Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics




New York’s Young Adult Unemployment Crisis Needs A Strategy

NYCEDC pic students tour

Students on a tour (photo via NYCEDC)

Starting one’s adult life in poverty and without a job has serious long-term economic consequences that negatively impact future job prospects, earnings, and wealth. Young people are scaling one of the toughest jobs cliffs in recent memory, and the situation is a looming threat to economic growth in our state. We need to combat New York’s young adult unemployment crisis with a robust strategy, and now.

One analysis found that a young person who is unemployed for six months can expect to earn $22,000 less over a ten year period. Here in New York, more than 400,000 unemployed 16-to-24-year-olds are looking for work. This could lead to a potential loss of about $8.8 billion in earnings to young adult New Yorkers over the course of the next decade.

According to the 2015 American Community Survey, New York’s young adult unemployment rate is 15 percent, and for young adult New Yorkers of color, it can be as high as 25 percent. That’s more than 10 and 20 percentage points higher than older adults, respectively. Relatedly, more than 13 percent of 16-to-24 year olds in New York are out of school and out of work altogether. On top of high unemployment, the state’s young adult poverty rate is 22 percent, 10 percentage points higher than for older adults.

High unemployment only exacerbates growing economic inequality. Wages and incomes already stand at lower levels for this generation than older generations when they were young adults. Worse, today’s job market increasingly requires a postsecondary credential or qualification, and along with it, the possibility of student debt.

By 2018, at least 62 percent of jobs will require some college, 28 percent of jobs will require only a high school credential, and just 10 percent of jobs won’t require a high school credential. For the most disadvantaged and disconnected young adult New Yorkers, this puts access to a decent job—and with it a financially secure life—even further out of reach, threatening our state’s economic security and shared prosperity.

Unfortunately, despite the unmet demand for a trained workforce and high young adult unemployment, a real statewide youth jobs strategy is missing.

Young Invincibles, the youth advocacy organization for which I am Northeast Director, is releasing a report in the coming weeks analyzing the Urban Youth Jobs Program. The program currently represents the state’s single largest youth jobs investment in New York State, authorized to spend $50 million annually. Our report finds that despite this massive investment, the tax credit program inadequately addresses the need to develop the skills of young adults that would better connect them to meaningful careers.

That’s why Young Invincibles, along with more than a dozen other partners across the state, is calling on the Labor Committees of the New York State Assembly and Senate to hold a joint public hearing to review the Urban Youth Jobs Program and begin the public policy process to develop a real young adult jobs strategy.

There are proven, evidence-based solutions to these issues, but like with any adversity, we must have the political will to tackle our challenges head on and embrace those answers. A public hearing is one way we can start needed conversation about how to respond to the modern-day economic challenges young adult New Yorkers face.

Kevin Stump is the Northeast Director for Young Invincibles, an advocacy and policy organization working on higher education, health, and jobs issues impacting 18-34 year olds. YI is also a part of President Obama's College Promise Task Force. On Twitter @KevinStump and @YoungInvincible.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Don't Dismiss Community Concerns as 'NIMBYism'

hand raised de blasio town hall

(photo: Michael Applebaum/Mayor's Office)

Inwood opponents of a luxury tower widely touted as bringing affordable housing to the community are exhibit A in “Bill de Blasio Versus NIMBYism,” a Gotham Gazette article published October 7.

But as one of several grassroots organizations who fought this project, we at Inwood Preservation are disappointed in the undeservedly negative and inaccurate picture of sincere citizen involvement the story painted, characterizing us as forces of inertia and citing newspaper editorial boards that repeat the mayor's spin on the "deal" that was reached on the 4650 Broadway project.

The thousands of residents who petitioned and won City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez’s vote against the spot upzoning welcome more housing at rents they can afford, and in buildings that fit the overall character of the area. The luxury tower offered neither.

The biggest myth of the Sherman Plaza project was that the developers agreed to reserve 50 percent of their units as affordable housing in exchange for upzoning that would have allowed up to three times the floors of neighboring buildings and a doubling of the number of luxury units. But as residents found out with the Rheingold development in Bushwick, such promises go out the window if the property is sold. Once the property is upzoned, though, the higher height, and the luxury units, remain.

