Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/630 Sun, 17 Dec 2017 15:29:55 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Suggestions for Better Disaster Relief from Former HUD Leader http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7085:suggestions-for-better-disaster-relief-from-former-hud-leader http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7085:suggestions-for-better-disaster-relief-from-former-hud-leader NYC Ferries

NYC Ferries (Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


As the city approaches the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the eastern seaboard and wrecked homes and businesses in New York’s coastal communities, a new report says there is more work to be done to prepare for the next storm.

Former HUD regional administrator for New York and New Jersey Holly Leicht, who oversaw the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s $15.2 billion Superstorm Sandy recovery program, presented a report last week with 41 recommendations for how the government at the federal, state and local levels could better approach natural disaster preparedness and recovery. Leicht’s report was the centerpiece of a symposium sponsored by the Community Preservation Corporation (CPC), a nonprofit organization that deals with affordable housing for underserved communities, and the Staten Island Borough President’s office.

The 51-page report includes numerous proposals for stronger coordination between federal and local authorities in the wake of a disaster, streamlined funding for disaster relief, improved communication with affected communities and reduced bureaucratic hurdles in disaster response.

For instance, Leicht suggests creating a single disaster relief website where individuals could go to seek assistance from multiple agencies, making a single office in charge of disaster recovery, and instituting fundamental readiness standards. She floats the idea of giving HUD the authority to appropriate disaster recovery funding, encourages standardization of disaster relief funds to prioritize low- and middle-income families, and recommends that Congress and White House allocate additional tax credits to replace lost rental housing units with new affordable housing. 

“This is something we can accomplish without our heads exploding,” Leicht joked in her opening remarks at the CPC conference. “We’re making incremental change in an area where we need to be making drastic change and fast change.”

Asked what she would say to critics who might question the cost of such reforms, Leich told Gotham Gazette, “I think my message is that a lot of these things are cost neutral. Out of 41, we could probably do 25 without expending much money or having to change laws. The key thing is having leadership to get started.”

From 2011 to 2013 alone, the federal government spent a total of $136 billion on disaster recovery. Leicht argued that not nearly enough funding is being spent on mitigation to prevent damage from future natural disasters. According to her report, prioritizing mitigation can save $1.2 billion in funding annually.

“I know this is difficult,” said Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, who participated in the panel discussion during the event. “We, as government, made mistakes...I’m not trying to pick a fight with a billionaire ex-mayor, I had plenty of dials with that administration back in the day. I’m not trying to tug on the current mayor’s cape, but I owe it to my constituents to make sure there’s a process that is frank about what went wrong.”

One of the major criticisms regarding the recovery effort after Sandy is the amount of time it took to repair and restore homes that had been destroyed. According to Leicht, 18 months was considered the gold standard as to when individuals could expect to move back into their homes after Sandy, and many homeowners were not aware of this.

“I absolutely believe had my constituents known that they were looking at an 18-month, two year, three year, five year process, they would have made different decisions,” Oddo said. Many are still not back in their homes as the five-year anniversary of the storm approaches this fall.

There also seems to be lingering confusion around how recovery is defined in government agencies that are supposed to be providing relief to victims. Recovery could simply mean making sure the person affected by the disaster is able to get back on their feet, or it could also mean that recovery has not been achieved until the victim has been fully compensated for what was lost.

“We’ve gotta make some substantive changes here,” said Brad Gair, former director of Housing Recovery Operations in New York City and currently the senior managing director of Witt O’Brien’s, a private sector crisis and disaster management firm. “This recovery was a disaster. We failed the people of New York -- I’m talking from a city perspective. The problem is, what are we trying to do here? When we talk about post-disaster housing have we ever had the discussion of: do people, who lost their houses because of a disaster, are they entitled to a new home at the government’s expense? I’m not saying yes or no. I’m saying we’ve gotta talk about that. Until you talk about that, you get what you get.”

Nonetheless, the city and state have taken some steps to safeguard against future damage caused by hurricanes. For example, some properties in coastal areas that are at risk of being impacted by storms are being bought by the government to prevent individuals from moving back in.

But Oddo concluded with some cautionary words for lawmakers and administrators. “Be careful of the struggle between building quickly and building smartly,” he said. “We were so careful we did neither.”

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Suggestions for Better Disaster Relief from Former HUD Leader Tue, 25 Jul 2017 19:36:45 +0000
Bill Mandates Board of Elections Emergency Plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6214:bill-mandates-board-of-elections-emergency-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6214:bill-mandates-board-of-elections-emergency-plan treyger william alatriste

City Council Member Mark Treyger, left (photo: William Alatriste) 


New York City is no stranger to calamity, be it natural or man-made, and many city agencies have emergency response plans for varying levels of crisis. On Wednesday, City Council Member Mark Treyger will introduce a bill to ensure that the Board of Elections, which administers voting in the city, joins these agencies in formulating its own disaster-preparedness procedures for conducting the polls.

"We have to make sure that democracy perseveres through a crisis," Treyger told Gotham Gazette. The Council member represents parts of southern Brooklyn that were hit hard by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, just a week before election day. Treyger's experience with the storm and his role as chair of the Council's Committee on Recovery and Resiliency give him a unique perspective on the issue.

"Every agency, NYCHA or DOE, are all in the process of updating their emergency response plans," Treyger said. "I'm curious to know what the BOE has done to better respond to emergencies post-Superstorm Sandy and what level of coordination exists between the City and the State."

Treyger's bill would mandate that the BOE be prepared for extreme situations by working with the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management to create a reasonable plan to conduct an election amid a crisis. In the interview, Treyger emphasized that he is sensitive about the primary goal during an emergency of protecting life, but wants to make sure that the democratic process isn't lost in the fray "once emergency relief efforts are concluded and all lives are accounted for." It would require, he said, coordination between multiple agencies, and between city and state authorities.

"Quite frankly, one crisis should not be an excuse for another crisis," Treyger said, citing New York's low voter turnout in past elections and how this record is worse in years when catastrophe strikes.

Superstorm Sandy had the Board of Elections scrambling to ensure that people could vote. Many polling stations were damaged by the floods and had to be moved with little public notice, which Treyger said affected at least 250,000 people. In response, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a day before the election, issued an executive order that allowed affected residents to vote with an affidavit ballot at any polling site. Treyger said these affidavit ballots started to run out at many sites. He insisted that these issues could have been averted if there had been a contingency plan and poll workers were trained on how to conduct an election during an emergency.

Of course, Sandy wasn't the first disaster to hit around election time. In 2001, the primary elections were scheduled for September 11, and were postponed by two weeks in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks.

"There is no cost too high," Treyger said, "to make sure that democracy is administered in a fair and just way for all New Yorkers." When Gotham Gazette asked about the financial implications of the bill, he said that could be worked out once the proposal is considered and that this is the right time to do so. "It is budget season," Treyger said. 

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Bill Mandates Board of Elections Emergency Plan Tue, 08 Mar 2016 22:45:06 +0000
Time for NYCHA to Stop Wasting Our Money http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6159:time-for-nycha-to-stop-wasting-our-money http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6159:time-for-nycha-to-stop-wasting-our-money nycha construction pic empty

photo via NYCHA


In following the news over the past years, it has become readily apparent that the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) must either be severely underfunded or grossly mismanaged. Unfortunately it's the latter.

There is no shortage of issues that have come up that demonstrate the ineptitude of NYCHA leadership. From failing to protect residents in advance of Hurricane Sandy to toxic molds to turning on the heat only if it gets to 25 degrees, NYCHA is failing its residents. To say that NYCHA is mismanaged and wasting our tax money is an understatement. Officials are throwing it away, literally - NYCHA actually recently threw away $550,000 of new supplies that were purchased but determined to not be useful.

But wasteful spending doesn't end there. NYCHA attaches Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) to all of their rehab and construction projects. These costly provisions mandate that a vast majority of workers come from the union halls, leading to fewer contractors bidding on the work and diminished competition.

Officials agree to these provisions even though studies show PLAs increase construction costs up to 30 percent. These additional costs come from reduced competition and antiquated jurisdictional work rules that prevent efficiencies. At a time when Mayor de Blasio has taken a stand for increased affordable housing in New York City by standing up to the powerful trades unions and telling them that they've out-priced themselves, NYCHA is acquiescing to their every demand, to the detriment of taxpayers and tenants alike.

An increasing amount of work is being done throughout New York City by merit shop contractors, and with good reason. These men and women have found innovative ways to build the best projects in efficient, cost-effective ways, while still taking great care of their employees. Go to any private job site today and you will more than likely see a diverse group of professionals working together as a team to get the job done. There is no bickering among differing trades as to whose responsibility it is to do key tasks like you see on public or taxpayer funded job sites.

Unfortunately, while these advancements have made construction better and cheaper, our union counterparts have been left behind, instead being forced to rely on their political influence to get publicly funded work such as at NYCHA. But as more and more of the general public is becoming aware of how this impacts their wallets and how much farther their dollar could go, this is changing too.

These changes have spurred the unfortunate rhetoric and baseless claims from union bosses who see their empires slipping away.

Imagine how much work could get done with 30 percent more capital to work with? Maybe those elevators could finally get fixed or the mold would finally be eradicated. Perhaps NYCHA could be more prepared for a disaster. And what if, not to be too bold, NYCHA could actually turn the heat on before it hits 25 degrees?

As a public authority, NYCHA has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of this city. This should encourage its leaders to stretch tax dollars as far as they can to get the most bang for the buck. They also have a moral obligation to the tenants of their housing. This means they should do everything they can to get the best housing available at the most competitive pricing - making more housing available to those who need it.

NYCHA needs to be cleaned up, and the corruption and mismanagement that have plagued the tenants and taxpayers of New York City needs to be addressed. The process by which NYCHA officials spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars is a start.

Our message to NYCHA is clear: while you've gotten used to throwing our money away, you owe it to taxpayers and tenants to open bids up, create competition, and get the most bang for our buck.

***
Brian Sampson is the President of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Empire State Chapter. The Association was founded on the shared belief that construction projects should be awarded on merit to the most qualified and responsible low bidders. The Chapter represents nearly 400 members in the construction industry throughout NYS.

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

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Time for NYCHA to Stop Wasting Our Money Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:32:49 +0000
To Fix Penn Station, Think Smaller http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6073:to-fix-penn-station-think-smaller http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6073:to-fix-penn-station-think-smaller Cuomo penn station plan presser

Cuomo with a new Penn Station plan (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin, Governor's Office)


Governor Cuomo deserves credit for jumpstarting the Moynihan Station project this week, albeit under a different moniker. After decades of neglect, commuters and long-distance travelers deserve light, air, and dignity.

But Cuomo's plan neglects the deeper problems that have long plagued Penn Station.

In 1970, one railroad controlled the transportation hub. After it went bankrupt, New York State took over trains to Long Island, New Jersey took over trains to the Garden State, and the Feds took on the rest.

Chaos ensued. Some routine trips now required three different types of tickets bought in three different ways. Passengers boarded from three different concourses with three different departure boards.

And worst of all, three different railroads clogged the same number of tracks.

Crowds, delays, and frustration become the norm. And after Superstorm Sandy decimated Penn's tunnels, the three railroads bickered and dithered as riders suffered.

Even with a reinvented station complex overhead, the Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, and Amtrak will still share the mostly same tracks, cramped platforms, and underwater tunnels. It's unlikely that decades of dysfunction will disappear after the ribbons are cut.

And with ridership climbing and Sandy repairs looming, the trio can barely keep up with the status quo — let alone support the expansion that the economy demands.

Cooperation would help resolve these problems. Running commuter trains between Long Island and New Jersey — rather than terminating them at Penn — could double capacity while opening up jobs to those on both sides of Manhattan. Coordinated communications and ticketing could ease crowding and nerves. And other options, such as sharing services, would slow the rate of fare increases for riders of all stripes.

To truly fix Penn Station, Cuomo must look beyond the building. Cooperation among the railroads is the missing ingredient in the governor's plan.

***
Adrian Untermyer is Deputy Director of the Historic Districts Council and was named an Emerging Leader in Transportation by the NYU Rudin Center. On Twitter @untermyer.

