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Melissa Mark-Viverito's Silence on Asthma Protection Bill Angers Advocates

By Gustavo Solis | September 28, 2017 6:35pm
 A Harlem non-profit is criticizing City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for not supporting an asthma protection bill.
A Harlem non-profit is criticizing City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for not supporting an asthma protection bill.
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William Alatriste/NYC Council

EAST HARLEM — An environmental justice group charges Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has abandoned asthmatic New Yorkers failing to support more stringent regulation against landlords.

The Asthma-Free Homes bill, Int 0385, which would require landlords to remove indoor allergens like mold and rodents in a timely manner or face violations, is languishing in the City Council Health Committee.

Although she is not chair of the committee, as Speaker, Mark-Viverito can set the agenda and force a vote on the bill, Peggy Shepard, executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, said.

Shepard thinks Mark-Viverito should to be more proactive and points out that children in her East Harlem district are hospitalized for asthma at twice the rate of the city average.

"We've been very disappointed in the Speaker," Shepard said. "I thought we were at a very good place so we can't understand why the Speaker is sitting on it."

Even without Mark-Viverito’s support, the bill has 47 co-sponsors which would give it a veto-proof majority.

WE ACT has tried to meet with Mark-Viverito for over a year to find out why she does not support the bill, but her office has avoided the issue, Shepard added.

“We reached out to the council staff,” she said. “The one time we were able to speak with her at a town hall meeting in East Harlem one of my staff asked her about it and she ran off without responding. When we call her staff, they say they’ll look into it."

The Speaker also dodged answering when DNAinfo New York asked her if she thought the bill would be voted on before the end of the year.

“From banning smoking in apartment building areas to supporting environmental justice communities and strengthening the city’s green building standards to reduce carbon emissions, the City Council is proud of its successful efforts to reduce asthma rates and make New York a greener and more sustainable City,” Mark-Viverito's spokeswoman, Robin Levine, wrote in an email.

Levine did not respond to a follow up email asking for specific questions about the asthma-free homes bill.

Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, who represents the eastern part of Lower Manhattan that includes the East Village, the Lower East Side and Kips Bay, introduced the bill in 2014. Term limits prevent Mendez for running again and she wants to pass the Asthma-Free Homes bill before she leaves office.

“We have been pretty frustrated,” she said. “There could be a vote. I’ve been trying to get a vote, advocates have been calling city councilmembers to get a vote.”

The bill is currently in the Committee on Buildings and Housing, where Councilman Jumaane Williams is the chair. Williams, in his capacity has chair of the committee, or Mark-Viverito, in her capacity as speaker, could bring it up for a vote but neither of them have, Mendez said.

Williams’ office did not respond to an email asking why the bill is still in committee.

“I'm ready for a vote,” Mendez said. 

Last week, WE ACT launched an outreach campaign asking residents to sign petitions and call Mark-Viverito’s office.

Jewel Jones, who works with WE ACT, has been reaching out to constituents, organizations and other elected officials in East Harlem to try to pressure Mark-Viverito into a meeting where she can explain why she doesn’t support the bill.

Most people Jones speaks with just want to know why this isn’t a bigger issue for Mark-Viverito, Jones said.

"I'm a little angry about it," Jones said. “I think there’s a lot of confusion as to why she wouldn’t support this. Obviously, there’s the high asthma rate and people have said it’s a no brainer.”