According to U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), “Brooklyn continues to be on the rise.” In an exclusive interview with this reporter, Jeffries discussed his views on the borough’s need for safe affordable housing and preservation of diversity. He also highlighted Brooklyn’s steps toward the goal of an equal application of the law.
The congressman gave his second annual State of the District speech on Jan. 29, at the Paramount Theater on Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus.
“It has been an honor to deliver this address, first in my prior capacity as assemblyman and now as a member of Congress,” Jeffries told the Eagle. “The issues I discussed are very important to my district and things that I live with each and every day,” he said of his speech, which was delivered extemporaneously. “It came from the heart.”
Of the many issues discussed Thursday, Jeffries explained the need to expand affordable housing for low-, middle- and moderate- income families, a topic NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio focused on in his own State of City address this week, expressing the importance of “invest[ing] in more affordable housing.”
Jeffries added that attention should also be brought to the needs of those currently living in public housing developments and called for more funding to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) — the agency that oversees the city’s public housing.
“NYCHA is an important source of affordability for low-income and working-class New Yorkers,” the congressman said. Jeffries applauded the de Blasio administration for its efforts in securing more money for NYCHA by eliminating the requirement that the agency pay the city’s Police Department for conducting building patrols.
The de Blasio administration began the repair of public housing, Jeffries noted, “by relieving NYCHA of its obligation of paying the NYPD for patrolling NYCHA developments,” Jeffries said.
As reported by The New York Times in December 2013, NYCHA paid the NYPD close to $70 million a year for the approximately 2,000 officers assigned to patrol the projects. In June 2014, NYCHA was given a temporary reprieve from paying $52.5 million of its 2014 payment to the NYPD with an expressed intent to apply the monies to expedite outstanding work order repairs.
Even with the efforts being made, “both the city and the state need to do a much better job to provide NYCHA with the resources necessary to provide safe and decent living conditions,” Jeffries said.
In his State of the District speech, Jeffries touched on the need for safety within Brooklyn’s housing projects — a nod to the police-shooting death of unarmed man Akai Gurley during a police patrol in a darkened stairwell of the Louis Pink housing projects in East New York.
With Brooklyn preparing to empanel the officer involved in the Gurley shooting and Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson’s announcement this week of the arraignment of another NYPD officer for alleged acts of police brutality – in this case, for stomping on the head of a subdued suspect — Jeffries commented on Brooklyn’s effort to seek punishment for all who violate the law.
“Ken Thompson is a visionary prosecutor, and I was proud to have supported his election,” said Jeffries. “It was clear to me that Thompson would allow the facts and the law to dictate the decisions that he made with respect the administration of justice. That means when a police officer crosses the line, that officer is subject to criminal prosecutions. That is the right thing to do.”
Jeffries added his voice to movement within the borough to fight against gentrification and preserve Brooklyn’s “unique economic, social and artistic diversity.”
Speaking at a BRIC community town hall last week, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer echoed similar sentiments, noting that, “New Yorkers created all of these incredible communities — and now land value is going up because of the sweat equity of people who have lived in them and made them better. Speculators want to evict these entire neighborhoods, and we can’t let that happen.”
Mayor de Blasio also pointed to the need to maintain community diversity in his address of the city, saying, “As we invest in more affordable housing, we will also work with communities to preserve the fabric of our neighborhoods and invest in things that great neighborhoods need.”
In closing, Jeffries championed Brooklyn as the ideal spot for the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
“I can think of no better place with the passion, vision and diversity of the Democratic Party,” Jeffries said.