Vallone Opposes Mentally Ill Homeless Housing In Astoria
City Councilmember Peter F. Vallone Jr. voiced strong opposition this week to a proposed 50-unit housing development for mentally ill, homeless New Yorkers proposed to be built in an underserved section of his Astoria district. Vallone fears the facility could endanger positive renewal developments slated for the area. He has written state officials in opposition to the plan and begun a petition drive to show popular opposition to the project.
"Certainly, no community can be thrilled about such a project, but in this instance the consequences could be dire for a neighborhood that has long been struggling to improve itself," Vallone said. "For this project, it is simply not the right place nor the right time."
Urban Pathways, a non-profit group that runs programs to rehabilitate the homeless, has proposed building a large apartment building at the intersection of 27th Avenue and 2nd Street near Hallets Cove, adjacent to the Astoria Houses. The group says it intends to take advantage of the resources and public transportation in that neighborhood, but Vallone contends that in reality that area is considerably underserved in both respects. It lacks basic fixtures such as supermarkets and banks, let alone treatment programs or community centers that could assist the residents of the proposed facility. The subway is a considerable walk, and bus service is limited. Vallone believes the only attraction of the site is an available vacant lot, which he says is a misguided criterion for a location for such a development.
In recent months, real estate developers have been laying the groundwork for a large, upscale apartment complex that could drastically improve the character of the neighborhood. Vallone is concerned that the Urban Pathways proposal could jeopardize the success of this larger development and have a rippling detrimental effect on the community as a whole.
"We are hoping these new apartments will draw the services this community so desperately needs; the last thing the investors need is a reason to keep them away," Vallone said.
The project will receive the majority of its funding from the New York State Department of Mental Health. After alerting the community about the development this month, the public now has 75 days to submit input. Vallone has sent a letter opposing the project to DMH Commissioner Michael Hogan, and he has begun circulating a petition in the community to gather opposition to the project. Vallone encourages residents to write to the NYS DMH or visit his office to sign the petition or gain more information.
Vallone has also begun preparing legal arguments to use against the proposal if funding is approved. Unfortunately, he envisions an uphill battle, as the law is structured to make it difficult to oppose such projects. In his research, Vallone could not locate a single example of a community successfully fighting a state home for the mentally ill. Most cases were for facilities housing 12 to 15 residents, however, where as the current case will house 50 mentally ill, homeless residents. According to the law, not only must Vallone make a compelling case that this proposal will be detrimental to the neighborhood, but also must prove the area is oversaturated with such facilities already, which will prove difficult.
"It is a Catch-22 that rams these state projects into unwilling communities, feigning the welcoming of public input when in fact it does not matter," Vallone said.
Vallone is currently raising public awareness and contacting other officials to organize support for the opposition. He is also considering holding public rallies and other protests to attempt to block this project.