Year in Review: Queens’ top stories from December 2021

(Left) Rendering of TF Cornerstone’s 5203 Center Blvd. development. (Right) Townsend Harris High School in Flushing.

QNS is looking back at the top stories throughout 2021, as we look forward to 2022.

While December isn’t quite over yet, here are some of the top stories of the month in Queens, which includes new affordable housing, homelesness woes, another high school school scandal and three Queens men’s “Ocean’s Eleven”-like scheme to rob a Long Island warehouse, among many others.

New affordable housing options come to Long Island City waterfront development

Elected officials and TF Cornerstone representatives celebrated the ribbon-cutting of a new development with affordable housing options in Long Island City. (Photo courtesy of TF Cornerstone)

City and elected officials joined TF Cornerstone to celebrate the ribbon-cutting for the most recent phase of a new development with affordable housing options at Hunter’s Point in Long Island City.

The new waterfront buildings at 5241 and 5203 Center Blvd. offer 719 permanently affordable apartments, 473 market-rate homes and a new public park on the Long Island City waterfront. 

The project also includes an office for Selfhelp Community Services, a health and human services organization that will give on-site services for older adults living in the 100 units set aside for seniors at the 5203 Center Blvd. location.

5241 Center Blvd. will host a 7,700-square-foot community center, where the nonprofit Sunnyside Community Services will be available to provide social services and programming for older adults.

HPD is working with the School Construction Authority to build a 572-seat K-8 school with a large playground just east of TF Cornerstone’s development.

Rendering of TF Cornerstone’s 5203 Center Blvd. development (Photo courtesy of TF Cornerstone)

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said he’s thankful for the 1,200 new apartments, 60% of which will be affordable homes, in District 26.

“I’m thrilled to have worked to secure additional affordable housing to the development and am particularly excited about the 100 units of housing for low-income seniors that will ensure our aging population can continue to call this neighborhood home,” Van Bramer said. “Hunter’s Point South should serve as a model for development in the future.”

A Ridgewood man describes what it’s like living in city-run homeless shelters

Victor Lopez, 59, has struggled to hold a job for most of his life. Since the pandemic hit, he’s gotten moved around to different homeless shelters, where he said he faced terrible violence. Now, all he wants is to find a safe haven at the Hungry Monk shelter in Ridgewood.

Lopez said he’s been to many shelters throughout the city but never felt more unsafe than in Harry’s Place in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

“Why would they put me in a shelter like that? I didn’t give anyone any trouble. I’m out here trying to get better and get help, not to fight with people,” Lopez said.

Close to 50,000 people in New York City are experiencing homelessness and Lopez knows his situation isn’t unique.

Lopez has tried to get a bed at the Hungry Monk facility, but none are available. Father Michael Lopez (no relation), who started the nonprofit, said they’ve rarely had a free bed since they opened in 2019.

Councilman Robert Holden blamed Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Steven Banks — who resigned in November 2021 — for advocating for large “warehouse” shelters that pack people in without privacy and barely any security, resulting in the dangerous conditions Lopez spoke of.

Lopez said he’s felt the effects of the city’s neglect as someone in and out of shelters often.

“We’re just numbers in a shelter,” Lopez said.

Later in December, a homeless man was arrested for allegedly stabbing another homeless man multiple times at the Cooper Avenue shelter in Glendale — which has been a point of contention in the community for years.

The Cooper Rapid Rehousing Center at 78-16 Cooper Ave. was once a factory. (QNS file photo)

Three northeast Queens men were indicted in ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ scheme to rob Long Island warehouse

Three northeast Queens men were indicted by a grand jury following a “complex surveillance investigation” which uncovered a warehouse break-in scheme in Suffolk County last summer, according to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.

Christopher Tsang, 44, of College Point; Joe Lin, 40, of Flushing; and Chung Wei Wang, 38, of Oakland Gardens, were arraigned at the end of November before Queens Supreme Court Justice Michael Yavinsky on a 10-count indictment charging them with multiple burglary and robbery crimes for a scheme Katz said reminded her of an “Oceans Eleven” plot.

“The alleged ring-leaders arrested met at illegal gambling parlors, a movie theater parking lot and other locations in Queens to plan the logistics of their heist. As alleged, they used phony NYPD tactical gear, waved weapons and restrained warehouse workers before taking more than a hundred boxes of merchandise from a Suffolk County warehouse,” Katz said. “The plot twist here — the heist flopped and the accused are facing prison time if convicted.”

Flushing Townsend Harris High School teacher removed following sexual misconduct accusations

Townsend Harris High School in Flushing (Screenshot via Google Maps)

Joseph Canzoneri, a former English teacher at Townsend Harris High School in Flushing, was first removed in 2018 for sexual misconduct allegation. But due to state law, he was reinstated to the school in the fall by the DOE. 

A report from the school’s newspaper revealed that although Canzoneri was removed from the classroom following an SCI report that recommended he be fired in 2019 for “inappropriate behavior,” he still came into contact with students for extended periods of time in an office area in the building.

The DOE said that based on state law and labor agreements, they had to reinstate Canzoneri in his former position and couldn’t fire a tenured teacher. The school principal, though, kept him outside of classrooms.

Following backlash from students and a local councilman, Canzoneri was later reassigned outside of the school building by the DOE.