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To Fix Penn Station, Think Smaller Thu, 07 Jan 2016 23:50:06 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 26 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5949:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-october-26-2015 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5949:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-october-26-2015 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will be dominated by the World Series, we know that. The New York Mets begin their quest for the title against the Royals in Kansas City on Tuesday night, followed by another game in KC on Wednesday and then games in Queens on Friday, Saturday, and, if necessary, Sunday. If the series continues, games six and seven would be the following Tuesday and Wednesday (Nov. 3 and 4) back in Kansas City. On Sunday, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon announced a wager over the series, with the loser having to wear the jersey of the winning team to work for a day. There are other aspects of the bet, too, with significant home-state items to be sent from loser to winner.

Now, on to politics sans sport.

It was a quiet political weekend. Mayor de Blasio, City Council Member Dan Garodnick, and others touted the new Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village sales deal to the complex's tenant association on Saturday afternoon. [Read CM Garodnick's thoughts on the sale in this Gotham Gazette op-ed]

On Monday, de Blasio has no public events scheduled. Governor Cuomo is in New York City Monday, though, to make an announcement at 1:30 p.m. at Chelsea Piers.

There is a lot happening Monday and beyond. Services will occur this week to honor Police Officer Randolph Holder, who was killed on October 20. As has been the case since Holder was shot and killed, criminal justice reform and policing are sure to be sources of significant attention this week.

Thursday is the three-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy hitting New York; there are sure to be both rememberances of the people and property lost, as well as assessments of progress made in recovering from Sandy and preparing for the next big storm.

See our day-by-day rundown below.

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

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At the City Council on Monday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet to discuss a bill that would ban the sale of personal care products or over the counter drugs that contain microbeads, as well as pass a resolution on the Microbeads-free Waters Acts.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Environmental Protection will meet to discuss bills related to the use of biodiesel.

On Monday morning, current and former elected officials and others will honor recently-retired former Assemblymember Joan Millman. Comptroller Scott Stringer is among those who will speak.

At 12:30 p.m. Monday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will visit the High School of Fashion Industries to kick off College Application Week and make an announcement.

On Monday at 1 p.m. at City Hall, Congressional Rep. Nydia Velazquez will announce new legislation aimed at reducing the number of guns in New York and nationwide. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries; Public Advocate Letitia James; Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams; Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson; Leah Gunn Barrett, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence; and NYC families impacted by gun violence will also participate.

At 3 p.m. Monday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a Hometown Rally to cheer on the Mets as they start Game 1 of the World Series Tuesday night in Kansas City. Other elected officials, including City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Public Advocate Letitia James are set to participate.

Later, Mark-Viverito will speak at the 2015 Roy & Lila Ash Innovations Award for Public Engagement in Government, where she and the City Council are receiving an award for their Participatory Budgeting program. [Read more about the award and the participatory budgeting program in our new in-depth report: Participatory Budgeting Grows in NYC - Why Isn't Every Council Member Doing It?]

Then, Mark-Viverito "speaks at 2015 Shine Event for LGBT Immigration Equality."

At 7 p.m. Monday the Bronx Young Democrats will discuss the achievements and current initiatives of young female Bronx leaders. The event will feature Darcel Clark, Democratic candidate for Bronx District Attorney; City Council Member Vanessa Gibson; State Assemblymember Latoya Joyner; and Marsha Michael, Attorney & Law Clerk.

At 7:15 p.m. the Immigration Equality event “SHINE”, celebrating women’s leadership in in the LGBT community, will honor City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and  Denise Chambers, Immigration Equality client and asylum winner from Trinidad.

On Monday evening, several uptown Manhattan Democratic clubs are hosting Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for a discussion of relevant issues. City Council Member Mark Levine will also participate in the dialogue.

Monday evening is the Riders Alliance gala. Public Advocate Letitia James is among those set to attend.

Monday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting event: CM Mark Treyger (District 47, Brooklyn) 6 p.m.

Tuesday
On Tuesday, at 8:30 a.m., Stroock, the public affairs law firm, will host a Government Leadership forum  “What is the Future of Organized Labor?” Vincent Alvarez, President of the New York City Central Labor Council; Gregory Floyd, President of Local 237 Teamsters; Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers; and Harry Nespoli, President of the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association will be on the panel. Robert Abrams, former New York State Attorney General and Chair of Stroock's Government Relations Practice Group, and Alan M. Klinger, Co-Managing Partner and Co-Chair of Stroock's Litigation Practice Group, will moderate.

On Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is in Westchester County meeting with elected officials and touring different areas.

At 10:30 a.m. the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) will meet on a number of matters including its ongoing search for a new Executive Director.

At 11 a.m. Vocal-NY, City Council Member Jumaane Williams, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and others will hold the Fair Chance Rally. The purpose of the rally is to raise awareness about the Fair Chance Act, which makes it illegal for New York City employers to ask about one’s criminal record until after a job offer is made, and is going into effect.

At the New York State Legislature on Tuesday: the Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation and Assembly Climate Change Work Group will have a roundtable discussion on Climate Change.

At the City Council on Tuesday: at 11 a.m. the Committee on Women’s Issues; the Committee on Health; and the Committee on Education will meet for a joint oversight hearing on sex education in NYC schools. They will discuss three bills that would: require the Department of Education to provide a report on student health services to the Council; require the DOE to report annually on information about health education and HIV/AIDS education for students in grades six through twelve; require the DOE to submit an annual report on the sexual health education received by instructors in public middle and high schools.

Prior to that City Council hearing, at 10 a.m., there will be a "press conference to call for comprehensive sex education in NYC schools" led by Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Chair of the Committee on Women's Issues; Daniel Dromm, Chair of the Committee on Education; and Corey Johnson, Chair of the Committee on Health; as well as representatives from Planned Parenthood of New York City; NARAL Pro-Choice New York; New York Civil Liberties Union; and Reproductive Healthcare Advocates.

On Tuesday at 2 p.m. at 250 Broadway, "State Senator Jeff Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester), together with Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Member Annabel Palma and Make the Road New York, will release a bombshell investigative report "The American Scheme: Herbalife's Pyramid 'Shake'down.""

At 4 p.m. Safe Passage Project will hold an event composed of two parts. The first will be discussing the unmet needs of recent migrant children and young parent from Central America. City Council Member Rory Lancman will make opening remarks. There will be multiple related panel discussions thereafter.

Tuesday evening, Governor Cuomo is set to deliver remarks at the Business Council of Westchester’s Annual Dinner.

