By Patrick Donachie
Mayor Bill de Blasio defended his administration’s approach to finding housing for the city’s homeless during a town hall meeting in St. Albans last week, saying he had an obligation to house people, including using space in hotels if necessary.
De Blasio also pledged to continue to push for supportive services and shelters in other areas of the city that were not unduly burdened with such facilities. He also touted his administration’s record on education and spoke about the NYPD’s continued push to instill a neighborhood policing model in all its precincts.
The town hall meeting was held in the gymnasium of the recreation center in Roy Wilkins Park and was moderated by Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans), who represents the district. In his introduction, de Blasio took time to address the presidential debate, which had taken place two days before, and asserted that Donald Trump had been inaccurate in his portrayal of stop-and-frisk’s relationship to crime statistics in the city.
“Stop-and-frisk has gone down, down, down. And you know what else has gone down? Crime has gone down,” he said. “It’s the right path in terms of values, and it’s proving to be a better way of fighting crime.”
He reported that crime in the 103rd Precinct, which covers Jamaica and Hollis, was down 5 percent, with no murders for the year. . In the 113th Precinct, which covers South Jamaica, crime was down 14 percent for the year, according to the mayor.
After introductions from Miller and the mayor, audience members in the packed-to-capacity crowd asked questions for about three hours. Several people raised concerns about how the city was housing homeless New Yorkers in hotels in the area. One questioner said she carried petitions and signatures from her community asking the mayor’s help in regulating the increased development of hotels throughout the area.
De Blasio said he was unaware of this particular growth of hotels, but said that changes in zoning could help curtail the size of the hotels.
“There are ways we can change what is allowable in a community,” he said. Miller said the preponderance of hotels in the downtown Jamaica area was due to a 2007 rezoning of the neighborhood, and development had skyrocketed after bouncing back from a long recovery in the aftermath of the 2008 crash. While many hotels were constructed in the bustling downtown area, he said some were encroaching on residential streets and neighborhoods.
Another questioner asserted that two hotels in the boundaries of the area’s community board were now being used as shelters without any opposition on the part of Miller, while another questioner decried the placement of homeless shelters in the city, with communities like Jamaica shouldering an unfair burden.
“There are 14 community boards that have no shelters,” he said. “The placement of these shelters seem to have a racial bias.”
De Blasio cited the recent controversy over a proposed shelter placement at the Holiday Inn Express on 55th Road in Maspeth. He said he was frustrated by the tone of the protests that were conducted in response to the proposal, and said he was angered at threats made against Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks.
“We will pursue a fair share strategy, in a sense, going into areas that have not had these kinds of facilities before, and we will catch hell for it,” he said, referring to shelter placement. “And we will stand our ground and take it because it is an act of fairness”
De Blasio also said a portion of Jamaica Avenue from Francis Lewis Boulevard to 225th Street would be repaved as early as December, while state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) also revealed that he secured funds to go toward purchasing a tractor trailer for the NYPD to work in south Queens to tow illegally parked vehicles.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona