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Hearing to Examine ‘Efficacy’ of City Response to ‘Homelessness Crisis’

Levin City Council

City Council Member Levin (photo: William Alatriste) 

The City Council Committee on General Welfare will hold an oversight hearing on Wednesday Dec. 9 on the de Blasio administration’s efforts to address New York’s “homelessness crisis.”

Though a great deal of political controversy has surrounded the issue lately, City Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the committee, is not interested in adding to it.

“Now is an appropriate time to do a clear-eyed assessment of what is happening on the ground and what the plans are moving forward to address all of those issues,” Levin told Gotham Gazette ahead of the hearing. “So,” he said, the hearing will be about “toning down the rhetoric and really examining what the reality is.”

That assessment will include, Levin added, examining the Department of Homeless Services’ Living in Communities (LINC) and Special Exit and Prevention Supplement (SEPS) programs, as well as recent increases in its legal services and the Homebase program, among other components of the city’s multi-pronged effort to address homelessness.

As of its December 3 census, the Department of Homeless Services counted 57,967 people sleeping in shelters. It is estimated that there are a few thousand more who live on the streets and in subway stations. The city’s efforts to move people living on the street - who often suffer from mental illness - into shelter and reduce the shelter census have come under increasing scrutiny over the past six months.

“Even though the city has spent hundreds of millions of dollars confronting homelessness, the problem has proven to be far more intractable than everyone originally thought, including the mayor,” City Council Member Ritchie Torres, a member of the general welfare committee, told Gotham Gazette. “And it’s not for a lack of effort at all.”

During a recent interview with PIX11, DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor agreed - when asked to grade the administration’s work, Taylor said, “I would definitely give us an A for effort.”

Perhaps “effort” is not one of them, but there are a variety of questions around the administration’s approach to homelessness, mostly about the effectiveness of programs and policies and if the right overall approach is in place.

The PIX11 Taylor interview grew tense when the commissioner was asked to explain the increase in average time that homeless families spend in shelters - seventeen months in fiscal year 2015 compared to eleven months in 2011. The commissioner questioned the source of the reporter’s data, but when he learned it was the Mayor’s Management Report, he shifted to deny “the notion of families languishing in shelter” but said that he did not “refute” MMR numbers.

When PIX11 interviewed New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer about two weeks later, on Dec. 3, he said that his office is currently auditing DHS. Stringer said that his “early call is we shouldn’t be about spinning and grading, we should be about getting the work done.” Previously, Stringer has criticized the administration for conditions at homeless shelters.

Taylor is expected to testify at the City Council’s hearing on Wednesday. DHS did not make Taylor available for an interview for this article.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has recently acknowledged how tough the fight to reduce homelessness has been and also said he hasn’t done a good enough job explaining all of the work his administration is doing to combat homelessness. The administration has a variety of programs in motion, and has moved tens of thousands out of shelter and into housing, while also providing subsidies to help people avoid losing their homes. But, de Blasio has said that as quickly as his administration is moving people out of shelter, others are becoming in need, largely due to the city’s affordable housing crisis.

When announcing in early November that “52,277 individuals have exited shelter since July 1, 2014,” including 19,263 who “exited shelter using the administration’s newly created rental assistance programs and exit pathways,” the administration said that in the same time, “approximately 91,906 individuals have enrolled in HomeBase, a proven homelessness prevention program to help families and individuals stay in their homes.”

In a statement, de Blasio said that his “administration is making unprecedented investments in programs to prevent and reduce homelessness...But as rents are skyrocketing and wages remain stagnant, too many New Yorkers are struggling to make ends meet and still end up in shelter, and we are aggressively working to help these families and individuals exit shelter.”

Sixty-two percent of New Yorkers disapprove of how the mayor is handling homelessness, according to a Siena College/New York Times poll released Nov. 17.

The city’s efforts to reduce homelessness are being further enhanced, according to a recent announcement by de Blasio, sure to be part of the discussion at Wednesday’s Council hearing. On Nov. 18, de Blasio announced his administration’s new supportive housing plan, a $2.6 billion initiative to build permanent residential units for homeless individuals afflicted by complex challenges like domestic violence, substance addiction, and mental illness. The plan outlines the construction of 15,000 supportive housing units over a 15-year period. Roughly 7,500 of the units will be newly constructed and the other roughly 7,500 will be at scattered sites.

