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News Feed http://www.gothamgazette.com/ Tue, 23 Dec 2014 02:30:43 GMT FeedCreator 1.8.0-dev (info@mypapit.net) Far From Mission Accomplished: Ulrich Battles for City's Veterans http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5484-far-from-mission-accomplished-ulrich-battles-for-citys-veterans Ulrich food drive

CM Ulrich speaks at the Council's veterans food drive event (photo: William Alatriste)

New York City Council Member Eric Ulrich finds great purpose in standing up for military veterans. The Republican from Queens comes from a patriotic family that has nearly every branch of the military represented over three generations.

Ulrich's great grandfather served as an MP in the Army during World War II, his grandfather served in the Navy following the Vietnam War, and his brother is currently in the process of enlisting in the Marines. Ulrich himself pondered enlisting when he was younger, but decided it wasn't the best path for him.

His career eventually led him to politics where he won his City Council District 32 seat in a 2009 special election. He became the youngest member of the Council at the time, taking over a district with a large veteran population. Ulrich's district, as well as his personal military connections, have made him a perfect fit to be a leading voice for the city's more than 200,000 veterans as chair of the Council's Committee on Veterans.

"I think I have one of the best committees in the Council. I wouldn't trade my committee for any other committee," Ulrich said from his legislative office during a recent interview with Gotham Gazette. "My job is really unique in that the stuff we do, the bills we pass, they are really going to make a difference in helping people who really don't get the help they deserve."

The city's military veterans community has been in dire need of a strong voice at City Hall as their issues have spent years on the political backburner. Ulrich's unapologetic, outspoken brand of politics has proven particularly useful this year as head of the often overlooked veterans committee.

"I think that for a very long time the City thought they can do things a certain way and that would be enough," Ulrich said. "Then someone like me came along and said, 'This isn't enough. We have to do more. We should do more. And when we don't do more, I am going to call you out on it.'"

Over the course of 11 hearings in 2014, Ulrich has brought to light pressing issues in the veterans community such as jobs, homelessness, and hunger; and pressed the de Blasio administration on its handling of veterans affairs. Ulrich's efforts have earned him the praise of veterans advocates in the process.

"I think he has really elevated this committee," Jason Hansman, director of external relations for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) said in a recent phone interview. "Not many people were participating and taking the lead, and Council Member Ulrich has brought new life into this committee."

Joe Bello, a Gulf War veteran who has been active with the Council's Veterans Committee since its formation in 2002 and is the founder of NYMetro Vets, an advocacy group, called Ulrich a "proactive and strong leader."

"He has been one of the better [veterans committee chairs] we have had in a long time." Bello said during a phone interview. "He has brought a seriousness and a focus to the position."

At the beginning of the year it was thought that a proactive focus from Ulrich would be an added bonus, not a necessity. When Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, the veterans community believed they would finally have someone in their corner for more than just parades and photo ops. De Blasio's father, Warren Wilhelm, served during World War II, losing part of his leg in the Battle of Okinawa. Wilhelm later took his own life after very difficult post-war years that included a cancer diagnosis.

De Blasio has discussed his father's service in several speeches and mentions his personal connection whenever questioned about veterans issues. The mayor has consistently expressed the same sentiment Ulrich stresses: that the city must do more for its military veterans. Veterans advocates believed having a mayor who personally understood the struggles of veterans would elevate their concerns to forefront. But in his first year as mayor, de Blasio's rhetoric has not been supported by action.

"When you look at what is going on on the Council side and what's going on on the mayor's side, it is really almost night and day," Bello said.

In his first executive budget, the mayor, despite urging from the City Council and veterans advocates, did not put in any additional money toward the Mayor's Office of Veterans' Affairs (MOVA). The five-member office tasked with serving the city's more than 200,000 veterans has a budget of just under $550,000, almost all of which pays staff salaries.

Requests for additional programmatic funding in the budget was also denied by de Blasio. Under the leadership of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Ulrich, the Council put $400,000 in discretionary funding toward job placement initiatives, and legal and mental health services for veterans.

De Blasio chose not to include $250,000 in his first budget to fund three benefits counselors MOVA utilized to serve veterans. The initiative was started under the Bloomberg administration and funded through a grant from the Robin Hood Foundation. The counselors trained veterans to navigate accessing federal VA benefits, a backlog for which has been a longstanding, well-publicized problem. The grant expired in late summer and without funding, the three benefits counselors were let go.

The move did not sit well with Ulrich.

"It is incredibly frustrating not only for me as an elected official, but for the 200,000-plus veterans who live in New York City...that in a $74 billion budget we only spend roughly $500,000 on veterans," Ulrich said.

More recently the mayor sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging him to veto bi-partisan legislation passed by the State Legislature that would allow peace-time veterans to buy back up to three years of pension credits for time served. Currently only combat veterans can do a buy-back. Just days after his re-election and right before Veterans Day, Cuomo vetoed the bill, citing a potential cost of $18 million for New York City.

"That was a terrible mistake to make and I think a lot of the advocates feel it was a slap in the face to those who have served our country," Ulrich said.

Ulrich and advocates had hoped the Legislature would override the veto during a special session, but it appears such a session, which must occur by year's end, is unlikely.

The one tangible move de Blasio has made on the veterans front has been his appointment of Loree Sutton, a highly regarded retired Army Brigadier General, as his new Commissioner for MOVA. Sutton, who recently moved to New York City, is nationally known for her work on mental health issues afflicting veterans, particularly PTSD. While Sutton's credentials stand on their own, the appointment was made more than eight months into de Blasio's first year, on August 18.

Sutton commenced a 90-day review of her department, which was due to the mayor on December 1. From that review, which will not be made public, Sutton will outline for the mayor her vision for moving MOVA forward. Any movement on this vision is unlikely to be announced until 2015.

"We want to be respectful of [the review period], but it is telling that it took this long to get someone appointed and the fact there is such a wait for him to put out this agenda," Hansman of IAVA said. "It is disappointing because most of the action around veterans has only been coming from the Council."

Gotham Gazette asked the mayor's office for comment on these topics several days prior to publication. Despite multiple emails promising a statement, one was not provided by press time.

A New Department
Ulrich has not let de Blasio's approach dictate his committee schedule. He has not been reactionary to the mayor, instead choosing to chart his own course based on the issues veterans bring to him. Ulrich said he realized early in the year that communication between veteran service organizations (VSOs) and the City was poor, so he decided to make his committee hearings a place where those groups could come, discuss problems, and—more importantly—talk solutions.

Ulrich sees the best solution to the communication problem (and others) as making MOVA its own department, and he has introduced legislation that would do just that. Currently MOVA is an office under the mayor with poor funding and limited oversight by the Council, a set-up Ulrich calls "structurally flawed."

When de Blasio appointed Sutton he appeared lukewarm to the idea of a separate department, saying, "we think the model we have now is an important and effective one and we think we can do a lot more with it."

Sutton, who had only been in her position 29 days on the day of the council committee hearing on Ulrich's bill, also did not put her support behind the bill, but added once her review was complete she would weigh in.

"There is no reason why veterans should be the equivalent of the mayor's office of film," Ulrich said. "This is really a way for the City to make a difference," he said of his bill and the new department it would create.

"I think this [bill] would be one of the best things to happen to veterans in a very long time," Ulrich added. "The mayor should get on board with it."

Hansman said the bill has picked up considerable steam among advocacy groups since its introduction and the fight to get it passed "won't be going away" in 2015.

More for 2015
With an active 2014 under his belt, don't expect for Ulrich to slow down in 2015. His "we can always do more" motto has been a staple at every veterans committee hearing and will be a driving force as he heads into what looks to be a busy next year for the committee.

In addition to continuing to push for MOVA to be its own department, Ulrich will move to get veterans treatment courts into all five boroughs. The treatment courts were introduced to New York City in 2009 and offer a veteran-specific drug and/or alcohol treatment program for non-violent offenders. Currently Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens have them and Staten Island has one in the works.

Despite its success, Manhattan hasn't jumped on board. Advocates have all pointed to District Attorney Cy Vance, although his office refuted that claim when asked by Gotham Gazette over the summer.

"I don't think we can legislate that, but if we can shine some light, maybe we can embarrass Manhattan into finally doing it," Ulrich said.

Reforming the Veterans Advisory Board (VAB) will also be a top priority for Ulrich in the new year. Six of nine appointments to the VAB have lapsed (four mayoral and two from the speaker) and the lack of transparency on the board has alarmed advocates and been discussed at several hearings.

When the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) and MOVA released a report recommending against the City establishing contract procurement goals for veteran-owned businesses (something recently passed at the state level), it did not go over well in the veterans community. Ulrich plans to hold a hearing early in 2015 on the report, although it appears better data collection may be a priority first, rather than drafting legislation requiring a procurement goal like ones the City has for minority- and women-owned businesses.

Ulrich also hopes to continue his work outside of the committee room. He's eyeing his Memorial Day veteran employment fair, which included 50 vendors this year, becoming an annual event. The Council's Veterans Food Drive, which was a joint venture between Speaker Mark-Viverito, Ulrich, and the New York City Food Bank, brought in 3,000 pounds of food, and he hopes to also make it an annual tradition.

Both legislatively and through community outreach, Ulrich promises to continue his assertive veterans advocacy - and veterans have learned they can count on him for it.

"I love, admire, and respect people who have defended our country," Ulrich said.

"I just don't think we have done enough for veterans in the City. I say it all the time because I mean it," he added. "Some people might disagree. They are wrong."

by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette

MeriwetherK@gothamgazette.com (Kristen Meriwether) Mon, 22 Dec 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5484-far-from-mission-accomplished-ulrich-battles-for-citys-veterans
Supportive Housing Helps Solve Homelessness http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinions/5485-supportive-housing-helps-solve-homelessness-shack gilbert taylor dhs 

Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor (photo: Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

On December 17 at Gotham Gazette, the Doe Fund wrote advocating for 'a working solution for homelessness,' in response to a Goddard Riverside Community Center call for the City and State to renew supportive housing legislation. We at Urban Pathways agree with the Doe Fund about the role and value of work. Our goal for our clients is to help them maximize their self-sufficiency through work and other strategies. However, we respectfully disagree with the Doe Fund's categorization of supportive housing, which constitutes a successful and cost-effective solution for homelessness.

Since the City and State entered into their first supportive housing agreement nearly 25 years ago, supportive housing – a combination of affordable housing with support services - has helped New Yorkers who face the most complex challenges live more stable, productive lives. These individuals extend beyond those persons "profoundly disabled." Supportive housing works well for individuals and families who are not only homeless, but who also have very low incomes and serious, persistent issues that may include substance use, prior incarceration, mental illness, and HIV/AIDS.

While these supportive housing agreements require an infusion of City and State government dollars, supportive housing constitutes a cost-effective solution to homelessness. The cost per-day, per-person in New York City for supportive housing is less than $45. This compares to approximately $74 for shelter and $167 for jail. According to a December 2013 analysis by the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the NY/NY III agreement reduced the use of shelters, hospitals, psych centers and incarceration, for an average net public savings of $10,100 per unit per year. It's also worth noting that we leverage a dollar of private investment for every dollar of City or State subsidy invested in supportive housing.

As the Doe Fund correctly notes, any solution for homelessness should not keep an individual "trapped, right where they are." Working with the City, organizations like Urban Pathways and Goddard Riverside have developed successful affordable housing models that have helped numerous New Yorkers integrate into communities and maximize their self-sufficiency. Our programs, for example, promote independence, enhance individuals' ability to function in their communities, and encourage participation in wellness and recovery-oriented activities.

It's also worth noting that even when individuals working full-time don't need social services, many still need subsidized housing. This remains true due to the disconnect between the low wages of many New Yorkers and the exorbitant cost of New York City rental housing. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, during the Great Recession, median apartment rents in New York City increased by 8.5 percent while median rent incomes diminished by 6.8 percent.

As we end 2014, almost 59,000 homeless persons sleep in City homeless shelters each night. Now is the time for us, City homeless providers and advocates, in conjunction with the City and State governments, to mobilize on the solutions for homelessness.

Frederick Shack is the Executive Director of Urban Pathways, a not-for-profit, social service and supportive housing organization that has served homeless adults in the New York City Metropolitan Area since 1975.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail executive editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Frederick Shack) Mon, 22 Dec 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinions/5485-supportive-housing-helps-solve-homelessness-shack
Effort to Organize New Residents in Gentrifying Neighborhoods Takes Advocates Into Uncharted Territory http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5482-effort-to-organize-new-residents-in-gentrifying-neighborhoods-takes-advocates-into-uncharted-territory bk bldg

A new apartment building in Williamsburg (photo: Urban75.org)

An initiative to organize new residents in gentrifying neighborhoods is raising concerns among housing advocates. While organizers are eager to bring more people into the tenant movement, the initiative is in sensitive territory - new residents, a.k.a. gentrifiers, are so closely linked to the process of gentrification itself, which is taking neighborhoods by storm and causing considerable strife to many.

The initiative is still in its infancy but as advocates and tenants have learned of it, they've raised concerns that it could divide tenants just as a concerted push to lobby on the state's rent laws is starting. The laws are set to expire next June.

"This is very much an exploratory effort at this point - we've only had a few meetings," said Yonah Lieberman, the organizer at the Metropolitan Council on Housing that is developing the program. "Certainly, it is not our intention to divide tenants and we will revise the program to ensure that that does not happen."

The new initiative, dubbed the Neighborhood Sustainability Project (NSP), is pretty straightforward: new residents in gentrifying neighborhoods are tenants, too, and even if they are not the targets of the tactics - legal and illegal - that landlords use to force long-term low-rent tenants out, they are still concerned with rising housing costs and can bring energy and ideas to the housing movement.

Their link, however, to gentrification is something that makes new residents in these neighborhoods problematic to many who feel threatened by forces changing the city block by block. This is particularly true for those who see gentrification simply as a process of people moving to new neighborhoods; while that is not what defines gentrification, it is one of the more obvious indicators.

Gentrification is generally defined as a process of community renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into less affluent neighborhoods, which leads to the displacement of poorer residents.

"The reality is there are many bad actors involved [in the process] and they use a variety of tactics that are at best morally dubious and at worse, clearly illegal," said a housing financier who has worked in the sector for more than two decades and spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The business models are sometimes premised on the idea of getting people out so that rents can be increased."

"[New residents] understand broadly that they're part of the problem, but they don't understand what the problem is," said Lieberman of the Met Council, which is the city's oldest tenant organizing group, and home to the NSP initiative. "The question is, 'How do we engage these people in the fight?'"

