Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1900 Sun, 17 Dec 2017 10:06:21 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Observing Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day & Committing To End It http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6679:observing-homeless-persons-memorial-day-committing-to-end-it http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6679:observing-homeless-persons-memorial-day-committing-to-end-it homeless persons memorial

2015 Homeless Persons’ Memorial (photo: Care for the Homeless)


Today, Wednesday December 21, advocacy and social justice organizations in cities across the country gather together to observe Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day. This annual remembrance is held on winter solstice. It’s fitting this solemn occasion is scheduled for the longest, darkest night of the year, because each night without housing is long, dark and cold.

In New York City, where the number of people experiencing homelessness is at its all-time high, there will be several observances. The NYC Providers of Health Care for the Homeless held one last week. Picture the Homeless will hold a program at Judson Memorial Church today, Wednesday, at 6 p.m.
Today at 5 p.m., our organizations -- Care for the Homeless and Urban Pathways -- will hold an observance at Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, on West 65 Street. The program, which is free and open to the public, will feature currently and formerly homeless clients reading the names of and eulogizing those who experienced homelessness who died in New York City this year. As each name is read a bell will toll, a candle will be lit, and information about the deceased will be projected on a screen.

Many that we remember during homeless persons’ memorial programs would not be memorialized without such gatherings. But we know and remember that each individual, regardless of their housing situation, has value and dignity. People are more than the labels we assign them, including that of homeless. Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day provides an opportunity to recommit to the value of all people, including those who have experienced or are experiencing homelessness, and to our fight to end homelessness.

Many that we memorialize have died prematurely. A crucial component of health and well-being is stable housing. Compared to the general population, people who experience homelessness are at greater risk of chronic and infectious illness, mental health challenges, and substance abuse. They are also more often victims of violence. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, homeless persons’ mortality rate is four to nine times higher than those not homeless.

It doesn’t have to be like this. We can end homelessness by focusing on and implementing wise policies. In addition to remembering those who have died, often needlessly, Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day serves to remind us that we have cost-effective solutions to homelessness. The key is supportive housing, which we need to develop now and allow nonprofit organizations to operate to the best of their abilities. We also should employ those experiencing homelessness in outreach programs, shelters, and supportive housing residences. Their lived experiences are valuable, and the opportunity for employment is invaluable.

The time is now to answer the prayer of each Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day program in the 170 cities across North America. One winter solstice, there will be no need to observe Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day.

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Jeff Foreman is Policy Director at Care for the Homeless. Nicole Bramstedt is Policy Director at Urban Pathways. Both organizations serve homeless adults in New York City. On Twitter: @UrbanPathwaysNY & @CFHNYC.

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

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Observing Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day & Committing To End It Tue, 20 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Lobbying Cuomo: How to Get the Governor on Your Side http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6567:lobbying-cuomo-how-to-get-the-governor-on-your-side http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6567:lobbying-cuomo-how-to-get-the-governor-on-your-side Cuomo speech better NY

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)


Have an issue you want addressed in Albany? Perhaps you’d like the state to legalize your new multi-million dollar venture into the “sharing economy” -- one that terrifies existing business interests and labor unions; maybe you want to change the protections offered by New York’s civil rights laws; or maybe you want in on the hundreds of millions of dollars the state allocates to economic development programs. No matter the issue, you’re going to want Governor Andrew Cuomo, the most powerful person in New York, on your side.

Cuomo, a Democrat known to get his way in Albany, is revered by many for being able to dictate terms to the state Legislature on controversial issues and accomplishing what could not be accomplished by others, once he sets his mind to it.

But while the governor sometimes has his own pet issues that he pushes with intensity, he often doesn’t come along easily on a cause. And if campaign finance filings are any indication, Cuomo doesn’t often move without significant campaign donations either before or after the fact. A lot of the time the notoriously prickly governor, whose administration has been known for its “get along or kill” approach, won’t get behind an issue without a fight. But taking Cuomo on in any public way comes with serious risk and can have major consequences.

Those, whether deep-pocketed or not, interested in seeing the governor support an issue he is not immediately draw to must wrestle with the best approach to lobbying Cuomo.

As government is a continuous stream of policy and program decisions, there are no shortage of interested parties pushing their causes, and the governor often has the final word, legislators, labor groups, lobbyists, and others often must decide what combination of tactics is best to convince Cuomo to back a proposal.

Gotham Gazette spoke to a number of lobbyists and heads of issue-focused campaigns about what a successful lobbying effort needs in order to get the right kind of attention from Cuomo.

As this article is published, public education advocates are finishing a walk from New York City to Albany to push for school funding and the governor continues to weigh whether to sign a bill that could crush Airbnb in the state. These are just two examples of current issues where people are trying put pressure on the governor to act. For the former, teachers-union-backed advocates have jousted with Cuomo to the point of hostility. On the latter, those who want to see Cuomo sign the bill regulated Airbnb have mostly left him alone publicly, while Airbnb has more outwardly sought to make its case for a veto.

Looking ahead to 2017, there will be no shortage of issues where interested parties will be trying to convince the governor and the Legislature to act one way or another, from upstate Uber legalization to the cap on charter schools and much more.

To court just about any elected official, you need at least one of: a ground game, as in grassroots supporters willing to demonstrate publicly and able to grab media attention, or at least the appearance of one; a money game, as in the ability to show that your cause has the attention of large campaign donors; and a behind-the-scenes game, as in the ability to influence insiders, which many include consistent, even constant, lobbying and contact with key administration officials. The ground game and the money game usually indicate, to varying degrees, that you have some semblance of solid rationale to your proposal.

Along with these basics, lobbyists have to consider the nuances of Gov. Cuomo’s personality and long history in politics. Known as a master strategist, Cuomo is also seen as flexible on many of his political stances because he, like many governors, tries to combine being socially liberal and fiscally conservative. The key with Cuomo is often showing him how the proposal fits his image and gives him a chance to be big and bold. Cuomo is not shy about wanting to be first on issues.

“People have to be very sensitive when they deal with the administration,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which often pushes the administration on reform. “They have to be very careful not to come off as a threat to the administration because the administration is a unitary organization. The governor deals with politics and policy directly, in a way that is unseen in other states. When a group works with him he likes it and when groups work against him, he hates it.”

Cuomo likes, of course, to move on things when he’s ready to, and when they make sense for him politically and for the state generally. He is keenly aware of his political standing among key constituencies and of what it takes to remain in power.

There’s a long line of lobbyists willing to lament off the record about being “put in the penalty box” by the administration for one public statement or another: a quote that was too sharp, a press release that was too pointed. For some the penalty is being denied access to the administration for a period of time; for others penalties mount and they end up with an outright ban. “It's as though you no longer exist to them,” one lobbyist told Gotham Gazette. “They forget your name and encourage everyone else to do the same.”*

With six years as New York’s chief executive, it's become clear to a number of lobbyists that the best way to get Cuomo onboard with a policy proposal is to present a campaign that has everything: grassroots supporters who can promote an issue and also make life miserable for the opposition; big-money donors who can support major campaign efforts; and a lobbying apparatus that works behind the scenes to sway legislators.

“If you are going to confront this Governor and any Governor, really, you have to show public opinion is with you,” said Horner. “And if the donor class is upset it can also move the administration. Put both together and you’ve got something.”

Cuomo has made his name as Governor by joining with these type of efforts, from marriage equality to the minimum wage. Including several recent examples, the governor does appear susceptible to loud outcry by a group of advocates, whether it is on police killings of unarmed civilians, allocating affordable housing funds, or a moratorium on fracking.

“The most successful lobbying efforts in New York combine grassroots supporters with major donors,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, also a government reform group.

When Cuomo ran for Governor in 2010, he was far from an outspoken supporter of marriage equality, but early in his term it became clear that several major donors were interested in advancing the policy behind the scenes, while activist groups were more than willing to press the issue publicly. Essentially, it would also give Cuomo a chance to make big, national news.

A vote on marriage equality had failed by inches under Gov. David Paterson and advocates weren’t ready to give up. Cuomo initially feared the same kind of embarrassing result that befell Paterson -- left standing on the state Senate floor with dissapointed legislators.

According to two sources involved in the campaign, Cuomo saw the opportunity to lead on a national issue while endearing himself to his liberal base at the same time he was angering other parts of that base by advancing fiscally conservative measures.

When Cuomo decides he wants to accomplish something - no matter how much cajoling it takes to get him there - he goes after his goal aggressively.

The Cuomo administration and a number of wealthy donors, including hedge fund managers Dan Loeb and Cliff Asness, quickly began the work of wooing Senate Republicans to their side, and by June 24, 2011 Cuomo had the votes he needed to pass marriage equality in New York. The administration monitored the floor vote in the Senate obsessively, interjecting at times to ensure Senate Republicans would not renege on their promise to bring the bill to a vote and to show sensitivity to the Republican members who had made what would be a career-ending decision to vote for it.

The proceedings were so tightly choreographed that most Senate Democrats who supported the bill were not allowed to speak about it. When the final votes were cast Cuomo took to the airwaves to claim credit for a successful campaign that a year before he seemed uninterested in.

Donations from grateful supporters of marriage equality swept into Cuomo’s campaign coffers before and after the vote. The Empire State Pride Agenda gave Cuomo $60,000 in May 2011; Loeb gave Cuomo $19,367 in 2012; and a number of marriage equality supporters organized high-dollar fundraisers for the governor.

The governor has repeated these kind of issue campaign takeovers in years since, showcasing the power of his elected position with the virtually unmatched will and desire for big accomplishments possessed by the officeholder.

“I got the sense that within the right national political moment anything is possible with the governor,” one veteran social justice advocate told Gotham Gazette of Cuomo. “It is on the table as long as he is the first to do something.”*

That feeling was reinforced in 2015 when Cuomo suddenly paired with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) “Fight for $15” to champion a minimum wage increase he had once dismissed as fantasy. Cuomo was working alongside some of his biggest critics from the left, like Michael Kink and Citizen Action and other Working Families Party members, while touring the state in a recreational vehicle paid for by unions. The governor, who at times in the past was the target of angry Fight for $15 rallies, was now attending them and hosting streaming video of them on his website.

Labor groups poured nearly $2 million into the Mario Cuomo Campaign For Economic Justice - most of the cash from SEIU and its various committees and affiliates.

SEIU is also a consistent donor to Cuomo’s reelection campaign and the campaigns of his allies.

The Fight for $15 had gotten the governor on board after showing a groundswell on the issue, with the power of active and deep-pocketed labor unions, and in the wake of an embarrassing challenge from the governor’s left in his 2014 re-election. Big name Democrats were also taking up the issue and becoming heroes to significant blocs of Democratic voters.

While large public campaigns that involve the governor have clearly been effective, perhaps the most impactful lobbying of Cuomo is done almost completely out of public eye.

Multiple lobbyists point to Cuomo’s relationships with 1199-SEIU, the powerful hospital workers union, and Jennifer Cunningham of the firm SKD Knickerbocker as ideal arrangements for an issue-focused organization and a lobbyist looking to move their agendas in New York.

Cunningham has been labeled “The Most Powerful Woman in Albany” and was an adviser to Cuomo during his early years as Governor. Cunningham and 1199 annihilated Paterson’s ambitions to run for election in 2010, unleashing a brutal $1 million a week advertising campaign in response to his proposed $3.5 billion cut to the state’s Medicaid program.

Cunningham declined to comment or be interviewed for this article.

Cuomo has handled the union much differently than many others, giving it a seat at the table when cuts are proposed and rarely, if ever, having any public conflict with it.

“They are the most powerful lobbying force in the state,” marveled one lobbyist. “They combine labor and management and are extremely sophisticated. They are so powerful you don’t have to hear about them until they have to crush someone. There is no fight with them because it's like, ‘Godzilla is in my closet. Do I need to let him out to stomp on you?’”

Most lobbyists and issue groups don’t have an operation anywhere near the scope of 1199-SEIU, and over the last two years smaller advocacy groups have been confronted with how to lobby the administration on limited resources.

For groups pushing for criminal justice reform and for state government to fund supportive and affordable housing, for example, lobbying the administration in a friendly manner failed initially and they took the risk of confronting the governor publicly.

Shelly Nortz of Coalition for the Homeless said that 2014 efforts to get the Cuomo administration to deliver on supportive housing funding. The group continued to pressure Cuomo, working with and praising Mayor Bill de Blasio, Cuomo’s rival, for his supportive housing initiative in 2015, and then getting more and more vocal calling for Cuomo to do what they said was his part.

The Coalition and its allies were encouraged when Cuomo prioritized funding to fight homelessness in his 2016 State of the State address, but when the governor and the Legislature failed to agree on how to distribute it, Nortz’s group kicked the public pressure campaign into high gear.

“We’ve been having a presence outside the governor’s office,” Nortz said of regular rallies to call for release of the funds set aside in the state budget. As the group and other members of the NY/NY Housing coalition have issued press releases and done interviews on the subject, sometimes harshly criticizing Cuomo, the governor’s office has reacted in various ways. At one point, an administration spokesperson said that the governor hadn’t intended to sign the memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would distribute the housing funds this year and instead expected to do it next year.

After being rebuffed, the administration tried a different path: releasing an MOU approved by the administration, essentially to move the ball into state legislative leaders’ court. The MOU wasn’t signed by either legislative leader, but it was an indication that the administration was squirming under the pressure brought by housing groups.

Nortz acknowledged that most small advocacy groups can’t manage to turn out the kind of presence housing groups have to pressure the governor. She said she is unsure how effective their efforts have been given that the MOU remains unsigned. “It’s reminiscent of 2014 in a lot of ways,” said Nortz. “There is talk but there is no agreement.”

Criminal justice reform advocates describe having to pull Cuomo forward kicking and screaming to ensure oversight by a special prosecutor in instances of police killings of civilians. In 2015 the governor felt pressure from the mothers and family members of civilians killed by police, black and Latino legislators, and major advocacy groups. Unable to move the Legislature to action during session, activists didn’t let go, instead amplifying their calls for the governor to do something.

On July 8, 2015 Cuomo announced an executive order giving the Attorney General jurisdiction to investigate police killings of civilians. The move angered many conservatives and law enforcement officials across the state, but pleased many activists and elected officials, especially legislators of color, many of whom joined Cuomo at the signing of the order.

Advocates involved in the push say they believe they were successful in moving Cuomo because the governor is particularly sensitive about his most concentrated voting base, which consists of African-Americans from New York City. Furthermore, Cuomo was able to claim that he was “the first” governor to take action on what was coming into focus as a major national issue.

While the executive order was a victory for advocates, their momentum has stalled since. Cuomo has acknowledged that he would like to see legislation to make a special prosecutor permanent in such cases, but he has not pushed the issue with the Republican Senate Majority, where opposition lies.

A number of lobbyists say this is a typical result for a lobbying effort that confronts and calls out Gov. Cuomo. “They got something but they didn’t get all of it,” said one long-time lobbyist. “You can rattle him and force him to move to stop the bleeding but it isn’t the best move in the long run.”

Advocates, legislators, businesspeople, and lobbyists who don’t have a direct line to Cuomo or a long-standing alliance are often faced with that risky question of when to go at the governor with an aggressive public relations campaign. They can pay off wildly or they can put you on the governor’s bad side -- sometimes both.

Business lobbyists say confrontational campaigns are their absolute last resort with any administration, but note that smaller issue-based groups don’t have a wealth of options at their disposal.

Efforts to expand newer, technology-based businesses like Airbnb and Uber have set the stage for what some lobbyists say will be “heavyweight showdowns” with the well-established hotel trades and taxi lobbies, respectively. As Cuomo weighs whether to sign a bill that would be damaging to Airbnb, both supporters and opponents of the bill have struggled some with how to cajole him in their direction, especially around how much public pressure to mount.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s investigation into the Governor’s economic development programs has put considerably more scrutiny on how lobbyists and those with business before the state use donations to get the attention of the governor and his closest allies. Fear over corruption was triggered because major developers, including two charged by Bharara, made major donations to Cuomo’s reelection campaign within months of winning major economic development contracts with the state. Bharara has also charged three of Cuomo’s allies with working to fix bids for the contractors they prefer. Cuomo has denied knowledge of the alleged arrangement and he has not been accused of wrongdoing, but it is his campaign that benefited.

New York lacks the conflict of interest laws that limit campaign contributions from groups with business before the state. A July report by Politico New York showed that most of the donors to Cuomo’s campaign have business before the state, or interest in pending legislation. Cuomo has always claimed that he makes decisions on the merits.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

*Note: due to a mistake on the part of Gotham Gazette, attempts to reach the Cuomo administration for comment for this article did not reach the intended party. Cuomo's office should have been afforded to opportunity to respond to the questins at hand in this article, including certain allegations, and we apologize for the error. A prior note that indicated Cuomo's office did not respond to a request for comment was removed after it became clear that requests for comment did not reach representatives for Cuomo. After making this realization in communication with Cuomo's office, Gotham Gazette offered the Cuomo administration an opportunity to comment.

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Lobbying Cuomo: How to Get the Governor on Your Side Tue, 11 Oct 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Opposing Shelters Won’t End the Housing Crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6509:opposing-shelters-won-t-end-the-housing-crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6509:opposing-shelters-won-t-end-the-housing-crisis Crowley Maspeth shelter

Council Member Crowley opposes a shelter in Maspeth (photo via Twitter)


On Wednesday night I attended my community board meeting on a proposed homeless shelter in Maspeth, Queens. The city Commissioner of Social Services, Steve Banks, was there, along with hundreds of residents who are against the shelter. I was one of just a handful of homeless and housing rights advocates in the audience.

Though I was horrified by the residents who chose to stigmatize our homeless community – describing them as criminals, drug dealers, welfare hogs, and addicts, and questioning their immigration status – I was most struck by the vehement energy this community has thrown behind this cause, somehow believing that the community is exempt from the city’s housing crisis.

Homelessness is not an isolated issue. Homelessness is a product of the broader housing crisis – a crisis that is having an impact across the city in endless ways: gentrifying neighborhoods, segregating communities, and increasing income disparity, just to name a few. Keeping a homeless shelter out of your community does not solve problems.

At one point, a speaker shouted, “de Blasio brought this social engineering experiment to the wrong community!” But the “social engineering experiment” has been lingering in this community for years. Long before Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Banks came along, decades of failed government policies built the foundation of the housing crisis we’re living in today. Be it the loss of manufacturing industries and union jobs in the 1970s and 1980s, a state-sponsored shelter allowance for low-income households that has remained the same since the 1980s, quality-of-life policing of poor communities of color, and slashes to drug education and support programs, the city’s housing and homeless crisis was long in the making. This is what Mayor de Blasio inherited – this mess is what Commissioner Banks is urgently trying to reverse with limited resources, limited support from the State, and within a limited timeframe.

While failed policies have propelled the housing crisis, a lack of commitment and leadership from our elected officials has kept us from halting its momentum. Promising to preserve the “quality-of-life” of residents, Queens City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley has helped legitimize NIMBYism in Maspeth.

On Wednesday Crowley’s office announced a lawsuit against the City over the proposal to open the shelter. Rather than becoming an elected official who is actively involved in the fight to end homelessness and the housing crisis, Crowley falls sorely short by opposing the creation of the first homeless shelter in the jurisdiction of Community Board 5.

Meanwhile, at the state level, eight months have gone by since Governor Cuomo made a commitment to build 20,000 units of supportive housing, and there has not been enough movement. Supportive housing is a crucial source of housing that pairs permanent housing with on-site services. Research has shown time and again that it is the most successful (and cost-effective) way to end homelessness for individuals living with disabilities or other special needs.

Since the 1990s, New York City and State have made a joint commitment to fund supportive housing. While few Maspeth residents mentioned the need for support and services for homeless individuals, most are likely unaware that our governor is currently sitting on nearly $2 billion set aside in the state budget for crucial housing, including supportive housing. Only a small portion of the funds have been allocated.

It’s worth mentioning here that the City has made true to its commitment.

With 80,000 homeless statewide and thousands more living on the streets, in three-quarter houses, doubled up in apartments and in other precarious housing, it’s incomprehensible that our governor continues to pay so little attention to this crisis. It’s also unconscionable that people in our communities are turning their backs on city officials working to combat the homelessness and housing crises, and on their fellow New Yorkers in need.

What I saw last night was a crowd of people who know little about what has propelled us into this housing crisis in first place; they know little about the needs of the homeless community in New York, and they are not willing to learn about either. Imagine where we might be if instead of vehemently opposing a shelter, the community put equal effort into fighting for truly affordable housing for the New Yorkers who need it the most.

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Paulette Soltani is a community organizer with VOCAL-NY, a grassroots organization that builds power among low-income people impacted by homelessness, HIV/AIDS, drug use, and mass incarceration. She is a resident of Community Board 5 in Queens.

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

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Opposing Shelters Won’t End the Housing Crisis Thu, 01 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Does the State have the Conviction and Commitment to End Homelessness? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6441:does-the-state-have-the-conviction-and-commitment-to-end-homelessness http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6441:does-the-state-have-the-conviction-and-commitment-to-end-homelessness homelessness
Affordable Housing in East Harlem (Sophie Hecht)


The week of June 26, over 70 San Francisco media outlets came together to report on homelessness in the Bay Area. The collaboration, the San Francisco Homeless Project, produced over 300 local articles, videos, and radio and television segments, as well as similar collaborations in cities across the U.S. and internationally.

Within this much deserved media coverage is the sentiment of a former San Francisco mayor, which may describe what ails our approach to the homelessness crisis here in New York State.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s SF Homeless Problem Looks the Same as It Did 20 Years Ago explains how despite the efforts of the last six San Francisco mayors, homelessness looks similar today to the problem of two decades ago. One of the six mayors, Art Agnos (1988-1992), worked to move San Francisco’s approach to homelessness from overnight shelters to shelters with supportive services. He told the Chronicle:

“We do know what to do, but we haven’t had the conviction or the commitment to make it happen...We could end homelessness as a commonplace occurrence in American cities if we adopted the same kind of commitment we did in addressing World War II: if we treat it like we want to win. But until the public and the politicians who serve them say we are going to win this, we won’t.”

Does New York State lack the conviction and commitment to end homelessness? Are we content to merely manage it, disconnected from its immediacy? While we know what to do - truly affordable permanent housing, including supportive housing, and long-term rental subsidies - are we acting to the extent and at the pace we should so homeless services providers can do their jobs and provide homeless individuals a way home?

Based on recent events in Albany, it is reasonable to conclude that we lack the conviction and commitment to end homelessness in New York.

One piece of evidence is the failure of Albany to adopt a new 421-a tax credit for developers who build truly affordable housing. Yes, the old 421-a program was flawed. Updating it while resolving the issue of prevailing wages for construction jobs is difficult. However, a state committed to ending homelessness would not have passed responsibility from lawmakers to real estate and construction unions to make a deal. A truly committed state government would do all it can to secure a new tax credit so developers don’t scale back new affordable housing projects like Hallet’s Point in Queens.

A second telling event is the delay in new supportive housing, a proven cost-effective tool for ending homelessness. A state government with conviction and commitment would have actualized, with lightning speed, Governor Cuomo’s January 2016 State of the State commitment of 6,000 supportive housing units over the next five years. It would have finalized the details of the 6,000 units before the state budget was finished April 1 instead of resorting to another to-be-determined “memorandum of understanding” (MOU), and then not securing a MOU months later.

A committed state government would not have settled on a short-term measure of 1,200 units over the next year to reactivate the stalled supportive housing pipeline. Short term measures do not address a crisis. They merely manage one.

A desperate need for truly affordable housing, including supportive housing, exists now. According to the Campaign for NY/NY Housing, there’s only one supportive housing unit available for every six eligible applicants. This leaves thousands of applicants languishing in a more costly shelter or on the streets, waiting for a way home. While 1,200 supportive housing units financed for the next year are appreciated, we need funding certainty and programmatic direction from the state for the full 6,000 units. A one year commitment does not allow developers to sufficiently plan, exposing them to financial risk as they take on acquisition and pre-development costs without clear state funding details.

A truly committed state government would expedite the building of truly affordable housing - we can do this now. If we have the conviction to end the homelessness crisis, we won’t wait for another budget. If Albany continues to delay, we should hold lawmakers accountable. Homelessness is worthy of our full effort. We cannot be content to merely manage a crisis that leaves thousands of New Yorkers to suffer.

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

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

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Does the State have the Conviction and Commitment to End Homelessness? Mon, 18 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Advocates, Providers Keep Pressure on Cuomo Over Housing Funds http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6405:advocates-plan-to-keep-pressure-on-cuomo-over-housing-funds http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6405:advocates-plan-to-keep-pressure-on-cuomo-over-housing-funds cuomo speech abny

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


While the 2016 legislative session may be finished, the battle over how the state will allocate $1.9 billion in funds earmarked for supportive and affordable housing is not. Neither is the feud between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, which includes a front over the housing funds.

After the end-of-session deal-making among Cuomo and legislative leaders yielded an agreement to release only $150 million of the $1.9 billion pledged in this year’s budget, housing advocates plan to protest in front of Cuomo’s Manhattan office at 11 a.m. Tuesday. They’re calling on the governor to work with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to agree on additional funding allocations for the entire sum. Advocates say they expect the last-minute protest, which de Blasio’s office is supportive of, to draw 200 or more participants.

Developers say that without more certainty about how much state funding will be available and when, new supportive housing projects simply aren’t going to move forward and that will compound the already multi-year waits for homeless and other populations that rely on the housing, which includes social services for people with mental illness, substance abuse problems, and other impediments.

“The New York Housing Conference urges State leaders to continue negotiating the terms of a statewide 5-year housing plan to allocate the full $2 billion of enacted housing dollars for programmatic use,” reads the newsletter from The New York Housing Conference announcing the Tuesday rally. The statement goes on to detail the challenges developers face in planning housing projects if their funding is not in place. “Developing affordable housing is often a multi-year planning process and the industry depends on funding certainty and programmatic direction to shape projects that will meet community needs and policy goals of the anticipated statewide housing plan,” it says.

Advocates for affordable and supportive housing came together in the last weeks of session to demand Cuomo and the Legislature sign a required memo of understanding, or MOU, agreeing how to allocate the $1.9 billion. A coalition of groups called The Campaign 4 NY/NY housing sent out a series of scathing press releases, held rallies, and pressured lawmakers, but by the last day of session Cuomo and the Legislature settled on releasing $150 million of the $1.9 billion.

