The spur of 96th Street in Ozone Park between Linden Boulevard and 134th Avenue seems like a serene, suburban block. Most of the houses are unattached, one-family homes along a turn in the road that resembles a cul-de-sac.
But there is one house on the block that has been the proverbial fly in the ointment for residents, and has even led to many fearing for their safety.
For about five years, the home at 134-17 96 St. has been vacant and it has recently become a haven for squatters and allegedly drugs and prostitution as well.
“You would see guys go in and come out like an hour later. You can smell the marijuana,” said one neighbor, who declined to have her name published. “It’s unreal.”
Another neighbor said he saw two people having sex in an open window a few months ago and observed the man leaving a little while later.
Many residents who live on the block refused to talk publicly about the situation at all, except to say they had been complaining about the house for years. However, city Department of Buildings records show the first complaint filed with the agency due to drugs and squatters was this past May 24. The DOB referred the case to the NYPD on May 28, but the problems continued through the summer. The DOB issued a violation for an “immediate emergency” in July. Another complaint was registered on Aug. 10.
City records show the home is owned by John Fitzgerald, but neighbors say they don’t know anyone by that name and have not seen anyone living in the house full-time since at least 2007. Fitzgerald was arrested in 2011 and remains incarcerated.
The case caught the attention of Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park), who demanded the NYPD and the DOB take action last month. Last Thursday, they finally did and the home was boarded up and sealed. Concrete bricks were put up in front of the house’s doorways.
A resident who lives several houses down said he was happy that the city cleaned up the home, removing junk from inside, but said he wants to see it used for its intended purposes.
“I hope whoever owns it, sells it or whatever so someone can live there,” he said. “I’m glad the drugs and stuff are gone, but having a boarded-up home on your block is still a blight. It’s a nice house. I’m sure there’s someone who is willing to buy it and live in it.”
Criminal behavior in abandoned homes is not a new problem in South Queens.
A similar issue occurred with a home last summer in Woodhaven. A teenager who attended a party at that house was later murdered on a street near the home. In that case, squatters tried to enter the home even after police sealed it up. At least two other Ozone Park homes, one near the Brooklyn border and another on 101st Road near 105th Street, have been raided by the police this year because of alleged drugs and prostitution.