"It's a unique constituency," continued Lieberman, who moved to Crown Heights four months ago after a year-plus elsewhere in Brooklyn and sees himself as a good example. "And right now very few people are trying to talk to them, very few people are trying to engage with them and say, "Hey, look, here's how you get involved, here's how you fight the negative aspects of gentrification.""

But as young as the initiative may be, it is raising concerns because some advocates think it risks driving a wedge between tenants. In Crown Heights, for example, the Crown Heights Tenants Union (CHTU) has rallied tenants to fight against displacement tactics as gentrification has roiled the neighborhood. There, new residents have been and are members of the Tenants Union; but some fear the new initiative will pull them away or pull away potential new members - and that CHTU will lose power as a result and, worse, the opportunity to bring people together. Like other unions, tenant organizations are, after all, fundamentally about solidarity.

"With the Michael Brown and Eric Garner movement it feels like we're on the cusp of something big," said one organizer who wished to remain anonymous. "Organizing gentrifiers without engaging the long term community is not the integrative strategy our movement needs right now. We need to be coming together."

Donna Mossman, a member of the CHTU and a resident of the neighborhood for 38 years, echoed that view.

"To us, a tenant is a tenant," Mossman said. "We've made it a point to be inclusive. This is the last thing we need."

Another member - a new resident of the neighborhood - said the initiative was problematic because, at least in Crown Heights, the tenants union is as much about building community as it is about fighting bad landlords.

"I don't see how [the NSP initiative] gets us toward the goal of building up these communities," said Esteban Girón, who moved to the neighborhood about two years ago. "[CHTU] is not just about affordability - it's about getting to know your neighbors."

He added, "I'm in housing court with my landlord right now and my neighbors are supporting me ... and I've done the same for them."

To be fair, Crown Heights is a unique area for an initiative like this to be rolled out: few neighborhoods in the city have an umbrella group like CHTU, which has been highly effective since it was formed in 2013. In other areas, the initiative may be the only larger effort for new residents to join - and in areas where it is not, organizers are reaching out to the larger groups to collaborate.

"We're developing this to bring these tenants into the larger movement - not to exist independently on their own," Lieberman said. "We are working across the City to educate and engage gentrifers, who realize they are part of the problem but don't understand how or what they can do about it. Bringing them into the rent laws fight with long-term tenants is a critical piece of that.

"The CHTU has been a new and powerful force working against illegal tactics by landlords, building community and now looking to fight for stronger tenant protections." Lieberman continued. "We are not trying to replace that model in Crown Heights or anywhere else."

The new initiative is focusing on 11 gentrifying neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan, including Crown Heights. The neighborhood is one of the more pointed examples of gentrification in the city today with regular news of increased rents and heated community meetings, and indications of uneasy relationships between the new people moving in and those who have lived there for years.

At a recent meeting of the CHTU attended by Gotham Gazette, about 40 tenants gathering in a health center's meeting room recounted a variety of typical housing issues: someone was doing drugs in the stairwell of one building, gaining entry because the front door's lock was broken; heat and hot water were scarce in another; a super was caught trying to record a meeting of tenants somewhere else. The CHTU meeting included new and old residents alike and any tension between them was not immediately evident.

A recent arrival to Crown Heights said he could see the rationale for a "newcomers" group but was not joining the effort - he said he was busy starting a tenants association in his own building. He was getting ideas and assistance from CHTU in his effort, he said.

"I can understand" that new residents have different issues, he said, asking his name not be used because he was concerned his landlord would retaliate for his activism. "In my building, when I had my first meeting, I had two newcomers and one [long-term] tenant - and the perspectives were radically different."

The long-term resident, he said, was not as upset about building conditions as the new residents.

"He was saying it's a lot better than it was 10 years ago," the organizer said. "But for us, we were just trying to get things on par with the rents being charged."

A more significant difference between long-term residents and new residents - and often the focus of organizing efforts - is the extent to which the former is subject to more harassment, buy-out offers, and other tactics landlords use to encourage or force them to leave. Some landlords consistently target long-term tenants, a problem new residents generally do not have to worry about.

Still, new residents do experience issues - if there's no heat or hot water in a building, everyone suffers, of course, and a landlord who is not making repairs might not discriminate among tenants - but they are usually paying the higher rents that landlords want them for. And landlords are not typically hauling newer tenants to housing court on bogus claims, not refusing to fix their apartments, and not offering them paltry or even moderate sums of money to move out.

Lieberman said many of the new residents signing up for the Neighborhood Sustainability Project live in unregulated apartments that have been illegally deregulated. In other words, these tenants - comprised of low- to moderate-wage workers like school teachers and employees of non-profits - need to understand that they are being charged illegal rents that can and should be challenged, he said. And doing so would contribute to preserving affordability in the city.

Along with Crown Heights, other neighborhoods where NSP is organizing include East and West Harlem, Washington Heights, Red Hook, Bushwick, and Bed Stuy.

The new initiative was also born out of concern that new residents are not being brought into the housing movement to the extent that they could or should be, Lieberman said - the long-time tenants unions, focused as they are on urgent displacement issues, simply cannot go after them.

This is a slight twist on an oft-expressed concern in the tenant movement: that it is too white, middle class and skewed toward the 50+ demographic; so, many groups try to attract and promote younger people, especially those of color. Generally, Lieberman said, the new residents NSP is attracting are young and white.

"The Crown Heights Tenant Union and organizations like it are doing important work to fight for tenants who are being actively displaced and harassed out of their homes, and NSP groups are hoping to partner with those types of organizations as a unified voice," Lieberman said. "Both types of organizing are working towards the same goal of enabling people to stay in their homes and ensuring that New York City stays affordable to all who want to live here in the future."

He continued: "One key difference between the two is about how they recruit tenants into the broader fight for that shared future. Organizations like the CHTU are educating tenants who want to know their rights to repairs, against buyouts and around going to court. Meanwhile, NSP serves as an entry-point and engagement tool for tenants who may not face the same immediate risks of displacement but want to be part of the movement fighting for affordable housing and sustainable neighborhoods. These are simply different aspects of the same fight."

The larger housing movement will not be divided because a core tenet of the new initiative is partnership, he added.

Still, some advocates are not altogether convinced. Historically, organizers have not targeted new residents, though, one said.

"When we were organizing on the Upper West Side back in the early 1980s, we didn't consider gentrifiers to be our core constituents, even though we were happy to help them with our rent clinics and other services," said Gerry Khermouch, who was active with the Columbia Tenants Union. "We didn't feel their problems had the same urgency as those of the long-time, rent-protected residents who were being ruthlessly displaced, or that their priorities necessarily were aligned with ours."

Further concern is that it could exacerbate tensions among new and old residents. The timing is not propitious: the ongoing protests against police brutality in the city have been broadly inclusive; framing any initiative as divisive is something organizers are very sensitive about to begin with and doing so now is akin to fighting words.

"This is preposterous," one told me. "We risk alienating the tenants who are suffering the harassment and other efforts of landlords to get them out."

Organizing gentrifiers is almost nonsensical, said another.

"Organizing should be transformative - how is [organizing gentrifiers] challenging the power - what power structure is that challenging?" the organizer said. "The tenant movement needs the power of young energized, people - I get that. But I think we really need more effort toward integration - it needs to be about integration and recognizing that gentrification is sort of about race."

