After receiving reports of unhealthy and unsanitary living conditions at the Van Cortlandt Motel migrant shelter, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Councilman Eric Dinowitz reached out to the city agency in charge of shelters and the operator to schedule a visit there.
The city Department of Social Services and Neighborhood Association for Inter-Cultural Affairs didn’t give them a date, so they decided to pay the motel an unannounced visit and see for themselves.
“We wanted to see the place as it really is,” Assemblyman Dinowitz told The Riverdale Press. “When you arrange a visit, it’s not really the way it always is.”
Last month, several families staying at the motel met with The Press to speak out against the alleged conditions there that included uneaten food being thrown out, the existence of cockroaches, rodents and moldy ceilings as well as abusive management.
Following the outcry, the Assemblyman and Councilman felt it paramount to flag the reports to DSS and NAICA and correct the issues if they turned out to be true. However, multiple attempts to schedule a visit to certify were unsuccessful, they said. That inspired them to walk into the lobby unannounced on Thursday, Sept. 7.
“After speaking with numerous families and visiting several rooms, we found many of the alleged concerns to be substantiated, and many of them have yet to be resolved,” the Councilman and Assemblyman stated in a joint news release.
“We observed mold on some walls, and in other places, it appears as though the mold had been quickly painted over.”
Families from Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador and various other places met with the elected officials to describe their living conditions, including showing bug bites on their children’s legs, and speaking about having spoiled milk, rats inside the motel and security guards entering rooms unannounced.
One of the most pressing complaints for the electeds though was the fact that only 80 percent of the kids were enrolled in school, with the other 20 percent not, staff told them.
“The family said no one from DOE (education department) came to register their kids for school,” Councilman Dinowitz said. “The person working for the non-profit (NAICA) said DOE has been here, but families weren’t home when DOE was here.”
The Councilman said they’ve yet to independently confirm whether DOE was here or not, but assuming it was true, he questioned why NAICA did not directly talk to the families of those whose children have not been registered for school. Apparently staff had put up signs saying what days DOE were coming to the shelter for school registration, but both Dinowitzes said they could not find any of these signs posted anywhere.
Communication is perhaps the shelter’s biggest issue, where a majority of the families there are Spanish speakers. While the councilman, and a few others who visited could speak Spanish, there were some families who also spoke Russian.
From Assemblyman Dinowitz’s observations, two of the people in the shelter’s office did not appear to be Spanish speaking, though the woman in charge could speak the language.
“NAICA weren’t happy to see us there,” the Assemblyman said. “They contacted DHS, and we were there for 45 minutes, then asked us to leave, and said they would arrange a day we could come.”
The issue at Van Cortlandt Motel is far from the only one in the city. Mayor Eric Adams recently said in a statement that the city has cared for more than 100,000 asylum seekers since last Spring. Both the Assemblyman and Councilman believe the federal government needs to step up in providing resources.
“This is a huge economic burden on the people of New York,” Assemblyman Dinowitz said. “It’s not fair, it’s not fair to the taxpayers, and it’s not fair to the people living in these motels.”
The Assemblyman said they can’t have unlimited people coming to the city without any way of addressing their needs. He also said the federal government should, in addition to providing resources, encourage people to sort of spread out the asylum seekers.
“There’s no doubt that we need more support from the state and federal government,” Councilman Dinowitz said.
“Which is why I and a number of colleagues went to Albany to advocate for more funding and emergency work permits to allow migrants to work legally.”
Assemblyman Dinowitz said there is a huge need for workers with a lot of jobs currently going unfilled. He said he fully supports finding ways to give migrants work permits.
Assemblyman Dinowitz and Councilman Dinowitz say they have yet to hear back from DSS and NAICA regarding an official visit to Van Cortlandt Motel.
“If I say I’m going to set up a meeting, I don’t dawdle and wait for a long time,” Assemblyman Dinowitz said. “It should’ve been done already. There’s no excuse for it.”
Mayor Adams has seemingly changed his tune on the migrant crisis somewhat. At a town hall event earlier this month, he warned that the New York City residents know is about to be lost.
“This issue will destroy New York City,” Adams said on Sept. 6, “destroy New York City. We’re getting 10,000 migrants a month. One time we were just getting Venezuela, now we’re getting Ecuador, now we’re getting Russian speaking coming through Mexico, now we’re getting Western Africa.
“Now we’re getting people from all over the globe who have made their minds up they’re going to come through the southern part of the border and come into New York City.”
U.S. Reps. Adriano Espalliat and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently led a congressional delegation in Manhattan where they addressed the migrant crisis.
“This fiscal year, DHS has given New York City $145 million to provide shelter and services for asylum seekers,” Espalliat said Sept. 15. “But New York City is incurring costs of almost $10 million dollars per day to provide basic needs for these new arrivals — which will, in total, cost the city $12 billion over the next two years.”
According to Comptroller Brad Lander, the city has spent more than $2 billion on 119 contracts for asylum seekers.
Espalliat called on Congress to authorize $3 billion in emergency funding to assist cities across the nation who are currently housing asylum seekers. Additionally he has called for the Biden Administration to provide expedited work authorization to new migrants, including redesignating Venezuelans for Temporary Protected Status.
The Roosevelt Hotel, where Espalliat and AOC led the delegation, was met with protests by anti-migrant protests last week filled with shouts to close the border and not to use the budget on the asylum seekers.
In response to the crisis, Mayor Adams has directed all city agencies to trim their budgets and submit plans to reduce spending by up to 15 percent. This includes the Department of Homeless Services.
These proposed budget cuts have also been met with protests. On Tuesday, Sept. 19, The People’s Plan New York City rallied at city hall to stand in solidarity with asylum seekers and “condemn sweeping cuts to city agencies that will inevitably harm new and old New Yorkers alike.”
They warned, also, that the cuts would disproportionately affect essential services like child care, parks, hospitals, schools and social services.