The Cuomo administration touted $570 million being made available for supportive housing in an end-of-session press release, but it appears most of that funding was already available through service funding and tax credits secured in this year’s budget. The administration points out that $600 million of the $1.9 billion is dedicated to supportive housing and that the housing plan is designed to stretch over five years, therefore making $150 million an appropriate amount to release for supportive housing during the first year of the program. Administration officials say the rest of the $570 million will go to funding the operational costs of the supportive units.

“Today’s agreement includes the execution of a memorandum of understanding to make more than $570 million in state resources available to advance capital construction and operating on the first 1,200 units of supportive housing under the Governor’s sweeping $20 billion Housing and Homelessness plan,” reads the Cuomo administration’s Friday statement. “The funding will be released to the Division of Housing and Community Renewal and is available immediately to be awarded in conjunction with other resources including state and federal tax credits to support construction costs for the new supportive housing units.”

Advocates are not completely critical of the governor, but plan to push further, especially while the end of session lingers in the news. “We are happy some of the money was made available for supportive housing,” said Rachel Fee, executive director of the New York Housing Conference. “It’s an important issue but we really need leaders to come together to sort out the entire plan. I’m really hopeful there will be a deal before next year's budget because I think there is a lot of common ground on housing between the leaders.”

Some of the most outspoken advocates from the NY/NY Campaign also use one of de Blasio’s main political consultancies, BerlinRosen. A campaign spokesperson for de Blasio also represents affordable housing groups.

Advocates say the $150 million should jump-start the stalled affordable housing pipeline but they are anxious to get a look at the MOU lining out how even that money will be allocated. “It is really important we see what it says,” said Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director for policy for The Coalition for the Homeless.

Gotham Gazette spoke to three individuals representing different firms that are involved in affordable and supportive housing development. Discussing the machinations of their industry on the condition of anonymity, they said that the $150 million in capital funding will get existing projects moving, but without future funding solidified and agreed to “there is no window into the future of what capital will be available.”

They expect most firms to wait to see what kind of agreement the often unpredictable denizens of the state Capitol come up with before moving on new projects because both capital funding and social services funding are necessary to build and run supportive housing projects. Two of the individuals noted that a NY/NY city-state agreement was easily reached under Republican Governor George Pataki, with one noting that Cuomo once led the federal housing agency, something the governor regularly cites when discussing his expertise on housing issues.

They noted that developers want a return to the NY/NY partnership between the city and state that provided a reviewable document outlining what funds for capital and support services would be available and when.

Nortz issued a series of blistering press releases questioning Cuomo’s commitment to housing and homelessness last week. “The Governor's pathetic offer to provide a tiny fraction of what he promised underscores the shallowness of his commitment to housing our homeless neighbors,” wrote Nortz.

Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s chief of staff, responded in kind, tweeting on Friday, “$570M for first year of 5 year pledge fulfilled. Learn to take yes for an answer or stop being credible.”

Cuomo told The New York Times over the weekend that the MOU represented just an installment in a five-year plan.

The private battle over the housing funds between Cuomo and legislative leaders appears to stem from Senate Republicans’ desire to renew the controversial 421-a tax credit for developers, which is supposed to yield some affordable housing. The measure lapsed at the start of this year after Cuomo put negotiations in the hands of labor and real estate, insisting certain wage requirements needed to be part of any deal. There have been stop-and-start negotiations over the renewal for many months, but they have not yielded a deal. Holding on to the housing funds could give Republicans the bargaining chip they need to get 421-a renewed next year, or even sooner.

Cuomo administration officials stress that they feel securing the $1.9 billion in the budget was the hard part and getting it out the door will be much easier.

However, the public battle over the MOU is more centered in the feud between Cuomo and de Blasio. The state and city have traditionally come together in agreement to fund supportive housing (the series of three NY/NY deals), but no deal has materialized under Cuomo and de Blasio. “In the past we had a long-term commitment to create supportive housing that gave investors the reassurance they needed,” said Kristin Miller, director of CSH, an organization that helps find financing for supportive housing projects.

Last fall, de Blasio announced he would commit $3 billion over the next 15 years to create 15,000 units of supportive housing in New York City. Advocates saw it as a way of pressuring Cuomo to deliver his own commitment. De Blasio, his top officials and allies have repeatedly called on the governor to do so, and Cuomo appeared to answer that call during his January State of the State address.

Cuomo made homelessness and supportive housing a major part of that speech and the accompanying budget and policy book. Committing $20 billion over five years to create 100,000 new units of affordable housing and 6,000 units of supportive housing across the state, Cuomo also outlined a number of programs that appeared designed to take away de Blasio’s ability to fund and control the construction of affordable housing while inserting more checks and balances over the city’s shelter system. Some of that plan wound up being jettisoned in budget negotiations.

“The Governor promised 6,000 units and anything short of that is going to be met with disappointment,” said Carla Rabinowitz of Community Access, who is organizing the Tuesday protest at Cuomo’s office. “I know people who have been waiting three to ten years to get into supportive housing and now you’re telling them they have to wait more because of politics? It isn’t acceptable.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Advocates, Providers Keep Pressure on Cuomo Over Housing Funds Mon, 20 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Deals Emerge as Albany Legislative Session Moves Toward Conclusion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6401:deals-emerge-as-albany-legislative-session-moves-toward-conclusion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6401:deals-emerge-as-albany-legislative-session-moves-toward-conclusion hall cuomo address

photo via The Governor's Office


After spending most of what was scheduled to be the last day of legislative session in stop-and-start negotiations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders appeared on Thursday to reach a framework deal on several big-ticket items, though legislators will continue to negotiate, debate, and vote on Friday.

