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Don’t Forget: Cumbo Won with Promise of 100% Affordability at Armory


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Bedford Union Armory rendering


For months, thousands of Crown Heights residents have petitioned, testified, marched, and protested against a proposed redevelopment at the Bedford Union Armory, where the plan backed by the de Blasio administration would take a massive parcel of public land and give it to a private developer to build high-end housing and a recreation facility.

The local City Council member, Laurie Cumbo, recently won her Democratic primary for reelection after opposing the deal, promising that she would insist on no luxury condominiums, while her backers promised she’d push for 100% affordable housing at the site. But Cumbo is now moving the goalposts in a dangerous direction.

Crown Heights is one of New York City’s most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. In 2015, over 20,000 families faced eviction in the three zip codes surrounding the armory, many of whom lived in the community long before it became a “place to be” for those moving into the area.  Nearly 30% of shelter entrants in the city are from Brooklyn and if this project proceeds as currently designed, even more longtime community members (many whom are people of color and of West Indian descent), will be displaced from their homes and have to move to a shelter that probably won’t be across the street like the mayor’s plan suggests.

From the beginning, the community’s demand has been simple to understand. Kill this deal. Go back to the drawing board to create the truly affordable housing that’s desperately needed.

We need a community land trust with local control over the land, and real low-income housing. The only housing to be built should be to protect the victims of gentrification -- displaced homeless families and those at risk of displacement -- not to facilitate more of the same problem. It appeared that Council Member Cumbo had finally listened to her constituents when she opposed the plan currently on the table.

But in a recent New York Times article on the mayor’s housing plan, Cumbo declared that “the community put the line in the sand: no luxury condominiums.”

This “line in the sand” signifies a bait-and-switch. In fact, it’s simply where Cumbo has moved the goalposts after winning a competitive election, and the Council member should know that the community sees what’s happening.

Redevelopment of the Bedford Armory was the central issue in the recent primary. During the campaign, Cumbo supporters spent $135,846.64 on more than 10 mailers and robocalls in an effort to convince Crown Heights voters to support her. These mailers were clear on Cumbo’s position: shut the deal down without 100% affordability at the armory site.

Cumbo won promising a much better deal, and now she just wants to scrap the condos.

Let’s be crystal clear: a project that moves forward with any luxury housing – rentals or condos – is still not a project for us. A community land trust with real low-income housing would be a practical solution that could contribute to solving the homelessness crisis in Brooklyn and in New York City overall, especially since this is public land. But a housing plan that moves forward with only 18 units affordable to the average resident of Crown Heights is not just unacceptable, it’s an insult.

If Cumbo doesn’t kill the deal, she will have allowed her supporters to openly lie to the electorate during her primary campaign.

And to add injury to insult, Mayor de Blasio is busy explaining away his failing housing policies by blaming the constraints of the free market and capitalism. But those restraints don’t exist on public land like they do on private land. The Bedford Union Armory is a wholly socialist enterprise — like the mayor claims he would want.

What is the mayor doing with these “socialist” powers? Making a conscious decision to privatize land and “harness” gentrification, rather than fight it.

Public land is a vanishing resource in New York City. At a time when we continue to struggle with a record homelessness crisis and massive displacement of low- and moderate-income people, many people of color, it should also be priceless.

This is particularly egregious when more and more human beings are being warehoused in shelters, just like the one recently opened a few blocks from the armory, with a number of residents not being from the area, as the mayor claims is his goal. Despite what the mayor and Council Member Cumbo say in their press clippings and campaign advertisements, their policies show exactly where their priorities lie: luxury housing to make developers rich and house people who have no fear of being homeless, and shelters for far too many others.

It really is still a tale of two cities out here.

But Cumbo still has a chance to live up to the promises she made during her primary campaign, cutting out greedy developers and giving us a community land trust with 100% affordable housing on this precious public land.

Or she can get rid of a few luxury condos and tell us that this is some kind of victory, despite the fact that half the units would still be luxury rentals and a pitiful 5 percent would be affordable to the average Crown Heights resident, the same residents who have supported her.

We look forward to working with Council Member Cumbo on developing the community land trust this neighborhood needs, especially on public land, as we know she wants to do the right thing. There’s still a chance.

But make no mistake, we won’t let the wool be pulled over our eyes.

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Monique “Mo” George is the Executive Director of Picture the Homeless. On Twitter @pthny.

