Transportation and Affordable Housing Lead Town Hall

“We all know about the Cherry Blossom Festival,” opened Marcus Book, an assistant director of government and community relations for the MTA at last night’s town hall also attended by our elected officials, including council member Ben Kallos, and representatives for Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator José Serrano, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright.

The meeting took place at Good Shepherd Chapel and was relatively calm – compared to last year’s where stalled Westview negotiations and its frustrated residents dominated the conversation. This year, the leading issues were transportation, affordable housing, the future of Coler Hospital, populating the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, and the upcoming census.

Rebecca Graham, legislative counsel for Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright at the podium


Book explained that 30 combined E and F trains leave Queens Boulevard per hour, explaining that “there is no capacity to add more trains.” Because it is two E trains per F, it isn’t exactly one train every two minutes.

To alleviate the fallout from future large events, he was asked whether there were plans to expand our station – one of the issues during the Cherry Blossom Festival stemmed from our narrow platforms and the fact that our station only has one way out. Book said that no plans are currently in the works, but that creating a fare control area on the south side of the station, facing Starbucks, is a possibility, perhaps utilising the new OMNY system, that has been rolled out in a few stations around the City. It does not take cash and instead you tap the digital wallet on your mobile phone, smart watch, or other wearable device on the OMNY reader.

Rebecca Graham, legislative counsel for Rebecca Seawright, whose office has been part of the push to link the NYC Ferry system with the MTA said that when the metrocard is retired in favor of the OMNY system, it might be a good time to integrate the ferry with the MTA, so riders will be able to benefit from free transfers and not have to pay twice.

Kallos spoke to the Island’s future. Reminding Islanders that by 2020, there will be a new hotel and conference center on the Cornell Tech campus – and more strain on our transportation, he urged residents to start their lobbying efforts now for better transit and unify about what they want, through our elected representatives on the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA).

Affordable Housing

With news that of the two new Southtown buildings under construction now, buildings 8 and 9, one will be affordable, residents – including Dr. Jack Resnick – asked about the elderly and disabled, a group who used to have dedicated housing on the Island. Kallos explained that he, and the other electeds, follow our lead. “If RIRA passed a resolution, we’d want to hear that Roosevelt Islanders wanted to move from general affordable housing to specialized affordable housing.”

In Southtown building 8, 20% of the units will be set aside for households making less than 100% of AMI ($104,300 for a family of four) and 50% will be reserved for those making 130% AMI ($135,590 for a family of four). Of the remaining units, 3% will be for formerly homeless residents, 3% for those making under 40% AMI ($41,720 for a family of four), 14% for those making less than 50% AMI ($52,150 for a family of four), and 10% percent for those making under 80% AMI.

Typically, the building lottery goes live nine months prior to building completion. Ultimately it will be on the New York City housing connect website. Once applications are gathered, those that qualify are put in random order and given a log number. From there, the developer begins the review process starting with the lowest log number as well as any preferential applicants. In building 8’s case, 7% of apartments will be set aside for the audio- or vision-impaired, 5% for municipal workers, and 50% for residents of community Board 8, an area that runs from the north side of east 59th Street to the south side of east 96th Street, Fifth Avenue to the East River, and Roosevelt Island.

Coler Hospital

“My preference is to do anything to keep Coler Hospital here,” said Kallos, after a resident asked if Coler Hospital might make way for elderly and disabled housing. He said he believes that NYC Health + Hospitals, New York’s public health care system, “is trying to run Coler into the ground.

Council Member Ben Kallos had strong words to say about real estate developers

“I’ve been working with RIOC and RIRA to fill a wing (of the hospital) and put more people into supportive housing,” he said. Kallos had strong words against real estate developers, who he refused campaign money from, “What I’ve heard from Roosevelt Islanders is that you value Coler. I don’t care about real estate developers; I care about residents.”

At a breakfast at Coler Hospital in March, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said the same. “I fight like crazy for constituents and members of the community. I am happy to support the amazing community here. Nurses love Coler.” She said, “I will take my guidance from the community, residents, the staff, and the programs here. The work you do is vital to the City.”

The RIOC Board

Both Seawright and Serrano’s representatives affirmed that their offices take filling the board very seriously. Graham said that Seawright is very aware of the open and expired seats on the board and said that she “pushes [filling the board seats] every conversation with the governor that she has.”

Seawright’s office has collected the names and contact information of Islanders who won the 2017 plebiscite and has begun vetting those who are still interested in serving. Graham said that not only does Seawright appreciate the importance of the board being full, she agrees that it is equally important that it is filled by Islanders.

Suad Hassan from Serrano’s office took it a step further and explained that Serrano is working with the governor to fill the board seats by the end of the legislative session, June 19. Hey, you never know.


David Leeds from Congresswoman Maloney’s office discusses the 2020 census

David Leeds from Congresswoman Maloney’s office spent much of his time on the podium discussing the upcoming census, and why it’s “incredibly important for New York City;” “it dictates how much money we get from the federal government and how much we get for SNAP, WIC, public schools, infrastructure and political seats.”

Acknowledging that Maloney is part of an effort to keep a question regarding citizenship off the census, he said she believes that question would depress participation. His goal is to get Islanders signed up to work for the census at so it is more likely that we are counted correctly.

By April 2020, households will receive an invitation to participate in the census. For the first time ever, responding online will be an option, though phone, and mail will still be allowed. When completing the census, you'll note where you are living on April 1. According to Leeds, it doesn’t matter if you’re there for a few months.

“The census is supposed to count everybody in the United States. Even if you’re here for one month. If you’re here when we’re counting, you must be counted.” It is illegal for census workers to share your information with anyone, ever, affirmed Leeds, including the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI though he acknowledged, “It’s a scary prospect now with Trump.”

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