Measured response to anti-Asian remark at meeting

New bill to battle illegal conversions unveiled at Dyker town hall
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

One Brooklynite’s racist remark during a Feb. 26 town hall meeting in Dyker Heights on illegally diced-up homes laid bare a racial subtext to the hot-button issue.

“I feel a little uncomfortable with an Asian in the room,” the man yelled, his identity unclear in the crowded room.

Other members of the predominately white crowd expressed — in less stark terms — frustration with a perceived flood of Asian investors snapping up Dyker’s historic homes with cash and dicing them up.

One of a handful of people of Asian descent in the hundreds-strong crowd said the xenophobic remark didn’t shock him, and cautioned against reading too far into it.

“It’s not totally unexpected,” said Mitchell Duong, a Bath Beach resident who owns Momentum Real Estate. “But he doesn’t represent everybody in the room.”

Forging an camaraderie between recent arrivals and long-time residents is a two-way street, Duong said.

“The best way is for more representatives from the Asian community to be included in these types of town halls,” he said. “That’s why we’re here.”

Several white attendees who withheld their names blamed Asian immigrants for a spate of all-cash real estate purchases and illegally sub-divided homes in Bensonhurst. But the phenomenon is not isolated to Asian communities.

Last year, Bensonhurst landlord Vasilios Gerazounis, pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide after five Guatemalan immigrants died in a 2010 blaze because they were trapped in a building Gerazounis illegally sub-divided.

And Australian investors have been bank-rolling all-cash purchases in Bedford-Stuyvessant in recent years — contributing to a turbulent housing market, but not necessarily the problem of illegal conversions, said Bay Ridge preservationist Victoria Hofmo.

The anti-Asian remarks that peppered the town hall won’t dissuade Duong and his employees from continuing the real estate firm he opened earlier this year, they said.

“We take a lot of pride in selling homes and meeting the community,” said real estate salesman Addie Sze.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.