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Homeless Put in Jamaica Hotel Before It Gets Certificate Of Occupancy: Docs

By  Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska and Katie Honan | October 7, 2016 5:06pm | Updated on October 9, 2016 2:04pm

 A new hotel in Jamaica is currently used by the city to house homeless families.
A new hotel in Jamaica is currently used by the city to house homeless families.
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

QUEENS — The city violated housing regulations by rushing homeless families into a new hotel on Jamaica Avenue before the necessary paperwork was completed, documents posted on the Department of Building's website indicate.

The Department of Homeless Services confirmed to DNAinfo New York that it is currently renting rooms to house homeless families with children at the brand-new building at the intersection of Jamaica Avenue and 183rd Street which does not have any logo nor a reception area.

But neighbors, who said they were never informed that the building would be used to house the homeless, said that the city started placing families there before the building was even completed, they said.

The hotel received its Temporary Certificate of Occupancy on Sept. 28, according to city records.

However residents said they first saw families being placed at the hotel on Sept. 11, and number of complaints about the issue that pre-date the certificate of occupancy were also posted on the DOB’s website.

On Sept. 19, one person called the city and said “people are moving in but front entrance is not open, people are going through the side entrance" and another reported “load of [SIC] buses of children” at the hotel.

On Sept. 22, still another person claimed that “there is a hotel with people living on the premises and there appears to be no certificate of occupancy.”

According to the DOB’s website, “no one may legally occupy a building until the Department has issued a Certificate of Occupancy or Temporary Certificate of Occupancy,” which states “a building’s legal use and/or type of permitted occupancy.”

The city downplayed the issue saying that the life safety systems at the hotel had been inspected and signed off before Sept. 28. 

The owner of the property did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Neighbors and local officials complained that they felt ignored by the city.

“If I knew before that the shelter was going to open here I would do something," said Fillah Kazi, who bought a house in the area four years ago.

In September, the operator of a Maspeth Holiday Inn slated to be converted into a homeless shelter backed away from his agreement with the city following ferocious opposition from the community.

Local Councilman Daneek Miller was also upset about the decision to house homeless families at the Jamaica Avenue hotel.

“My office remains opposed to any new shelters being placed within the district, particularly the disingenuous way this one was opened without any public notice,” he said. “Whether it is temporary or not, transparency is critical to ensure our goal of equitable housing for homeless across the City.”

Yvonne Reddick, district manager for Community Board 12, told DNAinfo that the DHS is supposed to inform community boards before using hotels for housing. However she only found out about the changes to the Jamaica Avenue building after the community began complaining about it.

She went to say that the board has “nothing against homelessness because at the end of the day any of us could be homeless, but everyone should get their fair share.”

To Reddick's knowledge CB12, which includes Jamaica, Hollis, St. Albans and Springfield Gardens, currently has 11 shelters and eight hotels that are used to house homeless people, “the most in the borough of Queens.”

Two years ago, when the board had 10 shelters, it passed a resolution requesting a moratorium on building or expanding homeless shelters in the area. There were 22 shelters in Queens at the time.

DHS was not able to immediately provide the number of shelters currently in the area.

The agency said it began renting rooms at the hotel to deal with growing numbers of homeless people in the city.

“Each day, we are tasked with determining how to meet the City’s legal obligation to house tens of thousands of homeless New Yorkers, including families with children, who would otherwise be on the street," Lauren Gray, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeless Services, said in an email to DNAinfo. “We are using commercial hotels as a bridge while we work to open new shelters across the city.”

There were nearly 60,000 residents in the city's shelter system as of early October, the agency said. 

“It used to be a quiet area, but now every day there is police, ambulances and fire trucks coming to this place," said a neighbor who did not want his name to be used. He said he and his family lived and operated a small business in the area for about three decades.

“This is our neighborhood, we worked for this neighborhood,” he added. "They never even asked us if it's OK to open it here."