Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/604 Tue, 12 Dec 2017 16:17:26 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) For Mark-Viverito’s Seat: Leading Candidates with Long Community Resumes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7143:for-mark-viverito-s-seat-leading-candidates-with-long-community-resumes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7143:for-mark-viverito-s-seat-leading-candidates-with-long-community-resumes diaz jr ayala mmv

Ruben Diaz Jr. introduces Diana Ayala, alongside Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: @jtaranto)


Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Speaker of the City Council, is term-limited and leaving office at the end of this year, which, aside from indicating that there will be a new leader of the Council, means her position representing the Council’s 8th District is “open.”

Since 2005, Mark-Viverito has represented the district, which includes East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx. New York State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, whose district encompasses much of District 8, and Diana Ayala, a former Mark-Viverito staffer who the speaker has endorsed as her preferred successor, are in a highly competetive race for the seat.

Ayala, 43, has appeared at multiple campaign events alongside her former boss, for whom she was constituent services director and deputy chief of staff. Mark-Viverito has also been door-knocking in the district with Ayala, attempting to use her name recognition to boost Ayala’s, which is far behind Rodriguez’s given his stature as an elected official.

Several other electeds from the area have endorsed Ayala, too. These include Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Congressional Rep. Adrian Espaillat, and City Council Members Rafael Salamanca, Ritchie Torres, and Annabel Palma of the Bronx. Ayala is hardly running away with the endorsements competition, though. The 41-year-old Rodriguez has support from Congressional Rep. Jose Serrano, who campaigned alongside Rodriguez at a recent family day gathering at Johnson Houses, and State Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who is Bronx Democratic Party Chair, among others.

While the two can perhaps call it even in backing from key politicians, Ayala had significantly more money than Rodriguez for the remainder of the campaign, at least as of the most recent filings with Campaign Finance Board. As of that mid-August filing, Rodriguez had a bit under $34,000 left after raising $140,000 over the course of the campaign, while Ayala has raised over $77,000, boosted by $95,095 of public matching funds, to leave her campaign with $110,415 to spend. Rodriguez has not yet received any public matching funds.

And, though Ayala has the endorsement of the City Council Progressive Caucus and other progressive groups, the two candidates have few disagreements on the key policy issues in the race -- the two top contenders posit themselves similarly on charter schools and the East Harlem rezoning, along with affordable housing, generally.

Also on the primary ballot will be community activist Tamika Mapp, who ran against Rodriguez for his Assembly seat in the 2014 primary, and former State Assemblymember Israel Martinez.

Ahead of the Democratic primary on September 12, the candidates have been making their pitches to voters during campaign forums, door-knocking excursions, and community events in the district, revealing two distinct styles reflective of their backgrounds. Gotham Gazette spent time on the campaign trail with both Ayala and Rodriguez, including during retail campaigning and at candidate forums.

Candidate Messaging
Rodriguez, the son of a former Assembly member for the same district, speaks predominantly about his achievements in Albany, particularly as they relate to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), on the campaign trail. “You sent me up to Albany to fight for NYCHA,” Rodriguez said in his opening statement at a campaign forum in July. “Before I got there, there was no state contribution to New York City public housing. Not one dollar! Since then, in the fight to makes sure that the State meets its responsibility to NYCHA, we now have $300 million committed toward capital for New York City public housing,” Rodriguez said.

rodriguez raskinFirst elected to the Assembly in 2010, Rodriguez is a former member of Community Board 11. He went on to call attention to his other achievements as a state legislator. “You sent me to Albany to make sure we got a Second Avenue Subway that comes from 96th street to 125th street,” Rodriguez continued. “When there were dangers of taking it out of the budget, which is still being talked about, you sent me up there to be a champion. And today we have $2.2 billion in the MTA plan to move the subway up to 125th street,” he said. “You sent me there to fight for affordable housing to fund the Mitchell-Lamas we have in our community. We have $75 million in the budget to fight for our Mitchell-Lamas to keep them [affordable],” he said, sparking applause from an audience of just short of 200 in an East Harlem school. “Those are the things that you sent me to Albany that have given me the experience to be able to serve you in the City Council.”

Like several other state legislators, Rodriguez is making a run this year for City Council, attempting to leave behind the many commutes to Albany and to boost his base salary by nearly 100%, from the $79,500 of a state legislator to the $148,000 of a City Council member. Rodriguez will not lose his Assembly seat if he is not victorious, since state legislative elections are in even years.

Campaigning in East Harlem Saturday, August 12, Rodriguez struck familiar points, molding his pitch slightly to the audience inside Jefferson Houses. “I grew up understanding that NYCHA is the only way that low-income people can raise their families and aspire for better,” he said. “So when we got to the Legislature...the State gave no money to public housing. Not one dollar,” he said. “We had to change that. So we made the fight and over the last three years we’ve got $300 million to go to New York City public housing.”

“Now that’s not enough,” he continued. ”I’m not saying the job is done; it’s just the beginning. But we know that that put cameras here in Jefferson, and there are more projects that we have to do across NYCHA to help make things better and safer for all our residents,” he said. “Just know that I’ll keep up that fight wherever you let me go.”

For her part, Ayala often talks of her own life experiences as making her uniquely suited to represent the district. “I have always been at the table and I have worked with the community to try to figure out the solutions to the issues that are all before us,” Ayala said at the August campaign forum. “And I think that’s what makes me a qualified candidate, coupled with the fact that a lot of the issues that came before us, or have come before the office of the Speaker, have been my issues,” she said. “I have been homeless, I have been hungry, I have been the victim of domestic violence, I have been a single mother, I have been a teenage mother,” she told the audience. “So these issues allow me a different perspective on the way that we legislate in the City Council.”

Ayala sees her strength as a candidate in her ability to be in tune with her community’s needs, rather than having particular policy expertise. Asked about her differences with Rodriguez, she took the opportunity to draw a distinction regarding community knowledge and relationships.

“In order for you to create common sense legislation you need to be engaged with what’s happening in your community,” she said. “And if not, how do you? This is where policy is born, right?” she said. “And it’s deeply-rooted in the community and things that are happening on a day-to-day basis and it’s really important that we be active participants,” she continued.

During her time in Mark-Viverito’s office, Ayala, in addition to building her relationship with residents of the 8th district, grew to admire respect her boss. When they were asked in a July debate to grade the Speaker’s performance, Ayala graded her with an “A” while Rodriguez, noting he respects how hard her job is as an elected official himself, gave her a B or B minus, adding, “[t]here needs to be someone with experience to pick up the banner.” Ayala, who remains loyal to her former boss and has spent time with her while campaigning, is hesitant to put any daylight between herself and her former boss. “The Right to Know Act, I probably would have acted a little bit more swiftly,” she said. “But,” she quickly said, “I understand that she felt like the need to be legislated and there needs to be an opportunity for discussion first.”

When asked about the disagreement between Mark-Viverito and de Blasio over legal funding for immigrants that have been convicted of certain crimes, Ayala balked at taking a stance. “I don’t really feel comfortable taking a position on that yet,” she said. “I haven’t really been actively involved in that.”

Despite her loyalty to Mark-Viverito, Ayala has not been able to carry over all of her institutional support. The city’s healthcare workers union, 1199 SEIU, which is a strong force in city and state politics and has been a close ally (and former employer of) Mark-Viverito, endorsed Rodriguez last week.

Indeed, one of the most interesting and determinative aspects of the race to replace her will be what kind of pull Mark-Viverito has among her constituents to choose her successor.

Differentiating Themselves
Throughout interviews, forums and other events, the candidates repeatedly underscored their campaign identities: Ayala as the on-the-ground community member and liaison who knows everyone in the neighborhood and what they need, and Rodriguez, the policy guy who’s worked in Albany to help the district largely from afar.

When Gotham Gazette asked Ayala if Rodriguez comes up on the campaign trail, Ayala said it’s a rarity but when he does constituents tell her Rodriguez is is seen to be out of touch with the district. “He rarely comes up, but when he does come up, people say ‘where is he? I don’t see him. He’s not in this district. I’m not voting for him.’”

Ayala’s campaign is clearly seeking to capitalize on the issue of district presence and constituent services. While going door-to-door in an East Harlem senior NYCHA development, Ayala knew well over half of the people at the doors.

“I saw that it was your birthday,” Ayala said in an upbeat tone to one registered Democrat in the building, noting she knew of the birthday from Facebook. At other doors, she stopped to inquire about renovations in the apartments, gave instruction on how best to go about getting things fixed, cleaned, or replaced to residents with home issues and politely inquired about certain tenants’ health if she knew they had been ill.

Ayala’s relationships with community members are not exclusively from her years as constituent services director for Mark-Viverito. Before her tenure in the City Council office, Ayala worked in senior services for 20 years, which she credits with lending her familiarity with many in the district.

At the August 12 campaign event in East Harlem, Rodriguez spoke comfortably with members of the community. He, like Ayala, transitioned seamlessly between Spanish and English.

After his brief speech, Gotham Gazette asked Rodriguez how he differs from Ayala. Like her, he draws on experience, not particular ideological or policy differences between the two, to make the case. Rodriguez argues that the problems are known and thus political skill is what is needed to improve quality of life for District 8 residents. “Policy-wise, on some of the issues...there may not be a difference but execution and experiences I think is where there’s huge difference there,” Rodriguez said.

“Having served in the Legislature and understanding the challenges around finding funding, bringing funding into the district, and recognizing that you have to make some difficult decisions and prioritize,” said Rodriguez. “Someone who has that experience, I think, has the advantage in terms of being able to better represent this district and address the issues that are really at crisis levels in the East Harlem and South Bronx,” he added. “I think I can bring a unique set of experiences to do that.”

Affordable Housing
In an interview in Ayala’s campaign office just a few blocks south of Jefferson Houses following her voter outreach, she again highlighted housing as the most important part of the campaign. “Housing is always going to be the centerpiece of everything,” she said. “Housing continues to be an issue for a lot of reasons. We have a large public housing stock that’s...in pretty dilapidated condition.”

Ayala remembered that NYCHA units had declined over the years. “I grew up in public housing. It was really nice and people don’t believe it, but it was,” she said. “They used to paint your house every five years, they would change your cabinets, they would clean the grounds, there was all types of stuff -- they didn’t have rats. Seeing a mouse in public housing was unheard of,” she recalled.

This deterioration, she estimates, happened about a decade or two ago. Ayala did not offer specific plans for addressing the problems.

Beyond NYCHA, Ayala said affordable housing no longer fits people’s budgets, a major problem in the district. “We have people that are in rent-stabilized units that are paying upward of $2,000 [per month]. So you have families that are overcrowded in these apartments because, even though they’re rent-stabilized...they stopped being affordable,” she said. “We lose almost 400 units a year to rent destabilization and we’re not making them up fast enough, so there’s more going out than coming in,” said Ayala. “And that’s a problem, because that’s how the community stops becoming El Barrio.”

This dynamic comes into play regarding East Harlem rezoning in Ayala’s telling. When asked about why she was opposed to the city’s plan, Ayala said that many in the community “fear that they’re going to be pushed out” if the city’s version of East Harlem rezoning is enacted. “And,” she continued, “they fear that y’know we’re going to have all these luxury tall buildings that are going to change the character of the community and the culture is going to evaporate, [and it’s] not going to be Harlem anymore.”

Public Safety
After housing, public safety is the next most important issue in the campaign, according to Ayala. “I have several members of my family that have been killed in gun violence,” she said. “My cousin was shot when he was 16 years old at a party when he was minding his business because he accidentally stepped on someone's sneaker and the guy pulled out a shotgun and killed him. My boyfriend was shot when I was 15,” Ayala said. “So..that’s something that continues to plague our community. I spend a lot of time in the community and people are afraid. Our seniors are afraid to sit on the benches, parents are afraid to take their children to the park because we’ve had shootouts in the park in the local playground,” Ayala said.

Rodriguez has been endorsed by the Patrolmen’s Benevolence Association (PBA) and received a $1,000 campaign donation from the police officers union in January. Rodriguez says he favors J-RIP, formally known as Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program. “It really helped with some of the gang issues we’re having in our community and that has to continue,” he said of the program, a paternalistic anti-crime method in which police officers track and intervene in the lives of teenagers authorities deem most likely to commit crimes. He also lamented the high turnover rate in the NYPD, which he regards as a problem of not allowing officers to establish relationships with the communities they serve.

