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Igor Vaysberg, a staffer for CM Treyger, listens to ideas from community members at an October 20. Photo by Aliza Chasan

Staffer Igor Vaysberg listens to ideas from community members at an assembly on October 20. (Photo by Aliza Chasan)

By Aliza Chasan

When the small group of community members was asked if they were happy with the way the government spends their money, the room was silent. Hands shot up moments later when residents were asked what changes they wanted to see in their communities.

On November 10, Councilman Mark Treyger wrapped up the last of three community assemblies as part of District 47′s progressive participatory budgeting [PB] initiative. Treyger has allocated $1 million of discretionary funds for residents’ ideas. District 47 - which includes Gravesend, Bensonhurst, Sea Gate and Coney Island – is among 24 of the city’s 51 districts to sign up for PB.

At the meetings, residents filled yellow posters with Sharpie-scrawled ideas. They want street repairs, traffic cameras, bus and crosswalk countdown clocks, covered trash baskets, Wi-Fi and charging stations for parks, and bus shelters. Schools need technology upgrades, air conditioning, speed bumps, and stop signs.

“This exercise is really about empowering residents, so that residents have a direct say on how their tax dollars are at work,” says Treyger, who cites his experience as a high school teacher as his motivation for joining PB. “Equally as important, is that it’s been a great learning tool for the public to learn about the city budget process.”

The next step is for a selected group of volunteers to act as budget delegates, developing pitches into fleshed out plans and deciding which are financially feasible. Each plan will cost at least $35,000 and no more than $1 million – more expensive than replacing a stop sign, but less than building a new park from scratch. Finally, in April, constituents will vote on their favorite project.

“I want to make life easier for people in the neighborhood,” said Robert Whittaker, 40, a volunteer budget delegate. “This is the best way to do that – come here and get involved in the process.”

Another assembly goer, Maria di Graziano, 47, told us her neighborhood has been working toward PB for some time. Treyger, she said, is eager to help, which is a change from the past.

“Now it’s the community that has to get used to being present and involved and voicing their concerns,” she said.

Treyger says the goal of PB is to involve underrepresented voices in the democratic process, such as immigrants, the elderly, residents in public housing, and high school students.

Those efforts include translating flyers for the assemblies into many languages, reaching out to community organizations, and having community organizers like PBNYC and Community Voices Heard spread the word by canvassing door-to-door. Residents as young as 14 are invited to pitch ideas. To vote, community members must be 16 and have some relationship to the neighborhood, whether through work, school, or residency.

“There’s no monopoly on good ideas,” says Treyger.

To find out how you can get involved in PB, see the PBNYC website.

[With additional reporting by Rachel Silberstein]

Photo by Jesse Coburn

Photo by Jesse Coburn

By Jesse Coburn

Mayor Bill de Blasio called the day “transcendent.” Senator Charles Schumer predicted “a glorious future” for the neighborhood. Shola Olatoye of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) dubbed the plans “a triumph.”

They sang these praises while announcing that $108 million in federal funding would go toward renovating a low-income Coney Island housing project severely damaged in Superstorm Sandy.

But some living in the Coney Island Houses have their doubts. “I don’t trust them,” said Judy Toro, 66, a resident since 1996. “They make a lot of promises.”

It’s been two years since Superstorm Sandy tore through New York, but many public housing tenants are still feeling its effects. The storm caused $19 billion in losses across the five boroughs, and these low-income residents were among the hardest hit. The Coney Island Houses, a five-building complex with nearly 1,400 residents at 2410 Surf Avenue, will be the first such property damaged by Sandy to undergo major repairs, and the city now hopes to acquire roughly $1 billion in additional federal funding for similar improvements in other public residences.

“My house is falling apart, little by little before my eyes, and I don’t see anything being done.”

 

–Coney Island Houses resident.

But decades of strained relations with NYCHA have left some tenants deeply suspicious of the beleaguered city agency, causing even good news to be met with wariness.

Toro’s tenth-floor apartment overlooks Coney Island’s beach and boardwalk, but the interior doesn’t quite match the view. Black mold grows in her bathroom, plaster is crumbling in the living room, and she said roaches and spiders have infested the kitchen walls. “My house is falling apart, little by little before my eyes, and I don’t see anything being done,” she said.

