Rent prices continue to rise in Brooklyn, reports say

 

By Jean Brannum | jbrannum@queensledger.com

Real estate reports show that rent in the city continues to increase with little end in sight, and the number of apartments available is decreasing ahead of the busy summer moving season. 

In Brooklyn, the median rental price for April rose about four percent in the last month, according to a Douglas Elliman report. This increase was slightly less than Manhattan, which rose 4.2 percent in April. 

Molly Franklin, a real estate agent for The Corcoran Group, said that while the Brooklyn market has always been hot, the number of affordable units, especially in Greenpoint, is dwindling. 

“Brooklyn isn’t an affordable borough anymore,” Franklin said. 

The Corcoran Group released a report with similar findings. According to its report, rent in Brooklyn increased ten percent since April 2023. One and two-bedroom apartments increased by over ten percent in the last year. 

Real estate agents are noticing more competition for places. While April is typically busy, this year’s market shows uniquely high competition. 

“I like to call it the Hunger Games,” Elina Golovko said, referring to the fierce competition for places in the summer months. Between new people moving to the city for jobs or school, and people looking to upgrade or downgrade within the city, there are so many people looking and fewer units available. Golovko is a real estate agent for Elliman. 

And she does not see it improving in time for summer, or even in the slower fall and winter months. 

Golovko said that the decrease in inventory has led to tense bidding wars between buyers and sellers. She has seen apartments rent for twenty to thirty percent over the asking price because the area is in high demand. She also noticed that more people are renting to move in up to 90 days in advance, the average earlier was up to 45. 

Jonathan Miller, president of appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel who created the Elliman report, said that since mortgage rates in April were the highest they have ever been, would-be home buyers are “camping” in the rental market. This increases competition for everyone looking for a place to rent. Those wanting to buy a home also have to afford a down payment and interest, which drives more people to rent, according to Golovko. 

“High mortgage rates are not the friend of would-be homebuyers, but they’re also not the friend of renters,” Miller said. “Higher rates push more people from the sales market to the rental market and the economy.”

Surprisingly, average rent in Northern Queens, which includes Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside, and Woodside decreased slightly. Miller suspects that it is due to the expectation that prices will be lower. The number of units has remained steady in the area. 

But even though rent prices are declining in the area, many units rented for about 20 percent over the asking price, indicating another area for tight bidding wars, according to Miller. 

Miller clarified that he can only make educated guesses for the future, but he does not see rent prices declining or more home buying in the next season. As long as mortgage rates are high, more people are likely to stay in the rental market. 

“It’s become clear that we’re not expecting mortgage or interest rate cuts, imminently, as was the thinking just a month ago,” Miller said. 

For those looking to rent or buy, the realtors shared some helpful tips. 

Start early, Golovko said. Due to the competition, starting earlier and creating a game plan will allow you the best chances of finding a place by the time you need to move. The summer rush is starting now. She also advises looking specifically for apartments available on your start date. 

Before you start searching, get documents ready and find a realtor. Co-op units usually have a longer approval process, while rental properties have the fastest. 

Franklin advises her clients to keep an open mind when looking for a place. Don’t be afraid to look into areas you never thought about, or consider moving to commuter cities if you work from home or don’t commute to the city daily. 

Franklin had two clients, a couple, who were dead set on living in Astoria. She found a place for them in Jackson Heights, and they were happy with their choice to live in a spacious apartment in the neighborhood. 

If you want to stay in an area with higher rent prices, be ready to downgrade or live with a roommate. 

Overall, Franklin emphasized that a “strong stomach and an open mind” will make the process survivable. 



Blaze Strikes Brooklyn Church During Easter Service

Courtesy New York City Fire Department

Firefighters battled a five-alarm fire at Our Lady of the Rosary Pompeii Church in Williamsburg on Easter Sunday, March 31, as heavy smoke billows from the building

By MOHAMED FARGHALY

mfarghaly@queensledger.com

Firefighters battle a five-alarm fire at Our Lady of the Rosary Pompeii Church in Williamsburg on Easter Sunday, March 31, as heavy smoke billows from the building

A five-alarm fire broke out at a Catholic church in Williamsburg on Easter Sunday on March 31, causing injuries to multiple individuals within the vicinity.

The blaze ignited at approximately 1:45 p.m. at Our Lady of the Rosary Pompeii, situated at 225 Siegel St. in Williamsburg, engulfing the church’s second floor.

According to the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), the inferno led to minor injuries for three civilians and three firefighters. Heavy smoke billowed across the vicinity for several blocks, with flames fiercely consuming the church’s rooftop.

Efforts to quell the flames persisted into the late afternoon, with firefighters finally gaining control of the situation at around 5:18 p.m. However, the cause of the fire remains undetermined, prompting an investigation by the fire marshal.

The incident disrupted Easter services, triggering a substantial FDNY response. Emergency crews swiftly descended upon the scene, cordoning off Seigel Street to facilitate firefighting operations.

Eyewitnesses recounted the harrowing scene, noting the presence of individuals within the church celebrating the Easter holiday as the fire erupted. Reportedly, approximately 100 worshippers had gathered for the afternoon mass.

Despite the ferocity of the blaze, FDNY officials commendably managed to salvage the church structure. However, a section of the second floor collapsed during the ordeal, resulting in a minor injury for one firefighter.

Tragically, the church’s rectory suffered extensive damage, with investigations underway to ascertain the cause of the conflagration.

 

Courtesy Our Lady of the Rosary Pompeii Church Facebook page

Amid Easter celebrations, firefighters battled a fierce blaze at Our Lady of the Rosary Pompeii Church in Williamsburg.

 

Bill to Expedite New Bike Lanes Passed

By Oona Milliken | omilliken@queensledger.com

Bikers can pedal easier knowing that new bike lanes are coming to the city faster than before. On Dec. 6th, Councilmember Lincoln Restler, alongside Borough President Antonio Reynoso, passed legislation that would eliminate the three month waiting period before bike lanes can be put in. The legislation, Intro 417, cuts that waiting period down to 14 days instead of 90. 

Aside from the 90 day waiting period, the Department of Transportation also had to wait 20-15 days for approval from Major Transportation Projects before beginning construction of bike lanes. Now, that waiting time is also repealed. In a statement from Restler, the Councilmember said that the new legislation would go toward building infrastructure for protected bike lanes, reduce cars on the road and aid in preventing the climate crisis. 

“Every day, New Yorkers make more than 550,000 bike trips,” Restler said in a press release. “Each trip helps us reduce the number of cars on the road and combat the climate crisis. The best way to encourage more biking is to make it safer by building a truly protected network of bike lanes.” 

Jon Orcutt, Director of Advocacy for Bike New York, an organization that seeks to empower New Yorkers through bicycling, said the bill removes an extra burden on creating new bike networks throughout the city. Orcutt said the 90-day waiting period was initially put in place in 2011 during a period bicycle activists call the “Bike Lash,” when community members were reacting to the Bloomberg administration implementing a lot of protected bike lanes at a fast pace. The 2011 legislation, Intro 412, required the DOT to give due notice to community boards when any bike lanes were constructed or removed. 

“They tried to slow bike lane development down with this additional set of rules for notifying community boards about the project,” Orcutt said. “The legislation that Councilmember Restler put together basically repealed that and so now bike lanes are treated like any other change in street configuration.” 

Though Orcutt said the bill was a win for bike advocates across the city, he said the current mayoral administration has been opposed to creation of new bike infrastructure in places like Grenpoint, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights. 

“The most bittersweet part of it is that now that we sort of have this streamlined bike lane production in terms of the procedural part, we have an administration who’s been intervening in bike lane development in a bad way,” Orcutt said. “It’s fantastic that Lincoln was able to push this through. But, now it’s sort of back in the city administration’s court to use this new procedure to get more done.” 

