Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/276 Mon, 19 Feb 2018 05:50:37 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Dr. King Wanted Housing Justice That Governor Cuomo Must Deliver http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7421:dr-king-wanted-housing-justice-that-governor-cuomo-must-deliver http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7421:dr-king-wanted-housing-justice-that-governor-cuomo-must-deliver Andrew Cuomo NAN Al Sharpton

Gov. Cuomo receives an award, 2016 (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


Governor Cuomo recently gave his 2018 State of the State address. Like years past, he highlighted his accomplishments and reminded New York of the “historic commitments” he’s made to solve our most pressing issues. High among those issues was -- and remains -- homelessness. He called on our “compassionate society” to care for the homeless and, discussing criminal justice reform, invoked the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., quoting, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

I agree, Governor Cuomo: New Yorkers are compassionate; homelessness is wrong; and it is the government’s job to meet the needs of all New Yorkers. And in the spirit of Martin Luther King, I would add that it is the community’s responsibility to hold government accountable when it is not meeting the needs of its people.

I am homeless. For the past two years I’ve been staying on friends’ couches and in shelters while I look for housing. At this year’s State of the State address, I joined the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance coalition, and was one of the 24 people who were arrested while blocking the entrance of the State Capitol. Despite freezing temperatures, New Yorkers from around the state met there to protest Governor Cuomo’s housing failures.

Governor Cuomo’s record on housing has hurt New Yorkers. Tenants are not able to keep up with rising rents, our scarce public housing is deteriorating, and our state has more people homeless than ever on record.

A recent U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued report says that 88,352 people slept in shelters across New York State on a given night last January -- and there are many more, uncounted. Under Governor Cuomo’s watch, the state’s homeless population has swelled by several thousand.

At this year’s State of the State address, the Governor reminded us of his 2016 commitment to invest $20 billion to confront homelessness and create affordable housing. He went on to promise to build on his commitment but provided no details. I cannot help but question whether money will actually materialize and if the housing will ever be built. For nearly two years, we’ve witnessed delays in funding and only partial allocations of the resources we so desperately need.

Governor Cuomo did provide clarity on one thing, however. He threatened to strip local governments of funding for homelessness services if cities fail to conduct effective street outreach programs. This comes at a time when the State has already failed to fairly share the costs of sheltering people with local governments. While street homelessness is a problem that every city should be prepared to deal with, it simply isn’t possible to do without the State’s support.

As always, the question of money will arise. We have already heard phrases like “budget deficits” and “tough decisions,” which only translates to continued homelessness and desperation for those of us living the policies we hear debated.

The truth is, we have the resources to pay for ending the homeless crisis right here in our State.

New York is home to Wall Street, billionaires, millionaires, and real estate developers -- some of the wealthiest people and institutions in the world. With the right tax and budget policies, we could ensure that vital housing programs are funded and that truly affordable housing gets built for low income people.  And with political will and bold leadership, we could slow the continuous stream of low-income New Yorkers who are moving from permanent housing into shelters, by expanding protections for tenants, at no cost at all.

We have some room for hope. Unlike previous years, at this year's address Governor Cuomo committed to closing the carried interest loophole -- a provision in our tax code that gives the wealthiest people in our state massive tax breaks. Closing this loophole would generate billions of dollars for New York, protecting us from the Trump Administration’s disastrous tax and budget policies. We’ll wait to see if Governor Cuomo moves words into action, and truly aligns with New Yorkers who support economic fairness.

Ahead of the Governor’s presentation of his budget plan and on the heels of the Martin Luther King Day, let’s hope Governor Cuomo remembers the more than 88,000 people who are homeless across the state. Let’s hope he makes the investments we so badly need. And let’s hope he remembers that Dr. King dedicated his life to demanding justice for all.

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Georgia Morgan is a member of VOCAL-NY, a grassroots organization that builds power among low-income people impacted by homelessness, HIV/AIDS, drug use, and mass incarceration. On Twitter @VOCALNewYork.

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Dr. King Wanted Housing Justice That Governor Cuomo Must Deliver Sun, 14 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
New York City Takeaways from Governor Cuomo's 2018 State of the State http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7402:new-york-city-takeaways-from-governor-cuomo-s-2018-state-of-the-state http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7402:new-york-city-takeaways-from-governor-cuomo-s-2018-state-of-the-state Cuomo State of the State podium

Gov. Cuomo delivers his 2018 State of the State (photo: Philip Kamrass/Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his full policy agenda for the 2018 legislative session on Wednesday, returning to his traditional State of the State format: a single address at the Empire State Convention Center, chock full of slideshow-aided proposals and lofty rhetoric, with legislative leaders of all five conferences and other statewide elected officials accompanying him on stage.

During the 92-minute speech, Cuomo gave considerable attention on his women’s rights platform -- a timely legislation package in the face of international outcry over sexual misconduct in the workplace — as well as criminal justice reform proposals like significantly reducing the use of cash bail. Cuomo also focused a good deal on policies coming out of Washington, D.C., especially the recent tax overhaul program that will hit New York hard. He said the state will sue while also exploring other ways to blunt the impact of the drastically reduced ability for New Yorkers to deduct their high local and state taxes from their federal burden.

The second-term governor outlined a wide variety of proposals for the state and some that apply to different geographic areas. He touched on only a portion of the proposals listed in his 374-page policy book. The next three months will determine which Cuomo can accomplish through some combination of executive action, the regular legislative process, and a grand budget deal, due by the April 1 start to the new state fiscal year. After that, there will be another three months of legislative session.

Many of Cuomo’s broader proposals, like on criminal justice reform, workforce development, and protecting the environment, impact New York City, while several are aimed directly at the five boroughs, such as the creation of a subway station in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the creation of a new park in Brooklyn, and proposals to address the state’s homelessness problem, which is concentrated in New York City.

Mayor Bill de Blasio was in attendance for Cuomo’s speech and, in a news conference afterward, praised certain aspects of it, such as Cuomo’s promise to fight the federal tax overhaul, while taking a wait-and-see approach as the governor still did not unveil a congestion pricing scheme, and outlining a few of the city’s top priorities for the upcoming state budget, like more funding for the mayor’s plan to extend pre-school to all three-year-olds.

The Democratic governor wields an enormous degree of power over the state’s $160 billion-plus budget. He’ll unveil his executive budget proposal within the next few weeks, which will show at least some detail of how he plans to fund the initiatives in his State of the State while also balancing the roughly $4 billion deficit for next fiscal year.

As he alluded to during his speech, touting his ability to lead the state to bipartisan compromise, Cuomo is again negotiating with a split Legislature. While Democrats handily control the 150-seat Assembly, with most New York City lawmakers sitting in the majority, the 63-seat Senate is controlled by the Republican conference, made up of many members representing suburban and Upstate areas, that has formed a ruling coalition with the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference and rogue Democratic Senator Simcha Felder, of Brooklyn. As a result, downstate and left-leaning interests often rely on the governor to take up their policy items, and watch his annual address closely for signs that he will make them a focal point of the coming budget negotiations.

During his Wednesday remarks, Cuomo took slightly different approaches to two hot-button issues, important to many in New York City, that are also indicative of the political moment Cuomo finds himself in. Democrats in New York want to see Cuomo fight for Democratic takeover of the state Senate, including through special elections for two Senate seats that the governor has not yet called, despite being able to as of January 1. A long list of progressive legislation has been blocked in the Senate, with many believing Cuomo largely prefers to deal with a split Legislature so that he can better control spending and policy.

Advocates have been turning up their pressure on Cuomo to push for the Child Victims Act, legislation that makes it easier for people who were victims of childhood sex abuse to bring charges. The legislation has overwhelmingly passed the Assembly, but stalled in the Senate.

Those pushing for the the bill were disheartened by the governor’s omission in his State of the State speech, though it is included in his policy book, as it was last year.

"In the #MeToo moment it’s especially disappointing to see the Governor fail to mention child victims of sexual abuse in his State of the State address, even as he correctly prioritizes the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace,” said Michael Polenberg, VP of Government Affairs at Safe Horizon, and survivor and advocate Bridie Farrell in a joint statement. “Survivors of childhood sexual abuse, advocates, and elected officials have been fighting to pass the Child Victims Act (CVA) for over a decade.”

Meanwhile, the governor did give a brief shoutout to the New York Dream Act, which would allow undocumented college students who arrived here as children to obtain student financial aid as part of a comprehensive immigration package. Cuomo mentioned the Dream Act, which has also easily passed the Assembly but stalled in the Senate, when discussing the next phase of his Excelsior Scholarship, the middle-class college-tuition supplement he announced and passed last year.

Women’s Rights
Cuomo released more than 20 planks of his 2018 agenda in the lead-up to his speech, including his proposals related to fighting sexual harassment in workplaces.

The governor’s full women’s right platform is wide-ranging, from policies Democrats have pushed each year like the codification of Roe v. Wade into state law and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, to his new call to criminalize “sextortion” and non-consensual pornography, often known as revenge porn, under state law, as well as legislation to remove firearms from domestic abusers.

In addition, the governor is proposing legislation to prohibit public dollars from being used to settle sexual harassment claims against individuals, and a proposal to void forced arbitration policies in employee contracts. He vowed that any companies doing business with the state would be required to disclose the number of sexual harassment adjudications and nondisclosure agreements they have executed. There appears to be a good chance that some, possibly most, of these measures will pass, as Republican and Democratic lawmakers in both houses have introduced legislation aimed at tightening sexual harassment laws.

“No taxpayer funds should be used to pay for any public official’s sexual harassment or misconduct – period. It is the bad act of the individual, let the individual pay,” said Cuomo.

Cuomo is also proposing that state pension funds only be invested in companies that have “adequate” representation of women and people of color on their boards of directors. And Cuomo is calling for the reauthorization and expansion of his Minority and Women Business Entrepreneurship program.

Criminal Justice Reform
In a dramatic moment, Cuomo addressed Akeem Browder, the brother of Kalief Browder, the young man who took his own life after being held for three years at Rikers Island jail complex, awaiting a trial for allegedly stealing a backpack that never came. “Akeem, I want you to know that your brother did not die in vain,” Cuomo said, with the audience giving Akeem a standing ovation.

Referencing Kalief Browder’s ordeal, Cuomo announced a comprehensive package including bail and speedy trial reforms, and improving the disclosure of evidence in the discovery process.

“To begin, our jails are filled with people who should not be incarcerated,” said Cuomo. “Race and wealth should not be factors in our criminal justice system.”

Many, including Public Advocate Letitia James and Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the criminal defense practice at The Legal Aid Society, commended the governor.

“This comprehensive package of criminal justice reforms places a spotlight on the current system’s flaws and the need for strong reforms to New York’s criminal discovery, bail and speedy trial statutes. Reforming these core issues is required to end mass incarceration, avoid wrongful convictions and, for New York City, expedite the closing of Rikers Island,” said Luongo. Mayor de Blasio has pointed to state-level bail reform as key to the goal of closing the Rikers jails by continuing to help reduce the city's detainee population.

New York Civil Liberties Union’s Donna Lieberman noted that the initiatives could have gone further, including the passage of Kalief’s Law, which ensures the right to a speedy trial, and the STAT Act, which would disclose policing data to improve transparency and accountability.

Affordable Housing
Cuomo lamented the state’s homelessness crisis, noting that he began his work in public service running a non-profit aiding homeless families, but critics say his proposals to address the crisis are slim.

“Homelessness is on the rise in our cities and worse than ever before. It pains me personally to acknowledge this reality,” he said. “It has become a part of our new normal, but it is abnormal and it is wrong,” he later added.

Cuomo vowed to build on the $20 billion investment made in 2016 on a five-year plan to combat homelessness, including thousands of supportive housing units that provide stable housing and social services. The governor said he would instruct the appropriate state agencies to expand street outreach, homelessness prevention activities, rapid rehousing, and ongoing housing stability for the formerly homeless.

He said he would direct the state’s mental health and substance abuse agencies to increase access at homeless shelters across the state. He also implored localities to do more to help mentally ill homeless people, saying that some claim their hands are tied. He vowed to “change the law this session.”

In a variety of directions, affordable housing and homelessness policy has been a topic of conflict between Cuomo and de Blasio.

During his post-speech press conference, de Blasio said one major area the city wants to see more from the state is affordable housing. He called for the delivery of NYCHA funds allocated two years ago, among other items.

“The supporting housing plan – as everyone knows, the City of New York is committed to, and is funding, and is acting on and implementing a plan for 15,000 supportive housing apartments. The State has a plan for 20,000. We need to see that plan take off and start to have an impact on the ground in New York City so it can help us address homelessness,” said de Blasio.

“And then the broader affordable housing plan that was put together at the end of the legislative session – again, we’re looking for action, we’re looking for results that will help us address the huge affordability challenges in New York City.”

In her statement reacting to Cuomo’s speech, Public Advocate James praised Cuomo on several fronts, but pointed to a need for Cuomo to improve his commitment to creating and preserving affordable housing. “I urge the Governor to push Albany legislators to adopt vacancy decontrol, make preferential rent permanent and repeal the twenty percent vacancy bonus and introduce a housing bond act to create more affordable housing,” she said. “In order to truly protect New Yorkers, we must ensure that everyone has access to safe and decent housing. It is the most critical step to creating a New York that is just and inclusive for all.”

Public Transportation
While Cuomo suggested that there is a congestion pricing plan in the works, he did not provide details, saying that he is waiting for his Fix NYC commission to "present options" to the Legislature. Any plan would be intended to create revenue for the MTA and reduce congestion into much of Manhattan, likely would add tolls on the East River bridges and other access points to the “Manhattan business district.”

He also appeared to take one of several jabs at de Blasio, who opposes congestion pricing and wants to see an added tax on high earners to additionally fund the MTA.

“These are difficult choices, but difficult choices do not get easier by ignoring them,” Cuomo said. “They only get harder. And in the meantime, cheap political slogans are just that—cheap political slogans. It's not a real policy or policy discussion. And that's what we need. Santa Claus did not visit the State Capitol this year. I was watching. Funding must be provided in a very tight budget and funding must be provided this session because the riders have suffered for too long, politics has gone on for too long, and we can't leave our riders stranded anymore -- period.”

Speaking with reporters, de Blasio reiterated that he believes passing an additional millionaires tax to pay for subway system repairs is achievable because his proposal only impacts New York City residents, not the main constituents of the Senate Republicans outside the city.

“It’s a way that we can solve our own problems. So, I’m going to keep working for that because I think it’s the right solution,” de Blasio said, adding, “No, I don’t think we’ve seen enough now to know what any congestion pricing option may look like.”

Public Safety
Cuomo opened his speech by noting the growing threats of terrorism, extreme weather, rising anti-semitism, and increasingly divisive politics. He proposed a number of initiatives aimed at making New York City, which is often a target for attacks, safer.

“Looking back, 2017 was a tough year by any measure, but New Yorkers once again rose to the occasion. We had frightening incidents of terrorism in New York City -- as Mayor Bill de Blasio well knows -- but we have the best police and first responders in the country and some of them are here today,” said Cuomo.

To address gang activity, Cuomo has proposed a plan to cut off the recruitment pipeline to eradicate MS-13, which has a strong presence in Long Island and parts of the five boroughs. Cuomo’s five-point plan would improve access to social programs -- including after-school education and job training for at-risk youth -- additional support for unaccompanied minors and bolstered law enforcement in gang hotspots.

He also introduced a number of counter terrorism initiatives, such as the construction of a new firefighter training facility to support the city’s first responders, expanded vehicle rental regulations, and a terrorism tip line.

“[T]he state owns many of the places of potential vulnerability, our bridges, tunnels, trains, buses and airports, our transit hubs like Penn Station and Grand Central,” Cuomo said. “Our transportation system must be better protected, and we must do it now. We have had warning.” He specifically cited Penn Station as vulnerable and said he already has plans in motion, while also referencing the possible use of eminent domain to make the surrounding area more secure.

Voting and Other Reforms
Leading up to his speech Cuomo unveiled parts of his “Democracy Agenda,” which aims to protect the integrity of elections, requires transparency for digital advertisements, and enact voting reforms.

Reform advocates, like Common Cause/NY’s Executive Director, Susan Lerner, welcomed the proposals but said that “the Governor proposed a high tech blanket to protect an antiquated election system that cries out for common-sense low-tech improvement.”

“It's not enough to simply pitch the idea of early voting – a crucial change that will bring New York in line with 37 other states- as well as same day voter registration, and no penalty absentee voting,” she said. “The Governor must put money behind it. Initiatives like automatic voter registration, electronic poll books, flexibility to change parties, and parolee voting rights are pivotal upgrades to our current system of elections administration that can not be ignored.”

The governor did not give much airtime to his government ethics and campaign finance initiatives this year, many of which are recycled from past years in his 2018 policy book. On Wednesday he talked briefly about ending outside income for lawmakers, and “spent less than a minute total discussing his remaining reforms,” said Jennifer Wilson, of The League of Women Voters.

Education
The governor put forth several education initiatives, including to expand the availability of early childhood care, pre-kindergarten education, and afterschool; a proposal to guarantee free food for school children; and supports for teachers.

He also introduced a slew of measures to address the student loan debt crisis. Planks include appointing a Student Loan Ombudsman; requiring colleges to provide simple 'truth in lending' facts for students; and increasing consumer protection standards throughout the student loan industry.

De Blasio, after the event, told reporters he hopes to see a boost in education aid in the governor’s 2018-2019 budget proposal, which would help fund the city’s 3-K for All initiative.

Infrastructure 
Cuomo said he would call on the Port Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to study potential options for relocating and improving maritime activities and enhancing transportation access to Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood and harbor. The plan would include the creation of a new subway line extending into the South Brooklyn neighborhood “to stimulate Red Hook’s community-based development.”

Citing the Trump administration’s efforts to scale back national parks, Cuomo vowed to open the largest state part in New York City, a 407-acre plot of land on Jamaica Bay.

He vowed to finally complete the Hudson River Park on Manhattan’s west side, a project started by his late father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, and Mayor David Dinkins.

“It was supposed to be finished in 2003. It was derailed by ongoing disputes. We now have settled the disputes. We now have a full completion plan that completes the park from Battery Park City to 59th Street,” said Cuomo.

Next Steps
Along with congestion pricing recommendations, Cuomo is also awaiting the results of a study he’s ordered of the possibility of eliminating a separate minimum wage for tipped workers, which could have significant impact in New York City.

Threats from the federal government loomed large at the State of the State, as the governor, who is facing reelection in 2018 and has presidential aspirations, painted himself as a unifying leader in the face of a divisive and hostile president.

While Cuomo prepares to release his executive budget plan in the coming weeks, he will continue to fight the federal tax overhaul and deal with other ways in which federal policies are cutting funds to New York. Still, Cuomo spoke in grand terms, saying that New York can accomplish anything it puts its mind to, as his tenure has shown.

“Ladies and gents I am a realist,” Cuomo said. “I know that this an ambitious agenda and I know it is probably the most challenging agenda that I have ever put forth. But these are challenging times, and we have to rise to the challenge for the very survival of our state.”

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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New York City Takeaways from Governor Cuomo's 2018 State of the State Thu, 04 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Renewed Push to Pass State Homelessness Subsidy in 2018 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7377:renewed-push-to-pass-state-homelessness-subsidy-in-2018 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7377:renewed-push-to-pass-state-homelessness-subsidy-in-2018 hevesi albany photo mkink

Assemblymember Hevesi and activists (photo: @mkink)


Legislation to create a statewide rental supplement to curtail the growth of homelessness in New York, while generating savings for local social service agencies, is the focus of a renewed campaign ahead of the 2018 budget and legislative session.

Despite support from the Democratic Assembly majority, as well minority state Senate Democrats, and the Independent Democratic Conference, which forms a ruling coalition with Senate Republicans, Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi’s Home Stability Support plan fell off the negotiating table during 2017 budget talks.

The bill, which would close the rental gap for low-income families and individuals who already receive housing subsidies, gained strong momentum from lawmakers and advocates at the start of the year, but disagreement over how much the program would cost ultimately derailed its inclusion in the budget that passed in early April, according to those familiar with negotiations.

Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) leader Senator Jeff Klein, of the Bronx, wrote at least two op-eds and issued a report promoting the legislation, but he and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie failed to persuade their colleagues in the negotiating room -- Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Governor Andrew Cuomo -- of the program’s efficacy.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsed the idea in public comments to state lawmakers, provided it would not be accompanied by unfunded local mandates; and the city’s four Democratic borough presidents participated in a last-minute push for its inclusion in the budget. In recent years, homelessness in the city has reached record numbers. There are about 63,000 homeless people in New York City, and thousands more around the state.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has also endorsed the bill, produced a report evaluating the costs and benefits of the program. Noting that projecting the growth of homelessness and future eligibility for and utilization of the program is not an exact science, Stringer estimated that over a decade Hevesi’s proposed investment of $450 million a year from the state could reduce the city’s shelter population by 80 percent among families with children and 40 percent among single adults, and save the city millions of dollars.

“Assemblymember Hevesi has put forward a bold new plan that deserves your serious consideration,” Stringer testified at a joint legislative budget hearing in January. “Home Stability Support is a potential long-term solution to this crisis that could offer a real path out of the shelter system for thousands of New Yorkers and save the city millions in shelter costs.”

The subsidy would be made available to households or individuals “eligible for public assistance benefits and who are facing eviction, homelessness, or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous living conditions.” Hevesi estimates that approximately 80,000 households are at-risk of homelessness, and that each year 19,000 more individuals become homeless than move to permanent housing from shelter. The program would replace all existing optional rent supplements and cover up to 85 percent of the fair market rent determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Localities would have the option to further raise the supplement up to 100 percent of the fair market rent at local expense.

During budget talks, the state’s budget division produced its own estimate of what a fully utilized statewide homelessness prevention program, such as the one proposed by Hevesi, would cost and pegged it as $1 billion annually -- a figure it said the state could not afford. Citing the analysis by Stringer’s office, which, based on data from the Department of Homeless Services, predicted that only 30 percent of city residents who qualify for HSS would utilize the program, proponents of the plan soon returned to the table with a new number. By the time the proposal made it into the Assembly’s one-house budget, it had been whittled down to a $200 million investment that would be phased in over five years, or $40 million a year, essentially piloting the program.

Ultimately, state budget officials, assuming full utilization of the program, determined that the program would be too costly and rejected the proposal, according to a spokesperson for the IDC.

"Once we couldn't get it in the budget, it didn't even make sense to try," Hevesi said of the legislation, which he allowed to sit in the ways and means committee.

Klein never introduced a “same as” bill in the Senate because the financial component made it impossible to introduce outside of budget negotiations, his spokesperson said.

Housing advocates, including those who were involved in the negotiations, also expressed disappointment that the Assembly proposal didn’t make it into the state budget, which covers the current fiscal year that ends March 31, 2018.

“Every year goes by we hit new records, and sheltering homeless people costs even more,” said Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director of policy for Coalition for the Homeless, part of a coalition of social service advocates who helped devise the legislation.

Nortz said Hevesi’s bill represents a critical shift in homelessness policy towards prevention, while also resolving homelessness rapidly with adequate rent subsidies. “This will lower the demand for shelter dramatically and ultimately generate savings to offset the much lower cost of keeping people in their own homes,” said Nortz.

This winter, Hevesi says he is visiting Republican and Democratic lawmakers in their districts hoping to drum up support for the bill the old fashioned way, by highlighting how the bill could directly impact their constituents. He says the list of supporters has grown, including every member of the IDC and Senate Democratic conference and at least three Republican senators.

“This is the way they used to do it 30 years ago,” said Hevesi. “I believe that by the time the budget comes along, we will have a huge number of senators that will sign on to the legislation.” The bill is virtually guaranteed to pass through the Assembly, which is dominated by New York City Democrats, including Heastie, of the Bronx, and Hevesi, of Queens.

Cuomo, who is believed to strongly oppose Hevesi’s housing subsidy, has been criticized for failing to adequately address the city’s homelessness crisis. His 2011 decision to end the state’s $85 million share for the Advantage subsidy program led to the program’s closure and has been widely criticized as contributing to the city’s record homelessness numbers. The conditional subsidy program, which started in 2007 and was a joint city-state effort, helped people in shelters pay for permanent housing for up to two years, as long as they worked or participated in job training.

While Cuomo has historically resisted calls for a new state-funded subsidy to fight homelessness, advocates were buoyed by the governor’s 2016-17 Homelessness Action Plan, in which he committed to building 20,000 supportive housing units over 15 years. A new statewide coalition of community and advocacy organizations that formed this fall, called the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance, is pushing for Cuomo to make housing a priority in 2018, speeding up these investments and taking other steps to address homelessness, including supporting Hevesi’s legislation.

Meanwhile, the IDC says it continues to support Home Stability Support and is looking into how to address funding concerns for the coming session.

Spokespersons for Cuomo and Flanagan, the Senate majority leader, did not respond to requests for comment about whether they would support a state homelessness-fighting subsidy program in 2018.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Renewed Push to Pass State Homelessness Subsidy in 2018 Tue, 19 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Federal Tax Reform Could Turn City’s Housing Crisis into a Humanitarian Disaster http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7364:federal-tax-reform-could-turn-city-s-housing-crisis-into-a-humanitarian-disaster http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7364:federal-tax-reform-could-turn-city-s-housing-crisis-into-a-humanitarian-disaster picture the homeless vacant lots

protesting unused vacant property (via @pthny)


In New York City, the demand for affordable housing far exceeds supply. Seventy percent of the city’s homeless shelter residents are families. Families who should be in homes.

Now, as the United States House of Representatives and Senate look to the conference committee to reconcile their respective tax reform bills, the housing crisis that began in the 1980s will become a catastrophe unless we, the people, intervene.

On paper, both the House and Senate plans retain the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) — which funds 90 percent of the nation’s affordable housing developments. However, the House tax bill eliminates tax-exempt private activity bonds (PABs) that fund half of all LIHTC projects.

Although the Senate bill retains PABs, both bills cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, dramatically reducing the value of tax credits that fund the remainder of LIHTC projects.

Also included in the Senate bill is an amendment that imposes what amounts to an international alternative minimum tax on any corporation with significant foreign operations. As a result, some large corporate investors might be deterred from claiming the LIHTC.

No matter how the reconciliation pans out, it is clear that, if passed, federal tax reform will devastate more than a million low-income New Yorkers searching for homes. And this isn’t the first federal policy to squeeze out affordable housing.

Under President Reagan, government spending on subsidized housing was slashed from $26 billion to $8 billion, contributing to a dramatic spike in homelessness. As a private sector solution, Reagan signed the LIHTC into law in 1986 to counterbalance the cuts to direct federal spending.

LIHTC’s market-based answer to affordable housing was successful enough that subsequent administrations maintained the program while continuing to whittle away at Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds. LIHTC became the best — or rather, only — hope for Americans in need. But in cities like New York, LIHTC wasn’t enough to mitigate the surge and suffering of homelessness.

Although LIHTC helped develop or preserve approximately 122,000 affordable properties in New York City from 1994 to 2014, the city still endured a net loss of 150,000 rent stabilized apartments, leaving tens of thousands of New Yorkers with nowhere to go but the street or a shelter.  

Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to this crisis with a pledge to add 100,000 affordable units by 2020. But experts at Novogradac & Company estimate that, if the House tax bill passes, that number could fall by two thirds.

Even if PABs are retained in the reconciled bill, the corporate tax rate reduction alone will result in the loss of around 300,000 affordable units nationally.

By squeezing the funding pipeline for affordable housing tighter than ever before, both bills crush the supply of affordable housing and the low-income families that rely on it.

This cannot happen — not on our watch, not in our city, and not in our country. This isn’t a partisan issue, it’s a moral one. We have a duty, to our city and our neighbors, to speak out against any provision that would threaten the supply of affordable housing at this most critical time in our country’s history.

Although the House and Senate have approved their respective bills, the final version has yet to be agreed upon. Now is the time to urge our representatives to reject any final bill that removes the tax-exempt status of PABs and cuts the corporate tax rate.

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George McDonald is founder and president of The Doe Fund. On Twitter at @GeorgeTMcDonald and @TheDoeFund.

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Federal Tax Reform Could Turn City’s Housing Crisis into a Humanitarian Disaster Mon, 11 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Enhancing City Efforts to Move Individuals from Homelessness to Homes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7323:enhancing-city-efforts-to-move-individuals-from-homelessness-to-homes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7323:enhancing-city-efforts-to-move-individuals-from-homelessness-to-homes tenant apartment de Blasio affordable

new tenants (photo via Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Amid this National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, as organizations across the country bring attention to the issues of hunger and homelessness, it’s important to also bring attention to and advocate for thoughtful policy solutions that address the gaps in our current efforts. On homelessness, it is essential that we provide landlords and formerly homeless tenants the support they need to both encourage landlords to rent to people without stable housing and address tenancy issues as they arise instead of amid the emergency of homelessness.   

According to the City’s Turning the Tide on Homelessness in New York City, as of February, the de Blasio Administration had helped 51,500 individuals move from homeless shelters to housing or keep their housing under the threat of homelessness. This is a striking number when considered in the context of current homelessness numbers, illustrating the extent of our housing affordability crisis. Despite preventing or ending homelessness for tens of thousands of New Yorkers, there remains a crisis. At best, city homelessness has only stabilized, if you consider Furman Center analysis that the 2 percent increase in the city shelter census from 2015-16 is the lowest yearly increase since 2011.

Amid our difficult housing market, the City must do even more to turn the tide on moving individuals from shelter to permanent housing and keeping them housed. Paramount is enhancing landlord engagement. As Turning the Tide notes, landlords are “key partners” in the “continued success” of rental subsidy programs and moving individuals from shelter to home.

To an extent, the City engages landlords in housing those experiencing homelessness. It offers landlords signing bonuses and security deposits to mitigate the perceived risks of renting to those with City rental subsidies. It will also provide a 2 percent rent escalator for new scattered-site supportive housing units to incentivize landlords to provide units. (The City’s “NYC 15/15” program aims to build 15,000 units of supportive housing, permanent housing that includes social services, over 15 years.)

The City also engages landlords in housing the homeless through its public-private partnerships. For example, the Come Home NYC program with Enterprise Community Partners, engages landlords in permanently housing homeless families with income. Enterprise recruited landlords to provide apartments, offering participating landlords a guarantee of up to $3,000 per lease to offset costs like missed rent and legal fees.

Financial incentives are an important carrot to spur landlords to rent to people experiencing homelessness. Concerns and stigmas about renting to this population exist, even if unfounded. For its Home No Less Will Do Campaign, homeless charity Crisis UK researched landlord attitudes on renting to homeless people, surveying nearly 1,000 landlords and interviewing landlords and landlord organizations. It found 82 percent of surveyed landlords unwilling to rent to this population due to a perceived greater risk of rent arrears and intensive tenancy management; and when renting to the homeless, 18 percent increased the security deposit and 16 percent increased rent.

But New York City should engage landlords with more than financial incentives. For example, offer landlords other carrots to encourage them to rent to those with City rental subsidies or Section 8 vouchers. One useful tool is a named contact for the landlord to utilize in the event of tenancy issues. In another Crisis UK survey, a majority of landlords stated that having a named contact, in addition to direct rental payments and guaranteed funds, would incentivize them to rent to homeless people. Also according to Crisis’ anecdotal evidence from a tenancy support program, landlords appreciate having the consistent tenancy support of reputable nonprofit providers when renting to these prospective tenants.

One example the City should consider is the City of Boston’s recently launched Landlord Guarantee Pilot Program. The program is based on a national model to address homelessness in cities with rental markets like New York City - very competitive with extremely low vacancy rates. It has been successful in Seattle and Portland, and New York City should consider it.

Like New York City’s current landlord engagement, the Boston program offers landlords financial incentives such as access to funds for losses like unpaid rent and apartment damages. In addition, it offers landlords other incentives to rent to those with a housing subsidy. One is a landlord partner who supports the landlord-tenant relationship. Another is access to landlord resources such as free mediation services. A landlord partner and landlord resources address landlords’ perceived risks in renting to people experiencing homelessness. Importantly, they also switch the emphasis from acting in a crisis to maintaining tenancy, assisting landlords with resolving issues that could derail the tenancy, before they rise to eviction and homelessness.

As the impact of City efforts to move individuals from homelessness to housing demonstrates, we need to do more to really impact, prevent, and reduce homelessness. This means looking outside the traditional boundaries we work within in New York City. We cannot build our way out of homelessness. We also cannot repeat the mistakes of the past. Ending homelessness requires various sectors working together in partnership.

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Nicole Bramstedt is the Director of Policy at Urban Pathways, a nonprofit social services and supportive housing organization serving homeless adults. On Twitter at @UrbanPathwaysNY.

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Enhancing City Efforts to Move Individuals from Homelessness to Homes Wed, 15 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
City Increasingly Paying Back Rent to Keep Tenants from Homelessness http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7326:city-increasingly-paying-back-rent-to-keep-tenants-from-homelessness http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7326:city-increasingly-paying-back-rent-to-keep-tenants-from-homelessness de Blasio homelessness

De Blasio discusses homelessness (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


In the effort to fight a steady, decades-long rise in homelessness, the de Blasio administration has significantly increased the city’s rental assistance programs over the past four years. A variety of programs including vouchers for those seeking to reenter stable housing from shelter, the effort also entails paying back rent for those at risk of losing their apartments.

Known as “rent arrears” payments, the de Blasio administration has dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars to keep New Yorkers in their homes and out of the shelter system. While this and other efforts, like significant increases in city-funded legal assistance to tenants facing eviction in housing court, have not reversed the upward trend in the shelter census, combined efforts have kept thousands of families in their homes and led to a break in the trajectory of the homelessness population -- the shelter census has hovered around 60,000 for all of 2017.

The de Blasio administration has estimated that well over 70,000 people would be homeless were it not for its efforts. At the same time, an increase in homelessness under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s watch, leading to multiple shake-ups in the administration’s approach to the issue and personnel in charge, has been one of the biggest areas of criticism for the mayor and one where he has openly admitted an insufficient response.

