THE DAILY NEWS
By Holley Drakeford
The de Blasio administration has big future plans for East Harlem. But before ushering in new development, officials must do more to improve quality of life here on East 125th St., right now.
While some efforts have been made, the problems still linger: homelessness,K2 drug use and an unfairly high density of methadone clinics, to name a few. Uptown, we never got a highly touted “multi-agency task force” like Times Square did.
Of course, those problems weren’t in the press release last month when the city’s Economic Development Corporation released its Request for Proposals for a huge new commercial development at East 126th St. and Third Ave. The announcement was another step toward the city’s “E125” redevelopment plans, which will ultimately span several blocks and include 1,000 units of mixed-income housing and up to 700,000 square feet of commercial space.
Many in our community — residents, small businesses and property owners alike — agree with the E125 concept because they want to see positive growth that creates jobs and opportunity. Our group, the New Harlem East Merchants Association, or NHEMA, has spent the past two years working around East 125th St. to help spark some of that growth and clean up blighted areas.
But it is concerning to see the administration push forward with a bold facelift while our community still struggles with deeper problems that have held us back for decades.
As we enter 2016 and another state legislative session begins, both city and state officials must take steps to improve East Harlem’s quality of life — and they must do it before thousands of new residents and businesses move in.
Tp begin, we need a comprehensive, sustained effort to tackle street homelessness around East Harlem — not a one-shot deal.
This past year, the administration devoted some new NYPD resources to clear much of the homeless population out of the East 125th St. and Lexington Ave. intersection. It was helpful, but it leaves us with two major concerns.
First, the administration must deal with the fact that the homeless situation has not disappeared, but has mainly relocated to other blocks immediately surrounding the intersection. You can’t just spread the problem around. Relocation has also prevented many homeless people from receiving much-needed services.
Second, we have no idea what will happen once the 25th Precinct removes its Mobile Command Center from 125th and Lex.
The Command Center’s presence has been a huge factor in dispersing the homeless population, but the NYPD and the administration have not announced any long-term plan to maintain and build on that effort. We need to see one.
Second comes synthetic pot, a new scourge that’s fueling criminal behavior. It’s good to have new laws against K2 — but those laws must be accompanied by rigorous enforcement.
We cheered when Mayor de Blasio signed new legislation to criminalize the sale and production of the drug, and we applauded new state regulations set by Gov. Cuomo.
All necessary — and insufficient.
The city and state should make it clear that enforcing these laws and regulations will be a public safety priority for 2016, and they should set clear, benchmarks for getting K2 and its sellers off the street.
Just like with homelessness, the lack of a clearly articulated long-term plan leaves us concerned that once the spotlight is gone, the plague of K2 could simply reemerge.
One last big quality-of-life challenge: The state Legislature must pass a commonsense law to regulate methadone clinics.
More than one-third of all the city’s methadone clinics are in Harlem or East Harlem — and several are within walking distance of the 125th and Lex corridor. This is a low-income community with families, schools and places of worship. It has always been wrong to place a disproportionate burden of handling hundreds of recovering heroin addicts on our neighborhood. But nothing has ever changed.
Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez of East Harlem has introduced a bill to prevent methadone clinics from operating within 500 feet of a church or school. This would stop new clinics from being dumped into this portion of our community, and would help provide more equitable and sensible distribution of clinics throughout the city.
The Assembly and Senate should pass this bill in 2016. The City Council should add its voice by passing a resolution in support — and look for other ways to relieve our community of this burden.
East Harlem is sick with three serious quality-of-life diseases. Cure them now.
Drakeford is a board member of New Harlem East Merchants Association.