Elizabeth Adams, Deputy Executive Director for Public Affairs at Transportation Alternatives, also gave her support for the bill. Transportation Alternatives is a New York based organization that seeks to prioritize walking, biking and public transportation for the city, rather than relying on cars. In a press release, Adams said that the bill would go towards helping bikers stay safe in New York. 

“To combat the rising levels of bike riders killed in traffic crashes, achieve the legal mandates of the NYC Streets Plan, and meet our climate goals, New York City needs to build more protected bike lanes. Yet, current law makes it harder to build a protected bike lane than other street safety projects. New Yorkers cannot afford delays,” Adams said. “We applaud Council Member Restler and the City Council for passing Intro 417 so bike lane projects are no longer singled out with arbitrary delays and waiting periods that other street projects don’t face.” 

Residents Launch Last Minute Effort to Save Park Church

By Oona Milliken | omilliken@queensledger.com

The fight to keep Park Church on 129 Russell Street in Greenpoint alive has been ongoing for years ever since the Metropolitan New York Synod, a chapter of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, announced Dec. 2021 that it would pull funding for the church due to declining membership. Currently, MNYS is in the process of selling the building, originally built in 1907, to GW Equities LLC, led by developers Avraham Garbo and Berish Wagschal. On Thursday Aug. 31, activists and community members gathered in a Zoom public hearing in front of Judge Richard Latin to halt the sale and attempt to repurpose the building for community use. In a statement from MNYS, Robert Lara, Assistant to the Bishop and Officer of Communications for the synod, said that the decision came after considerate deliberation.

“The Metropolitan New York Synod Council approved the sale of the former Messiah Lutheran Church building, where Park Church Co-op operated, following careful evaluation,” Lara said in an email. “This decision was made due to declining worship attendance and safety concerns with the building’s structure. The sale proceeds will support the growth of viable congregations, particularly those serving marginalized communities, in alignment with the synod’s commitment to anti-racism. ”

Other community members disagree. Jeremy Hook, a long-time Greenpoint resident working to keep the church in place, said that the sale of the church would be incredibly detrimental to the community, and that the synod is behaving like a developer rather than a religious organization.

“It’s ironic that they identify as Lutherans when you recall where Lutherans come from, what the 101 Lutheran theses actually were about, which was Martin Luther saying, ‘Hey, the Catholic Church is just kind of acting a whole lot like a business here and just about making money,’” Hook said. “And I would say that there’s a bit of a similar thing going on with the ELCA.”

According to Hook, the Church was not just a spot for religious worship, but a place for Greenpoint residents to gather, organize events and create a community space. Community members at the hearing gathered and shared their favorite stories and events over the years, including dance parties, Drag Queen Reading Hour, drives to give out free food and shelter as well as birthday parties for children.

Kaki King, a Greenpoint resident and the creator of a silent disco event at McGolrick Park, said at the hearing that there were many spaces for adults to hangout in the area, such as bars and restaurants, but almost none for children. According to King, the church was a place for her family to hangout in.

“Some of my happiest memories of raising my children are definitely from the inside of the park church and I truly hope that our words are heard and that something can be done to help the sale or in future events, you know, preserve the community spirit that is very strong in this in this community,” King said.

As the sale moves forward, this is a last-ditch effort to halt the process, according to Hook. Community members submitted a request for a hearing to the Attorney General’s office, and were approved by Assistant Attorney General Colleen McGrath, who wrote in a letter that Attorney General Letitia James had no objections to the sale but was open to hearing the dissenting voices of the community. According to McGrath, the sale is valid according to New York state law, so there could be no objection to the transaction on that front, but still wanted to raise the concerns of Greenpoint residents.

However, the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau has received a number of complaints objecting to the proposed sale of the Property due to its perceived negative impact on the Greenpoint, Brooklyn community, where the Property is located,” McGrath wrote.

GW Equities have not announced their plans for the church, but have several large-scale projects under their belts, including 13-story residential and commercial development in Downtown Brooklyn. Greenpoint Assemblymember Emily Gallagher said at the hearing that the church was affordable and accessible for all types of community members, and that Greenpoint had enough large developmental projects.

“We have quite a lot of luxury and high end housing that is being developed in this community that is not providing for the same number and diversity of people. So I’m here to ask you to think about justice, rather than nearly law, and see if we can preserve something that is such a vital space for our wonderful community,” Gallagher said. “We really do not have many free spaces in this community where people can meet and gather and have important discussions, especially in the long winter months.”

Other community members do not see the church sale as a loss. Stefan Rysek, a longtime Polish resident of Greenpoint, said that churches were valuable to the community, but did not oppose the residential project.

“People need some kind of mental help from the churches, for example, the Polish churches,” Rysek said. “You know what? I’m not against the apartments being built.”

Park Church had a declining congregation for years, a national trend as Gallup reported that church membership in the United States dipped below majority for the first time in 2021. Churches across the country are closing their doors because there are not enough people to create a significant congregation. Hook, who describes himself as allergic to religion, said that he understood the difficulties MNYS must have faced in keeping their parish open, but advocated for keeping the church as a secular community space.

“In fact, the problem that I will address tomorrow is that, you know, I acknowledge that the congregation itself was shrinking, at the end of the day they probably only had about 15-20 tiding congregations,” Hook said. “So I understand that it must have been a lot of trouble from that end. But the building simultaneously was thriving as a community center.”

Curbside Composting to Arrive in Brooklyn in October

Curbside Composting is coming to Brooklyn stoops Oct. 2, according to a schedule released by the Mayor’s Office. The program, which includes free bins for all Brooklynites who sign up before Oct. 13, is a part of a larger rollout to make composting mandatory across all five boroughs. 

Gil Lopez, an urban ecologist, compost applicator and educator for Big Reuse, said the program is important in making composting accessible to all New York residents. 

“The great thing about the brown bin, and the reason that I’ve been wanting to mandate compost forever, is until everyone in New York City, undocumented or documented, has access [to composting] and they don’t have to do anything special to get it, there is inequity built into our system,” Lopez said. 

The program began Oct. 2022 in Queens and resumed services in the borough in March after a winter hiatus. In 2024, brown bins will start to appear regularly in Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx. The Curbside Composting initiative, sponsored by Park Slope Councilmember Shahana Hanif, is just one part of the Zero Waste Act initiative passed by the City Council in June of this year. 

The Zero Waste Act is a five-bill initiative that also includes annual reporting measures on the 11,000 tons of waste created in New York daily, community food scrap collecting centers, new construction of recycling facilities, as well as the city’s general efforts to withstand climate change. Under the new legislation, composting will be compulsory by the year 2025, when fines will be imposed on NYC residents who decline to sort out their organic waste. The fines will increase after each violation, starting at $25, then $50, and finally $100 for every following fine. According to Michael Whitesides, the communications director for Councilmember Hanif, the plan is to reduce the carbon footprint of the city and expand composting access to a broader range of people. 

“We’ve also really been focusing on getting multilingual outreach. A lot of the areas that we have composting right now tend to be white, wealthier, mostly English speaking communities,” Whitesides said. “The Councilmember has been really involved in trying to get some translated materials, not only about what is composting but also how to sign up for brown bin. We’re not just going to communities that already have access to curbside compost but really doing our work to expand it citywide.” 

The composting collection will be handled by the Department of Sanitation of New York and will be picked up on the same day that recycling is gathered. According to Whitesides, DSNY is putting in the work to let Brooklanites know about the brown bin rollout, including putting up flyers, doing social media outreach, and knocking on people’s doors. On Twitter, DSNY shared that more than 23,000 people have signed up for a brown bin in Brooklyn, and urged more people to participate in the program. 

According to an email response by Vincent Gragnagi, the DSNY press secretary, the compost will be sent to one of five locations across the city: the DSNY’s Staten Island composting facility, the Department of Environmental Protection’s waste management location in Newton Creek, an organic processing facility in Massachusetts, and Nature’s Choice composting plant in New Jersey. Gragnagi said the curbside composting initiative makes it easier for residents in the city to do their part in combating climate change, and in turn, also allows the city to reuse the organic material collected from community members. 

“We all share the goal of making it easy for New Yorkers to do the right thing and compost — and that is exactly what universal curbside composting does,” Gragnagi said in an email. “The goal of the procurement is to ensure that material collected in our curbside composting program goes to a variety of facilities, each of which will process the material and turn it into something beneficial, either renewable energy and fertilizer, or compost for parks and gardens” 

Whitesides said that composting organic material alone can reduce the city’s environmental impact by a third of its current carbon footprint. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, composting will reduce the amount of organic waste going to landfills, which produce a significant amount of harmful methane gas. Pilot composting programs in cities such as San Francisco have managed to reduce the amount of trash going to landfills by 80 percent, where the municipality has managed to compost 255,500 tons of organic waste each year, according to the Public Interest Network. According to Lopez, though the fight to increase composting has been active amongst grass-roots environmental circles in the area since the 1990s, this is NYC’s first large-scale initiative to enact mandatory food waste processing. 

Katie Cunningham, a Park Slope resident, said she wanted her neighbors to do their part to reduce methane gas from landfills by composting their organic material, and hopes that the brown bin program will increase the number of people who take the time to do so. After 15 years of living in the area, she said she has just started composting because of the readily available service, and in part, she said because the sign-up process to get a brown bin delivered to her home was so simple. 

“I’ve only been composting recently, I hate to admit. I’m excited that they’re invested in expanding this program and bringing it to Brooklyn,” Cunningham said. “The sign-up process is straightforward, you just go online and order the bin that you need. I’m hoping it will motivate more people in the neighborhood and more people in Brooklyn to start composting.” 

Lopez said many residents in cities assume that they are far away from the harm occurring to forests, oceans and other ecosystems and that New Yorkers should do anything they can to reduce their environmental impact. According to Lopez, composting is a big part of that. 

“We are part of the ecosystem. Period. We never separated from the ecosystem,” Lopez said. “People assume that they are not a part of the natural world. If that were true, we wouldn’t be experiencing the tripartite climate catastrophe that we’re in right now … We live in a world where everything is connected, and there’s no way you can sever that connection, no matter how big, bad, rich or elected you are.”

Thomas Leeser, a Park Slope resident, said he is glad that composting is coming to Brooklyn, and that he has been composting since he moved to the area three years ago. Leeser said that he had no issue with the program being mandatory, as composting is good for the environment. 

“It’s a good thing, you know, I’m happy that it’s happening,” Leeser said. “We should all do our part for the environment.”

On the Record: Halil Kaya

By Oona Milliken | omilliken@queensledger.com

Despite the gray weather in Downtown Brooklyn, Halil Kaya was smiling inside the ice cream truck parked outside Albee Square. After selling five strawberry smoothies to a large family and one rainbow sprinkled cone to a mother-daughter duo, Kaya stopped serving and said he loves selling ice cream because of how happy it makes people. 

“I just love to make people happy, you know? To see the kids happy. That’s the best job I want to do,” Kaya said. 

Kaya, whose favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate vanilla twist, said it can sometimes be hard to stay positive in such a hectic area. According to Kaya, Albee Square is bustling with people from all over Brooklyn, and people can be rude and abrasive when he’s working the window. 

“Sometimes people like to give you a hard time about the ice cream, or the prices, but otherwise I like it,” Kaya said. 

Because of this, Kaya said he wanted people to spread positivity, and remind people to stay polite during ice cream rush hours. 

“Just be polite to others with whatever you do. You should just try to make people happy everyday. Yeah, just be polite,” Kaya said. “Share the happiness.”

On the Record: Siyuri Zen and Ange Musoni

By Oona Milliken | omilliken@queensledger.com

Siyuri Zen and Ange Musoni in McCarren Park

Taking a deep breath can be a luxury sometimes, according to friends Siyuri Zen and Ange Musoni, who met up to spend quality time together and relax in inflatable bean bags at the entrance of McCarren park.