When de Blasio took office, there were roughly 51,500 people in city shelters, according to numbers the mayor used during a February speech outlining new plans to combat homelessness. During the 12 years of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, homelessness grew to that number from about 31,000. During Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s eight years in office, the shelter census grew from 24,000 to that 31,000.

While homelessness has grown under de Blasio, this year has shown a fairly sustained pause in that growth, one the administration attributes to its suite of programs and immense resources devoted to both re-housing people experiencing homelessness and keeping at-risk people in their homes. A key piece of the puzzle has been the increase in rent arrears payments.

In 2016, the city provided 58,167 households with rent arrears payments totaling more than $214 million, with an average of $3,688 per case. This was an increase from 54,737 households and $188 million in 2015; up from 48,654 cases and $149 million in 2014, the first year of de Blasio’s time as mayor, according to data provided by the administration’s Human Resources Administration (HRA).

Before de Blasio took office, the city was also using rent arrears payments through HRA. In 2013 about 47,000 households were helped with $127 million in rent arrears; in 2012, 44,500 were helped with $121 million; and in 2011, 40,300 households with $107 million, according to HRA.

The final year of the Bloomberg administration, 2013, compared to 2016 under de Blasio, shows rent arrears payments provided to about 25% more households. The average disbursement has gone from $2,695 to $3,668, indicative of the increased cost of housing in the city and the widening gaps between incomes and rents, according to the city. HRA indicated that rent arrears efforts have continued to grow in 2017.

“As part of this Administration’s overall effort to prevent evictions and alleviate homelessness, over the past three years we have rebuilt rental assistance and rehousing programs that had been eliminated in 2011, expanded legal services for tenants and enhanced emergency rent assistance,” said HRA spokesperson Lourdes Centeno, in a statement. “By providing emergency rent assistance, we have helped more than 300,000 New Yorkers remain in their homes while saving taxpayers’ money because rental assistance is much less expensive than the cost of a homeless shelter. Helping New Yorkers at risk of eviction remains a crucial priority for this Administration.”

The mayor has not only increased resources going toward homelessness prevention and reduction, as well as toward simply sheltering those experiencing homelessness (some at pricey hotels and at decrepit shelters), he also signed into law a “right to counsel” bill that will cover the vast majority of low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court, where they often do not have legal representation without the city’s help. While he had been increasing funding toward such legal services, de Blasio only agreed to such a law after intensive lobbying from City Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, the co-sponsors of the bill, and advocates.

Before that, though, de Blasio in February announced his second reboot of the administration’s approach to homelessness, with a focus on opening new shelters to keep people close to their communities, jobs, and support networks, while eliminating the use of costly hotels and substandard “cluster site” shelters.

“I said honestly, since we’ve come in, we’ve had to struggle to deal with a constant flow of people coming in, and that got to our worst point just about the time of Thanksgiving last year,” de Blasio said in February when releasing his new plan, Turning the Tide on Homelessness in New York City. “We reached the peak population that’s ever been in shelter, 60,709. Today, we have just over 60,000 people in shelter. By the end 2021, we will get down 57,500.”

De Blasio has been criticized for proposing to open 90 new shelters and for setting such a modest goal in homelessness reduction, which he admitted was such when he announced it.

According to the latest numbers available from the Department of Homeless Services, there were 60,325 people in homeless shelters on Tuesday of this week. (There are somewhere around another 2,000-4,000 people living on the streets, a population that is challenging to accurately quantify, members of which the de Blasio administration has launched new efforts to bring into shelter.)

In an interview earlier this year, de Blasio’s homelessness czar, Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks, said that while he was impatient to make more progress, “breaking the trajectory itself was a significant achievement. Three-and-a-half years in, there are signs of progress and signs of much more we need to do.”

Banks said that other than more federal and state help, the pieces were all in place to not just break the upward trendline, but put it in reverse. He often cites a “prevention-first strategy,” and listed “more supportive housing, more rental assistance, more outreach on the streets, more help to prevent evictions, more money for rent arrears, a shelter system to keep people close to their networks.” He added, “Reforms that we have wanted for years, now we’re putting them in place.”

Discussing the increase in rent arrears payments on Wednesday, Giselle Routhier, policy director at Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group, said that “the scale of the numbers highlights the scale of the need that’s out there. The number of cases and the investment indicate the widespread need across the city, something we should all be concerned about. But it’s good that the city is making these efforts to keep people housed.”

“This highlights one aspect of what the de Blasio administration is doing right -- prevention efforts,” Routhier said. “But when we’re talking about reducing record homelessness in New York City, we have to look at how they are helping people in shelter move into housing.”

Routhier added a word of criticism and previewed a City Council hearing schedule for this coming Monday. “Today he released Housing New York 2.0, in which he’s increasing the target number of units,” she said, “a vast increase in the total housing plan, but there’s no mention of an increase in the number of units for homeless households. For us, that’s a concern given the number of people in homeless shelters.”

Of de Blasio’s original 200,000-unit, ten-year affordable housing plan (now upped to 300,000 units over 12 years) there were 10,000 units dedicated to homeless households.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City Increasingly Paying Back Rent to Keep Tenants from Homelessness Wed, 15 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
De Blasio's Record on Poverty and Inequality http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7280:de-blasio-s-record-on-poverty-and-inequality http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7280:de-blasio-s-record-on-poverty-and-inequality de Blasio equality shaking hands crowd

Mayor de Blasio at an announcement (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


This article is part of a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. Find all pieces of the series here.

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Bill de Blasio ran for Mayor in 2013 as an unabashed progressive, painting the image of a city cleaved in an even two by its wealth distribution. There existed, he explained, a relatively small class of New Yorkers at the top holding the majority of the city’s wealth and making immense sums of income each year. The rest, a large underclass of New Yorkers struggling to make ends meet, left behind during the boom of the Bloomberg years and decades of insufficient federal policy, especially on taxes and redistribution of wealth. De Blasio envisioned, with lofty rhetoric and ambitious policies, bridging that gap and pulling up those at the bottom while asking those doing very well to chip in a bit more.

He was elected overwhelmingly.

“New York has faced fiscal collapse, a crime epidemic, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters. But now, in our time, we face a different crisis – an inequality crisis,” de Blasio declared in his inaugural address as mayor on January 1, 2014. “It’s not often the stuff of banner headlines in our daily newspapers. It’s a quiet crisis, but one no less pernicious than those that have come before.”

Equity became the foundation of the de Blasio administration, enshrined in virtually every policy coming from City Hall and, more comprehensively, in the OneNYC roadmap for the city’s future, which sets poverty reduction and other goals to fulfill de Blasio’s promises.

Whether it’s affordable housing, sustainability, economic development, community infrastructure, or education, the administration has sought to build equity, though de Blasio has at times been accused of not going far enough by those who had immense expectations of him. Tellingly, under de Blasio, the annual Mayor’s Management Report, which is mandated by law and details the accomplishments of more than 40 city agencies on hundreds of performance indicators, included for the first time evaluations of agency efforts for their “focus on equity.”

With data showing an acute poverty problem in New York City, amid its immense wealth and gleaming towers, de Blasio sought to drastically increase opportunities available to poor, working class, and middle class people, and reduce the number of people in or near poverty, a rate that stood at roughly 21 percent -- or 1.74 million people -- when he took office.

De Blasio set the city on a path that he believes will reach the OneNYC goal of pulling 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty or near poverty by 2025. And though the results of many of his policy actions cannot easily be gauged in the short term, there are a few clear indicators that the city’s approach is working. Notably, between 2014 and the end of 2017, about 281,000 New Yorkers will have left poverty or near-poverty simply due to an increase in the minimum wage to $11. That wage, set by state policy that de Blasio and his allies have helped influence, is set to jump to $13 at the start of 2018 and hit $15 per hour in New York City on December 31, 2018 for companies with 11 or more employees (the wages will be $12 then $14 for smaller companies).

According to five-year estimates from the American Community Survey for 2011-2015, about 20.6 percent of New York City residents lived below the federal poverty level. The latest one-year ACS supplemental estimates for 2016, released September 14, show improvement. People living under the poverty level in New York City, measured by the federal threshold, fell to 18.9 percent or 1.59 million New Yorkers, itself still an astonishingly large number. And, the number remained marginally higher than the pre-recession poverty level of 18.5 percent in 2008 and far higher than the national poverty level of 14 percent in 2016.

The federal measure only takes into account pre-tax cash income. New York City has its own poverty measure which also accounts for non-cash benefits, tax credits, and housing subsidies, and sets a threshold that includes housing costs to judge poverty more accurately. By city estimates, poverty in the city is at its lowest since the Great Recession, at 19.9 percent in 2015, down from 20.7 in 2013. The city’s data does not account for the latest ACS microdata yet.

