Yesterday, Carlina Rivera convened a cadre of local newspapers for her first “editorial roundtable” as the newly elected City Council member for District 2. During the hour-long Q&A session at Rivera’s office in the East Village, reporters traded questions on myriad topics that the council member has been prioritizing since she took office in January. Overall, she showed a determination to find “a balance between commerce and community.” Here’s what was touched on.
Union Square Tech Hub
Mayor de Blasio and others believe that replacing the P.C. Richard & Son on 14th Street with a multi-use building will offer career training programs and grow the East Village’s profile in the tech field. But the proposed project’s $250 million price tag and potential to displace long-term residents sparked protests last November. With the hub officially in the public review process, Rivera said she would go into any upcoming council vote with the intention to negotiate as many public benefits for her constituents as possible.
Having served on Community Board 3 for nearly five years, she is well aware of the “workforce center” that Community Board 3 has called for in its District Needs Statements for several years running. “We’re trying to [make sure] that a person that I see walking down Avenue D is going to be someone taking advantage of the opportunities in that building,” Rivera said. “Making sure that in an industry and in a field that has typically looked one way that we’re going to see diversity in this building.”
Rivera was confident that any re-zoning that allowed the hub to move forward would not be “a take-it-or-leave-it kind of deal,” though she was opaque about her voting position if that was the final outcome. She also said she was open to pushing for an affordable housing development near the building. “What’s better than being able to live next to where you’re going to work, or where you’re going to get skills training?” Rivera asked.
Given her constituents’ perpetual complaints about the inadequacies of public housing, Rivera wants to rethink how the New York City Housing Authority is treated from a governing level. “NYCHA has to start being considered as part of our general infrastructure, and I think we need to make real financial investments… we need a lot of changes there,” she said. “There’s a culture there that continues, and I think that as a city we really have to step up.”
The councilwoman is working with comptroller Scott M. Stringer on legislation that would require landlords to share with potential tenants any credit checks they run. They are also pushing for greater “education and intervention when it comes to improving credit, especially within disenfranchised communities,” she said. The comptroller’s office recently found that the credit score of 76% of New York renters would improve if rent payments were taken into account during credit checks.
Partly as a response to the city’s “homelessness crisis,” Rivera wants to promote job creation and fight back against wage stagnation. On the campaign trail, Rivera supported the proposed Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which would allow commercial tenants to renew leases for 10 years at minimum and, if necessary, allow arbitrators to set rents when landlords and tenants can’t agree on renewal rates. Now, as a sitting member of the Small Business Committee, she said she wishes to pass “a 21st century version of it,” one that emphasizes the participation of minorities, creates favorable tax options for mom-and-pop shops, and potentially creates special districts for commerce.
“[We’re] really making sure that there is a multilingual, comprehensive approach to helping small businesses, because with minority and women business owners and entrepreneurs, that’s been a big push for this administration,” she said. “But in terms of some of the data that has come out, I want to make sure that it’s real and that we’re linking it to real small business out there.”
An ongoing concern for residents of District 2 has been the proliferation of bars and other attractions around the area. Residents of the East Village and Lower East Side have complained that noise complaints, street crowding and trash have caused a declining quality of life. Compounding that is the issue of retail diversity, or as Rivera put it: “Why are the only businesses that are able to afford some of these spaces full-liquor-licensed bars or restaurants?” Rivera said she would work closely on these issues with the newly created Office of Nightlife and its to-be-announced “night mayor.”
Regarding the impending April 2019 shutdown, Councilwoman Rivera noted that the recent slate of proposed alternatives to the L-pocalypse — including plans to turn 14th Street into bus thoroughfare and increasing ferry transportation between Brooklyn and Manhattan — were steps in the right direction, but insufficient. “When they say it’s going to be 200 [additional] buses — I mean, there’s 50,000 people that take that train to Manhattan,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to be enough right now. I think that we have a long way to go.”
Rivera also promised to fight to ensure that Lower East Side residents “aren’t faced with the brunt of congestion and the number of for-hire vehicles that are likely to be on the road.”
Preservation & Coastal Resiliency
The conversation turned to the prescient topic of coastal resiliency and securing East River Park, which runs from Grand to 14th streets, from disruptive climate change and storm surges. While District 2 received roughly $750 million after Hurricane Sandy, progress on a storm barrier proposed for the Lower East Side has been delayed “by up to 18 months,” putting the project into a potential spend-down (the federal aid given to the community is required to be spent by 2022). Several other projects around the shoreline are underway, but with this time constraint the pace of the government-funded renewal efforts will be, as Rivera put it, “intensive.”
“It’s going to be beautiful, the park’s going to look amazing,” she assured. “It’s just going to take us a few years to get there.”