Levin is building his candidacy for City Council around affordable housing, which he said is the first thing voters mention on his door-to-door trips across the district.
"I'm hearing that rents are too high and that there's no affordable housing being built, or not enough of it," said Levin, a Greenpoint resident. Levin said he is aware he has chosen to tackle a serious citywide problem likely to be resolved - if ever - over decades, but this doesn't bother him.
"We could all work as hard as we can for the next ten years and we would still need affordable housing," said Levin. "This is going to be a major challenge."
Levin, who was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, has been working as a community organizer and advocate for a range of issues since moving to Brooklyn after graduating from college.
Levin ran a Lead Safe House program for the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Center, helping families relocate from lead-poisoned apartments, before joining New York State Assemblyman Vito Lopez' office. For the past three years, he has worked as Lopez's chief of staff, a position he still holds. Levin said his experience working with Lopez has prepared him for the City Council.
"In that role, I've learned a lot about what makes government work and what makes it defective," said Levin, who stressed that sound public policy for the district should take into account its multicultural makeup.
The district includes a large Polish community in Greenpoint, African-American, Latino, and Hasidic communities in South Williamsburg, as well as more affluent pockets in Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, and elsewhere.
To ensure longtime Brooklyn residents are not priced out of their neighborhoods, Levin has proposed a general, two-pronged approach to the city's housing crisis. His plan focuses on preserving existing affordable housing, and creating new, below-market units as residential development in the district continues expanding.
"You want to use the levers you have," Levin said, "to preserve neighborhoods while at the same time allowing [for] development that has affordable housing."
Levin would seek to strengthen rent-stabilization laws, repeal vacancy decontrol, and find new funding streams from the city and state to finance legislative housing initiatives. Levin said stronger rent regulation would preserve below-market apartments from developers eager to replace them with more profitable units. At the same time, he said, developers should be encouraged by the city to include affordable housing in any new residential buildings.
These measures could help spur positive growth in a number of other areas, Levin said, from job creation and open space development (he supports a cleanup of the Newtown Creek and efforts to build the Brooklyn Bridge Park, without a luxury housing component) to education improvements across a district with diverse communities who share more in common than most people think.
"It's a tremendously varied and diverse district, but that's what gives it its strength," said Levin. "Everyone wants the same thing: a decent, safe, clean and affordable place to raise their families. That's the common thread."