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.”