The Flatbush Tenant Coalition, a group of more than 55 active tenant associations, hosted its third annual open-forum for political candidates and community members to discuss the neighborhood’s critical challenges: rapid gentrification, escalating rents, predatory equity corporations, and criminal justice policies that have been plaguing Flatbush residents for years.
At the forum, which was held in Flatbush on July 16 from 10am to 1pm, audience members submitted questions to their elected officials and candidates, who had 90 seconds per question to respond and illustrate their platform. And despite the blistering July heat on Saturday morning, the auditorium was packed with residents aching to put a face and a voice to the community’s broader struggles.
Overall, every candidate vigorously supported the issues proposed by community members, and echoed the concerns about racial and economic lines dividing our community.
Gentrification is displacing both tenants and small businesses, said Robert Carroll, who is running for District 44, and supports commercial rent control and codifying state laws. “Overnight, every single store seems to close and become a bank or real estate office or a Dunkin’ Donuts,” he said, “and all the charm, what we love Brooklyn for, is gone.”
“[Gentrification] is about economics and real estate,” said Diana Richardson, District 43. “Unfortunately, in our community, it has a race component too,” she said. “We need education, tenants need to understand their rights.”
Walter T. Mosley, running unopposed in District 57, cited the importance of getting more accurate, localized data for housing reform. He’s working with HUD to relegate income by zip code, for average monthly incomes (AMIs) that more accurately represent local communities.
Jesse Hamilton, representing Senate District 20, spoke out against the 20 percent vacancy allowances that incite predatory landlord activities. “We need to provide subsidies for truly affordable housing, which we don’t have right now,” he said.
Rodneyse Bichotte of Assembly District 42, said it’s essential to get a democratic majority back in the Senate. “Our governor is playing politics on our backs, negotiating with senate republicans for the rich,” Bichotte said. “But the assembly is the people’s house,” she said.
Victor A. Jordan, who is challenging incumbent Rodneyse Bichotte’s seat in district 42, said that preferential rents should remain permanent so tenants aren’t faced with rents rising faster than incomes.
In response to holding police accountable for acts of violence toward black men and women, Josue Pierre for 42nd District Leader believes it’s important to focus on local violence at the state level.
“Since Sandra Bland, 820 people have died in police custody,” said Troy Odendhal, running for District 44 and a long-time supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. “I support police officers who support me and my rights to be free at last,” he said.
Carroll directly address his privilege as a white man living in southern Brooklyn. “I understand that my interactions with the police are completely different than the interactions of young men and women of color especially,” said Carroll.
“Not all officers are bad, we just have a lot of bad actors” said Richardson, “NYPD officers need to change their perspective of African American people and they need to respect us… But we need to show up. We need to attend community precinct meetings,” she urged.
“How do I get my landlord to make basic repairs in my apartment?” an FTC leader read to the candidate panel. This closing question hit home for many in the audience who struggle just to get their landlords to provide basic services.
Candidates unanimously extended their support and resources, citing their own offices, South Brooklyn Legal Services, CAMBA, FTC and other tenant organizations, and told community members to take pictures to serve as evidence against neglectful landlords.
Sherryann Bain, FTC tenant leader, closed the forum with a powerful message. “The elephant in the room is gentrification,” she said.
“My 9-year-old son wrote a school paper on segregation and civil rights; how black people couldn’t go to nice restaurants and nice schools. And he then compared it to gentrification. He wrote about tenants suffering from no repairs to their apartments for years, no access to decent schools. When the neighborhoods are being gentrified, all the nice things start coming in to the neighborhoods — but not for us.” Bain said.
Challenging candidates to fight for the community, Bain warned: “We vote you in and we are going to vote you out. We are looking, and we are listening; and we will hold your feet to the fire. ”
The Flatbush Tenant Coalition has a long history of holding elected officials’ feet to the fire. And according to tenant leader Tammy Brake, the FTC candidate forum has grown into a communication power-house. “When we first started out in 2014, no one knew anything about the FTC. Now people are clamoring to speak. And I think the answers were better this year — more answers focused on gentrification.
“Everybody’s view on gentrification is different, for me personally, I welcome it,” said Tammy Brake, FTC Tenant leader who lives on East 22nd street. “I’ve been in this community for over 30 years, and I’ve lived through the bullets flying over my head. And now that I can walk down the block safely, to nice places to eat in my neighborhood, [landlords] don’t want me here. And I think that a lot of people get upset and angry because of that. We need to stop tenants being victimized over and over,” said Brake.
Brake also appreciated the open communication she saw at the forum. “When Robert Carroll brought up the issues of being privileged as a white man, I respected that. Let’s be honest and communicate, instead of trying to hide what really exists,” Brake told DPC. Brake also emphasized that community members need to be held accountable, too — “contact your district leaders, go to the community board and precinct meetings,” she challenged residents.
Valerie, an attendee who lives on Dorchester Road, echoed Brake’s call-to-action. “This was a good first step. I think we need to have more forums like this in the coming months and years, so people are able to track progress and understand that — when you get to Albany, it’s all about politics and having the strongest lobby for your agenda. Even though we’re trying, we may come up against walls. Keeping the community abreast of what legislation is on the table and your initiatives are will go a long way,” Valerie told DPC.