Regardless of the promises, many Inwood residents would be priced out of the affordability ranges allowed under de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) plan, and would not be guaranteed access to rent the new “affordable” units, which would be filled through a citywide lottery. The mayor’s plan calls for MIH developers to set aside 20 percent of their units as “permanently affordable” for families of three making about $32,600, which is roughly the median income for Inwood. However, if the zoning had been approved, the developer could exploit the program and switch to a more expensive option—30 percent of units reserved for families making about $65,200. Doing so would effectively price out the majority of Inwood residents. (This is not to mention the additional units bringing it up to the vaunted “50 percent affordable”—the developer offered testimony that the figure included 20 percent of units for families making approximately $90,000 to $110,000.)

The ripple effects of this proposed development, already being felt in some big anticipatory property sales nearby, would have been disastrous, leading to widespread tenant displacement. Inwood owes its existence as a working class enclave to its relatively large stock of rent-stabilized housing. This housing has been disappearing for many years. As one of our members testified to the City Council in July, his 145-unit building, just three blocks from the proposed tower, had lost over 80 percent of its stabilized units between 2007 and 2014. Three other buildings within five blocks of the site also had deregulated more than 50 percent of their units in the same period. That’s a loss of hundreds of stabilized units in an area of only a few blocks in a seven-year period.

Local activists have been working in conjunction with our Community Board to look for particular patterns of abuse, as landlords employ various legal and illegal forms of harassment to force out long-term tenants, convert to higher market rates and decimate the stock of affordable housing in the neighborhood. A massive tower with luxury apartments renting at sky-high rates just down the street would only increase the pressure to deregulate. And of course once one spot upzoning occurs, more developers would come in with similar proposals, leading to more destabilization for existing residents. Just where are these displaced tenants supposed to go? Not into luxury towers.

The problems with the mayor’s MIH plan are citywide and many communities join us in calling for revision to protect existing low-income tenants and housing stock. But other issues often dismissed as NIMBYism are simply part of good—and actually already called-for—planning. The Sherman Plaza developers, for instance, did not produce a proper Environmental Impact Statement and misrepresented or left off important facts in their environmental assessment.

A few examples: The first is obvious to anyone who tries to travel up Broadway, past the proposed site by Ft. Tryon Park and along the area’s one through street up to Marble Hill and the Bronx. Besides being already clogged with normal traffic trying to cross the bridge, there are multitudes of trucks and buses going to a large MTA bus depot and Sanitation Department 4-district depot at the island’s northern edge. Inwood’s underground infrastructure for water, sewers, and more is, on average, more than 100 years old and strained. Studies have shown toxic substances in the soils under the property. The sheer size and height of the building would have blocked views of the landmarked park and the Cloisters and cast shadows on it. The historic Packard car showroom building facade and interior, designed by Albert Kahn, would have been destroyed.

We wonder why Mayor de Blasio doesn’t hear what his constituents all over the city are telling him, in unison: that, yes, we need more affordable housing, but the first priority is to do a serious job of retaining all existing affordable units, and any new development should be environmentally sustainable and designed to fit in within the context of the existing community.

Maggie Clarke is a co-founder and Suzy Parker is a member of Inwood Preservation, which organizes and shares key information through Facebook. On Twitter @InwoodPres.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Mayor Goes Quiet on Key Education Challenges

BdB ABNY education

Mayor de Blasio at ABNY (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

If Bill de Blasio wants to be the Education Mayor, he needs to do better than this.

In Friday’s “Equity and Excellence” address sponsored by the Association for a Better New York before a generally well-heeled, overwhelmingly white audience, de Blasio discussed a list of programs that he’s largely been repeating for over a year.

We’ve heard it before and surely he can claim credit for planting seeds: Pre-K for All, Literacy for All, Algebra for All, Computer Science for All, AP for All, etc. Yet in most cases these are pilot programs with full implementation and assessment dates roaming well past the end of a possible second term for this mayor.

He claimed specious test score improvements long-disavowed by the State Education Department and others since last year’s and this year’s assessments were so markedly different. His speech even failed to mention the mayor’s signature Community Schools initiative and he rarely brought up Chancellor Carmen Fariña, perhaps signaling disappointment with both.

But more than that was missing.

The speech was notable for avoiding every hot button education issue facing the city, however relevant to his theme. Except for a guarded, meandering response to an audience question, the mayor never mentioned charter schools. Similarly, only when asked did the mayor defend Specialized High Schools like Bronx Science and Stuyvesant, never casting doubt on their unbalanced racial makeup and the selection process that he criticized during his 2013 campaign.

