villains—“terror lords,” the Post called them. But they were only a particularly blunt instrument of inexorable market forces. As gentrification advanced, the family thrived, amassing a fortune fished from the bottom.

The Podolskys’ flagship company, Amsterdam Hospitality, operated boutique hotels—mostly old SROs that they repositioned for tourism—but their portfolio included everything from Coney Island oceanfront to Grand Concourse tenements. “They are very effective at finding adaptive reuses,” says a competing hotel developer. “Whatever is expedient.” They acquired the Continental and two adjoining SROs to add to a discount chain. It was renamed the Fresh Hostel and marketed to European backpackers.

Such transformations are a fact of economic life in an increasingly smooth-edged city—think of the Breslin, a Gramercy fleabag, recently converted into the Ace Hotel—but the Continental became a flash point. The SRO Law Project mounted attacks, alleging an escalating pattern of pressure on rent-controlled tenants. The hostel’s conditions were as fetid as a spring-break crash pad—online reviews referenced vomit and bedbugs—but the young tourists would pay $50 to $120 a night for a bed to pass out in. The more they trashed the place, the less tolerable the living situation became for the less profitable holdout tenants.

The housing activists organized protests, engaged politicians, and provoked a raid by the city’s Buildings Department, which discovered numerous illegal renovations, such as a haphazard wooden bridge constructed between two buildings. An inspector scrawled: “Discontinue illegal occupancy forthwith!” After much litigation, the Podolskys finally agreed to shut down the hostels.

It turned out, however, that they had found a more profitable angle: the homeless. In July 2011, a nonprofit called Housing Solutions USA was incorporated, listing one of the 95th Street hostels as its address. The charity’s board was made up of Podolsky employees and contractors, including a lawyer who contributed a $725,000 loan for start-up costs. Instead of fighting City Hall, the Podolskys were shifting their tactics, turning an antagonist into a customer. Catering to the city’s demand for shelter beds, their property could produce revenues like a perpetually booked hotel, with none of the amenity expenses.

In August 2012, Housing Solutions won an “emergency” contract to operate a shelter on West 95th Street, which has since expanded into a five-year, $47 million deal. The city pays $122 a night—or more than $3,600 a month—for each cubicle-size room to Housing Solutions, which in turn directs rental income back to the Podolskys. Suddenly, the Continental’s holdout tenants found themselves living in a homeless shelter, renamed Freedom House, that reeked of urine, marijuana, and chaos. But the Podolskys had hit upon a coldly self-sustaining business model: They created the homeless supply and profited from the shelter demand.

Homelessness is a perpetual crisis in New York. Since a judge’s decision created a legal right to shelter in 1981, the city has consistently struggled to find appropriate shelter for its poorest citizens. During Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure, the homeless population metastasized, reaching a record level of 52,000 in September. There are many possible explanations, including policy decisions, such as the elimination of rental-subsidy programs. But the most compelling one is familiar to all: It’s harder than ever to find an affordable lease in New York. Market-rate rents have risen sharply, even as incomes have shrunk and the number of rent-regulated apartments has declined. (And stabilized units can cost as much as $2,500.) This viselike dynamic has squeezed one out of every 150 New Yorkers onto the streets.

Bloomberg’s critics—including Bill de Blasio—have cited this figure as one of the mayor’s most profound failures. To a few, though, it has represented an opportunity. The city will spend almost $800 million on shelters this year, $200 million more than in 2010, and it relies heavily on outsourced providers. “Any of us can look at the data pretty simply,” said one shelter operator, “and say it’s a growth business.”

Photo: Andrew Rice; Cassandra Rose Tannenbaum (1233 White Plains Rd., 2263 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd.)

In contrast to Bloomberg’s customarily technocratic, market-based approach to governance, the shelter system is ruled by opaque deal-making and informal handshake agreements. Quality varies wildly. Some shelters are run by respected nonprofit social-service agencies, others by private companies, which operate with startlingly little oversight. “The for-profit guys come and buy a hotel, empty it out, and say to the city, ‘Hey, we can get you the rooms tonight,’ ” says George Mc­Donald, founder of the Doe Fund, a nonprofit shelter operator, and a recent candidate for mayor. “It’s all about business, and it’s big money. It’s not nickels and dimes; it’s hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The city government does not publicize the addresses of shelters, citing the privacy of its homeless “clients.” But a list obtained via a Freedom of Information request suggests the industry is dominated by a handful of competitors. There’s Shimmie Horn, whose father, a notorious slumlord, willed him an empire of hotels. There is a consortium of investors who administer a portfolio of tenement shelters from an unmarked office above a Brooklyn laundromat. Most players operate through shell companies and front men, obscuring their interests, and the Podolskys are particularly secretive. But the evidence suggests the family is among the largest shelter providers, and they are expanding aggressively.

