From sanitation issues, safety concerns and affordable housing needs to universal healthcare and even the question why the $20 Harriet Tubman bill is being stalled, East Brooklynites had a lot on their minds when they joined Congressman Hakeem Jeffries for an emergency town hall on Thursday at the New Hope Family of Worship Center in East New York.
“I was just struck by the number of quality of life issues that were raised in our East Brooklyn communities,” said Jeffries, who called the meeting after hearing from his constituents during a Congress on the Corner event he held a few weeks prior. “There were concerns raised about sanitation, transportation and safety. So I decided that it was important to bring some of the stakeholders to the community, who we will work with collectively to address many of these issues.”
The congressman gathered a panel of representatives from the departments of sanitation, parks, housing, transportation and the NYPD to face the constituents’ concerns. After brief introductions, attendees lined up to express their grievances.
One hot-button topic was the Medicare for All bill, federal legislation that would expand Medicare to establish a government-run health insurance program covering all Americans. At least five constituents pressed Jeffries on why he has not signed on to the bill as one of the 110 co-sponsors.
Jeffries responded that he believes in the need for universal healthcare, but his approach has been to focus on the Affordable Care Act. He called the Medicare for All bill “appropriately aspirational,” stating it likely won’t be signed into law with a Republican-held Senate and White House. Instead, he is focusing on the people he represents and the issues that they are confronted with right now.
“My focus has been on strengthening the Affordable Care Act, which is protecting more than 100 million Americans with preexisting conditions,” said Jeffries. “They [the Republicans] want to take away those protections. We should move from where we are to where we need to go, which is universal access to healthcare. There are a variety of ways to get there. I want to make sure that I look at the four corners of the Medicare for All bill before I agree to support it.”
As equally pressing to local residents was the issue of insufficient and skipped trash removal service in East Brooklyn. Eric Porter, an East New York homeowner, explained how the high-volume foot traffic combined with a lack of trash receptacles is affecting local residents.
“Pedestrians going to the train are dropping litter on the street. Is there any way that we could get some kind of trash containers?” asked Porter. “We need to do something because the homeowners are getting summonses by the Department of Sanitation. And no matter how much we sweep up, we cannot keep up with the foot traffic.”
Harrison Gordon, deputy chief at the Department of Sanitation, didn’t think that additional trash baskets would fix the area’s “dumping issue,” yet did not really offer a solution, other than to “let the department know.”
“We are aware of the issues surrounding high-volume areas like New Lots and Livonia Avenues,” said Gordon. “And usually, if it’s brought to our attention that litter is starting to accumulate, we send our staff out to sweep the sidewalks at least once every week. But we all know about the dumping issue that we have in this community, and additional receptacles are just magnets for dumping.”
In lieu of a recent shooting that killed three people in Brownsville on Memorial Day, Louise Green, vice president of the Pink Houses Tenant Association, asked how the NYPD plans to ensure greater safety for the neighborhood.
“Unfortunately, shootings are on the rise again this year,” said Captain Tony Brown of the 75th Precinct. ”But we have numerous officers who patrol the area on foot. Also, we have received additional resources through the Summer All Out program, which dispatches additional officers for the summer to high-crime areas. But we need your help, too; contact us, even anonymously, and help us get these criminals off the street.”
Another Brownsville resident, Ms. Percy, shed light on the darkness surrounding local parks and streets which puts the residents at risk both for crime and traffic accidents.
“The whole entire stretch from Blake Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue is extremely dark. There have been 17 accidents on Skank and Blake Avenues this year alone. You will see nobody walking around there,” said Ms. Percy. “Also Martin Luther King Jr. Park is extremely dark. What I don’t understand is: It’s a park! There are basketball courts and a playground — why is it so dark in the park?”
DOT Brooklyn Deputy Borough Commissioner Claudette Workman and Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Martin Maher promised to expedite surveys of the park and the surrounding streets to determine if lights either need to be replaced or added.
As rents are skyrocketing throughout Brooklyn, constituents find themselves severely rent-burdened, said Pam Lockley, president of the Linden Plaza Tenant Association. She asked what Jeffries is doing to help working families, who cannot afford the rents anymore, while funding for housing assistance programs like Section 8 is being reappropriated to build new housing developments.
“In the last Congressional spending agreement we were able to increase funding for programs like Section 8 and for public, low-income and senior housing, and we will continue to so,” said Jeffries. “We want to make sure that the city and the state have the resources to deal with the intensity of the affordable housing crisis and the gentrification steamroller that is right at our doorstep. I’m committed — and if it’s the last thing that I do — to make sure that the gentrification steamroller does not touch East New York and Brownsville.”
Following the town hall, officials were available for one-on-one conversations with the residents, promising to follow up on the issues that were raised.
The event’s purpose, Jeffries said, was to bring the government to his East Brooklyn constituents, to let them know that they deserve the same services as every other NYC resident.