Midtown East and Queens from the 86th story observation deck of the Empire State Building

Associated Press: MANHATTAN, NY – Residents of an Upper West Side hotel at the center of a heated dispute over housing the homeless have been approached with offers of food and money if they sign documents saying they want to move out, according to new affidavits in the case.

In the fall, a battle between Upper West Side residents erupted over some 230 homeless men the city had located to the Lucerne Hotel on W 79th Street amid concerns about coronavirus spread in shelters.

One group of locals quickly formed to get the men thrown out of the upscale neighborhood, while another urged the city to let them stay.

As the battle moved to Manhattan Supreme Court, individuals have allegedly approached some of the men with offers of food or money in exchange for their signature on documents saying they want to leave.

Lucerne resident Elihu Hesterbey says that in late October, an unnamed woman offered him money if he would “sign papers saying that I no longer want to live at the Lucerne and would prefer to move to the Wall Street area,” according to an affidavit that was set to be filed late Tuesday.

Hesterbey “politely explained I was not willing to sign anything,” according to the document.

In a second affidavit, a different Lucerne resident claims an unnamed woman offered him “pizza or pasta” if he would consider signing a petition “to support our Forced Relocation.” That resident filed anonymously.

The affidavits were meant to support a temporary restraining order against the city’s plans to relocate the Lucerne men to a Radisson hotel near Wall St, which came after an outcry from the anti-homeless Upper West Side group.

A group of Financial District residents sued the city last month, and the anti-homeless group, known as WestCo, is seeking to get involved in the case. The FiDi residents want the homeless men to stay at the Lucerne, while WestCo wants them in FiDi.

The new affidavits do not explicitly name WestCo as responsible for the offers of food and money in exchange for statements from the homeless men.

A spokesman for WestCo stated, “No one associated with WestCo offered to pay or paid anyone at the Lucerne in exchange for anything. Individuals there signed affidavits of their own volition because they wanted to share their stories.

“That they met with a WestCo affiliate over coffee or a simple meal to share their views in support of the move to the better facility downtown is hardly newsworthy,” he added.

But the allegation that they were given anything of value in exchange for their testimony or that anything untoward occurred here is simply a lie.”

An attorney representing the men filing the affidavits called the offers “frankly disgusting”.

“It really represents the worst impulses of some New Yorkers and thank goodness there are very few who fall into this description,” the lawyer, Michael Hiller, told the Daily News.

The trial over the fate of the Lucerne men is set to resume on Nov. 16, when a judge is expected to weigh WestCo’s request to become a party in the case.

“This game of playing ping-pong with shelter residents has got to stop,” said former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger. “New Yorkers who do not have homes are nevertheless human beings with the right to stability and self-determination.

“They have bravely gone to court to express their desire to stay at the Lucerne where they have on-site services, jobs they cannot get elsewhere and significant community support,” she added. “The Mayor should listen to our most vulnerable, not to wealthy New Yorkers who ‘otherize’ people and want to banish those they don’t like.”

  • Top Feature Photo: The Lucerne Hotel on West 79th Street & Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan – Gardiner Anderson/for New York Daily News