Housing issues drove the conversation on Thursday night as Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Mark Treyger engaged with the local community at a town hall meeting in Coney Island.
The mayor arrived at the heavily-secured Coney Island YMCA to find a packed house for the event, which came just one day after his primary debate with Democratic challenger Sal Albanese.
“If you are here it means you care deeply about the community,” he said in his opening statement. “This is a great example of democracy tonight.”
The pair of politicians covered a wide range of topics throughout the three-hour event, from transportation to affordability to education and environmental concerns. But in the beginning, both politicians — facing their respective re-election challenges in the months ahead — started by heaping praise upon one another. Treyger celebrated the work the mayor has done in reducing crime in the city and improving schools in Coney Island, while the mayor commended Treyger for his persistence on Sandy relief efforts and said he is “focused” on making it “his business” to fight for those in Coney Island.
Here are some key takeaways from the event:
The Mayor was met with several concerns on housing issues: residents can’t afford rent amid an increase in expensive real-estate developments all around them; NYCHA issues continue to plague tenants; Sandy recovery efforts are not moving fast enough; and there were even questions of possibly discrimination in Section 8.
At times, tensions flared as some locals felt little confidence in their mayor’s ability to help them. When one visibly frustrated resident of Coney Island Houses was asked by de Blasio if she wanted him to help, she said “I want help from anybody who does anything without needing photo ops,” she said. “I don’t want photo ops.”
On another question, a single mother said when she was a pregnant foster child, she was told that the city allocates housing for foster children — yet she received a different apartment than she was initially told she would receive and was told she had no other option.
“I’m not happy at all to hear that you had that experience,” de Blasio said. “I want everyone to know that nobody can say to you, ‘take this or you’ll be homeless.’ That’s ridiculous. We want to know who they are because that’s not what we want them to do.”
The mayor touted his initiative to add $1.3 billion to make physical repairs to NYCHA housing, with a special emphasis on roofing and plumbing repairs.
On the Sandy recovery front, the mayor acknowledged that things have taken far too long and he said he would not have created “Build It Back” if he had the chance to re-do the recovery effort. One Sandy victim who said she has been misplaced for 18 months said she has taken multiple loans out and is sick of attending town halls without getting any answers. When de Blasio dispatched the head of the respective agency responsible for helping her, she said “he can’t fix the problem right now.”
Councilmember Treyger, who serves as the chair of the City Council Committee on Recovery and Resilience, chimed in.
“For those of you who know me, I have not been shy in my critique of ‘Build It Back,'” Councilmember Treyger said. “But we do have to acknowledge a very important truth. We lost precious time in the beginning of the program under the previous mayor that had an entirely different setup.”
On a majority of questions, the mayor dispatched the heads of the respective agencies responsible for the issue at hand to further assist the constituent so he could continue answering other questions.
One of the early questions from residents was about what the mayor could do to alleviate what the neighborhood feels is a stagnant job market in Coney Island neighborhoods where many residents are left with few options. The mayor referred residents to a local workforce center in Coney Island, which he said is designed to foster gainful employment for people in the community.
Protesters standing outside the event held signs reading “Mayor de Blasio: Coney Island needs affordable housings, banks, retail stores, markets, clothing stores, and local jobs. Meet with us!”
When the mayor was asked about the possibility of ferry service coming to Coney Island, he essentially reiterated the same statement that the EDC provided to Coney Island News earlier this summer. If existing ferry service ridership and interest remains high after 2017 and 2018, then the city will look into expanding to other areas, including Coney Island.
The mayor maintained that he wants the Coney Island boardwalk to gain landmarked status and signaled that it should be bolstered in it’s existing form. He did not lay out a contingency plan in the case of another Sandy-esque storm, which wiped out the Rockaway boardwalk and forced a rebuild. The wooden Coney Island boardwalk is already plagued with broken boards, exposed boards, and loose nails.
A constituent mentioned a decades-old promise by former mayor Ed Koch to build a community center in Coney Island. The mayor expressed interest in following through on this old promise and cited an example of an old promise he had fulfilled in Williamsburg after Mayor Bloomberg failed to live up to his word. Coney Island News will check on this as soon as there are updates.
Response from the constituents
One man who attended the town hall meeting said afterwards that he was largely pleased with the result of the meeting. “It was very well done,” said Alan, who said he lives in Coney Island and supports Councilmember Treyger.
Patricia Brown, from Coney Island, was among those protesting outside of the event.
“Coney Island has become a no-man’s land,” she said. “There’s nothing. I want the mayor to demand that we get stores and bakeries.”