At 6 p.m. the city Panel for Educational Policy will have a public meeting in Manhattan. At the event the Chancellor will give an update on current policies and the panel will discuss a number of important topics including: Race and Diversity in School Admission, Aggregation of Community District Budgets Together with a Proposed Budget for Administrative Expenditures of the City Board and the Chancellor, and more; while also taking public comment.

At 6:30 p.m. during The Hispanic Leadership Awards, City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer will lead a celebration honoring several people for their outstanding leadership in the Latino community, including Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who will receive a Distinguished Public Service Award.  

At 7 p.m. City Council Members Donovan Richards and I. Daneek Miller will hold a Southeast Queens Transportation Town Hall. Representatives from DOT, MTA, TLC, and NYPD will attend.

Tuesday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Mathieu Eugene (District 40, Brooklyn) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Paul Vallone (District 19, Queens) 7 p.m.

Wednesday
At the New York State Legislature on Wednesday: The Assembly Standing Committee on Aging along with the Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities, the Assembly Subcommittee on Community Integration, and the Assembly Subcommittee on Outreach and Oversight of Senior Citizen Programs, will hold a joint public hearing regarding the “New York State Office for the Aging’s study on the benefits of creating an office of community living”

At 6:30 p.m. several groups host “Why She Ran: A Conversation With Women in Politics” discussing the challenges women face in New York politics and encouraging women to run for office. Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Julissa Ferreras, and Council Member Helen Rosenthal will speak at the event. Sponsors of the event include the Working Families Party, Eleanor's Legacy, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Higher Heights for America, Ladies of Labor, Shirley Chisholm Institute, NOW-NYS, Women's Organizing Network, and WIN NYC.

Also at 6:30 p.m., school district 3 will host a Town Hall meeting with Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

Wednesday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Paul Vallone (District 19, Queens) 6 p.m.
  • CM Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx) 6 p.m.
  • CM Helen Rosenthal (District 6, Manhattan) 6 p.m.
  • CM Ritchie Torres (District 15, Bronx) time TBA
  • CM Eric Ulrich (District 32, Queens) 8 p.m.
  • CM Paul Vallone (District 19, Queens) 7 p.m.
  • CM Jumaane D. Williams (District 45, Brooklyn) 6:30 p.m.

Thursday
On Thursday beginning at 8:30 a.m. the Urban Land Institute will hold a conference about the best new practices to help fund public transportation infrastructure in the New York metro area in the face of withering public funding, including solutions through partnerships with the private sector.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10:30 a.m. the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections will meet to hear communication from Orlando Marin of the City Planning Commission
  • At 1:30 p.m. will be a City Council Stated Meeting; prefaced, as always, by the Speaker’s pre-stated press conference at 12:30 p.m.

At 5:30 p.m. United States Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates will discuss the administration’s top goals and priorities at the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School; following the speech will be a Q&A session.

At 5:30 p.m. The Hopkins-Hunter Forum for Education Policy, The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and The Hunter College Gifted and Talented Program will host “The Excellence Gap: The State of Gifted and Talented Education,” an event that will discuss the income based education gap among students, and talk about suggestions on how to address the issue in the future.

At 6 p.m. Mayor Bill de Blasio will be hosting a fundraiser for his 2017 campaign, as reported by Politico New York.

Thursday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Mathieu Eugene (District 40, Brooklyn) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Corey Johnson (District 3, Manhattan) 4:30 p.m.
  • CM Donovan Richards (District 31, Queens) time TBA
  • CM Paul Vallone (District 19, Queens) 7 p.m.

Friday and the weekend
On Saturday and Sunday, Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will hold two Spooky Parties at Gracie Mansion, inviting families with children 5-10 years old to come tour their haunted house. Families must have tickets through the ticket giveaway being held prior to the event.

On Sunday at 2 p.m. a large group of Democratic political clubs and progressive organizations will hold a Democratic Party Presidential Candidate Forum. Representatives from the Clinton, Sanders, O’Malley and Lessing campaigns will participate.. The forum will be moderated by Ronnie Eldridge.

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

***
by Colin O'Connor, Konstantine Beridze, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 26 Sun, 25 Oct 2015 05:00:00 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 19 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5938:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-october19 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5938:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-october19 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio was in Israel over the weekend, where he spoke at the Annual Conference of Mayors, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visited recent terror attack victims, and made several other stops, including at the Western Wall and at a school educating a diverse student population. De Blasio spoke against a new wave of anti-Semitism and called for a "broken-windows" approach to combatting hate.

De Blasio is flying back to New York Sunday evening, he has no public events scheduled Monday.

Coming up this week, the 'new' Bill de Blasio will continue to show, with the mayor set to hold a joint press event with his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, on Wednesday. De Blasio and Bloomberg have appeared together several times since de Blasio came into office, but have not held a joint event, as they will for the planting of the millionth tree in the "Million Trees NYC" program launched by Bloomberg in 2007.

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

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

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
On Monday, starting at 8:30 a.m., the City Council Progressive Caucus and allies are holding a conference to discuss progressive public policies and legislative priorities aimed at inequality and improving communities. Keynote will be given by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, with panel discussions on defending workers' rights, expanding and modernizing democracy, moving toward a greener city, and community safety and empowerment.

Afterward, at noon outside of SEIU 32BJ headquarters, Progressive Caucus Members and allies will “rally on their legislative priorities aimed at offering genuine opportunity to all New Yorkers, especially those who have been left out of our society’s prosperity.” Caucus Co-Chairs Donovan Richards and Antonio Reynoso, Vice-Chairs Helen Rosenthal and Ben Kallos, and other caucus members will be joined by “event sponsors Local Progress and Working Families Organization and advocates from SEIU 32BJ, VOCAL NY, Communities united for Police Reform, Bag It NYC, Streetwise and Safe and BRT for NYC.”

At 8:30 a.m. Monday, Black Live Matter / Fight for $15: A New Social Movement, a discussion on the convergence of the two movements and the chances of them sowing the seeds “for a broader social and economic justice movement” - featuring Alicia Garza of Black Lives Matter and Domestic Workers Alliance; Jelani Cobb, Journalist & Professor at UConn; Hillman Judge; and Kendall Fells, SEIU / Fight For $15.  

