By Trone Dowd
The fight for equitable distribution of supportive housing across the borough continued in the City Council Chamber of City Hall last Thursday, as residents and elected officials of the Southeast Queens community were present to express concerns of overdevelopment in their neighborhoods.
“Enough is enough,” Chairwoman Adrienne Adams said about the supportive housing issue at Wednesday’s Community Board 12 meeting. “The Mayor can dress it up, he can put a bow on it, he can put lipstick on that pig. But we all know that that pig is still a pig. We’ve have enough of the slup in this community.”
Supportive housing, which consists of shelters and correctional facilities, has become a big issue in Southeast Queens neighborhoods. The region holds more than 50 percent of the homeless shelters in Queens, more than any other region in New York City. For years residents have been wondering why their neighborhoods have become a supportive housing hotspot while other parts of Queens see half as many development plans being proposed.
Thursday’s hearing came about as a bit of a surprise to district constituents, as they were informed about the meeting less than 12 hours beforehand. Residents were not happy about being told so late and many urged those who could afford to make it to attend on behalf of those who had prior engagements the next morning.
In total, 10 residents and eight members of community boards 12 and 13 attended the meeting, alongside Council members Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) and I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans). State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), both sent testimonies on their behalf sharing their concerns.
Both Miller and Adams clarified that they were not against what supportive housing is trying to accomplish, but wanted to see further developments happen outside of the already oversaturated Southeast Queens area.
“We feel for the homeless,” Adams said. “God forbid a lot of us are one step away from being homeless. But we can not bear the burden of an entire borough any longer. There are community boards out there with zero percent homeless facilities and supportive housing residences. Zero. We bear the majority. It is wrong, and it is unfair. We have to fight this.”
According to Miller, many times in the past, people who don’t live in affected communities have helped make decisions that have long term effects on those who do.
“There are people who are wholeheartedly and emphatically in favor of this plan but at the end of the day, their communities aren’t really being impacted,” Miller said. “If you have not had that experience, it is difficult, and would be downright inhumane not to feel the plight of these folks. But by the same token, while Southeast Queens where we have […] a majority of it in Community Board 12, our counterparts in Bayside and other places aren’t being impacted in the same way.”
Despite this, one developer in particular, the Bluestone Group, is still pushing for the development of supportive housing in Southeast Queens according to Miller.
The Bluestone Group has been fingered for poor ethics when it comes to developing in minority areas. In fact, according to Miller, development firm has been indicted by the federal government for predatory lending in communities of color and fined $5 million for overbuilding in urban areas. Most recently, the developer has already showed interest in opening more supportive housing properties in neighborhoods like Hollis.
“These are certainly not people we want in our community,” Miller said. “[They] have said, quite frankly and to me, that they’re not interested in being a landlord and chasing checks. They want to provide supportive housing and get a government check.”
Miller said that he has introduced a bill requiring agencies that have provided contracts for supportive housing to inform the community of agreements within 30 days. He hopes that this would prevent last minute hearings like last Thursday’s from happening again. The bill currently has 11 sponsors.
“What we’re trying to do is put together some tools so that way we are not fighting off these unscrupulous developers and providers time after time and fighting the same fight without resources,” Miller said.
Miller said that it would be smart to address the need for programs that would help individuals who need it in whatever form they may need, instead of relying solely on supportive housing to solve all of the issues.
“I don’t think that there’s no one that doesn’t understand that there’s a crisis in the community,” Miller said. “They are very vulnerable, whether they are homeless because of mental health issues or substance abuse issues. They need more than housing per say. The numbers show that this population, if you put them in some form of housing and don’t provide the services, they are apt to return to those lifestyles where they were before. So certainly if we’re going to address this crisis, we have to do it in a way that we demonstrate that we are invested in providing the proper resources to address it.”
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @theloniusly.