In a 33-4 vote, the board approved a resolution opposing the plan, citing the increasing number of homeless people coming from out of state, hotel units lacking kitchens, the site's industrial zone, and inadequate public transportation.
“There is a growing trend, especially in Queens, to pack homeless families, including families with children, into hotel rooms,” the resolution reads. “An environment where people have so little space, and where they live overwhelmingly with people having serious needs, is far from a healthy environment. This cramming of people should stop.”
The resolution then gave several recommendations to the city, including prioritizing mental health and substance abuse services, acquiring and renovating abandoned and vacant residential buildings, and immediately fixing up more than 2,000 public housing apartments.
“Make every effort to find reasonably sized apartments for homeless families and individuals, subsidizing rent for a reasonable time period, instead of paying so much to house people in shelters and hotels,” the board recommended. “Housing 220 or more people in 110 living spaces at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel in Maspeth, as proposed, is significantly out-of-character with respect to the surrounded community of one and two-family homes.”
In addition to the resolution and recommendations, several community board committees will meet to draft a position paper on the shelter plan, according to board chair Vincent Arcuri.
Prior to the vote, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley spoke about a lawsuit she is bringing against the city for allowing contracts for cluster apartment sites housing homeless people to expire. She argued that not only do cluster sites cost less than shelters, they’re also legal.
“Some of them are in better shape than others, but they’re certainly more stable than hotels,” Crowley said. “The families are either going to go into hotels or onto the streets.”
Another part of the lawsuit says that the Holiday Inn Express does not have kitchen facilities, which are required by city administrative code in shelter units. Their first court appearance is on September 27.
“What is not right is for our city to put them in housing and shelters that don’t have kitchens is substandard and illegal,” she said.
Crowley said by allowing 250 cluster sites to go back into the free market, and another 3,000 site contracts set to expire, it will push 11,000 homeless people either into hotels or on the streets.
“It’s not right, it’s not fair and it makes no sense,” she said.
Crowley also called Mayor Bill de Blasio “hypocritical” for publicly saying shelters are not the answer, and then opening 17 of them in Queens during his term.
“He says one thing and he does another thing,” she said. “Clearly, this mayor and his administration cannot be trusted.”
Glendale resident Dawn Scala argued that the New York State Constitution, which gives homeless people a legal right to shelter, should be amended.
Citing the “10 to 20 percent of people in the New York City shelter system not from New York,” she suggested bringing back a residency requirement before receiving assistance or shelter housing.
“Why do New Yorkers have to shoulder an ever-increasing burden of out-of-state homeless who come to New York?” Scala said. “We cannot effectively provide services for New Yorkers, so why do we continue to allow outsiders to further overburden the system?”
One board member spoke passionately about having empathy for homeless families. Sarah Feldman, a Ridgewood resident who voted against the resolution, told her story of nearly becoming homeless in her native town of Houston.
Feldman said she was visiting New York with her family in June 2001 when Tropical Storm Allison rolled through southeast Texas, killing a total of 41 people. The devastating floods destroyed her home, Feldman said, and displaced millions of other families.
Luckily, Feldman’s family had insurance on the house, so they were able to stay at a hotel while looking for another place to live. She said most people didn’t “have the privilege” that her family did.
Although she was able to avoid homelessness, Feldman said the flood and situation tore her family apart. Through the difficult circumstances, her parents got divorced and her mother became “unwell.”
“Give some dignity to those people who are homeless, to the kids,” Feldman said. “They are going to have a hard time in their schools, their grades are going to falter and their families might fall apart because they don’t have a place to stay.
“You could have a lot of money and a nice home, but it could happen to you,” she added. “Then those people who you thought would be there for you will not be there for you.”