Altogether, public records indicate that the Podolskys own or control close to 40 shelter properties, which house at least 1,300 homeless families, about 11 percent of the city’s total. (Families now make up the vast majority of the homeless population.) A calculation based on city records suggests that the Podolsky-related shelters have generated rents in the range of $90 million since 2010.

The story of the family business traces back to a Coney Island kosher butcher shop and a hardened patriarch. Zenek Podolsky was born in Poland in 1920. Most of his family was killed at Treblinka. He later recounted, in a testimony for the Shoah Foundation, that he survived the Holocaust by working for the Gestapo as a mechanic, then on a crew commanded by the Jewish Police. His job involved traveling “city by city, cleaning out the Jewish neighborhoods” after their occupants had been deported. “They gave me a torch,” he said, “and made me in charge of opening up the safes.”

After the war, Zenek and his wife, Fanny, immigrated and opened the shop on Mermaid Avenue. Podolsky spent his workdays cutting meat, evenings at the local Democratic clubhouse, and weekends acquiring Coney Island rooming houses. Between 1970 and 1978, according to a document filed by District Attorney Robert Morgenthau in an unrelated case years later, “almost all were burned down in over 125 suspicious fires.” Podolsky was never charged with a related crime, and he profited when the government condemned the properties for urban renewal.

Podolsky used the condemnation windfall to expand. Every Friday, he and his seven children talked real estate over Sabbath dinner. The family philosophy was summed up by the name of a company it used to acquire one Brooklyn building: Fountainhead Associates. There and elsewhere, the Podolskys clashed with tenants. They also fought with each other: In 1984, Zenek sued his eldest son, Abraham, over ownership of some properties, and the two traded accusations of fraud, forgery, and betrayal. Jay and Stuart took their father’s side in the bitter feud, which resulted in an unhappy division of assets.

Zenek acquired his first Manhattan property, the Belfar Hotel on West End Avenue, for $350,000 in 1980. The city soon brought suit, citing tenant complaints about deficient heat, vermin, and frequent fires, one of which killed a man whose death was classified as a homicide. In a court filing, Jay Podolsky, the building manager, called any suggestion of his involvement in the arson “an innuendo which is totally false,” but the family ultimately paid a fine and agreed to properly maintain the building.

In 1983, the Podolskys and another family partnered to purchase three connected buildings on West 77th Street. What happened next caught the attention of Morgenthau’s office. According to prosecutors, after some preliminary hostilities with tenants, the Podolskys hired “professional vacators,” a gang that traveled Manhattan in a U-Haul truck, rendering buildings unlivable. A leader called “Bear” was allegedly installed as the superintendent, and apartments were filled with hustlers, prostitutes, and junkies. Tenants reported frequent burglaries and harassment. One elderly woman died of pneumonia in an unheated room. The vacators received $600 for each departing tenant. They were friendly with all three Podolskys, prosecutors claimed. When Zenek visited, Bear would wash his Cadillac.

In 1984, Morgenthau indicted the gang and twelve landlords, making front-page headlines. The Podolskys cut a deal to avoid serious prison time, pleading guilty to 37 felonies, including grand larceny and coercion. After Zenek offered evidence in a corruption case against another member of the Coney Island clubhouse, Mayor Koch’s taxi-and-limousine commissioner, and agreed to grant the buildings to the Coalition for the Homeless, he was sentenced to 90 days, his sons to probation. Outraged tenants nearly rioted in the courtroom, the Post reported, shouting, “Scum!”

Photo: Andrew Rice; Cassandra Rose Tannenbaum (515 W. 148th St.)

“It’s haunted them for the rest of their lives,” says David Satnick, attorney for Jay and Stuart, who claims his clients, then in their twenties, had little say in their father’s schemes. “They were children, and they were told, basically, ‘You either plead to the entire indictment or your father goes to jail.’ ” Dispirited, Zenek withdrew from management. “I thought these kind of tactics stopped when the Nazis were defeated,” he complained, according to a doctor’s report filed in court. He retired to Miami.