Problems like these have long afflicted public housing, but Toro said that they’ve only gotten worse since Sandy. A large water stain on her grandson’s bedroom floor provides a blunt reminder of the storm, which left residents of the Coney Island Houses without heat and electricity for 22 days.

The long list of outstanding repairs in Toro’s apartment is symptomatic of the ailments plaguing the housing authority, the largest such provider in the nation, with 334 developments that accommodate more than 400,000 tenants. Its 2014 projected deficit is $191 million, due largely to a steady reduction of federal funding. And though the backlog of work orders has decreased greatly in recent years, it still runs in the tens of thousands.

Superstorm Sandy only exacerbated these chronic issues. The storm affected more than 400 public housing buildings across the city and left more than 80,000 residents without basic amenities for weeks. The Coney Island Houses is one of many properties still relying on temporary boilers two years after the storm.

“The funding, design, and implementation challenges [of NYCHA's Sandy-related repairs] are unparalleled,”

 

–Nicholas Bloom, an urban historian.

As part of the renovations, NYCHA will install back-up generators, build an elevated structure to house new boilers, and replace numerous mechanical, electrical and architectural features damaged by the storm. It also will install new surveillance cameras to provide everyday security and to allow authorities to monitor the property in the event of another storm. The funding will not, however, cover repairs for storm-related damages in apartments like Toro’s that are above the first floor.

A NYCHA spokesperson said work should begin next summer. If successful, this approach to implementing Sandy repairs, which relies on funding from FEMA, may serve as a model for renovations in at least 15 other public housing developments that sustained heavy damage in the storm.

According to Nicholas Bloom, an urban historian and professor at the New York Institute of Technology, the sheer magnitude of damage at some properties has made it uniquely difficult for the authority to carry out repairs. “The funding, design, and implementation challenges are unparalleled,” he said. As for the two-year wait for extensive Sandy-related renovations, Bloom praised the city agency for not “rushing a fix.”

An authority spokesperson echoed the need for patience: “Very early on in the aftermath of the storm, once we made temporary repairs to restore critical utilities, we made a determination that it would be irresponsible to simply repair in place and rebuild for short-term expediency instead of long-term sustainability, which could potentially compromise our infrastructure and leave our residents vulnerable.”

But this protracted wait has left some residents skeptical of the authority’s ability to care for its aging buildings. “When I see it, I’ll believe it,” said Carmen Gonzalez, 61, of the planned renovations. “They’re always promising.”

Amelia Riviera has called the Houses home for more than three decades, and the 57-year-old said the problems facing the buildings predate Sandy. “We had to wait for a storm to get help like this?” she asked, mentioning longtime issues like faulty elevators, broken security cameras, and trash on the facility’s grounds. “The buildings were already corrupt.”

Photo by Jesse Coburn

Photo by Jesse Coburn

The Coney Island Houses consist of five 14-story towers that accommodate 1,398 low-income residents. The buildings were completed in 1957—one of many high-rise, low-income developments built on the outskirts of the city.

Cheap land, low population density, and preexisting poor communities made places like Coney Island and the Rockaways seem like logical places to put these new housing blocks. Since then, however, these beachside locations have proven a mixed blessing, as residents are isolated both geographically and economically from the rest of the city. Crime continues to trouble the neighborhood, although it has significantly improved in recent decades. And the area’s median household incomeremains among the city’s lowest.

But as the 2012 storm made painfully clear, natural phenomena count among the most serious threats to the neighborhood and its almost 10,000 public housing residents.

The city has received pointed criticism for its response to public housing impacted by Sandy. In “Weathering the Storm,” an independent report by a group of community advocacy and research organizations from 2013, the authors wrote: “The City’s response to Superstorm Sandy was slow and communication to residents before, during and after the storm was inadequate.”

But the report saw promise in the wave of progressive politicians and officials who have arrived in local public office in recent years. Chief among them is Mayor de Blasio, for whom housing is a central concern. And according to Judy Toro, the authority’s response time to work orders has improved in the past few months. Recently she received a new refrigerator, three years after submitting her request.

For residents like Toro, however, such developments will have to become the norm rather than the exception if perceptions of the authority are to improve. The upcoming renovations could represent such a sea change. But Toro is less than certain: “I’m not holding my breath.”