"If we want a strong movement we need to connect all of these things," he added.

To some, targeting new residents could be key to increasing participation in the tenant movement.

"We're always talking about reaching out to new communities," another long-time organizer told Gotham Gazette. "This is another community in the city that we need to reach out to," he said of new residents.

Lieberman said the new initiative is bringing more tenants into the housing movement - almost 200 people have signed up to participate through early December. And some advocates are curious whether new residents could be mobilized as never before to renew and strengthen rent regulation laws, which are set to expire in Albany in June.

"We aren't doing this in a vacuum," Lieberman said. "Addressing race and privilege is central to the organizing."

While the city's continued housing affordability crisis makes it unlikely that state legislators will not renew the rent laws, which come up for renewal generally every five years, strengthening them is another matter, particularly because the State Senate is now more firmly in the hands of Republicans after the November elections: Republicans have traditionally opposed the laws.

"Aspects of this campaign are still evolving, but this [new organization] is something we think needs to happen," said Kenny Schaeffer, vice chair of Met Council on Housing's board and a long-time tenant movement leader. "We want to bring newer community residents into the fight to protect existing tenants from displacement by enacting stronger rent and eviction protections."

"Also," Schaeffer added, "some of the newer tenants live in de-regulated apartments. And a major part of the campaign to strengthen the rent laws in 2015 will include extending protection to these apartments, but no one's been organizing them before."

by Joe Lamport for Gotham Gazette

jlamport@gothamgazette.com (Joe Lamport) Fri, 19 Dec 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5482-effort-to-organize-new-residents-in-gentrifying-neighborhoods-takes-advocates-into-uncharted-territory
12 Times De Blasio Broke From Bloomberg in 2014 http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5483-12-times-de-blasio-broke-from-bloomberg-in-2014 BdB Bloomberg

Bill de Blasio and Mike Bloomberg at City Hall on Nov. 6, 2013 (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

Bill de Blasio won the mayoral election by drawing a clear contrast between himself and Michael Bloomberg. Since he took office almost a year ago, de Blasio has continued to attack his predecessor's policies.

While he was gracious during his inauguration speech with Bloomberg in attendance, de Blasio has not shied from criticism in the ensuing months. De Blasio usually refers to the "previous administration" instead of criticizing Bloomberg by name. His evaluations of Bloomberg policy on housing, policing, education, Sandy recovery, and other issues have ranged from "not appropriate" to "abhorrent."

Bloomberg himself has kept silent on the de Blasio tenure, as he promised he would. But in interviews, on Twitter, and on Bloomberg's website, his aides have defended the administration's record and corrected what they say is misinformation. "We've been surprised the extent to which it's been necessary," Howard Wolfson, a former deputy mayor, told The New York Times in September.

De Blasio has praised Bloomberg's work on issues like public health, environmental action, support for growth in the technology industry, and what he has called Bloomberg's "extraordinary and appropriate" advocacy for gun control across the country. He's also working to expand Bloomberg policies like the Citi Bike system.

"I have no trouble challenging the assumptions of the previous administration when I disagree with them, but I also am very comfortable saying when I think they were essentially right," de Blasio said at a February press conference.

Here are twelve 2014 moments when de Blasio criticized Bloomberg's policies and attempted to show his moves in a new direction:

1. On public housing:
"The Bloomberg approach to development at NYCHA was unacceptable. The previous approach, we rejected and this is entirely starting over." --Bill de Blasio, February 8

De Blasio has promised a "reset" of relations between the city and New York City Housing Authority residents, and specifically attacked Bloomberg's proposal to build market-rate housing on NYCHA property in order to raise revenue for the troubled agency. He also criticized delays in funding NYCHA security cameras and other improvements under Bloomberg -- but admitted that the delays had also been "unacceptable in my administration."

2. On municipal union contracts:
"The murky waters [in the city budget] have been created in part by the previous administration's unprecedented failure to resolve 152 collective bargaining agreements with city workers, some of whom have been without contract since 2008 ... The way they budgeted was not appropriate. You cannot ignore open labor contracts for years on end." --Bill de Blasio, February 12

De Blasio accused Bloomberg of publicly vilifying city workers during contract negotiations. When discussing the budget, he doesn't talk as often about the $2.4 billion surplus left over by the previous administration, though the path to that number has been questioned.

3. On charter school co-locations:
"Look, I'm not going to mince words about what I feel about how the Bloomberg Administration made decisions on co-locations. I think it was abhorrent. I think it was done without real consultation with parents, real consultation with the schools that were going to be affected, the receiving schools. And I think a lot of those co-locations proved to be very problematic in practice." --Bill de Blasio, February 27

One of the most contentious political issues of the year has been charter schools, which de Blasio accused Bloomberg of unfairly favoring. He has said he would put a moratorium on new charter school co-locations, but moderated his stance after opposition (and legislation) from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

4. On homelessness:
"[Gov. Cuomo and I] are going to work together to undo the mistakes of the previous administration. I think the cancellation of homelessness prevention programs is one of the reasons why we literally have the all-time highest number of New Yorkers in shelter at this very moment." --Bill de Blasio, March 25

He called youth homelessness one of the city's "most profound" problems. Homelessness is up under the de Blasio administration, as of August, as the new mayor seeks new ways to combat the crisis.

5. On affordable housing:
"We can get a lot more done than the previous approach allowed for ... In many cases there was a bit of a laissez-faire approach to development. And whatever was put forward in a particular case by a developer was accepted pretty much wholesale." --Bill de Blasio, April 7

Affordable housing is one of the centerpieces of de Blasio's policy agenda. He has outlined a plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in the next ten years, which he says is key to fighting income inequality in the city. This is another area where Bloomberg administration veterans shot back, citing 175,000 affordable units preserved or built during the former mayor's tenure.

6. On small business fines:
"We have to also respect our small businesses ... That didn't happen all the time in the previous administration. Some real boundaries were overstepped in the name of revenue production. Many small businesses were treated unfairly. Many rules were applied very arbitrarily. And it undercut the ability of some small businesses to survive." --Bill de Blasio, April 24

According to de Blasio, small businesses in the Bloomberg era, especially businesses outside Manhattan, were subjected to punitive and unfair fees under a "de facto quota system." De Blasio has said he wants to create a more "compassionate" climate for small businesses.

7. On policing:
"For much of the previous 12 years, there was a growing tension and a growing disconnect between police and community all over our city. And that is not an acceptable state of affairs." --Bill de Blasio, July 28

De Blasio has emphasized that tension between the police and communities of color in New York is a problem that has gone on for "decades," not just during the Bloomberg administration. But his opposition to stop-and-frisk policy practiced under Bloomberg was a highlight of his campaign. Bloomberg resisted stop-and-frisk reforms "quite aggressively" before eventually changing his policy, de Blasio said.

8. On Superstorm Sandy relief:
"I have respect for everyone in the previous administration. I'm sure they were trying their best. But the formula was not a good formula ... What was missing in the previous approach is a focus on real human beings – homeowners, and public housing residents, who needed relief immediately." --Bill de Blasio, September 5

Bloomberg's policies to rebuild storm-ravaged neighborhoods in New York focused more on infrastructure than people, de Blasio said. But he has also praised Bloomberg's focus on resiliency for future storms. Cas Holloway, a deputy mayor under Bloomberg, released a long statement in response to criticisms of the administration's Sandy policy, saying that no other city or federal effort "invested as much funding in as many homes as quickly as New York City did after Hurricane Sandy."