Never addressed were the opt-out movement, the Common Core, or State programs for “Renewal” and “Receivership” directed at struggling schools. Not once, in a speech on equity(!), was desegregation, diversity, or race called-out as an appropriate subject for mayoral attention.

Having been beat up on these issues, the mayor has backed down. His education agenda has been reduced to bromides about workforce and college preparation, creating strawmen he is ostensibly correcting, and – in his only shoutout to former Mayor Bloomberg – continuing to ensure school safety.

To be sure, the current Department of Education has made major changes in structure and practice. Superintendents and Field Support Services Centers have largely replaced Networks as mainstays of school support and oversight. School Report Cards are notable for de-emphasizing test scores, the Discipline Code has been revised so that restorative justice practices take priority over suspensions, and opportunities for positive parent/school interactions are way up.

But none of these, not the “for Alls” and not organizational tinkering, are worthy of an Education Mayor. Issue avoidance doesn’t build a legacy. The time for de Blasio to craft a vision that delivers on Equity and Excellence on a scale this city deserves, that its children deserve, is way overdue. “Racial and Economic Inequity” should be the topic of the mayor’s next education speech. Until then, he is thinking small and only repeating himself.

David C. Bloomfield is Professor of Education Leadership, Law, and Policy at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center. The third edition of his book, American Public Education Law, is out now. On Twitter @BloomfieldDavid.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Correcting the Record on the Misguided Plan to Develop Elizabeth Street Garden

eliz st garden protest

photo: Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden

In response to City Council Member Margaret Chin’s op-ed column in Gotham Gazette published Oct. 6; from Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden President Jeannine Kiely and D. Kristin Shea:

Council Member Margaret Chin is our only elected official who supports developing Elizabeth Street Garden. She seems dead set on “winning” development of the Garden at all costs, even if it means giving up the opportunity to build five times more senior affordable housing at another nearby location within our community. In her attempts to sway public opinion, Council Member Chin has repeatedly released misleading information.

Allow us to correct the record:

Chin says she is “proud of the public process” and the “substantial amount of public review.” But her decision to build on Elizabeth Street Garden was a backroom deal at City Hall, without proper public review or discussion.  

Since learning about this secret deal in 2013, Manhattan Community Board 2 has held four public hearings, and overwhelming sentiment has been for saving the Garden, including support from every local elected official other than Chin and 16 parks and community organizations.

The Garden brings joy to thousands, including many seniors who live nearby. That’s why Mayor de Blasio, the city’s housing agency (HPD), and Chin received 5,000 letters in support of the Garden — far more than the “hundreds of letters” cited by HPD — and only one in support of the housing proposal from an organization that receives thousands of dollars each year through Chin.

Chin claims that “identifying sites for affordable housing...can be a monumental challenge.” CB 2 took up that challenge and identified several alternative sites, including a vacant lot on Hudson and Clarkson streets where five times more senior housing can be built. Because this site was previously committed for parkland, it will not be available if Elizabeth Street Garden is destroyed.

In addition, a proposed project at 550 Washington St., currently being rezoned, will have 476 affordable units, including 178 for seniors.

We agree with Council Member Chin and the mayor that parking lots are “ripe for affordable housing development” and, therefore, encourage consideration of the garage on 2 Howard St. located in the heart of Little Italy, but outside the height-restrictive Special Little Italy District.

All residents of CB 2 receive preference for 50 percent of any senior housing built in the district, which extends from 14th Street to Canal Street and the Hudson River to Bowery. Remaining units would be available to anyone in the five boroughs. Preference is via lottery and applies only to the first round of rentals. Therefore, if 60 units were built on the Garden, as few as 30 residents currently living in all of CB 2 would live there, and possibly none from Little Italy.

The City is asking for proposals to create “lawns, trees, walks and planting and seating areas with a variety of sun and shade conditions, and also to provide for continuation of current educational and recreational programs and events,” all in an area the size of a basketball court, surrounded by seven-story buildings. When asked about building on Elizabeth Street Garden, former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said, “It’s a very small site. You’d be shortchanging either one. I think the site is barely large enough for housing. You might be able to have a little sitting area.”

