CityLaw Profile: Jumaane Williams, Council Member and Chair of Housing and Buildings Committee

Jumaane Williams, with a strong background as a community organizer, was elected to the City Council in 2009 to represent the 45th Council District which covers the Flatbush, East Flatbush, Flatlands, and parts of Midwood and Canarsie neighborhoods of Brooklyn. In his work prior to and as a City Council Member, Jumaane Williams has displayed a passion for community issues like combating gun violence, youth development, tenant advocacy and affordable housing. He plans to run to replace Melissa Mark-Viverito as Speaker of the City Council at the end of her term, and if successful, he would be the first Council Speaker from Brooklyn since the passage of the 1989 Charter.

A native Brooklynite, Williams was born and raised near the corner of 54th and Avenue J. He graduated Brooklyn Technical High School before entering Brooklyn College to earn his bachelor degree in political science and a master’s degree in urban policy and administration in 2005. After college Williams pursued a career in non-profit community organizations. He first worked as the assistant director for the Greater Flatbush Beacon School where he focused on youth programming and then served as the interim executive director of Flatbush East Community Development Corporation which successfully sponsors youth and housing programs.

As a community organizer Williams worked to improve the 59-building Flatbush Gardens public housing complex and to secure city funding for a new youth program at the complex.

Later as the Executive Director of the New York State Tenants & Neighbors, Williams advocated in favor of tenants in Section 8 and Mitchell-Lama buildings who faced buyouts and much higher rents. He also worked as a programming director for the Coalition for the Improvement of Bedford Stuyvesant, a coalition of non-profits working on local issues ranging from business vitality to resident health and wellness.

In the 2009 general election Williams won a commanding 76.65% of the vote against an incumbent Council Member Kendall Stewart. Entering the City Council, Williams wanted to change how people perceived electoral politics by becoming the number one community organizer for his district.

Williams believes that the City Council as an institution has power it has yet to fully develop. He believes the Council could be even more effective through aggressive oversight of agencies and by the Council advocating policies more supportive of community needs.

Williams has served as the Chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings since the beginning of his second term. Williams is proud of a bill currently moving through his Committee. The bill, part of a package of 21 bills relating to construction safety, would require all construction workers citywide, at both union and non-union sites, to participate in an apprenticeship program or have commensurate work experience. “When we land that plane I think it is going to be historic,” says Williams. Williams also expressed pride in recent legislation that strengthens tenant protections from harassment.

Williams has been an outspoken critic of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program for not going far enough to address housing in the City. At the time Williams advocated for eligibility income bands as low as 30 percent and attempted to have those low-income levels included in every option. Before passage, the law did not even go as low as 40 percent of the area median income. As ratified the law does include 40 percent as the lowest eligibility band, but the band is not required with all options. Williams voted against the bill for these reasons and continues to advocate for lower income bands. He argues that without deeper affordability the City’s history of housing segregation, which spills over into school segregation, will continue.

Williams believes that the Council’s inability to push for lower-income bands may be due to a lack of public awareness. Larger zoning actions, like the Hudson Yards re-zoning, garner wide public attention, but lesser publicized zoning actions go unnoticed. If more communities were aware of what was going on, they would push the Council and the Mayor to do more for low income tenants.

If elected Speaker, Williams plans to push community involvement in the Council. He has previously championed public participatory budgeting and would expand that program where possible. Williams also commits to pushing more controversial issues such as housing, construction safety, and gun violence, and believes discussions on such topics can be had without allowing the conversation to dissolve into the acrimony seen often on the national stage.

By: Jonathon Sizemore

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.