Op-Ed: Old challenges in need of new solutions

Screen Shot 2021-01-11 at 2.55.43 PM
Richard Lee. (Photo courtesy of campaign)


We’re living through an unimaginable moment in time. The issues we’re grappling with have existed for decades, and the pandemic has only exacerbated hardships. Our schools have been underfunded, our small businesses unsupported and public transportation unaccessible. This has taken an immeasurable toll on our communities. As we consider how to rebuild — and I have full faith that we will — we must have leaders at the helm who have first-hand experience with these issues, and who will fight to enact the long-term, systemic changes needed for success.

As a father of two public school students, I know how difficult the pandemic has been for our children and families. Getting services for our children, especially those needing IEP, has only gotten more difficult with the pandemic. The looming budget crisis presents added challenges to our schools. In District 25, the Department of Education spends $1,400 less per student than average, the second lowest spending in the City, and in District 26 the DOE spends $2,300 less, the lowest spending per pupil in the City. Students shouldn’t be punished because of where they live.

Similar challenges impact small business owners like my wife. We are acutely aware of the struggles facing small businesses in a system stacked against them. It’s been hard enough operating a small business in a pandemic, and further compounding the problem, many business owners are now seeing an increase in fines for trivial matters because the city sees them as opportunities to generate revenue. Businesses that struggle to pay rent have few options, and businesses that are forced to close are penalized for breaching contracts. It’s time to expand support services for small businesses by offering forgivable, interest-free loans and grants, and to develop a way to ensure fair and transparent rent negotiations between parties.

As a homeowner, like many in our district, I see how frustrating our convoluted property tax system is. It’s unfair that similar houses on the same block pay different property taxes simply because of undecipherable and baseless assessments. It’s nonsensical that our garden co-ops and condos are classified the same as large rental buildings instead of small family homes, thus excluding them from a property tax cap. There needs to be a more equitable and less complicated tax system for our homeowners, and policies that target improving our quality of life.

Our district is a transit desert, with bus routes that are sporadic at best and congested streets that are unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists. The Long Island Rail Road is the most viable option for travelers going into Manhattan, but remains cost prohibitive. We need to thoughtfully redesign our bus routes and streets, and we need to implement an affordable single-fare LIRR option.

These challenges are age-old, and it took a pandemic to spur action. However, now is the time to advance issues important to northeast Queens, and I am running for City Council to do just that.

Richard Lee is a candidate for the City Council 19th District. He currently serves as Budget Director for the Queens Borough President. He and his wife are raising their three young children in North Flushing.

More from Around New York