Today’s news:

The Civic Scene: Illegal conversions endanger residents due to fire hazards

The headline of an article in the December 2009 North Flushing Civic Association newsletter read “Save Lives — Report Illegal Apartments.” The article explained that our city is asking residents to report suspected illegal conversions and apartments.

A fire in Woodside Nov. 6, killed and injured people. According to the city Department of Buildings, the house had been cited for suspected illegal conversion and had not remedied the conversion.

The overloading of electrical circuits in these illegal apartments is a common cause of fires. Often landlords do not put in the proper wiring when they add illegal rooms and leave the old wiring as is. People move into these illegal apartments and do not realize they have a fire hazard when they use appliances.

The DOB, in cooperation with the FDNY and the mayor’s Office of Community Affairs, is handing out a flier entitled “Living Safely.” They have passed out 64,000 fliers in 11 different languages at 25 different sites.

The civic went on to note that city Comptroller John Liu had been their president in the 1990s. In fact, I first met Liu when he represented his civic at meetings of the Queens Civic Congress. He had also been on Community Board 7.

The November 2009 Kissena Park Civic Association newsletter had an article by Zoning Chairman Joe Amorosa about contractors who build fences higher than the legal height of 4 feet as of April 30, 2008. He wrote that some contractors do not bother to check the zoning of the area to see what the height of the fence should be. A builder does not have to have a permit to build a fence, but if this was added to the other requirements that needed a permit, the DOB could check the height of the fence when it checks other things such as home extensions, sidewalk replacements, curb cuts and how much space is left uncovered by concrete.

It was noted in the Dec. 24 edition of TimesLedger Newspapers that the Department of City Planning will downzone 400 blocks in Auburndale, Kissena and Hollis Hills in the next few months. These communities have been asking for lower zoning for years so they can protect their homes from builders who tear down sound homes and build larger, out-of-context buildings.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has just celebrated the 100th rezoning in the city with a booklet. He bills these rezonings as sustainable development and the correcting of decades-old zoning to protect the original low density way the houses were built and protect the quality of life in communities.

The way the city did the rezoning was to up one as it downzoned. For example, while Fresh Meadows and Hillcrest Estates were downzoned to R-2A, Jamaica was upzoned so development can take place there and along Hillside Avenue. While civic associations applaud much of what was done, they carefully watch to make sure zoning does not allow buildings to get too high so there is too much density which could strangle the quality of life we enjoy.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: We must appreciate the service pharmaceutical companies do for us by providing medicine to alleviate our ills, but an article in the recent AARP newspaper said these companies are currently raising the price of medicine while inflation goes down.

The price of commonly used brand name medicine has risen 9 percent in the past year, while generic medicine prices have fallen. While a company should recoup the cost of research, it should not raise prices in anticipation of a health reform bill which would pay for medicine.

Some congressional legislators are talking about an investigation, but since pharmaceutical lobbyists give so much money to our federal legislators, I do not have much hope that anything will be done to roll back prices. Seniors could normally manage, but since inflation is going down there will not be a federal cost of living rise in our Social Security checks this year.

Think of how many people who would have lost so much of their money if they had invested it in the stock market and how this would have affected the rest of us.

I believe I also read that health insurance companies are raising the price of insurance also in anticipation of being able to charge people more money if a reform of health care favors them by not having too much lower cost competition. I read of people who cannot pay for medicine or afford health insurance.

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