Ultimately, privately-owned public spaces often end up “inaccessible or devoid” of “amenities that attract public use,” or may be converted into retail space in the future, as Chin supported on Water Street.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is right when he said “Every New Yorker deserves access to clean, safe green spaces, no matter what neighborhood they live in.” Had Chin acted upon her declaration that “Communities must be consulted about changes coming to their neighborhoods,” Elizabeth Street Garden already would be a public park.

Instead of allowing politics to determine policy, we encourage Council Member Chin and the de Blasio administration to work with CB 2 and our elected officials to build more affordable housing and to preserve the precious little public green, open space we have left, for our seniors, our children and all the residents of our community.

by Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden President Jeannine Kiely and D. Kristin Shea. On Twitter @elizabethstgrdn. (Both Kiely and Shea are members of Community Board 2 but are not writing on behalf of CB 2.)

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Leading the Way on Ending Punitive Segregation

Ponte Rikers de Blasio

Commissioner Ponte, the author, & Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Today, the New York City Department of Correction formally ended the practice of punitive segregation for young adults ages 19 through 21 years old, resulting in the complete elimination of punitive segregation, which some call solitary confinement, for inmates ages 16 through 21 in our custody. This is an unprecedented milestone in New York State correctional history and, even more important, across the nation. To date, no other city or state has accomplished comparable punitive-segregation reforms for the 19-21 year-old age group.

As Commissioner of the NYC Department of Correction, I understand this has not been easy, and something that has required us to methodically implement, test, and refine options that ensure the safety of our staff and inmates. However, I am extremely proud of what our uniform and non-uniform staff have accomplished by reforming our punitive-segregation practices and policies.

When I became Commissioner in April 2014, there were almost 600 people in punitive segregation and a backlog of over 1,700 people. And violence in our jails was on the rise. On October 6, we had 124 inmates in all forms of punitive housing -- a reduction of nearly 80% over two years. We accomplished this by creating non-punitive, incentive-based alternatives to safely manage inmate behavior.

And we have done all this while still reducing violence in our jails.

We started our reforms even before the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, Preet Bharara, issued a report in August 2014 that concluded that “DOC relies far too heavily on punitive segregation as a disciplinary measure” and before we negotiated the agreement in the federal lawsuit Nunez v. City of New York, which was approved by a judge in October 2015.

Through a raft of initiatives, we fundamentally transformed the use of punitive segregation for all age groups.

When we ended punitive segregation for adolescent inmates aged 16-17 in December 2014, and later, for 18-year-old inmates in June 2016, we created therapeutic alternatives to help them manage their behavior.

For the adolescents, these comprise Second Chance Housing and Transitional Restorative Units (TRU), which feature higher staffing levels – one officer to five inmates in Second Chance and one to two or even one to one in TRU. The officers in these units receive training on youth brain development, crisis prevention and management, and trauma-informed care practices for adolescents.

Inmates in these programs are afforded enhanced programming and counseling to better their life skills and job prospects and a behaviorally based incentive system enables them to earn privileges and commissary points.

For young adults aged 18-21, we have also created Second Chance and TRU units, but we have added two levels of management.

“Secure Housing” is designed to safely house young adults who are engaging in serious violence and assaultive behavior -- closely supervising them while providing individualized therapeutic programming for their behavioral needs.

For persistently violent young adult offenders, such as those who have seriously assaulted staff or stabbed or slashed other inmates, we have created special young adult units of Enhanced Supervision Housing, where inmates spend seven structured hours daily out of cell. Similar to adolescents, they are provided a behaviorally based incentive system that enables them to earn more privileges and eventually move back into the general population.

Using punitive segregation less means using it as a more targeted and meaningful tool.
Through rule-making with our partners at the Board of Correction, our oversight body, we have made punitive segregation more effective and fair.

Inmates no longer serve any time that was accrued during a previous incarceration. A tiered system ensures that only serious, violent infractions earn full punitive-segregation time.
With few exceptions, we have capped the maximum sentence to 30 days and have limited the number of days one can spend in segregation to 60 days in any single six-month period.

It’s a significant accomplishment to have done this while continuing to push a downward trend in violence throughout the Department through comprehensive reform.

In the first eight months of the year, from January to August, the most serious assaults on staff have dropped 40% compared to the same period last year. Overall assaults on staff dropped 17% in that period. Even one assault on our staff is one too many, so we have a lot of work to do, but the trend is moving in the right direction.

