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Citizens Union



Commentary: Council Candidates On The Upper East Side Marine Transfer Station


Each year, New York City produces approximately 14 million tons of waste, almost all of which ends up in out-of-state landfills. Before the waste can be exported, however, it has to be collected at one of 58 transfer station around the city. More than two-thirds of that waste is transported by truck to transfer stations in the south Bronx, northern Brooklyn and Jamaica, Queens.

In 2006, City Hall unveiled a 20-year plan to change how the city handles its waste management, and proposed building a marine waste transfer station on the Upper East Side.

The plan for the station at 91st street has not only become a heated political issue in the mayoral race, but also in the 5th City Council District race. District 5 candidates Ben Kallos, a Democrat, and Doug Garland, a Republican, have pledged their opposition to the plan. — Editors.

Ben Kallos, Democratic Nominee for CD5

The construction of the 91st St. Marine Transfer Station would not constitute, as proponents suggest, “environmental justice” or Manhattan doing its “fair share,” and this isn’t just an issue about our backyards. No residential neighborhood – not mixed-income Yorkville, or any other part of the city – should be the site of a trash facility like this one.

Our citywide trash plan was obsolete the day it was passed in 2006 because it causes child asthma, smog in our streets and waterways, and overflowing landfills. To be an environmental leader, we need to re-imagine how we handle our city’s trash. The debate should not be over which community has to shoulder a miserable load, but how we can improve our systems to avoid misery.

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Garbage dumps don’t belong in the heart of bustling, vibrant neighborhoods. On 91st St., the proposed waste-to-landfill station bisects a park where kids play sports and Olympians such as Medalist Lia Neal train at the swimming pool. People are often surprised to hear that the Upper East Side has one of the lowest amounts of open space anywhere in New York City, an urgent health concern in a crowded city like ours, and we can’t afford to allow trucks packed with garbage to idle where runners jog and families enjoy the outdoors.

Every neighborhood has its own treasures, and no borough should bear the burden of a bad plan. New York City, a leader in so many spheres, can’t continue to lag far behind when it comes to trash. We must initiate programs to dramatically reduce waste, support Mayor Bloomberg’s intelligent composting plan, and transition from 15% to 75% recycling to match other major cities like San Francisco – taking advantage of recycling plants that already exist.

Instead of distorting admirable principles to justify bad policy, the city must apply our considerable organizing power and ingenuity to work together to build a greener, smarter city.

David Garland, Republican nominee for CD5

The proposed waste transfer station is the most urgent issue facing the northern portion of the 5th District, but it will also profoundly affect the entire East Side of Manhattan. For this reason, I established the “Dump the Dump” party. I am more than just opposed to placing the dump in District 5.

If elected, I will propose legislation banning dumps from all residential communities throughout New York City. I signed the Candidate Pledge 2 Protect and I also signed the Resident pledge, vowing to support only anti-Dump politicians such as Joe Lhota, and to oppose pro-dump candidates like Bill de Blasio.

The argument made for locating the dump in the Upper East Side for reasons of “environmental equity” is based upon false assumptions. The proposed location near the Stanley Isaacs housing project disproportionately affects the very constituents left unprotected from Transfer Stations in other sections of the city.

The Upper East Side, particularly District 5, is comprised of a wide range of economic groups, ethnicities and other demographics. And the effort to build a Dump in the densest residential area of the United States, when other Transfer Stations are located in commercial zones, makes a mockery of the concept of borough equity.

I founded the “Dump the Dump” Party to advocate for the rights of all New York City residents to neighborhoods that are free of environmental hazards.

Op-ed: If Lhota and de Blasio can agree on affordable housing, why can’t Congress?


New York’s recent primary elections made one thing clear: our next mayor will make a significant investment in affordable housing.

The Democratic candidate, Bill de Blasio, promises an ambitious plan to build or preserve 200,000 affordable units over the next eight years. Saying that “it's not right for the Democrats to own affordable housing,” Joe Lhota, the Republican candidate, supports a 150,000-unit housing plan created by a broad-based coalition we lead called Housing First!

Washington lawmakers might scratch their heads at this bipartisan consensus. But the proven benefits of affordable housing – safe, vibrant neighborhoods, lower healthcare costs and increased economic activity, not to mention jobs – are difficult for any mayor to ignore. In New York City, where a third of renters spend over half their incomes on rent and 50,000 people sleep in homeless shelters, investing in affordable housing is a no-brainer.

