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From Awareness to Action: Combating The Epidemic of Gun Violence


jum williams stop

Jumaane Williams, co-author, center (photo: @JumaaneWilliams)


Throughout June, we observed Gun Violence Awareness Month. In the year since we last marked this occasion, 33,000 people lost their lives to gun violence in this country. A mass shooting of four or more casualties occurred nearly every day of that year, and just last week, five people were killed and two injured as a shooter opened fire on an Annapolis newsroom. Over the course of the month about 3,000 people were killed. Over 200 were children.

The statistics are staggering, but at the same time, we have come, over time, to acknowledge and accept this carnage as part of American life. No one can deny it -- we are, in fact, well aware of the plague of gun violence in America.

Yet while this past year has seen death and heartbreak on a massive scale, it has also been marked by a heightened, sustained awareness of the problem that extends beyond the headlines and the evening news. More than many previous years, the horrors and the causes of gun violence in this country have been spotlighted and a central part of the public consciousness. School walkouts and the March for Our Lives, driven by young people across the country, have made it clear that awareness itself is insufficient. We must continue to use this moment to propel awareness into action.

This action, of course, can take many forms. People can use their votes to demand representatives who will stand up to the NRA and other special interests, to fight for common sense gun safety measures. People have the power to make gun reform—not lip service, but real progress—a defining issue of this year’s elections. To make elected officials aware that thoughts, prayers, and passive support are not enough.

Shootings permeate every area of American life -- from churches and schools to concerts and workplaces. The vast majority of gun violence deaths, though, still stems from the daily plague of gun violence in our streets. This is the form of violence that often evades the national consciousness, but is devastating to communities.

This week, as the nation celebrates the Fourth of July, historical trends would suggest that on the ground, in certain neighborhoods, gun violence and the devastation it causes will increase. At odds with the air of celebration, this is a sobering reminder that awareness alone does not create solutions. Much of the recent awareness and attention has rightly been directed at the volume of firearms entering communities. While the availability of guns is one side of the problem we also have to consider why people use them.

Gun violence is a crisis with roots in social-structural inequality, economic distress, trauma, behavioral and public health, and when it is treated as such, we can stop the spread of the disease and combat it at its core. In cities like New York, black men are 13 times more likely to be killed in an act of gun violence than their white counterparts. These wounds—despite rarely making national news—leave a history of trauma in low-income communities of color.

And in New York City, we are relying on community to lead, activating what is known as the Crisis Management System. The Crisis Management System is a network of 50 community-based organizations attached to sites throughout the five boroughs that focus on violence interruption. The organizations employ people who have experienced many of the same things as the young people most at risk, and these violence interrupters identify and intervene in conflicts before they escalate into bloodshed. Recognizing that violence is exacerbated by social stressors, these interventions include additional supports such as job training programs, mental health services, legal aid, hospital responder programs, links to institutions of higher education, and art programming.

The approach is working.

In 2017, the city saw its lowest rates of violence since the 1950s, with a significantly greater drop in areas targeted by Cure Violence than the citywide average. There is much work to be done, but these successes show that with meaningful investment of energy and resources, violence can be prevented and lives saved.

As Congress refuses to take up the fight to end gun violence, community activists and their organizations are on the streets, effecting vital, incremental change. Just as Americans must continue to push their representatives in Congress toward gun violence solutions, they need also to work within their towns and cities to support local voices, groups, and movements, to demand the kind of reforms that we know can have a meaningful impact on the pervasive epidemic that is gun violence.

We are aware of gun violence. When not in our streets it is on our screens, America’s most predictable tragedy. This heightened awareness, raised by the wave of activism against gun violence that has swept over the country since the Parkland shooting, could too easily turn into numbness and complacency. It is imperative that we continue to feel each act of senseless violence, and work to prevent the next, moving past the month of June and carrying throughout the entire year.  

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Jumaane D. Williams is a City Council member from Brooklyn and Eric Cumberbatch is the executive director of the Mayor's Office to Prevent Gun Violence. On Twitter @JumaaneWilliams and @NYCMayorsOffice.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]

Amid Crisis, A Promising Model for NYCHA


wald ramps

(image via NYCHA)


Recently, there has been a great deal of attention paid to the deterioration of New York City’s public housing stock and the plight of families living in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments. We’ve seen a vigorous debate over how we got here, who is responsible, and who should control NYCHA going forward. While headlines surrounding NYCHA have been overwhelmingly negative, there is good news that illustrates the promise of better quality of life for NYCHA tenants.

Last week, the Citizens Housing & Planning Council (CHPC), a nonprofit civic research organization, released an interim report from a study on an innovative pilot program that began in December 2014. The pilot shifted management of six Section 8 properties located in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, to Triborough Preservation Partners, a joint venture between NYCHA, L+M Development Partners, and BFC Partners.

The transaction made available $80 million in new capital funds for renovations at buildings containing 874 units and introduced new property management. This money went towards new boilers and elevators; making buildings and units more energy efficient; improving landscaping and common areas; new kitchens and bathrooms inside the apartments, and providing security upgrades. Importantly, no residents were displaced as these renovations occurred.

We evaluated the impact of the changes at these sites before and during construction, comparing them with a control group of six NYCHA developments of similar size and characteristics. Research included collecting data on repair requests, resident turnover, energy use, and rent collection, interviews with property management staff, as well as a tenant survey conducted in partnership with Baruch College Survey Research.

The word “privatization” is a grenade that gets thrown a lot in discussions of NYCHA and does not appear in our study. As a research organization, we will leave it to others to characterize this pilot program. But here are the facts: NYCHA retains 50% ownership. The rental assistance is paid for by a Section 8 contract funded by the federal government. The renovations, approximately $90,000 per unit, were funded primarily using Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Tax-Exempt Bonds from the New York City Housing Development Corporation. Both NYCHA and HDC retain the right to approve or deny any proposed sale of the property.  

A private property management company (C+C management) is now responsible for day-to-day operations at the site. As a result of the renovations, the new management company is currently responding to only one-fifth as many repair requests. Electricity usage has gone down, and rent collection has improved. At the same time, turnover rose and re-rental time took longer.

The tenant survey determined that Triborough residents’ ratings of their housing surpassed those in the control group in almost every measure, with residents’ ratings of their own apartments, the overall building, and elevators outpacing NYCHA residents’ ratings by at least 2:1.

Not only did we see obvious, physical improvements in conditions at building sites, we saw how the improvements impacted the day-to-day lives of tenants – in their comfort, sense of safety, and how they felt about their homes and surroundings. Tenants, many of whom felt trepidation about this approach, have seen results and can see that their fears did not come to fruition.

For instance, residents felt safer (65% in the pilot group felt very safe, compared with 37% in the control group), that day-to-day management was responsive (86% in the pilot group, compared with 55% in the control group), and that emergency repairs were addressed (73% in the pilot group, compared with 47% in the control group). And, interestingly, residents in the pilot group were almost 30 percentage points more likely to recommend their building to a friend or family member.

Our findings were only the first, encouraging step; we plan to continue to collect and review more data during the post-construction period.

NYCHA faces a number of daunting challenges, illustrated by the report that came out Monday morning detailing the $31.8 billion that NYCHA needs over the next five years to address unmet capital repairs. Tackling these challenges alone would be impossible. Tough times call for innovative thinking, and the City should be commended for creating a structure that brings in new partners and new resources that ensure affordability and a set of incentives that has significantly improved the quality of life for residents.  

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Jessica Katz is executive director of the Citizens Housing & Planning Council. On Twitter @chpcny.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]

The Upstate Economy and The Election for Governor


Cuomo upstate jobs

Gov. Cuomo touting Upstate jobs (photo: The Governor's Office)


The health of the Upstate New York economy is a major issue in this year’s election for Governor. Two candidates in the general election, Republican Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County Executive, and Stephanie Miner, the former mayor of Syracuse, a Democrat planning to run on an independent line, hail from Upstate, and are already in part centering their campaigns on criticisms of state government’s efforts to help the Upstate economy. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s rival in the Democratic primary, Cynthia Nixon, is also making it a point of attack.

Ironically, a federal corruption trial is underway against former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros, who had been given a mission and vast resources by Cuomo to stimulate growth in the Upstate economy.

The Upstate region is very politically significant in statewide elections. Although the region is 36% of the state population, it has been between 46 and 49% of the statewide vote in the last three gubernatorial elections, 2006, 2010, and 2014. By contrast, New York City has been 27-29% of the vote in these elections despite being 43% of the population. Upstate New York is considered to encompass all of New York except New York City, Long Island, and the City’s northern suburbs, including Westchester, Rockland, and Orange Counties.

The region is also economically significant. Upstate New York’s population is 7 million, larger than 33 states, and is one-third of total employment in the state. My two previous columns on the Upstate New York economy focused on growth during the first six years of Governor Cuomo’s tenure, through 2016, and then a longer view.