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Our Youngest Students Deserve Great Teachers Too


classroom nycgob

(photo via @nycgob)


When your child starts his or her very first day of school, you do everything you can to prepare them for the beginning of their educational journey. But you might be surprised to find out that a new study shows there’s a good chance your school assigns one of their lower-performing teachers to kindergarten or other earliest grades. Although research shows that the earliest grades have an outsized impact on success later in life, administrators are in some ways incentivized to push their least effective teachers to early elementary because states often don’t test students until the third grade. That means that despite all your preparation and hopes, your child may have a struggling teacher to lay the foundation for his or her future learning.

Your child deserves a great teacher practicing in their element, regardless of whether or not they’re part of a state testing grade. Instead of “shuffling” our teachers, we need to dedicate resources toward helping our educators strengthen their practice. As New York and our entire country confront a national teacher shortage, it’s more important than ever to help our teachers rise to their full potential to become lifelong, excellent educators.

From what I’ve seen, we have a long way to go. Over the last five years, I have heard colleagues across the city describe how new and developing teachers are assigned to subjects outside of their skillset and training, rather than provided with the support to excel in the subject of their expertise. The story of one of these teachers, whom I will call Mary, best exemplifies the damage this practice is inflicting on both students and teachers.

When Mary began her career teaching fifth-grade math, she was full of energy and a deep commitment to help her students grow into analytical and enthusiastic mathematicians. But, as with most first-year teachers, Mary struggled with managing her students’ behavior, hindering her students’ learning and making every day a challenge. But despite a year that tested her resolve and often brought her to tears, her optimism remained. Mary believed that if she worked hard and received support and guidance from administrators, she could grow into an exceptional teacher.

Instead, after state test results were released, she was reassigned to the untested subject of K-3 literacy enrichment, a discipline requiring an entirely different skillset from math.

What Mary needed was the targeted and consistent training all teachers deserve. What she received was neglect. Isolated and out of her element, behavior issues in her class only worsened, and her bright outlook on teaching quickly dimmed.

The good news is that some schools, such as the Lillian Weber School of the Arts where I teach, are bucking that trend, demonstrating that supporting teachers like Mary is actually quite simple and cost-effective.

These schools provide professional development opportunities tailored to meet teachers’ individual needs and empower veteran teachers to be mentors who develop meaningful and productive partnerships with their less experienced colleagues. In addition, some schools have begun forming Professional Learning Communities that allow teachers to collaborate to analyze classroom strategies, learn and master instructional practices, and fine-tune their instruction based on student data.

In my school, our administration provides over six different topics for teachers to choose from, deepening our engagement and helping us build the skills to eventually facilitate our own five-week learning community cycle on topics that were once growth areas. With these and other methods, our schools can create excellent teachers. Purposeful and consistent support allows any educator to learn the skills to give our students the fluency to become readers, the number sense to become mathematicians, and the life skills to become leaders.

The short-term goals of strong standardized test scores are often at odds with the long-term goals of creating strong, curious learners. But this does not mean we should get rid of tests. Testing is important; it provides educators and decision-makers with crucial data that inform how we teach and how they allocate resources. But unfortunately, our system can encourage administrators to make decisions to immediately boost test scores rather than based on what is best for the school overall. Instead, we must invest in programs like Title II that provide meaningful learning opportunities for teachers. Rather than displacing our developing educators, we can build effective and invested teachers.

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Jazlyn Mena is a STEAM/Data Specialist at an elementary school on the Upper West Side and a member of Educators for Excellence. She is passionate about access to quality STEM  instruction and improving school climate for New York City students.

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

An End-of-Term Agenda for the City Council Veterans Committee


City Council Ulrich hearing

Council Member Ulrich (photo: John McCarten)


In early 2014, City Council Member Eric Ulrich was appointed chair the veterans committee by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. At that time I wrote that no one within the veterans community knew what to expect, and as one of a few Republicans in a largely Democratic City Council, there were some who opposed Ulrich’s selection.

Fast forward nearly four years and the majority of the veterans community agrees that without his leadership and guidance, there would not have been a renewed conversation and there certainly wouldn’t have been many legislative accomplishments, particularly the creation of the Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS).  I dare say that Ulrich’s record of accomplishments, along with Council Member Paul Vallone and the other veterans committee members, has been the greatest within the Council since I started as an advocate back in 1995.

With the general election coming next month and the race for the next Speaker already hot, there are some who believe that if re-elected, Ulrich may be moved to chair a new committee by the next Speaker. There are many moving part to this equation, but given the final three months of this Council’s term are upon us, there is some important veterans business to take care of.

