By Bill Parry
Quality-of-life issues at the former Pan American hotel were called into question by several elected officials and members of the Elmhurst United civic association at a rally outside the shelter for homeless families this week. They gathered to call on City Comptroller Scott Stringer to reject a five-year, $42 million contract that would convert the Pan Am facility into a permanent shelter.
The contract proposal from the shelter’s provider, Samaritan Village, was resubmitted to Stringer last month after he initially rejected the original application in May, citing major health and safety issues, including fire code violations and the lack of kitchens in each of the units inside the Boulevard Family Shelter. The resubmitted contract is currently pending approval.
“This entire process has been one outrage after another,” state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said. “To use an abandoned hotel to warehouse homeless families, ignore health and safety violations, all the while wasting an exorbitant amount of taxpayer dollars is deplorable.”
The comptroller’s office has until next week to accept or reject the contract. A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeless Services said, “DHS has a legal and moral obligation to provide temporary emergency shelter to all those who need it.”
The Pan American hotel is one of numerous locations throughout New York City where emergency temporary housing has been opened, only to be converted to a permanent shelter months later with surrounding communities receiving no notice of the shelter placement until after it has already been opened. State Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), the Independent Democratic Conference leader, joined Avella to push his bill that would require the City Planning Commission to hold public hearings prior to the approval, modification or denial of a shelter site or lease renewal.
Avella is chairman of the Senate Committee on Children and Families.
“The residents of this community deserve to be heard and the residents in this family shelter who live with rat infestations, improper garbage disposal and other serious health violations deserve better,” Klein said. “The state Senate already passed my legislation ,which would require community input and the City Planning Commission to decide whether a social service provider has found a proper location. It’s now incumbent upon the Assembly to act so that we can protect our neighborhoods.”
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), a co-sponsor of Klein’s legislation, called community input fundamental.
“Neighborhoods must know what happens in their own backyard,” Peralta said. “We have all seen what happened when facilities were converted into social service provides overnight.”
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) experienced such a conversion in Glendale and co-sponsored Klein’s bill.
“This behind me is the poster child for inappropriate places to house the homeless,” he said, adding his call for a rejection of the permanent contract along with state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) and state Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights).
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), who has written to Mayor Bill de Blasio and city and state officials about problems with the facility, could not attend the rally but sent a statement:
“The shelter at the site of the Pan Am hotel has been plagued with problems ever since it opened: issues with plumbing and heat; lack of kitchens and reports of bugs and vermin, among other things. And the lack of notification and transparency surrounding its opening was a total snub to the community. This site and the poor conditions that exist there are a huge disservice to residents of the neighborhood and those that are housed at the facility. The city should reject this contract!”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr