Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/980 Fri, 20 Apr 2018 18:14:33 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Shola Olatoye Did a Lot of Good for NYCHA http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7626:a-fair-look-at-shola-olatoye-s-nycha-tenure http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7626:a-fair-look-at-shola-olatoye-s-nycha-tenure NYCHA Olatoye

Outgoing NYCHA Chair Olatoye, center (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


As faith leaders in communities with large populations of NYCHA residents, we have witnessed the results of chronic disinvestment in public housing first-hand. NYCHA’s aging buildings are crumbling and many residents are worried about the health and safety of their children, elders, and neighbors.

Since 2001, NYCHA has been shortchanged $3 billion in federal operating and capital funding. NYCHA has been struggling to maintain and repair its aging housing stock for decades. And this is larger than New York City, public housing authorities all over the country are set up to fail, facing gutted budgets and regulatory barriers.

When she took her post as Chair and CEO of NYCHA, Shola Olatoye knew she needed to address these problems, so she worked with communities to make a plan. Under her leadership, we developed NextGeneration NYCHA, a 10-year plan to preserve and protect public housing for current residents as well as the next generation of New Yorkers and beyond. That plan became the road forward to safe, healthy, connected homes and communities for NYCHA residents.

Four years later, as NYCHA has strived to meet the NextGen goals, we have begun to see positive changes for the lives NYCHA residents. Under NextGen NYCHA, about 8,000 residents have been placed in jobs and 18,000 have been connected with services. NYCHA launched 14 new Youth Leadership Councils to give young people the tools they need to work with NYCHA leadership to help make policy decisions that impact the quality of life of NYCHA residents, and empower them to bring their perspective to the table.

We have also seen repair response times reduced from an average of 13 days down to four days and new “FlexOps” schedules that make frontline staff available for longer service hours. NYCHA has achieved more than $313 million in savings from NextGen initiatives and NYCHA has built up nearly 3 months of operating reserves. We are proud to have served on NYCHA’s Faith Leaders Committee and are grateful for Chair Olatoye’s leadership over the last four years.

To be clear, NYCHA’s problems didn’t come with the Chair and they certainly aren’t leaving with her. It is also now up to all of us to continue to fight for the 400,000 New Yorkers who call NYCHA home. We all bear some of the burden to fix this.

We are heartened to hear the commitment of Mayor de Blasio to the NextGeneration NYCHA plan, and hope the new Chair will continue to build upon this progress. We look forward to continuing to serve on NYCHA’s Faith Leaders Committee, supporting the incoming leadership, and working together for a brighter future.

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Rev. Marc Rivera leads Primitive Christian Church and Rev. Al Cockfield leads God’s Battalion of Prayer Church.

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

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Shola Olatoye Did a Lot of Good for NYCHA Thu, 19 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Suing NYCHA http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7597:max-murphy-suing-nycha http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7597:max-murphy-suing-nycha

Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette


April 9, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Suing NYCHA

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Danny Barber is the Chair of the Citywide Council of Presidents of NYCHA Tenant Associations and Elie Hecht is the Director of At Risk Community Services, which runs youth programming at NYCHA complexes. Barber and Hecht are also co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit against NYCHA, part of the recent increase in scrutiny of the public housing authority, and joined Max & Murphy for the podcast.

Barber and Hecht discuss their lawsuit as well as recent actions by Governor Andrew Cuomo regarding NYCHA, how Mayor de Blasio has managed the housing authority, and other issues related to public housing in New York City.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Suing NYCHA Mon, 09 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Key New York City Issues in Final State Budget Negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7567:key-new-york-city-issues-in-final-state-budget-negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7567:key-new-york-city-issues-in-final-state-budget-negotiations Cuomo budget presentation

Gov. Cuomo during his budget address (photo: Darren McGee/Governor's Office)


A state budget is due by the April 1 start to the new fiscal year, and lawmakers have pledged to have a spending plan -- which is likely to include several new policy items -- done before Friday, March 30, given the impending Passover and Easter holidays. As Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders negotiate a wide variety of policy and spending issues, many are important to New York City, not the least of which include determinations of state funding to the city for education, juvenile justice, public housing, and more.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has called Cuomo’s January $168 billion executive budget plan a mixed bag for the city, criticizing a handful of funding cuts or shifts, omissions, and proposals that he believes would hurt the city. Plans related to MTA funding, including a possible congestion pricing scheme, or at least one phase of such a program, are toward the top of the list of controversial measures being debated in Albany that are of utmost importance to de Blasio, other city-based elected officials, and city residents.

De Blasio testified in Albany in February, laying out the city’s state budget priorities and critiquing Cuomo’s budget proposals. Since then, controversy surrounding NYCHA, the MTA, design-build authority, and other policy and funding matters has only intensified.

Statewide tax reforms are at the top of Cuomo’s list, provoked by the federal tax code changes passed at the end of last year, and could have major implications in New York City. Beyond more basic negotiations over spending and funding, other statewide issues being debated in the state capital that are include sexual harassment prevention and punishment, voting reform, bail reform, and more.

Negotiations are largely being held among Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan of Long Island, and Jeff Klein, leader of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference, which has a ruling coalition agreement with Flanagan’s conference. Those “leaders meetings” as they are often called symbolize the “four men in a room” that is the oft-criticized phrase for Albany’s secretive, concentrated, and male-dominated decision-making. Making talks even more secretive this year is that they’ve mostly been held at The Governor’s Mansion, not at the state Capitol, home of the statehouse press corps and where rank-and-file legislators work.

Talks recently heated up after the Senate and Assembly passed their one-house budget resolutions, in which the majorities formalize their policy and spending priorities and proposals. The two houses, each with a different party in control, differ widely on a host of policy matters and budget priorities, though a large bulk of the budget is not controversial because education, Medicaid, and other funding is likely to be allocated from the state to localities largely as it has been for years.

Complicating matters is that this is a state-level election year, with Cuomo seeking a third term and all of the Legislature on the ballot as it is every two years. Party control of the state Senate hangs in the balance, in part through special elections set for April 24 that will fill two vacant Senate seats previously held by Democrats, which Cuomo purposefully scheduled for after the budget is set to be done.

A rundown of issues of special importance to New York City shows what’s at stake as state budget negotiations hit their final stages.

Public Housing and Infrastructure
During his state budget testimony, de Blasio singled out NYCHA as in need of reform and increased funding from the state. To that end, the State Assembly’s budget includes $275 million reserved for NYCHA repairs. The Senate included no additional funding for NYCHA in its spending plan. Cuomo has recently been appearing at NYCHA complexes, bashing de Blasio and the city for its management of the housing authority, and pledging state help, including a push for a new $250 million, design-build authority to speed repairs, and a state emergency declaration that would include use of a private company to manage fixes.

De Blasio has said he wants to see design-build authority for the city, including for NYCHA, additional state funds for the housing authority, and the release of millions of dollars in funds allocated in prior budgets. He has been skeptical or critical of the possible emergency declaration.

Cuomo had curiously left design-build -- a streamlined contracting and construction process -- for New York City out of his executive budget. The Assembly has passed a bill authorizing design-build for several projects in the city, but the Senate has not, and the Senate did not include design-build authority for the city in its one-house budget. Senate Leader Flanagan has not explained why, but there has been a lot of talk that design-build for the city will be one key piece of horse-trading that annually occurs in finalizing the budget.

A failure to allow for design-build, the de Blasio administration says, would impede the city’s efforts on projects such as NYCHA repairs, Brooklyn-Queens Expressway construction, and jail replacements for Rikers Island, which is slated to close within ten years. The state has used design-build on a variety of projects, often touted by Cuomo, to save billions of dollars and years in estimate project time.

Transportation
Problems with the MTA, namely the city’s subway service (but also bus efficiency), have been felt by most New Yorkers and well-documented over the past year in particular. De Blasio has waged a public relations campaign to ensure that New Yorkers know Cuomo controls the state authority -- where he appoints the leadership and a plurality of the board members -- and called on the state for better spending prioritization and a new source of revenue, which he has said should come from a tax on high earners, but Cuomo has said could be attained through congestion pricing. While de Blasio has been skeptical of congestion pricing, he was somewhat warmer to the three-step phase-in proposed by Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel.

Those recommendations appear to be the basis for state negotiations, though Cuomo did not publicly embrace the plan, only backing portions of it publicly, while raising a few questions and leaving it out of his budget plan. Both legislative houses are cool to congestion pricing, though Cuomo has said he is pushing hard for a plan, indicating there could be an initial piece -- a surcharge on taxis and app-based for-hire vehicles like Uber and Lyft, in this year’s budget. The Assembly appears more friendly toward that possibility than the Senate.

