Archive for the 'Commentary' Category

Mr. Mayor Comes to Bay Ridge

Mr. Mayor Comes to Bay Ridge

 

By Lucretia Regina-Potter

As the Republican District Leader of the 46 Assembly District, I was compelled to attend the recent densely packed town hall meeting with Mayor de Blasio in Bay Ridge, the heart of my Assembly District. What follows are my observations and opinions of the well attended meeting. While I recognized the usual politicos and their staff filling the room, it was refreshing to see that actual concerned citizens and residents of Bay ridge were there in full force. I strongly recommend that the Mayor include the District Leaders of all political parties be invited to attend such meetings in the future. After all, District Leaders are the closest representatives of their community, and are well aware of the needs and concerns of their area. Too bad the current Assemblymember of the 46 Assembly District did not present her views on the topics discussed, and opted to sit quietly. I am sure the Bay Ridge community would have liked to know of her positions, if any, on these issues. From her lack of participation, one would assume that either she was not familiar with the topics that affect the Bay Ridge community, or she does not think that these issues are relevant. However, I feel it is my responsibility to my community to voice my concerns.

Some of the issues discussed at the meeting were the illegal conversions in Dyker Heights, sex shops posing as Spas, and the Waste Transfer station being built upon our shoreline.

A question was posed to the Mayor about property tax rates and assessments. While he stated that he would look at the tax rates, and request the City Council not raise tax rates, he skirted the assessment issue. Let us clarify the fact that property assessments are based upon the property’s market value. Market value is how much a property would sell for under normal conditions. The property’s assessment is one of the factors used by our city government to determine the amount of the property tax. Property tax rates are set by the City Council by determining the amount of taxes it needs to raise in proportion to the amount of money it needs to spend to maintain city programs.

I go into detail about this issue because the reform of illegal conversions was one of the main platforms in my recent campaign for the NYS Assembly in the 46 Assembly District. Property tax rates and assessments are important points that pertain to illegal conversions of one and two family homes, especially in Dyker Heights, into multi unit dwellings. The main bone of contention is the lack of enforcement by the city and their inaction to alleviate this burgeoning problem. In my opinion, I believe that city agencies remain inactive in dealing with illegal conversions because illegal conversions generate high profit margins to those who invest in certain areas. Homeowners are offered and paid very large sums for their one and two family homes, increasing the market value of these homes, which result in higher assessments. Thus, the higher the assessment, the higher the tax rate for the neighborhood, resulting in more money for the city’s coffers. While the Mayor stated he is aware of the situation, and has hired some new building inspectors, he also pointed out that not every complaint is a true illegal conversion. The Mayor also placed the burden of accessing these illegally converted properties onto the shoulders of the NY Fire Department. Mr. Mayor, the New York City Fire Department is there to save lives, not to generate income for the city through inspections resulting in fines and violations.

Quality of life issues regarding “Spas” acting as illegal sex shops were brought up. A resident pleaded with the Mayor to close down these “Spas,” and shut down at least one avenue of human sex trafficking. While a “follow the money” approach was the Mayor’s cookie-cutter answer for this problem, clearly more needs to be done to close these sex shops. In addition, the proliferation of Hookah lounges in Bay Ridge leads to the problems of exposing minors, especially teenagers, to the dangers of smoking. There are smoking bans throughout the city of New York, I am curious as to how and when these Hookah lounges became exempt from this law. Other quality of life issues raised were the large number of sanitation and waste treatment plants in our area, including the Waste Transfer station under construction on our neighboring shoreline. The shoreline of Brooklyn is not a dumping ground and our concerns need to be addressed and not be brushed aside. The Sanitation Commissioner clearly stated that Bay Ridge is one of the better areas in the city that follows recycling rules, and that garbage tonnage is down 5% in our area. Obviously, no good deed goes unpunished!

Many other issues and concerns of Bay Ridge still need to be addressed and discussed. It is only through participation and awareness that they can be resolved. Town Hall meetings should be more common, proliferate, and not be an occasional occurrence.

Lucretia Regina-Potter is the Republican District Leader of the 46th Assembly District and the Secretary of the Kings County Republican Party

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Illegal Conversions

Illegal conversions are not new to Brooklyn. The conversion of one and two family homes to multi family dwellings or single room occupancies have been around for almost thirty years.

In the 46 Assembly District, these conversions have been taking place on a daily basis for the past two to three years in abundance. Investors and business entities see a strong return on properties that they illegally convert to single rooms to turn a fast profit, which is driving up the cost of housing in the 46 Assembly District. This is making it almost impossible for people, especially those with young families, looking to settle and raise families in our area.

 

I attended a very crowded, standing room only, town hall meeting last March and heard many agencies shift the blame regarding responsible solutions to this ever-growing problem. Those in attendance were very angry at what they felt were the indifference and lack of real interest to illegal conversions affecting the community from these agencies. The excuse the crowd received repeatedly was that if an agency cannot gain access to the property in question they could not inspect it. While I agree that everyone has the right to privacy regarding his or her home, especially law-abiding citizens, no investor should be allowed to circumvent the law in order to turn a profit, especially at the safety and expense of their neighbors.

 

Some measures that I would enact through legislation as the Assembly member of the 46 Assembly District would be to allow easier access for inspectors to gain entry to a property in question, with fines and violations placed on the building owners that either refuse or ignore repeated inspection attempts. These fines and violations would be added to the property tax bill of the building, with cooperating legislation from the City Council, instead of just a mere violation, which must be paid in a timely manner, or the property will go into arrears. I also believe that the illegal conversions should be denied Certificate of Occupancies, prohibiting anyone from actually taking residence in the building, thus diminishing any personal injury someone may suffer in or around the property in question. Creating new building code violations is a great start, but enforcement is the key. I will introduce legislation that will empower the State of New York to step in and review all matters pertaining to the illegally converted building, and allow inspectors more powers to protect communities regarding public health and safety due to this burgeoning problem.

