Residents go to court over Hollis vet housing

By Sadef Ali Kully

Dozens of residents have collectively taken legal action against the city to stop a set of Hollis apartment buildings from being used as permanent affordable housing for more than 100 homeless veterans, according to Queens Supreme Court records.

Over the past several months, community members have gathered outside the six buildings at 202-02 to 202-24 Hollis Avenue every Saturday to rally against more shelters coming to their part of the borough.

The Hollis buildings, owned by Queens landlord Rita Starks, who has other properties in the borough, have sat empty for the last two decades. Stark leased the Hollis properties last year to a Manhattan-based firm, Bluestone Group, which has a history of reaching deals with non-profit and city agencies behind closed doors.

Anthony Rivers, spokesman for People for the Neighborhood, a community advocacy group, filed a petition for a temporary restraining order against any further action by the city on the Hollis apartment buildings

“This facility is a shelter masked as permanent housing for homeless veterans,” Rivers said in an interview. “If [the city] is going to subsidize these apartments, then the city has a very active role.”

Rivers said the reason behind the temporary restraining order is to protect the children in the area.

“There is a high chance that out of the 90 homeless vets, there will be some suffering from mental illness,” he said. “There are four public schools, one private school, a day-care center, a library and a playground in the immediate area.”

According to court records, the petition for a temporary restraining order was granted Dec. 16 by State Supreme Court Judge Kerry Kerrigan.

In the petition, Rivers, who was the main petitioner, wrote, “The community residents are fearful of the potential for violent acts against persons, particularly neighborhood children, property. The city of New York has not afforded the citizens of this community the opportunity or rights to be heard on this issue.”

Even though the Hollis Avenue property is private, Rivers said once the city became involved, using public funds to support the homeless veterans, it became a public issue.

Rivers said the city attempted to appeal the temporary restraining order in a Manhattan court, but the appellate judge upheld the decision.

Rivers, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1984 until 1988, said no one was against veterans.

“If this was 10 to 20 men, maybe it would not be an issue,” he said. “But this facility could cause this neighborhood irreparable harm. Let’s be realistic.”

The next court date is scheduled for Jan. 5 at Queens Supreme Court.

Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skully@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.