Ayala said she did not see the PBA’s stamp of approval as something she would seek, citing differing on issues such as the Right to Know Act and Closing Rikers Island jails. “I am a supporter of several pieces of legislation in the City Council that, you know, that the PBA is not in favor of, and so I didn’t feel like it was an endorsement that I should pursue,” she said. “I think if you’re being stopped by anyone you should know why you’re being stopped,” she said, referring to one provision of the Right to Know Act, which would mandate more communication from officers during street stops where a crime is not evidently being committed.

“I have a great relationship with all of the precincts and community affairs officers, commanding officers,” Ayala said. “I understand that they have a really tough job. But I’m also a parent of a 27-year-old who happens to have dark skin and who happens to, in his teens, be stopped every single day. I think that I have not only a responsibility to teach my son to be respectful of law enforcement, but also to teach law enforcement to be respectful of the community,” she said. “And I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. And I work very closely with the police department too so that they understand the perspective of the young people who live in these communities and I think that we’ve been very fortunate that the precinct in the district have been slowly coming along and that relations have improved significantly.”

The Campaign’s Defining Issue
But housing, and related topics like gentrification and neighborhood character, more so than public safety, jobs, or anything else, has dominated the discourse around the race. At a July campaign forum, Ayala assured the audience that she was in tune with their anxiety about the signs of gentrification, putting her signature personal spin on the matter.

“Where I come from,” she said, “it hasn’t always been a positive thing. I grew up on the Lower East Side and we were gentrified and we didn’t know that we were being gentrified because we lived in public housing and nothing really changed for us except for the fact that several years into it, we lost all of our delis, we lost the local pharmacist, we lost the pediatrician that has seen me, my kids my neighbors children,” Ayala said. “And all of these mom and pop stores were replaced by all these sheek bars.”

“We have people that move into the community and complain about the many festivals that we have or they complain about the marketa music being too loud, being the type of music they don’t enjoy,” she said. “When we talk about gentrification we want to make sure that if you’re coming into this community, we’ll welcome you, but you need to accept us the way that we are,” said Ayala, speaking to the divide between long-time residents of the neighborhood and some new-coming gentrifiers.

At the forum, Rodriguez framed the phenomenon of neighborhood change in a different manner. “East Harlem is still a community of immigrants,” he said. “Let’s not forget our history here. People come from different places far and wide into our community,” Rodriguez said adding that new people moving in “should not be something that we are afraid of.”

“I’m open to new people coming in. I’m open to new business. That’s what makes New York City great,” Rodriguez added. Rodriguez also spoke to people’s anxieties about the lack of affordable housing. “Now that being said, we deserve to stay here,” he said. “The housing should reflect what we can afford.”

Rodriguez emphasized affordable housing as the “number one issue” in the campaign. “There are concerns that your developments, if it’s something like a Mitchell-Lama, may one day not be affordable,” he said, referring to a type of subsidized housing set aside for middle-income New Yorkers. “They may opt out of a program and they may become market-rate,” said Rodriguez of landlords. “That is what everyone’s concern is when you’re looking at affordable housing units.”

He went on to note that affordable housing is a term that is unique to everyone’s needs based on their income and family size. “That’s why, years ago, when I was the chair of the community board, we set affordable housing guidelines that defend what we need as a community so that the city is on notice,” he said. “There are $17 billion of capital needs in NYCHA. Whatever numbers we’re talking about need a significant intervention.” Rodriguez said. “This is a crisis that we have.”

But Rodriguez does not welcome all opportunities to build new affordable housing. The East Harlem rezoning plan has loomed in the background of the race. As it stands, Rodriguez is against the city’s East Harlem rezoning proposal, as are Ayala, Mark-Viverito, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

“I’m against it and I support the conditions that were included by the Community Board,” Rodriguez said. “Some of the concerns about the benefits -- are they extending some of those benefits to those that are earning below 30% of AMI (Area Median Income)? How do we increase that? I raised additional concerns about what happens to small businesses and smaller commercial spaces as we start to increase density. Where do the small mom and pop stores go?” he said.

Rodriguez, formerly a member of Community Board 11, voiced his respect for the process and disappointment the community’s input wasn’t incorporated sufficiently in the de Blasio administration’s plan. “There’s been a significant amount of community dialogue and I think that the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan is pretty comprehensive at covering some of those issues and concerns and I think that didn’t all materialize in terms of the City Planning proposal,” he said of the plan put forth by the community, in conjunction with Mark-Viverito’s office. Still, all hope is not loss for the prospect of East Harlem rezoning and getting the additional affordable housing that it is aimed at spurring. “[A]t this point in the process, ultimately, it falls on the City Council to either approve it or reject it and try to make as many changes as possible before they get to that place,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not voted upon yet so there’s alway room and opportunity for change.”

Charter Schools
The two leading candidates’ divergent frames is also evident when they speak about charter schools, which both feel have advantages and drawbacks. “My children are public school students,” Ayala said, prefacing her opinion on the issue. “As a parent, I don’t want anyone to tell me where I can and cannot enroll my children,” she said. “I want to have options. That having been said, there have been issues” with charters. “The reality is, when we meet with parents -- we meet with parents all the time -- and we talk about the whole charter school issues, a lot of the concerns are lack of space,” she explained.

Ayala added that many charter schools take up extracurricular activity space used by traditional public school students and lack special education programing, which gives her a less favorable opinion on charter schools. “These are things that are all as important as reading and writing and math,” Ayala said.

Rodriguez spoke about many of the same issues as Ayala when asked about the role of charter schools in an interview, adding the criticism that some charters churn out students that do not meet certain education standards or hurt test scores, and are not welcoming

“We have different experience with the charters. We have community charters that are doing great work, and we have some that get a lot of criticisms for practices that are not necessarily reflective of what public schools should be doing,” Rodriguez told Gotham Gazette. He quickly pivoted from any problems with charter schools to the agenda he hopes to help implement in the Council. Funding regular public schools, not charter school policies, would top his list of educational priorities should he be elected, he said. “So my priority on the City Council will be to pick away at some of these issues that are administered locally by the Board of Education and figure out why we’re not getting our fair share.”

Purpose
During the interview, when Rodriguez was asked for a short summation of his campaign’s central purpose, he talked about what he would do in the City Council. “The elevator pitch is, how can we make differences for our community? And one thing we haven’t talked about is parks and waters,” he said. “One of the things we haven’t talked about is the The East River Esplanade and the South Bronx waterfront,” he said. Rodriguez went on to lament the sorry state of the conditions by the two areas.

“There’s no reason why our community, which happens to be low income but are changing rapidly, shouldn’t have world-class parks and open space on their waterfront and that’s something I’d like to fight for,” he said. “I’ve raised the issue, I’ve gotten some state funding. But this is clearly one of those times that it’s clearly a New York City issue that can only be changed by, hopefully, being elected to the City Council and bringing that vision there,” he said. “That’s just one example of many things that can dramatically improve the lives of residents here, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”.

At the campaign forum, Rodriguez summed things up more broadly in his closing statement. “If you’re a working mom, if you’re a working family, those are the thing that at the government is supposed to be able to provide some support for,” said Rodriguez. “That’s the job that you sent me to Albany to do,” he said. “So I have the experience and the track record just because you have given me that chance. I want to be able to take the experience and bring it to bear on the city council to meet your needs every day.”

As for Ayala, she again struck the tone of personal experience informing her public service when asked about the purpose of her candidacy. “I’m a regular person. I’m a mom. I’m a constituent of this district. I love my community,” she said. “I’m motivated by the needs of my community that are also my needs,” said Ayala. “So when people talk about gentrification and people being pushed out, these are my people that are being pushed out,” Ayala said. “These are my kids that are being pushed out.”

”Am I an expert on all things? I am not,” Ayala said at the July campaign forum. “But I have always been at the table and I have worked with the community to try to figure out the solutions to the issues that are before us.”

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For Mark-Viverito’s Seat: Leading Candidates with Long Community Resumes Mon, 21 Aug 2017 20:27:12 +0000
Crucial Weeks Ahead for Potential Rezoning of East Harlem http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7132:crucial-weeks-ahead-for-potential-rezoning-of-east-harlem http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7132:crucial-weeks-ahead-for-potential-rezoning-of-east-harlem mark viverito at east harlem planning session

Mark-Viverito at East Harlem planning session (photo: Samar Khurshid)


The de Blasio administration’s plan to significantly alter a large section of East Harlem is in the middle of a contentious process, with its fate unclear. The proposed changes to land use rules and infusion of community development resources -- part of the administration’s larger efforts to build more housing, some of it with affordability requirements, and improve neighborhoods -- have not been to the liking of key elected officials and the window for negotiations will close before the end of the year.

The East Harlem rezoning plan has hit several bumps in the road as it moves through the city’s process for designing and approving changes to the type of development that is permitted and resources the city will bring into a particular area. Namely, the city’s current proposal faces disapproval by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

The City Planning Commission formally began the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process for the East Harlem rezoning plan when the proposal was released April 24, followed by the Borough President’s recommendation earlier this month, in which Brewer put forth her non-binding vote of no confidence.

Next, the City Planning Commission will hold a hearing August 23, followed by a City Planning Commission review due by October 2. Afterwards, the City Council has 50 days to vote on the proposal, which can be tweaked within certain parameters acceptable to the City Planning Commission.   

East Harlem is one of 15 neighborhoods that the administration identified early in 2015 as potential areas where the city could build significant amounts of new housing, some of it with affordability requirements, with the goal of boosting local communities through other means as well, including retail and open space, job creation, new school seats, and better transportation infrastructure. The rezonings are a part of de Blasio’s goal of creating and preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing across the city over 10 years. Along with the rezoning of parts of East New York, in Brooklyn, a plan to rezone East Midtown just passed, though it is largely focused on creating new and modern office and commercial spaces.

East Harlem could be the second major neighborhood rezoning of de Blasio’s tenure, but, like in East New York, the administration must negotiate with local stakeholders, especially Mark-Viverito, the local Council rep whose opinion is the most important in the process.

Mark-Viverito will negotiate with the de Blasio administration until there is a plan to her liking, or she will kill the rezoning. The speaker is term-limited out of office at the end of this year (two leading candidates vying to succeed her have also criticized the de Blasio administration’s plan) and has the opportunity to pass the rezoning before she departs.

Mark-Viverito wants to make a deal work. She has seen the rezoning of East Harlem -- especially the affordable housing and community development that would come with it -- as key to her legacy as she prepares to leave the City Council. She helped lead the development of a community-based blueprint, East Harlem Neighborhood Plan, that she and others believe the city has not hewed close enough to in its proposal.

At a recent news conference, Mark-Viverito expressed her displeasure with the city’s process, and criticized the administration for ignoring the East Harlem community voice. “We all took ownership for that process so we stand very strongly behind the recommendations of the steering committee of the neighborhood plan,” she said August 9, when asked by Gotham Gazette about Brewer’s recent opposition and negotiations about the plan.

“What City Planning presented flew in the face of all of that, and it was very disrespectful to all of the thought and workings of the community, and I think Gale [Brewer] strongly spoke to that in her statement,” Mark-Viverito said. “We had thousands of people that participated in that process,” she said. “It was nothing to really sneeze at. And I’m really, really proud of that effort.”  

Mark-Viverito made mention of the numerous community representatives were involved in the planning process with the City Planning Department, and that the community has made its needs and wants clear. The Neighborhood Plan, a joint effort involving CB11, Brewer, Mark-Viverito, and advocacy group Community Voices Heard, is a more wide-reaching document than a rezoning proposal, including recommendations on everything spanning NYCHA repairs, public safety reforms, tenant protection and park space. The comprehensive 138-page analysis also includes specific models for ratios of market-rate to affordable housing for newly developed buildings. Undergirding the report and the entire conversation is an estimate of 12,000 East Harlem households that the report classifies as in need of affordable housing.

East Harlem rezoning, whatever form it winds up taking, will create additional housing, both affordable and market-rate, as well as commercial space, by upzoning much of the Upper Manhattan neighborhood, often referred to as El Barrio.

