Department of Homeless Services (DHS) spokeswoman Lauren Gray confirmed that on Wednesday, August 3, the de Blasio administration met with local elected officials and Community Board 5 to discuss converting the Holiday Inn Express at 59-40 55th Road into a homeless shelter for adults.
“We met with members of the Maspeth community to listen to community concerns and share plans for a proposed shelter,” Gray said. “We are committed to participating in future forums to discuss this issue, in advance of the proposed shelter opening.
“The administration believes that homelessness is a citywide challenge that require a citywide response,” she added. “Currently, there are approximately 250 people in shelters who listed their most recent address as Community District 5 in Queens.”
Gray noted that there are no shelters currently in the district, which includes Glendale, a neighborhood that has been fighting a homeless shelter opening of its own at 78-16 Cooper Avenue.
The 115-room Holiday Inn Express opened about four years ago. Under the city’s proposal, it would be turned into a shelter for adults, which would house couples and parents with older children. The plan would take in 110 families for a total of 220 people.
The city hopes to get this accomplished in about 60 days, according to community members who attended the meeting. It would be run by shelter operator Acacia Network.
Lincoln Restler, a senior policy adviser for Mayor Bill de Blasio, presented the proposal at the Wednesday meeting at Queens Library in Maspeth. More than 30 elected officials and residents attended the meeting.
CB5 chair Vincent Arcuri said the mayor’s office was looking to open a shelter in Maspeth because there were none in the neighborhood.
“The community, of course, was upset,” Arcuri said. “We already have plenty in and around the area.”
The Pan Am homeless shelter has been a constant source of controversy in Elmhurst, just a few blocks from Maspeth. As homelessness continues to be a pervasive issue for the city, Queens residents have struggled with other hotel-to-shelter conversions, including the former Verve Hotel in Long Island City and the Westway Motel in Astoria.
Arcuri said the deal doesn’t make any financial sense for the hotel operators. The Holiday Inn Express charges close to $200 per room, but according to community members who attended the meeting, they would only receive $60 per night per room for shelter residents from the city.
He added that the city agreed to give the local elected officials 30 days to search for an alternative site, which Gray confirmed.
In a brief phone interview, Acacia CEO Pamela Mattel confirmed the shelter operator met with DHS on Wednesday morning.
“There has not been anything solidified,” she said.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who attended the meeting, issued a statement vehemently opposing the mayor's proposal.
"The community of Maspeth is already impacted by two existing homeless shelter along Queens Blvd.," Crowley said. "Also, the most recent City Budget has allocated hundreds of millions for homelessness prevention, and while we have seen a decrease in New York City's shelter population since December 2014, the administration continues to open up shelter after shelter throughout Queens."
"I will be working with community leaders and residents to stop this," she added.
Local residents did not respond positively to the idea either. Bob Flannery, who lives three blocks from the hotel, said within the past six months he has seen six people walking around begging for money. The 25-year resident of Maspeth also heard of multiple burglaries and robberies of homes and businesses.
“I am totally against a homeless shelter here,” Flannery said. “Maspeth has always been a nice, quiet community. Having a homeless shelter will open a whole can of worms.”
Gray noted that there will be full-time security inside the building and patrolling the surrounding the area, an effort that will be coordinated with the 104th Precinct.
CB5 member Jerry Drake, who also lives close by, said the Pan Am shelter on Queens Boulevard has been a disaster. Recently, elected officials and community members rallied against the presence of two registered sex offenders who were living there.
“If they’re thinking about a homeless shelter, they better think twice about it,” Drake said. “Over my dead body.”
Yet another CB5 member, Michael LoCascio, said the community had no prior notification about the shelter, and was upset with the 60-day timeline.
“The city dropped a bomb on us,” he said.
He also cast doubt as to whether the 250 people on the homeless registry the city cited were really from Maspeth. He said they could have been people who moved to Maspeth from Brooklyn or elsewhere, but had nowhere to live.
“We don’t know how many are homegrown people from Maspeth,” he said.
Like many other community members who spoke about the potential shelter, LoCascio pointed to the Pan Am shelter as a negative comparison.
"Everything they said about the Pan Am is happening here,” he said.
LoCascio said he visited the Holiday Inn Express on Wednesday and encountered homeless people whom he alleged may already be living there.
“I think there’s people living there now,” he said. “A woman standing outside said she lived there. The woman told me the city paid for her room.”
LoCascio, who runs a youth sports program in the community, said he will be vigilant about the possibility of the hotel already housing homeless people.
“I’m going to be on the prowl, that’s for sure,” he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, a receptionist at the Holiday Inn denied that claim.
“That’s not true,” he said, referring any further questions to the manager, who hasn’t responded as of press time.
Another hotel staff member also denied that there were homeless people living in the building. He pointed to the Holiday Inn flag atop the building and said as long as that’s up, it’s only being run as a hotel.
When asked about homeless people already living in the facility, Mattel, who works for Acacia, said they don’t run the hotel, so they wouldn’t know.
Arcuri was also skeptical.
“The hotel is fully booked right now,” he said.
In the meantime, LoCascio wants the larger community to have input on the proposal. He said only a small group of local residents attended the meeting, but based on their opposition, he predicted the majority of Maspeth would oppose it.
LoCascio is hosting a public meeting to discuss the issue on Thursday, August 11, at 7:30 p.m. at Martin Luther School at 60-02 Maspeth Avenue. He said he has already notified city officials, and hopes community members will attend and voice their opinions.
“Rest assured, it’s going to be a very boisterous opposition,” he said.
(Jaime Rosenberg contributed reporting to this article.)