“It’s kind of a friend’s date, we met when we were working, so we were always in spaces of working and being on a schedule so we don’t often get the time to catch up and get to know each other, so when we have those days, it’s really nice,” Musoni said.

The pair met working for a security company at Yankee Stadium, but have since switched to other roles at different companies. Now, their schedules can be conflicting, so they said that they appreciate the time to hangout. According to Zen and Musoni, carving out time for leisure is important. Zen said that it’s rare for her to be able to take some time to slow down her breathing.

“Relaxation to me is a moment to take a deep breath, it’s like being in a situation where you don’t have to take shallow breaths, if that makes sense,” Zen said.

According to Musoni, relaxation can be a way for her to access parts of herself that she does not get to on a regular basis.

“For me, relaxation can be a way to tap into certain parts of yourself that you don’t get to tap into everyday in your routine. I’m personally learning how to just be by myself alone, and relaxation plays a big part of that,” Musoni said.

DOT to Move Forward with Compromised Redesign of McGuinness Blvd

By Oona Milliken | omilliken@queensledger.com

The NYC Department of Transportation announced Aug. 16 that they would move forward with a compromised plan of the McGuinness redesign in Greenpoint after years of meetings with elected officials, community advocates and residents.

The new plan, one of three potential candidates for redesign of the street, includes adding a protected bike lane on each side of moving traffic and removing a lane for cars and other automated vehicles. Construction is set to begin in September, according to the DOT.

Marisa LaScala, a parent at PS 34, said she is happy that community efforts to make McGuinness safer have finally paid off.

“I have a kid that goes to school at one of the schools right off McGuinness, and it’s really frightening seeing the way cars whip around the turn or creep into the crosswalk, so anything to make that a little safer is just such a load off,” LaScala said. “I like the idea of taking it down to one car on each side, I think that would be a big step forward in terms of safety.”

The push to renovate the street, which gained traction in 2021 after a beloved local teacher Matthew Jensen was killed on the road, has embroiled Greenpointers in a controversy for over two years. Two competing factions, Make McGuinness Safe in favor of the redesign, and Keep McGuinness Moving in opposition, have clashed over whether or not McGuinness needs a revision. Kevin LaCherra, a local activist and coordinator for Make McGuinness Safe, said that the road is too dangerous to stay.

“In the wake of Matt’s death in 2021, we came together, led by the parents of PS 110, and we said ‘This is not an acceptable situation,’” LaCherra said. “McGuinness Boulevard has been killing people since the moment it opened, the moment they widened the street and built a highway through Greenpoint. That status quo has been hurting people for 70 years, and has been killing people for 70 years. Dozens and dozens and dozens of people have been killed.”

According to LaCherra, the efforts to modify the street has been a long and difficult fight, but he is pleased to see the proposal going forward, even if all the proposed safety measures by officials and local community leaders were not met. Averianna Eseinbach, a Greenpoint resident involved in Keep McGuinness Moving, said traffic flow on McGuinness needs to be kept in motion, and that there were other ways to reduce accidents that do not remove any lanes of traffic,

“We do need to preserve four lanes on McGuinness to prevent gridlock because it’s such a major artery in Greenpoint. This region has thousands of businesses that rely on McGuinness. It’s the only North-South artery in the area, and yet businesses were left out of the conversation,” Eseinbach said. “I like raised crosswalks, that would definitely improve pedestrian safety. More red light cameras, and rumble strips at the foot of the bridge.”

LaCherra said these efforts are not enough to prevent deaths, and that there have been two years of conversations with various factions of the Greenpoint community on the best way to reduce deaths on the boulevard.

“The reality is that the sort of things that Keep McGuinness moving are proposing are either things that have already been publicly adjudicated, or are things that we are also asking for, they’re just insufficient to tackle the scale of the problem,” LaCherra said. “We’re all in favor of raised crosswalks, raised crosswalks would be great, but they do nothing to disincentivize the massive amount of traffic coming onto the boulevard off of the outer highway.”

LaScala said she does not understand why anyone would be opposed to the redesign, and that she is proud of the way that the neighborhood fought for a change on McGuiness.