While many praised the mayor’s new supportive housing program, his administration has been highly criticized for a perceived lack of progress in its efforts to house New Yorkers.

The mayor’s supportive housing announcement came after months of negotiations between his administration and that of Governor Andrew Cuomo failed to produce an agreement for a fourth New York/New York agreement, a supportive housing program funded jointly by the city and state, which is now in its third iteration and has been the product of collaboration by prior mayors and governors. Many are still waiting for Cuomo to announce a plan to add to de Blasio’s, or a joint announcement that incorporates de Blasio’s plan into a new New York/New York agreement.

“By making this historic investment, we are confronting the moral crises of homelessness and mental illness our city faces today,” de Blasio said in a statement announcing the plan. “We are not waiting on Albany.”

Though Council Member Torres is confident that the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) will successfully execute the plan, he indicated that for future supportive housing development plans New York City would need more state funding.

“The city cannot carry the burden on its own in the long run, that’s just my assessment. It’s so expensive that it requires support from both the city and the state,” Torres said. “If you go beyond the 15,000 units, it becomes more of a challenge.”

Cuomo has been criticized by legislators and advocates for only proposing only 3,700 units for the city for the next seven years (8,300 less than what de Blasio requested and 26,300 less than what advocates have said is necessary) for a fourth New York/New York. Unlike previous New York/New York plans in which the state has covered 80 percent of the cost, the governor wants the fourth’s cost evenly shared, fifty-fifty. The most recent agreement expires next year.

“The sheer scale of the catastrophe playing out on our streets demands a sustained solution,” wrote Mary Brosnahan, president of Coalition for the Homeless, in The New York Times’ Room for Debate. “Governor Cuomo's offer is not going to cut it.” Brosnahan said similarly when she spoke at de Blasio’s celebratory supportive housing announcement, shifting the pressure to Cuomo to step up.

Homelessness is the latest policy issue to become a part of the Cuomo-de Blasio feud. As the de Blasio administration dedicates more and more funds to combat the crisis, calling on Cuomo to do so as well, the governor has questioned whether it’s a money issue or a management issue. “New York state is spending a billion dollars on homelessness in New York City,” the governor said in Brooklyn on Nov. 24. “So it’s not the money. . .I think it’s more of a question of the intelligence and the management.”

Last week, Cuomo met with nonprofit groups to discuss various aspects of homelessness policy and practice, and is expected reveal new related plans in his 2016 State of the State address on January 6.

Despite the drama surrounding the issue, Council Member Levin said he is focused on policy details. The $88 million added to the Department of Homeless Services budget in a November update to the fiscal year 2016 financial plan will be discussed at the hearing and though the supportive housing plan was prominent at a recent hearing, Levin said it would probably come up again.

“There’s a lot of noise out there, obviously, and we are eager to try to cut through that noise,” Levin told Gotham Gazette. Adding that the hearing will “look at what’s happening now, how that relates to what’s been happening over the last few years, what efforts are in place right now, examining the efficacy of those efforts - new funding, significant efforts that this administration has put into place.”

“The public deserves a clear picture of what’s really going on,” Levin said. “We are going to examine that as thoroughly and methodically as possible.”

by Ryan Brady, Gotham Gazette

In Testimony to Pay Commission, City Council Asks for Salary Increase

mmv bdb seated

Council Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: William Alatriste)

As a committee called by Mayor de Blasio, as required by law, considers recommendations for raising the pay of New York City elected officials, the City Council has made its public testimony. A document was submitted by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to the Quadrennial Advisory Commission for the Review of Compensation Levels of Elected Officials, which is chaired by Frederick Schwarz, and posted online at the commission's website earlier this evening.

In it, Mark-Viverito writes "on behalf of the Council," and does not suggest a specific salary for City Council members - they currently make $112,500 each per year, plus bonuses for filling leadership positions and chairing committees - but does include a more general pitch for a raise. "As you are aware, the compensation level for Council Members has not changed in close to a decade," Mark-Viverito writes, "[D]uring the past ten years the Council has become more productive and its work and processes far more complex. At the same time the cost of living in the City has risen significantly and Member salaries are not on par with other private and public sector jobs with comparable duties and obligations."

