Pols question cost of proposed College Point shelter
by Benjamin Fang
Feb 19, 2019 | 1256 views | 0 0 comments | 76 76 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Pictured from left to right are Assemblyman Dan Rosenthal, State Senator John Liu and Councilman Paul Vallone.
Pictured from left to right are Assemblyman Dan Rosenthal, State Senator John Liu and Councilman Paul Vallone.
At a budget hearing in Albany last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio told state lawmakers that the city’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has an annual budget of $2.1 billion.

Of the $2.1 billion, $1.25 billion is used for sheltering more than 61,000 homeless New Yorkers. By that count, the city spends nearly $20,500 per person per year.

But a new 200-bed homeless shelter set to open in College Point later this year will cost the city $9 million per year. That means the city will spend $45,000 per person, more than double the average.

Last Thursday, city and state elected officials representing the area slammed the proposal to open the shelter at 127-03 20th Avenue.

“What we want to know is, what the heck is going on here?” said State Senator John Liu. “Where is all that money going? How much of that is actually going to be used to help the homeless?

“We’re looking for answers to these very critical questions,” he added. “Not just the money, but the city’s ability, or lack thereof, to actually manage the homeless crisis.”

Councilman Paul Vallone further criticized the owner of the property, David Levitan from Liberty One Group, for alleged “fraud and deceit.” He said when Levitan filed initial permits for renovating the property, a manufacturing site, he made no mention of a homeless shelter.

“That’s how they were able to obscure the project and defraud the community for all the time they were working on the inside,” Vallone said. “That’s why no one knew.”

The councilman accused Levitan of repeatedly taking advantage of and profiting from the city’s homeless crisis by leasing shelters in neighborhoods.

Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal blamed the de Blasio administration for lacking a cost-efficient and long-term solution to the homeless crisis. He said the mayor’s “Turning the Tide” plan has so far “fallen short” and pitted communities against each other.

“There’s a reason why developers keep investing in homeless shelters and keep building these hotels to turn into homeless shelters,” he said. “Clearly, it’s a profitable industry. No one should be profiting off the homeless.”

Despite multiple protests and an apparent lawsuit coming from local residents over the College Point proposal, city officials have not backed off their plan.

The northeast Queens lawmakers say using the mayor’s own testimony will further bolster their argument that the shelter is a bad idea.

“It’s a continuing onslaught of facts,” Vallone said. “If you’re going to change policy, you have to show the flaws in the policy.”

“It’s also true that that we haven’t heard the mayor say anything about this particular proposal,” Liu added. “So now, he has the cold, hard facts. He has to demand some accountability from his own commissioner.”

Both Liu and Hevesi, meanwhile, are supporters of Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi’s rent subsidy proposal, called Home Stability Support (HSS). The program has support from legislators across the city and state, but not the governor.

“We’re already investing a ton of money into this homeless problem, and it hasn’t been working,” Rosenthal said. “It’s time to focus those resources somewhere else.”

DHS spokeswoman Arianna Fishman noted that the cost of shelters don’t just involve rent, but also services, staff and security. Services at these sites include case management, housing placement assistance, health and mental health services and employment counseling.

At a comparable transitional housing facility in the Kingsbridge part of the Bronx, for example, the total contract value is $9 million per year. But only $2.8 million was spent on rent, which was market value.

When dividing $2.8 million by 200 beds, that comes out to just $14,200 per person per year.

“The city and not-for-profit social service provider Westhab are opening this facility as soon as possible to give individuals experiencing homelessness from Queens the opportunity to be closer to the communities they called home as they get back on their feet,” Fishman said in a statement. “We are ensuring the building is ready for occupancy, finalizing all required reviews and expect to open this facility this fall after all has been completed.”
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