October 26, 2017

An open letter to the Village Voice

As a Maspeth native who has been married for 44 years to a biracial spouse and has grandchildren who are a mix of 3 races, I am outraged at Jake Bittle’s insinuation that the protests of the people of this neighborhood against the conversion of the Holiday Inn Express into a homeless shelter were motivated by racism (“No Room at the Holiday Inn“, October 25, 2017).  I am proud to have been one of the leaders of the successful uprising against the de Blasio administration’s attempt to site a 220-person homeless shelter in this community.

The biggest population of homeless within Community Board 5 comes from Ridgewood, yet Mr. Bittle chose not to explore this or the reasons why. He acts as if gentrification “just happened” instead of explaining the real estate scheme of Mayor Bloomberg and developers to price hordes of long-time residents out of Williamsburg, Bushwick and Greenpoint by massively upzoning those neighborhoods. They naturally migrated to more affordable areas along the subway lines, including Ridgewood. As the real estate market in Ridgewood heated up, many of the existing residents of those areas were pushed into Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale – or if they were not that fortunate, they were evicted and became homeless. The mistake that both Mayor de Blasio and the Village Voice make is that Maspeth and Ridgewood are two distinct communities and neither neighborhood defines itself as “CB5”.

Community board lines are arbitrary political boundaries which are conveniently being used to try to justify a “fair share” argument that does not make sense. If the people being housed in this shelter were from neighboring communities, such as Ridgewood, there would have been little if any opposition to it. But that is not who the City was proposing to house at the Holiday Inn Express as per their own records. If these facilities had little effect on the surrounding communities, they would not be subject to “fair share”, now would they? De Blasio and his predecessor created this crisis; it should not be incumbent upon those he governs to fix it. The people have the right to protect their quality of life.

The fact that Maspeth and nearby Glendale are “majority white” is not the reason that the people living in those neighborhoods are opposed to shelters. Rather, they are opposed because the current shelter system is a proven failure and serves only to enrich politicians’ deep pocketed donors. The article itself exposed that fact when a Maspeth shelter resident complained to the writer about how “f—- horrible” conditions are inside the Holiday Inn Express. We heard similar complaints from many shelter residents during our traveling protests. If the victims of the system are against what is happening, why does Mr. Bittle malign communities for similarly being opposed to it? 

Cherry picking “majority white” neighborhoods in an attempt to prove an anti-shelter trend is quite cowardly. Last year, Maspeth protesters were invited to Sunset Park, Jamaica, Richmond Hill, East Elmhurst, Corona and Rosedale – all areas which are majority non-white (that Mr. Bittle for some reason failed to mention) – to stand in solidarity with residents of those communities against de Blasio’s failed homeless system and call for real solutions. Meanwhile, Elmhurst and Woodside, also majority non-white areas, have been up in arms about poorly run shelters for years.

During our travels, the people of Maspeth helped several homeless individuals and families who found themselves trapped in these hotel-shelters without services. One resident received a job offer after a referral from a protester, homeless children were provided with Christmas gifts and infant formula, 2 families received assistance in relocating out of bad shelter situations and a single male who was in a dangerous place was given the opportunity to expose what was happening through the media due to our intervention. All of them were welcomed with open arms at our fundraisers and provided with meals and cash assistance thanks to the generosity of the people of Maspeth who opened up their wallets along with their hearts. Regular everyday people, not the government, got them the help they sought and needed. None of this was mentioned in this profile, although these stories have all been publicly out there for more than a year. 

One of my positions on education was misrepresented by this writer as well. I do not “want to make it harder for kids from other neighborhoods to attend Maspeth schools”. I simply believe that local children should receive priority when it comes to placement at schools in their own neighborhoods. Is that really a controversial position? Most parents and students I have spoken with prefer short walks or bus rides to schools. 

There were many factually inaccurate statements included in the article, some of which I noticed have been corrected.  But it still reads like an intentional hit piece against the good people of my hometown by a reporter who chose to lazily lift Facebook discussion group comments for his article instead of actually interviewing the residents of Maspeth during his alleged visit. If one guy he came across told him to “f— off” then there were more than 34,000 other Maspeth residents that he could have interviewed. 

The irony that seems to be lost on this reporter, who obviously thinks Mayor de Blasio’s plan to stop using hotels as shelters is the right move, is that it is only happening because Maspeth had the nerve to stand up to him on behalf of themselves as well as the homeless people who became victims of the system. 

Just this week, two other Reform Party candidates and I introduced real citywide solutions for breaking the cycle of homelessness, including the provision of mandatory affordable housing in as-of-right developments and the placement of emergency shelters at faith-based institutions. Some of these measures were already in place throughout the city before the government decided to regulate these volunteer programs to death. My interactions with shelter residents during the protests and the input I received while visiting faith-based organizations that help the homeless inspired much of the plan. Mr. Bittle chose not to attend the press conference where we unveiled the plan and discussed our vision. I guess something that may actually shake up the status quo and truly help the homeless doesn’t fit in with the author’s goal of painting entire communities as “anti-homeless”.

Maspeth helped call attention to the mayor’s failed homeless policies while exposing those perpetuating poverty for their own profit.
It’s a town that I am proud to be from.