2017-10-11 / Front Page

DHS Speaks At CB 2

By Thomas Cogan

Community Board 2’s October meeting was long, and at its height was noisily contentious.  The Department of Homeless Services was on the agenda to tell the meeting at Sunnyside Community Services headquarters on 39th Street about its plan to phase out the installation of homeless persons and families in hotels while special shelters are being built for them in various parts of the borough and city.   But that was before Mayor Bill De Blasio ordered the latest conversions of hotels into temporary homeless shelters, during the same week as the meeting.  Included among them was the Best Western hotel on 38-05 Hunters Point Ave., near the Long Island Expressway. 

Immediately alerted to and angered by this move from the mayor’s office was City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who began the meeting by saying there had been no notice given to local communities before the families were moved into the Best Western.  Angela Den Dekker, from U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley’s office, conveyed a similar message from the congressman, who is angered by a hotel-to-shelter conversion in Jackson Heights.  Soon it seemed the entire board was indignant over what had been done with the hotels.  The rest of the meeting included a visit from the School Construction Authority, a report on Hart Playground and a description of impending renovations at Sunnyside Library that generated some anxious criticism.

After Van Bramer excoriated the DHS program, one of his former representatives, Amanda Nasner, had to defend it, in her current occupation as Queens borough manager of DHS’s external affairs office.  She got help from Lori Boozer, a special external affairs advisor, who said that lodging the city’s 60,000 homeless persons, many of them united as families, in hotels converted for the occasion was not a great solution but was regarded as only temporary.  (The Best Western in question reportedly houses 57 homeless families.) 

Like Van Bramer before him, Patrick O’ Brien, board member and former chairman, said this latest action was simply another of the mayor’s “opaque” ways of working.  He said a 1981 court decision asserted that it is a public duty to shelter the homeless and 36 years later officials are still fooling around with makeshift solutions. Though DHS is supported by the law it is also required to inform local authorities such as community boards of the action it intends to take.  Instead, the Best Western situation presents a fait accompli, O’Brien said; and though it is called temporary, the community is being informed that the “temporary” period has an expiration date of 2023!  Boozer said the DHS has to have time to build “purpose sites” for the homeless throughout the city before relinquishing the hotel expedient, and needs as many as six years to do it.  

The Parks people followed, reporting on the progress that has been made since August 2016 on Hart Playground, located on Broadway between 65th and 69th Streets, near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.  A year ago a funding ceremony was staged and renovation began on the 60-year-old children’s recreation area.  The plans shown at the meeting revealed the changes to be extensive.  The land use committee had already given its approval to what has been done so far and at voting time the full board went along with it unanimously.

The School Construction Authority’s Michael Mirasola told the meeting about two land parcels in Hunters Point that could be the site of schools.  Parcel Q375 is on 2nd Street between 56th and 57th Avenues and Q341 is at 1-50 54th Ave.  Such schools could be either free-standing or contained in a larger building.  Land use had approved, but the full board added an amendment to say that each school should be free-standing.  Approval of that was unanimous.  Mirasola was also asked, as he is any time he shows up before the board, about current deliberation over the old brick garage at 48th Street and Barnett Avenue, which has been proposed as the site of a middle school but has also drawn opposition from preservationists.  Once again, Mirasola said there was nothing to report at the moment.

In its few years of existence, the Sunnyside branch of the Queens Library, 43-06 Greenpoint Ave., has been subjected to several renovations.  The latest, described to the meeting by members of the Queens Library’s government affairs and design team, involves redesign of the front door, to make it easier to open and also to provide a better view to the street outside.  Just outside the door there are steps and a ramp from the sidewalk that will doubtless remain, but the future of the low wall to the right of the steps and parallel to the ramp is less certain, particularly since it recently suffered some damage.  Also, a doorway on the left wall of the building will apparently be eliminated in the renovation process.  It serves as a small entrance and exit, and the lessening of entry and egress, however slight, drew several comments from board members.  Sam Vargas wondered if that could bring Fire Department disapproval down on the renovators, but the presenters didn’t believe so.  Others said the welfare of the many children using the library was paramount, and one woman expressed shock that it and they seemed to get no consideration.

Some speakers had announcements about events.  Grace Jean of the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project said there would be a meeting Wednesday, October 25 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Greater Astoria Historical Society, 35-20 Broadway (Quinn Funeral Home), fourth floor, where two films will be shown.  One is “Gentrification Express:  Breaking Down the BQX,” which is the proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector trolley line; the other is “Flushing Meadows Corona Park—What Is it Worth?” concerning private plans for public land.  The filmmakers will be there.

 Pat Dorfman, executive director of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, said she has had to change the date of her “Real Estate Forum:  Free Lowdown from the Local Brokers,” to be held in the auditorium of Our Lady Queen of Angels, on Skillman Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets.  Originally scheduled for mid-October, the new date is Tuesday, November 21.  Inquiries at pdpictures@earthlink.net.   

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