By Bill Parry
Mayor Bill de Blasio has been vague about where in the five boroughs the city would place 90 new homeless shelters since he announced his latest plan last month, but last week the mayor was very clear about where he would build one of them. In Maspeth.
“There was a big controversy over in Maspeth, Queens,” de Blasio told a town hall meeting in Brooklyn March 9. “That’s a community board that has 250 people in the shelter system now. We’re going to put enough capacity in that community board for 250 people.”
Maspeth captured headlines beginning last August when the administration attempted to convert the Holiday Inn Express into a homeless shelter. Members of the Maspeth-Middle Village Task force protested the move every weeknight for nearly four months, prompting the landowner to step in and forbid a shelter at the hotel.
The hotel’s owner, Harshad Patel, backed out of the deal with the city for a permanent shelter on Sept. 9 choosing instead to rent room to the Department of Homeless Services.
On Friday, the mayor elaborated on his decision to name Maspeth as a future location of a homeless shelter during his weekly radio broadcast.
“We did not cancel that shelter because we thought it was strategically wrong, the landlord refused to cooperate after the protest,” de Blasio said. “We are going back in to that community board, find the best possible location, and create a new shelter. We are happy to work with elected officials and community leaders to determine the best location if people want to work productively with us. Either way that community board needs to have shelter capacity. Two hundred and fifty people from that community board are in our shelter system.”
Bob Holden, the president of the powerful Juniper Park Civic Association and member of the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force, was quick to declare victory after the mayor’s policy shift Feb. 28.
“We always said that we would gladly accept homeless from our own community,” Holden said. “Notice how the mayor is changing his tune? Now he says he’s for community input on placing the homeless. Of course, it is an election year.”
Holden said his group’s research shows most of the 250 individuals in the homeless system from Community Board 5 are from the 11385 area code in the Ridgewood-Glendale area, not from Maspeth and Middle Village.
“It remains to be seen if the mayor actually does what he said he will do like keep the homeless in their community and form community advisory boards to help recommend sites for shelters,” Holden said. “We doubt it.”
Meanwhile, state Assemblyman Brian Barnwell (D-Maspeth), who protested along with the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force on most of those nights, is drafting new legislation that would restrict the city’s attempts to use commercial hotels to shelter homeless individuals, while giving greater oversight to the city comptroller and community boards. The mayor has said he would phase out use of hotels, but not until the new shelters are built.
“Before the comptroller can approve or reject the contract, the proposed location site for such a hotel or similar accommodation must be submitted to the community board where the project will be located for approval or rejection,” Barnwell said. “If the site is rejected by the community board, the contract must be rejected by the comptroller.”
Another stipulation Barnwell plans to include in the legislation is that any location for a proposed site must not be within 500 yards of a school.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr