After community residents voiced concern and anger repeatedly over the project, which was on-again and off-again for several years, the homeless shelter for 200 single men at 78-16 Cooper Ave. in Glendale has started receiving residents.
“Today, we proudly open our doors at the Cooper Rapid Rehousing Center, the first and only transitional housing facility in the Maspeth community, which is now providing high-quality shelter and dedicated employment services to single adult men experiencing homelessness as they work hard to restabilize their lives,” a Department of Homeless Services spokesperson said in an email Friday.
A Manhattan Supreme Court judge last week threw out a lawsuit filed by shelter opponents who said the city bypassed environmental reviews required for the project.
But Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village), a longtime critic of the shelter, said his office was told last Friday that eight men had moved in “despite no contract yet signed nor the property having a certificate of occupancy.”
According to the lawmaker, his chief of staff spoke with the deputy commissioner of DHS and was told the men were moved in without a contract because City Comptroller Scott Stringer had given the green light and the contract was “ready to go.”
Holden said the Comptroller’s Office said that no contract had been registered or signed and that what DHS was doing wasn’t approved by the Comptroller’s Office.
A spokesperson for the Comptroller’s Office told the Chronicle that the office “had no communication with DHS before they moved people in and no contract has been submitted to our office.”
Holden asked Department of Buildings Commissioner Melanie La Rocca and her staff why the property was granted a temporary certificate of occupancy, “considering there is an ongoing audit of the plans and permits, with 14 challenges, two of which are safety issues. The DOB claims that they did their due diligence in granting the temporary certificate of occupancy and will continue the audit.”
A spokesperson from the DOB said safety issues from the audit were resolved on Feb. 12. On the same day, the applicants received a temporary certificate of occupancy after it was determined that the building was safe to occupy.
Holden said challenges filed by the Glendale-Middle Village Coalition would likely have delayed the shelter from opening for six to 12 months, which is why the DHS opted for placement using the temporary certificate of occupancy. The coalition filed objections on various grounds, including zoning and fire code. The next step for the coalition is the Board of Standards and Appeals.
“This is the DHS’s disgraceful attempt at circumventing the legal process that is currently underway from the Glendale community,” Holden said.
“No contract has yet been signed, and there are still legal actions on DOB grounds. This fight is not over, despite the DHS acting as a rogue agency and usurping laws, regulations and process.”
The DHS did not immediately respond for comment.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) spoke at different protests against the shelter. He found out about the opening from Glendale residents, not city officials.
“It’s been, I guess, a trademark, really, for this administration not to incorporate the community or the electeds,” he told the Chronicle Monday.
Does Addabbo believe the community would have accepted the much-criticized shelter better if residents were given a little notice of the opening?
“I’m of the opinion that people acclimate to things better when they are aware something’s going to happen,” he said adding people could accept it better even if they still didn’t like it.
“Our work doesn’t stop,” Addabbo said, saying the community has to work with the police and the DHS to ensure the safety of residents of both the shelter and surrounding area.
Addabbo said he hopes shelter residents can get jobs and that the community won’t be impacted.
“But we don’t live in a perfect world,” he said.
The shelter has not stopped a day care center from moving forward at 79-40 Cooper Ave.
Ted Hockenberry, CEO of Children of America, the operator of the center, told the Chronicle in late January there was talk of pulling out of the site because of concerns about the shelter.
He visited the site in early February and made the decision to go forward, saying he’s “pretty excited.”
“The way [the shelter is] kind of down the hill, around the corner a little bit, I think it’s deceivingly close but farther than it actually is,” Hockenberry said, adding, “From a general operation perspective, I don’t see it being particularly disruptive.”
He believes the day care center will be a “good fit” for the community. Hockenberry estimated the center will open in 18 to 24 months. He said that gives time for the shelter to work out any kinks with its site before the day care center is open.
“That would be the positive,” he said.
Holden was happy to hear the news from Hockenberry.
“I believe it will be a valuable addition to the neighborhood and I thank Ted for his confidence in our community,” the lawmaker said in a Feb. 13 Facebook post.