After a few issues had been decided on Wednesday, concept agreements emerged Thursday on the process of stripping corrupt lawmakers of their pensions; extending mayoral control of New York City schools for one year; and increasing disclosure requirements for independent political committees.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie cautioned the deal was only a “framework” around 8 p.m. and cautioned he didn’t know when an official announcement would be made.

Legislators are expected to return early Friday to continue voting on a host of legislation--most of which is fated to only pass one house. As Cuomo, Heastie, and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan work through deals on a variety of issues, the two majority leaders will continue to discuss them with their conferences, but things tend to move quickly as session ends, with new legislation given little time for review.

The Thursday evening deal is likely to be touted as a significant movement toward fixing Albany’s ethics crisis, though reform groups and many legislators feel independent expenditures hardly rank as a major issue compared to other problems with Albany’s campaign finance laws and feel that pension forfeiture is a superficial response to an ethics crisis that needs systematic reforms. While it is a welcome additional punishment for unethical behavior, many say, it does not create the type of preventative measures to limit pay-to-play culture and conflicts of interest.

The Senate and Assembly reached a deal on pension forfeiture last year--the Senate passed it but the Assembly balked after facing pressure from unions that were concerned their members were subject to the change along with legislators. The current deal would see the Senate pass the Assembly version that has a narrower scope of who would be subject to forfeiture upon a corruption conviction.

Meanwhile, legislators say an extension of mayoral control will be tied to other issues that have not become completely clear. None of Thursday's deals are final as no bills have been printed.

The deal is also said to include the release of $150,000 in supportive housing funds. Cuomo included $1.9 billion in funding for supportive and affordable housing in the budget but left the details to be decided by a memo of understanding with the two legislative leaders. It appears Senate Republicans have balked at releasing all of the funds until they get a renewal of the controversial 421-a tax credit.

Advocates used the day to express exasperation with the deal-making process that routinely leaves major issues until the last minute, and beyond, with both parties taking issues hostage.

Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director of policy at The Coalition for the Homeless, lashed out at Cuomo on Thursday for not prioritizing the signing of the MOU to detail how to spend the $1.9 billion in housing funds.

“This is far more than a failure to effectively address homelessness - it betrays the hypocrisy underlying Andrew Cuomo's perennial empty promises to the homeless,” wrote Nortz. “Gov. Cuomo, whose promises to the homeless have as much credence as a degree from Trump University, needs to show that he understands that promises mean nothing if you can’t keep your word. Absent the execution of the MOU to release the funds he himself included in the budget, Gov. Cuomo no longer has any claim to be a friend to the homeless or an expert on the issue.”

Many legislators who care about the issue express a sense of resignation. Sen. Mike Gianaris, Deputy Democratic Conference Leader, said he hoped the MOU funds will still be available next year, saying that when Democrats win control of the Senate chamber they will make sure funds are allocated. In theory, the MOU could be signed any time, but virtually no one thinks it will be signed before January if it is not signed by the end of session this week.

Gotham Gazette reported earlier this week that the housing funds were being linked to the controversial 421-a tax credit by Senate Republicans. There is speculation they are holding on to the MOU to negotiate a 421-a renewal next year.

On ethics and campaign finance reform - like closing the LLC loophole, limiting legislators’ outside income, and more - good government groups are exasperated and have resorted to telling voters to simply vote out incumbents who haven’t supported reform.

Meanwhile, there has been a good deal of negotiation to try for a compromise on legalizing and regulating daily fantasy sports. Legalizing widespread car-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft appears to have hit a wall, however.

There was some progress made in both houses on other issues on Thursday. The Senate passed a package of legislation designed to fight opioid and heroin addiction, while the Assembly is set to take up the legislation before the end of session.

Senators also appear set to vote on a bill that would extend the time period residents have to sue after being exposed to contamination. Republican Sen. Kathy Marchione, who sponsors the bill in the Senate and represents Hoosick Falls, where there has been a water contamination crisis, amended her bill yesterday, decoupling it from the Assembly’s bill and thereby assuring its failure. Marchione faced intense pushback from Hoosick Falls residents and environmentalist actor Mark Ruffalo, among others. Late last night Senate Republicans restored the bill to its original form and appeared set to vote on it late Thursday evening.

The Senate also unanimously passed a bill that will require the state to pay for indigent defense services in all counties of the state. Sen. John DeFrancisco, the Republican sponsor of the bill, was lauded by a number of Democrats who he is normally at odds with. The Assembly is expected to pass the bill before the end of session--when that end will come is unclear as negotiations continue to tumble forward.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Deals Emerge as Albany Legislative Session Moves Toward Conclusion Thu, 16 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Fate of $2 Billion in State Housing Funds Unclear as Session Nears End http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6390:fate-of-2-billion-in-state-housing-funds-unclear-as-session-nears-end http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6390:fate-of-2-billion-in-state-housing-funds-unclear-as-session-nears-end cuomo heastie flanagan

Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan (l-r) (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin, The Governor's Office)


Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature allocated $2 billion to spend on 100,000 units of affordable and supportive housing in this year’s budget, which was agreed to on April 1. But they failed to include specifics -- details of how that money would be spent -- kicking those decisions down the road. Now, two months later, they have yet to sort out the details and many stakeholders are worried no deal is in sight as the major negotiating parties face off over incongruous priorities.

