DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN – Standing before a lively crowd, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, a rising star in the Democratic Party, took aim at gentrification and skyrocketing housing costs in Brooklyn during his annual State of the District speech on February 24.
“Gentrification is a problem. Displacement is a problem. Overdevelopment is a problem,” Jeffries emphatically told district residents who filled the gymnasium of Long Island University in Downtown Brooklyn.
The congressman, whose district includes parts of Bed-Stuy, Coney Island, Fort Greene, East New York and Prospect Heights, said it’s unfair that gentrification is displacing many longtime residents of the district. Some of them endured crime and blight in neighborhoods that caused others to flee in the 1970s and 1980s. The longtime residents did the hard work, along with the NYPD, to turn their community around.
“And now, many of you are being pushed out from the only place you’ve ever called home,” he said, getting lots of applauds from the crowd at an event that sometimes felt like a political rally.
However, Jeffries acknowledged gentrification’s silver lining.
“Yes, in many places broken glass and broken crack vials have been replaced by bike lanes and sidewalk cafes – that is not a bad thing,” he said, adding that the folks who helped to turn things around “should not be victims of their own success.”
He also highlighted the affordable housing problem.
“Affordable housing isn’t affordable to people who actually live in our communities,” he stated, adding, “We cannot allow New York City to become a place just for the wealthy and everybody else has no place to go.”
Jeffries called on state and city elected officials to prioritize affordable housing and protecting seniors and homeowners from deed theft.
Bed-Stuy has become a hotbed for deed theft, as the value skyrockets for once undesirable brownstones and other properties in some communities of color. The various schemes involve deceiving or sometimes coercing homeowners into signing documents that transfer property ownership.
On the federal level, where Jeffries has a more direct influence, he promised district residents that “change is coming.”
The 49-year-old lawmaker, who was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012, is poised to become the first Black speaker of the House when Nancy Pelosi (D-California) steps aside, some of his colleagues believe. As chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Jeffries holds the No. 5 leadership position in the House. In January, Speaker Pelosi appointed him as one of the impeachment managers who prosecuted President Donald Trump in the U.S. Senate.
At his State of the District speech, Jeffries said House Democrats remain committed to holding the president accountable for his actions.
“Instead of trying to tear down Barack Obama, you [Trump] should be following in his footsteps: no corruption, no scandals, no convictions, no impeachable conduct. We will continue to hold him to account,” the congressman vowed. “House Democrats will continue to defend our democracy no matter what it takes. … No one is above the law, not even the president.”
Democrats are not just focused on investigating the president, he added, underscoring that the House passed more than 400 bills, more than half of them bipartisan. He blamed the Republican-controlled Senate, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell particularly, for burying those bills.
Jeffries highlighted several changes that Democrats want to see implemented. Lower prescription costs is one of the items at the top of the agenda. The congressman explained to the audience that current laws prohibit the federal government from negotiating drug prices. “Democrats have legislation to change that,” he said.
He also condemned a practice in the pharmaceutical industry known as pay-for-delay. Under that strategy, big pharmaceutical companies pay generic drug manufacturers not to bring lower-cost alternatives to market.
Democrats are also committed to fighting against Trump’s proposed massive budget cuts to safety net programs, such as affordable housing, food stamps and Medicaid,
“In this country, when you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to provide a comfortable life for yourself and your family. That’s the American dream, but it’s increasingly under assault,” Jeffries said.