An Asian advocacy group that criticized a bill to prevent so-called “illegal home conversions” as racist has reversed its position and is the first Asian group to publicly support the measure. In July, Members of the Asian Community United Society said the proposal to boost fines for dicing one- and two-family homes into multifamily apartments unfairly targeted the Chinese who live in such buildings. But now the group’s director says the bill will actually protect Asian immigrants from predatory landlords.
“Initially I was under the impression that Chinese homeowners were being targeted, and we were worried about their safety,” said Warren Chan, the executive director of the society. “We need to come together because these developers are taking advantage of our community.”
The bill, introduced in June, would impose greater fines on landlords who incorrectly subdivide homes and would also let the city put liens on properties when landlords fail to pay the penalties. In its early stages, the bill created a fund for residents displaced when the city vacates illegal buildings, but lawmakers scrapped the provision, because Council does not have the power to designate such a fund.
Chan and others previously argued that the legislation would put immigrant families on the street as the city empties dangerous homes. The city raided two such illegal conversions in Dyker Heights this month, leaving nearly 40 people without a home.
But Chan now says that property owners are the real bad guys, because unsanctioned construction work exposes residents to carbon monoxide poisoning, electrical fires, and building collapse. The city must adopt a two-pronged approach — pass the bill and increase the stock of affordable housing so new immigrants have options — he said.