Opinion: On Peter Weiss, pandemics, and accessories


Sadly, Peter Weiss, who for decades was one of the most dedicated activists and campaigners in Brooklyn politics, died Feb. 8 at the age of 73. I was lucky enough to get to know him, call him a friend, and talk over happenings in the political world — and even get recommendations for credit cards for traveling. This happened as recently as last week.

I, and so many others, will note his passing and miss him. May his memory be a blessing, and I offer my deepest condolences to his family and all who cared about him.

In regular times I’d link to information about funeral service, but in 2020 (and now 2021), the coronavirus pandemic tests the French Philosopher Blaise Pascal’s line that “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Epidemiologists say that, if it were possible to just make all humans freeze in place — at a safe distance or in a room alone — for 14 days, the virus that has paralyzed our world would largely die off.

Now, for a host of reasons, some unavoidable, others the result of bad policy, this stasis is not possible but getting as close as we can should be the goal. The first step to this would be ensuring that everyone has a room in which to sit alone. With homelessness, housing insecurity, overcrowding, and evictions, it’s obvious that not everyone has a room in which to even try to quietly isolate.

So what can be done? I’d love to say there will be ample funding from the federal government to build a housing supply commensurate with our needs. However, that’s still unlikely, so we have to rely on what the state and city can do.

Where to start? The first thing to do is legalize accessory dwelling units otherwise known as ADU’s. ADUs are smaller homes on the same lot as a primary residence. This includes garage conversions, basement apartments and, broadly speaking, housing units that are not part of the primary residence but which can be made safe and habitable.

This is a way to increase the affordable housing supply and increase state tax revenue. Homeowners have another source of income which, when trying to make a mortgage, is always welcome. In cases where people are already living in such units, ADU legalization would give tenants legal and safety protections that go along with a standard apartment. 

There’s a bill in the state legislature right now that would do just this. It’s called the New York Accessory Homes Enabling Act (S. 4547/A. 4854) and hopefully it’s passed and signed into law as soon as possible.

If you agree, let your state representatives know. If you don’t, or are unsure, take some time to sit quietly in a room and read about it.

Either way you’ll be an accessory to a pandemic.