2010-04-07 / Features

Van Bramer Town Hall Covers Housing, Sanitation Issues

City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer speaks about the need for more accessible representatives and government at a town hall meeting March 31, his second since taking office. City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer speaks about the need for more accessible representatives and government at a town hall meeting March 31, his second since taking office. City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, in office since January, conducted his second town hall meeting on March 31, on the second floor of the Queens Borough Public Library Woodside branch on Skillman Avenue. His first such meeting, in Long Island City in mid-February, brought in a few Metropolitan Transportation Authority figures to go over the MTA’s weekend shutdown-for-repairs policy on the No. 7 line. The second meeting brought in figures from city and state agencies, the MTA included, to discuss and hear complaints about education, housing, street conditions, day laborers, security cameras and sanitation trucks. Van Bramer called the turnout “a great crowd” and promised more such meetings in an effort to be “open and accessible” to his constituency.

The first speaker was Jim Condes, who addressed Queens Department of Transportation Commissioner Maura McCarthy on the matter of inferior asphalt used recently to cover loose bricks at a crossing in Woodside, which inferiority McCarthy acknowledged. Another Woodside resident initiated the most controversial topic of the evening when she defended the day laborers who congregate in Hart Playground on 69th Street and 37th Avenue against the criticism heaped upon them by several of her neighbors. Some of those neighbors responded with a renewal of their criticism. Ken Cullen, who described himself as a retired social worker, emphasized that Hart is not a park but a playground, where adults are not supposed to be except when accompanying a child or children. He said he has seen some of his old social work clients among those gathered, including known sex offenders. Detective Juan Toro of the 108th Police Precinct replied that of the arrests or detentions he has made none have been for sexual offenses. (Community Board 2 Chairman Joseph Conley, also present, said he knows of 60 such arrests) The presence of a feeding van from St. John’s Bread and Life, a charitable organization based in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant section, that provides the laborers free food and an additional reason to come to the playground, was both defended and deplored. Another woman from Woodside said that the day laborers’ offense is plain and simple: they are in violation of the law about accompaniment, and having been allowed to violate it have proceeded to make the playground their daytime home, driving out many of its proper users.

State Department of Housing and Community Renewal Commissioner Jean Ceus showed up to hear complaints that began with a 41st Street resident named Liz Gardner saying that the landlord of her building and an adjacent one has been raising rents fraudulently on the basis of making major capital improvements (MCIs) that are nowhere evident. She said DHCR, which handles MCI applications, approved those applications in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner. She said also that the landlord had been the beneficiary of J-51 tax abatements but had not passed along any of their benefits to tenants. Ceus said that landlords must submit evidence of capital improvement that would justify a rent raise and that tenants are notified and given 30 days to comment. He said he wasn’t familiar with Gardner’s story, beyond having heard that some phase of it had been protracted for two years. He said if she believes the landlord is engaged in fraud, she should report it to DHCR’s investigator, Paul Fuller. Phipps Houses resident Dorothy Cavallo told of trying for nearly 15 years to get a promised rebate on expenses for a mid-1990s window replacement, Ceus could only listen in growing unease. She said that many other tenants waiting for it either died or moved before it finally came through. Cavallo was praised by Van Bramer as a person of surpassing politeness, so when she described the DHCR as “pitiful” and said, “If you call three times, you get three different answers,” her gentle manner added emphasis.

The Department of Buildings was represented by Donald Ranshte, who was confronted by a man agitated by basement apartments. He also heard from Carol Terrano, a Woodside resident, who argued with him about permits and illegal building. When told that if DOB agents would only enter some of the buildings she had in mind they would see blatant examples of illegality, Ranshte said he took such accusations seriously, but added that DOB officers have no police power and cannot obtain warrants to enter any residence with- out the owner’s permission. He said

he would “deputize” anyone in the audience to bring in evidence, such as photos of illegal building activity. Terrano said she would have some for him next morning.

Barbara Lorenz, a Dutch Kills resident, addressed Len Speiller of the Department of Education about school buses that take children to Growing Up Green School on 28th Street near 40th Avenue and let them off in the middle of the street. This is unsafe and unnecessary, she said, asking if the kids could be let out at curbside on 40th Avenue between 28th and 29th Streets instead. Carol Wilkins of Ravenswood Houses, on 34th Avenue between 12th and 24th Streets, complained to Iggy Terranova of the Department of Sanitation that keeping and washing Sanitation trucks on streets in Ravenswood is malodorous and intolerable. She said of the trucks, “They need to be out of our community.” Terranova replied that there’s no chance of that, because there is no place for the trucks to be placed, since the department has no area garage. He said he would attempt to monitor better methods of cleaning. Van Bramer commented that when he campaigned in the Ravenswood Houses last summer, he found the odor from the trucks to be sickening.

Annie Cotton Morris of Woodside Houses at 51st Street and Northern Boulevard, appealed to Van Bramer when she said her apartment project needs security cameras, which Ravenswood and Queensbridge Houses already have. Van Bramer said he has been in consultation with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and disclosed that furnishing Woodside Houses with cameras would cost more than $1 million, but that the development deserves them.

The allotted hour and a half went by quickly, perhaps disappointing a few who were ready to go on longer. Al Volpe, another Woodside resident, said a larger hall should be hired for the next meeting.

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