ACUS’ Warren Chan Throws Support Behind Illegal Home Conversion Bill

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ACUS’ Warren Chan (Photo by Rachel Silberstein/Bensonhurst Bean)

The head of a social service agency serving Bensonhurst’s Asian American community says he’s been converted when it comes illegal home conversions.

Warren Chan, executive director of Asian Community United Society (ACUS) and founder of the Chinese Political Club of Brooklyn, has backtracked on earlier charges that a bill intended to combat these illegally subdivided properties is fueled by anti-Asian sentiment.

In a June press release criticizing Assemblyman Bill Colton — a target of his political club and one of the bill’s many supporters — Chan wrote, “This legislation is clearly aimed at the Chinese Xenophobia. 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.”

Now Chan is throwing his support behind the proposed measure, which 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.

Neighbors says that illegal home conversions, in addition to being rife with fire code violations, put a strain on neighborhood resources, like police, schools, plumbing, and electricity. Local immigrant advocates have criticized the bill — which also expedites vacate orders issued for these dangerous properties — saying it fails to sufficiently provide for tenants who will be displaced.

Chan told us he changed his mind after meeting with Gentile, and was told the laws were intended to target landlords who do not live on the premises, rather than average homeowners with construction violations.

“Illegal conversions pose a grave danger not only to the tenants but their neighbors and first responders if there were to be an emergency. Thankfully, our local lawmakers are working hard on legislation to crack down on these bad landlords who are profiting from putting people that don’t know about illegal apartments directly in harm’s way,” he wrote in statement released this week. “It is time for our community to stand up and send a message to these bad landlords that is profiting from this housing crisis.”

Gentile, who recently introduced the “Aggravated Illegal Conversion” legislation package with Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and Council Members Jumaane Williams and Barry Grodenchik, said he had a thoughtful and engaging discussion with Chan and was looking forward to working closely with his social service agency in the future.

“I am pleased to receive Mr. Chan and the Asian Community United Society’s support in this effort.  “I look forward to working with ACUS on ending this epidemic,” said Gentile. “We both agree that substandard housing is not affordable housing and that we must work towards a solution to bring affordable housing to southwest Brooklyn, so that immigrant tenants have alternative living situations other than illegal conversions.”

Chan said he was also moved by a particularly egregious case from earlier this month, when five families — including at least 18 adults and 13 children — were removed from an illegally subdivided two-family home in Dyker Heights. Community Board 10‘s District Manager Josephine Beckmann, who viewed the home, described the living conditions there as “heartbreaking.”

  • MJ

    The CB 10 and CB 11 should consider allowing more housing development along less desired area of the community, such as New Utrecht Avenue, where there’s many potential higher rise along the D Train line.

  • Josh Chu

    Someone please investigate Warren Chan. The guy is a complete fraud. He doesn’t represent the “Chinese American” community, he represents his own wallet. Someone needs to investigate the co-mingling between the finances of his “for profit” and “non-profit” ventures. The guys runs fraudulent senior centers. I would love to see the day when this guy gets hauled away to jail.

    Now he props this guy Billy Thai. Come on. The “Chinese American” community is already properly represented and Billy Thai’s claim in his political run is laughable.

    • Sumtingwong

      100% correct, preying on his own people shows what type of person he really is. A thorough investigation needs to be done on this POS. There is definitely some kickback to sell out his own people.

      • Drew B

        @josh_chu:disqus and Sumting, since both of you are Asian Americans targeting another Asian American local politician, can ANY Asian please tell me when this corrupt nonsense is going to end? How come all the Asian stories have a corrupt background? Is there any Asian resident or politician who is 100% legit?

        You claim the man runs fraudulent senior centers….please tell me how any of them aren’t? Why is there absolutely no trail or bookkeeping for any of these places? I live off 18th Avenue and 74th Street, and the old Cotillion was converted into one of these ‘Asian Community Centers.’ Please tell me, how will an outsider ever get any transparency on the illegal gambling problem in Bensonhurst when these ‘community centers’ exile any outsiders because they aren’t or don’t speak Chinese?

