COVID-19 has done considerable damage to Brooklyn. Small businesses were forced to close and will never re-open, hard-working individuals lost their jobs, and families were evicted from their homes. People are looking to the government for a helping hand, and we must be up to the task to come to the aid of our struggling neighbors. The answer is Responsible Development to spur growth, jobs and opportunity.
My vision for Brooklyn’s economic reinvigoration is concrete and expansive. In my first 100 days as Borough President, I will launch a $10 million small business grant program to help workers and business owners alike who have been hit hard by the pandemic to get back on their feet. And that is just a jumping off point for tangible ways to financially assist struggling small businesses. My plan also includes further support for Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises (M/WBEs), which offer so much to our city and play a huge role in diversifying economic opportunity. I’ve fought every day to get them a seat at the table as Chair of the M/WBE Task Force on the City Council.
Public-private partnerships are crucial to fostering economic growth. Instead of shying away from these conversations, I will negotiate deals that benefit the community and serve their needs. My office will serve as the watchdog to ensure that economic opportunities are equitable and accessible to all.
Take what should be a universal right — housing. Everyone deserves a roof over their head, yet New York City’s lack of affordable housing has been drastically exacerbated by the pandemic. Over the past year, I’ve fought to aid families struggling to stay afloat by offering a moratorium on rents, tax lien extensions to owners, and amplifying relief programs. But these initiatives are simply band-aids to the real issue, a lack of affordable housing and family-sustaining jobs.
The death of the Industry City Development in Sunset Park remains a cautionary tale. The forces that killed that deal have since offered nothing to take its place or the 20,000 jobs it would have created. This only hurts local residents, many of whom were deeply involved in shaping this project. Industry City was a terrible missed opportunity and a mistake we cannot make again. It is easier to destroy than to build – but we won’t bring Brooklyn back by refusing to negotiate new development. We cannot grow from nothing. I will be the leader to spend hours at the table hammering out solid plans that address community needs, as advised by local residents themselves.
To move forward, we must first demand more from developers in the form of real community benefits, including but not limited to: affordable housing, workforce development opportunities for those in need, jobs for local residents, access of local small businesses, green spaces, and local traffic and cityscape improvements. I will do exactly that as Borough President: in my first 90 days of office, I will call a developers’ summit to spell out in clear terms what I expect of developers when they approach my office with project proposals.
As we push for more public goods from real estate developers, I will be unapologetic in holding them accountable for staying true to those promises. Reflexively saying no to every proposal, or letting empty lots stay vacant, is the wrong way to approach lifting Brooklyn out of this pandemic recession. Thousands and thousands of our fellow Brooklynites struggle to pay rent or put food on the table; they’re seeking robust opportunities to help them out, not empty rhetoric without real results.
I will get this done by depoliticizing the ULURP process. As Borough President, I’ll require that projects include an aggressive plan that treats the 50% local affordable set-asides for those who live in the community as minimums, not maximums. Next, I’ll demand developers include a substantial plan for local jobs in their proposals — construction and permanent — with a defined outreach aspect. And, I’ll insist on proactive environmental protection efforts, too, which create economic opportunity through green jobs.
Community boards are vital to my economic development plan. As BP, I am committed to equipping community boards with urban planning experts to assist in their understanding of zoning; and expert advocates to help evaluate projects based on merits such as housing, infrastructure, health, community benefit and public safety. Finally, I will present a City Council proposal via the Brooklyn delegation to restructure the City Planning Board: Two (2) of the 13 members will be voted in by the City’s Community Board Chairs or standing committee members to ensure a voice representing the community is present at every bureaucratic stage.
Public-private partnership committed to Responsible Development is how we can bring Brooklyn’s economy back stronger than ever after COVID. By forging tough, smart, fair agreements that protect local communities and residents, we will create the economic growth and opportunity that everyone deserves — including those at the bottom of the economic ladder looking for a way up.
That is the Responsible Development vision I will implement as Brooklyn Borough President.
City Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr. (D-Bed-Stuy, Northern Crown Heights) is running for Brooklyn Borough President.