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Manhattan Borough President see biggest COVID-19 problems in NYCHA

(l. - r.) Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York. (Photo by Mark Hallum)

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer knows full well the danger COVID-19 represents to her constituents and her and her husband, who already in his 70’s. It hits older New Yorker’s the hardest. She has three friends that have already died, and others that she worked within community boards, a political club leader; a co-op board leader.

She also knew Comptroller Scott Stringer’s mother Arlene Stringer-Cuevas, who died on Friday from the coronavirus.

One might see Brewer out on her bicycle that she says is safer than walking on the street near people – besides, there’s very little vehicle traffic, a small benefit of the contagion. She still needs to get to the grocery store or pharmacy – mask at the ready.

But despite having to social distance and be wary of catching the virus because she’s 69 – and age considered dangerous for COVID-19 – she’s busy. COVID-19 is destroying her borough and the poor in NYCHA housing are getting his worst according to a zip-code map released that shows the extent and spread of the infection.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer accompanied at a press conference with Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York. (Photo by Mark Hallum)

Her borough is difficult for some reason – people live in high rises and those in a NYCHA building have to sometimes get a bit closer than others because if you miss an elevator, there may not be another one. That’s because sometimes the elevators are not work – so a working elevator keeps one from having to stand around the lobby.

So her office has also been conferencing with NYCHA officials to work on keeping elevators running and buildings cleaner than they’ve ever been, especially during the crisis.

Brewer says her borough is made of many older people than the others, making her constituents even more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Manhattan has the most of the older population of the city, thousands who are cut off and are sheltering in place at home. Her staff is constantly on the phone making sure that Meals ON Wheels are making deliveries. She helped a non-profit purchase a truck so that they can make deliveries to a NYCHA complex serving those seniors and Section 8 residents.

In some cases, Doordash deliveries of food if they cannot enter buildings where intercoms are not working, so she is working to create “building ambassadors” to facilitate deliveries to the elderly.

“Seniors are afraid to go out, and some can’t afford to buy food,” Brewer said.

She like all of the Borough presidents complimented Fresh Direct for bringing food to the poor and unemployed going to NYCHA five days a week. She is also trying to make sure people can get to a hospital if they are ill and making sure the hospital staffs at Harlem and Metropolitan and others beleaguered hospital have food as “the restaurants are closed so finding local restaurants to deliver food to workers is important.”

Brewer said her office was receiving numerous calls of construction sites still in full operation without any social distancing or PPE. “People were calling and saying ‘close it down, close it down.’ We dealt with that fast.” She didn’t want to, but the dangers outweighed the economic benefit.

She is not only working to make sure hospitals and nursing homes have enough PPE’s, and residents having enough hospital beds and ventilators, but she is also concerned about the many thousands of businesses that are shut down. On top of that, many large and small cultural centers are hurting, so she is going to bat for them with philanthropic organizations to keep them alive.

“We are trying to find philanthropic money for all the arts groups and there are more in Manhattan than anywhere else in the city. Not just the Met, Lincoln Center or the Museum of Natural History, but the smaller ones that have budgets of say $30,000 – they will all disappear if we don’t help,” Brewer bemoaned.  She recently conferenced with Harlem Arts Alliance, facilitated a call with 100 + arts groups
regarding how to access funding.

Brewer said she is trying to get businesses to work with the crisis, so she has garment workers making face shields and masks – both in Manhattan and Brooklyn factories “here in this city.”

Education, dense in Manhattan, don’t have cars, a lot of friends don’t mind putting om mask and go in cars, we have to walk around, I walk to grocery, food hub, for adults and families, spending a lot of time students have apparatus, everyone walking to school, challenge, for the regional centers, biz there, walking to get food,

She was recently able to get all of her community board to use “virtual Zoom that her office purchased for them, and now “we have 100 percent of the boards working virtual – and hundreds are participating that never participated before. More people are interested in becoming a part of what is going on.” as a result, she has 1,000 applications for people to join community boards.

Some of her initiatives include intervening on eviction attempts – “and there are landlords still trying to evict people when they are losing their jobs.”

And as people become more interested in government she is urging her constituents to fill out a census form in the midst of the crisis – they are home with not much else to do.

Brewer is calling on the state to suspend luxury commercial rental taxes, especially at a time when most businesses that pay in excess of $500,000 a month, no longer can pay their rent on closed restaurants and other establishments. While stimulus money is on the way, Brewer is encouraging landlords to be patient. She said it will be ultimately up to banks to be even more patient on mortgage and loan payments as landlords are not getting paid by their renters.

“There is a little good news here as the federal stimulus will help gig workers – as I understand it it will be first come first serve,” Brewer said. “I’ve already gotten calls today, trying to get that funding, – it’s complicated. My real concerns will be for Broadway, the Financial District and creative arts in Manhattan – I don’t know how we will bounce back.”

One of the more unusual problems she had was how to distribute a million fortune cookies that came from Chinatown.

In the meantime, Brewer continues to publish an on-line newsletter updating on COVID-19, increasing capacity at hospitals and the addition of the Javits Center and Navy ship the Comfort taking in new patients. Click here for more information.

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