The Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea neighborhoods are plagued by street crime and quality of life challenges that the city should confront with a surge in social services and coordinated action from police and other agencies, elected officials from the neighborhood told City Hall.
“It seems like some of the dislocation of the pandemic years, that resulted in more challenging conditions on the streets, has not receded even though the worst of the pandemic is behind us,” said Borough President Mark Levine.
Officials said stress on the neighborhood and its local services has been compounded by the arrival of thousands of refugees in recent weeks, most arriving through the Port Authority Bus Terminal. The Red Cross intake center is on West 49th street.
Moreover, officials said that drug prosecutors have identified the corridor from Penn Station to the Bus terminal as the most intense in the city for drug trafficking .
Levine, along with four other elected officials, signed a letter appealing for help from City Hall. “We’ve just received a flood of complaints from folks,” said Levine, “Concerns from people who live in the neighborhood about feeling unsafe, to a degree that wasn’t true pre-pandemic.”
A City Hall spokesman, Fabien Levy, said: “We’re reviewing the letter and determining how best we can work with the borough president to ensure the safety of local residents.”
Crime statistics for the midtown precincts, which cover Hell’s Kitchen and much of Chelsea, show spikes in both assaults and property thefts in the last month compared to a year ago. There were, for example, 66 felony assaults in the two midtown precincts in the last 28 days, up from 39 a year ago. Reported property thefts, including shoplifting, went from 641 last year to 943 in the past month.
The city’s recently released crime stats for 2022 showed a mixed bag. For calendar year 2022, overall index crime finished up by 22.4% compared to 2021 (126,537 v. 103,388). In that same time period, though, murders decreased by 11.3% (433 v. 488) – down to the lowest level since 2019. And the stats said that shooting incidents dropped by double digits in all boroughs and were down 17.2 percent citywide. Felony assaults were up by 4.5 percent, according to the NYPD.
“Overall, the pandemic laid bare the problems this city for too long has ignored,” said the chair of Community Board Four, Jeffrey LeFrancois, “which is finding ways to adequately house people, to provide wrap around services and supportive housing, to have comprehensive mental health programs and treatment facilities. And because we don’t have all those things and we endured a global pandemic, now all that’s playing out on our streets and in particular its playing out on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen and really around the areas of the Garment District and around Penn Station.”
Assaults and petty property crimes are up citywide in recent weeks, as well, although not as sharply.
At the height of the pandemic many hotels in the neighborhood were used to house people, many with substance use and mental health issues, who could not crowd safely into the congregate shelters.
“It appears that, for example, some of the narcotics networks that established themselves in the neighborhood at that time have remained in place,” Levine reported. “That’s not what I would have expected. But that’s the reports that we are getting. For a variety of reasons they didn’t revert to pre-pandemic status, even though those hotels are no longer being used for homeless shelters.”
Levine noted that the challenges in Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea were similar to those recently confronted on 125th street. The 125th street Business Improvement District convened a task force of city agencies and local stakeholders that produced “significant improvement on 125th street,” Levine said.
“It feels like we need that similar, multifaceted, coordinated interagency effort in the west 30s and 40s. In Hells Kitchen. That’s what we are seeking to achieve now for the neighborhood.”
The appeal to City Hall was also signed by Representative Jerrold Nadler, State Senator Brad Holyman, Assembly Member Tony Simone and Council Member Erik Bottcher.
They said that the coordinated city approach would need to address “sanitation challenges, better supporting homeless and housing insecure New Yorkers, providing adequate access to mental health care, and improving public safety, among other key issues.”
The neighborhood has faced the added burden in recent weeks of being the port of entry for thousands of refugees bused here from the southern border. Many are being housed in hotels off Times Square and the intake center is within two blocks of three homeless shelters, LeFrancois noted.
It is this same concentration that created problems during the pandemic, LeFrancois said. “Too much in one area yields these type of things,” he explained. “These are critical services the city needs to provide. But they can’t all be in one area. During the peak of the pandemic they turned four hotels into homeless shelters overnight on one block and we’re surprised there were problems all of a sudden.”
The elected officials sounded a similar theme in their appeal to City Hall: “Since the outset of the pandemic, residents of Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea were simultaneously hard hit by the health emergency and a precipitous increase in quality-of-life issues and safety concerns in their neighborhoods. These challenges are complex, requiring a comprehensive and coordinated effort by the city, community stakeholders and advocates to ensure New Yorkers who need support can easily and readily gain access to services.”
Levine and the other officials also called on the state’s office of Court Administration to fully reopen the Midtown Community Court and expand a widely praised program to offer those being arraigned on criminal charges access to social services at the same time.
“It seems like some of the dislocation of the pandemic years, that resulted in more challenging conditions on the streets, has not receded even though the worst of the pandemic is behind us.” Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine.