A battle against a planned homeless shelter in a mostly middle-class Queens neighborhood took a perplexing turn this past week as mixed signals from the city and a co-owner of the property has residents and politicians wondering whether the project is moving forward or not.
Late Thursday, Harshad Patel, a co-owner of the site, the Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth, told several news media outlets and announced on Twitter that he was pulling out of his deal with the city to turn his hotel into a homeless shelter.
His decision was based, in part, on relentless community pressure, which has taken the form of nightly, sign-waving protests in front of his hotel since Aug. 11, which Patel told WPIX have been hurting business “dramatically.”
However, the city’s Department of Homeless Services on Friday would not comment on whether the deal had been quashed. City hall sources say that negotiations are “ongoing” and that the shelter’s opening date will only be delayed by a few weeks. It had originally been set to open on Oct. 1.
“I was told by the mayor’s office that they hadn’t heard about this latest development,” said state Sen. Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., whose district includes Maspeth. “We need to know, if in fact the city is pulling out of the Holiday Inn Express location, where it is they are going next.
“I don’t agree with the way things are being handled at all,” he added. “I think it’s a poor way of handling people who are down on their luck in the city’s shelter system.”
In recent weeks, protests against the shelter have escalated from heated community meetings and daily demonstrations to a lawsuit filed against the city by local politicians in an attempt to pressure Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to change course on the Maspeth site.
Activists and politicians say the strategy of using hotels as emergency shelters is not only bad policy but also against the law.
“The mayor has misappropriated over a billion dollars, by trying to address a homeless issue by dumping families into hotels with no services, no kitchens and no transportation,” Addabbo said last week.
Addabbo and City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley announced at an Aug. 31 meeting that the lawsuit accuses the city of violating a law that requires kitchen facilities in family shelter units, which the Holiday Inn Express does not have.
Addabbo suggested an alternative to the hotel: “cluster sites,” which house smaller numbers of homeless families who can more easily be acclimated into the community.
However, the city says it is trying to move away from the use of such sites because they have been rife with problems – some are poorly maintained and monitored with inadequate social services.
Community activist Christina Wilkinson said the main reason she opposes the proposed Maspeth shelter is because there are few homeless couples without children in the Queens Community Board 5 area, which includes Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood and Glendale. The proposed shelter would accommodate couples without children, she noted.
“The majority of homeless people in CB5 are members of families with children and western Queens already has more than enough shelter rooms for them,” Wilkinson said.
Other problems with the Maspeth site include security concerns with Acacia Network, the proposed site’s operator, which has had numerous violations at other shelters it operates in the city, as well as questions about Patel himself, who has been linked to former Brooklyn State Senator Carl Kruger, who was sentenced in 2012 to seven years in prison for corruption.
“The Mayor is doing business with Patel—who has admitted he bribed former Sen. Carl Kruger,” Addabbo said. “Why would this administration knowingly do business with someone who has a questionable past?”
Patel did not respond to repeated calls and emails seeking comment.
Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, was cautiously optimistic about the latest news of Patel pulling out of the deal.
“We’ve seen things happen where someone tells us something is going to happen and it doesn’t,” he told the Daily News.
In a separate interview, Holden said he worried about the impact of the shelter on the neighborhood.
“Housing 220 homeless people in a hotel located in a middle class, working class neighborhood…is a recipe for disaster,” he said.
“City and state officials know housing the homeless in hotels is bad policy yet the de Blasio administration insists on wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on an already proven failed course of action,” he said.
The city should invest more into construction of affordable housing on city owned land and “stop warehousing the homeless in hotel rooms,” he said.