Gotham Gazette

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Citizens Union



For 34,000 Children and Their Parents, A Summer of Uncertainty and More At Stake

mayorsoffice young leaders

(photo via the Mayor's Office)

In the Fall of 2014, New York City took an important step forward with the rollout of universal after-school for all public middle school students. SONYC, or School’s Out NYC, provides 6th, 7th and 8th graders with a foundation for success by offering opportunities, beyond the traditional learning settings of a classroom, that allow them to explore their interests and abilities in sports and arts and youth leadership and more.

Mayor de Blasio said in his announcement at the time that “Middle school is often a make-or-break time in an adolescent's life—and we're determined to use all tools at our disposal to expand learning opportunities for the future shapers of our city."

In the first year of implementation, the SONYC after-school program offered a summer component, mirroring all after-school programs established during the Bloomberg administration. This was a positive step as research has proven summer camp programming is a critical component of child well-being and academic success. Among the tremendous benefits of summer programs, they help to close the achievement gap and aid with preventing “summer slide” learning losses. According to the National Summer Learning Association, summer learning loss accounts for two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievements gap in reading, and low-income youth lose two to three months of achievement each year.

However, since the summer of 2015, the de Blasio administration has annually threatened to cut more than $20 million for summer camp programming from the students enrolled in the after-school programs of the mayor’s creation. This money, or a portion of it, usually gets restored after negotiations with the City Council; however, this back-and-forth “budget dance” process leaves parents and programs scrambling at the last minute and anxiety-ridden until budget adoption. And as the budget is adopted in late June, these restorations naturally result in a smaller and smaller number of program slots, as ramping up a program, hiring staff, engaging parents, and enrolling students all takes time. The beginning of the summer is not the time to make these crucial funding decisions.

Once again, the de Blasio administration is planning to cut summer programs for over 34,000 middle-school students. Those most at risk of losing programming are the low-income working parents and families who are already facing many stressors in trying to make ends meet. Keeping their children safe during the summer months should not be one of them.

The proposed cut impacts children and families in every corner of the city but is particularly drastic in communities with the greatest needs. The community district of Brownsville is facing the biggest cut of nearly 1,600 slots despite having the highest child poverty rate in the city. Other hard-hit communities include East Harlem (1,281 slots), East New York (1,219 slots), the Rockaways (1,137 slots), East Tremont (1,097), Central Harlem (1,087 slots), and the Lower East Side (1,030 slots). Each slot represents a child who will not have an enriching and stable location to learn and grow this summer.

The budget dance for summer camp must come to an end! We must return to the original model that recognized that the families whose children engaged in after-school programming during the school year need summer camp opportunities that allow children to explore cultural and recreational interests and abilities and offer academic components that prevent summer learning loss.

We agree with Mayor de Blasio when he says New York City must become the fairest big city in America. Threatening to cut summer camp from 34,000 children, with a profound negative impact on the poorest communities of this city, is not fair! Playing the budget dance with funding for summer camp programs is not fair! Fairness demands that the de Blasio administration restore and baseline this funding - 34,000 children and their families are counting on it!

Jennifer March is executive director of Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York and a leader of the Campaign for Children. On Twitter @CCCNewYork.

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To Make New York City More Affordable, End the Cap on Density

far rockaway queens mayors office

(Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)

New York’s severe housing crisis can be traced to a simple fact—our city doesn’t have enough homes for the people who want to live here. The shortage has led to ever-increasing rents, the steady displacement of long-standing communities, and levels of homelessness not seen since the Great Depression. To put it bluntly, we need to build more homes. Lots of them. Affordable and market rate. Yesterday.

One senseless obstacle to new housing is a statewide cap on the density of new residential construction. Since 1961, New York has prohibited the construction of any residential building that has floor space greater than 12 times the size of its lot. This limit is ill-suited for New York City, which needs to allow larger residential buildings to house its growing population in neighborhoods with good transit and good schools. The Regional Plan Association, a respected and nonpartisan think tank, has called for the repeal of this cap, arguing that without more dense construction, displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods will accelerate and the City will choke on worsened congestion.

It is encouraging that Mayor de Blasio and the state Senate have signaled support for ending these restrictions. Unfortunately, Andrew Berman, Executive Director of The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), recently published an op-ed with Gotham Gazette that includes several misleading arguments in favor of the density cap. Berman argues that fighting against new housing will somehow result in a more affordable city. He is mistaken; while new highrises will not single-handedly fix New York’s affordability problem, they deserve to be recognized as a serious tool for addressing the housing crisis.

In a shortage, the rich, whether they be landlords, wealthy tenants, or homeowners, always win. In a housing glut, tenants win. Denser buildings would produce more housing units, a substantial portion of which would be permanently affordable through the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law. Before leaving office in 2016, the Obama Administration published an analysis of the barriers to new construction of affordable housing, and the most destructive factor they identified were burdensome restrictions on the size and shape of new buildings, like those Mr. Berman endorses.

Many readers may be skeptical of the idea that new market-rate homes help keep rents low, but studies have shown that denser, market-rate apartments in in-demand neighborhoods relieve pressure on existing homes citywide. Recent construction has lowered median rents across Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens, not just the top of the market. And south of 96 Street, the most affordable neighborhoods also happen to be the densest—the Upper East Side and the Lower East Side—and not, tellingly, neighborhoods hemmed in by ‘historic’ zoning, like Mr. Berman’s Greenwich Village.

