By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Newly-elected City Council Member Carlina Rivera spoke with members of the community media in a round-table discussion this week, covering affordable housing, the plight of small businesses and the transit woes affecting District 2.
Rivera, who took over the seat from Rosie Mendez, who was term-limited after 12 years in office, previously worked with Mendez as her legislative director and is a long-time community activist working in the East Village and the Lower East Side.
One of the subjects she brought up was the new “tech hub” the city is planning on East 14th Street, and Rivera said she wants to make sure affordable housing is factored into the plan.
“In terms of the zoning, it’s going to be important to look at how we can incentivize affordable housing,” she said. “People are worried that this tech hub is going to be a purely commercial development and one of the most important things we need is affordable housing.”
Community groups and neighborhood residents have been pushing for the area to be rezoned before construction on the project begins but Rivera said that she doesn’t feel rezoning is necessary.
“The city is looking at real community concerns,” she said. “There are hundreds of people who have been showing up to these meetings concerned about hyper-development. My responsibility is to represent all these concerns. They can’t ignore that many people and I’ve been working with a lot of different organizations so we can protect the adjacent communities.”
Related to the fight for affordable housing, Rivera also noted that while the conviction of predatory landlord Steve Croman, who owned properties in the district, shed some light on the abusive practices of some building owners, there are smaller landlords that are using illegal tactics as well but are harder to catch.
“He had such a large portfolio of buildings in Manhattan and especially District 2 that I think it will lend urgency to what these tenants are going through,” she said. “There are a lot of landlords out there that are good but there are a lot of landlords out there whose practices aren’t necessarily legal, but they don’t have a portfolio as large as Steve Croman so it’s not as obvious. My responsibility is to fund the groups that are doing the tenant organizing and tenant rights advocacy work. That’s important to me in how we pass the city budget and groups who are helping the average tenant and that landlord that we don’t know about who might only own two or three buildings, not 25 or 26. It’s going to be ongoing.”
Rivera reiterated her support for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, noting that she was encouraged by Speaker Corey Johnson coming out strongly in favor of the bill.
“We’re going to have to look at a 21st-century version of it,” she added. “I’m looking forward to meeting with Small Business Chair (Council Member Mark) Gjonaj on this bill. I am in support of (SBJSA) and it’s one of many things we have to do in terms of small business survival.”
Rivera noted that there are other ways in which City Council can assist small businesses as well, including looking at how taxes are passed on to mom-and-pops, the possibility of creating special districts to curb the influx of chain stores and protect small owners and making sure that the business owners know what services are available to them.
“We have to make sure that people have the technical information and support they need, whether it’s from Small Business Services and navigating Department of Health and Mental Hygiene violations and tickets and really making sure that there is a multilingual and comprehensive approach to helping small businesses,” she said. “I want to make sure that we’re linking (the services) to real small businesses out there. A lot of people don’t even know about some of the programs (Small Business Services) is offering so their marketing could definitely use some support and improvement.”
Rivera said that the L train shutdown is one of the major concerns for her district in the coming years and said she feels that the mitigation plan is a work in progress.
“It’s a good step but I don’t think it’s enough right now,” she said, “We’re on a clock and we have to make sure that we downtown aren’t faced with congestion from for-hire vehicles as a result of the shutdown.”
She also noted that in the long-run, she is supportive of bringing the Second Avenue subway all the way down to her district but wants to focus on other priorities before that happens.
“We have to take care of existing infrastructure first before we open new stops,” she said.
Rivera also said that she was appreciative of Speaker Johnson creating a new Hospitals committee in the City Council and allowing her to get involved.
“(Johnson) knows how vocal I was in the transformation discussions with Mount Sinai Beth Israel,” Rivera said, noting that the changes to that medical center are ongoing and she’ll be working on it consistently throughout her term. “He realized how important that issue is to me and how it’s changing, along with my history of serving older adults.”