Local politicians and community advocates pose as Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson accepts his Hero Award from Mark Meyers Appel at the Bridge Community Center grand opening.

Local politicians and community advocates pose as Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson accepts his Hero Award from Mark Meyer Appel at the Bridge Community Center grand opening.

By Lillian Kneopp

New Yorkers are famous for not knowing – much less understanding – their neighbors. But local advocate Mark Meyer Appel wants to change that.

“Our mission is to stop this hate and invest in new ways for our very diverse population to work together to better understand each other and protect our children and families,” Appel said as he welcomed community members and local politicians to the grand opening of The Bridge Community Center (1894 Flatbush Avenue) Sunday evening, October 19.

The center is being opened through the Bridge Multicultural Advocacy Project and the Voice of Justice, a nonprofit organization, as an interactive facility that will host local meetings and community events to bring together the diverse communities in the neighborhood.

Appel, the president of the Voice of Justice, raised $300,000 in private funds to repair the 6,000 square-foot brick building he has long owned at 1894 Flatbush Avenue. Its renovated first floor open studio space, which can fit up to 300 people, will be lent out free of charge to nonprofits and art groups to host events.

The space will also be an art gallery. Leaders hope that communities will visit in order to learn about other arts and cultures – and that these interactions will foster understanding.

“Art breaks down barriers and helps us to uncover and discover that we are all not that different,” explained Public Advocate Letitia James in her speech.

Artists from around the world, including Russian artist Mikhail Turovsky, artist Ebony Thompson, who is originally from Sierra Leone, and Brooklyn native Sophia Domeville, exhibited pieces at the event.

Artist Robert Bery’s work reflected the spirit of the event with a piece featuring flags from around the world sewn together into a single flag.

“We are all under the same flag,” said Bery.

Rodneyse Bichotte, the Democratic nominee running for the 42nd Assembly District, left, host Mark Meyers Appel, center, and Councilman Jumaane Williams dance the hora at the opening of the Bridge Community Center.

Rodneyse Bichotte, the Democratic nominee running for the 42nd Assembly District, left, host Mark Meyer Appel, center, and Councilman Jumaane Williams dance the hora at the opening of the center.

This mentality is what many organizers hope the community center will foster.

“This opens doors to people talking to each other, which is always positive,” Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, the spiritual leader of Linden Heights and the Director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America explained.

Local politicians, Council members and community leaders filled the new center to support the project and enjoy the kosher wine, Haitian food and sushi.

A Haitian jazz band, Buyu Ambroise and the Blues In Red Band, entertained the crowd with traditional Haitian tunes with jazz infusion.

In the spirit of the evening, the band collaborated with a Jewish group for a portion of the evening improvising together. The crowd danced the Hora to their music after symbolically cutting the grand opening ribbon.

Founder of the Bridge Community Center Mark Meyers Appel, center, presents Ezra Fieldlander, CEO of the Friedlander Group, left, and District Leader Ed Powell with the Hero's Award.

Founder of the Bridge Community Center Mark Meyer Appel, center, presents Ezra Fieldlander, CEO of the Friedlander Group, left, and District Leader Ed Powell with the Hero’s Award.

Local community leaders were honored during the evening as Appel awarded Hero’s Awards to Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson; Ezra Friedlander, founder and CEO of The Friedlander Group, a public relations company; and Ed Powell, a Democratic district leader and New York State Committeeman of the Kings County Democratic Party, for their service to the community.

Powell will be partnering with Appel on a task force through the Bridge Community Center that will be working to train local law enforcement.

“When local law enforcement understands civilians are real human beings, not jobs they are responding to – not just 9-11 calls- there will be an opportunity for real justice,” Powell said in his Hero’s Award acceptance speech.

Appel was also awarded for his commitment to the Brooklyn community for opening The Bridge.

Rodneyse Bichotte, the Democratic nominee running to represent the 42nd Assembly District, presented him with a citation from the Brooklyn Borough president, Eric Adams, congratulating him on the opening of the center. He also received a citation from the NY Assembly presented by retiring Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs, also of Assembly district 42.

Amid the artwork and awards, community members celebrated coming together to learn to better understand each other.

Appel marked the whole evening as a turning point for the community saying, “Today in Flatbush, Brooklyn, we are extinguishing the flames of evil and lighting the flames of hope.”