Cuomo wants to institute “value capture” zones in New York City, which would use property tax revenue the state argues is generated by transit improvements. De Blasio maintains that value capture would “grant the MTA the power to raid our property taxes on properties within a one mile radius of certain projects,” cost the city much-needed funds, and violate city sovereignty.

Since February, Cuomo has amended the specifics of his value capture proposal since it was included in the initial budget in new draft of the legislation, Politico New York recently reported. City officials, however, are not persuaded by Cuomo’s value capture pitch -- Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan and Department of Transit Commissioner Polly Trottenberg came out against the proposal the same day.

Meanwhile, short-term, there are ongoing debates over funding for the “Subway Action Plan,” put forth by MTA Chair Joe Lhota and supported by Cuomo, which would allocate $836 million toward repairing the subway and take a variety of other emergency measures to improve subway performance. Cuomo quickly agreed to fund half the plan, and he and Lhota called on de Blasio to fund the other half from city funds, which the mayor declined to do, pointing to money he says the state has raided from the MTA over the years and the fact that city residents already contribute the bulk of the MTA budget.

Notably, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has said he believes the city should fund the other half of the Subway Action Plan, but the overall Council position has not been made clear. Comptroller Scott Stringer had said from the start that the city should match the state’s half, prioritizing the subway system and its riders over additional fighting over budget maneuvers and responsibility.

Along with the subway action plan, the governor’s budget includes $429 million for MTA repairs, according to a press release. The Assembly budget plan allocates $490 million in new funds to the MTA, would bring MTA funding in the next budget to a total of $5.3 billion, and $10.5 billion to transportation overall, according to a news release. The Senate’s one-house budget does not include new funding for the MTA.

Additionally, de Blasio and many in New York City are again calling on the state to allow the city to install more speed cameras in school zones. The Senate blocked the measure last year. The mayor recently added to this agenda, urging the state to enact multiple pieces of legislation to ensure dangerous drivers are kept off the road. It’s not immediately clear if there is any hope for such measures to be included in the budget.

Education
Unlike many other recent years, there are few education policy issues on the table this year, leaving funding levels as the central schools-related item of significant concern in budget negotiations.

The governor’s executive budget increases school aid across the state by $769 million over the current fiscal year, including $338 million in “Foundation Aid,” a supplemental funding formula to aid local school districts based on need. The increase brings the school aid total to $26.356 billion, an increase of 3% over last year. The executive budget claims that this is “double the statutory School Aid growth cap” and that school aid is the “state’s highest funding priority.”

Despite this, advocates have charged for years that the state’s funding formula leaves schools not fully funded, including as it relates to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling of more than a decade ago. Cynthia Nixon, who recently announced a challenge to Cuomo in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, has worked extensively with advocacy organization Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) and has made “fully funding” public schools a top campaign plank, adding an additional political element to budget negotiations around this topic.

The fault supposedly lies in the flawed Foundation Aid formula; the formula is based on a wealth index that, according to an analysis by the Citizens Budget Commission, “make the neediest districts in the state seem less needy, while the state’s wealthiest districts seem less wealthy.” The 2006 court ruling required the state to provide a more equitable funding formula, which led to Foundation Aid, but local politicians and advocates say that the state has not lived up to its agreement and that high need schools do not receive the aid they require.

In his testimony in Albany, de Blasio said that there is a $211 million gap between what the city is designated to receive in the Executive Budget and what it is supposedly owed through the Foundation Aid formula.

The Assembly included a larger school aid increase in its own proposed budget, to the tune of $1.5 billion, to bring total school aid spending to $27.1 billion. This includes a $1.2 billion increase in Foundation Aid to $18.4 billion.

The Senate proposal, meanwhile, includes an aid increase smaller than the governor’s, at $717 million with $379 million in Foundation Aid increases, to bring total education investment to $26.1 billion. The Senate proposal also includes a plank calling for a removal of the cap on charter school growth, though after it was a key piece of negotiations and legislation last year, the charter school cap has flown significantly under the radar this year.

Both the governor’s and the Assembly’s budgets include increased investments in and expansion of the state’s public pre-kindergarten, but the scale is again different. Cuomo’s budget includes a $15 million increase while the Assembly’s budget include a $50 million increase. Both budgets also include a $50 million set-aside for community school aid, aiming to facilitate the creation and maintenance of schools that double as community hubs.

Voting
Cuomo’s “Democracy Agenda,” introduced in December, includes several reforms to the voting process in New York, which has often been described as among the worst in the nation. These include items Cuomo has backed in past years like early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day voter registration.

New York is not as behind the curve in enacting automatic and same day registration -- nine states have automatic registration and 15 have same-day -- but on early voting, the Empire State has been substantially outpaced. New York is one of just thirteen states not to have the measure, which is annually blocked by the Senate, though it is unclear how much weight Cuomo and Assembly Democrats have put behind it.

Cuomo last month announced 30-day budget amendments to provide 12 days of early voting and added $7 million to pay for it, a move celebrated by advocates and reform-minded legislators. The Assembly and Senate are less amicable to early voting: the Assembly proposal provides for eight days of early voting, while early voting is entirely excluded from the Senate proposal. Senate Republicans have historically been hostile to voting reforms.

Cuomo’s proposal does not address other areas of interest for advocates, such as the consolidation of state and federal primaries and easing some of the strictest deadlines in the nation for registration and for switching party registration.

Ethics and Transparency
Ethics reform is once again taking a backseat in budget negotiations. Cuomo, in his executive budget, called for closing the LLC loophole and banning outside income for legislators. Cuomo also called for social media companies to disclose who pays for political advertising on their platforms in the wake of the discovery of secret ad buys in the 2016 election by Russians. Cuomo also called for a new “Chief Procurement Officer” to “oversee the integrity” of the procurement process, where apparent abuses have occurred under his watch and he has been against reinstating pre-audit oversight to the state comptroller.

Cuomo’s executive budget and State of the State speeches devoted little attention to ethics reform, and the Assembly and Senate are not taking up the cause despite the recent high-profile trial and conviction of the governor’s former top aide, Joe Percoco, as well as the upcoming bid-rigging trial of Alain Kaloyeros, the former president of SUNY Polytechnic. The Assembly has been more aligned with the governor on campaign finance reform, but the Senate has shown little interest in any additional ethics or campaign finance reform measures.

There is some discussion around watchdogs’ call for mandating a “database of deals,” which would create a public database of all economic development contracts in the state, tracking who is getting taxpayer money for development contracts and how it is being spent. Both the Assembly and the Senate included the deals database in their one-house budgets, but the governor has not signaled his support. As it did last year, the transparency and accountability measure could be bounced from the final budget as part of annual horse-trading.

Criminal Justice
In his State of the State address in January, Cuomo outlined a criminal justice agenda that he referred to as “the most progressive set of reforms in the nation,” aiming to reshape the criminal justice system in New York towards fairness and equity.

The marquee proposal of the pack is eliminating cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, which has largely received praise from criminal justice advocates and follows a nationwide push to end a practice that many say is discriminatory against low-income people and people of color. Some advocates, however, have said that it could go much further, such as eliminating bail entirely and abolishing the bail bonds system. Advocates have also voiced concerns about the broad jurisdiction of judges to keep people on “preventative detention,” or a judge deeming that a suspect is not fit for release. On the other hand, Senate Republicans have been cool to the notion of reform.

The governor also proposed changing discovery process. According to the governor himself, New York is tied for having the worst discovery laws in the nation. New York is one of 10 states that does not require the prosecution in a case to share evidence with the defense on a strict timetable; for instance, in New York, a prosecutor could share potentially exculpatory evidence with the defense just hours before the trial begins, leaving the defense with little room to mount an argument. The reform requires evidence to be shared “incrementally” and in a “timely and consistent manner.”

Also included in the governor’s proposal is a ban on asset seizure by police in the absence of an arrest, and the return of assets to those who are not convicted in a court of law. He also put forth proposals to speed up the trial process in order to prevent judicial backlog and long pretrial detention, which has come under fire in the wake of Kalief Browder’s suicide, and to remove “reentry barriers” for the formerly incarcerated, such as ending suspension of drivers’ licenses and removing certain fees such as the “parole supervision fee.”

While Cuomo's bail reform proposal has received some support from reformers, many advocates have voiced deep concerns about the governor's discovery reform. The criticism centers around a “right of redaction” of names in the evidence provided to the defense by the prosecution, which the Legal Aid Society told the New York Law Journal would give prosecutors “blanket authority” to black out identifying witness information.

The governor’s proposals are out-paced from the left by those of the Assembly (and the Senate Democrats, who are in the minority). The Senate Democrats’ proposal eliminates cash bail entirely; the Assembly’s approach is more in line with Cuomo’s, but eases certain restrictions on the payment of bail by charitable bail organizations such as the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. This would allow those funds to pay bail of up to $10,000, up from the current $2,000 cap, and allows them to operate in more than one county.

On discovery, the Senate Democrats call for “automatic, comprehensive discovery” of all material possessed by the prosecution while the Assembly’s bill calls for a deadline of 15 days after arraignment, similar to the governor’s. The Assembly and Senate Democrats both place greater restrictions on prosecutory redactions than the governor’s proposal.

The Assembly and Senate Democrats both have speedy trial language that is also beyond what Cuomo is pushing, though he has also included measures. Cuomo's speedy trial provisions have received some criticism from advocates: #FREEnewyork accuses the governor’s plan of failing to address the issue of “court congestion and under-resourced courts,” failing to eliminate speedy trial release for pretrial detainees, and that it would not fix the “speedy trial clock loophole” that allows prosecutors to stop the statutory time limits that govern New York’s current laws even if the defense isn’t ready, along with other criticisms.

The Assembly’s proposal would ban solitary confinement for those under 21, over 55, for people with disabilities, pregnant people or people in the post-partum period, or those in a “newborn nursery program.” It would also set limits on the “use and duration” of solitary.

The Assembly’s bill would also establish an “Office of Special Investigation” in the Attorney General’s office to independently investigate instances where individuals die in the hands of law enforcement, either in custody or during an encounter. In 2015, Cuomo named Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as the special prosecutor in charge of investigating civilian deaths at the hands of police officers; the special prosecutor was named as an effort to bypass the alleged closeness between District Attorneys and police departments.

Senate Republicans did not include language about the planks of Cuomo’s criminal justice reform package, and some are pushing back against the notion of limiting the use of cash bail. Their opposition represents a significant roadblock to the passage of the governor’s criminal justice agenda items, which could be his signature progressive accomplishment of this budget cycle. On Sunday evening in Albany, after a leaders meeting, Senate Leader Flanagan told reporters that "bail reform is probably going to be one of the policy matters that’s discussed outside the budget,” according to Politico New York.

Meanwhile, the Child Victims Act appears to be in for its now-annual legislative fight; Governor Cuomo strongly supports the legislation, which extends the statute of limitations for victims of child sex abuse, and included it in his budget proposal, as did the Assembly. But it was excluded in the Senate one-house budget resolution.

Celebrities such as Corey Feldman and Julianne Moore have attempted to raise the profile of the CVA and ensure it is included in the budget, but another high profile figure, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, recently met with legislators in Albany to lobby for the removal of the “lookback” provision, which would allow for the re-opening of “time-barred” cases within a certain window of time; the governor is proposing one year. Given the history of child sexual abuse associated with the Catholic Church, Dolan is claiming that the CVA will be “toxic” to the church with the lookback, prompting sharp rebukes from Cuomo and others.

Taxes
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of state budget negotiations is agreeing on an attempt to change the state tax code to mitigate the effects of the new federal tax code, established by law in December.

“The FY 2019 Budget protects New Yorkers against attacks from Washington and helps further our bold, progressive agenda to move New York forward," Cuomo said in a press release with his 30-day amendments to his executive budget. "After working with experts and stakeholders, I am advancing further reforms through these budget amendments that to safeguard our competitiveness and help protect residents from this federal economic assault."

Specifically, after amendments to it in February, Cuomo’s budget allows for employers to implement a 5% payroll taxes, which can still be deducted from federal returns, in order to avoid the federally-mandated $10,000 cap on state and local tax deduction. Cuomo would also create new ways for New Yorkers to pay for government services through charitable giving, which might be deductible from federal taxes, though the IRS may have to rule on any new systems put in place, and he wants localities to also be able to create such structures, which would result in state and local tax credits to individuals who give to the charitable entities for education and possibly other services.

And in order to avoid the the $1.5 billion of tax increases on New Yorkers due to the new federal tax law, Cuomo’s budget “decouples” state and local taxes from the federal tax code.

The Assembly “largely accepts the Executive proposal aimed at protecting New Yorkers from federal tax reforms,” according to a press release, and increases income taxes for New Yorkers who earn over $5 million annually.

The Senate, however adopted a different approach in its tax plan, leaving out the Cuomo tax code proposals, and omitting what Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan estimates as $1 billion in new taxes in Cuomo’s budget. “We rejected the new taxes and other proposals that would hurt families and businesses, and put forth a plan to give taxpayers the relief they need and deserve. We also make sound investments in education to help our students, fund critical infrastructure, and propose new measures to strengthen our communities,” Flanagan said in a March press release. The Senate’s budget also lowers taxes on utility bills, retirement income and bridge tolls.

Cuomo included the "revenue raisers" in his budget plan in order to help close the state budget deficit. Since Cuomo's budget presentation, estimates have changed that indicate the state is expected to take in hundreds of millions of dollars more in tax revenue than previously thought, in part due to reaction to the new federal tax law.

De Blasio is opposed to the new federal tax plan on ideological and practical grounds. “The tax bill passed by Congress was written by millionaires for millionaires, while everyone else suffers,” he said in a December press release following the bill’s passage. And, like Cuomo, has also spoken to the need for the state and city to respond to the tax plan, which he believes adversely affects New York City residents. Combatting what the two rivals both see as the harmful effects of the tax plan is one issue that de Blasio and Cuomo agree upon. “I want to commend the Governor for trying to find ways to blunt the effects of the new tax law and I look forward to working with him, and all of you, on solutions,” de Blasio said during his February state budget testimony.

Sexual Misconduct
Amid a national reckoning with seuxal misconduct, including workplace harassment, Albany lawmakers have made an effort to enact legislation aimed at preventing and punishing such conduct. Cuomo unveiled several policy proposals in his State of the State, and the issue may be one where consensus can be found for a slate of new policies.

However, there is a lot of attention on both substance and process, as many are concerned about the possibility of four men -- one of whom, Senator Klein, has recently been accused of forcibly kissing a staff aide in 2015 -- deciding new sexual misconduct policies. There has been some talk of Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins being included in negotiations on the topic, but it is unclear to what extent she or any other women will be allowed to participate.

Cuomo’s budget language would prevent state funds from being used for settlements of sexual harassment or assault cases. He would also ban confidentiality agreements unless the victim chooses to agree to one, and mandates that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics creates a units to investigate sexual harassment allegations in state government. “Sexual harassment afflicts people of every gender, race, age and class, and there must be zero tolerance for sexual harassment in any workplace, including those of the State and local governments,” reads the budget summary.

Cuomo’s agenda would also institute uniform policies across state government, instead of the current situation where the executive branch and each of the two legislative houses has its own policy.

"The Assembly Majority recognizes that putting families first means making sure that everyone, especially women, never feel that they have to tolerate sexual harassment to earn a paycheck," said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. "These new policies will empower individuals to hold harassers accountable and help put an end to the culture of harassment that plagued our workplaces for far too long."

To that end, the Assembly’s proposal lends the Attorney General more authority to prosecute criminal cases and defend victims in civil ones. The Assembly’s budget would also outlaw mandatory arbitration agreements and void clauses in contracts that “waive rights relating to discrimination claims.” In addition, the Assembly budget includes a provision requiring the state’s Division of Human Rights to craft a set of anti-sexual harassment guidelines and share it with the public and for state and local agencies, along with entities who “do business” with the state, to report to the state on sexual harassment matters.

Among the Senate’s proposals on sexual harassment is Senate Bill S7848A, sponsored by Republican Senator Cathy Young. Like Cuomo’s, the bill would institute a consistent policy on sexual harassment across all branches of state government, ban confidentiality agreements that prevent survivors from talking about incidents and would allow the state to “recoup” money spent on sexual harassment settlements. “Our legislation will help prevent sexual harassment and ensure all employees throughout this state are provided with the safe work environment they deserve,” said Flanagan of the legislation. However, the Senate's legislation has drawn criticism from lawmakers, advocates and experts due to certain language around false reporting and omissions.

But before the budget is passed, six women who have made sexual harassment allegations against state lawmakers have urged the governor to listen to input from survivors and for the state to take its time in passing legislation, extending past the budget into the legislative session to follow if needed.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Sam Raskin and Ben Max

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Key New York City Issues in Final State Budget Negotiations Sun, 25 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
I’m a NYCHA Resident Who Supports Private Investment in Public Housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7565:i-m-a-nycha-resident-who-supports-private-investment-in-public-housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7565:i-m-a-nycha-resident-who-supports-private-investment-in-public-housing nycha aerial wide

(photo: @NYCHA)


After a harsh winter during which hundreds of thousands of NYCHA residents suffered without heat and hot water at one time or another, many people across our city have been asking a simple question: do public housing residents deserve the same quality of life as everyone else?

The answer is obvious: of course we do. Better yet, there is a clear path to make that a reality, and soon.

The fact is that just a miniscule fraction of New Yorkers living in public housing enjoy the benefits of private management and well-funded maintenance operations. Hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens do not – and they are bearing the burden of a system that faces a $25 billion deficit, with little hope for anywhere near enough federal funding on the horizon.

Around 320,000 of those residents went without heat or hot water at certain points this winter, often during the coldest stretches – and now New York must take action to ensure that this cannot happen again. Public-private partnerships will improve the living conditions of NYCHA families, and it is time for more of those agreements. Not next year, not in two years, not in three years. Now.

It is no secret that urging public-private partnerships for NYCHA is politically challenging – and I was once skeptical of these arrangements myself. But if that kind of collaboration means being able to ensure that every NYCHA family has heat when they most need it – and let’s be clear that this is exactly what is at stake here – then public-private partnerships are not a problem, as some critics have said, but are instead part of a solution.

I am a resident leader of a NYCHA building that has already benefited from this kind of work. I have firsthand understanding of the type of progress that is possible from these partnerships. Simply put, I am living in a success story every day, but my heart is breaking for the hundreds of thousands of residents still struggling underneath the weight of a broken system.

In 2014, NYCHA engaged in a public-private partnership at several Section 8 developments across the five boroughs – totaling nearly 900 homes including my building, Campos Plaza I – because of the potential benefits it could provide for families. Despite what skeptics said at the time, it turns out that they were absolutely right.

This winter, our building had the heat and hot water it needed. We got to cook in renovated kitchens. And, this spring, we will enjoy our playgrounds and other open space. Our rents did not increase, and we all feel secure in our homes because we know that NYCHA still has ultimate control of our building and retains the power to remove the private partner should it ever want to do so.

At a time when city funds are stretched so thin and federal funds are unlikely to arrive, these positive changes did not come from the wave of a magic wand. They exist because of resources made available through a public-private partnership that provided the necessary investment in our apartments.

It is, at the end of the day, a really simple concept: when there are not enough public dollars to ensure that NYCHA buildings receive the maintenance and renovations they need, public-private partnerships can fill those gaps and give residents like me a better quality of life.

It was encouraging to see NYCHA move forward on another public-private partnership to leverage private financing at its Ocean Bay complex in Bayside. At that nearly 1,400-unit development, which was battered by Hurricane Sandy and remained in dire need of improvements, the deal generated an additional $560 million in financing for better buildings and new infrastructure. Families in Ocean Bay, too, understand what is at stake.

And of course it goes without saying that NYCHA residents believe that the federal government should invest more in public housing. But the reality today is that we cannot yet expect significant federal dollars to come – and that is simply no reason to deny my fellow residents the same quality of life I get to enjoy.

So, yes, those of us living in public housing do deserve the same quality of life as those living in private housing – but all of us, not just a lucky few. All of us deserve a decent, comfortable home. The tools are out there, it is now up to elected officials to make that a reality by encouraging more private-partnerships across New York City.

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Dereese Huff is the resident association president at NYCHA’s Campos Plaza I.

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

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I’m a NYCHA Resident Who Supports Private Investment in Public Housing Sun, 25 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
In Albany, De Blasio Budget Testimony Centers on MTA, NYCHA http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7460:in-albany-de-blasio-budget-testimony-centers-on-mta-nycha http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7460:in-albany-de-blasio-budget-testimony-centers-on-mta-nycha de Blasio Albany budget testimony

Mayor de Blasio testifying in Albany (Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Testifying in Albany Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $168 billion executive budget and outlined the city’s funding priorities for the next fiscal year.

De Blasio was the first to testify at a joint legislative budget hearing on local governments, making his annual journey to the Capitol, where he also met privately with Cuomo for an hour, and was scheduled to meet with three of five legislative conference leaders: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

In his opening remarks, de Blasio had mixed reviews for Cuomo’s budget, praising some measures while also urging state legislators to help him beat back others as they negotiate toward a new state budget by the April 1 start of the fiscal year. The mayor outlined several of his own top priorities that require state approval, such as design-build authority, electoral reform, and renewal of the speed camera program.

The mayor’s initial testimony and subsequent back-and-forth with lawmakers included significant focus on transportation and housing issues, especially MTA funding and problems at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), though de Blasio also touched on uncertainty coming from the federal government; criminal justice reforms and their connection to the closure of Rikers Island jails; and other fiscal and policy items.

De Blasio noted the burden placed on New York City by the Trump administration’s recently implemented tax plan, and acknowledged the steep impact of the termination of Disproportionate Share Hospitals (DSH) payments, which is expected to cost city hospitals $400 million annually.

“I want to commend the Governor for trying to find ways to blunt the effects of the new tax law and I look forward to working with him, and all of you, on solutions,” he said, adding that the upcoming Trump administration budget proposal is likely to pose additional fiscal challenges for New York City.

De Blasio also outlined more than $750 million in cuts and cost shifts to New York City contained in Cuomo’s executive budget proposal. These include $144 million in additional charter school costs, a $129 million cut to child welfare services, a $65 million cut to special education funding, $31 million less to juvenile justice programs, and a $9 million reduction in rental subsidies for working families leaving shelters. In addition, there is a $211 million gap between what the city was expecting in school aid and the amount designated in the executive budget, according to the mayor’s office.

The mayor criticized the implementation of “Raise the Age,” which requires that 16- and 17-year-olds be removed from adult jails, calling it an unfunded mandate that will cost the city at least $200 million per year. De Blasio noted the executive budget’s elimination of $41 million of state funding for the city’s Close to Home juvenile justice placement program, despite the fact the program’s utilization is expected to triple with the implementation of Raise the Age.

“This cut undermines the signature reform designed to keep kids closer to their families. And it will cost the City $15.3 million in Fiscal 18 and $31 million in Fiscal 19,” said de Blasio. The city’s fiscal year begins July 1, and de Blasio recently outlined his $88.7 billion preliminary budget plan.

De Blasio praised the governor’s inclusion of bail and speedy trial reforms in his executive budget. He said the passage of these measures would reduce the city’s jail population and help to accomplish one of his signature endeavors, “to close Rikers Island for good.”

When questioned about whether he could expedite the closure plan for the jail complex, which is currently seen as a ten-year project, de Blasio told Democratic State Senator Brian Benjamin, of Manhattan, that the passage of all of his policy objectives -- such as parole, speedy trial, and bail reforms, as well as design-build authority for the city -- would allow the city to shrink the timeline.

“Unquestionably, that would take years off the process,” said de Blasio, though he declined to provide an exact projected timeline.

De Blasio also emphasized comprehensive election reform and passage of the Dream Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants, citing threats to immigrants from the federal government. “Given what is happening in our country and New York State can lead by example by helping all of our students,” said de Blasio, speaking on the same day that the Assembly would pass the Dream Act for the eighth time. It continues to stall in the Senate.

On transportation, de Blasio repeatedly cited the “millionaires tax” he wants to see that would create a dedicated funding stream for the MTA and support reduced-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. But he also acknowledged that congestion pricing could work as a revenue-generator for the ailing transportation system run by the MTA.

De Blasio said he was ready to continue conversations and negotiations about how to best support the state-controlled transportation authority, but said that proposals contained in Cuomo’s budget should be taken off the table. He did express support for the general congestion pricing principles put forth by Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel, but also indicated he wants to see tweaks.

De Blasio expressed concern that the money could potentially be diverted away from the subways and buses, suggesting a legal lockbox be created to restrict how congestion pricing revenue may be used. He also called for city approval for major transportation projects in the five boroughs.

The mayor took issue with the executive budget shifting the burden of MTA capital costs to the city, and battled with Senate finance Chair Cathy Young, an upstate Republican, over the 1953 law that specifies that city is responsible for all of the subway’s capital costs. While the city technically owns the subway system, the state has controlled it for more than 65 years.

“I absolutely disagree with your legal interpretation,” de Blasio said. “My counsel has looked at it too and has come to a very different conclusion…Let’s face it, the state has been running the MTA for decades now.”

The mayor criticized Cuomo’s “value capture” proposal, “that would grant the MTA the power to raid our property taxes on properties within a one mile radius of certain projects.” He said the proposal would cost the city billions of dollars and force the city to cut back on essential services like police, sanitation, and education.

