By Bill Parry
For two months members of the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force have rallied in front of the Holiday Inn Express on 55th Road protesting the city’s plan to convert the hotel into a shelter for the homeless. Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to “happily stare them down” after they rented buses and traveled to Bellerose, Rosedale and Brooklyn to protest at the home of Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks.
But De Blasio blinked Monday, choosing instead to rent individual rooms for 30 homeless men who the Department of Homeless Services began moving into the hotel.
“Due to local opposition to housing homeless New Yorkers, we have not been able to convert this site into a full shelter at this time,” DHS spokeswoman Lauren Gray said. “We are renting rooms for employed single adults and providing onsite services and security.”
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) attended a rally outside the hotel Monday evening and called out the administration.
“Wow, the mayor still doesn’t get it,” he said. “Bill de Blasio thinks that telling the Maspeth community their protests were successful enough to alter his plans from creating a homeless shelter for adult couples at the Holiday Inn Express to renting single rooms for adult males would resolve the foreseeable, growing homeless issue and pacify residents.”
Juniper Park Civic Association President Bob Holden, who has spearheaded the Maspeth protests, is one resident not buying the DHS statement.
“‘At this time’ she said, that’s just another spin job saying they’re backing down, but that’s not the case at all,” he said. “At this time. You better believe once it gets colder that contract will arrive at the comptroller’s office for a full-blown shelter. We’re getting angrier and people are beginning to discuss civil disobedience. We don’t trust anyone. Patel lied to us and the mayor’s office is even worse.”
Harshad Patel is the hotel’s owner.
City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who blasted the mayor’s handling of the homeless crisis on the steps of City Hall last week, and sued the city to stop the conversion, reacted angrily Tuesday.
“Once again, the de Blasio administration is talking out of both sides of its mouth,” she said. “From day one the proposal for this Maspeth Holiday Inn was anything but clear. The hotel owner publicly expressed he never had a plan to convert his hotel, because he did not want to lose Holiday Inn franchise rights. So what we see here is the administration grappling at whatever it can, even when hotels are an inadequate and illegal option for housing. I will continue to work with the Maspeth community and persuade the owner and franchise to move away from de Blasio’s failed policies.”
Patel, could not be reached for comment. On Friday he agreed to phase out his policy of accepting homeless families at hotels he owns in Bellerose and Floral Park, according to elected officials in eastern Queens.
While Crowley drew fire from the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force for not attending the rallies in Maspeth, Democratic nominee for state Assembly Brian Barnwell of Woodside, who shocked longtime Assemblywoman Margaret Markey in the primary last month, has attended almost nightly. Barnwell watched as up to 20 homeless men arrived at the Holiday Inn Express in a white transport van Monday night.
“There was no community notification, this was done behind our back,” Barnwell said. “This deal was supposedly done a month ago and now they have changed the whole scope of the plan. This whole time: De Blasio and Patel lied to us.”
As dozens of protester began arriving at the hotel for another rally, Barnwell said, “If the de Blasio administration believes that the community won’t fight this, he is greatly mistaken. It is sad he decided to play politics with the very people who needed help the most.”
Meanwhile, the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force drew several hundred residents and raised over $13,500 at O’Neill’s pub Saturday. The group will use the funds to rent buses to carry protesters to shelters around the city.
“We’re in contact with 23 community associations right now,” Holden said. “On Saturday we’ll rally at the Maspeth Holiday Inn for an hour and then board buses for Sunset Park in Brooklyn, where there are 10 shelters, and we’re still working on details for a massive demonstration with these other groups at City Hall.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr