BY JON CRONIN
Mayor Bill de Blasio heard more cheers than jeers at a Corona town hall last week where the audience asked him questions on housing, immigration and public safety.
The town hall, hosted by Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D- East Elmhurst), had a friendlier vibe toward the mayor than some recent community gatherings in Queens. There were no comments from irate residents about homeless shelters or children’s services.
The most contentious moment occurred late in the evening when an attendee from the Bronx asked de Blasio about the 2012 shooting of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham in the Bronx by city police officer Richard Haste.
De Blasio said that the officer did not leave the NYPD with full benefits and there has been an increase in unprecedented bias training among officers on the police force.
“Lives were taken that should not have been taken and you cannot ever make that right,” the mayor said.
De Blasio started the meeting by discussing his administration’s work regarding the city’s graduation rate, affordable housing, protection of immigrants and pre-k for all. He noted that when he took office, there were only 33 children in pre-k in CEC District 24 and, now, there are 1,300 students in the program.
The mayor reiterated his commitment to the city’s immigrant population, including approximately 500,000 undocumented immigrants and 50,000 green card holders.
“You’re a New Yorker, regardless of status,” he told the meeting’s attendees.
The mayor noted that the economic downturn of the 2000s did not allay the rising cost of housing in the five boroughs and that income did not rise to meet those costs. He pointed out that the rise in housing costs is the reason for the rise in homelessness over the past several years.
As a way to offset the housing crisis, he asked the audience to write to the governor and state officials to approve the “mansion tax” that would potentially raise $336 million in the 2018 fiscal budget to fund vouchers that would subsidize housing for 25,000 seniors in the metro area.
During the meeting, residents said that they were concerned about the safety of 111th Street, which runs adjacent to Flushing Meadows Park. De Blasio said the city would be moving forward on planned safety measures, which in the past have included bike lanes and pedestrian friendly crossing at the park.
One attendee, the owner of a remodeling business, asked if contractors with undocumented immigrants on the payroll should be allowed to bid on city contracts. The mayor said that only the owner would have to be a citizen of the United States and it is upon the owner to prove that the company pays prevailing wages. Regarding undocumented workers, the mayor said that the city’s business community counts on them to be part of the workforce.
While on the topic of remodeling, another resident asked when basement apartments would become legal and de Blasio said that he had nothing against them and, in fact, his last bachelor pad was a basement apartment in Astoria. He said he believes that most basement apartments are unsafe and that laws regarding them are not often enforced due to the city Department of Buildings’ lack of inspectors. He noted that this may change now that the agency has added 140 new inspectors.
Residents also expressed concerns regarding the lack of youth and senior centers in the area. The mayor said that local students should be put in touch with after school programs.