By Mark Hallum
For state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), the top issues in his re-election campaign are the mushrooming homeless crisis, ethics reform in government and improving the quality of life for his constituents. He is facing Republican Mark Cipolla, an attorney, in the Nov. 8 race.
Avella is an advocate for finding alternatives to warehousing people in homeless shelters, where living conditions are unacceptable. When the city moved the homeless into two Bellerose hotels, Avella protested and pointed out that the people being housed did not have access to services to get them on their feet, such as access to public transportation.
A big problem with the city’s current approach to the homeless population is that community input is not being sought from the de Blasio administration, which results in backlash from residents, he said. Avella believes the best course of action is to allow communities to have some control over the where shelters are placed.
Homeless people reluctant to go into shelters because of unsafe conditions also do not have opportunity to transition into affordable housing with Section 8 vouchers, he said.
“You have to be in the shelter to get the program. So if you’re on the street, you’re not eligible. But, meanwhile, they don’t want to go to the shelter because it’s not safe,” Avella said.
The homeless now living in the two Bellerose hotels are expected to be out by December, he said.
Introducing term limits for state officials is one way Avella would like to improve the corruption in politics in Albany and eliminate big money in elections.
A former city councilman before being elected to the state Senate in 2010, Avella is cynical about many of the programs introduced by the city which only seem to cause dismay among his constituents.
A massive bioswale program adopted by the DEP designed to clean up Flushing Creek and relieve the burden on the storm sewer system alarmed Murray Hill residents in July because they fear the ultra-absorbent installations will cause basement flooding and Zika virus.
“It’s like a putting on a Band-Aid when your whole arm is gangrene,” Avella said.
He estimated there are about 200 abandoned properties in his district, which stretches from College Point to Little Neck and south as far as Oakland Gardens. He has led a crusade against the “zombie houses” epidemic, which poses health and safety hazards for neighboring homeowners who have spoken out about mosquitoes and other vermin attracted to unattended properties.
In early October, Avella announced progress after a year of work at one property in Fresh Meadows where weeds had taken over and two cars stuffed with ancient New York Times issues became a fire hazard. The house will be going to auction in December through the Queens County Public Administrator’s office.
In 2016, Avella said he had passed 42 bills in the Senate.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall