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Comptroller Examines Uneven Economic Growth in Gentrifying Neighborhoods

stringer presser

Comptroller Stringer (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)

The 15 neighborhoods that experienced the highest rates of gentrification in the city between 2000 and 2015 showed a monumental increase in new businesses and job growth but with an inequitable distribution of the accompanying benefits, according to a new analysis released Tuesday by Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer’s first-of-its-kind report, titled “The New Geography of Jobs: A Blueprint for Strengthening NYC Neighborhoods,” looked at economic activity in 15 gentrifying neighborhoods and examined trends in employment and entrepreneurial activity by industry, age, racial and ethnic groups. The neighborhoods were those identified by the NYU Furman Center in an analysis of 55 “sub-borough areas” in 2015. Of these, 22 were classified as lower income and 33 as higher income. The gentrifying neighborhoods were those that were lower income in 1990 and had experienced rent increases beyond the median neighborhood.

“We need to create an economy based on fairness,” Stringer said, speaking at the Chinese-American Planning Council on the Lower East Side. Stringer cited CPC’s work in the Lower East Side Employment Network, a successful workforce development approach that he said should be the model for other neighborhoods. “We want to be able to lift up all groups of people and everyone in our communities. I believe this is about the need to support the idea of local wealth creation and we can only do that with innovative, collaborative and community-centric solutions,” the comptroller added.

As economic activity increases in previously under-developed and lower-income neighborhoods, Stringer believes, the resulting opportunity, profits, and benefits should be experienced more evenly by all groups of residents.

The number of businesses in the city grew from 203,698 to 237,198 in the 15-year period, the report found, with increased activity in the boroughs outside Manhattan. In Downtown and Midtown Manhattan, which have traditionally seen large concentrations of the city’s economic activity, the share of total businesses fell from 39 percent to 31 percent. But in the 15 gentrifying neighborhoods -- which include East and Central Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, Bushwick, Sunset Park, Brownsville and Ocean Hill -- there was a 45 percent increase in the number of businesses from 29,132 in 2000 to 42,261 in 2015.

Although lower income communities saw greater growth than higher income districts across myriad industries, that growth was unevenly distributed. The report notes that while people of color own 34 percent of the city’s businesses, an uptick from years past, their share in the city’s overall economy, 16 percent of revenue and 21 percent of employment, remains relatively low. Black New Yorkers remain massively underrepresented, accounting for 22 percent of the city’s population but only owning 3 percent of businesses.

The report also found that 17.2 percent of young adults, between 18 and 24 years old, were out of school and out of work (OSOW) in 2015, with racial and ethnic disparities in those numbers. Among OSOW youth in gentrifying neighborhoods, black and Hispanic youth represented 21 percent each, while white youth made up 12 percent.

Stringer makes a number of recommendations in the report, aimed at connecting economic growth in a neighborhood to its residents. These include creating local network coordinators at workforce development providers to connect businesses with local job seekers; creating uniform assessments to evaluate and prepare job-seekers for the labor market; and assisting entrepreneurs and startups in scaling up their operations and setting up brick-and-mortar establishments; among other proposals.

“My message today is this: skylines change, creation is a good thing,” Stringer said. “But we have to do a better job of harnessing this economic power in a way that serves everyone. We need to focus not on prices and not just on rent, but we also need to work on wealth creation, on linking long-term residents with new emerging jobs.”

The comptroller noted, in response to a reporter, that housing affordability is still a crucial component of gentrification but emphasized the need to recognize changing demographics and economic challenges in those same neighborhoods. “What we need is a much more forceful workforce development plan because our data shows that there’s real possibility,” Stringer said, “but right now, for many communities, for many people, there’s a real disconnect between some of the benefits of changing neighborhoods, and it’s not filtering down to long-term residents.”

Stringer said this more robust city response to workforce development issues should be part of proposed rezonings that are being studied across the city. The de Blasio administration and local communities are in the process of developing plans to add development, population density, housing -- including affordable units, and neighborhood-specific changes like additional school seats and new parks, for example, to a variety of areas throughout the city. One plan, for East New York, was passed a year ago and is in the process of implementation. Others have moved slowly or stalled, though several, including for East Harlem, may be moving ahead more quickly soon.

Stakeholders in the East New York rezoning, including local Council Member Rafael Espinal, pushed strongly for workforce development initiatives to be included in the final plan, particularly the establishment of a city-run Workforce1 career center that opened in December. Similar efforts are also underway in other neighborhoods facing proposed rezonings, with community advocates insisting that jobs created by development should go to local residents.

Asked by Gotham Gazette about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recently announced plan to create 100,000 “good paying jobs” in the next ten years, Stringer had some cutting advice. “Anytime you want to say, ‘I can create 100,000 jobs,’ sure that’s OK, that’s a good thing,” he said, “but now we have to look at our emerging economies in the boroughs and what kinds of jobs are being created and are we matching good jobs with the citizens in those communities. And if we’re not, and we’re clearly not with communities of color in some of these neighborhoods, well what will you do about it? Can’t just say we’re gonna create jobs for people who can’t access those jobs? That’s not right.”

