Honduran-born Marlon Molina, a resident of the Bronx of over 30 years, says his years organizing vulnerable residents of the South Bronx on issues such as gun control and housing provide him insight into community’s needs that will help him win the Feb. 23 special election for the 17th City Council district that represents Melrose and Hunts Point.
Molina, a bank employee and member of Bronx Community Board 3 in Morrisania, immigrated to the US with his family from Honduras when he was 11. He attended PS 30 and later South Bronx High School, where he said he got a sense early on that he was destined to fight for homegrown causes. Two years ago he co-founded the Bronx Volunteer Coalition to help match good samaritans with worthy causes.
“Growing up, I’ve always had a sense of doing something extracurricular,” said the 44-year-old, adding he became involved with student government and volunteer work as a teenager.
Molina recalled his early days as an organizer for the Northwest Bronx Coalition in 1995, when he led efforts to confront a prostitution problem along 176th Street and Jerome Ave. Many residents were adamant about throwing the book at everyone involved, including the prostitutes, but others were more sympathetic. Molina organized a rally to have the motel where the women were bringing their johns shuttered under the city’s nuisance abatement law.
“Some of the parents said you know it’s a shame that these young girls are out selling themselves like that. The community understood that these young women had substance abuse problems,” he recalled.
Another profound experience, he says, occurred when he was 19 and his brother was shot and killed.
“If I ask around, there’s always somebody that has a cousin that was shot and killed,” he said. “You can do the six degrees of separation and you’re going to find someone not far who has been affected by gun violence and that was probably where I made the biggest commitment to the kind of work that I do.”
If elected to the council, he said he would look to fund programs targeting children’s attitude toward guns, and others that improve community relations with cops.
“As an organizer, I was taught that you can stand for something or against something, but in the end you need a partnership to solve the problem,” he said.
Bettering the life of immigrants is a key challenge Molina says he understands as well as anyone. His mother worked as a seamstress, leaving the family no chance but to collect food stamps to supplement her meager income to pay the bills and put food on the table.
“We need to support services for the working poor and those that are on different support systems and public assistance,” he said.
Like other candidates, Molina says building and maintaining affordable housing is high on his list of complex problems that must be addressed immediately. Nonprofits that resuscitated rundown buildings in the Bronx in the 1980s and ’90’s need funds from the city to renovate those buildings and keep them from breaking down all over again, especially now that the local real estate market is popping, he said.
“Now that the private investors are here, they can outbid a community organization for a piece of land. As a city council member I would try to figure out what we can do to make sure that they’re not being outgunned by money,” he said.
But though the mayor’s push to build affordable housing is important in the face of the city’s growing population, Molina added, some advocacy groups and community boards oppose it the way it has been drawn up, saying more social services and open space will be needed to go along with it. If elected, he says he would step in to negotiate those contentious issues.
“What’s hard is when the community doesn’t agree with a particular public policy and then you’re thinking ‘this is what the intent was. but this is not the result’ so then you have to figure out. Do I go against the mayor?”