Cuomo, a Democrat, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie must sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining how the housing money will be spent, and according to housing and homeless advocates, failure to do so by the quickly-approaching end of legislative session will mean the money remains in state coffers without benefitting homeless, low- and moderate-income New Yorkers.

“The money that is supposed to provide relief for the homeless would just sit there. It wouldn't go anywhere, it wouldn't materialize,” said Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi, a Queens Democrat who said that advocates are right to be concerned that it won’t be sorted out before the end of session. “There is a deadline for this. Make no mistake. It has to happen before June 16.”

With only three session days left - Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this coming week - and leaders insistent they will leave town Thursday, advocates fear there may not be enough motivation and time for lawmakers to deal with the MOU and all the issues they’ve attached to it.

Four legislative sources tell Gotham Gazette that each house has tied the MOU to a number of thorny issues. They say Senate Republicans have connected the allocation of housing money to the renewal of 421-a. That controversial, lapsed property tax credit meant to spur affordable housing development has been the focus of a number of failed negotiations this year, and it appears getting to a deal on the credit remains a heavy lift. A spokesperson for Senate Republicans did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Assembly Democrats insist that some of the cash go to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), something that sources say rankles Cuomo as he sees it as directly benefiting Mayor Bill de Blasio, his erstwhile feuding partner. The city’s public housing stock has $17 billion in capital needs and city officials have said the state continues to under-fund NYCHA, even failing to release some previously promised money. Neither Heastie’s nor Cuomo’s office returned requests for comment.

Assembly Housing Chair Keith Wright, a Manhattan Democrat, recently wrote in an op-ed that appeared in AM New York that he wants $100 million of housing funds to go to NYCHA for serious repairs. Rachel Fee, director of the New York Housing Conference, also called for that commitment in a NY Slant op-ed.

Sources say Cuomo has not appeared to be in a rush to hammer out the MOU. The governor made affordable housing and fighting homelessness major policy points during his January State of the State speech, around that time criticizing de Blasio’s handling of rising homelessness in the city.

“Everything in housing is tied together: 421-a, NYCHA and [the MOU],” said Shelly Nortz, executive director of policy for Coalition for the Homeless. “I know there is no hope whatsoever it will get done after June 16,” she added referring to the notion that once legislators leave Albany they are unlikely to come to any policy decisions.

A coalition called The Campaign for NY/NY Housing, which fights for supportive housing - homelessness relief with social services built in - and counts over 100 interested groups in its ranks, has recently turned up pressure on Cuomo and legislative leaders with a major lobbying campaign designed to get them to act.

“We are very concerned,” said Laura Masuch, executive director of The Supportive Housing Network of New York. “We have 80,000 homeless in the state of New York and supportive housing is critical - especially for families with special needs. It takes a lot of time to open these units, so every day we wait is a day we don’t get a family off the street.”

Fee said that she is concerned the funds may be tied up for the long term if legislators fail to act this year.

“It’s not clear why lawmakers feel no urgency to spend $2 billion in housing funds,” said Fee. "My biggest fear is it will not get done this session and will get pushed to the end of the budget year [March]. This didn’t have to happen in session at all. It could have been negotiated during any of the days that passed since the budget was enacted. We need affordable and supportive housing right now.”

There is precedent for such a holdup. Cuomo and the Legislature drafted an MOU committing to spend bank settlement funds from JP Morgan Chase on housing in 2014, but it wasn’t until the following year’s budget that they actually detailed how the money would be spent. “History doesn't bode well for post-session MOUs getting done,” said Masuch.

Budget watchdogs have long decried the use of MOUs in budgeting because they lack transparency. Good government groups have campaigned to end the process, especially after pots of unitemized allocations played roles in the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Assembly Republicans have called for a system that tracks spending of large amounts of cash created in the budget, but Cuomo and legislative leaders have scoffed at the idea. Now another drawback of failing to allocate budgeted cash appears clear: the principals may never get around to figuring out how to spend it.

Nortz, Coalition for the Homeless, said that she sees the project as belonging to Cuomo. It’s a feeling shared by many advocates who campaigned to get Cuomo to invest in supportive housing last year. Cuomo also dedicated significant time in his January State of the State address to the housing money he was proposing.

A variety of rank-and-file legislators also put the onus on Cuomo because they feel that the specifics of the $2 billion plan wasn’t given priority in budget negotiations and was left to an MOU only because budget negotiations basically collapsed.

Nortz said that if the MOU isn’t signed before the end of session it will “raise real questions” about Cuomo’s commitment to the homeless and to affordable housing. “If he wants it done it will get done. This is the governor who managed to get the Senate to pass marriage equality; this is the governor who got a $15 minimum wage when he didn’t even believe in it a year before. We know what he can do when he wants to,” said Nortz.

Masuch, of The Supportive Housing Network, said she was heartened to see Cuomo take ownership of homelessness as an issue in his State of the State address. “We were very pleased, he talked lots about homelessness and housing. That was great, and now we need him to push leadership to bring it home and make sure it is their priority.”

Hevesi declined to place blame for the stalled negotiations. But he said he is more than disappointed to see the funding caught up in Albany’s routine “Big Ugly” end-of-session negotiations, where legislators wait until the last minute to hash out a mishmash of interconnected deals.

“Every year 19,000 more people become homeless in New York than stop being homeless,” said Hevesi. “We can't sustain that level of homelessness and we shouldn’t be waiting for help while thousands of more families are being destroyed.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Fate of $2 Billion in State Housing Funds Unclear as Session Nears End Sun, 12 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000