On Monday morning’s The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will appear in one segment, discussing several topics, and Queens state Senator Michael Gianaris will appear in another to discuss his bail elimination proposal.

At the City Council on Monday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Immigration will hold a joint oversight meeting with the Committee on Courts and Legal Services to evaluate Attorney Compliances with Padilla vs. Kentucky and court obstacles for immigrants in Criminal and Summons Courts.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Civil Rights will meet to hear several new bills related to protecting against discrimination; clarifying that any “person providing goods, services or accommodations” as stated in the Human Rights Law also includes government bodies; forbid any accommodation provider from discriminating based on income source; and make it unlawful for anyone who provides housing to refuse it to a person based the perception that the person is a victim of domestic abuse or violence. 

On Monday at 1:30 p.m. in Niagra Falls, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman "will discuss steps his office is taking with local officials to combat the use of designer drugs."

At 5:30 p.m., New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, together with the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus of the Council will host a Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration.

Also at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a Borough Board meeting to hear details from the Department of City Planning (DCP) on the “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” and “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing” proposed zoning text amendments.

At 6:30 p.m.,  Sanctuary for Families’ 13th Annual Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards & Benefit will be honoring Rosemonde Pierre-Louis, Senior Advisor on Gender Equity and former Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, and others.

On Monday evening, Speaker Mark-Viverito will attend "the Little Sisters of the Assumption Family Health Services Gala."

Monday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • Mark Treyger (District 47, Brooklyn) 6 p.m.
  • Steve Levin (District 33, Brooklyn) 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday
On Tuesday at 9 a.m., on the third anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, the Center for New York City Affairs at Milano School of International Affairs will hold a panel titled Hurricane Sandy +3: Building Resilient Neighborhoods. Conversation will focus on the state of the post-storm infrastructure in the areas where the storm hit hardest. The panel will include Daniel A. Zarrilli, director of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency; Joel Towers, executive dean, Parsons School of Design at the New School; Klaus Jacob, special research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; Onleilove Alston, executive director of Faith in New York; Hugh Hogan, executive director of the North Star Fund;Shermane Margaret Stewart-Lester, lay leader at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Far Rockaway.

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a Borough Cabinet Meeting.

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 9:30 a.m. the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet to discuss land use applications.
  • At 1 p.m. the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet to discuss land use applications.

At the New York State Assembly on Tuesday: at 10 a.m. the Assembly Standing Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities will convene for a public hearing on “The Adequacy of Supports and Services for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities.”

On Tuesday, Public Advocate Letitia James chairs COPIC Commission meeting at Borough of Manhattan Community College (stream: http://livestream.com/BMCCMedia/events/4439178) at 10 a.m. Then, at 11:15, she is a panelist at "NASP's "The State of WMBE's Doing Business in NYS: From the Legislative Perspective" and at 6 p.m. she hosts "Staten Island Clergy Council Education Forum."

At 11:15 a.m. Monday near Stuyvesant Town, Mayor de Blasio and "local elected officials and tenant leaders from Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village will hold a media availability" about the imminent sale of the property.

On Tuesday at 1:15 p.m. from the 25th Police Precinct at 120 East 119th Street, "Mayor de Blasio – alongside Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton – will sign Intro. 917-A, criminalizing the manufacture, possession with intent to sell, and sale of synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic phenethylamines; Intro. 897, allowing the City to apply public nuisance regulations to violations of the new criminal provision barring the sale of K2; and Intro. 885-A, allowing the city to revoke, suspend or refuse to renew a cigarette dealer license due to the sale of synthetic drugs or imitation synthetic drugs...After, the Mayor will appear live on Power 105.1 with Angie Martinez to discuss the K-2 legislation."

At 4 p.m. Mark-Viverito will host a press conference "to celebrate $1.2 Million in funding for STARS Afterschool Initiative with Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland at P.S. 50 on 100th Street in Manhattan. Then, at 8 p.m., Mark-Viverito will host "#SheWillBe Twitter Party to Discuss the City Council's First In The Nation Young Women's Initiative...Join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #SheWillBe."

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday Community Voices Heard will hold a rally titled “March on the Mayor: Stop Privatization, Start Funding NYCHA.” The demonstration will demand a stop to increasing privatization and an increase in funding for the New York City Housing Authority by $2 billion starting this year.

At 6 p.m. the Brooklyn Historical Society will host Life After Surveillance in Bay Ridge’s Muslim Community, a discussion about the post-9/11 surveillance in Bay Ridge and how this surveillance sowed seeds of distrust in the neighbourhood. Panelists include moderator Jarrett Murphy, Executive Editor of City Limits; Linda Sarsour, Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York; Moustafa Bayoumi; award-winning writer, and Professor of English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York; and Dr. Ahmad Jaber, an OB/GYN at the Lutheran Medical Center in Bay Ridge and a Muslim religious educator.

Tuesday "evening, the Mayor and First Lady Chirlane McCray will host the Gracie Gala Dinner," according to de Blasio's public schedule. The Gracie Mansion Conservancy will hold an invitation only fundraiser to celebrate the grand re-opening of Gracie Mansion after recent repairs. The fundraiser will feature the mansion’s new art installation, Windows on the City: Looking Out at Gracie’s New York, curated with help of the Museum of the City of New York, the New York Historical Society, Brooklyn College, Brooklyn Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Governor Cuomo will attend "the Nassau County Democratic Committee Annual Fall Dinner."

Tuesday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 p.m.
  • Eric Ulrich (District 32, Queens) 7 p.m.

Wednesday
On Wednesday in the Bronx: Mayor de Blasio and his predecessor, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will meet to plant the millionth tree in the Million Trees NYC program, a Bloomberg initiative begun in 2007.

On Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. Comptroller Scott Stringer will hold a “Queens Hearing for Business Owners and Entrepreneurs.” The event is the next installment of the Comptroller’s “Red Tape Commision Hearings” dedicated to listening to ideas and suggestion that would make it easier for entrepreneurs and business owners to grow their businesses, while partnering with the government. The event will bring together Borough President Melinda Katz; Queens Chamber of Commerce; Queens Economic Development Corporation; the Queens Tribune; and co-chairs of the Red Tape Commission Jessica Lappin and Michael Lambert.