“I actually can’t really understand why someone would look at this and say they would be against it,” LaScala said. “It was really inspiring to see the way that the neighborhood came together. I went to the rally, I saw other parents from my kids’ schools, parents from other schools. It just seems like people can really come together and make their voices heard, and actually affect change.”

 

This Williamsburg Eatery Is Mixing Creativity With The Flavors of Home

Kevin and Ria Graham, the couple behind Williamsburg’s newest Caribbean eatery

By Clare Baierl cbaierl@queensledger.com

It’s hard to stand out among the flooded streets of Williamsburg. Restaurants and shops line the busy streets of Bedford Ave, hoping to entice passerbyers with colorful window displays and fancy signs. But walk past McCarren Park, down 11th St. and you will find something different. A simple building, with a simple but daunting task. Rethink Caribbean food.

For Kevin and Ria Graham, opening a restaurant had never been in the life plan, but neither had their whirlwind romance either. After meeting at a culinary event for Black History Month, the two-hit it off, and their partnership began. In less than a year, the pair was already married with a baby on the way.

Before she knew it, Ria had become a stay-at-home mom.

“I started feeling unsatisfied,” Graham explained, “I knew that I wanted to get back out there.”

So the couple put their heads together and decided to start a restaurant.

Kevin had experience in events and the culinary scene, while Ria brought the marketing knowledge, together forming a business partnership as harmonious as their personal one.

They opened their flagship Caribbean restaurant, Kokomo, in July of 2020, quickly gaining a following of loyal fans. It was the height of the pandemic, and if opening a restaurant in general was hard, this was on another level. But the atmosphere and the food stood for itself, the restaurant quickly became a neighborhood staple.

Now, three years later, the Grahams are taking their Caribbean concept to another level, with a fast-casual modern take on the flavors they know so well. The concept is simple, a healthier version of Carribean food. They want their guests to experience the classic spices and foods of the Caribbean paired in new and inventive ways.

The name of the restaurant, OxKale, follows this concept to its core. Inspired by the classic Caribbean meal of Oxtail, the name uses a play on words to include the beloved health food of the moment: Kale.

OxKale serves up traditional Caribbean food with a healthy twist

“We don’t serve traditional dishes in a traditional way,” Ria explained. “There isn’t one thing on the menu that you can find at another Caribbean restaurant.” The menu is packed with colorful dishes, everything from bright salads, jerk chicken and oxtail bowls, to their newest creation, a Gyroti.

The dish, a meld between Roti and a Gyro, is a staple of OxKale. Inspired by two staples of Trindadian cuisine, the finished product is a soft, slightly crispy, thick wrap that holds meats and vegetables like warm island-dream. “It’s kind of like our brain love child,” said Ria. “We brought two different cuisines; the Mediterranean and the Caribbean cuisine, into one beautiful mixture.”

Going into the second week since opening, the restaurant is already bustling. Now, with expanded hours, those looking to try OxKale can come in anytime until 2 am on weekends.

“If the cravings hit late, you don’t have to break your diet,” Kevin said with a laugh.

Private Health Clinic in South Williamsburg Steps Up Amidst Migrant Crisis Overflow

By Oona Milliken | omilliken@queensledger.com

On any given Sunday on the outskirts of the Orthodox Hasidic community in South Williamsburg, passerby might turn the street to see hundreds of migrants gathered outside of Parcare, an unassuming private health clinic on Park Avenue, speaking animatedly in languages like French, Bengali, Arabic and Spanish. 

The migrants are there for a drive that Parcare operates in order to help people who have recently arrived in the United States navigate the asylum seeking process, which includes information on how to obtain health insurance, registering for an IDNYC card and an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, getting in contact with immigrant lawyers or finding permanent housing. Gary Schlesinger, founder and chief executive officer of Parcare, said the drive emerged when patients who spoke little English started turning up at Parcare around Nov. 2022 without insurance, identification or long-term housing. 

