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Housing and education issues highlight latest Ridgewood open forum

RIDGEWOOD TIMES/Photo by Kelly Marie Mancuso

BY KELLY MARIE MANCUSO

Tenants’ rights, education and park space dominated the third “Ridgewood: Your Voice, Your Issues” open forum Monday night at Ridgewood Presbyterian Church.

The discussion was hosted by the Ridgewood Tenants and Neighborhood Association (RTNA) and moderated by RTNA co-founder Glenn Dyer. Much like the second forum back in April, attendees broke up into four groups focused on education, parks and green space, housing and Ridgewood’s social climate.

Angela Mirabile of the Greater Ridgewood Restoration Corporation (GRRC) chaired the housing panel. Tenants’ rights, illegal conversions and rent stabilization dominated their discussion.

Mirabile explained that the GRRC is waging a two-pronged effort to help stem the tide of rising rents and tenant flight. First, Mirabile provides information and legal advice to tenants who are being harassed out of their apartments by unscrupulous landlords.

Second, her group has partnered with the Department of Buildings to fight against illegally subdivided apartments and dwellings such as basements and attics.

Mirabile urged tenants to document all interactions and harassment in a journal and to report violations or harassment to 311. She also asked tenants to report suspicious construction or illegal conversions to the GRRC.

RTNA co-founder Matt Peterson chaired the group on parks and the local environment. The need for green space in Ridgewood was the topic of conversation. The replacement of grass with Astroturf in Mafera Park was one concern mentioned.

Community Board 5 (CB5) member John Maier suggested working to create green space on derelict plots of land, such as the triangle of unused land near Stop and Shop on Myrtle Avenue and Cypress Hills Street just over the neighborhood’s border in Glendale.

The group also circulated a petition seeking funds from Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley to help repair and restore Rosemary’s Playground.

Lydia Martinez, parent coordinator at Grover Cleveland High School, chaired the education group, which examined school class size, overcrowding, zoning issues and enrollment.

For Martinez, the absence of parents’ participation was a big concern. She cited a workshop hosted by her school in which only two parents attended as a prime example of this problem.

“We lack parental involvement,” she said. “They need to know what their kids are learning. They need to come up to school.”

CB 5 member Henry Cross proposed the creation of monthly parental support groups in which both parents and teens could get together to deal with both school and personal issues. Cross is currently working to help implement a similar support group in District 14.

“There is money that goes to the students, but we forget that the direct providers, whether it’s teachers or parents, need support systems as well,” he explained.

Finally, Queens College professor Stephanie Wakefield chaired the group discussion of Ridgewood’s social environment. The group brainstormed ways to foster stronger ties within the neighborhood while bridging the gap between new and existing residents.

“The social question is actually very interesting. In a lot of neighborhoods that get gentrified really fast, in some ways I think it happens because people are really isolated and don’t see themselves as a ‘we’ and are unable to organize together,” Wakefield said. “We want to create ways for people to get to know each other and collaborate together.”

Ideas included neighborhood cookouts, tenant co-ops and creation of community spaces, such as the garden at Woodbine (1882 Woodbine St.).

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