Comptroller Scott Stringer entered anti-de Blasio territory last Thursday at the Juniper Park Civic Association’s meeting in Middle Village to talk about the growing homeless crisis.
Even from the get-go, the comptroller was introduced as a potential rival to challenge Mayor Bill de Blasio for office in 2017. Robert Holden, the civic group’s president, called Stringer the “watchdog” for the administration, and said they “need this guy.”
“I’ll be the first to write a check when you run for mayor,” Holden said. “You better run. We have to get somebody else in there.”
“Bob, you got me in a lot of trouble already,” Stringer joked.
The 56-year-old comptroller, who grew up in Washington Heights and has two young children, proceeded to criticize the daycare centers in homeless shelters. His office recently released a report that found “dangerous shortcomings” to the child care workers’ screening process and facilities that provide services, especially to toddlers.
Stringer said the daycare centers had few resources for the kids, including a lack of sprinklers and fire extinguishers in rooms and some emergency doors that couldn’t close from within.
“The truth is, there’s no regulation and no one is watching,” he said. “We said to this administration, you’ve got to get busy.”
The investigation found that a quarter of all shelters for families with children operate the child care centers without permits from the city, which are required for any other daycare center.
The report noted that 82 percent of child care workers in the shelters did not undergo a criminal background check or screening for records of child abuse. Nearly half of those employees did not receive the proper training in child abuse identification, reporting and prevention.
“That has to change,” Stringer said.
The comptroller acknowledged that the hot-button issue in the room was the plan to convert the Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth into a homeless shelter.
After a protracted battle with protesters, in which residents demonstrated every night in front of the hotels and even took their protests on the road, the city settled for just moving in 30 homeless men into the hotel.
Stringer later affirmed that those men were moved in using an emergency declaration, and that there’s no contract in place to house them permanently. He explained that the declaration is invoked when “the system spikes,” and the procedure allows them to move homeless people off the streets quicker.
The city has long argued that with the homeless population soaring to a record-high 60,000 people, homeless families need a place to sleep at night. Stringer added that the crisis could reach as high as 70,000 people, including a significant portion who are children.
“I do believe everyone has a right to shelter, nobody should sleep on the street,” Stringer said. “We’re going to have shelters. How can we not?”
The real solution, Stringer said, is permanent affordable housing. He slammed de Blasio’s affordable housing plan as “not affordable for the people who need it the most.”
In the meantime, the comptroller said, the city will have shelters, which must be kept in safe conditions.
The criticisms continued. Stringer said the city should go back to community-based planning, working with the community to come up with plans and solutions together.
Many protesters have been angry about the lack of transparency among the city, elected officials and the community about the shelter plans in Maspeth.
“I’m here because no one’s talking to you,” he said. “People are talking at you.”
The mostly cordial meeting shifted moods when a woman at the meeting said many of the homeless people she has met said they were from New Jersey. Stringer responded by saying there are homeless people “from every community in New York,” drawing a chorus of boos.
“Every community has to play its part,” he said.
Before Stringer gave his parting words, he was interrupted by the same woman, who was upset about the decline in property values when a homeless shelter comes into a neighborhood. She asked if there was a provision that could be used to ensure homeowners’ investments won’t diminish.
“No,” the comptroller said.
A man in the back of the room began shouting at Stringer, prompting Holden to tell the crowd to not ask any more questions.
“We were doing so well,” Stringer said, visibly frustrated, before he left the meeting.
In response to the comptroller’s visit, mayoral spokeswoman Aja Worthy-Davis shot back at the potential de Blasio challenger.
“Scott Stringer is courting a group advocating for kicking women and toddlers onto the street, using White Lives Matter as their protest song,” she said. “He should be ashamed.”
State Senator Joseph Addabbo, who was at the Juniper Park civic meeting, criticized the mayor for injecting race into the conversation.
“Instead of looking at the facts and realizing that his shelter policies are failing all throughout the city, our mayor continues to hide behind an imaginary racial battle that has no place in this effort to find a solution to homelessness,” Addabbo said in a statement. “The opposition to using hotels as shelters in any community, not just Maspeth, has never been racially motivated.
“In fact, the only time race has been used as the primary focus is when Mayor de Blasio’s administration uses it to attack and misrepresent the hardworking, taxpaying people I represent,” he added.
Addabbo also referenced two videos the de Blasio administration released about city homelessness, casting Maspeth protesters in a negative light. He called them “propaganda videos” and accused de Blasio of using divisive rhetoric.
“The homeless crisis our city is facing is color blind and has nothing to do with any one race versus another, and I find it despicable that the mayor would imply anything different,” Addabbo added. “My constituents deserve better than to be accused of being racist merely to justify Mayor de Blasio’s own failure to effectively address this homeless issue. He, not Comptroller Stringer, should be ashamed.”