De Blasio shifts policy, to close down hotels used as shelters

Mayor de Blasio announced a major policy shift on February 28th which will eventually end the City’s use of hotels and cluster sites as homeless shelters. The City now plans to build shelters in individual communities sized to accommodate the number of homeless that originate from them. This means homeless families and individuals will be able to remain in their own familiar neighborhoods while they rebuild their lives. The Mayor also said that the City will also provide better notification and include elected officials and the community in shelter placement decisions.

This is what the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force, as part of the greater NYC United Civics coalition, had been asking for since the beginning of the protests that traveled from hotel to hotel in communities from Sunset Park to Bellerose. The coalition also held a City Hall press conference in October and their last protest in December was outside the home of DHS Commissioner Steven Banks which included several homeless individuals and families who exposed the reality of life in the shelter system.

“There’s no doubt that our traveling protests influenced the mayor’s decision,” said Bob Holden, President of Juniper Park Civic Association, a member of the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force. “It is inhumane to warehouse people in hotels and we are glad we helped the administration see the light on this. Everyone agrees that the homeless from their communities should be helped locally, and this announcement is definitely a step in the right direction.”

The Task Force held nightly protests for more than 4 months outside the Maspeth Holiday Inn Express, the location that sparked the formation of the citywide coalition. These protests, along with intervention by attorneys Klein-Slowik, hired by Citizens for a Better Maspeth, prompted the landowner to step in and forbid a shelter at the hotel. Harshad Patel, one of the hotel owners, announced he was backing out of a deal with the City for a permanent shelter on September 9th. The landowner subsequently filed a lawsuit against Patel’s group to force them to stop renting rooms to house homeless men.

As per the City’s Department of Homeless Services, there are now only 4-5 dozen men staying at the Maspeth Holiday Inn Express, down from a high of 100 during the coldest part of winter. With the new policy shift, the Maspeth community should only be responsible for the homeless that come from Maspeth, which in 2014, was a total of 8 families and 7 single men. The city has refused to release more recent numbers despite repeated FOIL requests. As Mayor de Blasio faces a maximum of 4 more years in office should he be re-elected, it is important for communities to stay vigilant to make sure the City actually follows through with these plans, which are expected to take a decade or more to be fully realized.

Maspeth Holiday Inn Express legal update:
• The total amount paid by Citizens for a Better Maspeth, Inc. (CBM) to attorneys Klein-Slowik through June 10th was $17,500 to cover the cost of 2 retainers: one for $10,000 (main lawsuit research) and one for $7,500 (FOIL lawsuit). An update will be posted at each time a future bill is paid.

• CBM's attorneys have requested that the City pay the organization's legal fees as it withheld public information in violation of the Freedom Of Information Act. The judge, at his discretion, will make a determination as to whether or not that happens. Papers were filed with the court by both sides on May 24th and we are awaiting the judge's decision.

• The landowners have a lawsuit pending, but the next court date is not until August and although there is cause to be optimistic about it, there is no guarantee that this suit will be successful. In order to not put all the eggs in one basket, CBM began their own legal action as promised at last year's August 31st hearing at the Knockdown Center. The legal fight can always be stopped if the land owner emerges victorious and/or DHS vacates the hotel.