By its current design, the rezoning would allow buildings to stretch up to 30 stories between 104th and 126th Streets in the eastern part of the area and between 126th and 132nd in the western portions. Currently, there is a 120 foot, or ten-to-twelve stories, height restrictions on parts of 125th street and surrounding areas while the rest of East Harlem are not subject to specific height limits. According to the City Planning Department, the upzoning would create approximately 3,500 rental apartment units under the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program, which set asides a quarter of new housing for affordable housing in any new development approved by the city in a rezoned area. The commission estimates the upzoning would spawn 122,000 square feet of commercial space along with 27,500 square feet of office and industrial space.The proposal also includes height restrictions on units built on parts of Lexington Avenue and mandatory apportioning of more affordable housing units in the densest of new developments.     

Still, elected officials representing the area, in agreement with Manhattan Community Board 11’s stance, fear the upzoning will not sufficiently benefit low-income residents of the area, which has a high poverty rate, and will adversely affect mom-and-pop stores, accelerate gentrification, increase property prices, without enough affordable housing to meet the area’s needs.

On August 3, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer came out against the administration’s current proposal. While she reaffirmed support for the general idea of rezoning East Harlem, she explained she is not convinced of the merits of what the city put forward. "A rezoning done the right way offers the opportunity to create many new affordable units, including units affordable to low-income East Harlem residents, while actually reducing the effects of gentrification and reinvigorating neighborhood small businesses and retail,” she said in a statement announcing her opposition. "What the administration has put in front of us, however, is rezoning done the wrong way.”  

Brewer went on to cite concerns about gentrification, affordability and building heights, all of which she believes are better addressed in recommendations put forward by Community Board 11. Community Board 11 rejected the proposal, though, like Brewer’s, the vote is not binding -- ultimately, the decision is up to the City Council, which almost universally follows the lead of the local Council member, in this case Mark-Viverito.

Mark-Viverito has worked to convene a “Rezoning Task Force” which has met periodically from January to April of this year.  

"This proposal concentrates new development in too small an area with too much density, likely worsening the effects of gentrification,” Brewer said, echoing CB11’s criticism. “This proposal lacks a meaningful preservation plan and sufficient up-front commitments to save existing affordable housing units,” the borough president added.

Brewer also issued a list of recommendations for the city to adopt to make the plan more palatable to the community. The list includes reclaiming lost affordable housing units, lowering the density of potential buildings to preserve neighborhood character, and providing more affordable housing units to low-income residents of the area, particularly those making less than 30 percent of the area median income, which amounts to $23,350 for a household of three.  

Despite Mark-Viverito’s frustration and Brewer’s disapproval, the effort to rezone East Harlem is far from dead, with negotiations to tweak the plan ongoing.

Mark-Viverito, taking note of the time she has remaining in the Council, said she would continue to advocate for the community’s recommendations. “So that’s what I’m going to be doing in the months that I have to discuss and analyze this rezoning, is to really advocate for the recommendations the community put together,” she said. “We’re in the process of working through that, and I take that plan as a guide in terms of my negotiations with the city. So I’ve been pushing them on a lot of the things that are outlined in that plan.”

But Mark-Viverito’s opposition, should it persist, would effectively serve as a death knell for approving the current plan, or something close to it, any time soon.

At a news conference on August 7, Mayor de Blasio acknowledged that dynamic when asked by Gotham Gazette about the status of rezoning talks and Brewer’s opposition to the East Harlem plan. “This rezoning is unusual compared to all the others because it’s the Speaker’s own district,” de Blasio said. “I think what’s good is when you then hear those concerns and try to work them through and try to find a solution that you both feel pretty good about. And certainly, most importantly, the person who matters the most is the representative of that district in the Council.”

De Blasio said there is still time to iron out the differences in order to craft a plan that meets both the administration’s preferences and the community’s needs. “We’ve had vocal conversations about the rezoning and will continue to…And there’s plenty of time to do that,” de Blasio added. “So we’ll continue having those conversations.”

The process for approving a rezoning is long and multifaceted. Each proposal must go through ULURP, a process that involves a mixture of behind-the-scenes machinations and public hearings with the aim of creating an upzoning blueprint which includes input from city planners, elected officials, and relevant communities. Rezonings typically take several months, if not longer, to make their way through ULURP. The East Midtown rezoning, for instance, was in the pipeline in different iterations for several years before being approved by the City Council on August 9th.

A spokesperson for the City Planning Department said the process has already incorporated additional community input.

On August 7, the CPC issued a technical memorandum, called an “A-Text,” or amended text, which addressed concerns coming from the local community board and elected leaders. This particular iteration of the rezoning plan includes height restrictions on buildings on 3rd Avenue, the Park Avenue Corridor and Lexington Avenue -- provisions not included in the original plan.

“Adding this ‘A-text’ alternative allows for consideration of additional options on shaping the future of East Harlem,” said the CPD spokesperson in an email. “Together with the certified application, the A-text enables deliberation on a wide array of options to protect neighborhood character, increase affordable housing and spur job-generating development in East Harlem. We hope that this provides an environment for a more robust public discussion on the development of the final rezoning plan.”

The East New York rezoning, passed in 2016 and seen as a model for others to follow, like East Harlem, includes infrastructure investment, a new school, and a career center to help those seeking jobs, along with the central goal of paving the way towards creating more housing units.   

The rezoning has also become a key issue in the race for Mark-Viverito’s seat. If the proposal is not enacted this year, the issue will be passed along to the next Council member to represent the district.

Two leading District 8 candidates -- State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez and Diana Ayala, the speaker’s former Constituent Services Director and Deputy Chief of Staff -- also oppose the administration’s plan.

Rodriguez and Ayala, both Democrats, feel the city did not adequately adhere to the community’s input, which Rodriguez insisted was a difficult and crucial component to the process.

“I remember how long those meetings go and how hard it is to get consensus on these things and in this case they spoke very clearly,” Rodriguez said at an August 8 candidate forum in an East Harlem community center. “They’re against it and they provided some reasonable conditions. So I stand with the community board against the plan.”

Rodriguez was not convinced the plan would have much benefit for lower and middle-income residents, a very large combined chunk of the neighborhood, which has seen early waves of gentrification. “[I]t’s an aspirational goal that you’ll be able to get some affordability out of the percentage that is affordable in the new developments,” he said. “So what we’re saying is that we hope that the developers take this incentive after we’ve created wealth for them and then go through the lottery process and hope that our residents get in there? Where’s the mom and pop stores?” Rodriguez wondered.

He voiced concern about what new developments would do to help low-income residents, such as those who earn less than 30 percent of AMI. “What’s in it for them? Nothing!” Rodriguez said. “What is the benefit for residents of East Harlem?” he continued. “Are we just going to hope that we’re going to be able to get affordability?”

Ayala, who has been endorsed by Mark-Viverito, explained her opposition to the city’s plan at a candidate forum. “I think the city’s proposal is very upscale,” she said. “I would like to see deeper affordability as part of the plan. I would like to see more long-term affordability than in the current plan,” she said. “I want to see smaller buildings, I’m not a fan of huge towers,” Ayala said, voicing similar criticism when the topic again came up at the August 8 forum.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Ayala said many residents in her community are unhappy with the plan. “Well, they fear that they’re going to be pushed out,” she said. “And they fear that, y’know, we’re going to have all these luxury, tall buildings that are going to change the character of the community and the culture is going to evaporate, [and the neighborhood is] not going to be Harlem anymore,” Ayala said. “I can sympathize because I live in the community, too, and that’s the last thing I want to see.”

With reporting by Felipe De La Hoz

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Crucial Weeks Ahead for Potential Rezoning of East Harlem Tue, 15 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Wary of Gentrification, East Harlem Braces for Rapid Change http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6253:wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-rapid-change http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6253:wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-rapid-change east harlem mural

Hank Prussing's mural, The Spirit of East Harlem (via @ManhattanCB11)


Pearl Barkley moved to East Harlem in the 1950s, when she was six years old. Her family lived in the Jefferson Houses on 115th Street, where she lives today and works as an organizer with Community Voices Heard, an economic justice advocacy non-profit.

“Many people remember the fires, the abandoned boarded up buildings, and the people who left,” Barkley said in an interview. Essential services began disappearing from the neighborhood in the 1970s, she said, due in large part to city and federal policies that encouraged “benign neglect” of poor neighborhoods of color.

“They left the neighborhood to fend for itself,” Barkley said. “And the community was strong, but it suffered.”

“Now, East Harlem is a hot property,” Barkley said. “We have to bring the focus back to the people who were originally here and went through all of this. We have to make sure that the people who were here can stay here.” While she doesn’t necessarily take issue with newcomers to the neighborhood, Barkley emphasizes that preserving homes for long-term residents of the neighborhood should take precedent over new developments.

Newcomers have been moving into East Harlem for some time, drawn by its upper-Manhattan perch, lower rents, and access to public transit. But now, El Barrio - like a variety of other low-income areas populated predominantly by people of color - is becoming increasingly desirable to developers hoping to accommodate waves of middle-class renters.

In February, The New York Times named East Harlem one of New York’s Next Hot Neighborhoods, noting that 21 development sites had recently “traded hands,” and pointing to its lower-than-average real estate prices, good transit options, and historic architecture.

“If you want to stay in Manhattan,” the author wrote, “East Harlem may be your best bet.”

To long-term residents who want to stay in their neighborhoods, this kind of attention from the real estate market is synonymous with anxieties about inequity, marginalization, and displacement. And rightly so, as rents have skyrocketed across the city, incomes have stagnated, and the affordable housing crisis tops the list of policy issues facing New York City.

Now, as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration prepares to rezone 15 neighborhoods, including East Harlem, as part of a plan to build and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in New York City, residents are bracing for further shifts that some believe will drastically change the landscape of their neighborhood, push long-term residents out of their homes as new residents move in, and threaten local businesses. In a word, gentrification: the force that has been sweeping through New York City neighborhoods and striking fear in places set for new investment.

Even as policies like Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, which requires set percentages of rent-controlled units in new developments, move toward enactment in an administration-run rezoning process, some East Harlem stakeholders are making proactive attempts at steering their community’s future. Led by the Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose home district includes East Harlem, a broad coalition of residents and groups created a comprehensive plan to shape the rezoning of the neighborhood.

Members of that coalition and other groups have organized to protect against displacement while also championing changes that will improve their community.

It remains to be seen how successful residents will be in achieving control over the way their neighborhood changes -- and who will be left to enjoy the fruits of that labor. But one thing is certain: East Harlem - a low-income community populated primarily by people of color, imbued with deep-rooted history and culture, situated in an area ripe for speculation by developers, struggling amid an affordable housing crisis -- is at a tipping point.

Community character
The neighborhood of just over 123,000 residents hugs the northeast corner of Central Park along Fifth Avenue, runs South until 96th Street, and spreads east toward the Harlem and East Rivers, where large portions of the East Harlem Esplanade are crumbling into the water.

East Harlem is one of the largest predominantly Latino neighborhoods in New York City, the result of waves of Puerto Rican and Latin American immigration to the area after World War I, followed by more South and Central American arrivals throughout the 20th century. In spite of demographic changes over the last decade, East Harlem is still mostly populated by people of color and an immigrant neighborhood, with Hispanic and black residents comprising 81 percent of the population, and about a quarter of residents foreign-born, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2013.

The dominant culture is reflected everywhere: Spanish is spoken on every corner, storefronts advertise Latin American food, music, and good, and large-scale, colorful murals pervade the neighborhood with images of Latin American activists and artists.

It is no coincidence that this is where Mark-Viverito, born and raised in Puerto Rico, settled after coming to the United States in 1987 to attend Columbia University. After college, Mark-Viverito participated in a mentorship program for young Latinos, coordinated New York-based efforts to drive the U.S. Navy from the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, co-founded women’s economic justice group Mujeres del Barrio, and served on Community Board 11. Mark-Viverito was elected to the City Council in 2005, and re-elected twice before becoming the first Puerto Rican and Latina to win the Speaker’s office when her colleagues selected her in 2014.

The Speaker is now at the helm of a City Council reckoning with an affordable housing crisis and scars and fears of gentrification across several neighborhoods; charged with the task of building and preserving affordable housing and improving neighborhoods while protecting communities’ cultures and livelihoods at a pivotal time. It is a struggle filled with economic and social tensions exemplified in East Harlem.

MMV shaking hands distrit“It’s an ongoing battle,” the speaker (pictured, left) told La Respuesta in a 2014 interview. “Longtime residents in our communities that are finding themselves with limited options to stay, and feel they have no other place to go and are being displaced, is obviously alarming. We have a responsibility to do as much as we can to try to figure out how to stem that tide, but we’re also faced with limitations.”

East Harlem’s history as a stronghold of people of color and immigrants follows the arc of many other urban communities throughout the U.S. The neighborhood first felt the impact of urban renewal initiatives in 1938, when NYCHA began razing low-rise tenements and relocating residents to make way for “towers-in-the-park” housing developments also seen in larger examples at Stuyvesant Town and Co-op City. The city cleared more land containing factories, stores, and community centers in the 1960s, but failed to attract investors to the area. The result was an abundance of overgrown lots and a fragmented urban landscape that set the scene for the increase in poverty, violence, and arson that plagued the neighborhood during the ‘60s and ‘70s.

These policies, Pearl Barkley said, along with growing wealth disparity and disenfranchisement of low-income people of color, pushed East Harlem - its residents, infrastructure, and local economy - into the political periphery, and dramatically exacerbated socioeconomic problems that plagued the neighborhood throughout the second half of the 20th century.

Housing East Harlemites
Today, a lack of affordable market-rate housing all but defines the residential landscape of East Harlem, where the majority of residents rely on public housing, rental assistance, or rent stabilization to afford their homes. A 2011 report from Columbia University calls East Harlem one of the “last holdouts of undeveloped Manhattan,” citing its waterfront and public transit options as contributors to the neighborhood’s growing vulnerability to displacement. These factors, combined with the voracity of the real estate market and a concentration of low-income residents, have cranked up pressure on the housing stock in El Barrio, driving rents - and fears of displacement - ever higher.

Enter Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to encourage more residential development all over the city, with affordable housing mandates, and to rezone East Harlem to add density and neighborhood improvements. De Blasio and supporters of his approach, including Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, believe that without this type of government intervention, the forces of the market will run wild over East Harlem as they have in Central Harlem, several Brooklyn neighborhoods, and elsewhere over the past two decades. With any increase in development, though, comes heightened fear as well as very real change.

Not enough housing, not enough income
With only 8 percent of privately-owned units owner-occupied, East Harlem is a community of renters. And, over half of rental households are considered rent-burdened, paying more than 30 percent of total household income on gross rent, or severely rent-burdened, paying more than 50 percent of income on rent, and are particularly susceptible to the throes of the real estate market.

The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the Census Bureau reported in 2014 that 55 percent of rental units in East Harlem were either rent-stabilized or government-assisted, and another 28 percent are NYCHA units, leaving less than a quarter of the renter-occupied housing stock unregulated.

While there is still a considerable concentration of regulated and subsidized units in East Harlem, this cache is shrinking as units age out of rent regulation and landlords evict or coerce tenants into vacating stabilized apartments in order to raise rents.

The loss is considerable, with 2,500 rent-stabilized or subsidized units disappearing from East Harlem between 2007 and 2014, and a projected 4,200 more gone by 2030, according to Community Board 11’s 2016 Statement of Needs.

The mayor hopes to curb the loss of such regulated rental units through his Housing New York Plan, which seeks to preserve 120,000 existing affordable units throughout the five boroughs. To this end, the administration has doubled HPD’s funding and begun initiatives around landlord harassment, deregulation, and targeted investment in vulnerable communities, among others. The administration is more aggressively targeting opportunities to work with landlords to offer benefits in exchange for extending rent regulations.

De Blasio said at a press conference in January that the administration is ahead of schedule, having preserved nearly 14,000 units in projects like Stuyvesant Town, Riverton Houses, and smaller buildings, and that the overall program was on track to build or preserve 200,000 units by 2024.

While critics of the plan assert that not enough affordable units are targeted at very low-income New Yorkers, de Blasio said that 75 percent of the 40,000-plus units built or preserved over the first two years of the timeline have been for extremely low income, very low income, and low income residents.

Concentrated public housing
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) plays a vital role in maintaining a large portion of East Harlem’s affordable housing stock, with 30% of residents living in NYCHA-owned properties. This is the second-highest concentration of public housing in the city - a result of urban renewal initiatives begun in 1941, when one of NYCHA’s earliest housing developments, the East River Houses, went up on 102nd Street. Another wave of renewal, led by Robert Moses and funded by the 1949 Federal Housing Act, razed existing structures and constructed the Thomas Jefferson Houses in 1959. Today, there are 24 public housing developments in the neighborhood.  

Over the last two decades, federal and state budget cuts have weakened NYCHA, leaving the agency with a $74 million deficit in 2015, and facing capital needs of about $17 billion over the next five years, according to the city. This shortfall has resulted in crumbling buildings, breakdowns in communication between tenants and the agency, increased violence in housing developments, and myriad other problems.

Mayor de Blasio launched last summer the NextGeneration NYCHA initiative as part of a “ten-year plan aimed at preserving public housing for the future generations,” according to the city’s website. The administration describes NextGen as a long-term strategy to change the way NYCHA properties are funded, operated, and designed, and to revamp the way the agency engages with residents - all in an attempt to prevent the housing authority from being turned over to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development - an acquisition that could result in the sale of housing sites.

The most controversial aspect of NextGen NYCHA is a plan in which underutilized land within NYCHA developments will either be leased for housing development, with buildings half market-rate and half affordable. Opponents say that the plan too-closely resembles former Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt at infill on NYCHA land, which de Blasio vehemently opposed, and a step on the path to privatizing what is now public housing.

NYCHA CEO and Chair Shola Olatoye told City Limits in May 2015 that building affordable housing on NYCHA land is a way to reconnect public developments to surrounding neighborhoods.

"Residents want improved playgrounds, basketball courts, things we do not receive funding for. One way I can deliver on that is to maximize revenue from development,” she said. "If people want their development to improve, they have to be flexible about what kinds of changes they're willing to accept."

De Blasio said at the program’s launch that it would result in the construction of 10,000 new affordable units on NYCHA land. If the plan succeeds, it will eliminate NYCHA’s crippling operating deficit. The city’s argument is that this strategy will add affordable housing, new revenue, and community improvements.

The first NextGen project in East Harlem led to the opening last fall of the East Harlem Center for Living and Learning, which occupies a parking lot once owned by NYCHA. The project includes an eleven-story residential building containing 100% subsidized units. The New York Times reported in January that the development serves a “mix of working and disabled tenants, many from the neighborhood.” The building connects to the new Dream Charter School, which serves almost 500 students.

While the Times reported “overwhelmingly positive reactions” to the Center, it remains to be seen whether similar “infill” initiatives will be welcomed by other NYCHA residents wary of privatization and gentrification - or if the program will even produce enough revenue to bolster the floundering agency. Olatoye told the City Council on Monday that while its financial situation is improving, NYCHA is still tens of millions of dollars in the red, but is hoping that programs like NextGen will ease the burden.

“With NextGen, we can reduce NYCHA’s deficit by a total of more than $1 billion over the next five years,” Olatoye told the Council.

Space to use
The East Harlem housing shortage is exacerbated by vacancy of both city- and privately-owned properties, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer and area organizations.

Stringer and HPD Commissioner Vicki Been traded barbs in February over a comptroller report indicating that, as of September of 2015, HPD owned 1,131 uninhabited lots throughout Manhattan, and chiding the city agency for what Stringer called a lax pace of transference for properties that should be developed into affordable housing. Stringer held a press conference for the report’s release outside of an HPD-owned vacant property on East 123 Street, one of over 50 vacant properties the comptroller’s office found in East Harlem.

“This vacant lot has been owned by the city since the seventies, collecting garbage, attracting rats, and hurting the proud community of El Barrio,” Stringer said at the press conference. “We’re in an affordability crisis the likes of which we’ve never seen – yet our most valuable resource, vacant space, is readily available all across this city.”

Stringer was joined at the conference by members of Picture the Homeless, an advocacy organization based on East 126 Street that has long campaigned for turning vacant lots into affordable housing sites.

The organization released its own report in 2012, for which teams of homeless and formerly homeless PTH members and other volunteers scoured Manhattan neighborhoods in search of vacant buildings and lots. They identified 143 empty lots and buildings in East Harlem, and highlighted a block of East 116th Street between Lexington and Park as an example of the problem: nearly half the buildings were empty or boarded up. About 95 percent of all vacant properties surveyed were privately owned.

Commissioner Been’s rebuttal, which was included in Stringer’s report, emphatically denied the comptroller’s findings.

"Your assertion that HPD allows vacant City-owned properties to languish in the face of the affordable housing crisis is simply wrong,” Been wrote.

Been went on to clarify that residential development is only feasible on about 670 of the 1,100 properties; the rest are unsuitable due to location in dangerous areas like flood zones, or lack adequate access to public transportation or sewage infrastructure. Of those 670 viable sites, Been wrote, “roughly 400 have been earmarked for developer designation within the next two years.”

The remaining sites will either be developed for residential uses within the duration of de Blasio’s 10-year housing plan or turned over to the Department of Parks and Recreation for use as community gardens.

An acute homelessness problem
For those who have managed to hold on to housing, the rent - as in the rest of New York City - is going up. East Harlem’s median gross rent increased by 53 percent between 2000 and 2013, according to the American Community Survey (ACS) 5-Year Estimates for 2013.

The data combine to paint a bleak picture for low-income residents of El Barrio. As of 2013, over a quarter of East Harlem households were considered in “severe need” by HPD, based on the number of people who are rent burdened, entering homeless shelters, or living in overcrowded apartments.

This grim combination appears to hit East Harlem residents particularly hard, resulting in the worst case scenario for a number of households. According to data from the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), 306 families entering shelters in 2014 listed East Harlem as their last address - the highest rate of entry to family shelters from any neighborhood in Manhattan.

Jazmin Berges, 32, has been living in Marcus Garvey Park for the past three years. Berges was born and raised in the Bronx, but moved to East Harlem with a partner. When that relationship ended, she was unable to find housing that she could afford.

“Rent is going sky-high in the neighborhood,” Berges told Gotham Gazette. “The community is being restructured, small businesses are closing, and people who lose their jobs can’t afford their rents.”

Berges, who works with Picture the Homeless, believes that rent regulation doesn’t go far enough, and emphasized that a community land trust - a not-for-profit entity that acquires and holds property to preserve accessible housing - is the only way to keep permanent affordable housing in East Harlem. “Even low-income housing isn’t low-income housing,” Berges said.

New land use rules come to East Harlem
It is unsurprising that East Harlem was included on the list of 15 neighborhoods to be rezoned under Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan. The plan targets lower-density and low-income areas where demand is or is soon expected to be strong enough to support new development. Over several years, beginning this year with East New York, in Brooklyn, the administration plans to rezone the 15 neighborhoods to allow for more density and neighborhood improvement through more green space, school seats, and transportation infrastructure. The big centerpiece, of course, is housing.

Essentially, the city’s plans mandate that any area rezoned to allow greater housing density - neighborhood or individual plot of land - will require significant numbers of affordable units as part of market-rate development.

The New York City Council overwhelmingly voted in favor of the two major components of the plan that the neighborhood rezonings rely on - Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) - on March 22. The passage was a considerable victory for the administration after months of pushback and protest from community boards and advocacy groups, and negotiations with the City Council to modify the plan to include more affordability and a few other tweaks.

According to the plan, which was changed to include more units affordable to lower-income households, MIH requires that developers who build residential units in rezoned areas set aside 20-30% of new units as permanently affordable for households making 40-80% of the Area Median Income, or AMI. Under MIH, there are a variety of options that will be chosen by City Council members, developers, and the mayoral administration. ZQA, which stirred less broad controversy than MIH, focused on changing parking requirements and height limits to encourage more senior affordable housing, improve retail space design, and streetscape planning.

Mayor de Blasio said in a statement after the vote, “New York City is now one step closer to being a city where everyone can work and live,” and thanked Speaker Mark-Viverito for her efforts in passing the “landmark legislation.”

City Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod said at a hearing on MIH in February that the program “will bring new affordable housing to neighborhoods where it otherwise wouldn’t be built, and act as a cushion against potential gentrification of communities caused by broad demographic trends we are seeing in so many neighborhoods, simultaneously freeing up city funds to provide even more deeply affordable housing at lower rents where economic need is great.”  

Some opponents of MIH see a flaw in that what the plan defines as “affordable” does not include the lowest-income residents in what are now largely low-income neighborhoods.

