Chadney Spencer, the president of the Northwest Bayside Civic Assocation, is very concerned about one of the houses in the area his group represents. At 202-12 32 Ave., he said, as many as 25 children may be living there.
“Every morning at 7:42 a.m., around 18 or 20 children are walking in front of my house in a double-file line,” said Spencer, who lives nearby. When the Chronicle pressed the doorbell of the house in an attempt to speak with someone who lives at the property, dozens of small pairs of shoes could be seen inside the house.
Recently, the civic leader approached the group when they were walking into the house after school to find out more about them and why they were living there.
“Eventually, a lady came up and the lady comes out and says, ‘Yes, can I help you?’” Spencer said.
After 30 to 45 minutes of conversation, during which Spencer said the woman had a defensive tone and did not answer Spencer’s question about how many children are living at the property, even though he asked it six times, she finally answered his question.
“She said, ‘Oh, their parents are traveling in Europe,’” Spencer said.
The three-story house, according to a Department of Buildings certificate of occupancy from 2005 — the most recent one — has two dwelling units. And according to city records, the property is owned by Shu Jing Cao and Cruz Figueroa Jr.
Neither of them could be reached for comment.
In 2014, the Department of Buildings investigated a 311 complaint charging that too many people were living at the house. Despite multiple attempts to gain entry to the property, the inspectors were never let in. In 2008, however, the agency received a complaint that an illegal basement apartment was being built at the property but did not issue a violation after investigating it.
Interestingly, of the 25 children he estimates living there, Spencer does not see them on the weekends.
“The law is, three unrelated people can live together in a house,” Paul Graziano, a Flushing-based land use expert, said. “However, if it’s a group home, obviously, it can be legal.”
The address for the property on 32nd Avenue — which the Department of Health plans on inspecting soon (although it was inspected by the agency in 2014 when there was no child care found facility operating there) according to a spokesman for it — lists one unit on the first floor and one on the second on its certificate of occupancy, according to a DOB spokesman.
“I imagine if somebody goes inside, they’re gonna see a bunch of cots,” Spencer said.
Living in such close quarters, he added, is not uncommon in New York City’s Asian enclaves. “It’s an architectural sign of the degree of how much they want to just have the American dream,” he said. And attending schools in District 26, which is widely regarded as one of the finest (and most overcrowded) in the city, would doubtlessly help someone who wants to achieve it.
Due to federal privacy law, a spokesman for the Department of Education could not confirm that children living at the house attend the schools.
According to the Bayside activist, the students attend PS 159, IS 25, MS 158 and Bayside High School. Spencer said he knows that they go to PS 159 because he sees them walk there every morning; he knows they go to IS 25 because he followed a car with children in it from the house to the school; and he knows that they go to the latter two because the woman that accompanied the children told him so. And, he added, some of them may attend Benjamin H. Cardozo High School, because the car that he followed to MS 158 went in the direction of the high school after leaving the middle school.
“There have been cases where kids have been sent from overseas to attend a school in Districts 25 and 26,” Graziano said, adding that he was familiar with families hosting three to five children from China. “It’s either an illegal care center or it’s a situation where people are sending their kids overseas so that they can go to school and they’re living there.”
A house at 50-14 217 St. owned by Cao and Figueroa between 2002 and 2005, also received complaints from the buildings agency for construction without a permit and an illegal basement residence; less than a month after the house was purchased, the agency received a complaint that the property was being converted into a multiple-family dwelling. The DOB ultimately dismissed all of the complaints.
“Obviously, it sounds suspicious and it definitely warrants an investigation,” state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said about the house on 32nd Avenue. The senator’s office sent a letter to the DOB earlier this week to request a probe into the matter. “At this point, it’s really unclear as to what’s operating out of there.”
There have been cases in the past where parents in another country pay people in Queens to care for their children as they go to school. In May, a Flushing couple was indicted on charges related to keeping two children sent by parents from South Korea — who paid money for them to be taken care of while they receive an education — as slaves.
“I think there’s a lot of individuals and families taking on these host type of roles and profiteering from this market and they’re in charge of all these minors,” Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) said.
With the situation of Jia Jia Liang — a teenage girl who was brutally slashed in Whitestone last year — Kim found that the victim, who moved to the neighborhood from China to receive a high-quality education — was staying with a family. And, he added, there was “absolutely no oversight or vetting process to make sure that the family was qualified to oversee children.”
To ensure that they are fit for overseeing children, the assemblyman added, they should be fingerprinted and undergo a background check for a criminal history.