This is a paid announcement from Dance & Art Academy in Sheepshead Bay:

dance-art

The above is a paid announcement by Dance & Art Academy in Sheepshead Bay. Sheepshead Bites has not verified the claims made in this advertisement. If you own a business and would like to announce a special offer to tens of thousands of locals, e-mail us at advertising [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

Assemblyman Brook-Krasny (left) and challenger Lilikakis (right). Photo by Bailey Wolff.

Assemblyman Brook-Krasny (left) and challenger Lilikakis (right). Photo by Bailey Wolff.

By Bailey Wolff

The Bay Ridge Real Estate Board hosted a “Meet the Candidates Event” Wednesday night at the Dyker Heights Golf Course. Present at the forum was four-term incumbent of the 46th District, Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, and his opponent, first time political hopeful, Stamatis Lilikakis.

Vice President of the Bay Ridge Real Estate Board Aldo Iemma and his wife Deborah organized the forum in order to establish communication between members of the community and elected officials who represent them in government.

“We want to educate, and encourage connections so that everyone is involved with the political process,” said Deborah Iemma.

Stamatis Lilikakis was the first of the two candidates to speak. He discussed the need to lower taxes to stop the “exodus” of businesses from New York State.

“I actually know what most people in this room feel,” said Lilikakis. “And I’m running for office because I’ve had enough of being a blank check for Albany and for our federal government … my goal is to try and lessen some of that burden.”

The 46th Assembly District spans the waterfront from Brighton Beach to Bay Ridge.

The 46th Assembly District spans the waterfront from Brighton Beach to Bay Ridge.

Running as a Republican-Conservative, Lilikakis said that he has united “different factions” in his party, and if elected, wants to create more opportunities for business and education in the district.

He also spoke about illegal conversions—the process of turning singe-family homes into multi-family, non-permitted housing units. “They’re illegal. They shouldn’t be here. There should be a task force, by the police department and fire department to go in and stop these things.”

Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny took the floor after Lilikakis and defined the 46th voting district as “very diverse.”

“From very liberal Coney Island to the more conservative part in Dyker Heights … you have people speaking more than 50 different languages with many different political opinions.” Because of these reasons, Krasny stated, the district needs a “balance minded politician” to represent every member of the district.

“One of the first priorities of every government,” said the assemblyman, “should be supporting the economy and increasing the number of jobs in his district.” He pointed to low state income taxes and universal Pre-K as two of his achievements, but also quoted the statistic that 70 percent of his constituents rely on government funding “in one form or another.” For this reason, he said, “I have to be very careful when cutting taxes.”

When a member of the audience asked Krasny about government funds to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy, he quoted recently announced numbers of $25 million to build jetties and $2.9 million for a seawall to protect his district’s waterfront.

“Some services, some departments, some programs—like Build it Back—they didn’t do the right job,” the assemblyman said. “I know as a private citizen what is going on with Build it Back. It’s terrible. But it’s getting better.”

These two opponents will debate at 7:30pm on October 14, at St. Phillip’s Church in Dyker Heights. The church is located on 80th Street and 11th Avenue. The General Elections will be held November 4, 2014.

IMG_8449

Alyssa, Larissa, and Zaim Judeh, the only premature triplets born at Coney Island Hospital, now 16.

Coney Island Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) held its second annual reunion party on October 1 to celebrate all of the preemie babies born to their top-ranked maternity ward—including the only set of triplets ever born at the hospital, now 16-years-old.

Presented with the Healthgrades Maternity Care Excellence Award for the third year in a row this past summer, Coney Island Hospital’s Level II NICU caters to babies born around 32 weeks or greater gestation and provides care for full-term newborns that need close monitoring. A baby is considered premature when it is born under 37 out of the estimated 40 full weeks of a pregnancy, according to Head Nurse and event coordinator, Kathleen Marino.

“We like to see what they look like after they’ve gone,” said Marino. “We know how hard they struggled as a little preemie infant and now they’re all big and we like to get together.”

Celebrating a milestone birthday, triplets Alyssa, Larissa, and Zaim Judeh cut their “sweet sixteen” birthday cake in the same hospital where they spent over 40 days as preemie patients, each born under three pounds.

