Chinese Political Club Pushes Back Against Illegal Conversion Law (Updated)

The Chinese-American executive director of a new political club yesterday blasted a bill to crack down on illegal conversions of two- and three-family homes into multiple apartments as nothing more than “Chinese xenophobia.”

City Councilman Vincent Gentile
City Councilman Vincent Gentile

City Councilman Vincent J. Gentile and Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams introduced the measure last week on the Dyker Heights/Bensonhurst border, which has a growing Chinese-American community, and which has also seen an explosion of illegal conversions.

To prevent such incidents in the future, the proposed measure would establish a fine of at least $45,000 for aggravated illegal conversions — $15,000 for each unit — and expand the authority of the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) and the New York City Environmental Control Board (ECB) to inspect properties and impose fines and other penalties, including placing liens on the dwelling.

Warren Chan
Warren Chan

But Warren Chan, executive director of the recently formed Chinese Political Club Of Brooklyn said there was never any outreach between the many Chinese-American homeowners, who convert their homes into multiple units, the tenants and elected officials before they drafted the bill.

“A representative of the Chinese community and the local elected officials should have talked to the homeowners of Brooklyn prior to introducing this bill. Many of them didn’t even know about this bill until the press conference last week,” said Chan. “Before the Chinese people moved into the neighborhood, the Italians did the same thing and before them it was the Norwegians. Now that the Chinese have come into the community, they have a problem. It’s not so much the illegal conversions as it is Chinese xenophobia.”

At the press conference on the legislation last week this KCP reporter did hear one local resident use derogatory language about the growing Chinese presence in the neighborhood, but Gentile, along with Assembly Members Peter Abbate and Pamela Harris, and City Council Member Jumaane Williams – all of whom support the bill – insisted the bill is about the safety of tenants and not targeting the Chinese community.

Assembly Member William Colton
Assembly Member William Colton

Chan, who is one of the most outspoken critics of Bensonhurst Assemblyman Bill Colton and City Councilman Mark Treyger also wants to know where those two lawmakers stand on the issue.

Reached yesterday, Colton said he supports the bill.

“There have been serious problems of illegal conversions in parts of Brooklyn. It is important to enhance the power of the Building Department to allow inspections where the violations pose a threat to the health and safety of residents,” said Colton. “When owners convert their properties and create unsafe conditions, it poses a threat to everybody in the vicinity.”

Treyger spokesperson Eric Faynberg said the councilman is still reviewing the legislation and doesn’t have anything to say about it until he gets done reviewing it.

Chan is also the campaign manager for Billy Thai, who is running for 47th Assembly District Democratic leadership position against Colton’s longtime political compadre, Charles Ragusa.

Thai said that with illegal conversions the landlords should be punished, but displaced tenants will also need affordable housing – preferably in the neighborhood.

“The people who move into these illegal apartments might be immigrants looking for a place to stay. They have to be able to find better paying jobs and lower housing rents,” said Thai. “The neighborhood is expanding and we need taller buildings. There needs to be a change in zoning.”

Former City Councilman Lew Fidler, who crafted the bill working under Adams, said there is a provision in it whereby the city’s Department of Housing and Preservation Development (HPD) will come in and assist any tenants displaced when illegal conversion apartments are shuttered.


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