        Josh Chu and Sumting, you both attack Warren Chan, but what do YOU do in your community to help the problem? Why do you rely on one politician to represent your entire community? ( which btw is growing annually, so you need proper representation, not this Warren Chan fool ).

        You claim this man ‘co-mingles between the finances of is for profit and non profit ventures,’ well what do YOU do about it? Do you sit there behind a computer screen and complain about it? Why don’t you use the power of the fact that you’re a prominent Asian resident, and use this power to gather the community to be aware of these things?

        I see only 2 outcomes if you only try to inform the community to backlash against all corrupt Asian activities in Bensonhurst:

        1. You succeed because the community wants to be legit and keep the community legit ….or

        2. You fail because those that are corrupt do not want to lose their ‘benefit,’ whatever it may be…..backdoor gambling profits, ‘spa’ prostitution, under-the-table illegal conversions and profits thereof, etc … the list goes on.

        As a Caucasian living 3 decades in Bensonhurst, I can tell you why the stereotype of this so-called ‘Chinese Xenophobia’ exists, it’s because too many Asians in the community rather cut corners and participate in illegal activity behind closed doors, than do something positive to end it. The Asian community is well aware, but their backbone is too soft to rat out the person next door who has illegal gambling in the back room of the corrupt ‘front.’ ( My local corrupt front is the ‘Design’ place on New Utrecht between 73rd and 74th streets, that has lookouts sitting in the front, pretending to work, and all the old men go to the back room to illegally gamble.

        The Asian community does not reward those who come forth and commit to an honest living, this is why there is no incentive for these corrupt activities to stop. When you’re an Asian immigrant living in Bensonhurst, and you don’t know how to speak English, you will have a hard time making it on your own in this town. This is why they are afraid to rat out those that they know are intentionally corrupt. They fear of being exiled, and it won’t stop anytime soon.

        • Sean F

          Let’s not kid ourselves that non-Asian politicians are any less corrupt or more honest. They are not. They’d never make it in politics if they were. It’s always a case of voting for the lesser evil.

          As for why they don’t go to the authorities, there is an innate distrust of the authorities in many Asian cultures. Much of this comes from the corruption in government in their home countries (corruption that makes people like Sheldon Silver look like the Pope). What probably needs to be done is for the Asian activists to team up with the non-Asian activists, and present a united front to the authorities. But, the non-Asian activists aren’t likely to get on-board for that, since it would erode their own sense of superiority. It’s a vicious cycle of distrust that we’re not likely to overcome easily.

        • Sumtingreallywong

          It is because there are people like Warren Chan that use the system to make a profit by preying on immigrants who do not know any better. These senior centers offer meals and entertaiment for elderly mostly non english speaking people, “The govt will pay for all of this, don’t worry it’s a benefit tour taxes and citizenship”. SSI/MEDICAID/MEDICARE will pay these places 10 times the amount of what they actually provide to the elderly, the people know what is going on but will do nothing because AHoles like him will say don’t worry it doesnt cost you 1 cent, why do you care? Asian people are exactly like you described “No Backbone and do not want to cause any trouble for themselves”. They rely on ppl like these POS’s to tell them how to manipulate the system, TBH I’m pretty sure the asian community is not the biggest offender in working the system by far but this why this goes on. Everyone knows what’s going on but it’s easier to let it happen then to fight the system.

          • Drew B

            It’s a shame because the Asians are usually very intelligent people, but yet so foolish to fall for a politician’s word, rather than his actions, only because they share the same race.

          • Drew B

            Actually, this reminds me of 2008 when everyone in Chicago’s south side was promised an ‘Obamaphone,’ and the black community ate it up like candy. What good does their Obamaphone do now??

          • STW

            Unfortunately the intelligent ones are the ones that think up these schemes to screw their own people, the immigrants just want to mind their own business, make their money and buy homes with cash. Just look at the officer Liang case, no support at all from anyone…..any other race would have been rioting in the streets….and its happened for lesser crimes. The bullet ricocheted off the wall…..he’s guilty! White officer chokes a guy to death, shoots a suspect 18 tmes in the back….no problem, it’s justified. Let them riot!