The Podolsky brothers continued to buy SROs: the Park View Hotel on 110th Street, another on Central Park West. At every turn, they did battle with enforcement agencies and tenant groups, who ­complained—in a prelude to today’s ­argument—that the landlords were allowing the city to use them as a dumping ground for the homeless. In the early nineties, outrage about filthy “welfare hotels” drove the city to shift emphasis to programs operated by nonprofits. But this policy change, along with the Giuliani administration’s hostility to tenant rights, opened a new marketplace for the Podolskys. Once emptied of the indigent, the welfare hotels could become “boutiques.”

The Podolskys, with a partner, signed a cheap long-term lease for a hotel near Times Square primarily occupied by Senegalese street merchants. They renovated and reopened for tourists as the Ameritania, run by a manager imported from the Catskills. The Ameritania was soon clearing millions in annual revenue, which financed further acquisitions, like the downtrodden Karachi Inn (rebranded the Amsterdam Court), a Gramercy SRO now called the Marcel, and the Empire Hotel next to Lincoln Center.

The boutique business was just one example of the brothers’ aptitude for speculating at the margins. “There has to be a huge payoff,” a former employee said. “That usually means going to the properties no one else will touch.” A decade ago, they snapped up tenements in Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy; right now, they are wrestling a developer in foreclosure for a Harlem condo project. The family’s holdings are now worth many hundreds of millions of dollars. A Goldman Sachs bond issue valued the Empire Hotel alone at nearly $400 million.

Amsterdam Hospitality remains a tight-knit firm, employing many Podolsky siblings, spouses, and children. Jay is in charge of strategy. (“Like, here’s a piece of crap,” said the former employee, “and how can I turn it into something profitable?”) His older brother “Stewie,” a bearded tough-talker with a taste for Italian sports cars, handles acquisitions. They are active in Jewish charities, and their children have branched into fashionable enterprises like nightclubs and handbag design. Stuart owns a condo on East 57th Street and has a house in the Hamptons next to a friend, billionaire John Catsimatidis. Jay’s family lives in a townhouse on West 64th Street. The extended clan often gathers at Jay’s summer place in Westhampton Beach, a Charles Gwathmey–designed mansion. I was told it was a bargain, that the previous owner sold it cheap after it was damaged in a fire.

The Podolskys take pains to keep a deniable arm’s length from the shelter business. It operates behind a firewall of arcane lease arrangements and interrelated holding companies, many of which have been placed in the maiden names of the brothers’ wives, Shirley and Sharon. “It may appear that it’s all in the family,” Satnick says, but he claims the structures reflect both the brothers’ status as “passive owners” and the wives’ interests as independent investors. “Stuart and Jay have much bigger fish to fry than what their wives are doing in their business.” (During a legal dispute over a hotel purchase in 1999, a court-appointed referee found it “credible” that Jay and Stuart were “the real players” in the disputed transaction and that their use of their wives’ maiden names in that instance “was to avoid state/city scrutiny” owing to their felony convictions.)

The Podolskys don’t deal with the city; they lease the shelter buildings to companies run by Alan Lapes, a building contractor who has long worked with them. “These buildings are not owned by Mr. Lapes,” Satnick says. “They are owned by the Podolsky family in one way or another.” But Lapes, a blustery guy, serves as a manager and a lightning rod. Over the years, his facilities have been investigated by the police (over criminal activity by a manager and tenants in a Times Square location the Daily News dubbed the “Hell Hotel”) and cited by the city comptroller’s office for safety violations and bookkeeping irregularities. In a recent e-mail, Lapes called those allegations “old [stories] that are on google and for the most part are not true” and said journalists should “look for the good in all of the hard work that I do to help homeless New Yorkers.”

From top to bottom: Zenek Podolsky, Jay Podolsky, and Stuart Podolsky. Photo: Patrick McMullan (Stuart Podolsky)

At most of Lapes’s facilities, the city reimburses the landlord directly via uncontracted “per diem” payments. Facing criticisms, DHS has recently been shifting to formal contracts with non­profits, often under emergency procedures allowing expedited approval. Perhaps as a result, Lapes has ceded his emissary role to Housing Solutions USA. Its chief executive, Robert Hess, served as Bloomberg’s commissioner of homeless services until 2010. “As Jay [Podolsky] is using Alan to be his front man,” said Jae London, the former manager of a Podolsky shelter called the Washington Hotel, “Alan is using Robert Hess.”