Also at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly will headline a Fordham University event “Governance in New York City: The Bloomberg Years.”

At the New York State Legislature on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection and the Committee on Aging and the Subcommittee on Consumer Fraud Protection will hold a joint public hearing on “State resource funding to protect consumers, including seniors, from frauds and scams.”
  • At 11 a.m. the Senate Task Force on Workforce Development will convene for a public meeting “To examine initiatives and determine best practices for job skill training and re-training programs, and provide recommendations to foster workforce development in New York State.”
  • At 12:30 p.m. the Assembly Standing Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities will hold a public hearing regarding the “Transition of Behavioral Health Supports and Services into Managed Care.”

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Harry Siegel of The New York Daily News and Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute will try to answer the question, “Is The NYPD Doing Its Job?” The discussion will be moderated by social critic Kay S. Hymowitz, author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys, and will explore the new tracking system aimed at reducing police brutality and assess Commissioner Bratton’s effort to implement the program.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, City Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Mark Levine will host the event "Jewish Poverty in New York City" along with a group of civic organizations including YM & YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood, the Russian-speaking Community Council of Manhattan and the Bronx, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, the Fort Tyron Jewish Center, the Jewish Community Council of Washington Heights-Inwood, the Hebrew Tabernacle, and The Workmen’s Circle.

Also at 6:30 p.m., City & State NY will be host its 2015 New York City Rising Stars: 40 Under 40 celebration. The list features stars in government, advocacy, labor, and consulting.

At 7 p.m. the Department of Education, the School Construction Authority, elected officials, and parents will meet for “Let’s Talk About Overcrowding.” The event will focus on the issue of overcrowding in public schools in Cobble Hill and Caroll Gardens, in addition to addressing several other school-related issues. State Senator Daniel Squadron, State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, City Councilmember Brad Lander, City Councilmember Steve Levin, and others will participate.

At 3:30 Wednesday in Manhattan, Families for Excellent Schools is planning to hold another rally to support charter schools, this time featuring charter school teachers, about 1,000 of whom are expected to rally.

Wednesday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting event is via CM Mark Levine (District 7, Manhattan) 6 p.m.

Thursday
At 8 a.m. Thursday, The Sixth Annual MAS Summit for New York City will commence. The Municipal Art Society summit will run through Friday evening and include two days of networking opportunities and one hundred speakers. Notable presenters include: Commissioner Vicki Been, of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development; Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs; Alicia Glen, Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development; New York State Senator Chuck Schumer; Purnima Kapur, Executive Director for the Department of City Planning; and many more to speak about “The City We Want.”

Thursday at 10:30 a.m. Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a Land Use Hearing.

At the City Council Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Finance will meet to discuss the extension of credit against the unincorporated business tax and the general corporation tax.
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Transportation will meet to hear several bills related to the TLC and commuter vans..
  • At 11 a.m. the Committee on Land Use will meet, with agenda TBA.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services will hold a hearing on new accessibility-related bills.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency will meet for oversight on coastal storm resiliency in the city two year after the SIRR report.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Economic Development will meet on bills that would require the NYCEDC to submit annual job creation reports to community planning boards; require SBS to collect data on gender and racial diversity among “executive level employees” in city contractor companies.

At the New York State Assembly Thursday, a “Budget oversight hearing for the Assembly Standing Committees on Local Governments and Cities.”

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Public Agenda will hold “Restoring Opportunity: The Role of Education,” an event to discuss how the education policies of both New York State and the entire nation need to change in order for the country to truly offer the opportunities promised by the American Dream. Brian Lehrer, from WNYC, will moderate the discussion, interviewing Andie Puriefoy, the former president of the Public Education Network and Alison Kadlec, an expert of higher education reform.

At 7 p.m. BRIC will host the panel discussion “Breaking Down the Walls: #BHeard on Immigration, a Community Town Hall.” The talk will be moderated by Brian Vines and feature City Council Member Carlos Menchaca; Linda Sarsour, Arab American Association; Adrian Carasquillo, immigration reporter for Buzzfeed news; Alina Das, NYU professor; and Shena Elrington, director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Popular Democracy.

At their annual fall dinner Thursday, Empire State Pride Agenda will award Governor Cuomo with the 25th anniversary Silver Torch Award for “his extraordinary efforts to make marriage equality a reality in New York — paving the way for the freedom to marry nationwide” and “his more recent commitment to ending the AIDS epidemic in New York.” Along with Cuomo, other speakers will be Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; City Public Advocate Letitia James; Pride Agenda Board Co-Chairs Norman C. Simon and Melissa Sklarz; and Pride Agenda Executive Director Nathan Schaefer.

Citizens Union, the good government group, will hold its 2015 Annual Awards Dinner Thursday evening. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will give featured remarks. Citizens Union honorees include Mylan L. Denerstein (Public Service Award), Adam Flatto (Business Leadership Award), Haeda B. Mihaltses (Public Service Award), and Stephen P. Younger (Civic Leadership Award).

Beginning Thursday evening and continuing through Friday, the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute will host “Youth, Jobs and Future: Responses to Youth Unemployment.”

Thursday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Helen Rosenthal (District 6, Manhattan) 6 p.m.
  • CM Paul Vallone (District 19, Queens) 7 p.m.

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday: at 10 a.m. the Committee on Higher Education will convene for oversight on college testing access.

"The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be held on Friday, October 23 at 10:00 AM."

At the New York State Assembly on Friday: at 10:30 a.m. the Assembly Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions and the Assembly Standing Committee on Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry will hold a joint public hearing on “Providing Affordable and High Quality Cable, Broadband, and Telephone Service.”

Friday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting event is via CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn) 6 p.m.

Saturday at 10:30 a.m., New Yorkers Against Gun Violence will hold Walk Over the Hudson for Gun Sense, a march in response to recent bursts of gun violence across the US. The event invites citizens to show their “commitment to background checks, safe storage, and other common sense gun safety laws.”

At noon Saturday, BetaNYC will hold an event to improve CityGram.NYC, a website which allows New York City residents to subscribe to open government data based on their geographic location and areas of interest.

Saturday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting event is via CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn), 2 p.m.