9. On park funding:
"It's been decades of disinvestment in our parks, decades, and again, it did cut along demographic lines ... We believe fundamentally in an agenda of fighting inequality ... I think it's fair to say the previous administration didn't see the world that way. So it just wasn't a priority." --Bill de Blasio, October 7

De Blasio has criticized Bloomberg for investing more in Manhattan parks like the High Line and not as much in smaller, outer borough parks. But he didn't follow through with a plan to force wealthy, privately-funded park conservancies like the Central Park Conservancy to fund maintenance for smaller neighborhood parks. "The Bloomberg administration made $5 billion in capital investments in parks, the largest capital investment in the city's history," said former Parks Commissioner Veronica White.

10. On closing schools:
"The previous administration had a policy that a school like this was left to fend for itself, and that's why we're here today, because we reject the notion of giving up on any of our schools." --Bill de Blasio, November 3

De Blasio's plan, which he calls "Renewal Schools," aims to turn around underperforming city schools instead of closing them.

Bloomberg schools chancellor Dennis Walcott responded that closing failing schools and replacing them with smaller schools was one of the "great education success stories any city has ever experienced."

11. On Rikers Island:
"When I came into office...I knew there were problems, but I didn't know there had been this level of neglect. And I didn't know that so many failed policies had gone unchanged. And I didn't know that so much failed leadership had been left in place." --Bill de Blasio, November 20

Specifically, de Blasio talked about mental health on Riker's Island, and has claimed that his is the first city administration to seriously pursue mental health reforms on the island, which de Blasio visited for the first time as mayor this week.

12. On job training:
"What was quite striking [in the past] was a lot of placements worked for six months or nine months or a year and then the person was back out of work. And a lot of placements were low-wage jobs. This is just not a good public policy, not a good use of taxpayer dollars, not something that actually sets the person up for the future." --Bill de Blasio, November 21

De Blasio argued that the Bloomberg administration missed the opportunity for higher-paying jobs, and aimed instead for quantity of jobs over quality. Former Bloomberg press secretary Stu Loeser told Capital New York that the previous administration "increased job placements from 500 to almost 30,000 a year all across the pay spectrum and led to the highest-ever number of New Yorkers with jobs."

What to watch for in 2015: will Bloomberg break his self-imposed de Blasio gag order?

by Casey Tolan, Gotham Gazette

ctolan@gothamgazette.com (Casey Tolan) Fri, 19 Dec 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5483-12-times-de-blasio-broke-from-bloomberg-in-2014
Three Years In, New York Ethics Commission Still Looking to Find Footing http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5479-three-years-in-new-york-ethics-commission-still-looking-to-find-footing jcope 2014 via Times Union

JCOPE meets in February, 2014 (photo: John Carl D'Annibale / Times Union)

Over the past three years, a string of indictments of New York State legislators has been front page news, as has Gov. Andrew Cuomo's scuttled Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. All the while, New York's actual ethics monitoring organization has barely been mentioned, and the agency itself has made just a peep.

Albany watchdogs say that some of that silence may come from the commission's ingrained secrecy, but others insist it is due to the fact that JCOPE, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, was originally delivered as a flawed entity - and purposefully so, designed not to do its stated job.

On December 12th 2011, just more than three years ago, New York State's Joint Commission on Public Ethics unceremoniously took over from the defunct Commission on Public Integrity.

A skeleton crew of staffers was unsure whether they would keep their jobs when the new commission was announced - legislative and gubernatorial appointees had a slew of possible conflicts of interest from close relationships to legislators to having recently worked for the people who were appointing them. The commissioners' names and credentials were announced by a late evening press release ensuring their unveiling got minimal coverage that day. And so on.

Three years later, JCOPE appears to be making strides toward becoming a consistent regulatory body, but watchdogs remain concerned that the law creating it, flawed to begin with, continues to constrain.

Insiders say that the search for commissioners was an ugly one, with talented recruits turning down requests to serve for fear of a position that would surely be rife with scrutiny but bear little reward. JCOPE does boast commissioners with impressive resumes, though.

Since its creation JCOPE has seen staff turnover and controversy over the independence of its investigations. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara subpoenaed JCOPE records - reportedly looking for a list of all the complaints the agency had received; Bharara has repeatedly made clear he has no faith in Albany to police itself.

Despite consisting of 14 commissioners it only takes three votes to block a JCOPE investigation. The commission can institute civil penalties, but it has to refer its findings to the Legislative Ethics Commission, which is made up of appointees by State Assembly and Senate leaders. JCOPE's investigations and their results are private and the body itself regularly goes into executive session during sensitive debate.

"They got off on the wrong foot," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "Their secrecy combined with a legislative veto sends the wrong message about accountability and prevents them from being effective." Horner also noted that a number of the governor's appointees previously served in his administration.

JCOPE's rules were negotiated by the Legislature and governor to ensure "fairness" and prevent political witch hunts, but good government advocates say the rules significantly handicap the agency from investigating and disciplining violations of the state's ethics laws.

However, some Albany watchdogs insist that JCOPE has begun to have an impact on the culture in Albany thanks to rules that require statewide electeds, legislators, and government staffers to submit financial disclosure forms that are designed to serve as a check on conflicts of interest. Legislators have fought tooth and nail against increased disclosures that would require those who serve as attorneys to disclose their clients.

The financial disclosures handled by JCOPE have shed the first real light on the outside income of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is a trial lawyer for a firm and also runs his own private practice. Silver has disclosed making more than $650,000 doing private sector legal work in his latest disclosure. There has been concern for years that Silver's clients could have sensitive issues pending before the Legislature, but he is not required to reveal those clients and refuses to do so.

JCOPE also conducted its first-ever investigation of a sitting legislator in state history when it looked into the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal. JCOPE referred its findings to the Legislative Ethics Commission, which eventually fined Lopez $330,000.

"I think the Vito Lopez report was very encouraging," said Rachael Fauss of good government organization Citizens Union. "They could have looked at the case more narrowly, but they did find violations of the public officers law."

Fauss said Citizens Union supports changing JCOPE's voting process to make it more transparent and "less political." The organization issued recommendations last year that include allowing a supermajority, or a vote of 9 of the 14 members, to trigger an investigation. Barring that change Citizens Union recommends having JCOPE disclose when three members of one party vote to block an investigation supported by the majority of the commission. Either of those changes would require legislative action, which seems unlikely given that it would reduce legislators' ability to control the commission.

Fauss also wants to see lobbying data and financial disclosure information presented in a standardized format on JCOPE's website so that it will be easier to analyze and spot trends. There is some indication that the commission is early in the process of revamping its lobbying database to make it more user-friendly.

David Grandeau, former head of the state's now-defunct State Lobbying Commission, made a snoring noise when asked about the commission's record. Fittingly, Grandeu now represents lobbyists who have business in front of the commission and insists that JCOPE is made up of "lackeys" who aren't qualified and motivated to pursue major instances of corruption.