Mark-Viverito goes on to say that compensation for Council members must take into account "the nature of their service" and "the economic realities" of living in New York, in part so that the Council can attract top-level individuals. "I therefore believe it is clear that Council Member salaries should be increased," she writes, referring the commission to further information enclosed detailing the Council's efforts in drafting legislation, holding oversight hearings, crafting the city budget, working in their individual districts, and more. At one point, Mark-Viverito writes that "The time commitment for Council Members is considerable and most describe their jobs as '24/7.'"

Mark-Viverito also provides data showing that the Council has been especially productive under her leadership, writing that "the current Council has been even more active than in prior sessions. Council Members have already made 105% more bill and resolution drafting requests, introduced 41% more bills and enacted 32% more Local Laws than through the same time period in the immediately preceding session." This Council is indeed a far different one than its immediate predecessor, with more than 20 new members (of 51 seats) through the 2013 election cycle, and a new speaker. It has also had an often like-minded mayor to work with in de Blasio.

In her letter to the commission, Mark-Viverito also highlights Council rules reform of the past decades, including those made under her leadership in 2014, which have made the Council more transparent and democratic - "more vibrant, effective, efficient and ethically sound," she writes. There is no mention of reforming committee chair compensation, known as "lulus," which often net Council members $10-15,000 in addition to their salaries and have been the source of scorn from good government watchdogs. Citizens Union, for example, told the commission that it should recommend doing away with lulus while raising base salaries to account for cost-of-living increases and to attract strong candidates for office.

Mark-Viverito concludes her letter saying that the Council's role in city governance "is a vital one and if it is to live up to the promise of the 1989 Charter, its Members must be compensated fairly and for the responsibilities they bear and the sevice they perform." Along with not specifying a new salary, the speaker also did not write whether the Council believes that the desired pay increase should be made immediate or for the next class of elected officials - the latter would mean raises would go into effect in January of 2018. Mayor de Blasio has already said that he will not accept a pay increase during this term, meaning that if the commission were to recommend immediate increases, de Blasio would likely alter that provision before sending the recommendations to the Council.

Public comment - from elected officials, good government advocates, and others - is open until 5 p.m. Friday. The commission also held two sparsely-attended public hearings. Along with Schwarz, the other two commissioners named to the panel by de Blasio are Jill Bright and Paul Quintero. The commission is considering the compensation of the mayor, public advocate, comptroller, 51 City Council members, five borough presidents, and five district attorneys. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has submitted testimony, as have a group of district attorneys.

The commission is due to submit its recommendations to the mayor, who will then submit the report with his changes to the City Council for "approval, disapproval, or modifications," according to the commission website.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Note: this article has been updated




Governor Cuomo described the Upstate New York economy as suffering from a “bad 50 years “ as he tried to explain why it was hard to stimulate rapid growth in the region’s economy, which has grown far more slowly than the rest of the state and nation (see Upstate New York is Home to Heavy Voter Turnout, Major State Investment, and Minimal Job Growth).


Cuomo also said that his administration had changed the trajectory upward. Residents of the state should be concerned about how successful these efforts are: Upstate York has more than a third of the state’s residents and is nearly 50 percent of the vote in gubernatorial elections; the state has enacted intensive programming to uplift that region’s economy, and the state must make major decisions about the allocations of its resources and assets every year and set policy directions.

When I wrote the earlier column, I assumed the governor’s description of Upstate’s economic decline was generally true. But in the course of verifying the accuracy of the 50-year decline claim in order to elaborate on the issue, I learned that it was not true.

The Upstate New York economy only slowed to a crawl in the years after 2000, largely due to the two recessions that occurred between 2000 and 2010. This major slowdown did, of course, occur before Andrew Cuomo became governor in January 2011.  But a detailed look at the history of the state’s economy and employment growth shows that Upstate New York’s employment growth actually outpaced the rest of the state in the 1980s, and continued a moderate climb forward in the 1990s, although both regions grew more slowly than the rest of the nation. Employment grew 20% in each of the two decades across the United States.

