A Town of Hempstead satellite office in Roosevelt once offered community residents easy access to municipal services and staff. Just not anytime recently, according to frustrated neighbors, who said the bureau was almost always closed in recent years and looks abandoned.
"It really bothers me," said longtime Roosevelt resident Natalie Gary, who has visited the office repeatedly in the past few years and never found it open. "Taxpayers are paying for that."
But a Hempstead spokesman disputed any longtime interruption in operations at the storefront space on Nassau Road, saying staff kept regular hours there until early February, when the facility closed for upcoming renovations.
Before that, “there was not a lapse, it was not closed,” spokesman Greg Blower said.
These conflicting accounts add some mystery to the otherwise unassuming town-owned workplace. So do recollections of a former Hempstead official who visited the space in 2018 and found it “filthy” and “disgusting.”
Blower said the town established the satellite office around the late 1970s to enable Roosevelt residents to do things such as apply for affordable housing and home rehabilitation grants without having to leave their neighborhood.
The Department of Planning and Economic Development runs the facility, which also fielded gripes from community members about problems in the area — a service that resident Eme Funderburke said she and her neighbors appreciated.
“Roosevelt is a small hamlet but we have large issues,” said Funderburke, citing gang activity, commercial trucks blocking roadways and other problems. “It is an important office.”
But Funderburke said she’s visited the bureau at least six times in the past two years and hardly ever found it open. When she did, she said, only an administrative assistant was there. She said she and others have lodged complaints with the town about the issue to no avail.
“It has been so useless for so long,” she said. “If the building was open, doing was it was supposed to, why would people even complain about it?”
Adam Haber, a former Hempstead deputy chief of staff, said he himself sought to see the space in 2018 but found it locked. After knocking, two town employees appeared from inside to let him in. He said he was shocked by what he found inside.
“There were dead plants, there was garbage and paper and boxes all over the place,” he said. “The place looked like a hoarder lived there.”
Haber said he raised the issue with George Bakich, then the commissioner of the Department of Planning and Economic Development. The department acquired the property in 1984, according to its website.
Bakich retired and the department currently does not have a commissioner.
Jonathan Crist, a deputy commissioner of the department, did not respond to a request for comment.
Karen Ulloa works at an international money transfer shop next door. She said last week she’s never seen anyone enter or exit the Hempstead office in the past three years.
“Maybe it’s closed?” she asked.
An employee at another neighboring business who asked not to be named said he's seen regular foot traffic at the facility, but only ever the same two people coming or going.
Hempstead Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, whose district includes Roosevelt, did not respond to a request for comment.
Doug Mayers, president of the Freeport-Roosevelt NAACP, said the property could be a real benefit to the majority-minority residents of Roosevelt if it reopened.
“The office is there but it does nothing for the community,” he said. “The town should revive the office and do what it was supposed to do from the beginning.”
That may soon come to pass. Funderburke inquired about the facility at a recent town board meeting, and Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin, who took office in January, told her the town is renovating it.
“It’s going to be reopening, we’re just making it a little more presentable inside for the residents,” he said. “We recognize a lot of residents come in there.”
Clavin visited the property after taking office and “wasn’t happy with what he saw,” Blower said.
Clavin said in a statement he and Goosby asked staff to evaluate the property for renovations. Town staffers visited the office Tuesday to assess what those upgrades should entail, Blower said.
He did not know when the revamp would conclude. When it does get renovated, he said, the office will serve its purpose once again.
“All the services that were there previously are going to be remaining at that facility,” he said.