Tag Archives: t building

Plans resume to turn historic T Building into affordable housing


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A proposal to turn the historic T Building on Queens Hospital Center’s grounds into 206 units of affordable housing has resumed after several years of missteps and controversy, according to local leaders and a politician.

As part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing initiative, the city has restarted the process of turning the former tuberculosis center in Hillcrest into a residential building.

But plans to do something with the medical building go back to at least 2012 when the Queens Hospital Center worked with a nonprofit human services agency to develop the dilapidated 10-story building on its campus into 251 units of affordable housing. Community leaders and politicians like state Senator Tony Avella killed that plan, along with others.

“The new proposal is much better than the original proposal,” said Avella, who has been working closely with the community and city officials to develop plans. “Are there still things that have to be worked out? Of course. We want some more details. And we will continue to crystalize the plans.”

The city’s plans for the building are still in the early phases, and the city hasn’t publicly released any details. But, according to Avella, the new proposal addresses all of the issues raised by the community – from preserving the historic building to making sure that the community is comfortable with who the new residents will be.

During a recent Community Board 8 meeting, board members expressed concern over plans to make 75 of the apartment units into studios that will be occupied by hospital patients who are discharged and have nowhere else to live.

“It makes no sense,” said Maria Deinnocentiis, a community board member. “We said we needed affordable housing, not this. I’m worried that these homeless people will be there so close to our schools and children.”

But Avella confirmed that the city and a private consulting firm they hired, Dunn Associates, would do a rigorous background check for the hospital patients who become residents. Plans haven’t been finalized and it might be more than a year before any construction starts.

“I was the one that led the fight to kill the original proposal,” Avella said. “They learned that they have to talk to the community and that’s what they’re doing. We’re approving a general theme to work out. It’s a step in the right direction.”

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Mid-Queens Council meltdown prompts resignation


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo via Facebook

The treasurer of the Mid-Queens Community Council has resigned and others are mulling an exit, following a heated spat with the group’s leader and a failed bid to overthrow her, The Queens Courier has learned.

“What happened was a disgrace,” said Jim DeBonet, who handled the council’s finances before his Tuesday departure. “This is it. Goodbye. I want nothing to do with this.”

The fuming Flushing Heights activist said the group’s president, Florence Fisher, should have stepped down after she penned a missive, without authority, “attacking” another civic leader in December.

The letter said Hillcrest Estates Civic Association President Kevin Forrestal, who works for the Health and Hospitals Corporation, had a conflict of interest regarding controversial T Building plans at Queens Hospital Center.

“Let me be clear about this,” Fisher wrote to a dozen local leaders. “[Kevin] does not represent the views of many of our delegates.”

That backfired when some board members said Fisher did not have board approval to mail the message.

“I found it shocking,” said Jim Gallagher Jr., the council’s first vice president. “I wasn’t told about the letter. None of it was mentioned.”

Still, eight members of the Mid-Queens Community Council, which represents 34 smaller organizations, voted to keep Fisher at the helm during an hour-long discussion Monday. DeBonet was the only dissenting vote, and three people abstained.

The internal battle stemmed from a misunderstanding, Fisher said.

“I have admired Kevin for forever,” she said. “He’s done wonderful, wonderful community work. We all wear lots of hats. It was nothing personal.”

Fisher, who has led the council for slightly more than a year, said she was unaware the group’s bylaws required a sign-off before sending.

“I’m the kind of person who likes to get things done when there are big issues out there,” she said. “I took it upon myself to write it, and I learned a lesson.”

Forrestal, who is not part of the council, shook off the letter, saying he has never cast an official T Building vote and always discloses his employment before speaking.

But the damage has been done to the shrinking volunteer organization, said Gallagher Jr., who is one of a few considering a leave.

“I was very disappointed with how the whole thing turned out,” he said. “It was sad, and that’s not what we’re all about.”

 

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Hillcrest residents fear proposed housing unit will endanger children


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

An overwhelming fear of the unknown is keeping Hillcrest residents from embracing a proposed housing unit set to lodge mental and chronic health patients in their community.