New York State Labor Department figures show Upstate employment growing at 17% in the ‘80s, versus 12% Downstate (1). Downstate consists of New York City, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, and Orange counties (2). Upstate is the remainder of the state.





Growth %














Governor Cuomo seemingly was expressing a public perception that manufacturing job loss broke the back of the Upstate economy decades ago. Manufacturing job loss has in fact been relentless, in Upstate New York and Downstate New York, and the nation as a whole. In 1979 the United States reached its peak manufacturing employment with 19.5 million jobs. New York’s manufacturing employment history since then, divided between the regions:

NYS MANUFACTURING EMPLOYMENT, 1979-90(1),1990-2010(1)

(there are two figures for 1990, see footnote (1) below)



















In 1979-80, manufacturing jobs were 29% of Upstate New York employment, and 17% Downstate. Manufacturing job losses were seriously affecting employment in New York, but in the 50-year lookback to the late ‘60s and ‘70s, it was New York City’s economy that was in freefall in the early ‘70s. New York City lost 600,000 jobs, including 300,000 manufacturing jobs, from 1969 to 1976 (according to the Federal Reserve Board of New York, quarterly review, summer 1977). But the city economy recovered in 1977 and beyond.

Two recessions, in 1980 and ‘81-’82, hit the steel and auto industries in Western New York hard. The huge Bethlehem Steel plant in Erie County closed in 1982. Erie and Niagara Counties lost 41,000 manufacturing jobs from 1979-85. IBM and Kodak began their manufacturing job declines in the mid-to-late ‘80s and continued through the ‘90s. Despite these cutbacks, the Upstate economy as a whole still continued to expand once the recessions were over and grew by more than 400,000 jobs in the ‘80s.

In the 1990s, both regions saw their employment grow at a pace of about 5% for the decade, including the severe recession of the early ‘90s. In 1990, manufacturing was still 18% of Upstate employment but had fallen to 9% Downstate, meaning Downstate’s transformation to a service-based economy had effectively been completed. After the recession was over, the Downstate area did grow more rapidly, but Upstate employment growth still gained over 200,000 jobs and had 7.4% growth over a seven-year period.































Foreign immigration, especially into New York City, began to make a major difference in population growth in the two regions in the 1990s. According to New York City Planning reports, the city gained 800,000 foreign immigrants in the ‘90s .This gain in the City, where two-thirds of the Downstate population lives, roughly mirrored the 800,000 person growth in population in that decade for the Downstate region. Between 2000 and 2015 the city gained another 340,000 foreign immigrants and Downstate gained another 425,000 persons. Between 1990 and 2016 Downstate gained more than 1.6 million people and more than 14% increase in population. Upstate New York gained only 2% in population. With population growth comes new demand for goods and services and employment gains.

pop growth

By 2000 manufacturing employment was 14% of employment in Upstate New York and only 6% Downstate. The United States entered another recession in 2001 and employment actually declined for two years, including a loss of 2 million manufacturing jobs. The terrorist attack that destroyed the Twin Towers and killed thousands also had significant effects on employment in New York beyond the impact of the recession.

After the recession ended employment in the Downstate region grew rapidly until 2008. But the growth rates of the two regions differed sharply, with Upstate growing only 1.7% in the five years versus 6.1% in the Downstate region, when the Great Recession hit New York and the nation. New York City’s economy took off after the Recession, but Upstate New York had lost another 145,000 manufacturing jobs in the decade, more than a third of its remaining factory jobs from 2000. By 2010, Upstate New York had fewer jobs than it did in 2000.

The Upstate economy had a very bad ten years, from 2000 to 2010, and the manufacturing and other job losses during this period truly shook the base of the Upstate economy.







Growth 2003-2008

Growth 2000-2010




























The past column reported that Upstate private sector economic growth from 2010 to 2016 was 5.8%, with slightly faster growth in the bigger metro areas like Albany, Buffalo, and Rochester, but weak-to-no growth in other areas. How and where the state government is allocating its resources and assets will be the subject of the next column, along with a continued look at its economic development policies and overall strategic efforts to leverage meaningful improvement in the Upstate economy.

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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