One of the most common defenses made of Brooklyn Democratic boss and Assembly Housing Chair Vito Lopez — espoused by himself and others — is that while he may bend the rules, it is always in the service of his beloved Bushwick.
The Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Center, which Lopez founded in the ’70s and has been the conduit for his power ever since, has built hundreds of units of affordable housing over the years. Much of the money for that housing came from Lopez, either directly through member items or indirectly through a mix of public and private money — some of it legitimate, some of it, well, maybe not. Hence Vito’s very bad month.
While the focus of all the stories in recent weeks has been on Lopez’s apparent corruption, the Observer has noticed an underlying trend: the assemblyman may be doing more harm to affordable housing than good. The clearest example is Tom Topousis’ front page exposé in Monday’s Post. The tab chronicles how Lopez scored $24 million in federal funds to repair 49 rundown buildings in his district. The repairs were limited, and purportedly of a shoddy nature. At the same time, Ridgewood Bushwick collects federally subsidized rents on the homes, and is not a very good landlord at that.
But here’s where it gets really interesting. Lopez likes to suggest that none of this would exist without him. Critics say, not so:
Housing activist Rick Echevarria said the answer is control and political power. “The city for serveral administrations has allowed Vito Lopez to build a dictatorship over affordable housing, and that’s not to the benefit of low-income people,” he said. “The only access people have to affordable housing in Bushwick is to play according to Vito’s rules — you support Vito or you’re out,” said Echevarria.
And it’s not just those in need of affordable housing who are getting hit, but also the architects, contractors, and developers who hope to work in the area, as the News reported on the exacting price they pay to do business in Bushwick.
Now that the Ridgewood Bushwick is being scrutinized, the city and state have frozen its funds. Considering Ridgewood Bushwick is the only game in town — an exageration, but not by much — one of the city’s neediest communities is taking the brunt of it. Again.
Lopez’ figurative stranglehold has become a literal one.