Photo Credit: Jordan Macy
How Chi Ossé Avoids Convention As a Young Brooklyn Council Member
We spoke with Chi Ossé about his first six months as a New York City Council Member, Mayor Eric Adams, the viral "Bed-Stuyami" TikTok video and more.
It's been a little over a year since Chi Ossé won the primary race for the 36th City Council District, which represents Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. Now, in 2022 — and officially with six months on the job — he’s using his platform to make the voiceless feel heard.
As he takes the call from his office, Ossé immediately begins speaking about how hitting the ground running beckons time to reset. He notes, via Zoom, that he’s planning to take some time off soon. At 24, he’s the youngest council member to ever be elected in New York City. Levelheaded, Ossé won the support of his constituents largely due to grass roots level campagin his team ran.
Driven to the work following George Floyd’s widely publicized death, Chi, who is the son of the late Reggie “Combat Jack” Ossé, planned to address housing issues, the city’s massive budget and the New York City Police Department and how it affects Black and brown constituents. “New York City is currently in a housing crisis right now.” Ossé told Okayplayer. “On one end we have our tenants who, many of which either could not afford the rent that they're paying, some of our tenants live in conditions where their landlords don't really give a damn about the welfare of the apartment they're paying rent in. And then on the other end we're seeing a lot of homeowners, especially our older homeowners struggling to pay property taxes.”
In addition to vocally stating what he believes of utmost importance to District 36, he also recently was one of six council members who voted against Mayor Eric Adams’ preliminary New York City budget. In conversation he states the $250 million cut to the Department of Education was why he mainly disapproved. Ossé also said that the New York City Police Department budget increase was another point he didn’t agree with either.
Gentrification is another hot topic Chi is unafraid to share his opinion on. He believes that Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights’ Black population is deserving of job opportunities, fair housing and cleanliness, especially with the influx of transplants. Over the course of the past six months, he’s been spearheading garbage clean-ups and also written a bill that will address rat issues in New York City. Beyond these courses of action, he has closed 2,000 constituent service cases. Not bad for a 24-year-old who had no background in politics.
We caught up with Chi Ossé and he updated us on his main platform points he hoped to deliver on last year, breaks down that viral "Bed-Stuyami" TikTok video and even opens up about Eric Adams’ preliminary New York City budget which he voted against.
Photo Credit: Jordan Macy
I’d like to start by bringing up something you might find funny, or might not. What are your thoughts on transplants putting Bed-Stuy on a pedestal and calling it the Miami of New York? Did you see that viral TikTok video?
Oh my God. "Bed-Stuyami?"
That's an interesting point that you just made, putting Bed-Stuy on a pedestal. I feel like Bed-Stuy's always been on a pedestal. I feel like likening Bed-Stuy to Miami is taking it off of that pedestal. Which I hope doesn't happen. And I don't think Bed-Stuy is there right now. I remember seeing that TikTok and I think the person was referring to the Tompkins Avenue Open Street in terms of how that was a bit Miami like, in terms of how bustling it was. And I definitely do believe that Bed-Stuy is bustling, but I think we got a little more couth over here. Bed-Stuy is always been a neighborhood of where things have been happening. Obviously we've seen changes in the neighborhood over the past 10 years, to put my political hat on, Bed-Stuy saw the largest demographic shift in terms of race.
We saw 22,000 black people move out of the neighborhood, whether they were displaced, whether they sold their homes, whether they moved anyways. And we saw over 30,000 white people move in and this is a historically black neighborhood, that's so rich in culture and in history. And we're seeing the seismic shift in terms of who's making up the population now. "Bed-Stuyami" — don't like the moniker. But Bed-Stuy is still iconic. And I think the sentiment was in the right place. I think the person's heart was in the right place, but I also still hope that we could keep it Bed-Stuy before it turned into more of a "Bed-Stuyami" if that makes sense.
Can you talk to me about what you’ve been doing to address the housing issues in your district?
