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Queens Chronicle

Mixed messages in Maspeth on homeless shelter plan

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Posted: Thursday, September 8, 2016 5:28 pm

Is the plan to convert the Maspeth Holiday Inn into a homeless shelter dead? 

It depends on who you ask.

A Department of Homeless Services spokesperson told the Chronicle in a brief phone call on Friday that "negotiations are ongoing" between the city, hotel owner Harshad Patel and service provider Acacia Network. 

Just one day earlier, Patel told the Chronicle in an interview that the proposal is 100 percent dead.

"Yes it is," Patel said when asked if the plan had been killed. "At the end of the day, it was a business opportunity. But it came down to renting all the rooms out, and that was too much."

The hotel's Twitter account tweeted multiple times on Thursday that the proposal had been nixed, while facility management sent a letter to Maspeth Middle Village Task Force Chairman Tony Nunziato that day saying just that.

“We will continue running it as a hotel, as we always have,” the letter reads. “We plead with the community to stop this protest. It has hurt our business drastically over the last few weeks.”

Patel has been one of the targets of the nightly protests outside the facility since early August when the plan was first announced, but he told the Chronicle on Thursday that the community's opposition was "not much" of a factor in his decision to nix the proposal.

"But it was hurting our business," he admitted.

Reaction to Patel's comments were mixed among community members, with some claiming victory over the plan and others saying they didn't believe him.

Juniper Park Civic Association President Bob Holden told the Chronicle after his own phone call with Patel on Thursday that he was hopeful but not certain the plan had been killed.

"It's hopeful, it's very hopeful," Holden said, noting he had a meeting with Patel on Friday. "But we'll get confirmation tomorrow and go over things with him."

When asked who originally proposed converting the hotel into a homeless shelter for adult families by Oct. 1, Patel said it was the city that first approached one of the Holiday Inn's managers about it.

"We were approached and asked if we would consider it," he said. "It was a business opportunity we were looking into but it got blown out of proportion." 

When asked if homeless families had been living at the hotel at any point in the last few months, as some in the community have suggested, Patel flatly denied it.

He also said the city won't be able to rent out some of the rooms and house homeless families there, as it would be against the Holiday Inn franchise's policy to do so.

In a letter dated Wednesday, Robert Gonzalez of the Acacia Network — the proposed operator of the homeless shelter — wrote to Community Board 5, informing the group of its plans to operate the hotel as a shelter.

"Acacia Network Housing Inc. looks forward to establishing a strong partnership with the Maspeth community and working closed with community leaders to address any concerns related to the site and its clients," Gonzalez wrote. "We look forward to meeting and working with Community Board 5 to discuss the proposed program, our intent to operate this transitional residence and our goal to build a seamless system of housing services based on individual family need."

Holden said that Patel informed him that the Acacia Network has been pressuring him to let the conversion happen, but he's been reluctant to do so.

"According to Patel, Acacia has been after him to make the deal," Holden said. "But he didn't want to do it."

On Aug. 3, city officials met with area lawmakers and some community members to inform them of a proposal to turn the Holiday Inn into a homeless shelter for adult families and parents with adult children.

That announcement sparked mass uproar throughout the neighborhood, with two raucous public hearings, a 2,000-person anti-shelter march and nightly protests outside the shelter occurring in the weeks since.

Opponents of the plan have hammered Mayor de Blasio and Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steve Banks for moving forward with the proposal, while Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale), Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) and state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) received heavy criticism for not appearing at any of the rallies or the march.

The three lawmakers eventually filed a lawsuit against the city in late August, with community members announcing the next day they planned to do the same thing.

Things took a fascinating turn on Wednesday when Markey announced in a press release that, after phone calls with de Blasio on Tuesday and Banks on Wednesday, the latter informed her that the Oct. 1 conversion date had been postponed.

However, Addabbo told the Chronicle on Thursday that Banks informed the three lawmakers in a meeting this morning that no such delay was occurring.

"Liz [Crowley] said, 'We've got to ask, is there an official postponement? He said no," Addabbo said. "He said they're still evaluating the proposal."

A representative for Markey did not return a phone message left by the Chronicle, while the lawmaker herself declined an on-the-record discussion about the matter when questioned by a Chronicle reporter at an unrelated Friday event.

Critics of Markey called her press release a political ploy to bolster her chances of defeating hard-charging challenger Brian Barnwell in Tuesday's primary. In a Thursday interview, Barnwell accused his opponent of playing politics with a crucial quality-of-life issue.

"Implying she got it postponed because she had a call with the mayor is a flat-out lie," Barnwell said. "If Joe Addabbo's statements are correct and the plan has not been delayed, it just proves what we all believe that Markey played politics with the issue."

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has entered the conversation in recent weeks, attending a rally outside the shelter and the massive protest march.

This week, he penned a letter to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara asking him to launch an investigation into Patel and the city's dealing with him regarding the homeless shelter plan.

The onus of the letter, according to Avella, was Patel's 2011 admission to giving then-Brooklyn state Sen. Carl Kruger $27,000 in bribes in exchange for help with a rezoning issue. 

Kruger was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2012 after being convicted on fraud and bribery charges.

Patel said Avella's letter had nothing to do with his decision to kill the plan.

"That was a different matter," he said. "This is simply about the hotel here in Maspeth. That was a different thing."

This story will be updated throughout the coming days.

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1 comment:

  • Frank Jones posted at 11:36 pm on Thu, Sep 8, 2016.

    Frank Jones Posts: 4

    State Sen. Tony Avella Why don't you try and create jobs for the homeless. Or better yet, take a couple home for a while, and you support them...A big city like NY, and Queens, and you can't create jobs..Find jobs for the homeless...It's easy just to house them...Guys like you turn America into a Flophouse..