A Community View by Preserve Ramapo Chairman Robert Rhodes–Posted in The Journal News January 10
‘The lawlessness in our community has been supported at the highest levels of state government.’
Ramapo is not a local problem. The lawlessness in our community has been supported at the highest levels of state government. Ramapo’s dangerous overcrowding, the breakdown of state and local laws and our approaching bankruptcy can only be solved at the state level.
For years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, refused to have anything to do with the educational crisis in East Ramapo. He ignored letters and petitions from public school parents and his Department of Education responded with remarkable timidity. His refusal to act was supported by state Sen. John Flanagan, a Republican, the governor’s close political ally, who headed the Senate education committee. As we all know, Flanagan is now Senate Majority Leader.
This failure was repeated in the area of housing safety. Since the early 1950s, our fire officials have complained about overly dense wooden frame apartment houses and exceedingly unsafe building practices. They sent warning after warning to Albany. There powerful political leaders told state fire officials to shut up.
This inaction in Albany sent a simple message to our black middle class — we have no interest in protecting either your community, or your schools. Get out of town. Slumlords and wealthy Hasidic builders have been given free rein to push their way into stable black neighborhoods. Now that these actors are running out of space in this community they are expanding rapidly outward into formerly stable neighborhoods. Even Orthodox Jews who have always been afraid to complain in public are finally organizing and going to court.
Religious activities are facilitated by the federal law known as RLUIPA (the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act) and religious tax exemptions are protected by the New York State constitution. The result is an absurd situation where, for example, half of the real estate in the Hasidic village of Kaser has become tax exempt.
Our increasing economic difficulties are compounded by corrupt politicians who allow slumlords to escape real estate taxes.
Last, but not least, all of Rockland is a victim of an international trend. More and more economic activity is concentrated in a small number of central cities while high housing costs drive families into underfinanced suburbs.
The writer is chairman of Preserve Ramapo.