On Sunday, the de Blasio family will open their doors to the public at a Gracie Mansion Open House. A ticket giveaway will take place on the event website. In celebration of the Mansion’s 35th anniversary, the open house will feature 49 new works as part of the “Windows on the City: Looking Out at Gracie’s New York” show.

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

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by Colin O'Connor, Konstantine Beridze, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 19 Sun, 18 Oct 2015 05:00:00 +0000
Hurting Homeowners Say Bank Settlement Funds Belong with Them http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5652:hurting-homeowners-say-bank-settlement-funds-belong-with-them http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5652:hurting-homeowners-say-bank-settlement-funds-belong-with-them build it back home

A home rebuilt after Sandy (photo: @NYCBuilditBack)


More than two years on and David Velez's battle with Hurricane Sandy is far from over. But, thanks to some help from the Attorney General's office, Velez's fight with his mortgage lender may soon be coming to an end.

The first floor of the retired NYPD officer's home in Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn was destroyed by flooding during the hurricane, and without help from insurance he and his wife used their savings to rebuild.

Unfortunately, after the construction was complete an architect from the City's Build it Back program deemed the residence structurally unsafe. Velez and his family moved out of the home this past October and were told that demolition would begin in November. Now March, Velez is still waiting for Department of Housing Preservation and Development contractors to begin construction of his home. While the program has gotten a shot in the arm under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the pace is still too slow for many.

Even living out of his home there is another reminder of the damage Sandy has done: Velez gets regular calls from Citibank representatives asking when he will catch up on his mortgage. "They even called me the day I had cancer surgery to remove a tumor," said Velez who was advised like other Sandy victims that he could stop mortgage payments while his home was being rebuilt, only for his lender to demand missed payments immediately after the forbearance was over.

It is a call increasingly familiar to homeowners across the state who are behind on their mortgages, whether from unexpected disasters like Hurricane Sandy or thanks to the economic downturn of 2008 and subsequent recession. Even in 2014, New York City saw a 33 percent increase in first-time foreclosures compared to the year before, according to one recent study.

Many homeowners have watched as Attorney General Eric Schniederman won the state multi-million dollar settlements from major lenders like Bank of America, Citibank, and JPMorgan. Like Velez, many struggling homeowners expected that those settlements would go directly to help New Yorkers who are underwater with their mortgage.

In Velez's case the AG's office did offer help, through an initiative called the Mortgage Assistance Program, which makes up to a $40,000 loan for homeowners who face foreclosure to pay off mortgage debt, second or third mortgages, or tax liens. Eligible families must be able to keep up with their mortgage to qualify for the program. Thousands of New Yorkers face foreclosure and don't qualify for the AG's program - some New Yorkers are simply far too behind on their mortgages to qualify.

Groups like The Fair Share for Housing Coalition and New York Communities for Change say the State needs to commit all of the funds from settlements with major lenders over mortgage fraud to go to helping homeowners.

In 2013 Schneiderman won a $615 million settlement for "mortgage misconduct" and according to the settlement 85 percent of that money had to go to programs to help homeowners. Schneiderman announced he was going to parse the cash out to nonprofits across the state that help homeowners avoid foreclosures, but Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature cut a deal in the 2014 budget that swept the cash into their coffers. According to Crain's New York, Schneiderman only ended up with $85 million of settlement funds.

Many advocates say they expected a number of "innovative" programs from Schneiderman's office given his national prominence on the issue. They feel those programs were kneecapped by Cuomo, who has a searing rivalry with the attorney general.

The AG's office currently works with nonprofits around the state to help homeowners avoid mortgage fraud through a program called the Homeowner Protection Program. A network of over 85 groups gets about $60 million in funding from the AG's office. Homeowners are directed through that program to the Mortgage Assistance Program (MAP). The AG's office expects to be able to give out "several hundred" loans through MAP. The program began last October and has given out 100 loans of up to $40,000.

The Fair Share for Housing Coalition lists a total of $492 million in settlements with Bank of America, Ocwen Financial Corporation, and Citigroup as directly related to mortgage fraud and it advocates that the State utilize, at the minimum, those funds to help homeowners. But the State actually has over $5 billion in settlements with banks and corporations that advocates would also like to go to homeowners' cause.

Charles Pollydore, a homeowner from Long Island and member of New York Communities for Change, has been circulating a petition demanding Cuomo use settlement funds to help homeowners who are underwater or face foreclosure.

Pollydore lost his consultant job on Wall Street in 2008 and, while on unemployment, began trying to negotiate a loan modification with Bank of America. He said he was repeatedly rebuffed or ignored. He reached out to a slew of state and federal representatives only to be directed to a different office each time. Also in 2008, Pollydore became disabled due to a diabetes-related amputation and he fears he will never be able to come to terms with his bank for an affordable mortgage payment.

"It is great the State is getting all this money back from the banks, but I feel like they need to give the money back to the homeowners - especially the money that came from these predatory lenders," Pollydore said.

He adds that his Long Island neighborhood has been ravaged by foreclosures. "You drive through the neighborhood and the houses are boarded up, there are squatters, we have increased crime, school taxes have increased." Pollydore says he is now surviving on government assistance and still owes back taxes.

"The money the attorney general is using for his program is a drop in the bucket compared to the settlements they have reached," said Pollydore. "We need the money back to stop so many people walking away from their homes."

Cuomo's budget proposal combines the State's pot into $5.8 billion in settlement cash and proposes to put it largely toward one-time expenditures. The plan would use $1.5 billion for upstate revitalization, $3 billion for infrastructure including the Tappan Zee bridge, $500 million to increase broadband infrastructure across the state, and $850 million for a rainy-day fund.

The Assembly budget is largely in line with Cuomo's proposal, but adds $200 million in increased spending on housing issues, including $100 million for homeowners "at risk of foreclosure or who are underwater on their mortgage." The Assembly budget plan only offers this about the program: "The Assembly provides $100 million for a mortgage modification program." Calls to the Assembly for more details were not returned.

While The Fair Share for Housing Coalition praises Cuomo for including more funding for affordable housng and has tried to avoid ruffling feathers in its push for more help for homeowners, New York Communities for Change (NYCC) has used a more confrontational style. It issued a report earlier this year called "Wall St. On The 2nd Floor" that details the connections between Cuomo's new chief of staff, William Mulrow, and his former employer, Blackstone. Blackstone is the largest private equity company in the world and NYCC worries Murrow, and by extension Cuomo, has a conflict of interest.