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Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, a member of the Assembly's Health Committee, greets participants during his annual health fair. Source: Cymbrowitz's Office

Source: Cymbrowitz’s Office

Sorry for the late notice, but beginning later today, Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz’ office, in conjunction with Mount Sinai Beth Israel Brooklyn Medical Center, will be hosting free flu shots.

Appointments are required. If you cannot get an appointment today, his office is offering two more convenient dates. The complete schedule is as follows:

  • Monday, September 29, 1:30-4:30pm
  • Monday, October 6, 10am-2pm
  • Thursday, October 23, 1:30-4:30pm

Assemblyman Cymbrowitz’ office is located at 1800 Sheepshead Bay Road between Shore Parkway and Emmons Avenue (across the street from El Greco diner).

To schedule your flu shot, call (718) 743-4078 or email cymbros@assembly.state.ny.us.

 

Photo by Dmitri Kalinin

Photo by Dmitri Kalinin

Chances are, “The Fishing Hole” is a song you’ve probably heard at some point in your life.

Photo by Dmitri Kalinin

Morning Mug is our daily showcase of photographs from our readers. If you have a photograph that you’d like to see featured, send it to photos@sheepsheadbites.com.

Photo by Neil Friedman

Photo by Neil Friedman

From the photographer:

I rose before dawn and set up my Pentax Spotmatic [Ed. -- Probably around 25+ years ago] on a tripod and waited for the sun to appear above the horizon.

Photo by Neil Friedman

Morning Mug is our daily showcase of photographs from our readers. If you have a photograph that you’d like to see featured, send it to photos@sheepsheadbites.com.

This is a paid announcement from Accord Physicians Urology:

The benefits of seeking professional treatment for erectile dysfunction may seem obvious to both the patient and his partner. But what many men don’t realize is that a thorough evaluation of this condition can uncover serious threats to their health.

Dr. Vitaly Raykhman, Director of Sheepshead Bay’s Accord Physicians Urology, also known as the New York Urological Institute, says that millions of men in the United States suffer from erectile dysfunction. Typically, he said, the man can’t perform at all or is not satisfied with his sexual performance. Although the dysfunction can surface at any age, it is more common in men 50 years old or older.

The problem can be psychological or the impotence may be caused by physiological abnormalities. In such cases, he said, the dysfunction may be related to diabetes or an indication of even more serious conditions. Clinical tests done at Accord Physicians Urology can help doctors determine the reason of impotence.

“Sexual dysfunction is not just an embarrassment or inconvenience,” said Dr. Raykhman. “It is important that men who are experiencing this problem be promptly and properly evaluated by a urologist.”

Erectile dysfunction, he stressed, can be an early indicator of “metabolic syndrome,” a name given to a group of factors that raise the risk for heart disease and other health threats, including heart attack and stroke.

“The fact that they are bringing this problem into their consciousness can give a physician several years of lead time in heading off these far more serious medical problems,” said Dr. Raykhman. “Could a visit to a urologist indirectly save a patient’s life? Absolutely.”

At this time, the doctor explained, there is no cure for organic impotence. However, a skilled urologist can slow the progress of the dysfunction and with the proper treatment most patients can regain a more satisfying sexual experience.

Although surgery is sometimes necessary, “it’s the last resort.” Changes in lifestyle can often reverse the effects of erectile dysfunction. These include exercise, improvements in diet, and a reduction in smoking and alcohol intake. Erectile dysfunction can often be treated with medications such as Cialis, Viagra, Levitra or hormone therapy.

Dr. Raykhman stressed that because an erection is a vascular event, erectile dysfunction needs cannot be ignored. Fortunately, he said, for many reasons, men are no longer as reluctant to discuss this condition with a doctor as they once were.

Accord Physicians Urology is equipped to give patients a thorough evaluation and offers a wide range of treatment options. All visits are strictly confidential.

Accord Physicians Urology, 2632 East 14th Street, between Avenue Z and Shore Parkway. (347) 706-1743, . Open Monday through Friday, 9am—6pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am–3pm.

The above is a paid announcement by Accord Physicians Urology. Sheepshead Bites has not verified the claims made in this advertisement. If you own a business and would like to announce a special offer to tens of thousands of locals, e-mail us at advertising [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

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