Although the mayor has little control over the broad contours of the economy, he has been able to use the significant authority at the local level to enact a multi-faceted approach to lifting up wages, giving low-wage earners better opportunities, and enhancing access to city services for New York’s most disadvantaged residents.

In his first term, de Blasio has invested heavily in early childhood education and the universal pre-kindergarten program, his signature achievement, is serving nearly 70,000 children in 2017 (up from 20,000 prior to the UPK expansion) and is estimated by the city to have put $1.4 billion back in the pockets of New Yorkers who do not have to pay for child care. About 500,000 people were covered by the city’s expansion of paid sick leave in 2014, especially helping low-wage workers become more likely to keep their jobs if they get sick and need to miss work.

And though the city’s homelessness crisis continues to be blight on the mayor’s record, he has taken steps to stem the tide by funding free legal assistance for tenants in housing court and increasing rental subsidies for low-income families. In the lead up to Election Day, de Blasio announced an expansion of his affordable housing program, from a target of 200,000 affordable rental units over 10 years to 300,000 over 12.

On Tuesday, the mayor said he would also double the number of units planned for seniors from 15,000 to 30,000. This, after having adjusted his housing plan earlier this year to increase the number of deeply affordable units and those for seniors.

De Blasio has increased funding and attention to NYCHA, the public housing authority home to about half a million New Yorkers, while launching a community parks initiative and a variety of other programs aimed at equity across neighborhoods and demographics. IDNYC, the city’s municipal identity program with 863,464 card holders, allowed more New Yorkers, particularly undocumented immigrants, to avail of city services. These are among other initiatives, both large and small, that the administration has set in motion to increase opportunity, especially for those struggling.

Most significantly in terms of income inequality, de Blasio made a concerted effort in his first term to push for a higher minimum wage at the local and state level. The increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 in 2013 to $11 has had its intended consequences. Last year, the mayor approved an increase to a $15 minimum wage, by the end of 2018, for all city employees and nonprofit human services contractors, the groups for which he has discretion. He also instituted a paid family leave program for 20,000 city workers whose contracts are not part of labor union collective bargaining. New York State followed in the city’s footsteps by announcing its $15 minimum wage program, which is phased in faster in New York City than several other parts of the state, and a paid family leave program that begins its phase-in in 2018.

“De Blasio deserves a lot of credit for that, and it appears to be having a pronounced effect in reducing poverty,” said James Parrott, director of economic and fiscal policy at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, of the minimum wage efforts.

Other than the paid sick leave law and universal pre-kindergarten, according to Parrott, a chief accomplishment of the administration has been the settling of 99.1 percent of expired municipal union contracts, which gave many low- and moderate-income workers wage increases. Parrott also cited other positive developments, including new labor protections for freelancers and the creation of an Office of Labor Standards at the Department of Consumer Affairs. “I’m not gonna give [de Blasio] all the credit but the things he has done have led to some pretty remarkable improvements in wages and incomes of the bottom 30-40 percent of the income distribution since 2013,” Parrott said.

Parrott also noted that there are limitations in judging progress from the federal poverty measure or from the Gini coefficient, a statistical tool used by the U.S. Census to measure income inequality. Instead, Parrott prefers to use income tax data, which he said shows a more complete picture of wealth distribution, combined with other data measures on wages and family income. All these together, he said, have shown “the best improvements in the last 30 to 40 years, it could even be 50 years if we had comparable data to make a careful comparison.”

An encouraging trend, evinced from 2016 census data, is that median household income in 2016  was $58,856, up from $56,457 in 2015, and surpassing the pre-recession peak level of $56,982 in 2008, according to an analysis by the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York. Median incomes for families with children grew at 10.4 percent between 2015-2016, outpacing overall household income growth. Black and Latino New Yorkers benefited from the largest decreases in poverty rates -- nearly 2 percentage points each -- and poverty fell across racial and ethnic groups. The report did point out some worrying trends. Poverty on Staten Island, for instance, was 3.2 points higher than pre-recession levels; income increases were concentrated in Manhattan and Brooklyn; and the gap in median household income for racial and ethnic groups, which expanded during the recession, has continued to grow.

Jennifer March, executive director of CCCNY, praised numerous policies enacted by the de Blasio administration that are “positioned as vehicles to combat income inequality,” including universal prekindergarten and its planned expansion to three-year-olds, the paid sick leave expansion, the minimum wage increase, the recent implementation of free universal school lunch and universal after-school programs for middle school students. She also commended initiatives such as the piloting of child savings accounts, and the overall efforts at creating affordable housing and rent freezes for rent-regulated tenants.

“Those things combined really suggest that he has an ambitious multi-pronged approach to help families and New Yorkers afford to live here and to reduce the gap between those that are earning more and those that are really struggling,” she said.

In 2015, de Blasio launched an ill-fated attempt to influence the national conversation around income inequality through a nonprofit organization that brought together progressive elected officials, leaders, and celebrities from across the country. The nonprofit, the Progressive Agenda Committee, fizzled out after an unsuccessful bid to host a presidential candidate forum in Iowa in late 2015, and de Blasio’s message about economic inequality and the need to put it at the forefront of the Democratic platform was largely subsumed by the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Since the election of President Donald Trump, de Blasio has doubled down on his agenda, pushing multiple proposed tax increases on wealthy New Yorkers -- which would require action by the State -- to fund items such as affordable housing for seniors and subsidized transit fares for low-income commuters. De Blasio has regularly criticized the Hillary Clinton campaign for not focusing on economic populism enough.

As he heads toward an expected second term, de Blasio has announced a shift to actively creating better paying jobs in burgeoning economic sectors and building talent pipelines to ensure that New York City residents are the beneficiaries of city-funded economic growth. He acknowledged, in a sobering State of the City speech this year, that “people are so fundamentally challenged by the affordability crisis that this city simply must do more and must do it quickly.”  

“So many people love this city. But here is a blunt truth,” he said. “They love it, but that doesn't mean it's easy to live here. Right? For a lot of seniors, this is not an easy place to live. For a lot of young people just starting out, it's not so easy. For folks struggling to make ends meet, this can be a punishing environment.”

De Blasio announced the broad contours of a plan to use city resources to spur the growth of 100,000 jobs paying at least $50,000 over a 10-year period. A few months later, he and his team unveiled a more detailed plan, which was met with snickers about a lack of detail and questions about its necessity, or whether it is more of an election year gimmick.

As many people evaluate the mayor in his reelection bid, the stubborn nature of income inequality and the fact that so many New Yorkers continue to struggle to live secure, decent lives raise questions about de Blasio’s ability to deliver on his core 2013 promises. The mayor has largely shifted his lens, at least when speaking publicly, from income inequality and toward efforts to lift up those at the bottom.

De Blasio is, in part, a victim of his own rhetoric, says Alex Armlovich, adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. “That wasn’t a good promise to make on the mayoral level,” said Armlovich, of the mayor’s commitment to fight the “tale of two cities” that he evoked on the campaign trail. “Inequality is a national issue. At the local level, [population] displacement and retention effects are going to swamp your efforts to reduce inequality.”

In a report released earlier this month, Armlovich noted that income inequality as judged by the Gini coefficient has in fact remained flat under de Blasio and that changes in income inequality were affected by compensation trends in the financial sector rather than by the city’s policies. The Gini measures income distribution on a scale of 0 to 1, and the higher it is, the higher the inequality. The city’s Gini score in 2016 was about 0.55. Armlovich pointed out that city policies that help poor New Yorkers live in the city, such as more affordable housing, naturally increase the Gini, even though they are laudable policy goals, because they wind up keeping many low-income people from moving elsewhere.

Debate over the use of the Gini notwithstanding, Armlovich said the mayor should focus on providing equitable services across the five boroughs. “That’s what you can hold the mayor accountable for, because the mayor doesn’t control the economy,” he said. “His whole mistake in all of this was making himself politically accountable for a statistic that he doesn’t control.”

In an interview with The Daily News editorial board, the mayor insisted that the static Gini score was not reflective of a failure by his administration. “I'm very comfortable saying when I think something that I've done has not worked, or hasn't worked well enough,” he said. “But on this one, because we have seen job growth, we have seen wage growth, we have seen people getting out of poverty, we certainly have tangible evidence of reducing people's economic burdens. I think the central question is, were we going to give folks, low-income folks, working class people, middle class people, all of whom felt economically stuck, were we gonna give them more upward mobility? That's the central question in New York. It's also the central question in the country. Here we've been able to prove, not just because of public sector policies, but sustainability because of public sector policies, that we can increase upward mobility. That doesn't answer the question about the rich getting richer. Now, again, how do you address that? In my view, most notably, through tax policy.”