The first review last fall showed that Upstate New York employment only grew 3.3% in total overall jobs between 2010 and 2016, compared to 10% growth for New York State as a whole. The comparable numbers for private sector employment growth were 5.8% for Upstate, compared to 13% growth for New York as a whole. The disparity between private sector and total growth relates to cutbacks in state spending when Governor Cuomo first took office in 2011 (the state had a $10 billion budget deficit that year), which resulted in job reductions in both state and local governments. Government reductions stabilized around 2013, but had been substantial by that time.

The New York City economy dominates employment growth in the state, with more than 70% of the total growth in employment statewide, at a pace of 16% overall and 19% private sector employment growth between 2010 and 2016.

The second column assessed the context and accuracy of a statement from Governor Cuomo addressing the difficulties posed by helping the Upstate Economy, when he described the Upstate economy as having a “bad 50 years.” My analysis showed that in fact Upstate employment growth outpaced Downstate in the 1980s, despite large manufacturing job losses that captured the public eye. The Upstate region also continued moderate growth in the 1990s after the recession early in that decade. It was really the two national recessions in the 21st century that battered the Upstate New York economy with new rounds of job losses and limited the capacity of the region to recover compared to those earlier decades. Upstate New York actually lost jobs between 2000 and 2010, compared to the recoveries that took place after recessions in the 1980s and 1990s.

As Governor Cuomo’s second term concludes, the Upstate economy is showing moderate improvement in several of its major metropolitan regions, which comprise a majority of the employment base. However, a number of metro regions that encompass the smaller cities continue to struggle. Below are tables breaking down growth in the 12 Upstate metropolitan areas, which comprise five-sixths of the employment base. Non-metro areas make up the rest.

The first table shows six moderately growing metro areas (data from the New York State Labor Department):

upstate new york growth moderate

Upstate’s three largest metropolitan regions, the Buffalo-Niagara area, the Rochester area, and the Albany metro area, achieved 9-13% private sector employment growth in the eight years from May 2010 to May 2018. Dutchess-Putnam and Kingston had similar 9% private sector growth over the period, and Ithaca is the fastest-growing metro area Upstate. The six metro areas are nearly 60% of the 3 million job employment base and in these areas private sector jobs have been growing at more than 1% a year -- not as good as Downstate New York or the nation, but sustained improvement.

The next two tables show data for two slow-growth regions, four static/no-growth metro areas, and the third sums up the data for the 12 Upstate metro areas.

upstate new york growth regions 3 tables

The Syracuse and Glens Falls metro areas were placed in a slow-growth category -- they achieved 4-5% private sector growth over eight years (even slower once the public sector jobs are included). There are four Upstate metro areas -- Binghamton, Elmira, Utica-Rome, and Watertown-Fort Drum -- where no private sector growth is occurring. These four areas are about 10% of the employment base of Upstate New York.

The number of jobs in non-metro areas of Upstate New York is about 500,000, about 16% of the employment base. Consistent data over the eight-year period for non-metro areas is difficult to elicit. Labor Department press releases that include non-metro growth don’t go back past 2015, so the best numbers from that source, from December 2013 to December 2017, showed growth of 4,000 jobs. My best estimation is that non-metro areas are in the slow growth category.

This portrait does not attempt to correlate direct state government investments, frequently in partnership with private companies, to create or preserve jobs, or the general allocation of state government resources, with these trends. The employment numbers are just the general trends -- and Upstate New York’s problems include population loss in some areas, like Central New York and the Southern Tier, where five of the six metro areas with slow or static growth are located. State government can also be making investments in jobs that are worthwhile individually in areas of population loss, but which do not show up in the aggregate data. Over the past seven years state government also embarked upon a broad general policy of making the state economy more competitive by cutting personal income, corporate income, and property taxes.

Empire State Development, state government’s economic development arm, finally produced a comprehensive report on its activities this year (mandated by law), and it does contain much information. Watchdogs criticized it for lacking metrics, meaning measurements of the effectiveness of the state’s investments against some set of standards. The accountability and effectiveness of the state’s resource-allocation remain the subject of another future column.

Governor Cuomo was right to say that helping an economy battered repeatedly by job losses before his tenure began is a major challenge, even if it wasn’t accurate to suggest that there was a 50-year downward path. Efforts to grow the Upstate economy seem to be modestly, but not highly, successful, although state government alone cannot determine economic destiny. How to frame this modest success in an election won’t be easy.

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Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter @JimBrennanNY.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]



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