‘Marshall Plan’ In Full Swing At Boro Hall
By Fred Pisciotta
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall provided the Jackson Heights Neighborhood Association (JHNA) with a summary of initiatives, coined the "Marshall Plan" by her staff. Her administration is undertaking to improve safety and quality of life for Queens residents, she told the association at its November meeting, held at Atonement Lutheran Church.
Her administration is working to crack down on illegal housing conversions, where one- and two-family homes are purchased by unscrupulous landlords and then split up into dwellings to house four, five, or more families at prohibitively expensive rental prices. In an effort to combat the problem, New York City recently imposed a 25 percent surcharge, on top of the 18.5 percent real estate tax increase, payable by absentee landlords who do not occupy these premises but receive rental income from them. Marshall suggested that the 25 percent surcharge was not well thought out because an owner of a multifamily dwelling who uses it as his or her primary residence will also get hit with the surcharge unless that property is on record as being the owner’s primary residence. A better idea, according to Marshall, would have been cyclical inspections performed nights and weekends by code enforcement officers.
Marshall said the best and easiest way to establish a property as a primary residence and avoid the 25 percent surcharge is to file the premises for school tax relief (STAR) property tax reduction, which requires that the property be a primary residence. There are other circumstances for surcharge exemption, including the property being vacant; the owner’s children or parents using the property as their primary residence, even if they pay rent; or if someone other than the owner’s children or parents live in the home, but the owner receives no rent. Marshall handed out STAR application forms and surcharge-exemption application forms, which must be submitted to the New York City Department of Finance.
Education remains a prominent issue in the Marshall administration. To address school construction and overcrowding issues, Marshall said she conducts monthly "war room" meetings with the New York City School Construction Authority to scrutinize new school construction and addition schedules. The need for the monthly meetings will continue because Marshall said schools are severely overcrowded and new schools and additions are not coming at a quick enough rate. "Queens is getting shortchanged," the borough president said.
"Bringing opposing sides to my conference table is my main job," Marshall said. With that approach she said she is working to resolve the funding issues between the city and private bus lines. Marshall blamed the city for the problem and so did Karl Christensen, JHNA president. "For the city to deprive [the private bus lines] of necessary funding is a disaster," Christensen said.
To provide additional mass transit options, Marshall said she is trying to reactivate Long Island Rail Road stations that have been shut down in Queens. Also, she accused the Long Island Rail Road of not keeping stations properly clean and not doing enough to enhance safety along tracks. "The Long Island Rail Road needs to be a better neighbor," Marshall said.
One of the borough president’s goals is to attract people to Queens and to get them to stay. In an effort to increase tourism in Queens, Marshall said she is looking into the possibility of developing a convention center at Willets Point. According to Barbara Ptak, JHNA sergeant at arms, the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan is the smallest convention center of any major American city, which may turn out to be a key argument in favor of the Willets Point convention center development.
Also, in order to "catch" first-time homebuyers who do not have a lot of money and who have their sights set on Nassau County, Marshall said the housing that is developed in Queens for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, assuming New York City wins the bid to host the Olympics, should be converted to cooperative apartments, at least in part.
Several meeting attendees complained about the noise caused by aircraft at LaGuardia Airport and asked whether money would be made available to soundproof homes. "We need you as an elected official to fight for us," said Rose Marie Povoromo, president of the United Community Civic Association. Marshall replied that her Aviation Advisory Council is working on the issue.
Renovations are taking place at Borough Hall and the building is being made a safer place through the implementation of FBI and Police Department security plans. In addition, Marshall said she would like to create a grand auditorium at Borough Hall as a place to celebrate Queens’ ranking as the most multi-ethnic county in the United States.