“We want to restart and have dialogue with this community and figure out a way forward together,” de Blasio said. “In the spirit of the season, we want to sit at the table, start to figure out how we can address this problem right away, and work with the community on solutions.”
Homelessness remains a contentious issue in Maspeth and Glendale, two communities where the mayor’s administration has tried but failed to create new homeless shelters. Last year’s attempt at the Holiday Inn Express sparked nightly protests that eventually doomed the plan.
The Department of Homeless Services also tried to open a shelter on Cooper Avenue in Glendale, but the proposal also flopped. Earlier this year, de Blasio announced a new plan to open 90 new shelters citywide, and phase out the use of hotels and cluster apartments.
The mayor admitted that hotels are costly and “don’t make sense” for sheltering the homeless.
“Our vision is to contract the shelter system steadily over the years, but it’ll take a bunch of years,” he said.
To address the homeless crisis, de Blasio touted his affordable housing program, providing legal services to stop evictions, rent freezes and other actions the city has taken. Though he plans to open new shelters, the mayor said the goal is to ultimately turn shelters into permanent affordable housing.
“It’s not a shelter forever, no one wants a shelter forever,” he said. “But it’s going to be a long, tough fight because of the nature of the problem.”
Protests in Maspeth and Glendale over homeless shelters later led to electoral change, as two incumbent elected officials lost their seats to aspiring lawmakers. Last year, Brian Barnwell ousted longtime Assemblywoman Marge Markey.
Just last month, civic leader Robert Holden narrowly unseated Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who hosted the town hall with the mayor. Holden roundly criticized the mayor on a variety of topics, leading to questions over whether they would work together.
At Monday night’s town hall at PS/IS 113, de Blasio, a Democrat, said he would. Holden, who is a lifelong Democrat but ran on the Republican line in November, has yet to announce which party he will caucus with once he’s in office.
“I will certainly work with the new council member, I have worked with people in the other party in the council for long time,” the mayor said. “I expect this to be a productive relationship too. Obviously, I do believe in putting that aside and working together on community needs.”
In his 49th town hall, de Blasio addressed a variety of community issues, including transportation, safety and bureaucracy.
At the outset, he listed a series of investments from the city, including $500,000 for the third phase of Evergreen Park’s renovation, $500,000 to help upgrade the roller hockey rink at Juniper Valley Park and another $500,000 for air conditioning at the Middle Village Library.
He also announced the Q58 bus, the busiest bus route in Queens, would switch to Select Bus Service “in the next few years.” However, residents criticized the Woodhaven SBS plan for slowing traffic on the corridor.
In response, de Blasio said the underlying idea is that by isolating a lane, buses can move more quickly and commuters taking mass transit can get to their destination faster.
“People are going to want to use mass transit,” he said. “Whenever someone can use mass transit and leave their car behind, that takes one car off the road for everyone.”
He added that the Department of Transportation (DOT) will learn “as they go” and make adjustments if something isn’t working.
Queens DOT Commissioner Nicole Garcia added that in addition to improving mobility for 43,000 riders on the Woodhaven SBS, the change made safety adjustments at Woodhaven Boulevard and Union Turnpike, which had 170 crashes with injuries over the last five years.
That puts in the intersection among the ten most dangerous in the borough, she said.
Another resident asked DOT to reconsider its criteria for adding speed bumps or traffic lights. De Blasio agreed, adding to the call for the agency to revisit its formula. The mayor said he will meet with DOT to go over it next month.
“We’ve got to do a better job figuring out if the criteria makes sense today with what we want to achieve,” he said.
De Blasio was also asked if he supports the Lower Montauk Line, a former LIRR line running from Jamaica to Long Island that currently carries freight. Councilwoman Crowley has pushed for the line reactivation, which would serve residential communities like Glendale.
De Blasio said while it’s “an appealing option on its face,” the commuter rail comes with “real challenges.”
“We’re not convinced the ridership will be everything that we want it to be for the money we have to spend,” he said. “The sheer cost doesn’t allow us to do it now.”
But the mayor didn’t want to rule out supporting the line in the future.
“That line is potentially convertible at any time,” he said.