Indeed, income is one measure of inequality, and de Blasio has consistently sought to go further, whether in his attention to NYCHA or his parks or community schools efforts. He’s increased the city’s annual operating budget by about 18% since taking office, up to its current $85 billion, in large part to expand services and add to the public payroll, including thousands more early education teachers, police officers, and others. While some can aptly criticize this budget growth and others question how effective additional spending has been in certain areas, there is little question that de Blasio has heavily invested taxpayer money in building equity.

The CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance devised the NYC Equality Score, a tool for a more holistic view of inequality in the city, first published in 2015, with 95 indicators across six areas: economy, education, health, housing, justice, and services. Out of a possible 100, the city’s 2016 score was 46.01, up from 45.45 in 2015. “These scores suggest that NYC continues to be characterized by vast inequalities, and that when looking at the city as a whole, little has changed,” the report reads. “Generally speaking this score means that overall, the disadvantaged groups represented here are almost twice as likely as those not disadvantaged to experience negative outcomes in fundamental areas of life, as measured by the Equality Indicators.”

“It’s such a daunting challenge,” said City Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the general welfare committee, which tackles with issues including poverty and homelessness (and was once chaired by de Blasio himself), “because you’re dealing with broader economic issues, you’re dealing with the persistent challenge of lack of affordable housing, and you’re dealing with the issues in Albany.” Levin was referring to state government, where Republicans hold power over the state Senate and often put the kibosh on progressive legislation floated by Democrats who control the Assembly and supported by de Blasio. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who de Blasio often feuds with, is inconsistent in his support for policies backed by the mayor, regularly opposing any tax increases.

Levin, a fellow Brooklyn Democrat who has endorsed de Blasio for reelection, said the mayor’s dedication on equity is “indisputable.” “This mayor and administration are using every tool in their toolbox,” he said, lamenting their inability to affect larger trends that can be influenced much more strongly by either state or federal policy. “I expect that over the next four years, this continues to be a priority.”

De Blasio does face significant challenges ahead. Federal policy proposals on taxes and healthcare threaten to blow holes in the state and city budgets, and could shred the city’s social safety net. Large-scale budget cuts at a time when the city’s budget has ballooned by billions of dollars would put the mayor in a tough spot, despite the significant rainy day funds built up over the last four years.

“What remains to be fixed is the highly regressive nature of the local tax structure, and mainly the property tax system,” said Parrott, of the New School. “He has to really work on it to figure out how to build the alliance in Albany. And he’s gotta keep making tweaks to his policies on affordable housing, homelessness, and education.” De Blasio has promised to push property tax reform if he’s reelected but has not provided specific details for addressing a system that is seen as disadvantageous to many middle-class New Yorkers of color because of how assessments are made in part based on geography.

CCCNY’s March said the mayor should advocate for deepening the earned income tax credit and the child care tax credit, both of which bolster the finances of working families and would require the state to pass legislation. “I think the challenge he will face moving forward, assuming he’s reelected, is the federal context in which we’re working,” she said, noting for instance that 900,000 children in New York rely on some form of public health insurance, which face proposed federal cuts. She also stressed the need for increased investment in affordable housing and reducing family homelessness. “One of the biggest conundrums will be that incomes have not kept pace with rising rents in the city,” she said, pointing to a challenge frequently cited by de Blasio and his top aides, like social services Commissioner Steven Banks.

“Many of the things that he started in his first term, we will see the real benefits of years from now,” March added. “Whether that’s universal pre-K, universal school lunch, or universal after-school for middle school, all of those things. It’s the consistent access that populations have to programs that are designed to promote school preparedness or reduce hunger or promote a college-oriented identity, over time we will see the results of these things.”

Mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips declined to comment for this article. Emails and messages to spokespersons for the Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services went unanswered.

A Quinnipiac University Poll from July 31 showed that a majority of New Yorkers, 63 percent, disapproved of the way de Blasio has handled poverty and homelessness while only 29 percent approved. In eight polls conducted by Quinnipiac between 2015 and 2017, it was the worst appraisal the mayor received on the issue, likely due to the problems de Blasio has had in controlling and reducing homelessness.

Another particular issue related to poverty and inequality where de Blasio has disappointed advocates has been his lack of direct support for the “Fair Fares” proposal, which would provide half-price MetroCards to 800,000 low-income New Yorkers.

The proposal was created by two advocacy groups, the Community Service Society and Riders Alliance. De Blasio refused to fund the proposal in the city budget and wouldn’t support a pilot program floated by the City Council either, instead insisting the state-run MTA should provide the funds to those riding its services. Eventually, in his “Fair Fix” proposal for funding mass transit through a tax increase on the highest-earning New Yorkers -- which would need state-level approval -- the mayor included a set-aside for Fair Fares, which he called an “ultimate act of justice” despite his hesitance to identify the roughly $200 million to cover it annually. It’s unlikely that the state Senate, run by Republicans, or Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who largely opposes tax increases, would approve the so-called millionaires tax in 2018, which is a state-level election year.

“That would have a significant impact on low-income New Yorkers, first financially, but also by helping them access better jobs, training, things that would increase their upward mobility,” said Nancy Rankin, vice president for policy, research and advocacy, CSS. “It’s unfathomable to us why [Mayor de Blasio] wouldn’t want to do something that’s at the core of what he says his administration is about. That’s why people voted for him. That’s a practical step that would make an enormous difference in people’s lives.”

Council Member Levin holds out hope that the balance of the state Legislature would shift in next year’s election cycle towards Democrats who are friendlier to New York City and its progressive priorities. “Hopefully some of the dynamics shift and we can move the dial in a more accelerated way,” he said.

Jesse Laymon, director of policy and advocacy at the New York City Employment and Training Coalition, an organization comprised of more than 150 workforce providers, praised the de Blasio administration for leveraging economic growth into lifting wages at the bottom of the economic ladder, but nonetheless had pointed criticism for their policies. “It’s one thing to make it less terrible to be poor in New York, and I think they’ve done a good job of making it less terrible to be poor, but they have not done a great job of making it easier to get out of poverty,” he said. “And that’s really the goal that they should focus more attention on in the second term.”

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This article is part of a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. Find all pieces of the series here.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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De Blasio's Record on Poverty and Inequality Tue, 31 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
‘Fair Share’ Reform – An Essential Step to Solving the City’s Homelessness Crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7159:fair-share-reform-a-key-step-to-solving-the-city-s-homelessness-crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7159:fair-share-reform-a-key-step-to-solving-the-city-s-homelessness-crisis Carlina Rivera

Carlina Rivera, the author (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


Repairing the subways, closing Rikers, rescuing failing schools – it can seem like New York’s most insurmountable crises are always being dealt with by cutting corners and taking the path of least resistance. This isn’t how it’s always been in our city. When the city passed the historic Fair Share Criteria in 1989, officials finally said enough to the inequitable distribution of city facilities and called for investment in a long-term plan for facility siting in the future.

These rules were supposed to require the city to place facilities in a thought-out, deliberative process that factored in their potential effectiveness as well as the input of the community. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case.

Over the years, the original Fair Share Criteria have been found to be non-transparent and filled with loopholes that city officials and agencies continue to exploit to this day, particularly when it comes to homeless shelter siting.

The city’s new homelessness plan shows this disregard for Fair Share, with officials looking to place shelters in the easiest-to-build locations in order to satisfy the plan's goal of building 90 new shelters. Sadly, this means that overburdened communities are once again seeing shelters open just blocks away from existing shelters, while nearby neighborhoods continue with few or no shelters at all. This is a clear misallocation of resources that will only help to exacerbate difficulties around existing shelters.

Want a real example of how Fair Share isn’t being factored into the city’s homelessness response? One of the newest facilities in the city, a 28-unit shelter that is set to open soon in on East 17th Street in Gramercy, perfectly illustrates the current situation. This shelter is exactly what the city needs – its small size will create a safer, more comfortable environment for its residents, and the facility will have access to the programs that can get New Yorkers back on their feet.

But this shelter’s innovations quickly end when it comes to its location. The site was quietly chosen largely because it was a former treatment center and easy to develop, even though the community already has nearly 1000 beds within walking distance at the 30th Street Men’s Shelter. With such a large population and a lack of individualized supportive services, this shelter has been a disappointment for many who reside in it and a continued complaint of local residents who see hundreds of men outside each day with seemingly no path to housing stability.

I want our district to be a role model for the rest of the city, where we each accept the same, equal responsibility to help. When I am elected to the City Council, passing the recently announced Fair Share reform package will be one of my first legislative goals.

I also understand that new shelters such as the one on 17th Street will be a real resource for our community’s most vulnerable residents. However, we also must be fair and recognize the terrible situation occurring at large, less-effective shelters such as 30th Street, and couple any new shelter openings with a reduction of beds at larger or failing shelters. This would bring shelters like 30th Street more in line with the smarter, smaller shelters we need in this city.

