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Shelter not good fit for Astoria: Vallone

TimesLedger Newspapers

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) criticized an ongoing construction project to create housing for mentally challenged homeless people near Astoria Houses, saying that part of the neighborhood is already having trouble serving the needs of its current residents.

“The people over there now don’t have the resources they need,” Vallone said.

The councilman released a statement Monday calling upon Gov. Andrew Cuomo to repurpose the development, at 27th Avenue and 2nd Street, not far away from the public housing development Astoria Houses.

Vallone said the $11 million, 50-unit development is unwanted by community members and questioned how the state could afford the project given the current financial climate.

“It’s mind-boggling they could spend that sort of money,” Vallone said.

The state Office of Mental Health is creating the project through a partnership with the nonprofit Urban Pathways, which proposed the housing development.

The Office of Mental Health directed press inquiries to Urban Pathways, which did not respond to requests for comment.

Vallone said the waterfront section of Astoria already has nonprofit services that help homeless people, such as Goodwill Industries, which sells used items and runs education programs, and Phoenix House, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization. He said he believed that part of the neighborhood would be better served by more institutions such as supermarkets and banks and is lacking in transportation options.

“It’s wrong on every level,” Vallone said.

This is not the first time Vallone has protested against the project. He said that when Urban Pathways and the Office of Mental Health originally proposed the project in 2008, he wrote a letter to the office and then-Gov. David Paterson opposing it. The letter had the support of Astoria Houses residents, Vallone said. Having heard little about it since then, he assumed the project was not moving forward.

Vallone said he and the community had tried to negotiate with the state for a smaller building, but they had not received a response.

The councilman blamed the ineffectiveness of the protest on a law enacted years ago by another Queens legislator. Vallone contended that the Padavan Law, named for former Queens Republican state Sen. Frank Padavan, makes it impossible for community members to have input in the process of deciding the placement of a good home.

To argue against the placement of a home, the community has to maintain that it is oversaturated with facilities and the new facility would change the neighborhood’s character.

“As far as I know, that has never happened within 20 years,” Vallone said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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