March 29, 2017 By Tara Law
Community members asked Mayor Bill de Blasio questions about real estate development and school safety at a town hall in Jackson Heights Wednesday night.
About 600 residents packed into the gymnasium of Joseph Pulitzer Middle School for a chance to speak directly to the mayor.
Multiple residents told the mayor that they were concerned about over development. They were worried that the neighborhood was becoming too expensive and crowded, and that small businesses were under pressure with rising rents and the influx of chain stores.
Anne Pepperman, a Jackson Heights resident, said the rent on her apartment had gone right up and the building owner is forcing her out.
“I feel like I don’t have anybody fighting for me,” Pepperman said. “I’m middle class. We have all these major things happening in Jackson Heights, and I won’t be able to enjoy them because I’ll be gone.”
De Blasio suggested putting her in touch with legal assistance to determine if the building owner is following the law.
Town hall participants also called out several major construction projects, including the 13-story building proposed for 40-31 82nd St at the former site of Jackson Heights Cinema. The property is undergoing a rezoning.
While discussing the development, participants were critical of the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Law, which de Blasio proposed and was implemented in 2016.
The law requires developers to build affordable housing when the city approves an upzoning. Critics say that too few units are required of developers in exchange for an upzoning, and that the “affordable” rentals are too expensive for many working and middle class New Yorkers.
About 36 of the 120 units planned for the 82nd Street development would be “affordable.”
Defending the development and the inclusionary housing law, De Blasio argued that all new affordable housing is of value to the community.
“Our plan allows for affordability on the site. We are interested in building affordable housing anywhere we can get it,” de Blasio said.
Critics of the 82nd Street development also noted the potential impact of Target, which is taking space in the proposed building. They were concerned about the future of small businesses on the strip. One resident asked de Blasio if he would consider a ban on chain stores in certain areas.
De Blasio rejected the possibility of placing limits on the chains, arguing that the city only has so much power to direct commerce.
“We have to be honest about how this economy works and what power the city has,” he said.
Participants also questioned the mayor about the state of New York’s schools.
The school shooting in Parkland, Florida and the lockdown at Forest Hills High School two weeks ago were on the minds of several parents, who asked what the city is doing to prevent such incidents.
The mayor said that the size and sophistication of the NYPD and tough gun laws make the city’s schools safer than in other parts of the country. School shooting threats in New York are as thoroughly investigated as potential terrorism, de Blasio said.
The NYPD responds aggressively when there are indications that a student is potentially dangerous, he said.
“If that much information was available [referring to Parkland], we would act on it. We would have acted on it a long time ago,” said de Blasio.
Several parents asked for the mayor to institute more language programming and to provide more music and arts funding.
Other community members called for a community center to be built in Jackson Heights.
A woman who identified herself as a leader of a local Filipino group said that her organization does not have a place to meet.
“We should have a cultural center here in Jackson Heights,” she said. “The fact that there are so many immigrants— we would like to share our culture and tradition.”