“There are too many people, too many variables and too many things that can go wrong,” said Ed Leahy of the Hillcrest Estate Civic Association.

A coalition of civic leaders and elected officials said they would roadblock Queens Hospital Center’s (QHC) bid to develop a deteriorated 10-story building on the hospital’s campus into affordable housing for low-income individuals and QHC patients with psychiatric diagnoses or chronic illnesses, including AIDS.

QHC is in talks with Comunilife, a nonprofit human services agency, to build 251 units in the “T-Building” at 82-68 164th Street, The Courier first reported last December.

But civic leaders said the “questionable population” could put children at nearby schools in danger.

“I empathize with mental illness and AIDS patients. I do. But you must understand that my job is the safety of those little children,” said Judy Henry, principal of Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School.

Residents cited the December 14, 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut as a cause for concern. The teen who massacred 26 children and adults was reportedly diagnosed as mentally ill.

“An ‘I told you so’ will never bring back a child after an incident has occurred,” said Maria DeInnocentiis, chair of the Utopia Estates Civic Association.

QHC and Comunilife officials said only “appropriate” residents would be picked to live in the development. Registered sex offenders and those who exhibit violent behavior would be screened out. Residents would also be assigned caseworkers and monitored all day, they said.

“The individuals who would be residing in the apartments that we’re proposing are the very same individuals who are coming every day already on the campus,” said LaRay Brown, senior vice president of corporate planning for the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC).

Casandra Cox, a Bronx Comunilife resident diagnosed with major depression and anxiety, said she fears residents are blinded by a stigma against the mentally ill.

“I lost everything. Comunilife has been a lifesaver for me,” said Cox, 69. “People don’t understand. They all think what happened in Connecticut is going to happen here. We’re not a threat to the community.”

 

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Community concerned over Queens Hospital Center proposal


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Civic groups in Hillcrest are worried that a proposed mixed housing unit set to lodge individuals with chronic conditions will draw a “questionable population” next door.

Queens Hospital Center (QHC) is in talks with Comunilife, a nonprofit human services agency, to develop a deteriorated 10-story building on the hospital’s campus into 251 units of affordable, permanent supportive housing for individuals with chronic physical and mental health conditions, The Courier has learned.

Residency at the 82-68 164th Street site in Jamaica, called the “T-Building,” would be coupled with access to supportive health care services, including case workers, a hospital executive said. Apartment preference would be given to patients of Queens and Elmhurst Hospital Centers suffering from ailments including diabetes and chronic heart failure.

“It is our hope to ensure the reuse of this building for borough residents who have special needs, who have low incomes or who are veterans,” said Julius Wool, QHC’s executive director. “We look forward to being able to expand access to affordable housing options to Queens residents.”

QHC officials said it was too early to specify those “special needs,” but local civic associations said they expect masses of homeless people, the mentally ill, and individuals with HIV or AIDS, based on Comunilife’s mission statement to help that particular population.

“The overwhelming feeling is of great concern, if not rejection, of any consideration of this type of facility,” said Kevin Forrestal, president of the Hillcrest Estates Civic Association and area chair of Community Board 8. “We’re talking about a rather large number of people, hundreds, who are at risk, with mental issues.”

Forrestal said the hesitation stems from a “fear of crime or other offenses” the residents could potentially commit.

“Presumably, of most folks who have HIV, many, if not most, have had a history of drug abuse,” he said.

Bob Trabold, president of the Hillcrest-Jamaica Hill Neighborhood Association, shared the same sentiment, saying the project could be “threatening” to the neighborhood.

“There’s no supervision once residents leave the building,” he said. “What the hospital wants and what the neighborhood thinks is best may not be in harmony.”

The development’s close proximity to a nearby youth center and area high schools is reason for concern, too, according to the community leaders.

Wool said the approximate 230,000 square–foot dwelling would be for people with and without chronic illnesses and would help reduce emergency room use and hospital readmissions.

Costs have not yet been determined since the project is still in its preliminary stage, officials said, but funding for the anticipated multimillion dollar venture is expected to be secured early 2013.