If only Republicans in Congress got the message. While the mayoral candidates promised to invest in housing, they can’t do it without federal dollars. Yet just about all federal housing programs are currently at risk. The current budget showdown, comprehensive tax reform proposals, and changes to the way Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac operate, together threaten the ability of Americans at all income levels to be safely and affordably housed.

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The attack on federal housing programs is as mindless as it is mystifying. Housing remains one of the primary drivers of the national economy — and, like it or not, housing has rarely been built in the past 80 years without some sort of federal subsidy or tax expenditure.

And it’s not like affordability isn’t a national problem: according to a recent National Low Income Housing Coalition report, there are no longer any states where a full-time minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rents.

The federal programs created to help low-income renters are an especially effective answer to these challenges. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit, sometimes used with federally-authorized tax-exempt bonds, is structured so that government only pays for success: private developers and investors take on the risk and receive tax breaks only after well-constructed buildings are maintained in top condition for years. Federal homeless programs save taxpayers enormous sums by funding supportive housing for individuals who would otherwise shuttle between expensive shelters, jails, emergency rooms and psychiatric hospitals.

{pullquote}The attack on federal housing programs is as mindless as it is mystifying.{/pullquote}

Despite tangible success, federal housing programs have been slashed by 30 percent since 2010, a loss of about $400 million for low-income New Yorkers. The most recent “sequestration” cuts have been particularly damaging to Section 8 rental vouchers, nearly half of which help the elderly and disabled remain housed.

Even LIHTC, the bipartisan bedrock of affordable housing finance created under President Reagan, is now under attack by many of his admirers. This tax expenditure accounts for about 50 percent of multifamily construction starts nationwide. If tax reform eliminates the housing credit, affordable housing will, quite simply, cease to be built.

Lastly, some Congressional proposals threaten the critical, but behind-the-scenes, role played by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and FHA in supporting not just single-family homes, but almost all financing of affordable multifamily rentals. There may be viable alternatives that allow a greater private sector role, such as those recently proposed by the Bipartisan Policy Center Housing Commission. But experts agree that solutions must address not just homeownership, but also affordable rental needs that are critical to the long term health of our communities.

As Washington lawmakers address the budget this month and consider overdue reforms, they need to leave party politics aside and make affordable housing a bipartisan priority, as it is in New York.

Three actions can be taken before the new year: 1) Exempt HUD homeless and housing programs from the sequester and further cuts, 2) Protect LIHTC and tax-exempt bonds in tax reform, and legislate minimum and permanent fixed LIHTC rates, and 3) Provide government guarantees for low-income rental housing in GSE reform, including a dedicated revenue source for the National Housing Trust Fund.

While low-income housing programs represents chump change next to the rest of the federal budget and other tax expenditures, the housing and economic activity generated by these programs is substantial. The tax credit alone has leveraged nearly $100 billion in private investment and creates 100,000 affordable units and 95,000 jobs annually. Given our nation’s extraordinary housing and employment needs right now, one would think members of Congress would agree on the importance of expanding affordable housing investment. Just like Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota do.

Ted Houghton, executive director of the Supportive Housing Network of New York, and Todd A. Gomez, senior vice president, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, are co-chairs of the Housing First! affordable housing campaign.

Op-Ed: Rikers Island Prices


You’ll be surprised about one of the most expensive residential neighborhoods in New York. The average Manhattan studio apartment rents for about $1,953 a month according to a recent survey, but in this area it’s over $13,977.

Even in ultra-expensive New York City, you’d figure a building that costs an average $167,000 annually per person for a small “studio” and amenities has to be luxuriously swanky – but not so much. And it’s not on the Upper East Side, Midtown or even in Robert DeNiro’s trendy TriBeca. It’s more exclusive in some ways. It’s part of the Bronx but located on a 400-plus acre island on the East River.

That’d be Rikers Island, home to New York City’s biggest and most infamous jails complex.

Despite the island setting, it doesn’t offer much in the way of river views. The “studio” units are small, Spartan and offer little privacy. The building staff-to-tenant ratio, though, is amazing.

