Volume 19 Issue 40 | February 16 - 22, 2007

School and housing dominate Stringer’s Downtown forum

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

Borough President Scott Stinger spoke about affordable housing with Sandra Rivera, an Independence Plaza North tenant, after his town hall forum at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

By Brooke Edwards

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer hosted a town hall meeting for about 150 Lower Manhattan residents last week in the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City. Stringer turned the microphone over to Lower Manhattan residents eager to voice their concerns over issues including school overcrowding, traffic congestion and the ongoing battle to protect affordable housing.

Independence Plaza North tenants came to the meeting seeking assurance that they will be able to keep their homes in the face of soaring rents and increasing residential developments in the Lower Manhattan area.

I.P.N. made news in 2003 when residents spoke out in protest after the building’s owner, Larry Gluck, opted out of Mitchell-Lama, a program designed to give landlords tax breaks and lower mortgage rates if they keep rents below market value. Gluck negotiated a deal protecting most tenants from high rent increases, but some of the protections are dependent on government programs continuing.

“I don’t want to move,” said longtime I.P.N. resident Anita King. “I love my place. But I’m really scared and I hate living like this.”

John Scott, another resident of the 1,340-unit Tribeca complex, spoke about an elderly tenant who is “scared sick” about losing her apartment.

“It’s an injustice for the people who built this community to feel threatened in their late lives with not being able to live here anymore,” said Scott.

Stringer responded, “There is no reason why I.P.N. should be in any more threat than any other building.” He then assured them, “We are gonna deal with I.P.N. in the next week.”

Stringer also told residents about a Mitchell-Lama conference he is organizing on March 3 at John Jay College. Fliers for the conference distributed at the meeting said the conference plans to discuss ways “to protect residents, provide incentives for owners and shareholders, and reinforce the rules and regulations of the program.”

Another topic that received much attention during the meeting was the continued problem with overcrowding at P.S. 89.

“I could have moved anywhere in the city and I chose this neighborhood for the schools,” said Nancy Ogilvie, parent of a fourth-grader in the third most crowded class of its kind in the city at P.S. 89. Ogilvie moved to the city from Arizona last year, and has since been working actively with the P.T.A. to reduce class sizes at her daughter’s school.

Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1, assured the parents, “This issue is a top priority at Community Board 1.” Of the much-discussed women’s museum site at the south end of Battery Park City, Menin said, “We are aggressively pursuing a new K through 8 school on that site.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told a Downtown business group last week that he was “encouraged by the progress of these discussions” regarding the school in B.P.C.

Ogilvie pointed out that, even if they did secure this site, they have been told that it would not be open until 2009 or 2010 at the earliest. “What can we do right now?” she asked.

Councilmember Alan Gerson and Menin discussed the possibility of adding trailers as temporary classrooms, and of securing space for annex classrooms in the Community Center being built next door, which will be ready sooner than the women’s museum site.

After Ogilvie continued to push for answers, Stringer responded with one of several comments knocking the Chancellor of the Department of Education: “Joel Klein is becoming more wrong than he is right.”

Stringer agreed to meet in his office with Ogilvie and up to 40 other P.S. 89 parents to discuss ways to alleviate the crowding.

On other issues, Battery Park City resident Larry Gould voiced his concerns over renewing a contract for Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island tours with the Circle Line franchise.

“The Circle Line boats are old and slow,” Gould said. He said that there are many other fleets with smaller, faster boats that could greatly expedite the process of getting visitors out of Battery Park.

“It is embarrassing to watch tourists wait so long,” Gould said. He said his main problem is that, “The long lines steal Battery Park from us and attract hordes of counterfeit salespeople.”

In response, Stringer simply said, “I promise you we’re gonna work on this issue and get back to you.”

Other issues raised during a rapid-fire session at the end of the meeting included traffic congestion in Lower Manhattan, idling buses around Southbridge Towers, a lack of curb cuts for wheelchair access on sidewalks and maintaining water access at Pier 26 following its reconstruction.

For each of these concerns, Stringer’s aide took names and he promised, “We follow up guaranteed within 24 hours.”

With reporting by Josh Rogers

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