22 THE QUEENS COURIER • DECEMBER 19, 2019 FOR BREAKING NEWS VISIT WWW.QNS.COM
Miscommunication, faulty construction led to slow fl ooding response
BY MAX PARROTT
Th e City Council Committee on
Environmental Protection held an oversight
hearing on Dec. 11 on the response
to the fl ooding in South Ozone Park that
inundated about 80 homes with sewage in
the early hours of Nov. 30.
Th e hearing, led by Committee Chair
Costa Constantinides and Councilwoman
Adrienne Adams, off ered testimony from
victims about the aft ereff ects of the fl ooding
and the Department of Environmental
Protection (DEP) Commissioner Vincent
Sapienza, who clarifi ed that the incident
was caused by a perfect storm of miscommunication
and engineering problems.
Sapienza testifi ed that it took the agency
seven hours and a dozen 311 calls to
realize that the problem was not localized,
but area-wide. Th en, once the agency
tracked down the sewer that was causing
the blockage to the 150th Street Bridge
overpass, they could not get to it because
in the 1980s, the DEP allowed the state
to build a highway over the sewer that
Instead of clearing the blockage, the
agency had to install a system that would
direct water fl ow around the blocked
sewer. Sapienza said that the agency is
currently evaluating whether to abandon
the sewer entirely in the future.
In the wake of the incident — the city’s
largest sewage backup in fi ve years —
residents testifi ed about the mounting
expenses of reclaiming their homes.
“Many families have missed work and
missed school, some are concerned about
black mold in their homes, and others
don’t know where to start because they
don’t have the means to begin repairs,”
Th ough Comptroller Scott Stringer
granted an emergency procurement of
funds in order to clean aff ected residents’
basements of sewage and replace damaged
boilers, residents said that they have
had to fi le additional claims for other
resulting personal expenses.
Leron Harmon testifi ed that his family
is still living in a hotel because his house is
uninhabitable. Heat vents from his basement
carried the smell of sewage through
his entire house forcing him to throw out
his living room set and two mattresses.
“Th e smell from the sewage went
through every single room,” Harmon said.
City Council grills DHS offi cials over contract with embattled nonprofi t
BY MARK HALLUM
Offi cials with the city’s Department of
Homeless Services got an earful from the
City Council’s Committee on General
Welfare Monday over its contracts with
the embattled Acacia Network.
Th e nonprofi t company, which is a service
provider to DHS, was found to be
housing homeless individuals at shelters
with conditions not up to code. At
the Dec. 16 hearing, DHS offi cials told
committee members they were working
to “raise the bar” with more aggressive
inspections facilities under their purview.
Acacia is currently under investigation
by Governor Andrew Cuomo
and Attorney General Letitia James for
allegedly providing dangerous living conditions
to rent controlled tenants in an
attempt to destabilize units. Later, in
November, the state tightened its investigation
amid claims that Acacia threatened
tenants who reported their living
Councilman Ben Kallos said Acacia
Network currently has a record of 1,184
violations on their facilities, and demanded
to know why the DHS continued to use
Molly Park, fi rst deputy commissioner
of DHS, said, that under new policies,
the city agency requires Acacia, and
other providers and their subcontractors,
to report facility improvements into one
database that the city administers.
Park countered that more than 1,000
of Acacia’s violations were in cluster shelter
sites — which the city is phasing out
and in some cases turning into aff ordable
housing. Even so, she insisted the DHS
has no tolerance for organizations found
to fail their responsibilities.
“Having an organization fail is not in
anyone’s best interest,” Park said. “If we
can get out of using that provider, we have
Housing Bridge is one example Park
cited of an organization in which DHS has
terminated a contract over poor service.
Acacia was the service provider for the
Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth which
was at the center of public backlash from
2016 onward as the community called
for homeless families to be removed.
Although DHS plans to phase out the use
of hotels for temporary accommodations
by 2023, families were cleared out of the
Maspeth hotel in August.
Park reported that there are currently
about 83 hotels in use citywide as of the
day of the hearing.
With a $2.1 billion budget in the coming
fi scal year for DHS, Councilman Stephen
Levin said it would be a “wise investment”
to broaden rent subsidy programs rather
than open more homeless shelters. Levin
believes additional shelters are a costly
option that will only infl ate the agency’s
fi nancial needs in the coming years.
Less than 2 percent of the budget goes
toward providing food in shelters, an
average of $8 per day for each person.
Park countered that a certain amount of
shelters require individuals to provide
their own food.
About half of the shelter population are
families, Park said.
Councilman Robert Holden — a
staunch opponent of a proposed shelter
in his district — grilled Parks and
other DHS reps about a contract with
Westhab to provide 200 beds in Glendale.
He claimed the agency is not transparent
about its contracts.
DHS said it has been clear and upfront
about its outline of the plan for that location
e shelter sites are chosen by providers,
and the plans are presented to DHS
In a post to his Facebook page following
the hearing, Holden charged that the
DHS has repeatedly denied his requests
for a copy of the actual contract.
“Aft er my testimony, the DHS scrambled
to pull me aside and said they will
provide an offi cial response within 24
hours,” Holden wrote. “Th is is by far the
least transparent city agency I have dealt
with, and we should not have to go to such
lengths to receive basic information about
a shelter that will undoubtedly aff ect our
Photo by Mark Hallum
Molly Park, fi rst deputy commissioner of DHS,
answered questions from City Council members
on the contracting process for shelter providers.
South Ozone park residents aff ected by the area’s Thanksgiving weekend fl ooding testifi ed about the city's response on Dec. 11.