46 AD Race: Regina-Potter, Harris Weigh In On Illegal Conversions


As the Nov. 3 special 46th Assembly District election moves into its final weeks, KCP will ask both Democratic Candidate Pamela Harris and Republican Candidate Lucretia Regina-Potter a weekly question pertinent to the district. Below is this week’s question and their unedited answers.

Illegal home conversions have been a problem throughout several neighborhoods of the 46th Assembly District including Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Coney Island and Bath BeachD. This is coupled with yesterday’s report by Comptroller Scott Stringer that found overcrowded dwellings in Brooklyn have increased by 49.1%. What kind of measures would you work to enact to put an end to the illegal conversions, and at the same time address some of the overcrowding, particularly among some of the newer immigrants with large or extended families?

Pamela Harris
Pamela Harris

Pam Harris: First of all, the days of tenement style living should be over. It is not safe nor sanitary to squeeze as many people into small living spaces.

Second, our community’s infrastructure was never designed to accommodate this volume of development and population. Time and time again we hear reports of sewer disruptions, flooding, and problems with gas pipes. Recent history reminds us that gas pipes and sewers are nothing to play with and there have been reports citywide of illegal connections that place our families at great risk.

Third, Districts 20 and 21 are two of the best school districts in the city but they are also overcrowded, especially District 20. We have great schools and school families, but they are being unfairly burdened and strained by unregulated illegal conversions.

Here is what I propose:

First, we need to take stock of where the Buildings Department is at in terms of enforcement and compliance inspectors. They are not only in the business of issuing permits. They need to be reminded that their priority should be to ensure the safety of people. We need to make sure that DOB is staffed with competent and qualified personnel at the enforcement end and not only at the permit issuance side of the agency. We also need to examine if the penalties are strong enough that they act as a deterrent and not simply the cost of doing business. Once true enforcement starts, the word will get out that this is an unacceptable and illegal practice that has a zero tolerance response. This may deter future occurrences due to heavy fines.

Second, the Department of Environmental Protection, National Grid, and Con Ed need to conduct an assessment of our community’s infrastructure in light of overdevelopment and illegal conversions. It is better we learn of problems now before they result in an emergency situation later.

Third, we need to give schools in District 20 and 21 flexibility in terms of over the counter students. If schools are way above capacity, then the Department of Education needs to help place kids in a proper school setting that is not overly crowded. If schools are given such flexibility and the word gets out, then this may also deter some people from illegally converting their home.

Lucretia Regina-Potter
Lucretia Regina-Potter

Lucretia Regina-Potter: Illegal conversions are not new to Brooklyn. The conversion of one and two family homes to multi family dwellings or single room occupancies have been around for almost thirty years.

In the 46 Assembly District, these conversions have been taking place on a daily basis for the past two to three years in abundance. Investors and business entities see a strong return on properties that they illegally convert to single rooms to turn a fast profit, which is driving up the cost of housing in the 46 Assembly District. This is making it almost impossible for people, especially those with young families, looking to settle and raise families in our area.

I attended a very crowded, standing room only, town hall meeting last March and heard many agencies shift the blame regarding responsible solutions to this ever-growing problem. Those in attendance were very angry at what they felt were the indifference and lack of real interest to illegal conversions affecting the community from these agencies. The excuse the crowd received repeatedly was that if an agency cannot gain access to the property in question they could not inspect it. While I agree that everyone has the right to privacy regarding his or her home, especially law-abiding citizens, no investor should be allowed to circumvent the law in order to turn a profit, especially at the safety and expense of their neighbors.

Some measures that I would enact through legislation as the Assembly member of the 46 Assembly District would be to allow easier access for inspectors to gain entry to a property in question, with fines and violations placed on the building owners that either refuse or ignore repeated inspection attempts. These fines and violations would be added to the property tax bill of the building, with cooperating legislation from the City Council, instead of just a mere violation, which must be paid in a timely manner, or the property will go into arrears. I also believe that the illegal conversions should be denied Certificate of Occupancies, prohibiting anyone from actually taking residence in the building, thus diminishing any personal injury someone may suffer in or around the property in question. Creating new building code violations is a great start, but enforcement is the key. I will introduce legislation that will empower the State of New York to step in and review all matters pertaining to the illegally converted building, and allow inspectors more powers to protect communities regarding public health and safety due to this burgeoning problem.

Overcrowding in Brooklyn is due to the rising costs of homes and apartments. Property value has soared in recent years because of the inflated prices investors are willing to pay for one and two family homes. The highest bidder wins out, leaving many unable to afford a decent home. As an effect, the over-assessment of the tax base of many properties due to the high sale price of these homes results in exorbitant increases in the real estate tax itself, thus pricing families out of neighborhoods and forcing some to move out or move in together resulting in overcrowding. In addition, the more people living in an area causes a strain on resources that overwhelm city services including fire, police sanitation, schools, water, and electric usage. Not to mention ever being able to find parking! I am a property homeowner in this district, I have felt, first-hand, the result of these price gauges from illegal conversions, and I have experienced it in my district hitting neighbors, friends, and families equally as hard.

As the Assembly member of the 46 Assembly District, I would put forward legislation for more affordable housing by increasing incentives with first time buyer programs, offering low cost financing, and focusing more on the needs of all families, immigrant or otherwise, who wish to become the pillars and foundations of the communities they live in. I would also introduce legislation regarding the over assessment of properties, basing it on the average income mean of the area rather than the sale of one single overpriced home that has detrimental financial ramifications in the community.