By Mark Hallum
Catalina Cruz is no stranger to community issues in the state Assembly district she is running for and has a legislative plan to resolve many of them such as affordable housing, school overcrowding and providing healthcare for the poorest residents.
Cruz, who was born in Colombia, settled in Bayside before eventually moving into the 39th District from Corona to Jackson Heights now represented by state Assemblywoman Ari Espinal (D-Jackson Heights), who came to office in an April special election.
Not only does Cruz face Espinal in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary, but Yonel Lettelier Sosa, a Jackson Heights activist, will also be on the ballot.
“I think that the top issue is affordable housing. Anything from Major Capital Improvements – and we need to do away with that – to preferential rent [is driving inaffordability],” Cruz said in an interview with the TimesLedger editorial staff. “With that comes the conversation of here’s our needs and how do we resolve them, and one of the things our campaign has done successfully is engage the voice of the community.”
With Major Capital Improvements, landlords are permitted by the government to raise the rent on even rent-controlled tenants in order to cover the costs of repairs and upgrades.
Immigration is another key issue for Cruz.
Having been undocumented for the first 13 years she lived in the United States, then becoming a legal citizen in 2009, Cruz has worked as an attorney representing immigrants who face deportation.
On another front, Cruz plans to introduce legislation that would levy a millionaire’s tax to fund the construction of schools to alleviate overcrowding, which has become a borough-wide issue with many students occupying trailers as their learning environment. Many of these trailers have been in use since the 1970s and have no air-conditioning or heating systems.
Another way Cruz believes the state should supplement funding for schools is through taxes gained from marijuana legalization.
“I want to make sure that we build more schools because we’ll have more seats. The problem with that in a neighborhood like ours is where do we build them?” Cruz said. “The answer to where do we build them is we need to have money in some sort of reserve, if you will, so that when spaces like the 82nd Street development become available, the city can swoop in or use eminent domain… That space could have easily had two schools sharing a space. Instead, it’s going to be a two-floor Target.”
The time has come for politicians in Albany to come through on single payer healthcare, according to Cruz, who believes in medical care as a human right.
“It’s not impossible, but we’re going to have some solutions to some of the caveats on the proposals that have been on the table,” Cruz said. “One of the things that I have heard conversations around is what do we do with the folks who work in New York state but live in neighboring states, like the New Jersey folks who may have to pay into the single payer system but are not going to be able to benefit from it. But the idea is that healthcare is a right, a human need and we should have it, no question about it.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall