Brooklynites and the local elected officials who represent them filled the seats at LIU Brooklyn’s Kimball Auditorium on Aug. 30 as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand held a town hall meeting, one of a series of such meetings she’s held in New York City this month.
“The reason why I’m doing this town hall in Brooklyn is because for me to do my job well, I need to deal directly from you,” the longtime senator said. “I need to hear what’s going on in the community, what your biggest concerns are, what your biggest worries are and what solutions are working and what solutions aren’t working.”
In office since 2009, Gillibrand is best known on the national stage for her strong stances on paid family leave and justice for survivors of sexual harassment and assault, and has recently joined Mayor Eric Adams to celebrate the passage of new gun safety legislation and helped to secure a $9.2 investment of federal funds for the Brooklyn Hospital Center.
As locals lined up to ask their questions, moderator Amanda Bossard of News 12 News posed the first question of the night: What was Gillibrand’s reaction to about President Joe Biden’s recent decision to forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt for some borrowers?
The senator praised the move, saying it was “targeted to communities most in need.”
“This is an investment in people who need it today,” Gillibrand said. “It’s not perfect but we make investments based on who is at risk and who is in need all the time.”
Over half of college graduates in New York State have student loan debt, according to Forbes, and debt-holders owe about $38,000 on average.
One of the first constituents to step to the mic asked Gillibrand what is being done on a federal level to ensure that everyone has a chance at equitable housing. Rents in the city hit all-time highs this summer — last month, Brooklyn’s median rent clocked in at $3,4000, according to the New York Post, and the supply of affordable housing is strained.
The biggest challenge is the lack of affordable housing, Gillibrand said. She wants to see more federal funding allocated to subsidizing the creation of construction of new housing that has dedicated affordable housing.
Existing public housing complexes need help too, the senator said. “Almost every one” of the New York City Housing Authority’s complexes are “not adequate,” she said, with vermin, mold, lead paint, or a lack of hot water and air conditioning.”
“It doesn’t have anything that these families need and it’s just frustrating to me because I’ve been in the Senate since 2009 and we’ve never solved it,” Gillibrand said. “We’ve never solved the homeless crisis, we’ve never solved the affordable housing crisis. And it doesn’t matter who’s mayor and it doesn’t matter who’s governor, it just doesn’t get fixed.”
She encouraged local government – the City Council and state Senate and Assembly — to investigate where all the money invested in public housing goes, if not to fixing up the apartments.
Jacqui Painter, a new district leader in Assembly District 51, asked the senator how officials will ensure money from the climate energy bills passed as part of the Inflation Reduction act is distributed to marginalized communities most impacted by climate change, including low-income and communities of color in Red Hook.
The money will be distributed via grant funding, Gillibrand said, and local groups and nonprofits who have projects they hope to get funded will need to apply.
“The key thing is to make sure we apply for the money immediately so that we can finish the resiliency work,” she said.
Gillibrand’s staff can assist with applications and write support for applicants, she said, and she encouraged interested nonprofits or developers to contact her office.
The Brooklyn town hall came to a close with a question about New Yorkers falling or jumping onto subway tracks. A 25-year-old man was arrested in Williamsburg last month after allegedly fleeing a traffic stop and leaping from elevated subway tracks onto the roof of a nearby building.
The incident came amid a spate of reports of people being pushed onto the tracks — cops arrested a man who allegedly shoved a woman onto the tracks in June, and another man was pushed off the platform at the Times Square-42nd Street subway station just weeks later. In January, Michelle Go was killed after being shoved in front of a train at the same station.
Infrastructure updates — like installing doors along the edges of the platform to prevent anyone from getting onto the tracks by accident or on purpose — would be good, Gillibrand said, but mental health services are more important.
There are not enough mental health workers to provide help to everyone who needs it, the senator said.She plans to ask Governor Kathy Hochul to expand a program that offers free college for nursing students to include those attending school to become mental health providers.
“It just incentivizes young people to know that we need you in these fields, we need your time and talents here because it’s the most important and we’re going to reward you by paying for your college degree,” she said.
Contact Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s New York City district office at (212) 688-6262, or contact her office online here.
Additional reporting by Kirstyn Brendlen