‘Education is key’: housing leaders spread knowledge, empowerment in East New York

Housing leaders speak at East NY panel. (L-R) Asia Thomas, Bill Wilkens, Assemblymember Nikki Lucas, Ismene Speliotis and Vernon J.
Housing leaders speak at East NY panel. (L-R) Asia Thomas, Bill Wilkens, Assemblymember Nikki Lucas, Ismene Speliotis and Vernon J.
Photo by Anthony Haye

In East New York, where more than one-third of residents pay 50% or more of their income in rent and the poverty rate is nearly 30%, some residents and community activists were disappointed when Albany failed to pass what they called “meaningful housing reform laws” in the most recent legislative session. 

Even before lawmakers headed home for the year, public benefit real estate firm Equity Platforms had launched the “Empower ENY” event series — four panels designed to create a dialogue in the community centered on educating and informing neighbors about affordable housing.

Equity Platforms works help community members build their wealth with assets in real estate and through blockchain technology. The company’s goal is to make real estate investments more accessible for those who have been historically marginalized and excluded from those spaces. 

East New Yorkers attend the EMPOWER East New York: Discovering the Keys to Affordable Housing panel July 1.
At least 60 community members attended the June 24 panel.Photo courtesy of Anthony Haye

Over four months, Equity and its partners hosted a roundtable talk with local housing leaders, discussed navigating the affordable housing lottery, taught attendees about the best tools to empower job seekers, and, finally, delved into a new realm — whether cryptocurrency can be used to boost community development.The final event in the series, hosted on June 24, was hosted in partnership with Totem, EastNewYork.com, LDC NY and the NYC Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit

Panelists at the June 24 event included Bill Wilkins, Executive Director of LDC ENY; Asia Thomas, Director of Organizing at Open New York; Ismene Speliotis, Executive Director of MHANY; and Assembly Member Nikki Lucas. Speakers fielded questions from over 60 community members who attended the panel.

Equity Platforms founder and CEO Vernon J., who uses only a last initial, stressed the importance of facilitating community spaces for dialogue and also providing resources to help community members navigate the affordable housing market.

“As a landlord myself we house families coming from shelters using the city’s FHEPS program,” said Vernon. “It’s a phenomenal program, don’t get me wrong, but the bureaucracy, the navigating the system and finding information online — it’s almost like you’ve gotta know who’s the insider in order to make some real moves. Our goal is to take those pieces of great information and those programs that most people don’t know about and bring them to the forefront and bring them directly in front of people.”

This sentiment was echoed by panelists, who urged attendees to learn more about housing rights and education in order to be included in the conversation.

“Education is key; until we can speak the language of policymakers and developers, it’s impossible to make demands of them,” said Speliotis.

“The conversation will continue with or without you; you have a decision to make and your voice is needed,” Thomas added. 

The hope of Equity Platforms leaders is that the Empower East New York panel and future events will encourage more renters to become involved in real estate, to embolden community members to learn about affordable housing and to bring that knowledge to demand elected officials to support them.

“Our hope is that it becomes easier for people to know where information can be found and then actually put a face to the organization so that if there’s an issue, [they can say] you know what I’m going to call my New York State Assembly member or I’m gonna call my council member because this thing needs to get done,” said Vernon. “Elected officials have power, but at the end of the day their power comes from the people.”

For upcoming events hosted by Equity Platforms, visit their events website here.

Last updated July 14, 2023 12:30 p.m.