By Sadef Ali Kully
A few homeless veterans were scheduled to move this Thursday into the much disputed affordable housing units owned by Queens landlord Rita Stark in Hollis despite pushback from community members, according to the city’s Human Resources Administration
While the city and state administrations gather forces to end homelessness, dozens of Hollis community members are putting on the gloves to stop government agencies from bringing homeless veterans into affordable housing units in their neighborhood.
The community organization People for the Neighborhood has launched a legal and grassroots battle against the city after months of protesting resulted in no action by city officials.
In December the city’s Human Resources Administration said the six buildings at 202-02 to 202-24 Hollis Ave. would be used as affordable housing units for 90 homeless veterans. The properties are owned by Stark and managed by the Bluestone Group, which has a history of reaching deals with nonprofit and city agencies behind closed doors.
The city and state have argued that growing number of homeless New Yorkers — an estimated 60,000 in the shelter system, according to the Coalition for the Homeless — have become a major concern. In Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address last week, he unveiled a $20 billion proposal to be spent over five years to reduce the number of homeless New Yorkers. Cuomo said the state will add 100,000 permanent affordable housing units, 6,000 new supportive housing beds and 1,000 emergency shelter beds over that span.
Last year HRA Deputy Commissioner David Neustadt told Timesledger in an email about the Hollis property that “we are working on making this permanent affordable housing for veterans as part of the national effort to end homelessness for veterans.” Neustadt said Wednesday several homeless vets would move into the Hollis properties this week.
Even though the city and state have taken the lead in curbing homelessness, People for the Neighborhood began by taking the city to court and obtaining a temporary restraining order granted in Queens Supreme Court. The restraining order was dismissed last week, however, due to the wrong entity named on the petition, according to court records.
Anthony Rivers, spokesman for People for the Neighborhood, said they have filed for a permanent injunction with the correct entity against the property this time. “We are engaged now because we will be stuck in a situation if we do not fight,” he said.
The group also received supporting affidavits from city Public Advocate Letitia James, state Sens. Leroy Comrie (D-Hollis) and James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park), Rev. James Barnwell from Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, Rev. Phil Craig from Greater Springfield Community Church and Community Board 12 Chairwoman Adrienne Adams.
According to court records, Adams’ affidavit said “the Fair Share Criteria were developed as a way to provide communities with a transparent decision-making process that facilitates adequate planning and takes communities’ needs into account. Community Board 12 has been denied the benefits of this law and practice.”
The community’s main argument against the housing solution for the homeless veterans has been the oversaturation of homeless shelters across southeast Queens. In the borough, there are an estimated 22 shelters and over 50 percent of those shelters are located in southeast Queens neighborhoods. Yet the city has argued that the units at the Hollis properties are affordable housing and not homeless shelters.
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skull