Affordability levels are determined by the area median income of the five boroughs, plus Putnam, Westchester, and Rockland Counties, which comes out to about $77,700 for a three-person household. The AMI for East Harlem is $33,595, or less than half (43%) of the figure that serves as a baseline for affordability calculations.

MIH mandates that a percentage of affordable units built in rezoned neighborhoods must be affordable to households of certain earnings - for example, one option sets aside 20% of units for those earning an average of 40% of AMI, or about $31,00 for a family of three. This is the lowest income band option in MIH, and one that the Council insisted on adding to the de Blasio administration’s initial proposal. Households in East Harlem’s poorest zip code, 10035, earn an AMI of just $24,000, which critics say puts new affordable units out of reach.

The mayor, the speaker, and HPD Commissioner Vicki Been have stated often that a combination of HPD subsidies and other housing programs will address the gap of affordability for the lowest-income New Yorkers. This is where the neighborhood rezonings also factor in. Mark-Viverito has said repeatedly that she plans to get to 50-50 market rate-affordable for new development in her district.

Community Board 11, which represents East Harlem joined 43 other community boards across the city in voting against de Blasio’s proposal on November 23 of last year.

"But in the end," the mayor said at a press conference in November, "the community boards aren't the final decision makers.”

READ ON - PAGE 2 of 2 - How East Harlemites are attempting to shape the future of their neighborhood and more

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Wary of Gentrification, East Harlem Braces for Rapid Change Thu, 31 Mar 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Wary of Gentrification, East Harlem Braces for Change http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6258:wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-change-page-two http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6258:wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-change-page-two mmv ehnp

 Mark-Viverito at an East Harlem planning session (photo: William Alatriste)


CONTINUED from page 1 - this is page 2 of 2

Community calls for community planning
City officials have not yet presented a timeline, much less a plan, for rezoning East Harlem, but that hasn’t stopped residents from preemptively organizing against “upzoning” that they believe will accelerate displacement of low-income people in their neighborhood. Two community-driven plans have emerged from El Barrio since November: one, an attempt at leveraging rezoning for a higher percentage of more deeply affordable housing and community benefits through collaboration with city officials; the other, an outright rejection of the mayor’s plan and a demand for better protections for immigrants and very low-income people living in regulated rental units.

Speaker Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx, told NY1 in January, "The question is, do we want to let things stand and get nothing out of it, or do we try to get something, allow the density to happen, with a benefit to the community? To me, the answer is very clear. We have to get something for the community.”

“Getting something for the community” seems to be the theme of the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan, which was completed in February by a broad coalition led Mark-Viverito, Manhattan President Gale Brewer, and advocacy group Community Voices Heard.

east harlem planning tableThe EHNP is the product of a 10-month process in which over 1,300 East Harlem residents filled out hundreds of community surveys, gathered for seven community vision workshops on 12 topic areas, and produced an exhaustive list of recommendations for neighborhood preservation and improvement. While it certainly won’t halt fear of gentrification and displacement, it may go a long way in influencing the rezoning plan put forth by City Hall, and, many believe, stemming the tide of displacement while improving the community in a variety of ways.

The plan’s recommendations span 12 themes, ranging from improvements to NYCHA developments to arts and culture preservation to senior needs, but two issues took precedence over the rest: the preservation of affordable housing and job creation.

The plan specifically calls for better enforcement of anti-tenant harassment laws, additional legal and educational support for tenants, and policy changes and increased funding aimed at preserving existing regulated units and bringing more units under regulation. The plan also recommends that the city build off of the affordability that will be required on private rezoned sites under the new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing rules. The plan recommends 100% affordable units on public sites, and asks that all tools, such as HPD subsidies and programs, be utilized to achieve deeper affordability for the lowest-income residents.

Participants also heavily emphasize job creation, job training, and living wages as changes they want to see accompany increased density in their neighborhood.

East Harlem’s distinction as the home district of the powerful City Council Speaker sets the area apart from other neighborhoods on deck to be rezoned. Still, other Council members took notice of the EHNP effort, even attending the final planning event, eyeing ways in which they can lead a local process to get ahead of a more centralized, mayoral administration-run plan for rezoning.

The EHNP coalition sent the 134-page plan to the City Planning Commission and other city agencies after its release on February 25.

Community planning in New York neighborhoods is not a new concept; the Department of City Planning has been organizing “place-based planning studies” in other to-be-rezoned neighborhoods to help develop recommendations for affordable housing, economic development and infrastructure investments, and assisting community and borough boards in the creation of 197-a community plans.

The city created the rezoning plan that is now being negotiated for East New York after a number of community meetings, and the process is playing out in Flushing and other areas slated for rezonings.

But the Speaker calls the EHNP the first of its kind in the city, emphasizing a proactive, bottom-up approach.

“We’re kind of doing it upside-down. Usually an application is presented and we respond to it, right?” Mark-Viverito said to the audience at an EHNP community forum on January 27, referring to the typical land use review process (ULURP), which is taking place in East New York. “The [East Harlem] application hasn’t even been submitted. We have a plan, we’re giving it to the city, and we’re forcing the city to consider and take into account those needs in the application process.”

It remains to be seen whether the Speaker’s influence will fortify the plan once the rezoning process begins in East Harlem, but many people involved believe that the strength of the plan’s process and government-community partnerships have given the neighborhood the best chance of success as they both brace for and embrace the rezoning.

"This is a document that we actually want to govern how East Harlem is developed and evolves over time,” said Sondra Youdelman, director Community Voices Heard, in a February interview with Gotham Gazette. “Now it's up to the city to figure out which policies and tools need to be coupled together to make this happen.”

'Consulta del Barrio'
Movement for Justice in El Barrio, founded in 2004, is an organization predominantly comprised of and led by immigrants - mostly women - who have lived in rent-regulated apartment units in East Harlem for decades. The organization claims over 1,000 members and organizing within 95 privately-owned buildings in El Barrio.

MJB released in November 2015 a 10-point plan that roundly rejected the mayor’s zoning plans as they stood then and focuses almost exclusively on housing preservation for low-income residents in rent-regulated apartments, people of color, and immigrant communities, which the group says are disproportionately displaced by landlord harassment and gentrification.

“Our members didn’t want to just reject the plan,” said Juan Haro, an organizer at Movement for Justice in El Barrio. “They wanted to put forward a concrete proposal to improve the housing situation in our neighborhood.”

The document is also an indictment of what Movement for Justice calls a failure by HPD to enforce housing codes and protect tenants’ rights.

“We believe that when HPD is not responsive to landlords breaking the local housing code, and their unresponsiveness allows landlords to get away with driving out tenants, which contributes to displacement and gentrification,” Haro said.

Movement for Justice in El Barrio’s plan calls for increased and independent oversight of HPD; a public education campaign to inform tenants about HPD's role; a new body to collect fines levied against negligent landlords; publication of inspection documents in multiple languages, penalties for landlords who fail to make repairs within 24 hours of emergency violations; the establishment of an East Harlem HPD oversight team; and improvements to HPD’s inspection and follow-up speeds.

According to Haro, over 8,500 East Harlem residents participated in 12 public meetings throughout the year-long “Consulta del Barrio,” or neighborhood consultation. Haro highlights the group’s bottom-up organizing strategy and pragmatic outreach effort, which targets very low-income residents and immigrants, and favors flyering over social media.

“We know that there is a digital divide,” he said. “Many folks in the neighborhood don’t have access to Facebook or Twitter, so we focused on on-the-street outreach, and worked in the evenings and on weekends when more people weren’t at work.”

Public meetings were “fluid and organic,” Haro added, and residents attended to learn more about the intricacies of the rezoning proposal and land use in general. Participants voted to reject the mayor’s proposals, and formulated the demands that would become the pith of the 10-point plan.

The plan concentrates on protecting tenants of regulated, private apartment buildings, because those tenants have the most at stake as the neighborhood gentrifies, Haro said. “Landlords cut off basic services and violate local housing codes,” he said. “They offer buyouts to tenants to surrender their units. They threaten to bring in immigration authorities or ask for proof as citizens and threaten based on citizenship."

The de Blasio administration has mounted an initiative to deter evictions and landlord harassment in rapidly changing neighborhoods with the creation of the Tenant Support Unit in August of 2015. The mayor announced in February that the unit had resolved its thousandth case since it began offering assistance to tenants.

While reviews of the unit’s methodology have been mixed, the administration touted a ten-fold increase in free legal services for tenants, for a total of $62 million in funding that will be fully implemented for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins July 1 of this year.  As a result, de Blasio said, evictions by city marshals have decreased 24 percent since he took office, down from 28,849 in 2013 to 21,988 in 2015.

While the new support measures and protections introduced by the mayor seem to be having a positive effect, members at MJB believe that they will still be forced out once rezoning takes hold.

Movement for Justice in El Barrio members organized a series of protests against the mayor’s plan leading up to a Community Board 11 vote on MIH and ZQA in November.

Sandra Cruz, a member, said at a rally before the meeting, “We are against the mayor’s ‘luxury housing plan’ because we know that 25-30% of the apartments that the mayor says will supposedly be constructed for low-income people will not be accessible to the poor people of East Harlem, because we don’t make enough money to pay those high rents.”

CB 11 voted “no with conditions” on the mayor’s citywide zoning plans. This feedback, similar to that of community boards across the city, helped inform the City Council’s negotiations with the de Blasio administration over the final versions of MIH and ZQA.

Movement for Justice sent its 10-point community plan to Speaker Mark-Viverito and Borough President Gale Brewer in November, but have not received a response, they said. Meanwhile, Mark-Viverito, Brewer, and a variety of other stakeholders, were in the process of creating the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan.

Next for East Harlem
With MIH and ZQA in place, East Harlem stakeholders are watching the neighborhood rezoning process as it unfolds in East New York, the first neighborhood rezoning being moved by the de Blasio administration, in consultation with the City Council.

Like East Harlem, East New York’s population is predominantly Latino and African-American, and the neighborhood AMI is around $34,000. City Council Member Rafael Espinal represents much of East New York and remains adamant that the plan for the area not help in pricing out long-term residents.

"Neighbors on my street are already jacking up the rents to $1,800 [per month]," Espinal said at a March 8 City Council hearing on the East New York rezoning.

Parallels between East New York and East Harlem are undeniable, and many are watching the process for clues as to how the future may unfold in El Barrio. East Harlem may be slightly further along in a gentrification process as of now, but both neighborhoods are changing.

Though some involved in the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan are skeptical as to how much of the document will be seriously considered by the city, the speaker hopes that the document will serve as a model for other communities down the road.

“It would be great,” she said at the January 27 community forum, “if the administration established some sort of process to create neighborhood plans in every area that would be rezoned.” She followed this up by devoting a portion of her February State of the City address to the Council’s proposal that the city develop a Neighborhood Commitment Plan that would accompany all rezoning proposals, “describing and tracking commitments for housing, schools, infrastructure and other city services.”

“Planning for the future of our neighborhoods should start from the ground up and infuse the voices of everyday New Yorkers into policy decisions,” Mark-Viverito said in her address. She remarked that the community planning process is an opportunity to discuss neighborhood concerns “from school overcrowding and pedestrian safety to sewers and public transit.”

For community organizations in El Barrio, the work has only just begun. Leaders across groups and initiatives say they’ll continue to apply pressure to the city to respond to demands for deeper affordability, better protection of tenants’ rights, neighborhood improvements, and capital investments. Essential, they say, is community power in all processes.

Even as the future of East Harlem seems unsure, long-time resident Pearl Barkley notes the surge of neighborhood civic engagement around rezoning as a silver lining.

“I grew up in a time of social movements, with activism throughout the neighborhood,” Barkley said. “Right now, when I attend meetings, I see young people standing up, excited to talk about what they want for their city. That gives me hope. It makes me happy.”

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by Maggie Calmes, Gotham Gazette
     

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Wary of Gentrification, East Harlem Braces for Change Fri, 01 Apr 2016 02:22:42 +0000
To Influence Rezoning, East Harlem Stakeholders Preempt City Plan With Own http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6171:to-influence-rezoning-east-harlem-stakeholders-preempt-city-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6171:to-influence-rezoning-east-harlem-stakeholders-preempt-city-plan mmv ehnp

Speaker Mark-Viverito at an East Harlem planning session (photo: William Alatriste)


A coalition of East Harlem residents, community leaders, and advocacy organizations led by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is set to release an exhaustive set of more than 200 recommendations aimed at informing the de Blasio administration’s plan for rezoning and improving the upper-Manhattan neighborhood.

