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The Civic Scene: Better measures needed to battle illegal dwellings

Illegal apartments are a source of income for speculators who often buy houses and make a number of illegal apartments. Some homeowners use the income to pay for their mortgages. Many apartments are occupied by illegal aliens who don't dare complain because they are illegal. This is also why sweat-shops continue in New York City and elsewhere. Some conditions are really dangerous and unhealthy, but the occupants can't complain.Over to the west of St. John's University people have converted their basements into little warrens for students. These will only be cleaned out after there is a fire and a few St. John's students get burned. If the school had not expanded so much, the need for these illegal rooms would not be so great. If we had enforced our immigration laws and controlled our borders, we wouldn't have so many illegal people living in illegal rooms all over the city.At Borough President Helen Marshall's Illegal Conversion Task Force meeting they boasted that they had hired two more inspectors. Wow! They now have nine inspectors for Queens. There are more than 7,700 Class "B" complaints from the residents of Queens, whatever Class "B" means. Two inspectors can't do much. As I wrote in the past, the city really can afford to hire many more inspectors because people who build have to pay a fee and this amounts to quite a bit of money.One stupid thing the city does is to not require a person who has a violation to pay a fine if they correct the violation. A homeowner or builder builds illegally in the hope it will not be noticed and if they get caught and the violation is corrected in 35 days there is no fine. I think that the fine should stay but should be doubled if not paid within 35 days. This should cut out some illegal conversions.These illegal apartments with added people on a block means more garbage cans; more trash on the streets; gardens not tended because an absentee owner just wants the money; lawns and gardens covered over with cement to park extra cars if the people can afford them; more noise from people or radios; and a general lowering of the quality of life.They did discuss how inspectors can more easily gain entrance to a house to check for illegal apartments. This is a problem the officials have to work on. That is what they are being paid to do. Then there is the situation where the rents for these illegal rooms is paid in cash so there is no record and the owner doesn't have to pay taxes on the income. A few good fines and jail sentences publicized in the media would make people think twice about doing illegal things.The Queens Civic Congress has just taken a stand against the Cross Harbor Freight Movement Study. Due to the heavy volume of truck traffic across Manhattan there is a proposal to build a Cross Harbor Tunnel for freight trains. A presentation to the Queens Civic Congress looked good, but since then the civic leaders in western Queens have objected to the heavy truck traffic congestion which will occur at the terminus of the tunnel.The proposal also plans to displace hundreds of businesses in western Queens so a huge transfer building, about seven stories high, can be built to unload the freight train cargoes onto trucks which will then spread out eastward. Naturally the residents of western Queens don't want added truck traffic on their streets and those in the east will not want it on their highways.Queens Civic Congress President Sean M. Walsh wrote that the proposal "does not adequately address the movement of freight destined for Nassau and Suffolk eastward to the Pilgrim site ... And the need to move freight by rail by the old Rockaway line to JFK airport." There must be a way for freight to bypass the Van Wyck Expressway. The quality of life for residents of western and eastern Queens could be improved if truck traffic could be reduced.Good news of the weekThe New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park was just opened after an extensive renovation. I was invited to a reception and a preview of the film, "A Walk Through Queens." Everything looked great. I remember taking my children to the Hall of Science years ago. The outdoor Rocket Park with actual space rockets is open again. This is a real positive place for Queens.Bad news of the weekA homeless, mentally ill man allegedly shot and killed a member of a painting crew trying to paint the overpass where he lived. Regretfully, these mentally ill men and women have attacked people in their neighborhoods and pushed them in front of subway trains. Homeless people are not necessarily mentally ill, but one can just look at the actions of some people and know they are dangerous.About 40 years ago many states, including New York, released most or perhaps all of the mildly mentally ill people from institutions and let them go to group homes or individual rooms. They were supposed to take medication to keep them from being dangerous and to visit outpatient center, but many do not.They roam the streets, scare people, ruin our quality of life, attack people sometimes and now and then kill someone. These incidents happen one at a time over a period of time so are not so noticeable. There is some provision to institutionalize these ill people but, well, they have rights. Hopefully more ill people will be put away and treated before more of us are hurt.

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