Flushing United, a newly formed organization of community and business leaders, is seeking answers about a proposed transitional housing facility in the community, as they presented a petition of 50,000 signatures voicing concerns about the development during a press conference held on Tuesday, Jan. 18.
Members of the organization say they are worried about the proposed $440 million taxpayer-funded deal reached by the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to transform 39-03 College Point Blvd. into a transitional housing facility.
The project is spearheaded by Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) in partnership with the Urban Resource Institute (URI), which plans to construct a 90-unit building that will offer on-site services to assist Asian families with children in need.
Dr. George Liu, president of the Coalition for Asian American IPA (CAIPA), said the community has raised concerns about the project and there are still many more questions that remain unanswered.
“We want to make sure this project is right for Flushing with proper communication and the community’s input,” Liu said.
Sir Gary Kong, president of the American Chinese Empowerment Association, said, “questions remain whether or not the project is the best use of taxpayers’ money given the high price tag of $440 million reported for the shelter,” while many in the Asian community are still struggling financially to get through the pandemic.
Attorney LanTao Sun, vice president of the Beijing Association of New York, and his colleague sent a letter with 10 questions to the affiliated organizations in hopes to establish a much-needed communication, he said.
“Till this day we have not received any response from either party. There is clearly a lack of transparency and accountability,” Sun said.
Flushing United is receiving support from Thomas Grech, president and CEO of Queens Chamber of Commerce, who said they support the small business community throughout Queens.
“Besides providing jobs for the construction of facilities such as these, the community will benefit by having affordable long-term housing to support the local workforce that is being transformed post-COVID,” Grech said.
In a recent interview with QNS, AAFE’s co-executive director Jennifer Sun had addressed misinformation about the project, reiterating that the facility is not a homeless shelter and will serve as temporary housing providing a safe environment, stability and support for families as they work to transition to permanent affordable housing.
“We have always communicated that this project is not a homeless shelter — it is a transitional housing facility specifically to serve families with children. Categorizing this project as a homeless shelter is a woefully inaccurate and inadequate description for all that transitional housing for families with children provides,” Sun said in a statement to QNS following Flushing United’s press conference.
According to Sun, transitional housing is a proven method to not only provide essential housing for families with children, but a sense of normalcy and hope for families in Flushing.
AAFE’s transitional housing project will provide on-site services such as job training and placement support, tutoring, after-school programs for children, one-on-one case management and counseling to help each family find permanent housing.
The project includes 90 units that will each have a private kitchen, bathroom and living space, so families can experience an apartment living environment.
“Housing stability is unquestionably a dire need, and the families this project will serve may not have the good fortune of affording even the city’s affordable housing systems due to job loss from the pandemic, housing loss from Hurricane Ida, or other circumstances beyond their control — as is the case for many victims of domestic abuse,” Sun said.
In response to the cost of the development, Sun said the final contract for the project is still in progress and a percentage breakdown of costs has not been made public as the cost is still under consideration.
According to Sun, while the $440 million project cost was communicated in November 2021 in a public notice, that number alone may be misleading.
“$440 million is the current projected budget which includes far more than construction alone. The cost encompasses acquisition of the land, initial construction, operating costs and maintenance over a 40-year period,” Sun said. “That means the cost is accounting for one-on-one services and staff, including salaries for case workers who help guide tenants towards table permanent housing, and necessities for residents like bedding and pots and pans. That budget is an anticipated total sum to be spent over a 40-year period.”
Representatives from Congresswoman Grace Meng, Senator John Liu and Councilwoman Sandra Ung’s office attended the press conference on Jan. 18 and called for more community input for the planned development. Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, who recently met with DHS and Flushing United, said she found there were many unanswered questions and unaddressed issues with the project.
The project has been paused as AAFE is coordinating with city officials in order to address community concerns and to provide more education and insight into the benefits of the project, Sun said.
“We at Asian Americans for Equality are continuing to participate in conversations with business leaders to ensure there is transitional housing in Flushing for those families with children in need,” Sun said. “We want to ensure we hear the concerns of the community and local businesses and can serve the Flushing community together.”
The three parties involved in the transitional housing project will be participating in the Community Board 7 virtual meeting that will be held on Monday, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m. to discuss the project.
This story was updated at 4:15 p.m. on Jan. 24.