[Related: Part of Rezoning Plan, City Opens New Career Center in East New York]

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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De Blasio Skeptical of Cuomo’s New Budget Powers

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De Blasio & Cuomo (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

As part of the budget deal announced earlier this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo highlighted the inclusion of new power his administration now has to adjust the state spending plan mid-year given significant federal cuts to New York. While Cuomo said it is an important provision in the state budget given uncertainty and threats from Washington D.C., Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed skepticism.

When he announced a deal with the state Legislature on April 7, Cuomo outlined the major aspects of the new $153 billion budget, almost one-third of which comes from federal grants to New York. “This budget also has the first ever Federal Funding Response Plan,” Cuomo said at a press conference at the state Capitol, explaining that if there are major federal funding cuts, his Division of Budget “will come up with a plan that corrects the state budget for that shortfall.” The plan would then be presented to the state Assembly, which would have 90 days to either pass its own plan or the Cuomo plan would automatically go into effect.

The threshold for allowing this mid-year adjustment is $850 million in federal funding cuts to New York. Cuomo said that the federal response plan “gives me confidence that the ship of state, the financial ship of state...the financial integrity of the state will be OK.” He said that he did not want to have to rely on calling the Legislature back to Albany for a mid-year adjustment. State lawmakers, whose jobs are considered part-time, are only in session in Albany from January through mid-June. The federal government has a more fluid budget “season,” operating on a “continuing resolution,” and major funding cuts could come at virtually any time.

When Gotham Gazette asked de Blasio about the new budget mechanism that gives Cuomo additional power and any concerns for New York City he may have, particularly about federal cuts trickling down to the city, the mayor said he wasn’t completely familiar with the provision, but from what he did know, he wasn’t sure why it was needed.

"I’m not familiar enough – I don’t fully understand it – I don’t know if I’m alone in that fact,” de Blasio said during a question-and-answer session after an unrelated announcement on April 19. “You know, from our point of view, we would do that through a budget process...we have a normal process for budget modifications. We go to the City Council – they vote on it. I don’t understand, even though I know the Legislature has more of a fixed session than the Council does, that’s true, but I don’t fully follow the logic.”

De Blasio went on to say, “I would think the normal thing to do would be, you know, set a course if those federal actions really fundamentally change things to come back to the Legislature and talk it through if it was major things. So, I’m speaking as someone who doesn’t fully understand what the vision is, but I think if it’s a major magnitude, you’d want to work with the Legislature to work it out."

The governor’s office did not return a request for response to de Blasio’s comments.

During his explanation of the budget deal, however, Cuomo had already responded to de Blasio’s critique. Relying on the Legislature to return to Albany and agree on budget modifications in the face of federal cuts “was too risky a proposition for me, frankly,” Cuomo said.

“‘Well you could have always called the Legislature back into special session,’” the governor said, preemptively. “Yeah, but legislatures are not always quick to convene, they’re not always quick to agree and they’re never quick to cut funds, right? Legislatures prefer giving out funds, not calling up and saying, ‘I need you to return the money I gave you.’”

“This is what gives me the greatest security in this budget,” Cuomo said of the new mechanism, “and it’s a device that we just came up with recently and if we didn’t have a device like this, I believe it would have been better to leave the budget open throughout the year so we’re sure we could adjust.”

The mayor and governor have been engaged in a well-publicized feud for most of de Blasio’s term, conflict that has boiled over around budget issues at times. In the recently passed state budget, the city saw something of a mixed bag, though de Blasio appeared mostly pleased with the outcomes.

For the good he saw in the new state budget, the mayor mostly praised Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat who de Blasio has said is the city’s strongest ally in budget negotiations among Cuomo, who is a second-term Democrat; Heastie; and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican.

In January, de Blasio outlined his own $83 billion preliminary budget for next city fiscal year, which begins July 1. De Blasio will now take into account both the new state budget and the latest from Washington, D.C., among other factors, when crafting his executive budget plan, which he’ll unveil in May. That will set the stage for continued negotiations with the City Council before the two sides reach a deal by the end of June.

The de Blasio administration did not yet have a number for total state grants coming to the city from the state, but de Blasio’s preliminary budget had projected about $14.5 billion. It’s unclear what state money to New York City could be at risk if federal cuts to the state occur and the Cuomo administration crafts a budget amendment. The city is also at risk of losing some of the roughly $7 billion in direct federal aid it may receive -- the Trump administration and Republican Congress’ priorities mostly do not match de Blasio’s, and there have already been both threats to withhold funding and proposed cuts to the city.

