Residents rally against possible homeless shelter in Hollis

By Tom Momberg

About three dozen homeowners, residents and members of grassroots advocacy groups rallied outside a recently renovated eight-family apartment building in Hollis Saturday in protest of its rumored and evidently realized status as the site for a group of new homeless shelters.

Community Board 12 issued a moratorium on any new city family shelters in January, responding to an ever-growing concern that the borough’s need for shelters is disproportionately allocated within its boundaries—an area which includes Jamaica, Hollis, St. Albans and Springfield Gardens.

The building that the residents rallied in front of is one of six on Hollis Avenue owned by Rita Stark, the woman who allegedly conspired to help former City Councilman Sheldon Leffler obtain matching campaign finance funds in an illegal scheme that ended his political career. She is also one of the largest real-estate owners in southeast Queens. But many of Stark’s properties are blighted, including those on Hollis Avenue, which residents claim have been mostly vacant for the past decade.

Although neighbors said they have been suspicious about the quiet refurbishment of the six long-abandoned apartment buildings between 202-04 and 203-24 Hollis Ave., Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) said the chance they will become homeless shelters is far from definite.

Miller said a red flag went up as soon as Stark leased out the buildings to the Manhattan-based real estate firm, the Bluestone Group, which has been quiet about its development plans. The firm did not respond to requests from TimesLedger Newspapers for comment. Neither could Stark be reached for comment.

“As soon as the lease was finalized, my office reached out to see what the intentions were. We wanted to work with them to see what could be done to benefit the neighborhood at a good cost to the developer,” Miller said.

But after little response, Miller said he and state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Hollis) went straight up to Bluestone’s offices, only to be referred to a separate property manager who also was not able to tell them the use for the properties.

“We could not get a simple, civil discussion about their dealings with the infamous Rita Stark,” Miller said. “This is a solid, black, working-class neighborhood of homeowners who deserve answers.”

But now several bunk beds can be seen through the windows of each of the fully renovated Hollis Avenue buildings, each of those beds topped with mattresses still in the plastic.

The buildings are across the street from a day care center and within blocks of a city library and at least three public schools.

The city Department of Homeless Services said there are no plans by the city to turn the buildings into family shelters, but private developers can still establish homeless shelters, like Restfull Nights LLC or the Jamaica Armory Shelter for Women in Jamaica.

DHS has 22 shelters in Queens, 10 of which are located within the bounds of CB 12, according to the city agency.

Residents are not only concerned about homeless shelters possibly attracting transient city residents and criminals, but they worry that the overwhelming number of shelters in southeast Queens have a negative impact on property values.

“These developers and the city aren’t only sidestepping us, they are disregarding us,” said 40-year Hollis resident, retired teacher and community worker Izetta Mobley. “Who are we? We are taxpayers. This is not a slum area. We’re not no ghetto and we don’t want to become one.”

Miller said he and his legislative colleagues petitioned the city Department of Buildings to conduct an audit of Bluestone’s redevelopment of the six Hollis Avenue buildings, but the results have not yet been released.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

More from Around New York