Schools Chancellor won’t help Buildings Dept. fight home conversions that overcrowd schools

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They say they’re keeping just their eyes on their own work.

The Department of Education has no plans to share information with other city agencies to help combat the illegal home conversions that contribute to school overcrowding, the agency’s head told the District 20 Community Education Council on Dec. 10.

“It’s certainly not, I don’t think, the Department of Education’s role to play in this — it would be more of Housing,” said schools chancellor Carmen Fariña.

There is a link between school overcrowding and diced-up homes, a member of the education council said.

“We have a significant overcrowding problem that’s being made significantly worse by tremendous number of illegal conversions of homes, and its a tremendous problem in the community,” said Mark Bramante.

This paper’s analysis of city data shows that the areas around the district’s most crowded schools generate the most complaints to 311 about illegal construction activity.

Residents and lawmakers have publicly called on city schools to alert the buildings department about possible illegal conversions.

“When they’ve got 12 kids listed at one address, they should be telling the Department of Buildings,” said Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D–Sunset Park). “I don’t think the city is taking this seriously right now.”

Fariña said she is well aware of the issue, saying even the local councilman recently buttonholed her about it.

“Vincent Gentile actually cornered me at some meeting to bring this up, so it isn’t that I’m hearing it for the first time,” she said.

But Fariña contended that a dearth of space for new buildings and the time required to construct schools are larger contributors to overcrowding, and said focusing on illegal conversions might vilify students living in the buildings.

“You have to be very careful with this type of issue, because there’s a lot of ways to read this,” she said. “The one thing I don’t want to see is kids living here feeling less welcomed because of who they are. And who’s to say what’s legal and what’s illegal.”

City and state building codes determine what people can lawfully build. The Department of Buildings issues construction permits, and work done without a permit or outside an issued permit’s scope is illegal. Repeat offenders can face criminal charges, according to the Daily News.

Despite her reticence to work with the buildings department, Fariña indicated interagency collaboration is easier now than under previous mayoral administrations.

“We’re at the point where a lot of us actually talk to each other,” she said. “Tomorrow, we’re having an interagency meeting with commissioners and I’m happy bring it up.”

The meeting was closed to the press, and the city will not release details on the discussion, a schools spokeswoman said.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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