He also points to the case of David Ellenhorn, a counsel at the Attorney General's office, who JCOPE found took a free ride on a chartered jet from an opposing attorney. Ellenhorn had refundable airfare paid for by the State but did not request permission to take the jet trip or a refund for the unused ticket. JCOPE settled the case with Ellenhorn rather than institute a penalty. Grandeau characterizes the case as a disturbing "slap on the wrist" for what he sees as a clear lapse of ethical judgement. Grandeau was directly involved in the case, though, filing the complaint against Ellenhorn.

"It comes down to four simple words," said Grandeau."It's the people, stupid." Grandeau insists that despite the push for increased financial disclosure, journalists, watchdogs and commission members fail to use the information that is readily available. "Everyone talks ethics reforms and more disclosure but once we get more disclosure they don't do anything with them."

Horner said he believes JCOPE commissioners sign up in good faith but become quickly frustrated by a set of rules that leaves them hamstrung.

A source close to the commission pointed out that despite departures much of the original commission is still intact, even while members work full-time jobs, have families, and perform their duties only receiving meager per diem reimbursements from the State.

Aside from the Vito Lopez case, JCOPE's findings have solely been against low-level state officials and employees. One case found that Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers gave confidential information to a potential vendor. In another, a CUNY professor was fined $65,000 for steering the State to buy research software from a company he covertly owned.

According to JCOPE's annual reports the commission resolved more than 25 investigations in 2012 that resulted in settlements and penalties totaling $40,000. In 2013, it reported reviewing more than 300 potential investigations and resolving another 25 enforcement actions that resulted in $52,000 in fines. And in 2014 the commission reviewed over 200 possible investigations, concluding 15 enforcement actions that resulted in $450,000 in penalties.

It is unclear past the Lopez case what kind of impact JCOPE has had in regard to the Legislature. Has it acted as a deterrent of any kind?

While the commission has faced criticism for not adding more scalps to its trophy case supporters point out that JCOPE has had to do the work of actually putting guidelines in place for disclosure and exemptions.

However, there is concern among watchdogs that JCOPE is restrained by regulations and interference from both the executive chamber and the Legislature. "Why is it the commission went for 6 months without an Executive Director?" asked Horner of NYPIRG.

Turnover at the Executive Director position in JCOPE helps explain the concerns of Horner and others.

Ellen Biben was named executive director of JCOPE in February 2012. She left her position as Cuomo's inspector general to take the job. She then resigned in May of 2013 as a slew of legislators were indicted. Biben was replaced six months later by Letizia Tagliafierro who worked for Cuomo during his time as attorney general and later when he became governor as director of intergovernmental affairs.

by David King, Albany Editor

Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that JCOPE has indeed posted the results of its Vito Lopez inquiry on its website and to note that Letizia Tagliafierro is still the ED. It has also been updated to reflect David Gandeau's involvement in the Ellenhorn matter and to more carefully phrase the subpoenaing of JCOPE records by Bharar's office.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundaiton, sister organization of Citizens Union

dking@gothamgazette.com (David Howard King) Thu, 18 Dec 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5479-three-years-in-new-york-ethics-commission-still-looking-to-find-footing
What's the NYPD doing with an LRAD? http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinions/5480-whats-the-nypd-doing-with-an-lrad-vitale LRAD NYPD

An LRAD being used by NYPD on Dec 3 (photo: @PeoplesHistory)

While the protests following the non-indictments in Ferguson and Staten Island have been disruptive, they have been mostly non-violent and clashes with police have been minimal, with the notable exception of the injury of two NYPD officers on the Brooklyn Bridge on the night of December 13.

However, on December 5 officers attempted to disperse a small march in Midtown using a new tool in crowd management, a long range acoustic device (LRAD).

LRADs have two primary functions: first as a long range communication device and second as a dispersal tool, emitting penetrating and piercing tones at high decibels.

LRADs were developed for the military following the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 in Yemen. The purpose of the device was to ward off potential attackers before they could get close enough to an intended target to strike. The device has also been used at military checkpoints to communicate with and deter threatening vehicles.

The use of LRADs as a speaker may have some justification in crowd control. Best policing practices call for enhanced communication between demonstrators and the police. While this should be done face to face and on the ground as much as possible, there are situations where the police should notify crowds of their risk of arrest or of being subjected to use of force. Such crowds should be told where to disperse to and how. LRADs might be able to help with this since they can be heard over the shouts of crowds, unlike many conventional sound systems. However, we don't really know what if any harmful effects this function might produce, especially for people with existing hearing problems.

The dispersal function is similar to tear gas or water cannons. It is intended to be a less lethal use of force that can be used as an alternative to baton charges or other more extreme measures. Their use might be appropriate in dealing with a violent crowd attempting to storm the UN or other location where force might be necessary to prevent property destruction or injury. The effect, however, is usually rather crude. Like with tear gas, flash bang grenades, and riot control projectiles, the dispersal brought about by LRADs generally is disorderly and can lead to collateral property destruction and injury to onlookers and innocent by-standers. They should be used only as a last resort, in place of relying on higher levels of force.

The question of whether an LRAD is preferable to tear gas, projectiles, or flash bangs depends on balancing effectiveness in reducing violence and property destruction versus potential injury to protesters and onlookers. The problem is that we don't have very good evidence about the potential harmful effects of this relatively new and untested technology. There have been reports of related injuries leading to a legal settlement from LRAD use in Pittsburgh in 2009 and a ministerial report in Canada raised significant concerns about their health effects.

If we knew for sure that the dispersal function had no long term health consequences, then it might be preferable. If, however, there is a risk that those with existing hearing problems, and even others might experience medium to long term problems, or if psychological or cognitive functions are disrupted, then the costs may be too high. In the absence of clear evidence we should err on the side of caution.

One of my major concerns is that like with tasers and much military hardware, there is strong temptation for "mission creep." Often these devices are obtained under the pretext of very restricted uses in extreme and highly unlikely circumstances such as terrorist attacks or snipers. However, once departments have them, there is a tendency to use them in additional ways that make life easier for police but endanger the public.

Tasers can be life savers, but they can also be torture devices when used improperly. LRADs have this potential and we saw something like this when they were used during the Garner protests in New York. A few individuals in a larger group threw some things and the police used the dispersal function against the whole group on a Midtown street with no real plan for managing their dispersal. Other less dangerous methods could have been used and the effect on an already dispersed group was just to splinter them, making it harder for police to track them and leaving open the opportunity for random property destruction. Generally, this technology should not be used on a few troublemakers in an otherwise peaceful protest and it should not be used on more broadly violent crowds unless there are limited alternatives and a plan for managing an angry and disorganized splintering of the group.

Last week a group of lawyers sent a letter to the NYPD asking them to clarify their policies about the use of this technology. So far there has been no official response. There needs to be much greater transparency about the plans to use such intensive riot control tools. In fact, the NYPD also owns water cannons, and there has been no public discussion of their appropriate use either. It's time for the City Council to step in and hold hearings about the proper uses of riot control equipment in the New York.