These reforms also increase inmate safety. Uses of force by officers on inmates that result in serious injury dropped by 40% in the first eight months of the year, largely because of our de-escalation training.

The bottom line is that, contrary to the assertions of some, you don’t need overwhelming numbers of inmates in punitive segregation to make jails safer. Heavy use of segregation does not prevent violence or deter it, particularly in the younger age groups. In fact, it may make matters worse. The latest research on brain development shows that punitive segregation is inappropriate for individuals aged 21 and under.

In New York, we are proud to have made history by ending punitive segregation for our youngest offenders and curtailing its overuse for all others – all while providing safer alternatives that support both staff and inmates.

Joseph Ponte is New York City Correction Commissioner. On Twitter @CorrectionNYC.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Protecting Our Open Public Space Must Be A Top Priority

elizabeth street garden protest

From Thursday’s protest (photo: @ElizabethStGrdn)

In response to City Council Member Margaret Chin’s op-ed column in Gotham Gazette published Oct. 6, from New York City Community Garden Coalition Executive Director Aziz Dehkan:

The threat to Elizabeth Street Garden violates Mayor de Blasio’s mandate to promote livability for New Yorkers. Supporters of the garden rallied early on Thursday at the pre-submission conference for the Request for Proposals to demand the preservation of this treasured resource, the last open green space in Soho.

The RFP requires 30 years of affordable housing, perhaps a single generation, in a city where the senior population is outpacing all other demographic groups. In three decades, the senior apartments could exit affordability, but a new building would remain atop a community garden sacrificed for fleeting gain.

Council Member Margaret Chin, alone among the local representatives, opposes the community garden under a misguided sense of what “livability” entails. Liveable communities require affordable housing, services, and access to open spaces, most urgently in densifying communities. Her “tough decision” to advocate for housing in place of the Elizabeth Street Garden capitulates to pervasive development pressure.

Public review of the site gave voice to steady opposition of residents, business owners, the community board, and elected officials. The process yielded a resounding “no” to destroying the garden and urged the administration to consider an alternative site within the community district, one that would allow many more units while preserving the community garden.

Council Member Chin acknowledges the impact of the construction boom on the quality of life, but in identifying sites for affordable housing, constant construction has deafened her to constituent calls. Additional park space is needed district-wide, yet she supported the destruction of LaGuardia Corner Gardens, a casualty of NYU’s massive expansion plan in the South Village. She again fails to show consideration for Elizabeth Street Garden.

The coalition of advocates for Elizabeth Street Garden demand the land be dedicated as parkland. Today Elizabeth Street Garden enlivens Soho with year-round programs and sculpture. The City, in a weak effort to assuage the community, asks developers to reserve barely a quarter of the existing garden site for future open space. Operation of the diminished space will be a challenge to integrate into the community and serve the actual needs of visitors.

Privately owned public spaces throughout Manhattan have attracted criticism for using unwelcoming designs and restricting, or effectively eliminating, public use. Our City made this same deal for open space within developments without ensuring accountability decades ago. We should know better than to accept a plan that will wrest land from its public stewards.

The New York City Community Garden Coalition seeks the development of policies for creating community gardens and against their removal. Politicians too commonly position open space against housing, driving a wedge that need not exist. The two are essential aspects of healthy neighborhoods that side-by-side serve long-term needs of a community. Promoting a falsehood that affordable housing and open space are incompatible is disingenuous to the complicated negotiation around the City’s distribution of public land. The Mayor can do better to promote livability by preserving Elizabeth Street Garden in a park-starved neighborhood and redirecting efforts to the larger alternative site.

Aziz Dehkan is Executive Director of the New York City Community Garden Coalition.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Paying New York’s Debt to Our Children and Their Schools

CFE march

Marching to Albany (photo: Alliance for Quality Education)

As a mother of two children, I worry every day about how they’re progressing in school. Are they doing their work? Are their teachers providing them with the special attention they need? Is their school giving them all the opportunities to succeed that they deserve?

This is what it means to be a mother. We love our children dearly, and we worry.

And, in New York, we have particular reason to be worried. For families living in high-needs school districts, the simple fact is this: our schools don’t have the resources that they deserve, and this is because New York State has failed to give them the money they need.

