Civic organizations shed light on important topics

By Bob Harris

A recent issue of Retiree, the newsletter of the United Federation of Teachers’ Retired Teachers Chapter, had two very interesting stories. One noted that Aug. 26, 2015 was the 80th anniversary of the founding of Social Security. Workers and their employees each pay a payroll tax toward the program, somewhat like an insurance premium. It provides benefits to retirees as well as to those on disability and minor children of deceased members. About 40 percent of the recipients have no other source of income. Social Security has a $2.8 trillion surplus.

The UFT Retired Teachers newsletter also stated that Medicare had its 50th anniversary on Aug. 6, 2015. There are more than 40 million Medicare enrollees with 32 million 65 or older and 8 million who receive coverage for disabilities or specific debilitating diseases. Neither Medicare nor Social Security is an “entitlement,” which means they are not free. Like Social Security, every Medicare member pays a payroll tax for their health benefits, like an insurance premium, spreading the risk among all payers. These are two programs administered by the federal government and paid for by the users.

The newsletter of the Rosedale Civic Association Inc. told of Councilman Donovan Richards’ Tri-Community Task Force meeting with the Rosedale Civic Association and the Rosedale 243rd Street Merchants. They are selecting representatives for the 2016 Organizing Committee of the Rosedale Weekend Walks Pedestrian Mall and Street Festival, which will take place July 23. The NYPD 105th Precinct Community Affairs Unit advised the merchants on low-cost (when bought in bulk), very effective wired and wireless inside-store and outside-store security cameras. Other areas are using such cameras to prevent crime or identification of criminals so police can arrest and prosecute them.

The Kissena Park Civic Association Inc. December 2015 newsletter told of their opposition to several variances to the zoning regulations by a mosque which wants to construct a building on the corner of Parsons Boulevard and 46th Avenue. This is a very small plot of land, so the house of worship needs several variances to build what they want. The community feels that the size of the building they are planning will have a severe negative impact on their quality of life. There is no provision for parking on the property. The issue went to a five-person body called the BSA, or Bureau of Standards and Appeals, which has the right to override the zoning of a property and permit an owner to build. The issue is ongoing.

The Feb. 25 newsletter of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association, Inc. gave an explanation of what constitutes a dangerous illegal apartment: If it is in a cellar which is an area with at least half of its height underground, if it is an attic, if it gets electricity from an extension cord, if the door is locked with a padlock, or if there is no kitchen and cooking is done on a hot plate, with heat coming from a space heater. Illegal rooms or apartments are dangerous because they usually do not have a separate door to leave the building, so if there is a fire there is no way to leave the building. For decades there have been such rooms in the houses just west of St. Johns University. It is a wonder any have not burned down.

The Department of Buildings can immediately vacate unsafe illegal apartments or rooms. Landlords can be fined up to $25,000 and face other penalties. Call your community board or 311 to report these illegal conversions. The only problem is that the DOB often cannot gain entrance unless the owner or a tenant lets them in and there is no way to collect any fines imposed. Actually there are millions of dollars in uncollected fines all over the city. After the DOB tries to enter a building twice, it lists the issue as “solved.” One must then file a new complaint.

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