Affordable housing, good paying jobs, the controversial Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX), the Sunset Park library and the affordable housing project being built above it, and more were issues at the forefront as Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Carlos Menchaca held a town hall at M.S. 88, 544 Seventh Avenue, on Thursday, December 14.
The passionate town hall meeting featured Menchaca, the evening’s moderator, and de Blasio, joined by other city officials to answer questions on an array of topics impacting the 38th Council District.
“For me, it’s more of a homecoming,” de Blasio said. “I live seven blocks away. I really appreciate this community on so many levels. When my kids were growing up here, I was also a school board member.”
De Blasio led off with a surprise announcement — an upgrade for Bush Terminal Park.
“We understand how essential parks are to our lives,” he said. “An area that means so much to this community district is Bush Terminal Park, but there’s more work to be done. I know a lot of people in the community have said that we need help to make that park all it should be. I’m announcing now a $6 million grant for lighting in the park. This means it will be open later.”
Menchaca was satisfied by the news. “We want to use that park beyond sunset and those fields are so important to us so that’s going to be a huge opportunity for families,” he said. “It’s a huge victory for our community.”
The mayor also touched on the issue of gentrification.
“People are deeply concerned about still being able to live in their own community and not get displaced from the community they love and in so many cases, helped to build,” he said. “So we have been working here in the council district to preserve affordable housing.”
According to de Blasio, about 500 apartments in the council district have been preserved and subsidized, with the goal of limiting rent to 30 percent of a family’s income. Citywide, 300,000 apartments will either be built or preserved and subsidized.
Preventing longtime residents from being mistreated by landlords eager to move them out was also discussed.
“About 20 percent of people in this community including Sunset Park live in rent-stabilized housing,” he said. “The councilmember and I know we have to protect rent regulation and strengthen it in Albany in the years ahead. One of the things that’s powerful for folks in rent-stabilized apartments in particular, the rights that come with that allow us to protect people against harassment and eviction. The City Council has been strong with this. The Right to Counsel Law is a huge step for this city.”
Employment was also a major topic during the evening.
It’s important to get people better paying jobs,” de Blasio said. “A lot of us fought hard to increase the minimum wage, but the increase was only a beginning of a decent level of wages and benefits. We want to go farther. My goal is to create the kinds of jobs that give people a good, stable income that a family can live on — jobs in manufacturing, the health care field, technology, film and television, and garment manufacturing.”
One of the more controversial points of the night came when the BQX was addressed. Some attendees questioned the motivation of developers and worried that it would create gentrification. Many attendees booed at the mention of the topic.
But, that, said de Blasio, is not his motivation. “My view is about maximizing mass transit options,” he told the crowd. “There are 400,000 people and about 100,000 jobs along that route and many of the areas are under-served by mass transit.”
He contended that a light rail system, along with the addition of select buses, is the best way to fix mass transit.
“I don’t accept that if developers like it, it must be awful,” he said. “A developer can like something for reasons that are not my reasons. My reason is I believe in more mass transit options. There are a lot of parts of the city, including parts that are fundamentally under-served by mass transit, that will never see a new subway line but could see a new light rail line. That’s why we’re doing it.”
Community Board 7 chairperson Dan Murphy raised questions regarding the landmarked courthouse where the board is located, and its future. A portion of the building will serve as an interim library beginning next March when the Sunset library begins renovations and adds its affordable housing units.
“Can you make a commitment to keep that space which is currently being run by the NYPD for various back office purposes as a multi-purpose community space into perpetuity?” he asked
“This is something I can’t commit to at this moment,” de Blasio responded. “We have to understand what NYPD needs for the long term; that’s important because they have had a historical role in the space. We will assess that as we get to the time the library going to depart.”
Former Assemblymember Javier Nieves later asked a question about affordable housing.
“The experience has been for the residents of Sunset Park and other areas that most of the people that desperately need that housing don’t usually qualify,” he said.
“A huge part of the affordable housing plan is focused on folks in lower income levels, including incomes $20,000 and below,” de Blasio replied. “Much of the plan, and this is where we see a huge need, is for families that make $30,000 to $50,000, combined.”
De Blasio also pointed out that there’s not really a lot of land for building in Sunset and the surrounding neighborhood. “We generally don’t have the option to build new affordable housing except for the library site but you will see a lot more preservation,” he noted.