Alex S. Vitale is associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics. He is senior policy adviser to hte Police Reform Organizing Project and serves on the New York State Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission. You can follow him on Twitter: @avitale

asvitale@gothamgazette.com (Alex S. Vitale) Thu, 18 Dec 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinions/5480-whats-the-nypd-doing-with-an-lrad-vitale
Report: Solitary Confinement Violating Human Rights of Youth http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5481-report-solitary-confinement-violating-human-rights-of-youth BdB Rikers

Mayor de Blasio at Rikers Island (photo: @BilldeBlasio)

Minority youth inmates in New York prisons are disproportionately subjected to solitary confinement, which has disastrous effects on their physical and mental health and is a violation of their civil rights, says a new report by the New York Advisory Committee (NYAC) to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

The report, released by NYAC on the steps of City Hall on Thursday, highlights numerous issues with the use of solitary confinement, which became a widespread prison management tool in the U.S. starting in the mid-1990s. New York alone built 10 facilities between 1998 and 2000 solely dedicated to extreme isolation. Inmates can be confined for 22 to 24 hours a day for weeks or even months in "Special Housing Units" (SHU), the official term for isolation cells measuring six-by-eight square feet. The report estimates that at any given time 4,500 inmates are kept in solitary confinement in New York.

The larger issue, however, is the effect this confinement has on younger inmates among the prison population. New York's judicial system treats anyone 16-years-old and above as an adult, and even those as young as 13 in cases of serious felonies. The report, recommending that the age of criminal responsibility be raised to 18, says that a greater proportion of youth are subject to solitary confinement. Between 90 and 95 percent of those youths in these prisons are children of color, the report says, making a case for both age and race discrimination. There is an active "Raise the Age" campaign in New York that is likely to pick up on the report's findings.

Citing the stunting effects this punitive practice can have on physical, mental, and social development, the report recommends that it no longer be used for inmates below the age of 25. At Thursday's press conference releasing the report, NYAC Chair Alexandra Korry called the practice "an abomination." "It's punishment, not rehabilitation," she added, stressing that it exacerbates mental illness among vulnerable youth. "You don't go in mentally ill, but you certainly come out mentally ill," she said.

Among the report's recommendations, the committee calls on the Department of Justice to push New York's prisons and jails to implement changes in policies. Besides doing away with the practice of solitary confinement entirely, it recommends a review of existing isolation cases, rehabilitative measures including counselling, alternatives to isolation, training of corrections officers, and regularly reporting data on solitary confinement.

The release of the report comes the day after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio visited Rikers Island prison facilities, specifically focused on juvenile detention. At the visit, "Mayor de Blasio and Department Correction Commissioner Joe Ponte...announced the end of punitive segregation for adolescents in New York City jails," accoding to a press release from the Mayor's Office. "As of December 4, the Department of Correction had moved all 16- and 17 year-old inmates out of punitive segregation and ended the practice as a form of punishment for the youngest inmates at the nine operational jails on Rikers."

As for the NYAC report, there was some internal disagreements on the report's findings. Committee member Robert Paquette disagreed with the methodology and stated in his dissent, "The report does not represent, in my view, 'objective and comprehensive investigation' in a 'bi-partisan' fashion." Another member, Peter Wood, said the report is based on "invalid premises" and it's recommendations are "deeply flawed".

However, all committee members agree there is a problem that must be addressed. As the report's background section notes, "Despite having only five percent of the world's population, the United States has almost 25 percent of its prisoners, with one in every one hundred American adults behind bars," with rates of incarcerating accelerating in recent decades as a result of the War on Drugs. To boot, the report says, "This enormous increase in the American prison population has disproportionately affected racial minorities and youth. Specifically, as of 2012, more than 60 percent of the prison population were people of color."

Read the report here.

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

samarkhurshid@nyu.edu (Samar Khurshid) Thu, 18 Dec 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5481-report-solitary-confinement-violating-human-rights-of-youth
A Working Solution for Homelessness http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinions/5475-a-working-solution-for-homelessness-mcdonald doe fund

Members of the Doe Fund march in the Veterans Day Parade (photo: @TheDoeFund)

In a December 11 Gotham Gazette editorial advocating for more supportive housing, a program director from the Goddard Riverside Community Center made a bold statement: "The number one cause of homelessness[...]is a lack of affordable housing." That's a clean explanation for one of society's most vexing problems, but it's not true.

If housing was the answer to homelessness, we would have solved this crisis a generation ago. Homelessness isn't a state of being; and it's not a condition that people must live with and manage, like diabetes or cancer. It's an outcome. In a small fraction of the cases, it's the result of a serious disability that precludes a person's ability to work. But to say that all—or even most— homeless people require subsidized housing implies that they as a "group" are incapable of supporting themselves. And that line of reasoning is offensive to advocates like me, who know this population and have served them for decades.

Permanent supportive housing is our responsibility to provide for people who are profoundly disabled. But it also requires enormous and unending support from taxpayers. What happens when programs change, budgets get cut, and the money runs out? The homeless people warehoused in supportive housing are back on the streets, without any of the tools they need to live independently. To make supportive housing possible and sustainable for those who really do need it, we need a strong city with a strong workforce.

Any way you slice it, the answer to both our growing homelessness crisis and our need to build supportive housing is work.

The city, the state—the nation as a whole— has to recognize the dignity and potential in our homeless and long-term unemployed populations. We need programs that address not just a bad outcome, like homelessness, but the complex web of barriers, behaviors, and circumstances that have produced it: education, skills and experience gaps, vocational training and workforce development, substance abuse treatment, and reentry support for the formerly incarcerated.

When my husband and I started our work thirty years ago, people told us there was no way to put the homeless to work. They were lost causes; they would never be able to support themselves. They were simply "too lazy, or too crazy."

We can all agree that that's a disgusting statement. But is it really so far from dismissing all homeless people as permanently disabled? I can think of at least 21,000 individuals who would beg to differ; they're just some of the people we've served over the last three decades. They didn't come to our organization for a free house. They came to us for an opportunity: to work, to grow, and to support themselves and their families—for life.

Ms. McCullough of Goddard Riverside is right: the measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. Let's start by recognizing their dignity and abilities. Then, let's give them the hand up they deserve, one that frees them from homelessness forever; not a handout that keeps them trapped, right where they are.

Harriet McDonald is the Executive Vice President of The Doe Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides transitional housing, paid work, job training, and supportive services for the formerly homeless and incarcerated.  Find The Doe Fund on Twitter: @TheDoeFund

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Harriet McDonald) Wed, 17 Dec 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinions/5475-a-working-solution-for-homelessness-mcdonald
Small Town Ethics Could Have Big-Time Fracking Impact http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5478-small-town-ethics-could-have-major-impact-on-fracking teachout fracking

Zephyr Teachout speaks to an anti-fracking crowd (photo: @FrackAction)

With major announcements expected on hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) and casino sighting in New York expected imminently, watchdogs are warning that small town officials are not subject to tough enough ethics and disclosure laws and could be hiding major conflicts of interest.

"By the end of the year, we should have positions on both that are clear," Cuomo told Susan Arbetter on The Capitol Pressroom Monday, referring to fracking and casino locations. "We'll start the new year with major decisions under our belt."

A special commission is set to announce casino locations on Wednesday, Dec. 17, while the fracking decision is said, by Cuomo, to be coming once a Department of Health report provides the governor with clarity on the dangers of allowing the practice. Cuomo was dogged by anti-fracking activists throughout his re-election campaign and his primary opponent, Zephyr Teachout expressed vehement anti-fracking views.

A report by The New York Public Interest Research Group called "Drilling Down: Local Fracking Decisions Highlight Failures in New York's Municipal Ethics Laws" looks at how municipalities that passed pro-fracking measures may have been influenced by public officials with conflicts of interest. NYPIRG's report found that multiple local officials had leases with oil companies that would pay out if fracking becomes legalized in their region.

