Photo by Mike Shain
Elmhurst United and elected officials call on Comptroller Scott Stringer to reject Pan Am renewal contracts.
By Gina Martinez

Elected officials, community activist and residents gathered Saturday in front of the Pan Am Hotel in Elmhurst to call on the Department of Homeless Services and Comptroller Scott Stringer to reject a renewal contract that would allow the hotel to be used as a homeless shelter until 2023.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing), Republican candidate for Queens Borough President William Kreglar, and leaders from Elmhurst United civic were among those who attended. The Pan Am Hotel on Queens Boulevard has long been regarded as unsuitable to house families because of its lack of kitchens and poor upkeep.

The Elmhurst hotel was converted into a shelter in June 2014, and houses up to 800 people. The hotel is operated by Samaritan Daytop Village under a three-year, $23.9 million contract, which says it must install kitchens in each unit and add a daycare center. The provisions in the contract were meant to be fulfilled by the expiration date of June 30, 2017, and according to Samaritan Village, none of these stipulations have been, nor will be, met.

Elmhurst United said Samaritan Village submitted a request to the DHS to extend the contract for an additional six years through 2023 and asked for an additional $11 million for services which were already included and accounted for in the original contract. DHS approved the renewal contract and request for additional funds. The contract is now pending review and registration by Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Protesters also complained that the hotel has not been maintained and has racked up a list of safety violations. Elmhurst United cited city Department of Building records, which detailed a number of violations dating back to 2013. The violations included no valid Certificate of Occupancy, crumbling and failing facade, and hazardous Class 1 Environmental Control Board violations for work on the hot water, gas and boiler systems, and for work without permits.

Stavisky said the city promised that 190 families would be provided kitchens and that scaffolding that went up earlier in the year would be removed.

“To date, nothing has been done to fulfill these promises,” she said. “I am calling upon Comptroller Scott Stringer to reject any extensions or amendments to Samaritan Daytop Village’s contract for the operation of this facility. I do not believe they should receive a 40 percent increase in their operating budget. It is unfortunate that it has been almost three years since this shelter opened and I continue to be extremely concerned about the conditions at the building.”

Samaritan Village’s Chief Operating Officer, Douglas Apple, attended a Community Advisory Board meeting for the Pan Am shelter the previous week and remained sceptical that the kitchen construction would be completed on time, even with the contract extension, because of the high demand by DHS for space for families and the DOB not getting paperwork approved on time.

The elected officials emphasized the need for affordable housing instead of converting more hotels into shelters. They said that the cost of maintaining the rooms can run up to $3,700 per room every month, while DHS is spending a significant portion of its more than $1 billion annual budget on maintaining and operating shelters.

Kreglar, president of the NYC Fire Marshals Benevolent Association, who is challenging Borough President Melinda Katz, said the lack of transparency between the city and the community involving shelters is a real problem.

“The community surrounding the Pan Am Shelter was misled and lied to by City Hall,” he said. “They violated administrative codes, policies to create this shelter and moved them in during the night without informing the community. There is no accountability on who is residing at this shelter, and it even had sex offenders living there. For these reasons, this shelter has to go.”

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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