Although Hess said in an interview that he had “no knowledge” of involvement by the Podolskys in the nonprofit, the board roster listed on its tax return consists entirely of their business associates. Via a complicated merger, Housing Solutions took over contracts belonging to Aguila Inc., a troubled nonprofit tied to a Bronx politician, which oversaw services at almost all the Lapes shelters. Hess and Lapes were often seen visiting the Amsterdam Hospitality offices during Housing Solutions’ launch, and Blabbermouth Social, an Internet firm co-owned by the sons of Stuart and Jay Podolsky, designed its website. “There were so many places to connect the dots,” said Will Felcon, a former Blabbermouth employee. “Hess couldn’t be in the dark.”

Hess, who earns at least $250,000 annually, has since capitalized on city demand for new shelters, boosting the nonprofit’s revenues to $57 million last fiscal year. DHS officials have said there is no conflict of interest in his dealings with the agency he ran for four years.

The Podolsky shelter business has two prongs. There are a dozen or so Manhattan hotels, some of which the Podolskys have owned since the Koch era. Then there is a collection of outer-borough residential buildings that operate as “cluster” sites—basically, apartments rented by the city to house homeless families. The city’s largest shelter cluster encompasses fourteen locations in the Bronx. All but one of the buildings are owned by the Podolskys.

The cluster shelters still typically open under per diem arrangements, providing minimal social services. In a deposition last year, Hess said that the approach circumvents a “rather lengthy and cumbersome procurement process,” allowing the shelter system to expand and contract “like an accordion.” But it’s controversial, because clusters usually operate with scant oversight. In a recent decision, a state judge likened the city policy to “a CIA black op, spending unbudgeted funds without apparent restraint.”

Typically, cluster units are mixed into rent-regulated buildings. At 941 Intervale Avenue, a six-story apartment building in the Bronx cluster, news of the impending arrival of the homeless came abruptly one day in 2009, with a superintendent’s knock at the door. “I knew that they were going to throw me out,” tenant Carmen Torres told me later. She could do the math. An unemployed health aide who had lived in the building for decades, she used a Section 8 subsidy to pay the $800 rent on the three-bedroom that she shared with her two children, which was brightened by plastic flowers and a menagerie of caged tropical birds. The city was offering the landlord about four times that for shelter units.

Torres tried to organize her neighbors. The landlord countered with buyout offers and eviction notices. The buyouts started at around $1,000, hardly enough to pay for relocation, but most tenants left, weary of conflict and shoddy maintenance. The elevator broke down so frequently it made the Buildings Department’s list of worst offenders. Torres’s elderly mother fell on the stairs and broke her hip.

“The living situation there was not suitable for any human being,” said Andrew Webster, who arrived at the building on Intervale Avenue in 2010, during his senior year in high school. Garbage was piled to the second floor of the courtyard, and there were giant rats everywhere. But the Websters had no choice about the living situation: They were homeless owing to eviction from a former rental. Shelters are supposed to be for emergency stays, but the family ended up staying for more than two years. Like all the shelter residents, Webster possessed an acute awareness of his economic value. “I know they put a price on us,” he said. “We were $3,200, I believe, $3,200 a month.”

Of course, for much less than that amount, the city could have rented the Websters a modest but decent apartment. In fact, the city’s approach to homelessness used to include rental subsidies for its poor residents, allowing the homeless to jump to the head of the line for federal Section 8 vouchers. But Bloomberg ended the policy, believing that it created an incentive for poor households to enter the shelter system. The administration’s replacement, a short-term subsidy, was eliminated owing to state budget cuts in 2011.

The courtyard at 941 Intervale Avenue in 2010. Photo: Andrew Webster

“It’s literally the biggest policy mistake of the Bloomberg administration,” said Patrick Markee, a senior analyst for the Coalition for the Homeless, which opposed the shift from Section 8 vouchers. “It’s the keystone of why family homelessness has exploded.”