Blair Horner of NYPIRG told Gotham Gazette that he has a meeting set with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office to discuss extending the state's disclosure and conflict of interest standards to municipalities. "The Governor himself has expressed concern about ethics laws for municipal officials," said Horner. "So we hope to start with him."

NYPIRG's report cites a quote from Cuomo's 2010 policy book "Clean Up Albany."

"With all the obvious potential for conflicts of interest and significant sums of taxpayer money at stake, the current laws regarding municipal ethics are both weak and frequently unenforceable," Cuomo wrote.

In June of this year a state Court of Appeals Judge ruled that municipalities can ban fracking by using zoning laws. The ruling came after a couple of towns had moved to ban the practice and it empowered municipalities in an unprecedented manner. Now local governments had control of the implementation of major state policy.

On Wednesday, the New York City Council will see legislation introduced to ban fracking in the city, according to the Epoch Times.

Meanwhile, this summer local governments played a major role in attracting or fighting off casino proposals as the state went through the process of actually locating casinos after the legalizing them in 2013.

The support of local governments is important to casino and fracking interests because it sends a message that the projects are popular in localities, but also because town infrastructure is used heavily when a casino is built or fracking is implemented.

Towns and local officials have been the target of both anti-casino campaigns and the lobbying efforts and promised cash of pro-casino groups. Even municipalities abutting areas targeted for casinos have been offered millions of dollars by casino groups for their support.

NYPIRG's report found that the state's disclosure laws have a loophole that exempts lobbyists from reporting efforts to lobby local officials in municipalities with fewer than 50,000 residents.

NYPIRG further details a list of local officials who had a financial interest in the promotion of fracking while they voted for pro-fracking resolutions.

Horner and the report's author Russ Haven told reporters that the Town of Sanford in Broome County is a "poster child" for the need for reform. They said the town supervisor had gas leases for his personal and business properties and that the town itself holds a lease.

The town supervisor of Windsor worked for a major oil and gas company for 32 years and had a gas development lease on 30 acres worth of property in the town.

Horner argues that towns don't have the financial resources to police ethics and properly weigh the arguments made by monied interests.

Local meeting laws need to be strengthened, Horner says, with meetings being videotaped and made available online. He adds that towns need boards of ethics to oversee conflicts.

NYPIRG is itself opposed to fracking, citing safety and health concerns, among others. Horner told reporters that he thinks pro- and anti-fracking groups should have to disclose their lobbying efforts and expenses and that he expects that local governments will be expected to weigh in on an increasing number of issues from wind energy to casino siting. "At the very least they should be subject to the state's ethics laws," Horner said.

by David King, Gotham Gazette

dking@gothamgazette.com (David Howard King) Wed, 17 Dec 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5478-small-town-ethics-could-have-major-impact-on-fracking
De Blasio's Next Campaign: Municipal IDs http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5472-de-blasios-next-campaign-municipal-ids idnyc

(image via IDNYC website)

With ambitious goals and an attractive list of cultural benefits, the city's new municipal identification card program, dubbed IDNYC, will launch next month.

Recently, Mayor de Blasio announced the latest rules and criteria for the program, established as Local Law 35 in July, including documentation that will be required to apply for the card, which will be free of charge in 2015. The card will also ensure free membership to over 30 New York City cultural institutions, an impressive list that the City has told Gotham Gazette it is already in discussions to expand.

As the calendar turns to 2015 and the card becomes available, the City is preparing another marketing campaign in the mold of ones it ran to announce the implementation of the paid sick leave law and vastly expanded pre-kindergarten offerings. There is also the ongoing campaign to lure the 2016 Democratic National Convention to New York, of course.

The municipal card rollout will include the opening of 12 "IDNYC Enrollment Centers" around the city - the locations of which have not yet been announced. The "campaign" has recently seen a shot in the arm through the unveiling of a new logo, the launch of a specific Twitter account (@IDNYC), and the start of community-based public forums, including one in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, hosted by City Council immigration committee chair Carlos Menchaca, a major force behind the ID movement.

New York's will be the largest such municipal ID program in the country. Hailed as a progressive move to integrate the large undocumented immigrant population of the city, the program will provide access to city services and will be accepted as identification by the NYPD. Applicants will not be asked their immigration status upon applying for the card.

At a December 5 press conference, the Mayor and his two top commissioners tasked with implementing IDNYC laid out the application procedures for the ID along with strong regulations on preventing fraud and protecting the information collected by the Human Resources Administration (HRA) for the card.

"We want New Yorkers to feel proud to carry this card in their wallet," de Blasio said after explaining that "A great deal of analysis and care went into ensuring our IDNYC card is strong on privacy and security, while providing access to as many people as possible."

De Blasio and members of his administration seek to stress the security and the benefits of the card, both for the ears of undocumented immigrants living in the city as well as the larger population. A major part of the push behind the IDs will be to ensure that they are not just a card for the undocumented and that there is no stigma attached.

The application for the card will require point-based proof of identity and residency similar to the system employed at the Department of Motor Vehicles, with certain provisions in place for homeless New Yorkers who apply. Among the data protection provisions, specific guidelines have been put in place to protect vulnerable applicants such as survivors of domestic abuse. An appeals process was also established for applicants who are denied a card.

These rules were implemented through executive action by HRA Commissioner Steven Banks, partially in response to feedback the City received online and at a public hearing in October.

The ID will be available to all New York City residents 14 years and above regardless of immigration status or homelessness. It will be free for the first year and valid for five years after that. The cost for successive years has not yet been determined, said city officials.

In promoting the card, the administration announced a number of incentives, chief among them being partnerships with 33 of the city's largest cultural institutions, including museums, art galleries and zoos, which will provide benefits and discounts to those with a municipal ID.

Ryan Max, director of external affairs at the Department of Cultural Affairs says the 33 institutions are simply phase 1 of the program and that an expansion can be expected in 2016. "In phase 2, I'm sure we'll see a lot of other cultural organizations providing similar benefits and many have already expressed interest in participating."

The 33 participating institutions are a part of the Cultural Institutions Group (CIG), a system of public-private partnership. They are situated on city land, which they utilize rent-free, and receive energy and operating subsidies from the City. For 2015, CIG members were allocated about $109 million from the Department of Cultural Affairs' total expense budget of roughly $157 million.

This cultural partnership does come with a few caveats though. The municipal ID isn't a membership card and people will still be required to sign up for individual memberships at the cultural institutions. Although the free partnership program expires at the end of 2015, the memberships will last a year from the date of signing up. Also, those who already have memberships or had been members of an institution in the last three years will not be eligible, although they will receive discounts at other institutions where they were not members. "We wanted to make sure we weren't eating into that existing revenue stream," said Max.

(Although it is highly unlikely that any one person will sign up at all the 33 institutions, the program calculates a total $2100 discount for anyone who does.)

The Cultural Affairs department does not expect a heavy financial burden from the program and does not have projections yet for the number of people expected to sign up in the first year. City officials, who said they could not reveal their internal targets, said a number of announcements would be made in the next few weeks to spread the word about the municipal ID and it's expanded benefits.

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

Note: this article has been updated with more accurate figures on the CIG and DCA budget numbers.

samarkhurshid@nyu.edu (Samar Khurshid) Tue, 16 Dec 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5472-de-blasios-next-campaign-municipal-ids