City Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks informed Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley about the proposed homeless shelter in Maspeth more than two months before it was officially announced, according to a source with the Department of Social Services (DSS).
The source told QNS on Thursday that Banks and Crowley exchanged phone calls “several times before the Aug. 3 community meeting” at the Maspeth library, where city officials announced plans to convert the Holiday Inn Express on 55th Road into a homeless shelter for up to 220 adults. Earlier this month, the city ultimately halted that plan and instead rented hotel rooms to indefinitely house 30 homeless men.
The earliest Crowley knew about the shelter plan, according to the DSS source, was in May at an initial meeting between Crowley and Banks. They had met on May 19 at Crowley’s legislative office in Manhattan and “subsequently had a number of additional, detailed in-person and telephone conversations” about the proposal. QNS has requested from DSS any recordings taken of those conversations.
“At the May 19 meeting, Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks informed Council Member Crowley that there were plans by a nonprofit service provider to convert the Holiday Inn in Maspeth from a commercial hotel into a homeless shelter for adult families, and that there was an urgent need for additional shelter capacity immediately,” the source said.
Crowley’s office acknowledged that she had met with Banks on May 19, but the session was a rather general one focused on homeless matters and the 2017 city budget, as budget negotiations were underway at the time. Crowley had requested that meeting with Banks in an April 28 email, a copy of which was provided to QNS.
In a statement to QNS, the councilwoman vehemently denied claims that she knew about the Maspeth shelter proposal well in advance of the August announcement: “I met with Steve Banks on May 19 at my request, where no specific plan for a shelter was discussed. On July 14, I had a conversation with the administration assuring me that there was no shelter proposal for my district. Three weeks later, we hear they want to move 110 families into the Maspeth Holiday Inn. As we have seen in the past, this administration has a bad record when it comes to being forthright, and I am disappointed they would make this accusation instead of dealing with the problem at hand – homelessness in New York City.”
A spokesperson for Crowley said the July 14 conversation involved Emma Wolfe, director of intergovernmental affairs for the Mayor’s Office, who told Crowley that there were no plans for a homeless shelter anywhere in Crowley’s district. QNS reached out to Wolfe and is awaiting a response.
Crowley had some choice words for Banks at an Oct. 19 meeting of the Queens Borough Board at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens; Banks was on hand to provide a report on the agency’s efforts to tackle the homeless crisis. She blasted Banks, claiming that he lied to the community about the Maspeth plan.
Banks refuted the accusations and revealed that he met with Crowley in June about the Maspeth shelter; Crowley insisted that the plan was a surprise to her.
As the neighborhood’s elected representative in the City Council, Crowley would figure to have the most sway of any other lawmaker in the community regarding public policy before the city, including the homeless shelter proposal. Residents in the area have relentlessly opposed the plan, holding nightly rallies outside the hotel and other protests in other parts of the city, including one in front of Banks’ Brooklyn home.
Crowley herself, along with other area elected officials, have felt the protesters’ rage as well. Although the councilwoman had repeatedly expressed her opposition to the plan, some of the protesters have questioned her resolve on the matter. There was even speculation of a secret deal favoring a Maspeth shelter over one planned for Glendale, but Crowley and the city have both denied such a deal’s existence.
Even with the hotel conversion plan stopped, the protests outside the hotel have continued. Some have suggested the mere placement of a number of homeless men at the hotel is a sign that the shelter’s creation is inevitable.