Speed urged on housing for homeless LI vets

From left to right, Veterans Mark Brownlee, Darrell

From left to right, Veterans Mark Brownlee, Darrell Kelliehan and Wilfredo Rodriguez in the glasses listen to Senator Charles E. Schumer during the press conference in North Amityville. (Feb. 21, 2012) (Credit: Heather Walsh)

Sen. Charles Schumer called on federal officials Tuesday to streamline the transfer of a former military base in North Amityville, where a proposed housing project for homeless veterans must break ground by summer or face losing state funding.

"Time is of the essence," he said Tuesday at the vacant Army Reserve base on Albany Avenue, where 60 apartments are planned. "They [veterans] gave all for us, and at a very minimum, they deserve a comfortable place to rest their heads at night."

More than half the funding for the $21-million project would come in the form of tax credits that will be jeopardized unless ground is broken by July 31, a deadline set by New York's Division of Homes and Community Renewal, which administers the funds.

But red tape must be traversed before shovels hit dirt. The base belongs to the Department of Defense, and under federal law, both the DOD and the Department of Housing and Urban Development must sign off before ownership is transferred to the Town of Babylon. The town's planning and zoning boards must then approve the project.

The first phase, Schumer said, typically takes six to nine months. But Tuesday he said he had good reason to hope it might be sped up, touting his friendships with the leaders of both departments. Of HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Schumer said: "I recommended him for his job." And he roomed with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for 11 years in Washington, D.C., when the two were congressmen.

"We've reached out to them," said Schumer (D-N.Y.), and "we'll call them again."

HUD spokeswoman Donna White said the agency is reviewing the plan and expects to issue a decision within 60 days. "We do recognize the urgency," she said, "and we will do all we can to respond to this request in a timely manner."

Officials from Babylon and Concern for Independent Living, the Medford-based nonprofit developing the project, contacted Schumer's office two weeks ago. The group assists about 550 households in more than 200 locales across the state, including in East Patchogue, Sayville and Riverhead.

"We don't usually get this much attention," said Ralph Fasano, Concern's executive director, who was both pleased and surprised by the support from town officials and a senator: "I'm waiting to wake up," he said after the news conference.

The North Amityville base closed last year, a casualty of the Base Realignment and Closure program intended to save money and reshape the Pentagon's infrastructure. That program gives special consideration to the needs of the homeless as local communities take control of surplus military assets.

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