By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Lifelong Lower East Side resident Jasmin Sanchez had already been working in public service for most of her career when she decided to try to transfer those skills to the City Council.
Sanchez, who still lives in LaGuardia Houses in the Lower East Side where she grew up, has experience in the nonprofit sector, working with community leaders at Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and in State Senator Daniel Squadron’s office, which is where she said she learned how to be a community advocate. She is running for the Council seat in District 2, with City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez being term-limited out next year.
A major focus of Sanchez’s campaign is mental health services, primarily because it’s an issue that ties into not only healthcare, but can affect housing and education as well, and has an impact on homelessness. She added that she feels having affordable housing can sometimes be the lynchpin for communities and families, and that it can be especially detrimental for students if they have a tenuous living situation.
“If you don’t have housing, you don’t focus as much on everything else and your performance suffers,” she said.
“It’s not a stable life for kids from shelters. It can be very stressful for them not to have a stable place to live. Schools have mental health services but they have to be holistic and make sure that families are receiving those services as well.”
Sanchez said that since affordable housing is such a complicated issue, creative solutions are necessary.
“I want to look at solutions from other states and cities and at how they approach affordable housing,” she said. “Los Angeles has nonprofits and foundations, and the city gives tax abatements. (Buildings with) one hundred percent affordable housing has been done in other places. We don’t have the opportunities here but we can work in that direction.”
If elected, Sanchez said that she would also focus on community forums and town halls to make sure that tenants know their rights.
“I’ve done work with nonprofits and have been speaking to tenants but elected officials aren’t doing enough,” she said. “There’s a lack of education about services that are available to tenants. Constituents need to be educated and empowered. You have to make sure that everyone’s voice has been heard.”
Another issue connected to affordable housing is homelessness in the neighborhood. Although District 2 stretches up to East 35th Street, the 30th Street Men’s Shelter, a major point of contention for Gramercy and Kips Bay residents, is technically in District 4. But farther south in District 2 is Tompkins Square Park, an area of the district where homelessness is highly visible and which Sanchez said deserves attention in the form of social services.
“We need to provide social work services and access to medical services for young people who are struggling and don’t have healthcare,” she said.
She also noted that she would push developers to provide information about which of their buildings are vacant because the spaces could be converted into shelters. Aside from the possibility of vacant apartment buildings that aren’t being rented, Sanchez noted that there are a number of NYCHA developments which have bathhouses that haven’t been used for decades that could also be converted into shelters.
Increased development in the neighborhood has also pushed out a number of small local businesses, which ultimately get replaced by national chains.
“Small businesses are the backbone of the community,” Sanchez said. “Developers are quick to put in chain stores but this isn’t a destination to attract tourists. This is a home. Mom and pop shops employ locally and the diversity of merchandise gives character to the communities. They’re being priced out and getting pushed out, but they provide stability.”
Sanchez said that if elected, she would support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act to allow local businesses to renew their leases.
Another healthcare-related concern for Sanchez is the proposed downsizing and restructuring for Mount Sinai Beth Israel.
“I’m a Beth Israel kid. I was born there,” Sanchez said. “We’ve already taken a hit because of St. Vincent’s. There have to be ways around (the reduction of beds). Emergency care and mini clinics are important, and we need reliable healthcare in the district.”
Sanchez also noted that especially because of the possible reduction of healthcare services in the neighborhood, the city should be encouraging more residents to become doctors, especially those who have medical training from other countries.
“We should explore residencies and should be encouraging people to become doctors,” she said. “There are a lot of people who have come from other countries (and can practice medicine there) so we need to build out grand programs for them to practice here.”