BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries promised Thursday to tackle gentrification and gun violence at the federal level in his first State of the District address in Bed-Stuy.
Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd at Boys and Girls High School, Jeffries recapped his first year in the House of Representatives while looking ahead at his next year in office.
"We did everything that we could to make sure that our presence was felt down in Washington and here at home," Jeffries said.
"But as I stand here before you tonight and look out on 2014, I recognize that we still have a lot of work that needs to be done."
Jeffries, who represents central and eastern Brooklyn along with Coney Island and Howard Beach, pointed to a lack of affordable housing in the 8th Congressional District, calling economic gentrification "a malignant tumor."
"Once it takes a hold of a neighborhood, it completely devours it, and then goes on to consume neighborhood after neighborhood," Jeffries said. "We must stop this cancer dead in its tracks."
The congressman blamed an "affordable housing crisis" in the city on the Bloomberg administration, and praised Mayor Bill de Blasio for promising to add additional affordable housing to neighborhoods that need it.
But on a federal level, Jeffries said he would fight to change a part of the tax code that gives tax-exempt financing to developers who make at least 20 percent of their units affordable.
Instead, Jeffries said he would introduce legislation that proposes a 50-50 split — half of all housing units would have to be affordable for the funding to be tax exempt.
In addition, a raise in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would help ease income inequality in these areas, Jeffries said.
"In this very district, in a city that's one of the richest in the world, we've got folks who are struggling to put food on the table," Jeffries said.
Gun violence is another problem affecting the district, Jeffries said. Although New York has strict gun laws, people are still able to easily purchase guns in other states and bring them over the border into the city, he said.
"In other states there's a gun culture that causes people to be able to access guns as easily as possible," Jeffries said.
"The failure of Congress to act has created a patchwork of inconsistent laws across this country that leave communities like ours vulnerable to the looseness of laws in other places."
Toward the end of his speech Jeffries channeled the late Nelson Mandela, who in 1990 visited Boys and Girls High School as part of a world tour.
The former South African leader's history — in which he was imprisoned and eventually released, helped end apartheid and served as the nation's president — made it clear that "the impossible is possible," Jeffries said.
"Here at home we've got some issues to work out, some challenges to confront, some obstacles to overcome," Jeffries said.
"But I still believe in the power of possibility."