Concerned community organizations and advocates rallied this past Saturday, July 10, outside of an “unwanted” Holiday Inn hotel, located at 5244 Kings Highway in Brooklyn, that’s currently housing a re-entry program for incarcerated individuals near a residential neighborhood.
Protesters from the Utica 2 Flatbush initiatives, East 59th Street Block Association, The Flatlands Flatbush Civic Group (FFCG), and a group of counter protesters determinedly gathered out front of the hotel. The rally on both sides maintained peace on the opposite side of the small street while demonstrating.
From the outside, the building appeared to still be a functioning Holiday Inn.
One resident said she had tried to make reservations just two weeks ago because she thought it was still a hotel. She said that management told her that “pipe problems” were the reason they were closing.
There are currently 30 individuals residing at the Brooklyn Holiday Inn as part of the
Exodus Transitional Community (ETC) program, which helps formerly incarcerated men and women to reintegrate into their communities, said Chief of Hotel Operations for ETC Jennifer Kaake.
This is not the first time the community and political officials have brought up issues with the hotel site, the developer, Manish S. Savani, and its contractor and owner, Tejpal Singh Sandhu. The community’s gripes stretch back almost four years, long before there were any structures on the plot of land or a halfway house at all.
In 2018, former Councilmember Jumaane Williams led the initial fight against the hotel development with Assemblymember Helene Weinstein (D-District 41).
The concern then was that the hotel would become a “homeless shelter,” meaning subsidized out to the city as housing for homeless individuals, or a “hot sheet” hotel that did not serve the largely Caribbean community.
Target was building a store on the other half of the plot at the time. According to the community and officials, the hotel developers had not been nearly as cooperative or collaborative with the community as the Target contractors were. The Target contractors took more time to address concerns about land use and environmental issues, such as ground tanks that could have leaked underground.
“The idea again is, you know, the fact that we have to continue to do this, in our communities. It’s kind of disgusting,” said Community Board 17 District Manager Hassan Bakriddin. “And we were out there doing it because we knew that they were gonna come out and do this. That it was only gonna take them a few years, what they normally do, when they build hotels in our community is they put them up with the facade of saying, ‘we’re gonna be a hotel’ and generally what happens is in a few years, it becomes a city or statewide government subsidy program.”
Councilmember Farah Louis (D-District 45), who was then aide to Williams before getting elected to replace him, recalled fighting against a hotel opening in the district. “We knew eventually it would turn into a shelter, not that we’re against shelters, I support housing,” said Louis.
As of 2020, the land had been developed into a small hotel on one side, a car dealership in the middle, and a Target and Smashburger with a parking lot on the roof on the rest of the property.
Now, the hotel has been appointed as a Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice site, which works with organizations, law enforcement, city agencies, not-for-profits, and foundations to house programs like Exodus.
Kaake confirmed that the program “did not know of any of the potential environmental issues” at the hotel site.
Said Louis, “The problem is what we’re having right now is that they opened a reentry program and a halfway house in the middle of the night. They didn’t notify the community. That’s our issue. We don’t have an issue housing people in our community. We have an issue with the model that the mayor used and their lack of communication to address the community and have a conversation with the community. So we’re not happy about that.”
Vice President of Policy & Strategy of ETC Kandra Clark said that the program intends to lead with love.
“And we don’t have a say in what site or where our sites are at. So we have a site in Fresh Meadows, Corona, Long Island City in Queens, Midtown Manhattan,” said Clark. “This is our first Brooklyn site and, you know, we’re all a lot of us are just as impacted ourselves. So we’ve been through the system, we know what the barriers are and our whole goal is just to provide people services so they can get to stability.”
Many at the rally or involved also said that they had no direct problem with the Exodus program, but did have strong reservations about 14 individuals with “sex offender” convictions reportedly staying on the property in addition to the long-held grudge against the building’s owners and lack of communication from the city.
“And the thing is, they came with their signs, saying ‘we want housing,’ more affordable housing, and we’re like, we should want the same thing. But we’re not against Exodus or their executive director,” said community activist Trisha Ocona. “I actually heard very good things about their organization and how they’ve helped formerly incarcerated men, and I run a program that includes helping formerly incarcerated men. That’s not a problem.”
Ocona said part of the problem is that they are rumored to be getting ready to move the 14 individuals out, but they can’t until they find permanent housing.
Exodus directors Clark and Kaake did not immediately confirm or deny by post time that any of the individuals in the program were sex offenders that had been at the hotel or had moved out or were going to move out in the near future.
Clark said at the rally that they understand the community has a right to be educated and informed and they are insistent on reaching out to community members and officials.
“It’s really about creating community safety. So we need the community in order to do that,” said Clark. “And today was actually really good because now we got to meet some of the other community board leaders and chairs. We’re going to form this community advisory board and really make sure the community can stay as informed and they can hold us accountable also for making sure that we’re moving people and not increasing crime or anything like that in the neighborhood.”
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