Facebook video sheds some light on a closed-door meeting on proposed Maspeth homeless shelter

Maspeth residents spoke out in force against a proposed homeless shelter on Aug. 11, but the subject was first broached at a closed-door meeting eight days earlier at the Maspeth library.
Photo: Anthony Giudice/QNS

A five-minute clip of a secret meeting earlier this month regarding the proposed homeless shelter in Maspeth showed community leaders urging city officials to delay the shelter’s opening.

The clip was uploaded on Aug. 20 to the Maspeth 11378 Facebook group by Tony Magno, who was in attendance for the Aug. 3 meeting at the Maspeth public library. It shows only the final few moments of the conversation between local elected officials, Community Board 5 Chairperson Vincent Arcuri and representatives of the Mayor’s Office and the Human Resources Administration (HRA).

Up until this point, little had been known about the meeting except for second-hand details passed along by the few participants to local press and social media. The meeting about opening a homeless shelter for adults at the Holiday Inn Express hotel on 55th Road was not open to the public, but some in the community had heard it was happening and showed up at the library on Aug. 3 to hear the details and give their own input.

The video picks up Arcuri in the middle of a statement urging Lincoln Restler of the Mayor’s Office and Dan Tietz of the HRA to give the community “time to work together, to come up with an alternative facility to what this is.” Restler responded that the administration is willing to accommodate “good ideas and reasonable suggestions,” but conceded that the city is also “facing incredible challenges on finding housing on a night-to-night basis.”

Lincoln Restler (at far left) speaking at the Aug. 3 closed-door meeting on the Maspeth shelter. (Screenshot from Facebook video/Tony Magno)

Restler said that the city is willing to hear feedback and suggestions for alternative sites with 35 or more rooms, but cautioned that the city is moving forward with the 60-day timetable to open the Maspeth shelter.

“We earnestly look forward to those recommendations. If there are better options, better sites, great,” he said. “We will concurrently move forward on a 60-day clock. If we find alternatives, we’ll take it (the Maspeth shelter) off the table. If we don’t, we’ll move forward.”

Three local lawmakers were also present at the meeting: state Senator Joe Addabbo, Assemblywoman Margaret Markey and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, the latter of whom was the only one filmed speaking in the clip.

“As the council member that represents both Glendale and Maspeth, I feel you’re pitting one part of my district versus another,” Crowley said. “I think that’s unfair.”

When asked by QNS what she meant by that remark, a spokesperson for Crowley stated that the legislator believes it is unfair for the city to propose two shelters in the Community Board 5 area: the Maspeth shelter and one for a former factory in Glendale, first proposed in 2013 as a transitional housing shelter for families.

Since the Aug. 3 meeting, a rumor had been circulating that there was a trade-off in the works in which Crowley negotiated with the de Blasio administration to end the Glendale shelter proposal in favor the Maspeth shelter plan. Crowley has denied that rumor, and the city’s Department of Homeless Services told QNS that the Glendale shelter plan remains on the table and is “under review.”

In the video clip, Crowley further urges city officials to “promise this community that no clock is going to start until there’s at least an understanding” regarding the potential for alternative sites in the community.

Crowley also questioned why the de Blasio administration continues to pursue the creation of large homeless shelters when the city has reduced homelessness in recent years through alternatives programs.

“I know the numbers and the city budget, and I know we paid over $200 million to keep people in their homes,” Crowley said, referring to funding that the city set aside in the 2016 fiscal year budget for various homeless prevention services. “I know the homeless rate has dropped. You have 2,500 fewer homeless people today … There is a demand to get people into real homes or better shelters, but we know that hotels are not the answer.”

Watch the full unedited clip below. Maspeth residents can speak out about the shelter at a Community Board 5 public hearing set to take place on Wednesday night, Aug. 31.