The East Harlem Neighborhood Plan is the product of participation by over 1,300 East Harlem residents in seven community visioning workshops, hundreds of community surveys, and eight meetings of Community Board 11 over the course of 10 months. The planning process began last year, after de Blasio highlighted zoning and affordable housing in his State of the City address and named East Harlem as one of the first group of neighborhoods the city plans to upzone for higher density, more affordable housing, and neighborhood improvements.

The plan, due out at the end of this week, is meant to preempt and influence the proposals included in de Blasio’s East Harlem neighborhood plan, which will go through a land use review process. Stakeholders in East Harlem have sought to get out ahead of a process that has vexed community members in other parts of the city the administration is targeting, most notably Brooklyn’s East New York, which is the first neighborhood plan moving forward.

Mark-Viverito, whose district includes all of East Harlem, said at a January 27 community planning forum, “I represent the community, so my decision is that if there’s an interest in rezoning my neighborhood, my interest is to get my community to provide input, so I decided to be proactive instead of reactive.”

Along with project partner and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Mark-Viverito has thrown her significant political clout behind the project, which received considerable funding through the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Neighborhoods First Fund for Community Based Planning.

Community Voices Heard (CVH), a grassroots, member-led group, also organized residents and led planning sessions. The extensive, well-funded, carefully facilitated (Hester Street Collaborative and WXY Studio oversaw gathering and organizing community input), and Council Speaker-supported process may position the plan for influence unlike in other community planning efforts.

“It’s something that we have not seen in any other neighborhood in New York,” Mark-Viverito said at the January 27 community forum, at which a draft of the plan was unveiled for final feedback. It includes recommendations on everything from job training for NYCHA residents to requirements for more school seats when land is developed for new housing to marketing East Harlem as a cultural destination.

East Harlem is one of the first seven neighborhoods on deck for rezoning under the mayor’s plan, which re-envisions neighborhoods to increase housing, build schools, add retail space and jobs, and more. Others include East New York, West Flushing, the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, Bay Street corridor on Staten Island, Long Island City, and Inwood.

These neighborhood specific rezonings, along with the two citywide zoning changes the administration has been pushing through the process (Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA)) have led some to foresee more affordable housing and amenities in long-struggling communities while others fear gentrification and a lack of benefits for long-time community residents.

While the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan will include objectives and recommendations for deeper affordability in new housing developments than mandated by the inclusionary housing requirements, it will also detail policy, program, and capital solutions to high rates of unemployment, poverty, substance abuse, violent crime, chronic illness, and other problems in the East Harlem community.

"This is a document that we actually want to govern how East Harlem is developed and evolves over time, both with our without MIH, with or without 421-a,” Sondra Youdelman, Executive Director of CVH, told Gotham Gazette, referring to the 421-a affordable housing tax abatement program that recently expired at the state level. “The community wants more affordable housing, deep affordability, and good jobs...as well as a host of other things,” Youdelman added. “Now it's up to the city to figure out which policies and tools need to be coupled together to make this happen."

After its release, the plan will be sent to the Department of City Planning and other city agencies, like the parks and education departments. “We’re kind of doing it upside-down. Usually an application is presented and we respond to it, right?” Mark-Viverito said to the audience on January 27, referring to the typical land use review process (ULURP). “The application hasn’t even been submitted. We have a plan, we’re giving it to the city and we’re forcing the city to consider and take into account those needs in the application process.”

When the de Blasio administration does have a rezoning plan ready for public review, it will begin the typical land use process, with some community outreach, an environmental impact review, and then advisory votes by the local community board and borough president, before heading to the City Planning Commission and then the City Council. Tweaks can be made at each of the two final spots.

Implementation for the East Harlem rezoning plan is slated for sometime after the summer of 2017. A committee of people from the planning process will continue to meet with city officials throughout the review process to ensure adherence to the community’s vision. Mark-Viverito will continue to be perhaps the most pivotal figure in the process as city officials often defer to the local City Council member on rezoning and other land use processes.

While it is unclear how much of the community-driven East Harlem Neighborhood Plan will be adopted by the de Blasio administration and City Planning, other to-be-rezoned neighborhoods may soon follow East Harlem’s example. City Council Member Mark Levine also attended the January 27 East Harlem public forum. When asked if he was considering a similar process for neighborhoods in and around the Upper West Side, Levine remarked that Broadway north of 155th St., while not up for immediate rezoning, “could at some point become a real-life prospect.”

“I’m here to learn from this incredible process,” Levine told the Gotham Gazette. “I think this can serve as a model of how to engage the community, and there’s a chance that there could be these types of rezonings in my district at some point and I want to listen and learn as much as I can so we’re ahead of the game.”

Council Member Carlos Menchaca of District 38 - parts of southern Brooklyn - also expressed excitement over the planning process after the forum on January 27. “People don’t just show up to show up. They show up because they know that there’s value in their participation and I see that today,” Menchaca said. “I want this in Sunset Park. I want this in Red Hook. I want this in my district.”

Noting the nine-month timeline of the East Harlem planning process, Menchaca indicated he may try to engage his community soon.

Council Member Brad Lander drew several comparisons between the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan process and the Bridging Gowanus Community Planning Framework, which he has helped shepherd in his Brooklyn district, and lauded both projects as meaningful civic engagement. “Everyone gets the challenges that come with gentrification and development,” Lander said. “But if you engage people in real thoughtful, engaged, grownup conversations about them...you get a real, smart, thoughtful conversation, and you’re much better able to make hard choices.” Lander acknowledges, though, “sometimes there’s still hard choices down the road.”

Mark-Viverito said on January 27 that she is “very proud of this effort” and “hoping it can serve as a model for other neighborhoods.”

“It would be great,” she said, “if the administration established some sort of process to create neighborhood plans in every area that would be rezoned.”

Not longer after, on February 11, Mark-Viverito delivered her 2016 State of the City speech and made a formal call for just that. She did not specifically discuss the East Harlem rezoning, but she did unveil a proposal to “enhance community input in neighborhood development.”

Calling for more voices in the decision-making process, Mark-Viverito said that “the Council proposes that the city develop a Neighborhood Commitment Plan to accompany rezoning proposals, describing and tracking commitments for housing, schools, infrastructure, and other city services.”

“New York needs to be a city for everyone, with policymaking and governance that is open to everyone,” she said during her speech, given in the Bronx section of her district. Communities must be able to “make informed land use decisions,” she said, especially as “neighborhoods across New York City are in the midst of rezoning discussions.”

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by Maggie Calmes, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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To Influence Rezoning, East Harlem Stakeholders Preempt City Plan With Own Mon, 15 Feb 2016 23:52:51 +0000
Real Affordable Housing for Our Communities http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6156:real-affordable-housing-for-our-communities http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6156:real-affordable-housing-for-our-communities de blasio housing constituent

photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office


When I think about my family's future in New York City, I wonder: will there be an affordable, safe, and healthy apartment where I can raise my children and still be able to provide them with everything else that they need?

This is the question that our city government has to address if it wants to protect low-income and working class New Yorkers.

My husband and I live in Bushwick in a one-bedroom apartment with our three children—one of whom has special needs—and my sister. We pay more than $1,200 per month—more than half of our income, which comes from my husband's job in a fruit and vegetable store. For the last two years, we've been looking to find somewhere better—somewhere more affordable, with more space for our children. Our landlord wants us out, too, because he wants to renovate and charge new tenants more as Bushwick gentrifies.

But there's nowhere for us to go. Even studios near where we live are now renting for $1,400-$1,500—too much money, and too little space, for our family of six.

In recent weeks, the city has heard much debate on how to create and preserve affordable housing. The most talked-about item has been the Mayor's Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) plan, which would exchange zoning changes to allow more housing construction for, in most neighborhoods, the requirement that 25–30 percent of apartments be affordable to people earning 60 to 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI).

The problem with the plan is that it won't solve the problem for working class New Yorkers like me.

Sixty percent of Area Median Income is almost $47,000 for a family of three, and many New Yorkers are far from earning that. My family of six earns about half that much.

As a recent Real Affordability for All (RAFA) report found, in many of the neighborhoods that are being rezoned—like East New York, the South Bronx, and East Harlem—the average income is far below 60 percent of Area Median Income. So, when I look at the MIH plan, I wonder: "affordable" housing for whom? Certainly not for local residents like me.

Mayor de Blasio stood on the right side with our communities in the Fight for $15, to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour for the 3.2 million low-wage workers in our state who currently earn less. But the reality is that, even once our families win the $15 per hour that we so desperately need, the vast majority of the housing being proposed in the MIH plan will not be affordable to us.

We ask the Mayor to reconsider his plan and expand affordability to preserve and build genuinely affordable housing.

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Susana Salas is a member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @maketheroadny.

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Real Affordable Housing for Our Communities Tue, 09 Feb 2016 02:51:13 +0000
More Evidence Punitive NYPD Youth Programs Fail http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6066:more-evidence-punitive-nypd-youth-programs-fail http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6066:more-evidence-punitive-nypd-youth-programs-fail Bratton NYPD

(photo via @NYPDnews)

 


 

This week the New York Times revealed the content of an internal NYPD report showing that a much lauded juvenile crime program doesn’t work. It’s yet another example of misguided punitive policing, offering little by way of actual progress.

Originally developed under the title “Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program” (J-RIP), it targets past juvenile offenders in hopes of preventing future crime. The original J-RIP program, which began in Brownsville in 2007 and expanded to East Harlem in 2009, targeted juvenile robbery offenders who were back in the community. These youths were given a clear message that they were under enhanced police supervision and would face significant consequences if rearrested. They were also offered mentoring and a few support services by police in hopes of steering them in the right direction.

In practice, the program offered little in the way of services. Young people were given a chance to participate in existing programs like the Police Athletic League (PAL) and were regularly visited by uniformed officers in their homes and on the streets. While these officers were supposed to be acting as mentors and monitors, defense lawyers reported that officers sometimes used these visits as a pretext to conduct searches and that they sometimes called attention to program relationships in front of other youth, potentially marking them as informants—a dangerous label in these neighborhoods.

No real services, such as job placement or family counseling were provided, and the officers involved had no special social services training, playing a primarily surveillance and enforcement role.

In April of 2014, NYPD Chief Joanne Jaffe, who developed the program, spoke at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School, where she lauded J-RIP as being highly effective. She provided data that showed that over the course of the program robberies in the targeted areas had fallen significantly. What she did not discuss, but the November 2014 NYPD evaluation report makes clear, is that the decline mirrored city-wide trends and that J-RIP participants were rearrested at the same or higher rates than youth with similar records in the same and nearby neighborhoods without J-RIP.

Even though the 2014 report showed there were no crime reductions under J-RIP, the NYPD has moved forward with an expansion of the program in a different guise.

In early 2015, the NYPD rolled out NYC Ceasefire, under the leadership of Susan Herman, Deputy Commissioner for Collaborative Policing. The new version focuses more on gun crimes and adds group “call-in” meetings in which the targeted youth are brought in and lectured by police and community members about the harmful effects of their violent actions and the potential enhanced consequences of additional violent offenses. They are then placed under extensive surveillance regimes and targeted for enhanced punishments if caught re-offending. They are also offered some minimal services, primarily in the form of a centralized referral phone number run by a local non-profit that is there to link young people to already existing programs.

J-RIP and NYC Ceasefire are both examples of “Focused Deterrence” programs. Developed by criminologist David Kennedy, and first implemented in Boston in 1996, they attempt to stop gun violence or other serious crime through intensive and targeted enforcement combined with support services.

Ideally this model begins with a community mobilization effort in partnership with local police. The goal is to send a unified message to young people that serious crime will no longer be tolerated. If it occurs, they will use every resource at their disposal (“pulling levers”) to not only apprehend the assailant but to disrupt the street life of young people involved in crime across the board. The hope is that young people will choose to avoid violence so that they can concentrate on socializing and low level criminality free of constant police harassment. This is based on research that showed that a great deal of shooting was not drug or robbery related but involved a constant tit for tat of revenge gunfire by rival factions of young people engaged primarily in turf battles.

