Critics sue to block College Point homeless shelter

The project is part of the city's plan to build more shelters across the five boroughs

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner Steven Banks and 127-03 20th Avenue (Credit: Getty Images and Google Maps)
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner Steven Banks and 127-03 20th Avenue (Credit: Getty Images and Google Maps)

UPDATE: May 15, 2019, 10:15 a.m.: A group of residents in College Point, Queens, is trying to stop the city from opening a homeless shelter in their neighborhood.

The 20 locals want a judge to put a halt to City Hall’s plan to convert an industrial building at 127-03 20th Avenue into a homeless shelter. They argue that the city did not undertake any environmental or fair-share reviews for the site, according to the petition filed Tuesday in New York County Supreme Court. The residents say the shelter will further strain open space, educational, sewer, water, police and other resources and will alter the character of the neighborhood.

The shelter is part of the city’s “Turning the Tide on Homelessness in New York City” to curb homelessness throughout the five boroughs by replacing existing cluster and hotel housing for homeless individuals with new shelters. The residents’ filing also alleges that this plan was never subjected to an environmental review.

“They can’t just look shelter by shelter for their environmental review but they have to look at the total cumulative impact of the plan,” the residents’ attorney, E. Christopher Murray of the law firm Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, told The Real Deal.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

“Every community has a role to play in addressing this citywide challenge and we’re committed to open engagement across the five boroughs as we transform our shelter system decades in the making,” said Arianna Fishman, spokesperson for the Department of Homeless Services. “We will review the lawsuit if and when we receive it.”

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Liberty One Group, headed by David Levitan, filed plans for the conversion of the four-story building a year ago. Westchester-based non-profit Westhab will operate the shelter, which is slated to open in September and house 200 single homeless men.

Brooklyn-based Liberty One is among the top private homeless shelter owners in the Big Apple, a TRD analysis found. Liberty One, which also did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment, acquired the 20th Avenue building in 2018 for $12 million, property records show.

Construction of the new shelter is already underway, the petition states. But during various public meetings, there was never any sense that the shelter’s opening depended on anything. Rather, the city made clear that the development instead was “proceeding as quickly as possible,” according to the filing.

At a meeting in December, residents raised a slew of concerns from security to the fact that 3,000 students attend school close to the shelter, the Queens Chronicle reported.

Jackie Bray, first deputy commissioner of the DHS, said during that meeting that the neighborhood doesn’t have any shelters and the 20th Avenue site is an appropriate place for one. “We’re looking across the city at neighborhoods where we don’t have any shelters, where we know that we have people in our system who come from those neighborhoods who need the opportunity to return,” Bray said, according to the Chronicle.

In Staten Island, the city also is moving forward with a homeless shelter there over the objections of residents. The 115,000-square-foot shelter, to be located at 44 Victory Boulevard, would also have retail space and house about 200 homeless women and families.

Update: This article was updated with a statement from the Department of Homeless Services.