“I was encouraged by the Governor’s recent comments that portrayed this as a choice for the city, not a mandate,” de Blasio said. “I would urge you to remove this provision from the enacted budget altogether.”

De Blasio made a similar argument about city services when asked by several lawmakers, including Young and Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who lost to de Blasio in last year’s mayoral race, about capping property tax increases in the city. The city is the only area of the state not subject to a cap of 2 percent annual property tax growth. De Blasio, who again pledged that he is about to launch a property tax reform effort, has said that the city must continued to take advantage of increases in property tax values to fund city services.

De Blasio, who designated $200 million for new boilers and heating systems in public housing after thousands of residents suffered outages this winter, called for the state to commit to matching the city’s investment in NYCHA. He also complained that the state has taken months to fulfill a request from the city to allocate funds earmarked for NYCHA from two budgets ago. The city had itself delayed its ask for the funds by several months beyond when it could have filed the request.

The mayor was grilled intensely by lawmakers on his public housing record. Senator Diane Savino, of Staten Island and the Independent Democratic Conference, called the living conditions “deplorable.” In another testy exchange, Senator Young drew attention to lapses in lead inspections at NYCHA apartments, and reports that children living in these residences were found to have high levels of lead in their blood. The scandal has prompted calls for de Blasio to fire NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye, including from Young on Monday. “Why is Shola Olatoye still at NYCHA?” Young repeatedly asked the mayor.

De Blasio acknowledged the mistakes but reaffirmed his previous statements, noting that the lapses began with the previous administration and credited Olatoye for turning the near-bankrupt housing agency around.

When Young pressed the mayor on issues at NYCHA, including unsafe conditions and crime that have “stacked up over the years,” the mayor responded tersely.

“Respectfully, I think it’s very reductionist to add certain facts up and say someone needs to be dismissed, even though they are getting a lot of work done for the people they serve. When you run a facility as big as NYCHA with years of disinvestment, of course there’s problems,” he said, adding that public safety has dramatically improved at NYCHA.

[Related: What's the State Role in NYCHA Oversight?]

During more than two hours of question-and-answer de Blasio was also asked about the financially-struggling public hospital system, where a new CEO has taken over who is promising to build on reforms already underway. The mayor was also asked to support supervised injection facilities for drug addicts and said that a city report is due back soon on the topic. He said it had to be very carefully dealt with.

While the mayor faced many tough questions, especially from Young, he also received a number of kudos, especially from city-based Democratic legislators, like Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan, who said that you wouldn’t know from many of the questions that the city is actually doing quite well.

Later in the day, de Blasio met for an hour with the governor to discuss how to resolve transportation and fiscal challenges in the coming weeks and months.

“It was a productive meeting, we talked about a lot of the same issues that came up in the testimony and, you know, hopefully we can all work together,” de Blasio told reporters when he emerged from Cuomo’s office.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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In Albany, De Blasio Budget Testimony Centers on MTA, NYCHA Mon, 05 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7355:max-murphy-podcast-nycha-ceo-shola-olatoye http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7355:max-murphy-podcast-nycha-ceo-shola-olatoye

Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette


December 7, 2017 - Max & Murphy: NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye

shola olayote 277

NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye has been at the center of a firestorm lately related to the public housing authority's lapses in lead paint inspections, violating federal and city laws, filing faulty documentation, and not telling NYCHA residents and the public about the years-long gaps as soon as leadership discovered them.

Olatoye faced hours of questioning at a City Council oversight hearing on Tuesday, then joined the podcast on Thursday for some follow-up and other questions about the lead paint situation and more. Olatoye discusses whether she and NYCHA need to regain residents' trust, whether she offered Mayor Bill de Blasio her resignation, and where the conversation around NYCHA -- home to more than 400,000 New Yorkers -- needs to go next.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy and guest @SholaOlatoye of @NYCHA. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye Thu, 07 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
What's the State Role in NYCHA Oversight? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7332:what-s-the-state-role-in-nycha-oversight http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7332:what-s-the-state-role-in-nycha-oversight torres nycha monitor idc presser

CM Torres and the call for a state NYCHA monitor (photo: @RitchieTorres)


As Mayor Bill de Blasio and leaders of the embattled New York City Housing Authority continue to respond to fallout from revelations that NYCHA had failed for years to comply with federal and local laws around lead paint inspections, some elected officials are renewing calls for the state take a more active role in the city’s massive public housing system.

NYCHA, which has for decades has been plagued by lapses in safety protocols, sometimes with tragic results, includes 175,000 housing units home to well over the official tally of 400,000 New Yorkers. A report by the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI), released earlier this month, indicates that NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye knew of deficiencies in lead inspections in early 2016 but signed off on paperwork submitted to the federal government certifying that all the regulations had been met. Olatoye explained that soon after she had become aware of the gap, which began under the prior administration, she alerted NYCHA’s federal regulators and jumpstarted the lead inspections.

DOI called for the appointment of a “third-party monitor” to ensure compliance with lead and safety rules as well as to perform regular safety checks on NYCHA units.

De Blasio and Olatoye have resisted both the calls for more state oversight and the recommendation for the outside monitor, instead implementing their own set of reforms, including new protocols and a new internal compliance unit, while multiple top NYCHA officials were either forced out or demoted. Though he also sat on the revelations for over a year, de Blasio argued that NYCHA was already addressing the lead inspection shortfalls and admitted that he should have made the issue public sooner. He has strongly pushed back against calls for Olatoye’s removal.

As a public authority, the 84-year-old agency -- the oldest and largest such low- and middle-income housing provider in the country -- is technically under the purview of the state, though state law grants the mayor control over appointment of board members and leadership.

But in the wake of the lead-inspection revelations, several lawmakers want an increased state role in NYCHA oversight. Members of the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference, led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx, held a November 20 press conference to push for a state monitor, as outlined in legislation introduced by Klein earlier this year, which would create an Office of the Independent Monitor within the Department of Homes and Community Renewal, to be appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. Klein and other members of the IDC were also joined by City Council Member Ritchie Torres, chair of the Council’s public housing committee, and other elected officials.

The state played a larger role in financing and governing the agency in the years immediately after World War II, when there was a large state-wide public housing program, but that contribution shrunk over time to near non-existence, and NYCHA relies almost entirely on the federal housing agency, HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), for subsidizing its operating and capital needs.

While NYCHA has accumulated the $17 billion in capital needs to get into a state of good repair, the authority has also struggled to remain in the black in its yearly operating budget, which has actually been stabilized under de Blasio and Olatoye, even without state money.

State-provided operating subsidies to NYCHA were ended by Governor George Pataki in 1998, leaving the housing agency with a $60 million annual operating shortfall, according to NYCHA records. To address its growing annual operating deficit, which was as high as $235 million in 2006, NYCHA transferred many federal subsidies meant for capital improvements into operations, which ensured the system would fall into further disrepair. Since 2006, NYCHA’s personnel has been reduced from 15,000 to 11,000, with many of the jobs lost white collar positions that played a role in compliance. New York City followed the State’s example and by 2004 it had essentially stopped subsidizing NYCHA operations, further crippling the agency, according to according to urban historian and professor Dr. Nicholas Dagen Bloom, co-editor of the anthology Affordable Housing in New York.

“In the past 20 years, there’s a been a federal reduction, but compared to the state and city, HUD is really the only game in town,” said Bloom. “The city and state are almost entirely dependent on HUD for the real or long term oversight. So, there’s kind of a bureaucratic insanity where there is less money, but [NYCHA] is supposed to maintain the same standards.”

NYCHA has been stabilized somewhat under de Blasio, with the 2015 release of NextGeneration NYCHA, an ambitious, 10-year strategic plan to get the authority back on track. Thanks to an increase in city investment, the operating budget is no longer running a deficit and plans are moving ahead to bring in more revenue, but NYCHA has not made much headway in addressing the billions of dollars worth of unmet capital needs. As part of the plan, the de Blasio administration relieved NYCHA of more than $100 million in annual bills toward police services and property taxes. In 2015 and 2016, for the first time in years, the authority achieved an operating surplus, one just under HUD’s recommended three-month cushion. However, the most recent $35 million federal cut, announced in March, is expected to plummet NYCHA’s operating budget back into the red.

Over the past few years, NYCHA has benefited from some capital investment from the city address some infrastructural deficiencies. Since 2015 the city has infused the authority with $1.3 billion to fix 952 roofs, benefiting 175,478 NYCHA residents, as well as $555 million to repair 409 facades, according to a spokesperson for the de Blasio administration. Although the State has historically provided capital funds for NYCHA developments, in 2001, state contributions were reduced from $15 million to $6.4 million a year and dwindled completely by 2007, with the exception of a few one-time investments like $100 million for NYCHA (managed by Dorm Authority for the State of New York) for playgrounds and security cameras in 2015, and $200 million for boilers and elevators in 2017, according to city records.

However, infrastructure problems and public health crises persist throughout NYCHA, and since 2015, the IDC and Council Member Torres have been calling for the state to take more fiscal and regulatory responsibility for the city’s public housing system, a recommendation Governor Andrew Cuomo has in the past shrugged off, incorrectly characterizing the housing authority a “federal agency” and wrongly declaring state contributions as “unprecedented.”

Senator Klein’s state monitor bill unanimously passed the Senate on the final day of the 2017 legislative session, but has not been considered by the Assembly. Spokespersons for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the Assembly’s housing committee chair, Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, did not respond to requests for comment on the bill.

Joining the calls for a state monitor amid the lead inspection fallout is not only Torres, but also Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who in a letter to Governor Cuomo, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the federal government has demonstrated itself to be an unreliable partner to the city.

“Only the state has the ability to appoint a credible monitor to examine NYCHA at this time,” Diaz Jr. said in a statement. “More than 400,000 New Yorkers call our city’s public housing developments their home. The families who call our city’s public housing developments home deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. It is now plainly clear that a state-appointed monitor is the only way to make that happen.”

In response to the latest calls for significantly more state involvement in NYCHA, Cuomo spokesperson Abbey Fashouer said in a statement, “We have continuously expressed concerns with NYCHA’s operational failures and these latest allegations -- and potential legal violations -- that the agency knowingly committed by exposing New Yorkers to lead paint are particularly disturbing. We have received the letter, and we are reviewing it with our fellow state partners, the Attorney General and the State Comptroller.”

De Blasio, at a press conference last week, appeared resistant to the idea of increased state involvement, emphasizing that the pertinent authority over the city’s public housing system is HUD and stressing that a federal investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York already identified NYCHA’s lead screening lapses in 2016 and that the city was taking steps to remedy it.

“The pertinent authority here is the federal government,” said de Blasio at a press conference on November 20. “I think it’s important that agencies respect their fellow agencies. So, this is the top level of government that is the funder of a lot of NYCHA’s operations and has legal oversight responsibility. And for two years, they’ve been involved in this issue. I think that should be respected.”

While de Blasio acknowledged that the federal investigation into NYCHA is ongoing and that the city is continuing to cooperate, he said it could lead to a federal monitor of the housing authority, similar to those in place at the NYPD and Department of Correction. Instead of a state or independent monitor at this time, NYCHA is creating an Executive Compliance Department, with Chief Compliance Officer Edna Wells Handy at its head. Handy has been counsel to the NYPD commissioner. The mayor has also rebuffed calls from Public Advocate Tish James to fire Olatoye, defending his public housing chief, saying that she has been instrumental in turning the authority around.

“I’m convinced that the leadership we have now is part of the solution to the problems that plague NYCHA,” de Blasio said at the November 20 press conference. De Blasio also referenced the personnel changes beneath Olatoye, though those were only made once the lead inspection scandal had become public through the Department of Investigation, not soon after Olatoye and de Blasio first learned of the inspection lapses.

Critics say steps taken by the de Blasio administration are insufficient. "Calling these changes ‘sweeping’ hardly makes them so. ‎An internal compliance department is no substitute for an independent monitor. NYCHA's failure to recognize the need for third-party accountability will only deepen the damage to its credibility," said Council Member Torres.

A spokesperson for the DOI, reiterated its call for the external NYCHA monitor to be housed at the independent city agency, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. The spokesperson noted that DOI already has a “robust integrity monitor program” with 18 active monitorships “overseeing an array of integrity issues that include construction, city-funded not for profits, and information technology.”

Professor Bloom said he is not surprised there is little enthusiasm from Cuomo’s office for the state to get involved.

“The underlying problem is NYCHA residents don’t vote at very high levels -- New York City residents don’t vote -- and upstate, public housing is not a priority. It’s a very small program upstate. [It’s a question of whether] there is the political will,” said Bloom.

According to Bloom, the calls for external monitors may be beside the point. While the creation of additional compliance entities may produce more reports (and bureaucracy), without a significant investment of funds to address the lead problem at its root cause, these steps are unlikely to improve quality of life for NYCHA residents. Currently federal regulations require that NYCHA inspect all 55,000 apartments with presumed lead paint, and NYCHA must prioritize apartments with children under six-years-old listed as residents. The city insists that the number of affected apartments is low; that between 2010 and 2016 there were only 17 documented cases requiring lead abatement at 18 NYCHA apartments where children with elevated blood lead levels live. Four of these cases occurring after 2014, according to de Blasio’s office, but a WNYC report suggests that these numbers may be skewed, since the city defines "elevated lead levels" at 10 micrograms per deciliter -- double the U.S Center for Disease Control standard since 2012.

“If you really want to make NYCHA lead-free -- and the case could be made that there should be no lead in any of these apartments -- well, that will require a much more extensive cleaning that will cost a lot of money,” Bloom said. A state-run and financed “lead abatement program” for NYCHA, for example, would likely be welcomed by the housing authority, Bloom added.

Meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio said that two rounds of inspections and amelioration were already underway has vowed that NYCHA would soon been in compliance. On Monday, The Daily News reported that NYCHA residents had been notified that inspectors would force entry into units, removing and replacing door locks if tenants were not home during a designated time window.

“We will be in compliance with Local Law One next month and then we intend to stay in compliance with Local Law One every year thereafter,” de Blasio said at the November 20 press conference. “And that is important because what that means essentially is as soon as inspections and amelioration ends for one year, you start essentially immediately thereafter for the next year. So there will be a continuous inspection cycle from this point on. Any resources that NYCHA needs for that effort will be provided.”

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's the State Role in NYCHA Oversight? Mon, 27 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Ends Term with Flurry of Oversight Hearings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7328:city-council-ends-term-with-flurry-of-oversight-hearings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7328:city-council-ends-term-with-flurry-of-oversight-hearings mmv hearing john mccarten city council

Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


[Note: this article has been updated based on fluctuations in the City Council calendar]

A flurry of oversight hearings are filling the City Council calendar as the Council enters its final month of the four-year session, most notably a hearing slated to address controversies over NYCHA’s falsified lead inspection reports, a hearing to discuss the city’s progress in closing Rikers Island jails, and a hearing on integrating the city's segregated public schools.

More than a dozen oversight hearings are slated for Council committee discussion between November 20 and December 19 as this current iteration of the Council ends its term. A new class of Council members, many of whom are current officeholders who won reelection this fall, will be sworn in just after the new year, with a new Council Speaker chosen at the first full-body “stated meeting” in early January.

At oversight hearings, Council members typically question the relevant top officials in the mayoral administration about the topic at hand, before testimony from other stakeholders, like advocates, non-governmental experts, or members of the public. While the hearings can be informative to Council members, journalists, advocates, and the broader public, further Council action will likely be taken in the next session, when many committee chair positions will have changed hands.

Along with the oversight hearings on the NYCHA lead controversy and initial steps being taken toward closing Rikers jails, some of the scheduled oversight hearings deal with fighting homelessness, the NYPD’s role in school safety, mental health services for military veterans, evaluating workforce development programs, “the feasibility of microgrids,” and more.

The oversight hearing scheduled to discuss closing Rikers, set for December 4, comes on the heels of the de Blasio administration’s release of a request for proposals to assess existing jails as potential sites to accommodate additional inmates and the overall need for space across the boroughs other than State Island, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has said no new jail will be opened.

A 10-year plan issued by the mayor’s office in June committed to reducing the city’s jail population from the now roughly 9,500 to 5,000 within this time frame, while ensuring space in four borough jails for that smaller number of detainees.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is term-limited out of office at the end of the year, has been a driving force behind the mission to close Rikers jails. At a press conference on Thursday, she told Gotham Gazette that the hearing will be important in terms of examining progress on several fronts important to the larger goal.

“There’s already sites that exist and what we have to do is look at how we can create a modern day facility that really addresses some of the concerns that were raised and the recommendations made in the independent commission report,” she said, referring to the issue of identifying space and the RFP being put out by the city whereby a consultant will be hired to study resources and need. She also referred to the report put forth by a commission she empaneled led by former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, which crafted its own 10-year plan for closing Rikers jails. "There’s stuff to talk about, there’s other recommendations and action items that have to be taken, action that has to be taken and we can’t do that alone so it’s a matter of figuring out, where do we stand, what’s next to do, how quickly can we get it done,” Mark-Viverito said.

The timeline for closing Rikers, the designation of responsibility, locations for housing detainees, the rate of population decline within the correctional facility, and a number of recent bail reform laws are topics of interest for the oversight hearing according to Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, chair of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice, which will host the hearing. Crowley will lead it, likely along with Mark-Viverito.

“This would be the most ideal way of wrapping up the session because it’s an immense endeavor and one that clearly the Department of Corrections doesn’t have the talents right now and the ability to address,” Crowley told Gotham Gazette in an interview. “I’m hoping that we can put together recommendations for the mayor’s office to help make this plan more of a reality.”

The NYCHA lead hearing was a recent addition to the slate, called by City Council Member Ritchie Torres, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Public Housing, in light of a Department of Investigations report revealing that NYCHA submitted false documentation of lead paint safety inspections never completed. The hearing, set for December 5, will discuss the practice and steps being taken to make things right, Torres said. According to the report, NYCHA failed to perform apartment inspections in 2013, 2014 and 2015 despite not having conducted the approximate 55,000 annual inspections required to satisfy the federal rule.

The DOI report asserted that false paperwork was submitted even after NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye learned of the department’s non-compliance with city and federal rules. Olatoye is expected to appear before the committee during the oversight hearing next month. “I want to ask the chairperson about the agency’s practice of misleading the federal government about conducting lead paint inspections. Why did those practices transpire? When did she find out those practices were happening? How long did it take her before she revealed it to the general public and revealed it to DOI?” Torres told Gotham Gazette in an interview.

In response to the DOI report and fallout, NYCHA announced personnel and programmatic changes. Meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio has stated his support for Olatoye, whose departure has been called for by several people, most notably Public Advocate Letitia James.

The Department of Investigation, Council Member Torres, and Public Advocate James, among others, have called for an independent monitor to oversee NYCHA inspections in the future. “NYCHA no longer has the credibility to monitor its own lead paint inspections. The only hope for restoring public confidence is an independent monitor,” Torres said.

On December 7, the Council's education committee will hold an oversight hearing on "diversity in New York City schools," whereby the Council will check in on progress in reports from the Department of Education mandated by legislation co-sponsored by Council Members Brad Lander and Ritchie Torres.

"This hearing will begin with testimony from the NYC Department of Education (DOE) about the plan they released in the spring (“Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools”), the third-annual “School Diversity Accountability Act” report (just released last week), and other efforts such as their recently-announced plan for District 1 and the work they are beginning for District 15 middle-schools," according to an announcemnt from Lander's office.

"After that -- and just as important -- the hearing will also provide an opportunity for the City Council to hear public testimony from students, parents, educators, and advocates working to combat school segregation and create truly integrated schools," the Lander announcement adds.

An oversight hearing to discuss career pathways and workforce development systems is also scheduled, for November 27. New York City’s population is notably underprepared for the workforce, with more than 3.3 million residents over the age of 25 lacking an associate’s degree or other level of college education, according to July 2016 Census data estimates. Those with degrees are concentrated largely within Manhattan. The city’s launch of the Career Pathways program in 2014 was an initial step in addressing the issue; committed to improving working conditions for lower-wage workers emphasizing training and education and creating connections with city employers. While the program has shown some promise in reforming and overhauling the city’s approach to skill-building programs, Career Pathways still lacks permanent funding and has yet to establish the necessary system of referrals and partnerships, according to report released by Center for an Urban Future in 2016.

The oversight hearing will likely include an update on the status of the Career Pathways program from the city’s Department of Small Business Services and testimony from Stacy Woodruff of the Workforce Professionals Training Institute on changes within the job market, according to Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr., chair of the Committee on Small Business.

“November’s small business committee hearing will be geared towards gaining a better understanding of the progress of the Career Pathways program announced in 2014. As New York’s economy continues to evolve, it is essential we understand the ways in which we can anticipate that evolution and ensure we prepare New Yorkers for the jobs that will come along with it,” said Cornegy, whose committee will co-host the hearing with the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, chaired by Council Member Daneek Miller.

Earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio announced a new plan to use city resources to spur 100,000 new, good-paying jobs, with an emphasis on making sure that current city residents and those who have long-lived in the city are able to fill the new jobs. The Career Pathways program is seen by many in economic development and job training circles as key to this effort, but experts say that it has been underfunded by the de Blasio administration.

Under this City Council, a bill was passed and signed by the mayor in 2016 to establish a separate Department of Veterans Affairs, outside of the Mayor’s Office. The new department has a much bigger staff and budget than the old Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs, and works to place veterans in jobs through Workforce1 centers, reduce homelessness among military veterans, connect veterans to benefits and services, including mental health care. An oversight meeting on Monday, November 20 included discussion of the city’s progress in providing mental health services for veterans.

The hearing was co-hosted by the Committee on Mental Health, chaired by Council Member Andrew Cohen, and the Committee on Veterans, chaired by Council Member Eric Ulrich.

“This is the end of the City Council session so it’s the last opportunity to check in here on the status of the newly created Department of Veterans, the overall services available to veterans. I’d like to make an inquiry into the nexus between Thrive[NYC] and our veterans, the number of veterans being serviced through Thrive and just kind of an overall taking the temperature of where we’re at in terms of connecting veterans with mental health services,” said Cohen, referring to the de Blasio administration’s large mental health care program spearheaded by First Lady Chirlane McCray.

Also on the City Council calendar is an oversight hearing that took place Tuesday, November 21 to discuss “the feasibility of microgrids.” Local energy grids capable of disconnecting from central power sources and operating autonomously, microgrids are used to provide power when the traditional grid has been compromised by an emergency or major power outage. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which left 800,000 city residents without power, microgrids could offer an important alternative in helping deal with future storms.

Such grids also enable greater use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, potentially allowing city residents more flexibility in their energy sources. “These types of small electricity grids have the potential to change the way we generate and consume power “ said Council Member Costa Constantinides, chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, in a statement to Gotham Gazette prior to the hearing, which his committee hosted in conjunction with the Committee on Consumer Affairs, chaired by Council Member Rafael Espinal. “We hope to learn more about how microgrids could be implemented in our city, how consumers could save money on utility bills, and hear feedback from environmental advocacy groups,” said Constantinides.

On Monday, November 20, the committees on housing and on general welfare held an oversight hearing on how the city’s housing department coordinates with the city’s homeless services department and its welfare agency “to address the homelessness crisis.”

Other scheduled oversight hearings, some of which have now occurred, include: a public safety committee hearing on “NYPD’s School Safety’s Role and Efforts to Improve School Climate”; the committees on higher education and technology on “CUNY Tech Incubators”; the committees on health and immigration on “Immigrant Access to Healthcare”; the governmental operations committee on “DCAS’s Energy Management and Energy Efficiency Initiatives”; the economic development committee on “NYC’s Sagging Air Cargo Industry”; the recovery and resiliency committee on “Update on assisting vulnerable populations in emergency evacuations”; the juvenile justice committee on “Trauma-Informed Services in the Juvenile Justice System”; the contracts committee on “Examining Existing Supports and Needs of Underrepresented Business Owners in City Procurement”; the aging committee on “Supporting Unpaid Caregivers”; the technology committee on "MODA's Data and Verification Plan"; the housing committee on "Housing Development Fund Corps. (HDFCs) & Transparency"; the environmental protection committee on "The City’s Wastewater Infrastructure – Current Condition and Future Plans"; the economic development committee on "Economic Impact of Vacant Storefronts"; and a few others. 

(Note: be sure to re-check the Council calendar as hearings are often postponed or canceled.)

(Note: this article has been updated with information about an additional hearing.)

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by Grace Dixon for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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City Council Ends Term with Flurry of Oversight Hearings Sun, 19 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
NYCHA Prepares to Implement Smoking Ban http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7318:nycha-prepares-to-implement-smoking-ban http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7318:nycha-prepares-to-implement-smoking-ban de blasio anti smoking presser 2020

(photo via the Mayor's Office)


Following the announcement of a nationwide smoking ban in public housing residences last year, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has been preparing to implement the controversial federal policy across its more than 320 developments that house approximately half-a-million residents.

“Smoke-Free NYCHA” involves updating resident leases with language that prohibits smoking, running an awareness campaign to inform residents about the new ban as well as the harms of secondhand smoke, and crafting an enforcement plan for repeat offenders. According to the city's health department, NYCHA residents "smoke at higher rates than other New Yorkers, and suffer from higher rates of chronic disease including heart disease, diabetes, and asthma."