The key is to break that cycle of retribution and gun carrying. To achieve this, young people believed to be involved in violence are called into meetings with local police and community leaders and threatened with intensive surveillance and enforcement if the gun violence doesn’t stop. These “call ins” are made possible in part because many of these young people are on probation or parole for past offenses.

In addition to more intensive enforcement efforts, there is usually an effort to develop some targeted social services with the hope that this will help draw some of these young people away from violence and towards education and employment opportunities.

This approach relies primarily on intensive punitive enforcement efforts such as surveillance, investigations, arrests, and intensified prosecutions. Also, the social services offered tend to be very thin, involving some counseling and recreational opportunities but rarely access to actual jobs or advanced educational placements.

Some youth are able to get GEDs and access some social programs, but very few wind up with jobs, much less well-paying or stable ones. In some cases the focus is on a variety of life skills and socialization classes which do nothing to create real opportunities for people and reinforce the ethos of personal responsibility that often ends up blaming the victim for their unemployment and educational failure in a community that tends to be incredibly poor, underserved, segregated, and dangerous.

Evaluation research of these programs does show some meaningful declines in crime that can even last for years. Overall, though, the results are quite thin. Most reductions are small, occur in only a few crime categories, and don’t last very long. They also continue to reinforce a punitive mindset about how to deal with young people in high crime, high poverty communities, most of whom are not white.

It is certainly true that violent crime is heavily concentrated among a fairly small population of young people in specific neighborhoods. It makes more sense to target them than indiscriminately stopping and frisking or arresting and summonsing hundreds of thousands of young people who have either done nothing wrong or engaged in minor misbehavior. Despite the claims of the Broken Windows theory, there really isn’t a strong connection between the two groups.

The problem lies not in the targeting, but in the methods used. Most young people who engage in serious criminality are already living in harsh and dangerous circumstances. They are fearful of other youth, abusive family members, and the prospect of a future of joblessness and poverty. They don’t need more threats and punishment in their lives.

They need stability, positive guidance, and real pathways out of poverty. This requires a long-term commitment to their well-being, not a telephone referral and home visits by the same people who arrest and harass them and their friends on the streets. It was Bill Bratton, in his first stint as NYPD commissioner, who pointed out that police officers are not social workers, they’re not trained for it, nor prepared for it, and that’s not their role. Why would they be the best-suited for engaging these young people as mentors or life skills trainers? They aren’t.

It makes much more sense to do two types of things.

First, we have to have a real conversation about entrenched racialized poverty concentrated in highly-segregated neighborhoods. These are the neighborhoods that continue to be the main source of violent crime problems. It is true that crime has declined overall without major reductions in poverty or segregation, but it’s also true that the crime that remains is concentrated in these areas. And, unlike aggressive policing and mass incarceration, doing something about racialized poverty and exclusion would have general benefits for society in terms of reducing poverty, inequality, and racial injustice.

Second, we need to use peer-based mentoring systems and outreach workers, who can talk to people from a shared position of living in one of these neighborhoods. The power of that connection for building credibility cannot be overstated. Recently, Mayor de Blasio has expanded a number of City Council-developed initiatives to use violence interrupters and other community-based and public health-oriented interventions to reduce gun violence.

So-called “cure violence” programs like SOS Crown Heights, and GMACC in East Flatbush are training young adults to break the cycle of violence through rumor control, gang truces, and ongoing engagement with youth out on the streets. They provide safe spaces for young people to talk out their problems and when well-funded, provide real services to them and their families to deal with problems of housing, education, and unemployment, as well as mental illness and substance abuse.

It’s time for Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD to abandon NYC Ceasefire and other focused deterrence initiatives that primarily criminalize young people. We already know that jails and prisons produce much worse life outcomes for these youth. Let’s stop relying on coercion and control and try more compassion and concern.

***
Alex S. Vitale is associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics. He is senior policy adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project and serves on the New York State Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission. You can follow him on Twitter: @avitale

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

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More Evidence Punitive NYPD Youth Programs Fail Wed, 06 Jan 2016 04:42:41 +0000
East Harlem Tenants Group Rejects De Blasio Housing Plan, Offers Its Own http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5972:east-harlem-tenants-group-rejects-de-blasio-housing-plan-offer-its-own http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5972:east-harlem-tenants-group-rejects-de-blasio-housing-plan-offer-its-own East-HarlemMovement

A Movement for Justice in El Barrio rally


An East Harlem tenants group is gearing up to battle Mayor Bill de Blasio over his housing plan, saying that the plan will see local mom-and-pop stores bought out by chains, further incentivize landlords to push tenants out, and destroy the culture of Spanish Harlem.

The group, Movement for Justice in El Barrio, is countering the de Blasio rezoning proposal that they call a "luxury housing plan" with a 10-point agenda of its own designed to preserve current housing stock and protect the community from gentrification. It hopes to push the local community board to vote against the mayor's two rezoning proposals and wants a face-to-face meeting with de Blasio to discuss concerns.

Movement for Justice, an immigrant-led community organization formed in 2004, plans to make its opposition and proposals public at a Friday afternoon press conference at the corner of East 103rd Street and Lexington Avenue.

The tenants' decision to oppose de Blasio's sweeping affordable housing plan didn't come easily or quickly, they say. "We spent a lot of time analyzing the plan, yet we understand lots of people in the city haven't opened their eyes. We are very hopeful we can make our case to the public and convince them we are on the moral high ground," said Josefina Salazar, a founding member of the group and 20-year resident of East Harlem.

Movement for Justice in El Barrio held a series of community meetings and workshops starting this past spring that its members say involved thousands of Harlem residents. Only after formulating their position, creating a plan of their own, and reaching out to the mayor's office did they decide to take their position public.

Tenants' biggest concerns, which mirror those being seen in other neighborhoods around the city where de Blasio is first looking to rezone to create more density, are led by the administration's plan calling for all new residential development to set aside 25-30 percent for "affordable" housing units, but with affordability rates they say are too high.

"Affordable" as defined in the de Blasio plan is incomes between $46,620 and $62,150 for a family of three. According to census data the current average median family income for an East Harlem family of four is $33,600, according to 2010-2012 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Remaining units in new construction would rent at the real estate developer's discretion, also known as market-rate housing. Developers must agree to the administration's terms in order to build in areas being rezoned by the city.

In order to meet de Blasio's ambitious affordable housing goals, maintaining or building 200,000 affordable units over ten years, the administration argues that it must increase density in underdeveloped neighborhoods. The administration is starting with places like East New York, Flushing, and East Harlem. El Barrio is particularly interesting because it is represented in the City Council by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, largely an ally of the mayor.

Supporters of the plan note that the affordable housing would be mandatory for developers to include in their projects and it would be permanent. But the group fears that their current apartments and those of their neighbors will not be protected and as the neighborhood gentrifies landlords will be motivated to push them out to rent to higher-income tenants.

Community boards across the city have to decide whether to approve the mayor's Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability plans. City Limits recently reported that while most of the boards have yet to vote on the proposals, the majority of the ones that did rejected them and that there are widespread concerns about the plans as tenants and small business owners worry about being squeezed our of their neighborhoods.

Movement for Justice in El Barrio plans a series of protests and continued community education to push back against the zoning plans before they comes to a vote at Community Board 11 on November 17. The Community Board is scheduled to hold a hearing on the matter on Nov. 9.

"When we watch TV we see de Blasio promotes this plan as an affordable housing plan," said Salazar. "But this is pure propaganda. We did the math and we realized after reading the report on housing and his ten-year plan that this is not truly an affordable housing plan. It favors the creation of luxury housing that we don't consider affordable."

The group has put together its own ten-point plan members want to see adopted to preserve existing affordable housing in their neighborhood.

The plan calls for independent oversight of the city's Housing Preservation Department; establishing a public education campaign to inform tenants about HPD's role; empowering a new body or building inspectors to collect fines against landlords; having HPD make repairs not completed by the landlord in the specified amount of time and then billing the landlord; making inspectors carry citations in multiple languages and send out reports in multiple languages; forcing landlords to make repairs within 24 hours of emergency violations; establishing an East Harlem HPD oversight team as a pilot for other areas with at-risk low-income housing; providing inspections 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week; and improving HPD's follow-up on violations.

Zorayda Aguirre, a member of Movement for Justice who has lived in East Harlem with her husband and three young children for 16 years, said she fears for the community she has grown to love. "This plan will destroy our culture and change the face of East Harlem," she said of the mayor's proposals. "Not only that but the landlords will become more aggressive and try to drive us out. We will see our small businesses replaced by large ones that cater to the rich and it will become very expensive to live here."

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer shares some of the group's concerns."The history of New York City is one of constant change, but that change can't leave current residents behind – it needs to benefit and complement existing communities," Brewer told Gotham Gazette. "I will be working hard throughout this process to ensure the existing community is at the heart of the discussion. Any rezoning in East Harlem needs to address the full range of neighborhood issues like housing preservation, schools, and community-based small business."

In response to de Blasio's plan, Brewer called for an inclusion of even more affordable housing, a reduction of luxury housing included in deals with developers, increased vigilance by HPD to make sure existing affordable housing units are not lost, that there are tenant education clinics (with no income restrictions) in areas where upzoning is proposed. Brewer has also focused on helping mom and pop shops stay in business as major chains move in.

"We will never have enough affordable housing if we are not able to help tenants remain in existing affordable units. HPD must help prevent evictions by coordinating with the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) to ensure rents are legal and to enforce housing codes," Brewer wrote in a Febraury response to de Blasio unveiling his housing plan.

Amy Varghese, spokesperson for Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, said that the speaker encourages the community to get involved in the discussion of the city's housing plan.

"The East Harlem rezoning is an opportunity for all residents and stakeholders to engage in a community-driven, neighborhood-based planning process that addresses real local needs and concerns," Varghese said in a statement. "We need to have diverse voices at the table having meaningful conversations around these issues, from housing to transportation to open space and more. True to her grassroots leadership, Speaker is committed to facilitating these discussions in an empowered, productive environment and strongly encourages all residents to get involved, participate and harness this opportunity to make a difference in the neighborhood we are so proud to call home."

Members of Movement for Justice in El Barrio say they will do just that, making their voices heard in the coming weeks as community boards across the city consider the plan.

"This is a David versus Goliath type of battle," said Salazar. "The mayor is very powerful and has a propaganda machine. We really want a face-to-face meeting with the mayor. I think we can change his heart," said Salazar. "We want to tell him that we don't think his plan will preserve the simple, humble people of El Barrio."

The mayor's office did not return request for comment.

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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East Harlem Tenants Group Rejects De Blasio Housing Plan, Offers Its Own Thu, 05 Nov 2015 21:13:45 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 16 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5632:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-march-16 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5632:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-march-16 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will again be dominated by budget negotiations - especially in Albany, where a budget is due by the end of the month, which is rapidly approaching. In New York City, City Council hearings will continue on Mayor Bill de Blasio's preliminary fiscal year 2016 budget - once those hearings wrap up at the end of the month, the Council will craft its response to de Blasio, negotiations will continue, and the mayor will present his Executive Budget, leading to another round of council hearings. Key portions of the city budget are, of course, dependent upon the state budget, so much anticipation (and lobbying) surrounds negotiations in Albany, where Governor Andrew Cuomo is attempting to push through his spending plan, with major education and ethics reforms, despite significant disagreement from both Democrats (who control the State Assembly) and Republicans (who control the State Senate). Cuomo is also right in the middle on the minimum wage increase he's pushing and other issues.

While there will be a lot of action in Albany this week, this weekend is the annual Somos el Futuro Conference in Albany, at which there is always plenty of networking, negotiating, and more.

Speaking of budget negotiations, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (a former State Senator) launched a petition on Sunday to put additional pressure on the governor and other legislative leaders to include Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in budget negotiations. "Despite comprising over half of New York State's population, no woman has ever had a seat in statewide budget negotiations," it begins.

As for de Blasio, he made his case in Albany a few weeks ago and continues to lobby behind the scenes, while also praising the Assembly and its new Speaker, Carl Heastie of the Bronx, for its one-house budget outline. A key aspect of state funding for de Blasio is that for his universal pre-kindergarten program. On Sunday de Blasio held an event to kick off enrollment for pre-K for the 2015-2016 school year - enrollment officially opens on Monday. The City is hoping to expand pre-K enrollment from year one's 53,000-plus to all 73,000-or-so four-year-olds in the city. Monday is the start of pre-K enrollment and the end of the application period to be on one of the city's Community Education Councils. CECs are the local representative bodies that help inform education policy decision making and have been highlighted during the "Mayoral Control Forums" held by Public Advocate Letitia James in recent weeks.