“It started affecting us because all of a sudden, we started seeing people coming to our front desk asking for help,“ Schlesinger said. “So we jumped in, trying to help. I felt, ‘This is the right thing to do. This is the moral thing to do.’” 

Levi Jurkowiz, community liaison for Parcare, said that Parcare runs three drives a week, on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays for anyone that might need assistance, but migrants are the primary visitors. Jurkowiz said Parcare is trying to help with the migrant crisis as much as they can, but he said he feels frustrated that there is no broader plan of action from the city and federal government. 

“There is no plan, there’s an immigrant crisis. The people here are really, all of them, just looking to work, pay taxes and get their papers. We should help them get that,” Jurkowitz said. “I think there’s an issue with the federal government, they have to figure out what to do.” 

According to Jurkowitz, the people who come into Parcare often live in shelters and speak little English, which makes it difficult to obtain health insurance, bank accounts, or a job as you need a permanent address to register, and it is difficult to find work if you do not speak the language. Jurkowiz said the system is incredibly difficult to navigate, and many newcomers arrive after long and arduous journeys with debt from cartels and other predatory lenders who make enormous profit off of smuggling migrants across the border. 

“It costs them thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to come here,” Jurkowiz said. “And the people who lend them the money aren’t the nicest people in the world.” 

Ibrahim, 23, said he had traveled through five countries and several American states to come to New York from his home in Mauritania, a country located in Western Africa. We are only using Ibrahim’s first name to protect his identity. Ibrahim speaks French and Arabic but minimal English, and communicated via a mix of spoken word and Google Translate. According to Ibrahim, life in Mauritania was extremely difficult, and he felt confined by government constraints, social and family pressures as well as a lack of opportunities. 

“I have a lot of problems with Mauritania. You can’t be free,” Ibrahim said. “I want to be free in my decisions, I want to do what I like to do.” 

Ibrahim said he studied computer science and business in Tunisia before coming to the United States, and hopes to continue his studies. However, he said he has had trouble finding work and resources in the U.S. due to his uncertain legal status in the country. Ibrahim said that immigration services cater to people from Spanish speaking countries, and that many under-the-table job opportunities available to Spanish migrants are not given to African migrants. According to Ibrahim, it has also been hard adjusting to living in the shelters where there is a lack of showers and personal space, and that theft is a big issue. 

“It’s very hard to live where I live,” Ibrahim said. “[In the shelter] we live 70 in one room, eight floors. The big problem for me for now is stealing. You have phone? Steal. You have bag? Steal. I have papers, they steal that.” 

Schlesinger, who grew up in the Orthodox community in Williamsburg, said he feels an obligation to help the asylum seekers after hearing stories from his parents who escaped the Holocaust from Hungary. 

“My father used to always tell me how grateful he was for anyone that used to help them because they came here with nothing. He was talking the immigrant language, you know, he was an immigrant,” Schlesinger said. “So, when I started looking into this, I thought, ‘You know, this is a crisis, let’s do something.’” 

As of July 19, there are 54,800 migrants under New York City’s care with hundreds of people arriving in the city each day. In a press conference, Mayor Eric Adams said the crisis has reached its breaking point as news broke that newcomers have been turned away from overflowing shelters and forced to sleep on the streets; Adams urged President Joe Biden to give aid to the city in order to alleviate the issue.

According to Jurkowiz, squabbles between Republican and Democratic politicians have caused the situation, and that the migrants have been caught in the middle. Since April 2022, Texas Governor Greg Abott has been sending busloads of migrants to sanctuary cities like New York and Washington D.C. in order to protest the Biden administration’s border policy. Since last spring, New York City has seen an influx of 90,000 migrants and asylum-seekers. Schlesinger said that the work Parcare does is not enough to help all the people arriving into the city, and that there needs to be more money and infrastructure to deal with the issue. 

“Let’s face it, the money really comes from the federal government, that’s where the billions are,” Schlesinger said. “And if they don’t recognize this as a crisis, there’s a big issue here because there’s thousands of people and if the money isn’t going to come from Washington, God knows where this is going to end. Private people like us can only do so much.”