Brownsville

In Public Service: Walker criticizes de Blasio housing plan

May 10, 2016 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Latrice Walker was elected to the New York State Assembly in 2014. Eagle photo by Paula Katinas

Assemblymember Latrice Walker, who grew up in a housing development in Brownsville called Prospect Plaza, said she knows first-hand how changes in government policy can affect the lives of average New Yorkers.

Prospect Plaza, with 485 units spread out over four buildings, operated under the jurisdiction of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), but was demolished under a federal HOPE VI program. The HOPE program was supposed to make the lives of NYCHA residents better, but Walker said her mom and all of the other tenants had to move out, leaving behind apartments they had lived in for decades.

Government officials moved everyone out and promised that they could return one day, according to Walker. “It never happened,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle during a recent interview in her district office at 400 Rockaway Ave. in Brownsville.

The shutdown of Prospect Plaza “left a big hole in the community,” Walker said. “Prospect Plaza was displaced. I am the face of that displacement.”

Walker recalled that her mother, who was distressed by being forced to move from her apartment, encouraged her to get a good education, become a lawyer and help people, “so that this can’t happen again to anyone.”

Interestingly, NYCHA has plans to re-open Prospect Plaza, Walker said. “The dream has now come to fruition,” she said. “Many tenants will be able to move back. We are looking forward to creating a new community.”

Walker followed her mother’s career advice.

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Elected in 2014, Walker is currently serving in her first term representing the 55th Assembly District (AD). Her AD takes in all or parts of Brownsville, Ocean Hill-Brownsville, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Cypress Hills, East New York and Bushwick.

Walker is chairperson of the Assembly Sub-Committee on Renewable Energy. She is also on several other committees, including Housing, Correction, Economic Development, and Election Law.

For a freshman, Walker has not been shy about making her mark in Albany. She has sponsored numerous bills on voting rights and crime victims’ rights and has spoken out on several issues, including Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to rezone the city to build 200,000 affordable housing units.

The mayor’s plan isn’t well thought-out, according to Walker, who predicted that it will have “unintended consequences.”

For one thing, there isn’t enough senior housing included in the plan, she said. For another thing, “his affordability level did not go far enough,” she said. In addition, the plan “does not have an economic development component,” she said.

“We don’t create neighborhoods by displacing people,” Walker added.

Walker, who became a lawmaker by following her mother’s advice, also paid tribute to another family member when she crafted legislation aimed at helping crime victims and their families.

A bill she sponsored that would require a district attorney to inform a victim or a victim’s family if the person who committed the crime against them is being paroled was passed by the Assembly.

The legislation came out of her personal experience. Her brother was murdered several years ago. Shockingly, Walker learned that his killer had been paroled when she saw him at a neighborhood block party.

“My bill would require the DA to stay in communication. You shouldn’t have to find out that the guy who killed your relative is out of prison by running into him on the street,” she said.

Despite her personal tragedy, Walker said she has many happy memories of growing up Brownsville. “It was a community where people took care of each other,” she said.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Brownsville had community policing and there were after-school programs for kids.

But dangers lurked everywhere. “I witnessed a person getting killed on a summer afternoon. Another time, someone threw a Molotov Cocktail into a store and set the store on fire,” she told the Eagle.

Walker attended public schools in Brooklyn and then moved on to the State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase. She had initially planned on becoming an actress. But she took a course in political science and found herself hooked on politics.

She went to Pace University Law School to study environmental law and studied abroad in Brazil for a semester.

Upon receiving her law degree and passing the bar, she became an entertainment lawyer, representing superstar clients such as Michael Jackson, Prince and Stevie Wonder.

She loved it. She also found, however, that it didn’t totally fulfill her. “I discovered I wanted to give back,” she said.

Walker started getting involved in politics. In 2007, she campaigned for Yvette Clarke, who was running for congress in the 11th Congressional District (CD) in Central Brooklyn. Clarke won and Walker left the entertainment field to work for the new congresswoman.

Walker served as Clarke’s chief counsel. Clarke’s district was renumbered in 2013 and is now the Ninth CD.

In 2014, Assemblymember William Boyland, who represented the 55th AD, was convicted of corruption charges and was forced to resign from his seat. Walker decided to run for his seat. “I knew that if I didn’t do it, I would never be able to live with myself,” she recalled.

Walker won the special election.

“God makes no mistakes,” she said.

Since her election two years ago, Walker has sponsored or worked on several pieces of legislation, including a bill to protect voting rights.

Under a bill she sponsored, any proposals to change congressional or state legislative district lines would have to win the approval of the New York state attorney general before the changes could be adopted.

Walker has also pushed for New York state to adopt early voting, online voting registration and to have automatic voter registration when one receives a driver’s license.

She would also like to see pre-registration for 16 year olds.

“I’m very proud of it,” she said, referring to her bills on voting rights.

Walker said she is very interested in exploring renewable energy and wants to see LED lighting, solar panels on roofs and wind power.

One housing development in her AD, Marcus Garvey Village, has solar panels.

It’s important to explore renewable energy sources, according to Walker, who said it’s not only an environmental issue, but an economic issue as well. “It can open up a green economy,” she said.

 

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