As de Blasio intimated when discussing Cuomo’s new budget powers, the city has a regularly scheduled “budget modification” each November, at which time the mayoral administration and City Council adjust the current year’s spending plan and reestimate for the following year. The state has no such mechanism as part of its annual budget process.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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De Blasio Defends Limited Media Access

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Mayor de Blasio (photo: Joanna Graham/Mayor's Office)

"It’s scintillating,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said wryly when a reporter asked if he enjoys taking questions from the press. The mayor left it at that and called on another questioner, toward the end of an open question-and-answer session that followed de Blasio’s announcement of new anti-smoking measures at a news conference last week.

Over the course of about 30 minutes of Q-and-A on any topics reporters wanted to ask the mayor about, de Blasio on Wednesday fielded an unusual number of questions, about five, on his approach to and relationship with the news media.

The theme is one that has boiled to the surface from time to time over de Blasio’s first three-plus years in office as the mayor has developed a reputation as a media critic; repeatedly stated his belief that his accomplishments are not highlighted enough in the news; limited the frequency with which he takes questions from the press corps that reports on him every day; and attempted to dictate which topics he’ll take questions on when he holds events open to the media.

“You guys have a job to do and I respect it,” de Blasio told another reporter at the press conference, when he was asked if he has adopted a “rose garden” strategy of ducking media questions, “but the first obligation that I have is to constantly inform the public, and there’s lots of ways to do that nowadays, and we’re using all of them. Do you think for a moment that the people of New York City don’t hold me accountable for anything and everything?”

De Blasio argues that his administration’s use of social media, his town hall events, and his other interactions with New Yorkers, in combination with some exposure to the news media, is a recipe for accountability. He also said Wednesday that he takes questions from the press more often than presidents typically do and more often than Governor Andrew Cuomo does.

The mayor’s limited time in front of the City Hall press corps -- the group of journalists whose job it is to hold him accountable -- is sufficient, de Blasio believes. He is not hiding from the press, he has “a strategy for communicating in lots of ways with the public.”

For about a year, de Blasio has held open press conferences once a week. They had been more frequent in the past, but the mayor changed course when news broke that he and his associates were under investigation by federal and state prosecutors (they were cleared of any criminal charges). Until recently, the mayor has often listed press conferences on his public schedule as allowing only questions on the topic at hand, a much-maligned construct that led to de Blasio parsing what questions qualified as “on-topic” and, recently, a bizarre news conference where the mayor walked off after refusing to answer about four questions not on the topic of his choosing. Since that event, de Blasio has either made announcements and not taken any questions at all, or he has made an announcement, taken questions on the topic of the announcement, and then opened it up to questions on other topics.

The weekly events where de Blasio takes questions on any topic can often last two hours or more, with the open Q-and-A occurring over the final 20 to 30 minutes. Those sessions are often tense, with the mayor appearing irritable and argumentative -- at times displaying the classic pugilism of a New York City mayor demanding fair treatment from a challenging group of reporters; at other times, de Blasio is dismissive, condescending, and sarcastic. He has largely shied away from holding press availabilities at City Hall, a staple of prior mayoral administrations.

The mayor now regularly makes policy announcements that are open to the press, but refuses to take questions, as he did at multiple recent events during his “City Hall in Your Borough” week on Staten Island and on Saturday, Earth Day, when he announced a new “green jobs” program. The mayor recently spoke at the Fearless Girl statue in lower Manhattan, celebrating the symbol of defiance and fortitude, and did not take questions from the gathered press. In one especially surprising instance, de Blasio refused to speak with reporters after testifying at a state budget hearing in Albany in January (he had taken press questions at the same event in past years). At times, reporters shout questions at the mayor, which he ignores.

De Blasio has defended his media approach, saying that reporters can ask questions of his press office any time and that he takes questions from regular New Yorkers at town halls, which he has been holding across the five boroughs for the past year-and-a-half. The mayor also points to his weekly Monday evening television appearance on NY1’s Road to City Hall and Friday morning appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show -- during the latter, he often responds to a handful of listener calls.

But for the roughly 20 news outlets that cover the mayor on a daily basis, including Gotham Gazette, the mayor takes questions on any topic once a week for about 20 minutes. Asked by Gotham Gazette on Wednesday if that’s enough time, de Blasio said, “Sure, I think the fact is that you know you can ask any and all questions and get answers all day long from my press office, on where I stand on everything.” Despite the fact that this is often not true -- the mayor’s press office declines to comment on matters, gives vague statements, and provides sanitized remarks that the mayor himself may not give in real-time -- de Blasio said that “it’s very, very clear what my views are on things and how we respond to problems and challenges and issues that are raised, and so many other members of my administration that you’re speaking to.”

“I’m comfortable that kind of accountability is there, and again, that’s one part of it, you guys holding us accountable, and you do it all the time,” the mayor continued. “It’s also my obligation to talk to people, to let the people of the city know what we’re doing, and we do that in a myriad of ways. Respectfully, this is one of many ways to communicate with people. They’re all valid.”

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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