There are currently nine districts in the Big Apple devoid of any city shelters. Brooklyn Community District 5, home to East New York, is not one of them. So when the city proposed to relocate the influx of asylum seekers to the neighborhood, Councilmember Charles Barron vehemently opposed, feeling other community districts were not pulling their weight in housing New Yorkers. In fact, he thinks they’re violating the city’s charter. 

Last Wednesday, Oct. 12, Barron penned a three-point letter to the mayor, published here in the NY Amsterdam News, arguing the overrepresentation of shelters in East New York violated the fair-share act, which requires a “fair distribution of the burden and benefits” throughout the city. 

Earlier this month, Mayor Eric Adams announced a state of emergency as the shelter system threatened to cave with the influx of asylum seekers sent by conservative leaders from the southern border. But for East New York, the crisis is not new.

“When you say we have a state of emergency because asylum seekers are being bussed in, well, two things—one, we’ve been [in] a state of emergency, with homelessness in our communities with the people who are already here,” said Barron.  “So this is not a new state of emergency. It’s been a state of emergency. 

“Secondly, that the fair-share act of 1990, or the fair-share rule in the city charter of 1990s said that the shelter distributions have to be equitably, fairly distributed amongst all communities that can’t be oversaturated in one, or communities that are Black and brown and low income, that’s the class and race.”

He pointed out a majority of the nine districts without a single shelter bed are predominantly white and Asian communities with higher levels of income. Over 90% of Community District 5 is Black or brown and 28.9% of residents earn under the NYCGov poverty threshold. 

“In other communities in Brooklyn, like Community District 10, which covers Bay Ridge, they have no shelters, and their population is predominantly white and Asian,” said Barron. “And their poverty level is about 11%. And then you have Community District 11 in Bensonhurst—their population is predominantly white and Asian. And their poverty levels are only 13%. They have no shelters.”

According to data from the NYC Department of Homeless Services given to City Limits in 2019, the other seven community districts are based in or around Morris Park, Greenwich Village/SoHo, Ridgewood, Rego Park, Bayside, South Beach/Willow Brook and Tottenville. Only Bronx Community District 11 is the majority Black and brown neighborhood listed. 

As the city struggles to house asylum seekers bussed from the southern border by Republican figureheads like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Mayor Eric Adams is finally coming around to efforts with helping existing shelter residents find permanent housing, a recommendation made by groups like the Legal Aid Society and the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) months ago. 

“Housing experts and immigrant advocates like ourselves have also suggested solutions to relieve pressure on our overburdened shelter system, and it seems that the administration  is finally listening and moving forward critical policy changes,” said NYIC executive director Murad Awawdeh. “As the mayor explained in his remarks, New Yorkers continue to step up to support our newest arrivals, and we will continue to do so. We look forward to working with the City to implement any logical and reasonable plan to support asylum seekers to thrive in New York City.”

The Amsterdam News reached out last week to the mayor’s office for comment. 

Barron specifically put the onus on Black leadership around the city to address the disparities in shelters and housing across the five boroughs. And he called for their constituents to hold them accountable. 

“In a city that has a $101 billion expense budget, and a $95 billion capital budget to give to build housing and bridges and roads and schools and parks and all of that,” said Barron. “And a state that has a $220 billion budget, how do you have $220 billion in the state with all this Black leadership in high places? 

“And $101 billion in the city, with all the Black leadership in high places, shows you that black faces in high places doesn’t mean Black power.”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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