Required by the federal government to have a smoke-free policy in place by July 2018, NYCHA has encountered skepticism and criticism from its residents. Moreover, while anti-smoking advocates applaud the new federal policy and NYCHA’s efforts to implement it, they worry that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration will fail to provide the necessary financial resources to support meaningful tobacco cessation efforts across NYCHA campuses.

De Blasio has expressed support for the ban and has backed other anti-smoking measures, including a recent legislative package he signed into law, aimed at reducing smoking in New York City writ large. The mayor has also invested heavily in NYCHA overall, though City Hall has not yet made competely clear what it will do to support implementation of the NYCHA smoking ban, while the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is working with NYCHA stakeholders to prepare for implementation of the smoking ban.

In late November of 2016, shortly before the end of President Barack Obama’s second term, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) declared that all public housing authorities were required to prohibit smoking within their campuses. "Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, healthy home free from harmful second-hand cigarette smoke," said then HUD Secretary Julian Castro in a press release. "HUD's smoke-free rule is a reflection of our commitment to using housing as a platform to create healthy communities.”     

Upon learning of the new policy, NYCHA, the largest public housing authority in the United States, began to ready its residents and staff. Given that City Council Member Donovan Richards had previously proposed banning smoking in city-funded housing, and earlier experience regulating smoking in its developments, the agency was not unprepared. “We certainly ramped up our planning and collaboration as soon as we heard the rule was being made final, but we already had a foundation of work before that time,” said Andrea Mata, Director of Health Initiatives at NYCHA, in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

She explained that, in 2012, NYCHA began working with the New York City Department of Health (DOH) on a pilot project at 830 Amsterdam, a single building development on the Upper West Side, to create a “resident-led and initiated strategy” to reduce secondhand smoke exposure. After three years, the project culminated with representatives of 85 percent of all units voluntarily signing a pledge to not smoke within the building.

Upon announcement of the federal ban, NYCHA sought to build on the 830 Amsterdam pilot as well as pull from earlier examples of public housing authorities implementing smoking bans within their developments, including those of Philadelphia and Albany.

NYCHA began by reaching out to residents and experts to develop a comprehensive policy. Representatives engaged the Resident Advisory Board, a collection of public housing leaders, conducted community meetings across the city, and are now beginning to brief all local Resident Associations in the five boroughs. They also consulted organizations like the New York University School of Medicine as well as the American Cancer Society for feedback.

In addition to ongoing community engagement, the housing authority is also preparing to update resident leases with language that stipulates adherence to the smoking ban. According to NYCHA’s plan for 2018 released mid-October, the agency will begin informing residents of changes to their lease in early 2018, who will then have the opportunity to comment on the new clause. After revisions, they will mail residents an updated lease.

Finally, NYCHA is in the midst of developing an enforcement process to ensure residents comply. “At this point we don’t have a final policy that we can share, but we’d imagine that it would have a few points of escalation,” explained Sideya Sherman, Executive Vice President for Community Engagement and Partnerships at NYCHA, in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

A policy of “graduated enforcement,” it will begin with warnings, then interventions, continuing to escalate until NYCHA staff announces a “commencement of termination of tenancy proceedings,” said NYCHA spokesperson Jasmine Blake to Gotham Gazette of the outline of the enforcement plan.

The possibility of eviction for offenders has been a point of contention, as has an alleged lack of information about the smoke-free rule being provided by NYCHA to residents. “I think it’s a horrible policy,” said Charlene Nimmons, resident of Wyckoff Gardens and president of the Wyckoff Gardens Resident Association from 2003 to 2015, in a phone call. “There’s this privileged rule and law being forced down upon public housing residents.”

A resident of Fort Greene’s Ingersoll Houses also expressed frustration in comments to DNAinfo earlier this year. “How can they kick you out for something that’s just like a disease, basically?” said Curtis Flemister. “It’s not like you can say, 'I’m just not going to do it if I’m going to get kicked out.'”

“I have not received and have not had any information about it,” said Geraldine Lamb, president of the Bronx’s Castle Hill Resident Association, in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

When the public housing smoking ban was first proposed, in 2015, de Blasio said that “the goal is a good one,” but that there would be “a lot to work through” in terms of implementation. NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye has also expressed concern about enforcement, wanting it to be “resident-led” as opposed to involving the NYPD.

On Monday, City Hall spokesperson Melissa Grace said in a statement, “This administration is dedicated to creating healthy living environments for all New Yorkers, and NYCHA and the City Department of Health are working closely with our public housing residents, advocates and the federal government as this ban takes effect.”

According to the Department of Health (DOHMH), there is a position within its Center for Health Equity that is dedicated to supporting NYCHA's Health Initiatives Unit. Since the start of this year, NYCHA and DOHMH have spoken with more than 1,200 NYCHA residents at community meetings and other activities, and will continue to engage residents to craft the smoke-free NYCHA policy. The process is being led by an advisory group of NYCHA residents, academics, healthcare practitioners, and representatives of community organizations. The group is drafting a set of priorities to help guide implementation of the ban, according to DOHMH, including principles related to education, cessation support, communication, and enforcement.

In December, DOHMH will be launching new efforts to help NYCHA residents connect to smoking cessation resources and to "help them address the longstanding injustices brought by tobacco companies who target low-income communities and communities of color." According to DOHMH, "NYCHA residents have made their priorities clear: they want to live in smoke-free environments, but the implementation of Smoke-free Public Housing must be resident-led, include resources and support from NYCHA and DOHMH, and focused on celebrating success."

City Council Member Ritchie Torres, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Public Housing and grew up in NYCHA, expressed reservations in a Monday interview with Gotham Gazette. “I agree with the sentiment,” Torres said of the smoking ban. “I agree with investing in more programs to curb smoking. But, I disagree with a coercive approach.”

Torres said that while he may not chair the committee next year when a new class of the City Council is seated and new positions assigned (Torres is running to be the speaker of the Council), “We should have a hearing ahead of implementation.”

Despite criticism from residents and skepticism from high-ranking city officials, anti-smoking advocates are impressed with NYCHA’s efforts so far. “They are doing a lot,” affirmed Michael Davoli, Director of New York Metro Government Relations at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “They have a concrete plan.”

However, Davoli questioned the mayor’s and governor’s financial commitment to financing the distribution of effective tobacco cessation services to NYCHA residents, like written materials and nicotine replacement therapy (NRTs). “The question is, is the money going to be put into it to really provide NYCHA the resources to provide smoking cessation,” said Davoli. “This is an opportunity for the mayor and the governor to really help these people quit once and for all.”

When pressed for more information on how much funding the mayor will provide the authority, NYCHA did not provide specifics. “We are working with the Office of the Mayor throughout this process to further support his tobacco and smoking control policies,” said Blake.

Although the amount of money City Hall is willing to commit is unclear, the city’s current efforts against smoking support NYCHA’s. In April of this year, the Health Department launched a media campaign to educate New Yorkers “on the dangers of secondhand smoke at home and encouraging them to make their home smoke-free.” The press release announcing the effort says it “is aligned with the recent smoke-free rule passed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development” that will require NYCHA to go smoke-free.

“We certainly don’t have lots of financial resources and so we’re leveraging our partners to make sure we’re that connecting residents to appropriate services,” explained NYCHA’s Sherman, possibly in reference to NYCHA’s budget woes. “But we certainly are putting our best foot forward to taking a multi-faceted approach to implementing this policy.”

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by Ben Weiss, Gotham Gazette

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NYCHA Prepares to Implement Smoking Ban Mon, 13 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Dissecting Mayor De Blasio's Record As He Seeks Reelection http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7221:dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7221:dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection Mayor de Blasio Chirlane McCray City Hall Reelection Parade

Mayor Bill de Blasio & First Lady Chirlane McCray (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


As Mayor Bill de Blasio, a first-term Democrat, seeks reelection this fall, a close examination of his record is essential. De Blasio came into power promising to address inequlality in a variety of forms, including income, educational, policing, racial, and opportunity inequities he identified during his 2013 campaign. In this year's election de Blasio is running in part on his record, which is headlined by the implementation of his campaign promise to provide universal pre-kindergarten for the city's four-year-olds. But, there is much more to the mayor's record than UPK, which has clearly been his biggest success.

In this series, Gotham Gazette, with election coverage partners City Limits and WNYC radio, examines de Blasio's record on a variety of important issues. While this is not completely exhaustive, it should be helpful to voters and others seeking to evaluate de Blasio this fall. With our partners, Gotham Gazette will release articles and audio pieces on the following aspects of de Blasio's record -- those already published are linked below.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.

More to read/view/hear:

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Dissecting Mayor De Blasio's Record As He Seeks Reelection Wed, 01 Nov 2017 23:26:00 +0000