 

Overcrowding in Brooklyn is due to the rising costs of homes and apartments. Property value has soared in recent years because of the inflated prices investors are willing to pay for one and two family homes. The highest bidder wins out, leaving many unable to afford a decent home. As an effect, the over-assessment of the tax base of many properties due to the high sale price of these homes results in exorbitant increases in the real estate tax itself, thus pricing families out of neighborhoods and forcing some to move out or move in together resulting in overcrowding. In addition, the more people living in an area causes a strain on resources that overwhelm city services including fire, police sanitation, schools, water, and electric usage. Not to mention ever being able to find parking! I am a property homeowner in this district, I have felt, first-hand, the result of these price gauges from illegal conversions, and I have experienced it in my district hitting neighbors, friends, and families equally as hard.

 

As the Assembly member of the 46 Assembly District, I would put forward legislation for more affordable housing by increasing incentives with first time buyer programs, offering low cost financing, and focusing more on the needs of all families, immigrant or otherwise, who wish to become the pillars and foundations of the communities they live in. I would also introduce legislation regarding the over assessment of properties, basing it on the average income mean of the area rather than the sale of one single overpriced home that has detrimental financial ramifications in the community.

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Criminal Justice Reform

Officer Holder’s murder at the hands of a career criminal is a tragedy that all New Yorkers should feel deeply. All lives matter, and especially those in blue that faithfully protect our people from those that only have evil in their hearts. Crime has to be fought on many different levels such as a well-trained and proactive police force, and a better education system that actually prepares our kids for the real world. More after school programs and youth centers are needed to give our young people somewhere to go and activities to do. These youth centers should be up and running in all neighborhoods. A large portion of our population has lost hope, and is distrustful of those in power, especially in our criminal justice system.

Faith in the American criminal justice system is in decay and it needs to be restored. Is this dysfunction real or just perceived? When a huge sector of a nation’s population does not trust their criminal justice system, it is heading for a catastrophe. Without trust in our criminal justice system, we have nothing. We do need the police, the district attorneys and our courts to protect us from those in society who would want to exploit our society as we see happening in many third world nations. However, we cannot have the criminal justice establishment breaking the rules whether it is for expedience sake, or just because they can. They must follow the established rules that protect the innocent, though sometimes those rules do let criminals walk. On occasion, we must suffer consequences of letting a criminal go, but it is better than sending an innocent man to jail. That is why I am proposing these reforms to try to bring trust back to our criminal justice system.

 

  1. We not only want body cameras for law enforcement officers, but also have cameras on all police vehicles. This will be a mandatory law for all New York State local and state law enforcement departments.
  2. First time nonviolent offenders, instead of getting jail time, will have to do mandatory community service during their parole sentence. Examples of this could be helping serving food at senior centers or homeless shelters, picking up garbage at parks and playgrounds, or helping make repairs at NYCHA Housing. This community service will be eight hours a day, six days a week, unless they are in school or have a job. If they have either, then they would have to serve two hours a day after school or work, and 12 hours on the weekends or days off.
  3. Judges, when determining sentencing, need to review a defendant’s full criminal history, which will include sealed juvenile records to formulate an informed decision. Once a trial is over, and a criminal has been convicted or has pleaded guilty, there should be no problem with a judge reviewing these records to get a better picture of the defendant’s character to determine sentencing.
  4. The prison terms for white-collar crimes, such as identity theft and cybercrimes, need to be substantially increased. Cybercrimes are increasing at an alarming rate and costing our economy billions of dollars to defend, while disrupting and destroying individual people’s lives for years. These types of crimes in most cases, are much worse and more costly than being mugged.
  5. A defendant has a right to speedy trial. It is unconscionable that a defendant has to sit in jail for three years before his case goes to trial. We must come up with a reasonable statutory limitation on continuances by both the prosecution and the defense when a defendant is incarcerated. If the defendant is incarcerated, we also need to set a statutory time limit before their trial must be set to begin.
  6. We need to set up an independent panel under the State Attorney General Office, but not controlled by this office. This panel will have the power to start an investigation into any District Attorney’s Office in the state. They also will be given the power to decide if a special prosecutor needs to be appointed for any controversial case in the state. This will take politics and emotion out of some of the more inflammatory cases.
  7. We need to modify our judicial review panels. Sometimes judges go too far in their decisions or run their courtrooms like their own personal fiefdoms. This is why I want to add non-legal people to the review panels. They will be teamed with retired judges, lawyers, and law professors.

Too many of our elected officials are no better than ambulance chasers. When a problem many have known about for years becomes a headline, they want to come up with a quick fix. Most politicians today only look at treating the symptom and not the disease. A prime example is the City Council and Mayor’s proposal to pay the bill for some defendants, instead of looking at the big picture as to why someone is sitting in jail for three years for a minor crime.

For our country to survive and not break down into total anarchy, we must have a criminal justice system that is based on trust. My proposed reforms will not solve all our issues and not everybody will be satisfied. Yet we must begin somewhere for the healing to start. Our law enforcement, District Attorneys, and judges perform a vital function for this country, and we must expect that they perform their duties with honesty and care. The criminal justice system must also respect our rights and freedoms, as we must respect those that perform these vital functions. Without mutual respect and understanding, it will not work. We must make it work for all of us. Working together is the only way we can live and thrive in our communities.

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