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Queens Chronicle

‘T-Building’ housing raises safety concerns

Queens Hospital Center plan to bring vets, sick leads to questions

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Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:23 am, Thu Jan 17, 2013.

A plan to create a residential building that would cater to the mentally disabled on Queens Hospital Center’s campus have community activists concerned about safety and already overburdened services.

The hospital’s “T-Building,” located at 82-61 Parsons Blvd. in Jamaica, would be transformed into a 251-unit affordable housing complex aimed at assisting veterans and those with developmental disabilities and physical ailments.

The plan is part of a joint effort between Queens Hospital Center and Comunilife, a nonprofit human services agency. The transformation would allow for “stable and quality housing with supportive services [that] can help individuals with chronic conditions to live more independently, facilitates access to appropriate healthcare services, and also helps to reduce emergency room use and hospital readmissions,” QHC said in a statement.

The nonprofit is expected to secure funding for the project in early 2013. The hospital would then lease the building to Comunilife. Patients at QHC and Elmhurst Hospital would have early preference for apartments in the building.

Many of the details have yet to be ironed out, but Bob Trabold, president of the Hillcrest-Jamaica Hills Neighborhood Association, already has a number of concerns.

“The big problem is you’re having a high concentration of people with serious problems,” Trabold said, “whether it be mental problems, drugs, AIDS — and they’re going to be living a very small spot.”

The proposed location sits across the street from St. Nicholas of Tolentine parochial school, located at 80-22 Parsons Blvd. It is also within walking distance of the Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School.

The building would have 24-hour security at its front desk, as well as cameras on the exterior and interior. Comunilife said it has had success implementing similar plans in other boroughs around the city.

Trabold, however, noted those successes came in facilities that housed a fraction of the amount being proposed at QHC.

The nonprofit has not yet specified what chronic conditions the residents would have. It was quick to point out the units would be divvied up among those with medical needs and veterans, though all must prove a need for affordable housing. Comunilife said it will search within the community first, then branch out.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) is skeptical about the proposal. “Having a facility that will house mentally ill individuals which is across the street from residential homes and an elementary school is an issue,” Avella said.

The redevelopment would occur as of right, and require no oversight in the form of a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure or any other formality. Elected officials have been meeting with concerned residents and Comunilife to mediate proceedings and address community concerns.

“I’m concerned about the community not having enough input on who the residents are going to be and what [Comunilife] is contemplating,” said Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck).

The lawmaker said his office is trying to serve as a middle ground to mediate talks and air concerns.

“We have every intention of being good neighbors and will work with all community stakeholders, including but not limited to the community board and the local precinct to meet that goal,” said Comunilife spokeswoman Olga Jobe.

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