Politics

Flatbush Town Hall With Mayor de Blasio – all about housing and schools

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Photo by John McCarten

FLATBUSH/DITMAS PARK/PLG – Mayor Bill de Blasio was back at PS6 in Flatbush for his second Town Hall since he first held one on March 14, 2016.

With primaries in June, Adem Bunkeddeko who’s running to unseat Congresswoman Clarke was greeting residents just outside the event. Anthony Beckford, who’s running for the 42nd Assembly District was there, as well as Blake Morris who’s running to unseat Senator Simcha Felder. Even Congresswoman Yvette Clarke came about half way through and was given floor.

As is common in these town halls, it was a gathering of all the top brass – from police chiefs to commissioners. Like last time, most of the talk was about housing, even though the administration’s focus was heavily on Pre-K and 3-K.

HOUSING

Housing remains top of mind for most residents in Flatbush, whether it is a homeowner perplexed about property taxes skyrocketing, another tired of being harassed to sell their home to developers, and yet many more hoping to live at peace in their apartments and no be subject to the whims of unscrupulous landlords. This district is at risk of losing half of its affordable housing stock:

  • Mayor noted that the right to counsel law now allows everyone who needs it access to legal advice, and that illegal evictions in New York are down 27%.
  • However, he believes that more need to be built – 400 units of affordable (“for whom?“) housing have been built in the district, 400 more are in the works, and 300 more will be preserved through rent subsidies, Mayor promised.

These are not big numbers. As you can see here – very little affordable housing is being built or preserved in Council District 40. Regarding the 400 built, the Mayor must have been referring to Camba Gardens, almost 300 units of affordable housing that was completed this spring on the  grounds of Kings County hospital, on the far Eastern edge of the district. That barely replaces the units lost between 2005 and 2016.

When Mo Razvi of COPO said that the development is so rapid that non-profits have a faint chance to build affordable housing, he was reminded of Neighborhood Pillars program though which almost $300 million is allocated to neighborhood organizations to help buy, build and preserve affordable housing. 

  • Mayor also noted that there are 3,500 seniors in District 40 who could right now qualify for rent freeze, also known as SCRIE. That acronym truly does not mean much, and the city is planning to refer to it as “Rent Freeze Program” going forward. On average, it gives seniors $250/month in savings, and since so few people know about it, there will be a big outreach in July by the city in our community.

Director of a domestic violence shelter was promised the city is looking at all the vouchers and working on making it easier to transition people into permanent housing.

One resident got the microphone to flag how the landlords are subdividing apartments into smaller units and the potential for fire and other hazards it causes. It was noted.

Concerns about aggressive and out of context development were dismissed, even though neighbors in East Flatbush / Community Board 17 are working to request contextual rezoning of their neighborhood. Aggressive solicitations to sell, however, introduced everyone to the Sheriff – who investigates such abuses. Easiest to reach by dialing 311.

Members of Flatbush Tenant Coalition left midway through the event after realizing there was no way Council Member Eugene was going to call on them to ask a question. FTC advocates for tenant organizations in Flatbush.

Photo by John McCarten

CRIME

  • Crime lowest its been since the 1950s. Additional additional police officers and roll out of community policing has helped.

Residents were still weary, a mother flagging her corner in 73rd Precinct, and a couple of pastors raising concerns about fears among illegal immigrant residents to report crimes for fear of deportation. NYPD responded that they have not seen a decline in reports, that they have not asked for identification when crimes are reported in 30 years and are not planning to change that, and that they do not cooperate with ICE.

School safety questions came up a few times. The NYPD is treating any threats made at schools with the same focus they pay to terrorism, and consequences will be as harsh. This is a message that local precincts have also been disseminating at other community meetings.

SCHOOLS

  • Pre-K enrollment is up from 20,000 kids to 70,000 kids, with District 40 having 8 times  as many Pre-K seats as 4 years ago.
  • There is free after-school available for all middle schoolers in the city. It may not be in their school, but it is in the neighborhood – hardly anyone present knew that when Mayor asked for a show of hands.

When we reached out to clarify these numbers, Department of Education said that there were “115 students enrolled in free, full-day, high-quality pre-K in CD40 in 2013-14. That’s up to 878 in 2017-18.” They did not know how many eligible children reside in District 40, which overlaps School Districts 22 and 17.

A parent thanked the Mayor for that, saying the Pre-K program has saved her family $800 a month, and asked – will there be a program for the summer months? Not at this time.

Air conditioners will be in all schools over the next 4 years. The city is trying to get computer science for all, and working on replacing computers from 20 years ago. There were requests for more arts education, and access to schoolyards when school is not in session. Another question was about Specialized High Schools and the fact that so few Latino and African-American kids get accepted. Mayor said they are working on greater fairness.

There were no questions about transportation, which was a bit surprising. Not all questions were answered, and many hands were left raised at the end.

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