The veterans committee held a hearing earlier this week, and with that and the ticking clock in mind, there are several topics the committee should consider holding hearings on over the coming months.

Department of Veterans’ Services: This week the veterans committee held an oversight hearing on DVS. This hearing focused on the growth and accomplishments of the agency since it came online in April 2016.

Overall, many agree that there have been a number of successes, but growing pains and confounding issues as well. While DVS leadership touted the department’s work and successes, particularly with its integrative health model (VetsThriveNYC), its work regarding housing homeless veterans, its Public Artist in Resident program, and its information and technology, many items remain.

Procurement of its VetsConnectNYC program, an online platform that will connect veterans with service providers, is still being negotiated. Veterans are concerned about information missing on DVS’ website, its lack of inclusion in the Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), which DVS reps acknowledged will be in the next report, and the functions and actual outreach of the Community Outreach Specialists.

Lastly, many veteran organizations receiving money from the City through the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) have stated that DVS needs to have autonomous control over contracts to speed up the contracting processing and disbursement of funds, particularly for those veteran organizations that have unique contracting situations. This issue should be considered for a separate hearing with the Council’s finance committee.

Veteran Treatment Courts: Almost two years ago the committee held a hearing regarding Veteran Treatment Courts throughout the city; as well as Council Member Rory Lancman’s proposed legislation calling for the creation of a Veterans Legal Task Force to study veterans’ access to legal services and resources within the city’s criminal justice system. Unfortunately, that bill, Intro. 793, didn’t make it out of committee, however with Congressional Rep. Dan Donovan’s recent announcement of grants for Veteran Treatment Courts; and the Manhattan veterans court up and running, the time is right to revisit this issue to see what the courts are doing, learning, learning from each other, and how they have evolved in helping veterans from all eras.

Veteran Homelessness: In 2009 there were roughly 3,700 homeless veterans in New York City.  At the end of 2015 the federal government announced that New York City had ended chronic veteran homelessness, meaning veterans homeless for long periods of time or repeatedly. That is a major accomplish that could not have taken place without a coordinated approach from federal, state and city agencies.

In November 2015, the Council’s veterans committee, in conjunction with the general welfare committee held a hearing on what the city was doing to provide services to veterans, especially those experiencing homelessness. With the recent announced reductions of SSVF providers last month, along with the city not reaching “functional zero” and the federal VA dropping that goal recently, an update is needed in regards to what the veterans homeless population looks like, where the dity is in maintaining the end of “chronic homelessness” for veterans and what the plans are to address any future changes that may come from the federal government. This hearing also needs to solicit input from non-profits that are working on the ground with this population.

Veteran Small Business and Entrepreneurship: Almost three years ago, the veterans committee, along with the small business committee, held a hearing on supporting veteran-owned businesses. This was based on Local Law 144 of 2013, which required the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) to study veteran-owned business enterprises and determine the need for a city veteran-procurement program.

In December 2014, SBS, the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS), and the then-Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs (MOVA) published a report of their findings, which the committees examined at a January 2015 hearing. The report contained seven recommendations, which included increasing outreach to veterans, better training veteran business owners (VBOs) on how to do business with the city, and creating a designation for VBOs who wish to be potential vendors with the city.

There was also discussion of supporting the development of a veterans business enterprise program (VEB) through executive fiat (as a pilot program) or by working with the City Council to create legislation for the program. With the rise of veteran entrepreneurs over the last couple of years, there needs to be a hearing to update what has changed and where DVS and SBS are with this issue.  

Lastly, the committee should also consider follow-up hearings regarding the City University of New York (CUNY); as well as from DVS regarding its new public-private partnership “Veterans on Campus-NYC.”  The committee should consider holding a hearing on the overall veterans population in New York City and should hold a hearing in the Bronx, as Council Member Ulrich promised to Council Member Fernando Cabrera earlier this year.

This is a fairly hefty agenda and some issues will certainly get left off the table. However, if Council Member Ulrich and the committee members continue to approach veterans’ issues with the diligence they’ve shown over the past three and a half years, they will have a busy and productive next few months, and leave the committee in a much better place for whoever follows.

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Joe Bello served 11 years in the U.S. Navy/Naval Reserve and has been a veterans advocate in New York City for over two decades. He is a member of the City’s Veterans Advisory Board and the founder of NY MetroVets.

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



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