Community board votes down Maspeth shelter plan, one member asks for empathy for the homeless

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Photo: Anthony Giudice/QNS

The proposed homeless shelter at the Holiday Inn Express at 59-40 55th Rd. in Maspeth got an overwhelming thumbs down from Community Board 5 (CB 5) during the advisory body’s meeting on Wednesday night at Christ the King Regional High School in Middle Village.

Members voted 33-4 in favor of the board’s resolution to oppose the homeless shelter and recommendations to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) and the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) on how to handle the city’s increasing homelessness crisis.

In their resolution, CB 5 noted that it understands the city’s need to shelter the nearly 60,000 homeless people in New York City, but also pointed out that wanting to house 110 adult families — a total of 220 people — at the Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth “is severely out of character with the surrounding community of one- and two-family homes.”

The resolution also reminds the mayor and his administration that the proposed site is located in an M1-1 Zoning District and is in the Maspeth Industrial Business Zone (IBZ), which by law, does not allow for residential use, which the proposed shelter would be. The hotel is allowed to operate there due to exemptions in the existing zoning.

Although there may not be any homeless shelters within the Maspeth area, the resolution noted that there are many shelter sites directly on the district’s borders including the former Pan American Hotel and the Metro Motel sites on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst and the Red Carpet Inn on Wyckoff Avenue.

CB 5 formally recommended four ways that Mayor de Blasio and the HRA/DHS should consider to better deal with the city’s homeless population.

The board suggests that the city should try to find reasonably sized apartments for homeless individuals and families and subsidize the rent for a period of time instead of paying to house people in shelters and hotels; renovate vacant apartments under the jurisdiction of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA); acquire and renovate abandoned and vacant residential buildings; and prioritize quality mental health services, substance abuse prevention and intervention services, and education and employment training to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.

Sarah Feldman, one of the board members who voted against the resolution, gave a heartfelt speech about her experience as a teen when she and her family suddenly found themselves without a home and the damage that did to her family.

In 2001, Feldman and her family were visiting New York City when a major flood destroyed her family’s home in Houston, Texas, leaving them basically homeless. Feldman said she and her family were lucky that they found places to stay, but many others were not so lucky.

Photo by Anthony Giudice/QNS
Photo by Anthony Giudice/QNS

“I know there’s a lot of stuff going on in Maspeth and I understand where you’re coming from, and I’m for you guys, but I will say give some dignity to those people who are homeless, to the kids because they are going to have a hard time in their schools, their grades are going to falter and their families might fall apart because they don’t have a place to stay,” Feldman said in a shaky voice. “I am for all of you in Maspeth … just have some empathy for those people. You do not know them. It could happen to all of you. You could have a lot of money, you could have a nice home, but it could happen to you.”

The fate of the Holiday Inn site is currently in limbo. Last week, the owner of the hotel, Harshad Patel, said he was backing out of a deal with the city to convert his establishment into a homeless shelter, but no city agency has released an official statement regarding the future of the plan.