Rat problem could harm homeless shelter’s permanent status at Pan American hotel

Department of Sanitation workers remove trash near the Pan Am hotel after video of rats near the homeless shelter becomes public.
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The owner of an auto repair shop might derail permanent status for the homeless shelter at the old Pan American Hotel in Elmhurst. Samuel Velez, the owner of Aamco Transmissions, at 79-14 Queens Blvd., says he has a problem with rats and it’s the shelter’s fault.

The Pan American hotel sits right next door to Velez’s repair shop, at 79-00 Queens Blvd.

“I’ve been here for 50 years and never had a problem like this,” Velez said. “When that was a hotel, everything ran great, no problem. Now it’s a shelter and they don’t take care of their garbage. They just throw everything in the back and leave it. Now the rats are everywhere. They come into my shop and do damage and that’s costing me money.”

Velez, 65, added that he has complained to the staff that runs the Boulevard Family Center at the hotel, “but the problem just gets worse.”

Samaritan Village refused to comment, deferring to officials at the city Department for Homeless Services. A DHS spokeswoman said, “We take the safety of our clients very seriously and we are working with the provider to ensure the garbage is removed quickly.”

The civic group Elmhurst United has complained about the trash and vermin since November and they have seen little of no action, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Chu.

“They have this area where they just dump their garbage and it just sits there until collection day,” she said. “You’d be surprised how much garbage 800 people create in a single day.”

They were joined by state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) at a rally in March that called on the city to reject a long-term contract with Samaritan Village based on the conditions inside the shelter.

“We’ve sent letters to DHS and to the comptroller saying the city is violating its own laws,” Avella said. “There are rats, roaches, garbage, no kitchens in their units. The facility is inadequate.”

Originally housed under the terms of an “emergency declaration,” the proposed long-term $42 million contract with Samaritan Village has already gone through the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services and is now pending at the comptroller’s office.

The rat problem could be a major roadblock.

“Let me be clear: My office will not register any contract for a permanent homeless shelter where serious health and safety violations have been found,” Comptroller Scott Stringer said. “The recent Department of Investigation found shelter sites with rats, roaches, fire hazards-conditions which continue to this day at shelter sites around the city. This is not an environment in which any New Yorker should be living and it will not be tolerated.”

DHS hopes to have the garbage remedied soon with the purchase of trash compactor. The Department of Sanitation will provide proper containers with lids.

The comptroller will be watching.

“As my office reviews the contracts pending before us, including for the Pan American site, I will do all within my power to ensure that DHS is providing safe living conditions at all of its proposed permanent shelter facilities.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

Updated 12:33 am, April 30, 2015
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Reader feedback

WeiMing from Elmhurst says:
Council Man Daniel Dromm said these homeless shelter residents are his constituents too. Yet he does absolutely nothing for them when they called his office to complain about food poisoning as there are no kitchens and refrigerators in each individual units. We, the local residents call Dromm too, but he also refused to talk with us. If he is not helping the homeless or the community then who is he helping but himself. I hate it when politicians get elected and completely forget who they are representing!
April 30, 2015, 8:39 am
Munson Lung from Elmhurst says:
This not just a rat problem. Come at night and you will see stray cats and raccoons chewing through the bags. It's a matter of time for some kids to get bidden or some disease outbreak. This is terrible for any human being to live like that right under our noses.
April 30, 2015, 9:01 am
EvieWeston8 says:
It is nice choice, making more income $67 a hour from computer at home. My sisters friend has been earning 20k for a months and she works about 15 hour a working week. I make 10k last month, it is in real easy and meaningful , here you can checking...
April 30, 2015, 9:16 am
Elmhurst Resident from Elmhurst says:
Why is State Senator Avella helping the local community and not Daniel Dromm?
The answer is simple. Like Mayor de Blasio, Dromm is anti-Asian and especially the Chinese. As a puppet for the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) he wants to dumb-down the SHSAT which hurts Asian kids. Even though He is the chair of the City Council for education committee, he encourages parents to opt-out of the common core-based exams so our schools will get less grant money from the federal grants. What an idiot?? Hard-working kids of Elmhurst are not afraid to take hard test as a matter of fact, we welcome the challenge it. Dromm is so out of touch with the community. He doesn’t care about the Asians, the Hispanics or the whites. He only cares about the horses and the gays. They are his true constituents!!!!

I hope he runs for re-election, so we can all boo him when he campaigns in our neighborhood.
April 30, 2015, 10:13 am
anon1 from queens says:
Let'e let one of the coyotes loose there and the rat situation will be gone.
April 30, 2015, 11:12 am
Rat Avoidance from Elmhurst says:
Daniel Dromm and Bill DeBlasio need to get less concerned about the horses on the streets of Manhattan and more concerned about the well being of children being placed in SRO's (single room occupancy) places such as the PanAm. Mayor Dinkins way back in 1991 recognized this tragedy and promised not to place any more families in SRO's. Search Dinkins and Tier II shelters and you will understand. PanAm is not a Tier II shelter and is illegal for families. PaNam at best is Tier I and absolutely by NYC law illegal for families.
April 30, 2015, 6:26 pm
mary from elmhurst says:
Councilman Dromm treats Elmhurst as his hated step child. He give 10x more money and attention to Jackson Hts, Gay right issues, opt out of common core testing, and the UFT . Elmhurst and it's residents are persona non grata to him.
He's a weasel. In the beginning he came out to protest against the Pan Am Shelter because it was the popular thing to do. Then the pressure came on when DHS and their spin team started portraying the protestors as racial. What does this wimpy weasel do?... He switch sides. Now he claims the Shelter residents are his constituents. He wants nothing to do with the Elmhurst residents who protest against the shelter.
April 30, 2015, 9:34 pm
Alex from QV says:
The way you deal with rats, deal with the garbage and standing water. Mind if the councilman had to live in a rat infested building for a day.
May 1, 2015, 12:43 am
Joey from Queens says:
Everybody in Queens knows that Councilman Daniel Dromm is the person who ousted Jennifer Chu from CB4 to silent her and not Melinda Katz, because the Queens Borough President is not that dumb. As the chair for the city council education committee, Dromm is fully aware that District 24 is the most over-crowded school district in New York City. And yet, he supports the Pan Am homeless shelter so potentially 500 kids from out-of-state and other boroughs can attend our schools. What we need in district 24 are charter schools to accommodate the over-crowding, but this weasel of a Councilman is not going to support that as he is puppet of the UFT. Councilman Dromm your actions speaks louder than words.
May 1, 2015, 2:51 pm
J Ellis from Elmhurst says:
Check out More info on the Pan Am shelter.
May 2, 2015, 10:44 pm
J Ellis from Elmhurst says:
check out for more info.
May 2, 2015, 10:45 pm

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