A new year means a new chance for the city to restore much-needed resources to Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park, according to Democratic District Leader Richard David, starting with vaccine priority.
In conversation with the Chronicle, David, one of the Democratic leaders for Assembly District 31, said the city needs to do more to combat the neighborhood’s Covid toll immediately. In the longer term it needs to do more to support the area as a hub of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean culture.
As of Monday, 11419, the ZIP code straddling Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park had the highest seven-day positivity rate for any in the city. ZIPs 11417 and 11420, encompassing Ozone and South Ozone Park, were the fourth and fifth. Yet none of them made it onto the list of priority neighborhoods that the mayor released at the end of December.
“My ZIP code should have been a vaccine priority neighborhood. It wasn’t. That’s bizarre,” said David, whose district overlaps with 11420 — one of several South Queens ZIP codes that have seen continuously high Covid rates since October.
“In the new year I want to see testing in 11420,” he added. In mid-November, the city opened a testing site at the Lefferts Library in the adjacent ZIP code, but David said the cluster of cases in that area calls for another city-run site there.
Forecasting ahead to a future when the city gets the pandemic under control in the area, David raised the idea of a community center aimed at serving the Indo-Caribbean community, something that he said has been appearing on the Queens Community Board 9 statement of needs for years.
The lack of Indo-Caribbean nonprofits in the area has remained an impediment to the project because it’s something the city usually wants prior to creating a center.
“It’s a catch 22, where they want a strong nonprofit, but they have not historically funded one. That’s a precondition to applying and getting capital funds and putting together a proposal that results in a community center. So you need the expense side to get the capital side,” said David.
Economic recovery in the neighborhood would be greatly aided by a branding effort.
David pointed out that while Little Guyana, an ethnic neighborhood centered at the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard and stretching along Liberty from Cross Bay Boulevard to the Van Wyck Expressway, does not have the cultural cachet of other ethnic corners of the city, it’s not for lack of delicious food and unique atmosphere.
David proposed investments, both marketing and beautification efforts on Liberty Avenue to help with the resurgence of the community’s economic hub.
“I’d love to see something that equals Chinatown in terms of its branding,” David said.
He added that as the neighborhoods recover from the pandemic, it’s going to be important to have a conversation about improving their health infrastructure. He described the crowds at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, the area’s sole hospital.
“I’d love to see a better-funded hospital and that could mean expanded beds, or it could mean just better funding,” David said
He added that the pandemic’s effects on the area would make it an appropriate place for a Covid memorial.