By Sadef Ali Kully
Less than a month after southeast Queens residents testified at a City Council hearing against bringing additional shelters or supportive housing into their neighborhoods, the Hollis residential buildings on Hollis Avenue, the site of protests almost every Saturday since May, have become a permanent residence for homeless veterans, the city said
Elected officials and community members have gathered outside the six buildings at 202-02 to 202-24 Hollis Avenuefor more than six months on weekends to rally against more shelters coming to their part of the borough.
In February President Barack Obama laid down a national mayoral challenge to end veteran homelessness in American cities, Mayor Bill di Blasio signed up for the ambitious challenge and created a Veteran Affairs unit to solve the problem of homeless veterans in the city by Dec. 31.
According to city data from 2014, there are almost 2,000 homeless veterans either in the shelter system or living in the streets across the city.
Asked about plans for the Hollis buildings owned by Queens landlord Rita Starks, the Human Resources Administration said the city planned to place homeless vets in the apartments.
“We are working on making this permanent affordable housing for veterans as part of the national effort to end homelessness for veterans,” HRA Deputy Commissioner David Neustadt said.
According to HRA, homeless veterans have a few options for permanent housing: They can either sign a direct lease with the property owner or find suitable housing through a nonprofit that has a master lease with a landlord. The rent can be paid through either subsidized income, a cash assistance program or their own personal income, but each case is different.
Anthony Rivers, spokesman of People for the Neighborhood, a community advocacy group, said it was outrageous that the city failed to alert the community, even after elected officials and residents at the City Council hearing asked the HRA commissioner to look into the matter before utilizing the properties on Hollis Avenue.
People for the Neighborhood has been protesting against the site turning into another homeless shelter with other community members and elected officials.
The issue at hand is six empty properties owned by Stark, who owns other properties in the borough. Stark leased the Hollis properties last year to Bluestone Group, which has a history of reaching deals with nonprofit and city agencies behind closed doors.
“No one is against homeless shelter or supportive housing,” Rivers said. “But we have more than our fair share.”
Out of the 22 homeless shelters in the borough, more than 10 of them are located across southeastern Queens, according to data from the Department of Homeless Services.
Saying elected officials have not taken an aggressive stand, he warned “the city is treading on some thin ice here.”
Rivers equates shelters with liquor stores, which are regulated in residential neighborhoods.
“You can’t have a neighborhood full of liquor stores. Southeast Queens is saturated with shelters. The city has to have some responsibility to say no,” he said.
He said the community was open to idea of affordable housing, especially for seniors in the area.
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