Women’s center staves off Totten eviction

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After hiring a lawyer to negotiate with the city, the Queens Women’s Center has gotten a brief postponement of its eviction from Bayside’s Fort Totten, said Ann Jawin, founder of the women’s center.

Jawin, a Douglaston resident, said although the original eviction deadline was moved back to Jan. 15 after the group’s lawyer contacted the city, the nonprofit Queens Women’s Center has no intention of leaving its headquarters at Fort Totten.

“We will stay here until they come here with forklifts,” Jawin said last week. “We’re not going to go.”

Fort Totten is a decommissioned Army base which has been occupied by several nonprofit groups as the city has worked to take over the property from the federal government. In November the Queens Women’s Center got a Dec. 13 eviction notice from the city Fire Department. When it is taken over by the city, the fort will be overseen by both the Fire and Parks departments.

The Queens Women’s Center was founded in 1987 and provides a range of services to women and families, including job training, domestic violence programs, counseling, funding and training for women who want to start their own business, among other things.

Jawin said she is hoping to appeal to the city’s new administration after Jan. 1, which will include a new mayor, borough president and City Council.

“We’ll be making a big pitch,” Jawin said of the group’s plans to contact the newly sworn-in politicians.

Local nonprofit groups at the fort — which include the women’s center and the Professional Design Center — were given temporary leases to help maintain some buildings at the 120-acre fort.

Jawin has said she was surprised by the Fire Department’s eviction notice because she thought each nonprofit was to get a chance to apply for permanent status at Totten.

Other nonprofits, like the Bayside Historical Society and the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association, have been at Fort Totten so long they have leases directly with the U.S. Army and are therefore exempt from applying for permanent status.

The nonprofit women’s group had signed a temporary lease for Building #401 at Fort Totten in October 1997. Jawin, who founded the center, has said she signed the temporary lease because she expected the group to have an opportunity to apply for permanent status at the fort.

When asked in an interview with the TimesLedger last month if the Queens Women’s Center would get a chance to apply for permanency, Borough President Claire Shulman said “no. The answer is that it’s going to be Parks Department property and they don’t relate to Parks Department activities. Everybody that does, can.”

Shulman has said Jawin knew of the Parks Departments’ requirements when she signed the lease.

Jawin said last week her group does conform to Parks Department uses and could provide services that would help both the Fire Department and the Army, which still retains a portion of the base.

“We were never asked to prove anything,” Jawin said of the Parks Department requirements. “We were just asked to vacate.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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