Thursday, July 3, 2008

Westchester Guardian.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

Community Voices Heard Strikes Again

Amicone Absent As Low-Income Residents Meet With Yonkers City
Council Members To Express Housing Preservation And Job Concerns

Last Thursday night, June 26, The Guardian was present at the Riverfront Library in Yonkers when a well-rehearsed, somewhat agitated
group of Yonkers residents, low - income, public, and affordable housing advocates, put four City Councilmembers and the City’s Commissioner of Planning and Development through their paces, individually responding to six specific questions designed to
reveal what each of them intended to do with respect to the following:

• Passage of a resolution to preserve public housing;

• Putting $25 million aside to fix up existing affordable housing;

• Preserving Mitchell-Lama and Section 8 buildings;

• Hiring Yonkers residents primarily to build new developments;

• Committing to 25 percent affordable units in new developments;

• Passage of a new affordable housing ordinance.

Clearly not a spontaneous gathering, merely composed of local, concerned residents, the group was joined by professional advocates from the statewide tenants organization known as Community Voices Heard, the same group that marched in the snow in mid-February,
from Chicken Island to drop keys on the steps of Yonkers City Hall. A large scoreboard of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses was kept in full view.

The group’s stated position is that, “Yonkers’ present rapid development is causing displacement of low-income people;” many of them, long-standing Yonkers families, hard-working, taxpaying families, who simply want a say in their community’s future, but who feel left out, disenfranchised, by the Amicone Administration’s unilateral dealings with Stuever Fidelco Capelli Development.

The not-so-popular perception of the more-than 75 persons in attendance was that the Mayor has cut deals with developers who are building on City land and using $159 million of taxpayer money while pushing out low- and moderate-income families. The City Council members in attendance included Council President Chuck Lesnick, Dee Barbato, Joan Gronowski, and Pat McDow, who arrived 45 minutes late, having been at another function. Also present, and questioned, was Lou Kirven, Amicone’s Commissioner of Planning and Development, standing in for the Mayor. The moderator, and the audience, were somewhat hair-triggered, demanding, “Yes” or “No,” in unison, or saying, “Blah, blah, blah,” when a public official was unprepared to immediately respond with a “Yes” or “No” answer.

Also absent, in addition to the Mayor, were Councilwoman Sandy Annabi, and Councilmen Liam McLaughlin and John Murtaugh. Commissioner Kirven, essentially taking heat intended for Amicone, tried to reassure his questioners, declaring, “There’s no plan to tear
down public housing now.” One unconvinced woman in the audience was heard to remark, “The key word is now.”

Dee Barbato, when asked the same question, responded, “As far as I know, there is no plan to tear down public housing.” It was obvious
to this observer that those in attendance, predominately mature women, were somewhat cyni-cal in light of previous disappointments and the failure of the Amicone Administration to embrace their needs, or solicit their input.

Council President Lesnick, the first to face questioning, appeared genuinely taken aback by the moderator’s unwillingness to accept anything but a “Yes” or “No” response. Nevertheless, he retained his sense of humor, and over the course of the next several questions,
managed to answer, candidly, if somewhat long-winded than desired.

Joan Gronowski, arriving a few minutes into the questioning, was somewhat distressed by the group’s uncompromising quest for simple “Yes” or “No” responses. She strained to point out to her inquisitors that she was a lifetime Yonkers resident who grew up and lived in
the same low-income neighborhood they were questioning about. In response to whether she would “commit to demanding that 80 percent
of the jobs generated by the new luxury housing be set aside for Yonkers residents,” she responded, “While I can’t honestly commit to
80 percent, if the developer won’t set aside a significant portion, I will want to know why.”

Com-missioner Kirven , speaking for Mayor Amicone, on the same subject, responded firmly, “We are not going to restrict Yonkers
jobs to Yonkers residents.” On the same subject, Council President Lesnick told his questioners, “With regard to the job issue, I must tell you “No” to the letter of what you’re looking for, but “Yes” to the spirit.” As the meeting drew to a close, one public official who had not been invited, showed up. State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, freshly returned from Albany, stopped by to look in on the event. Her arrival was somewhat tranquilizing to several rather dissatisfied and anxious members of the audience. Within a few seconds of her entry into the room, constituents began to line up, most to embrace and greet her, while several waited patiently to discuss their concerns. It was obvious that much more will need to be said going forward and that Community Voices Heard, no doubt, will continue to be.

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