James held a rally at City Hall on Sunday to call on the State to fully fund city schools in line with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and to criticize Gov. Cuomo's education reform policies. She starts her week with one event on her public schedule: a Howard University alumni affair.

Along with James, environmental activists and others, Comptroller Scott Stringer begins his week at a City Hall press conference to voice opposition to the Port Ambrose liquefied natural gas export facility.

The mayor starts his week with a busy Monday: he'll "host a breakfast for City Council Leadership in Manhattan...meet with Congressman Jerry Nadler and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez in City Hall," host an afternoon press conference with NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton to make an announcement; and, at 11 p.m. "appear on Tavis Smiley" on PBS, according to his public schedule.

On Thursday evening, the mayor is expected to speak at a fundraiser in Manhattan to support City Council Member Vincent Gentile's congressional campaign. By the way, if you want to register to vote in that special election or the other one (Assembly District 43) happening May 5, you have until April 10 to register.

On Monday evening, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will speak at a Citizens Union event on solving Albany's corruption probably. He is expected to unveil new plans to expand his role in doing so and new proposals pushing state lawmakers further in ethics reforms. Details below.

As always, there's a great deal happening at the City Council and all over the city, with many events to be aware of. See our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Monday in Albany, National Organization for Women NYC will rally to end human trafficking: “For the last three years NOW-NYC has been fighting for the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (TVPJA). Consensus is growing that the problem of trafficking can be tackled by legislators ensuring survivors-especially children-get help not punishment. TVPJA does that and more, and its passage would make New York a national leader in the fight against human trafficking.” [Related: read Manhattan DA Cy Vance's recent op-ed on the need to strengthen New York's sex trafficking laws]

On Monday afternoon, Assembly Speaker Heastie will hold a "news conference announcing comprehensive legislation to combat human trafficking. He will be joined by members of the Assembly Majority and advocates," according to his public schedule.

Both the State Senate and the State Assembly are in session in Albany on Monday afternoon.

Monday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Civil Rights for its preliminary budget hearing and a meeting of the Committee on Oversight and Investigations for its preliminary budget hearing.

On Monday morning, "New York Law School hosts "A Bold Step for New York's Children: A Symposium on Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility" featuring Jeremy Creelan, Soffiyah Elijah, Jacqueline Greene, Sheriff Allen Riley, Joel Copperman, Richard Aborn, Laurie Parise and others," according to City & State NY. [Related: read our report on Governor Cuomo's much-praised effort to "Raise the Age"]

Also according to City & State NY, on Monday at 11:30 a.m. "State Sen. IDC Leader Jeff Klein, state Sens. Diane Savino and Adriano Espaillat, New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres and others gather for a rally calling for funding in state budget to repair and upgrade NYCHA developments, Million Dollar Staircase, State Capitol, Albany."

The City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is holding a TB Day of Action on Monday, in which Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and others are participating to raise awareness.

Monday at 5:30 p.m., New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Brad Lander will host a “Celebration of Bangladesh Independence,” at the Council Chambers inside City Hall. Other Council Members in attendance will include Rafael Espinal Jr., Rory Lancman, Daniel Dromm, I. Daneek Miller, Annabel Palma, Mark Weprin, Jimmy Van Bramer, among others.

On Monday evening, BP Brewer will attend the opening of the new Hunter College faculty/laboratory research space at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Also Monday evening, NYCHA will host its Manhattan town hall meeting at Johnson Houses CC, in East Harlem.

Monday evening, good government group Citizens Union will host “Can New Yorkers Fix Albany’s Corruption Problem?” - its first Civic Conversation of the year, featuring Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and an esteemed panel. “Join Citizens Union for our first Civic Conversation of the year. This educational forum will bring expert panelists and the public together to discuss why there is a crime wave of corruption in Albany and what can be done to fight back and change the capitol's ethics.” After Schneiderman delivers remarks, panelists will include Richard Briffault, Professor of Legislation at Columbia Law School, Chair of NYC Conflicts of Interest Board and Former Moreland Commissioner; Richard Brodsky, Senior Fellow at Demos, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Public Policy at NYU Wagner Graduate School, and Former NYS Assemblymember for the 92nd District; Jennifer Rodgers, Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity, Former Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The panel will be moderated by Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union.

Tuesday
Tuesday morning, “Join Crain’s and New York real estate's most impressive players to explore the next stage in the city’s development. Chairman of the NYC Planning Commission Carl Weisbrod will unveil the de Blasio administration’s latest zoning policies and urban-planning initiatives. A panel of experts will assess City Hall’s ambitious efforts to create and maintain 200,000 units of affordable housing. The conference will conclude with the sharpest minds in the business debating how best to reform a broken tax system that must pay for it all.”

Also Tuesday morning, the Young Women’s Christian Association of New York will host a discussion on Leadership and Generosity: A Call to Action: “We will look at ‘Young Women Leaders’ featuring Aissata M.B. Camara, Elizabeth Plank, Carmen Perez, Maria Naggaga, Yuh-Line Niou, and Candace Simpson.”

Tuesday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Juvenile Justice, jointly with the Committee on General Welfare and the Committee on Women’s Issues for a preliminary budget hearing.

Tuesday at noon, The Brennan Center for Justice will present Democracy's Problems and Prospects: A Book Talk with Douglas E. Schoen: “America’s democracy is floundering, Congress is hopelessly gridlocked, and millions remain without gainful employment. Despite all this, longtime political strategist and polling expert Douglas E. Schoen remains optimistic.”

Tuesday evening, CUNY Institute for Education Policy (CIEP) will host a one-on-one conversation with the President of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), Michael Mulgrew: “This unscripted conversation will cover a wide range of pressing issues facing New York State's teachers and their students.” Mulgrew will be speaking with CIEP Director David Steiner, who is also Dean of the Hunter College School of Education and former State Commissioner of Education.

[Explore the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette for something you may have missed]

Wednesday
Wednesday morning in Albany, Capital New York will host “Medical Marijuana: Is N.Y. Doing it Right?”, an in-depth conversation on the topic of New York’s medical marijuana law "covering regulation, accessibility, barriers to entry into the local market, program costs and more.” Featured speakers will include the incoming Counsel to the Governor of New York, Alphonso David; Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried; State Senator Diane Savino; and others.

On Wednesday, City Council Member Andy King and the Riverbay Corporation will host the "2015 Veterans Job and Resource Fair" in Co-op City in the Bronx. "Employers as well as non-profit resource organizations and city agencies will be present, including JP Morgan Chase & Co., which, with other founding corporations, launched the 100,000 Jobs Mission in 2011 with the goal of hiring 100,000 military veterans by 2020."

Wednesday afternoon, the Graduate Center at CUNY will host another public lecture in the Immigration Seminar Series: “Everyday Illegal: When Policies Undermine Immigrant Families.” Among the speakers will be Joanna Dreby, Associate Professor of Sociology at University at Albany, SUNY.

Wednesday evening, “Albany Capital Pro Trivia Night!...Albany Bureau Chief Jimmy Vielkind tees up questions on all things policy, politics and media."

Also Wednesday evening, Beta NYC is hosting a Civic Hacknight in Queens with Coalition 4 Queens.

Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at MoMA PS1, New York City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer will host a Cultural Town Hall event featuring special remarks from the Cultural Affairs Commissioner, Tom Finkelpearl.

Also in Queens Wednesday evening, BP Katz is hosting a "parent advisory board meeting on common core" that will include reps from the city DOE.

Thursday
All day Thursday, the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development will host its Annual Community Development Conference. The morning keynote speaker will be Thomas J. Curry, Federal Comptroller of the Currency. The afternoon keynote speaker will be Melissa Mark-Viverito, Speaker of New York City Council.

Thursday morning, Manhattan BP Brewer hosts a meeting of the Manhattan Borough Board.

Thursday at City Hall, there will be a Student Voter Registration Day press conference held by elected officials, advocacy groups, and school representatives.

Also Thursday morning, Queens BP Melinda Katz will hold a land use meeting at Queens Borough Hall.

Thursday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Governmental Operations for its preliminary budget oversight hearing; a meeting of the Committee on Veterans to consider a resolution "calling upon the New York State Legislature to pass and the Governor to sign S.752, the Veterans' Education Through SUNY Credits Act"; and a meeting of the Committee on Education to consider multiple resolutions, including one "calling upon the New York State Legislature to reject any attempt to raise the cap on the number of charter schools," one "calling upon the Department of Education to amend its Parent's Bill of Rights and Responsibilities to include information about opting out of high-stakes testing and distribute this document at the beginning of every school year, to every family, in every grade," and one "calling upon the New York State Legislature to eliminate the Governor's receivership proposal in the executive budget for New York City." 

Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio is set to speak at a fundraiser for the Democratic candidate in the special election to fill the vacant 11th Congressional District seat, Brooklyn City Council Member Vincent Gentile. Democratic activist Bill Samuels and Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos will host the event at Mr. Samuels’ Manhattan home.

Also Thursday evening, the Department of Transportation and the MTA are hosting a town hall to unveil plans around the Utica Avenue B46 SBS Project, according to Riders Alliance, which is encouraging its members to attend and make their voices heard.

Thursday evening, at 6:30 p.m., Housing Preservation and Development will host a Owner Outreach and Education Forum with Council Members Inez Barron and Rafael Espinal and Cypress Hills Development Corporation in East New York, Brooklyn.

Also Thursday at 6:30 p.m., Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will host East Side Coastal Resiliency Project's Community Engagement Session: “Following on HUD's Rebuild by Design competition, New York City is working to reduce the risk of extreme weather and climate change, as well as improve quality of life. This project focuses on neighborhoods near the East River between Montgomery and 23rd Streets.”

Thursday at 7 p.m., the NYC Young Republican Club will host its monthly meetup at the Women's National Republican Club.

[Explore the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette for something you may have missed]

Friday and the weekend
All day Friday, Common Cause NY, Citizens Union, the New York City Council, and other partners will host Student Voter Registration Day “to increase youth voter registration and excite young people about being involved in the democratic process. Through interactive discussion SVRD encourages youth to see how issues at the polls affect their everyday lives.”

Friday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations, jointly with the Subcommittee on Libraries, for a preliminary budget hearing.

Friday morning, Amnesty International USA will have its weekend-long 2015 Human Rights Conference and Annual General Meetings, in Brooklyn: “The 2015 Annual General Meeting will bring over a thousand human rights activists from around the world together to engage in networking opportunities, human rights actions, inspiring plenaries, outstanding key notes, and hands-on workshops." Speakers will include Harry Belafonte, Ann Burroughs, Rosa Alicia Clemente, Nusrat Durrani, Steven Hawkins, Thomas Jagow-Schultz, Benjamin Jealous, Linda Sarsour, Ciara Taylor, Vincent Warren, Jesse Williams, and Jie-Song Zhang.

Friday afternoon, Assembly Member Rebecca A. Seawright will host a Women’s History Month celebration, at which the Assembly Member is also set to give out Women of Distinction Awards to recognize “remarkable women and their efforts to improve our community.”

On Friday at 5:30 p.m., to commemorate women's history month, Council Members Laurie Cumbo and Jumaane Williams "will host the second annual Shirley Chisholm Women of Distinction Celebration & Award Ceremony" at Brooklyn Public Library-Central Branch. "This event will honor seven extraordinary women from New York City who are making tremendous strides in their fields by using their skills and expertise to strengthen our communities. Two young community leaders will also be honored during the event and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will serve as the event's keynote speaker."

Friday evening in Albany, City & State NY will host a Somos Albany Kickoff Cocktail Reception. The event will feature New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and New York State Assemblyman & Somos el Futuro Chair Marcos Crespo.

Saturday morning, The Office of Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer, together with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will host "Tuberculosis Awareness Walk and Rally." 

Also Saturday morning, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) will host a CUNY Citizenship Application Assistance Event in Brooklyn.

On Sunday afternoon, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez will give his State of the District speech at George Washington Educational Campus.

[Explore the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette for something you may have missed]

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Rati Mukhuradze, Marco Poggio, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 16 Sun, 15 Mar 2015 19:15:54 +0000