The NYCC report reads: "Private equity companies "snapped up properties after prices fell as much as 35 percent from the 2006 peak and rental demand rose from the almost 5 million owners who went through foreclosure since 2008." The company that bought the most foreclosed properties during this time was Blackstone."

NYCC members plan to deliver Pollydore's petition to the governor soon.

"I think the governor has made his priorities pretty clear," said Peter Nagy of NYCC. " Helping people hurt by the banking crisis doesn't seem to be as important as helping those who caused the banking crisis. I think the governor's friends believe it is in their best interest not to help homeowners."

As they do during budget season, deals will materialize and implode, and it appears that the use of settlement funds may be decided in negotiations between the Legislature and Cuomo outside of the budget, which is due by April 1. Legislative session continues through mid June.

"The windfall money is something that I believe should be settled outside of the budget and done in a very deliberate way rather than rushing it in the next three days," Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said after meeting with Cuomo on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Cuomo administration was pushing back.

Velez said he is happy with the AG's program but wished there was more help out their for other homeowners, "This was a hurricane, no one asked for this," he said.

Pollydore, meanwhile, plans to keep advocating for Cuomo and the Legislature to dedicate all of the mortgage-related settlement funds to helping homeowners who are facing foreclosure. "This is why I'm appealing to the governor to help us. The banks got a bailout from the government and we didn't - so the State got that money from us. They got it from us."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Hurting Homeowners Say Bank Settlement Funds Belong with Them Wed, 25 Mar 2015 21:30:43 +0000
Coastal Communities Risk Being Swept Away by Rising Insurance Costs http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5639:coastal-communities-risk-being-swept-away-by-rising-insurance-costs http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5639:coastal-communities-risk-being-swept-away-by-rising-insurance-costs Samar Rockaway photo 1

Homes in the Rockaways (photo: Samar Khurshid)


New Yorkers were exposed to the harsh realities of climate change when Superstorm Sandy hit more than two years ago. Those living in coastal neighborhoods like Coney Island and the Rockaways are struggling to deal with the mounting impacts of climate change. But now it's not just the storms they fear, it's the rising cost of flood insurance that threatens to drown them.

Come next year, revised flood zone maps issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) go into effect, expanding the amount of land considered at high-risk of flooding. The new maps will include roughly 60,000 more buildings, according to an analysis by the City Comptroller's office. The city's high-risk flood zones will soon be home to 400,457 New Yorkers, an increase of 84% from the current 218,088.

The projected increase in flood insurance premiums is significant. For a typical home in the high-risk zones, insurance premiums could increase from around $1,000 in 2014 to nearly $14,500 by 2030.

Flood zones have expanded in every borough. The increase is particularly dramatic along the eastern and western edges of Staten Island, and in South Brooklyn and South Queens.

Looming affordability crisis
The central concern, shared by City and federal officials, community representatives and most importantly, residents, is the looming insurance affordability crisis. The future of low and middle-income communities in coastal areas throughout the city is now in question.

The effect of the projected insurance rate increases on homeowners will be "devastating," said Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Queens Community Board 14, which covers the Rockaways. "People are forced to make a decision to either raise their homes at an exorbitant price or paying a phenomenal amount of money for insurance," he said. While he believes the City is trying to help the locals stuck, he added, "The proof will be in the pudding."

Over one-third of homeowners in the City's high-risk zones have an annual household income of less than $75,000, reports the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, a non-profit working for affordable housing for New Yorkers.

The owners of multi-family buildings in the zones are also vulnerable. Two-thirds of tenants have a household annual income of less than $75,000.

"I'm really worried we're going to destroy the fabric of these communities," said City Council member Donovan Richards, a Democrat who represents the Rockaways. The Rockaways already have the third highest notice of foreclosure rate of any community in New York City's high-risk flood zones.

Calling housing foreclosures a "silent killer" of the community, Richards said, "It's a mixed community. As someone who lived there, in Ocean Village, paying $860 for a two-bedroom that overlooked the beach, I'm fighting to ensure that these people are protected. I want everyday people to be able to have a beautiful view without being billionaires," he said.

Rising waters, rising insurance
Homeowners in the city's greatly expanded high-risk zones will be required to purchase flood insurance (either through the National Flood Insurance Program administered by FEMA or through private insurance providers) if they meet certain federal criteria. For instance, if they have received FEMA assistance in the past, if they have a federally-backed mortgage, if they received a Small Business Administration Disaster Loan or if they are registered with the City's Build It Back Sandy-recovery program.

For those already on insurance plans, their rates are set to increase owing to legislative changes in the last three years.

Almost two-thirds of the owner-occupied housing units in the high-risk zones have mortgages, says the CNYCN. Homeowners with mortgages who refuse to purchase insurance are usually subject to force-placed insurance where their lender purchases a policy and passes the cost on to them. Those who cannot pay have little choice but to sell their homes.

Why are insurance rates going up? Federal legislation, the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, has reduced government subsidies on insurance in order to make the NFIP financially viable.

"I've lived here a little over fifteen years but if the rates went up, I'd move out of state," said Rockaway Park homeowner Paul Fitzgerald, 56, a retired Fire Department Captain who lives in a single-family home with his wife. "The taxes are already killing me. I'd move to a Red state. Costs are going higher and higher here and it's very difficult to get by." Fitzgerald has heard rumors of the insurance rate premiums increasing, but so far he has no clarity on how much he may have to pay. He currently pays around $2,000 a year.

The Rockaways are home to many retirees like Fitzgerald and his wife. Living on a fixed income, they'd be among the hardest hit. According to the City, 22 percent of housing units on the Rockaway Peninsula are occupied by senior citizens, aged 65 and older. Almost forty percent of the peninsula's population receives some form of government "income support" such as cash assistance, Supplemental Security Income, or Medicaid.

There's a lot more to this story:
To read the rest of this article, visit New York Environment Report

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by Samar Khurshid for Gotham Gazette and New York Environment Report

@samarkhurshid
@NYEnvironment
@GothamGazette

 

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Coastal Communities Risk Being Swept Away by Rising Insurance Costs Wed, 18 Mar 2015 19:46:38 +0000