The cluster system has been the target of persistent criticism, in part because it appears to create more homeless people. In June 2012, Torres found a letter taped to the door of her apartment saying that her lease was about to be terminated. The letter was written in legalese, but it seemed to say there was a problem with her Section 8 eligibility. Soon afterward, an eviction action was filed in court.

There is little doubt that this was a strategic decision. Last year, a federal bankruptcy proceeding related to a dispute between the Podolskys and the mortgage holder on another building in the Bronx cluster offered an unusual glimpse into the workings of their shelter business. Lapes filed a sworn affidavit, disclosing that he was the president of a company called We Care Housing. It appears that We Care’s only purpose is to take over leases on vacated units, serving as a pass-through for monies from DHS. The vast majority of this income, the affidavit disclosed, went directly to We Care and its owners: the Podolsky wives.

“We Care was essentially a start up with no assurance of long-term success,” Lapes wrote. But he said the company had excelled, taking over 55 units, about half the building, and further expansion was projected as the city increased placements. The company, Lapes claimed, had become “a stable business with a good future.”

In our conversations, Lapes declined to explain the justification for this ornate financial ­structure. But the comptroller’s office has repeatedly investigated the confusing flow of funds to shelters owned by the Podolskys. In October, Comptroller John Liu cited their nonprofit administrators for an “appalling record” and “repeated failures to account for millions of dollars spent,” singling out undocumented payments to the Bronx cluster.

In 2011, the Bronx cluster spent nearly $10 million of public funds, 75 percent of which went to rent—a proportion that is typical for Podolsky properties, but unusually large by industry standards. Little of the money appears to be reinvested in the buildings’ upkeep. Liu’s most recent audit found that since last December, Housing Solutions’ cluster units failed DHS inspections more than 80 percent of the time, typically for “hazardous conditions.” Some tenants say they suspect the landlord cultivates disorder. “It’s the same pattern as the eighties,” says housing activist Larry Wood, of the Goddard Riverside Community Center. Once again, buildings are emptying—but this time, the government itself is playing the role of vacator. “They are forcing out people,” Torres said. “I think they are making lots of money.”

Residents of the Intervale Avenue shelter say its security has always been lax. One Sunday evening last December, a child playing with matches ignited a dirty mattress stowed beneath a first-floor stairwell. The blaze quickly spread through the building. There were no hallway smoke detectors, DNA Info reported, and residents found that fire extinguishers were empty or broken. Six people were injured, two severely. In the chaos, thieves made off with the few valuable belongings many of the homeless families had.

The Websters, along with the other homeless clients, were relocated. (After Andrew graduated, he took a job at Starbucks, and his family found a new apartment.) But as Carmen Torres stood in the cold night, her bare feet singed, she knew she had little choice but to return. “I don’t have a place to go,” she told me soon afterward. “A little apartment is $1,400.”

After the fire, Torres brought her dilemma to Rafael Salamanca, the district manager of the local community board, who called a public meeting. At it, he projected pictures of her charred hallway for an audience that included an executive from Housing Solutions. “These are not livable conditions,” Salamanca said. He said that the city had “refused to let me know who the landlord is.”

“I’ll find out,” the executive promised. “I have a contact person.”

But Salamanca never got an answer. ­Torres’s lease termination, notarized by one of the Podolskys’ office attorneys, was signed by the building’s registered manager, Nate Follman. But when Salamanca sought out his office address, at another shelter, he got nowhere. It later turned out that Torres had met the elusive Mr. Follman, who had offered to buy out her lease, but she knew him as “Mike.” Jae London, the former hotel manager, told me that Podolsky shelter employees are encouraged to use “fake names and fake e-mails” in order to conceal their affiliations. “They are terrified of DHS finding out that Alan Lapes doesn’t own any of the properties, that it’s still being handled by Jay Podolsky,” London said. “Alan says that the Podolskys are out of the business, they have nothing to do with it, which is a lie. They never went anywhere.”

A room at the Washington Hotel shelter.

London worked at the Washington Hotel for thirteen years, before he was recently fired after a confrontation with a DHS caseworker over faulty security. In the outraged belief that he was taking the fall for his neglectful bosses, he offered me an account of systematic mismanagement. He produced invoices and e-mails showing the constant involvement of Amsterdam Hospitality executives and a year-end bonus check that was signed by Jay Podolsky. London, who went by the name “James Washington” at work, says his facility housed the homeless in “horrific” conditions: tiny, often windowless cells so narrow that you could stand in the middle and touch either wall.