If we don't produce enough new market-rate units, the people who might move into a new condo building in Downtown Brooklyn might instead buy a converted brownstone In Crown Heights, displacing existing Crown Heights residents in the process. People who might want to live on the Upper West Side are priced out and move into West Harlem instead. Forbidding dense development in one neighborhood is a recipe for gentrification in the next one over. Members of my organization, Open New York, have experienced this first-hand. Some of us, priced out of neighborhoods like Kips Bay, have become reluctant gentrifiers of Bushwick or Bed-Stuy. Others, like myself in the East Village, worry about our rents rising and facing the same fate.

Although unscrupulous landlords or rapacious speculators hardly help matters, the unfortunate truth is that the city’s housing crisis and the displacement it has wrought are primarily caused by these kinds of restrictions. Wealthy and politically-connected residents in desirable neighborhoods consistently use these laws to thwart the construction of new housing under the guise of ‘preserving neighborhood character,’ keeping their communities exclusive and pushing both new residents and their communities’ most vulnerable residents into less well-off areas. The result is gentrification and skyrocketing rents. New York needs to consider another way.

Lifting the state density cap would not affect residents’ right to have a say in new development. Any changes to a neighborhood’s zoning would still have to go through the regular land-use process and be approved by the City Council, and the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law would still apply, ensuring any changes include a mix of affordable and market rate units. But eliminating the ban would give residents more flexibility to decide how to grow, whereas keeping it forces us to double down on the same failed policies of exclusion. Rather than looking to Greenwich Village—one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city—as a model to emulate, we should be working to eliminate the barriers to affordable growth. Removing this counterproductive restriction on density is a good first step.

William Thomas is an East Village resident and a member of Open New York, an independent pro-housing advocacy group. On Twitter, @OpenNYForAll.

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

Change the Political Status Quo: Run for County Committee


(photo: NYC Mayor's Office)

Today, throughout Kings County, aka Brooklyn, there are many low-income tenants, working class people, and people of color in desperate need of and clamoring for true progressive political representation in their Democratic Party and from their state representatives. Leaders throughout a number of communities are critically looking at our elected officials -- especially state-level politicians running in primary elections this year -- and asking if those officials truly represent their views.

Locally-focused, civic-minded Brooklynites are questioning whether these politicians show up to important meetings or rallies that involve our public schools, our rent-stabilized housing units, our transportation system, and more -- and whether they deliver on those key issues when representing our neighborhoods.  

I often scratch my head and wonder why newly-founded groups like New York Senate District 17 for Progress and Rise & Resist,as well as some longer-standing groups like New Kings Democratsexist. And I often arrive at the same clear conclusion: they exist because they’re tired of having centrist politicians representing them and their communities; they want their more left-leaning views represented in government. They want to hold their representatives accountable to the stances that they care about, and they’re fed up with the closed processes of our county system.

Every county in the United States has committees of Democrats and Republicans that help to determine the agenda and endorsements of their local parties. In Brooklyn, there are 21 Assembly Districts that altogether make up the Kings County Democratic Committee. Each Assembly District has many election districts (each of which consists of a roughly three-to-four square-block radius) and Democrats can choose to gather an estimated 40 petition signatures every two years to join the county committee and help mold the platform of their party.

Today, the leaders of our Kings County Democratic Committee could play a huge part in giving the voiceless a voice by expanding the party and ensuring that Democrats from each election district have a say in how they want to be represented through party leadership and what policies the Democratic Party fights for. Unfortunately, this is far from the reality.

Why is it that in the 21st century in the fourth-largest county in the country -- Brooklyn -- there are still about 500 Democratic County Committee seats open? Is it not the function of our local Democratic Party to build our party and ensure inclusion of many voices as we determine the direction we want our party to take when endorsing candidates or crafting policy platforms? There is a key solution for solving this problem: we must organize to reform our party and hold elected officials accountable to our progressive priorities.

Next month, in June, I along with more than a dozen other long-standing Bushwick residents and activists will be petitioning to get on the Kings County Democratic Committee in our Assembly District (AD54). Others should do the same where they live. This includes knocking on doors and collecting roughly 40 signatures of registered Democrats in a four-to-five block radius of your home, depending on the exact map of your election district.

Door-knocking allows for honest conversation with our neighbors about why we’re doing this. We’re tired of having a Democratic Party that is not doing the utmost to push the envelope on things that matter to us. In Bushwick that means fighting the everyday displacement taking place and strengthening schools that have been ranked in the bottom third since state testing has been used as a performance measure.

I am proud to state that these new groups of individuals running for County Committee in AD54 are community board members, organizers, educators, community gardeners, and low- to middle-class tenants. This is important at a time when many progressive organizations in Brooklyn are being dismissed because of how heavily white their memberships appear to be. As a group, we are tired of business-as-usual politics. We are tired of not seeing our Assembly member and state senator at important local meetings. We are tired of progressivism not being the mantle on our table.

As a result, we’ll aim to get some of our very own neighbors to also join County Committee during our door-knocking adventures so we can further build voting blocs that hold our elected officials accountable. It is time for us to be the change we wish see in our local Democratic Party. It is time for us Brooklynites to join en masse and bust open the closed doors of the Kings County Democratic Party.

Boris Santos is a community organizer for the office of City Council Member Antonio Reynoso and a former public school teacher. The opinions expressed here are his alone.

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