District 22 City Council candidates debate housing, quality-of-life issues in Astoria

Old Astoria Neighborhood Association President Richard Khuzami hosted a virtual District 22 City Council candidate debate with Kelicia Kalan, Edwin DeJesus and Tiffany Cabán. (Screenshot via OANA debate video)

The Old Astoria Neighborhood Association hosted a debate between the three District 22 City Council candidates on Thursday, Oct. 21, discussing topics like housing, rent stabilization and quality-of-life issues. 

District 22 residents — including those living in Astoria, East Elmhurst and parts of Jackson Heights and Woodside — will choose between Democratic candidate Tiffany Cabán, Republican candidate Felicia Kalan and third-party candidate Edwin DeJesus in the Nov. 2 general election. 

Cabán is favored to win the general election as the candidate with the most name recognition in a majority Democratic district. Other lawmakers representing parts of the district, including U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Assembly members Zohran Mamdani and Jessica González-Rojas, have endorsed Cabán. 

Kalan started working as a legislative aide, then left the government sector to spearhead an anti-human trafficking organization and other social enterprises.

DeJesus is running as a Green Party candidate after working as a member of the national advance team with the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in 2020.

To view the full debate, visit oana-ny.org. Here are five questions asked during the District 22 debate — answers were condensed for length and clarity:

Question: The argument of supply and demand is often used as justification for development. This theory has been tested by the pandemic when increased supply resulted in lower rents. Do you think building new rentals are the answer or should current levels be kept and rents be controlled by legislation?

Cabán: “We have to be doing everything in our power to guarantee homes for every person. That includes building affordable housing and controlling ballooning rent costs through legislation and regulation. Rent regulation is incredibly important. Right now, we have around 180,000 vacant apartments throughout the city, and that’s enough to house every person who’s experiencing homelessness.”

Kalan: “I believe we need to increase our supply, but we also have to do that while maintaining the history and character of our district. The number one priority for me will be building senior housing.”

DeJesus: “The free market isn’t free anymore. It’s an illusion of choice, and that’s because the game is rigged. The big real estate developers have all the power, and they’re in the pockets of the politicians, and they’re giving them illegal bribes to do their bidding. That’s why I’m running outside of the two-party system — I won’t be controlled by these special interests. We need to maintain property value through balanced regulation.”

Question: Much of Astoria’s housing stock is getting old and with a lack of sustainability and safety, often the only choice is for an owner to rebuild. What can be done to incentivize owners to renovate to today’s standards instead of rebuilding?

Kalan: “There are some programs that already exist. My role as a city councilwoman is to help people facilitate and find those resources. We can give tax benefits and work together to keep the historic character of our neighborhood intact and make sure we’re subsidizing homeowners to do that.”

DeJesus: “We should be giving home improvement tax credits for homeowners so they can build green homes with wind turbines, incorporated into the walls of these buildings and solar panels on the roofs. This is how we can incentivize people financially to do more renovations instead of just tearing them down.”

Cabán: “I think that green renovations should be at the top of our priority list and figuring out how we can adapt our city to what is our new normal: superstorms, heat waves, dangerous climate events. Our city’s future depends on green existing buildings. We have to retrofit. We have to remove the number of permit fees that owners incur when they’re making renovations.”

Question: Do you support rent stabilization for one-, two- and three-family homes very prevalent in Astoria and a source of retirement income for many local citizens?

Cabán: “I do. We have done all these other things that are going to support aging folks in our retirement communities and being able to retire and live comfortable dignified lives. We need affordable housing. We need rent stabilization. We have to attack these problems from lots of different angles.

Kalan: “I would be against that. Talking with a lot of our seniors, this is their retirement, and we have to fight for small landlords, many of which lost out on a lot of revenue due to the rent moratorium.”

DeJesus: “Absolutely, yes. Especially after Hurricane Ida, some people didn’t have renters insurance and everything was destroyed. We need to have these policies that benefit the working class not make life more difficult for them.

Question: What additional capital projects would you like to see that might improve our recreational space?

Cabán: “Greening as much of our city as possible doesn’t only improve our environment, it improves our health and neighborhood stability. When neighborhoods are greener, they’re also safer. It’s also important to focus on what people need when we make parks like grassy spaces for kids and overall accessibility. We could also invest in things like farmers markets and draw folks to green spaces that aren’t being used enough.”

Kalan: “I’m a Teddy Roosevelt kind of Republican. I love parks, and I love green spaces. We need to make the Astoria waterfront better than it already is. I also want to highlight the Elmjack baseball field, it needs a lot of love. It needs some investment. I’m not for Rikers Island closing, but I would 100% be on board if the city did push through closing down Rikers to just preserve that as a green space for the community.”

DeJesus: “We need to have more benches, more tables, more trash bins. What’s massively overlooked is our playgrounds. Our children have been going through a lot of suffering for this past year and a half; we should be reinvigorating our playgrounds.”

Question: One of the most evasive physical and mental eyesores on the streets of Astoria are all the overhead wires. Do you agree that we should rewire cables to be removed when unused and eventually require all cables to be buried, and how would we go about this?

Kalan: “Absolutely, if there’s cable that’s are not being used let’s get it down. Moving forward, we can put cables underground. It is costly. We would have to work within the budget constraints that we have.”

DeJesus: “Con Edison, which is constantly trying to pollute our air more and more, they’re making tons of money. Maybe we should get some of that money to fund putting these wires underground. It’s not just for cosmetic reasons; it’s safety reasons as well. We need to prevent any injuries from severe weather catastrophes. We should use those fossil fuel industry profits to pay for any expenditures we need to make.

Cabán: “I’m all for making our neighborhood as beautiful as possible, but even more important, we’re taking steps to improve our environment. For that reason alone, we have to be burring these power lines. It’s a climate resiliency action that has to be taken. We could modernize our power infrastructure by investing in renewable Rikers. I support public power, but renewable Rikers would allow us to build our electrical infrastructure underground.”