My concern is the preservation of Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights. And a large portion of the work that goes into preserving is fighting for dignity when it comes to housing. What Texas is to oil, New York City is to real estate and we're seeing Central Brooklyn and particularly our neighborhoods impacted by that real estate boom right now. And I'm hoping that within my role, I could help everyone stay in their homes and keep them from being evicted or facing foreclosure.
What are your overall thoughts on houselessness?
I'm a local council member, one of 51, and there are roles that I have within my position to combat the homeless crisis that also we are dealing with in the city. And I come of it more in a lens of recreation and care rather than criminalization incarceration. A lot of those that are unsheltered and homeless in New York City either need mental health services or need a shelter system or transitional housing that works for them. A lot of these folks that are on the streets are on the streets for a reason. They choose not to go into shelters because shelters are dangerous.
Which brings me to my next point in terms of how I am a local council member. The city is a very top, heavy city. And when I say that, I mean that the mayors on the top, in terms of the power that they have to affect day to day lives of New Yorkers, and when it comes to our budget and priorities, I do believe that priorities should be more on care, investment in care, whether it's dormitory style, temporary housing or shelters, whether it's an investment or a larger investment in mental healthcare, for those that are on the streets, substance abuse resources, shelters or transitional housing, that's more supportive.
I met with the commissioner of the Department of Social Services [recently]. They've been doing outreach for substance abuse support, homeless outreach, mental healthcare starting yesterday. So if you don't see that happening, please reach out to my office. But I'm getting updates from them, because they said that they're doing that. And some people are taking them up on those services.
Photo Credit: Jordan Macy
Can you walk me through why you pushed back against Mayor Eric Adams Blueprint to End Gun Violence?
It's less as much me being against the plan and more about budget justice. A large portion of my job in the city council is to vote and negotiate on our city budget. This year, the city council and the mayor passed a $101 billion budget. And to me, investments in other things, just other things that aren't particularly pertaining to incarceration and the police is what I see as being the pathway to end gun violence, to ending crime and to healing our communities now. In the blueprint to end gun violence, I think one of the largest things that I disagreed with at the time — and he came out with this plan a month ago, and I think, the council went into a bunch of negotiations with the mayor — [is] just don't want to see a seismic increase to an already bloated NYPD budget.
My critique on the Blueprint to End Gun violence is where are we specifically calling for deeper investment in our education system and no cuts? Where are we calling for deeper investment into affordable housing that people can live with dignity and that they don't have to commit crime to just keep a roof over their head or put food on the table?
You recently also voted against the preliminary New York City budget that axed $250 million for education. Why?
At the time that was a critique on the mayor's preliminary budgets, where those were his proposed cuts. Now that the budget is passed, I was one of six council members who actually vote no on the budget because of some of the alarming numbers that I saw. There was a lack of investment in affordable housing. We saw another small increase in the police budget and we saw, I believe it was a $215 million budget cut to our New York City schools.
Twenty-three out of 35 of my public schools were seeing budget cuts. And that was alarming for me. That's why I voted no on the budget, along with some other reasons. And I think that in a democratic institution, one should be able to vote no on something they don't only just agree with, especially when it affects their community. But those were what the final numbers really looked like for me. And we talked about housing — the council during negotiations was asking for $4 billion to invest in affordable housing in New York City. And in the final budget, they ended up voting on $2.5 billion for affordable housing over the span of five years. That's not enough and that's not what my community needs nor deserves.
Photo Credit: Jordan Macy
Do you have a big lesson that you feel you've learned in the six months or so, that really sticks out to you?
The big lesson that I've learnt over the past six months would to pace myself. I think they say this a lot about campaigning, that it's obviously a marathon and not a sprint, but that's even the case when you're in office too. You have to take time for yourself, you have to breathe, you have to of course be alert and responsive, but you have to take care of yourself because you can't take care of others if you're not taking care of your own wellbeing.
Creative Director & Producer: Ketia Jeune
Photographer: Jordan Macy
Photographer Assistant: Carlos Delasancha
Studio: Sire Global