A new think tank formed by a freshman lawmaker to come up with outside-the-box ideas to solve problems has decided that its first mission will be to take a close look at the crisis in affordable housing.
The Southern Brooklyn Think Tank, a group formed by Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, held its inaugural meeting at the Bay Ridge Library on March 21 and decided to focus on housing.
“We wanted to start off with something basic. Everyone wants a place to live,” said Rachel Posner, a high school teacher from Bay Ridge that Frontus tapped to co-chair the think tank. Posner, who noted that Frontus’ assembly district runs from Bay Ridge all the way to Coney Island, said housing is a unifying issue and that constituents from every corner of the district are confronted with housing problems.
The focus on housing is especially timely now, according to a spokesperson for Frontus, who said the state’s rent stabilization laws expire on June 15.
The guest speaker, Genna Goldsobel, tenant organizer from Fifth Avenue Committee, offered an overview of existing rent laws in New York State.
Think tank members tossed around several ideas related to housing, including a push to hold landlords more accountable if they fail to provide tenants with basic living standards like heat and hot water.
“We all just kind of threw ideas out there,” said Erik Shell, who serves as co-chair along with Posner.
The members also talked about pushing for better verification by the Department of Housing and Urban Development on rent prices, strengthening the state’s Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption (SCREI) program, and looking at how the city’s 311 system handles housing-related complaints.
The main goals of the think tank are to develop ideas that could lead to legislation and to serve as a sounding board for the community and relay neighborhood concerns to Frontus, according to Shell, co-producer of the podcast “Radio Free Bay Ridge.”
“The idea is to give policy recommendations for her to consider,” said Shell.
In addition to Posner and Shell, the members of the Southern Brooklyn Think Tank are David Farley, Corey Pickering, Jennifer Gaboury, Jen Walters, Ramon Guadalupe and Elizabeth Wilson-Anstey.
Frontus, who talked about forming a think tank on the campaign trail, said she’s happy to see it become a reality.
“After months of planning, I am thrilled that the think tank has finally gotten off the ground. We enjoyed a decent turnout at our first meeting and received very helpful ideas on how to address tenant rights concerns. I look forward to hosting many more meetings across my district on this topic,” she told this newspaper in an email.
Both Posner and Shell said they’re excited to be leading the think tank.
Posner met Frontus when Frontus was campaigning for the assembly seat. “She came to a Bay Ridge Democrats meeting looking for an endorsement. I grew to respect her so much,” Posner said.
After Frontus took office, “she reached out to me about the think tank,” Posner said. The invitation to join the think tank came at the same time Posner had experienced a political awakening and had decided to become more involved in the community. “I’m interested in strengthening our democracy,” she said.
Posner said she hopes the think tank can serve as a bridge between everyday citizens and the lawmakers representing them.
Shell met Frontus when she was a guest on “Radio Free Bay Ridge” last year. “We interviewed her as she was getting ready to run for office,” he said.
Shell said he was impressed with Frontus’ command of issues during that interview. Months later, when she extended him an invitation to be a think tank member, he jumped at the chance. “I’m a big proponent of getting involved in our community, so I got involved,” he said.
Topics the think tank might be focusing on in the future include education in School District 20 and traffic on local streets, according to Shell.