London’s management duties sometimes included unusual assignments. He claims he attended meetings of the SRO Law Project on the orders of Lapes. “He said he needs me to go to a community meeting, use a fake name,” London said. He says he briefed Lapes on a street corner about plans to oppose the company’s actions at the Continental Hotel and later attended a protest masquerading as a tenant. A housing activist asked London to speak to the press, but when the cameras went on, he instead praised Lapes. The activist, Yarrow Willman-Cole, burst into tears. “I felt so naïve,” she recalled.

Sometimes, such ploys have consequences more serious than embarrassment. One frigid February morning, I met Torres at the Bronx Housing Court, a building housing advocates call an “eviction mill.” Tenants are not entitled to a lawyer. Torres, swallowed in a black parka, carried her creased legal documents in a floral-print bag. In the hallway, the landlord’s lawyer, Vadim Goldshteyn, gruffly told her, “The most I can do is give you until the end of the month to leave.” When Torres tried to make her case to the judge, Steven Weissman, he cut her off. “Mrs. Torres, we are beyond staying in the apartment,” he said. “The landlord wants you out.”

The building’s management company sent Torres a letter claiming it was owed $19,899 in back rent. But it turned out this was because the government had cut off Section 8 payments after a failed building inspection—in other words, because of the landlord’s own neglect. Obviously, this was not a proper justification. After Kathleen Meyers, a Legal Aid attorney, was alerted and intervened, the eviction was dropped. Torres is now one of the last rent-paying tenants in her building, which was renovated after the fire.

I wanted to ask the architects of Bloomberg’s homelessness policy why the city continues to do business with the Podolskys, but DHS officials declined interview requests. Privately, however, current and former agency employees advanced a rationale. The city needs beds, and it has to seek them from the willing suppliers: the kind of people who inhabit the bottom reaches of the real-estate market.

Like many creations of the Bloomberg era, the shelter system is now under reassessment. Liu tried to block the West 95th Street shelter contract, though Bloomberg sued him and the facility remains open for now. Last month, after protests from Carroll Gardens residents, Buildings Department inspectors descended on an empty Podolsky condo building slated to become a 170-bed shelter. Its front window is now pasted with a VACATE sign, warning of conditions “imminently perilous to life.”

De Blasio has promised to reform the city’s “disastrous and broken homelessness policy,” reinstituting rental subsidies and ending the cluster program. But the mayor-elect has also been embarrassed by reports that he raised more than $35,000 from shelter landlords and contractors linked to Hess and Housing Solutions USA. In May 2012, Hess threw the candidate a fund-raiser, attended by Lapes, who exploited a loophole to give twice the legal limit. De Blasio returned some of the contributions and has rejected any suggestion of improper influence.

The Podolsky’s business model, however, has outlasted many mayors; it has proven as persistent as the problem is intractable. Last week, a federal study showed a 13 percent rise in homelessness in New York last year, even as the population dropped nationally. On West 148th Street in Harlem, workers recently began subdividing a brownstone into cubicles. Winter is coming, and it promises to be a lucrative season for the Podolskys.

Map: A $90 Million Shelter Empire

The city declines to publish the addresses of homeless shelters, making their ownership difficult to determine. But information gathered from various public sources (see explanatory note below) suggests the Podolsky family and their associates control close to 40 facilities, some through direct ownership, others through net leases or operating agreements with Alan Lapes. And the network is expanding: A controversial Brooklyn shelter is currently awaiting final approval, and other Podolsky properties appear poised for conversion.

A note on sources: This graphic was compiled via documents from the NYC Comptroller’s office, including a list of shelter addresses obtained via a Freedom of Information request, as well as other public records and site visits. Revenue estimates were derived from the comptroller’s payment records, contract budgets, and a 2012 audit for Aguila Inc. filed with the NY State Charities bureau. When available, the estimated number of beds or units in each Manhattan shelter was taken from the Housing Solutions USA website. Bronx cluster unit estimates were derived from a count as of this August, provided by the Coalition for the Homeless. Shelter use of Brooklyn addresses determined via internal correspondence produced as part of federal lawsuit, site visits, and tenant interviews.

See Also
A Map of All Properties Associated With the Podolsky Family

Jenna Kagel contributed reporting.

Why Run a Slum If You Can Make More Money Housing […]