Last month, the city’s Independent Budget Office issued a brief report on the jail’s cost. On any given day it houses about 12,287 at an annual cost of $167,731 per inmate for a total of over $2 billion annually. About 93 percent of the guests are male; 57 percent black; 33 percent Hispanic, 7 percent white and 1 percent Asian.

“Budgets are moral documents” wrote Rev. Peg Chamberlin in the National Catholic Reporter recently. She was writing about a national budget gifting $10.17 billion in tax breaks and subsidies to highly profitable coal and gas companies while slashing billions to the country’s neediest by cutting safety net programs.

She could have been writing about spending $2 billion on jails while cutting food stamps and affordable housing programs, and condemning more than 50,000 people — four times more than are in Rikers — to homeless shelters daily.

The per inmate spending is extraordinary – far above any benchmark average for prisons or jails. Sometimes it’s difficult to translate a reduction in inmates to the per inmate cost, because the jail continues to operate with all the overhead costs involved. But Rikers is really a collection of jails in 10 buildings; eliminating whole sections or closing whole buildings would significantly reduce costs while still keeping a city jail system operating.

There are ways to reduce the jail population that would garner substantial public support. Like many jails, lots of the inmates are there awaiting trial. They haven’t been convicted of anything except being too poor to post bail. At Rikers, the “unconvicted” account for three-quarters of the population.

New York is one of only two states that automatically treat 16 and 17 year olds as adults in the criminal justice system. You really don’t want to know the other state (ok, it’s North Carolina). So 7 percent of Rikers inmates are 16 or 17 years old, in itself a questionable practice.

There’s also the issue of incarcerating nonviolent or first-time offenses. On any given day there might be 2,300 inmates at Rikers on drug charges; up to 100 on prostitution or loitering; and perhaps another 1,200 or more for other misdemeanors.

The operation of the jail isn’t without controversy. Rikers has a history of brutal violence and deaths. At least a dozen lawsuits have been filed arising from that history claiming guards used inmates as enforcers to maintain discipline or even for extortion. That's given rise to criminal charges and more than a few legal settlements. Some of the suits are still pending.

In terms of a standard metric for jails, Rikers has a high recidivism rate.

Let’s suppose the inmate population could be reduced by 1,000 and the cost by $167,000,000. What could that money do?

Many poor people in New York (last week the Census Bureau said NYC’s poverty rate jumped from 20.9 percent to 21.2 percent, translating to almost 1.8 million officially below the poverty threshold) still have little or no access to appropriate ongoing medical treatment and related services.

High-quality primary health care for people experiencing homelessness, who typically have multiple chronic health diagnosis, can be delivered for $190 a visit. A typical emergency room visit costs over $2,100. One hundred and sixty seven million dollars could provide 878,000 medical visits for poor people. That’s without adjusting for savings from unreimbursed emergency room visits and unnecessary hospitalizations avoided.

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New York City has over 3,800 homeless youth but provides only 250 beds for them. Even if beds were as expensive as adult beds we could provide the extra 3,550 beds with more than $150 million left.

New York’s homeless shelter population has exploded since the elimination of rental subsidies to assist families move from shelter to permanent housing. Reinstituting the rental subsidy, a program that, despite all its faults, never cost more than about $1,000 a month per family, might move over 8,300 families into housing with $67 million left over. And that’s not considering either better outcomes and greater productivity of families that would be stably housed or the tax dollar savings from reducing the homeless shelter population where it costs $3,000 a month for shelter and services.

Imagine how far a share of that savings could go in needed expansion of our mental health services or drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs. Like the housing programs, it’s not inexpensive but the investment cost usually results in a major savings over time in avoided tragedies, greater productivity and less spending on emergency rooms, police and jail.

Care for the Homeless Executive Director Bobby Watts noted you could send three students to Harvard for what we’re spending on one inmate. The Blinker website claims we’ll pay more to house alleged drug offenders at Rikers a year than on all the New Yorkers in public housing. Food stamps cost around $1.50 per meal, so $167 million pays for 111,333,333 meals.

Good health policies, housing programs and the availability of treatment for those who need it don’t just produce better outcomes, they save money over time. It’s surely a more productive use of public resources than paying for jail, especially at a Rikers Island price.

Jeff Foreman is Director of Policy at Care for the Homeless. Follow him on twitter @JeffForeman2.

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