For years the city favored quick fixes over a long-term solution to homelessness. But homelessness has never been an issue that can just be swept under the rug and forgot about, or dealt with by warehousing people. It requires a forward-thinking strategy that looks at each level of the homelessness support structure and honestly asks if we can do better.

A better Fair Share is the first step in this process, and it won’t be easy. But our city’s biggest accomplishments have always emerged from the most visionary ideas. We know what needs to be done – now we just need the courage to follow through with it.

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Carlina Rivera is a candidate for New York City Council’s District 2, which covers the East Village, Gramercy Park, Kips Bay, Flatiron, Lower East Side, Murray Hill, Rose Hill. On Twitter @CarlinaRivera.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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‘Fair Share’ Reform – An Essential Step to Solving the City’s Homelessness Crisis Mon, 28 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Did Street Homelessness in New York City Really Just Increase by Nearly 40%? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7087:did-street-homelessness-in-new-york-city-really-just-increase-by-nearly-40 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7087:did-street-homelessness-in-new-york-city-really-just-increase-by-nearly-40 de Blasio walking snow

(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


Is the number of people homeless on New York City streets skyrocketing?

There were 3,892 unsheltered homeless people on the streets or outside in public places on the cold night this past February when New York City conducted its annual street homelessness count, according to the City’s own statistics released this month. That’s a jolting 39-plus percent increase in one year over the 2016 street homelessness count of 2,794.

The good news is that many advocates and academics don’t really think there was a 39-plus percent increase in street homelessness in one year. The bad news is that’s because most of them never thought the decreases in street homelessness reported in 2014, 2015 and 2016 were accurate either.

New York City’s HOPE Count (Homeless Outreach Population Estimate) is an annual one-night count of unsheltered people experiencing homelessness on New York City streets, or in public places. The City readily notes it’s really an estimate. It is the point-in-time (PIT) census type count required by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development from all communities in order to qualify for certain federal funding for homelessness service programs.

These PIT canvasses count both people who are sheltered and unsheltered. In most communities the great majority of people experiencing homelessness are unsheltered. In New York City, though not in any other major city, there is a an enforceable legal “right to shelter” for most people in need, so that the great majority of homeless people in New York City -- more than in any other U.S. community -- are sheltered. The city can provide a completely accurate “daily census” of people in the Department of Homeless Services shelters each and every day. Counting people who are living rough on the streets or in other public places is a very difficult proposition.

Any large scale “count” in a city like New York is a massive undertaking. New York City annually mobilizes between 3,000 and 3,500 volunteers to work with city staff in counting in over 1,500 defined areas, all over one night. They even have a “decoy” program, employing people to be on the streets in the role of unsheltered homeless people over the time of the HOPE count to see how many of the decoys (call them a sort of control group) do or don’t get counted, and use the ratio of counted to uncounted decoys to assist in making the estimate.

These kinds of counts were invented in New York City. Experts have called the New York City effort “the gold standard” of the point-in-time count. This, of course, is not to say the HOPE Count is actually accurate.

There are both unavoidable inherent reasons the accuracy of the count is problematic and problems with the way the count is conducted. To understand the inherent problems, just recognize that this is an effort to count many people who are hiding from view, and many people who do not want to be included in the count.

One of several major problems in the way the count is conducted is that it intentionally limits itself only to counting those on the streets or in public places. But every New Yorker knows many unstably housed people often spend very cold nights in what might be called semi-public enclosed spaces. Think people who hang out overnight in a 24-hour McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts. And remember, the point in time count is typically scheduled on a January night which tends to be extremely cold. In fact, at least twice in recent years the point in time count was pushed back to the first week in February due to snow storm predictions, but still was held on bitterly cold nights.

For the last several years the Bronx Health and Housing Consortium has conducted their own fascinating count on the very same night as the city’s HOPE Count -- but counted inside in some of the emergency rooms in the Bronx. Consortium President Henie Lustgarten, an organizer of the project that began in 2014, spoke about how the project works.

This volunteer project operating just in a few emergency rooms of hospitals that agreed to participate has developed an ingenuous methodology. In each emergency room they survey they count two groups of people as “homeless.”

First, anyone who registers for emergency treatment indicating they have no address or that they live in a shelter (but wouldn’t be in the DHS census for that night because they aren’t in shelter that night) is counted as homeless.

Second, people who spend the night in the emergency room area but never register to receive medical care are counted as homeless. Lustgarten indicated most of the time this unregistered cohort are sleeping in the waiting room or the emergency room hallways. In recent Consortium emergency room counts those not registered at all account for about half or more than half of their entire emergency room count.

In 2015, for example, surveying just five Bronx emergency rooms, the Bronx Health and Housing Consortium count was 120. The complete HOPE count for the Bronx that year was 69. The numbers and percentages vary, but consistently the Consortium emergency room count has been greater than the HOPE Count of street homeless people in the Bronx.

So the population of unsheltered people experiencing homelessness in New York City probably didn’t increase by 39-plus percent this year. Unfortunately, the real number is almost certainly more than the 3,892 people estimated in the 2017 HOPE Count.

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Jeff Foreman, who resides in Queens, is Policy and Advocacy Director for nonprofit Care for the Homeless. On Twitter @JeffForeman2 and @CFHNYC.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Did Street Homelessness in New York City Really Just Increase by Nearly 40%? Tue, 25 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Mayor De Blasio Let Me Down http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7084:mayor-de-blasio-let-me-down http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7084:mayor-de-blasio-let-me-down De Blasio speaking podium uptown

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


In 2013 I met then-Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio at a campaign event in midtown. I talked with him about my housing situation, that I had been laid off at work and the rent for my apartment had become too expensive. He said if he was elected, he would do what he could to help people like me. I voted for him.

Soon after our conversation, I lost my apartment. Three years later, I am still homeless. The promises de Blasio made to me seem far away, and now, I’m not sure he is still on our side.  Recently he openly criticized panhandlers and questioned whether we are poor enough to ask for money. He’s even said that panhandling “contributes to a decline in quality of life of New Yorkers.” I am a New Yorker - what about my quality of life?

While some things have changed since Mayor de Blasio took office, many others have remained largely the same.  Just last week the Mayor published an op-ed about his affordable housing plan. He announced that under his leadership, city government has constructed or preserved nearly 78,000 units of affordable housing, but our homeless population is still hovering around record highs of 60,000-plus.

New buildings are popping up in neighborhoods all over the city and our mayor is celebrating a successful affordable housing plan. So my question for him is, affordable for whom? Most of the units in his plan are for people whose income is much higher than mine, and not enough of it is set aside for homeless people. For me — and the tens of thousands of people like me — the numbers just don’t add up.

Clearly there is not enough housing being prioritized for homeless New Yorkers. And, even the systems that are supposed to help us get housed are full of problems. For the last six months I’ve had the Living in Communities (LINC) rental assistance program – a de Blasio program. If I found a place to live, I could potentially pay the rent with this voucher.

So why am I still homeless? Because landlords across the city are discriminating based on source of income. Landlords and brokers blatantly respond with “no programs,” or “no LINC,” when asked about potential apartments. This is flat-out illegal! While homeless people are getting arrested for jumping turnstiles, landlords are getting away with discrimination against poor people and they’re leaving us out on the street. What good is my LINC voucher if no landlord accepts it?

Everyone -- from city officials to service providers to homeless people -- knows that the subsidies are not keeping up with skyrocketing rents around the city, and the few places that are affordable are often found far away from people’s communities and support networks.

On top of broken rental assistance programs, the city continues to give away public resources that could house more homeless people. Over and over again, we hear about vacant lots, parking lots, or armories being given away to for-profit developers who get city subsidies to build luxury condos and market rate apartments that are often too expensive for the very community members who live there. Public land should be used for public good.

Mayor de Blasio may call me a “skeptic” or a “naysayer,” but before I applaud his housing plan that he says is for everyone, I need to see that homeless New Yorkers are truly included in it.

For the homeless, the solutions are simple: we need the city to make more housing available to us, we need systems in place to help us easily access this housing, we need the city to target bad actors who refuse to rent to homeless people, and we need the city to stop giving away valuable resources to developers who are more concerned about their profits than they are about our communities.

I am homeless not because it is “fun,” but because real estate profits have been put before my needs over and over again.

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Ruby Carrasquillo is a member of VOCAL-NY, a grassroots organization that builds power among low-income people impacted by homelessness, HIV/AIDS, drug use, and mass incarceration. On Twitter @VOCALNewYork.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Mayor De Blasio Let Me Down Mon, 24 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000