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Residents challenge veterans housing plan

An artist's rendering of housing proposed for veterans

An artist's rendering of housing proposed for veterans in North Amityville Credit: Photo by www.howarddigital.com

North Amityville residents, skeptical of a plan to build housing for homeless veterans at a closed Army Reserve base in the hamlet, have asked officials from the Town of Babylon and the nonprofit housing group that would run the facility for more assurances about its impact on the community.

Medford-based Concern for Independent Living is seeking zoning, planning and town board approvals that would clear the way to break ground by September on a $21-million facility with 60 apartments and support services for honorably discharged veterans and their families.

The plan has the support of veterans groups, town officials and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who pressed federal officials earlier this year to speed transfer of the Albany Avenue base from the Department of Defense to the town. The transfer is subject to federal review, but town officials expect it to be completed this summer.

Some neighbors who spoke at a public hearing on the issue at Tuesday's town board meeting were worried the facility's residents could have substance-abuse or mental-health problems that could spill into the neighborhood, or that the facility could endanger the value of the bungalows and columned Neoclassicals they've owned and maintained for decades.

"I'm the mother of a veteran," said Mildred Hodgson, a retiree who moved to Sunshine Lane from New York City 40 years ago with her husband, an Army veteran, and raised two children, one of whom served in the Air Force. "We are not unpatriotic people," she said in an interview. But "with children and grandchildren, we need to be concerned," she said.

While some welcome the facility, for Hodgson and others in the largely African-American hamlet, the plan to build there also raises issues of race and class.

"You use our community as a dumping ground," Hodgson said in a meeting with neighbors and Concern for Independent Living officials following the hearing. "If this were Dix Hills, they wouldn't allow it."

Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer said in an interview Wednesday that federal rules say the Albany Avenue site must be used to help the homeless.

He added that the town was in a unique position to help the 600 to 2,000 homeless veterans believed to live on Long Island. "Whatever problems they've come back with . . . we owe it to them to help them deal with whatever issues they're facing."

He also noted that Concern for Independent Living, one of the largest housing agencies of its kind in New York, with 200 sites across the state, has "a great track record." If the facility makes problems for its neighbors, "we'll be all over them."

Concern's executive director, Ralph Fasano, said Wednesday that the federal Department of Veterans Affairs and his group would screen residents. "Somebody who looked like they couldn't live independently, who'd be disruptive to the community, would be ruled out," he said.

Ten percent of the construction work would go to minority-owned businesses and another 10 percent to businesses run by women, he said. Six acres of the 15-acre base not used by the facility would be added to the North Amityville Town Pool.

And he pointed to a 2008 study by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University: "Over time," its authors wrote, "the values of homes near supportive housing do not suffer because of their proximity to the supportive housing."

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