Ten years ago, in the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) case, a judge found that New York State had been violating the constitutional rights of low-income children and children of color by short-changing their schools, where working-class and low-income families are concentrated, out of billions of dollars. The judge was appalled by tremendous inequalities in our schools and mandated that our state government contribute several billions of additional dollars to public schools around the state—with a particular eye to high-needs schools like where my children study.

As a parent and a taxpayer, I thought that the state would comply.

But it hasn’t. According to the Alliance for Quality Education, 10 years after the CFE ruling came down, New York State still owes our schools $3.9 billion. Let me repeat: a full decade after a court demanded that our government provide the resources needed for our schools to offer the places of learning that our children need, the money has not yet materialized.

Now, at schools like my children’s, programs have been cut, and students lack the computers and other technology that are fundamental to modern education and career training. The same does not happen in wealthier communities across the state—some of which have among the best public schools in the country.

It’s just not right, and working-class families of color like mine will not accept being second-class citizens who have to send our children to second-class schools.

That’s why, this week, parents from around the state are marching from New York City all the way to Albany to commemorate the CFE ruling’s anniversary and demand that the Legislature and Governor Cuomo make our schools, and our children, whole.

As we head into the next legislative session, it’s well past time to make sure that our children have the well-resourced schools that they deserve. The Governor, the Senate, and the Assembly must prioritize paying the debt owed to our schools in the upcoming state budget. If they don’t, they will continue to put the future of my children—and millions of other children around the state—in jeopardy.

Faceli Álvarez is a member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @maketheroadny.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Medical Treatment Should Be My Choice, Not My Landlord’s

Gotham Gazette: Treatment

A rally by Three-Quarter House Tenant Organizing Project

The landlord gave him a choice: go back to using heroin or be kicked out onto the streets. “Do what you do,” the landlord told him. So to keep a roof over his head, after nine months clean and sober, he got high. The landlord let him stay. Strange as this may sound, it was routine where I used to live, and for thousands of tenants across New York City.

I used to live in a “three-quarter house.” These are private, for-profit buildings, where as many as ten tenants may be packed into single rooms at very low rents. Though they aren’t licensed, they call themselves “programs” and promote themselves as “sober homes” or “transitional houses.” They even have names like “Uplifting Men” or “Back on Track.”

Landlords recruit people coming home from jail or prison, exiting rehab, or who have nowhere else to go. They promise “services,” but provide none. Instead, many landlords profit by forcing tenants to attend an outpatient drug treatment program of their choosing, regardless of whether the person wants or needs the treatment. Tenants attend that program daily, because they know that if they don’t, they will lose their housing. The provider of the drug treatment program—which is reimbursed by Medicaid for each participant—then cuts the landlord a portion of those Medicaid reimbursements.

In my house, the landlord, Yury Baumblit, would personally kick us out of bed early each morning and send us to Canarsie Aware Inc. If a tenant couldn’t show proof of attendance, Baumblit would pack their bags and throw them out of the house on the spot. If someone went to treatment elsewhere, they would be evicted. If someone got a job that interfered with their ability to attend the program, they had to quit the job or be evicted.

This scam is widespread and well-known. This year Baumblit was arrested and charged with fraud and illegal evictions. In 2014, the executives of Narco Freedom—the biggest three-quarter house operator in the city—were arrested and indicted for Medicaid fraud and kickbacks for a similar scheme. In 2013, a drug treatment provider called the New York Service Network lost its license after being investigated for Medicaid fraud and kickbacks to landlords.

After these indictments, I was hopeful for change. But these abuses are as rampant as ever and tenants still have few protections.

I’m a member of the Three-Quarter House Tenant Organizing Project (TOP), a group of three-quarter house tenants working in partnership with MFY Legal Services, Neighbors Together, and VOCAL-NY to stop the exploitation of tenants. We have worked with City Council Members Ritchie Torres, Jumaane Williams, Corey Johnson, and Donovan Richards to introduce a package of legislation to protect three-quarter house tenants.

Intro 1168, introduced by Council Member Torres, would make it illegal for private landlords to threaten eviction or retaliation for tenants’ medical treatment choices – exactly what happened to me and so many others. This bill is common sense: landlords are not doctors, and they have no business interfering with or even asking about tenants’ medical choices. It’s also basic fairness: landlords should not be allowed to prey on the health of people who are desperate to keep a roof over their heads. And it’s smart policy: Medicaid kickback scams cheat the State out of millions of dollars and take up scarce treatment resources.

Intro 1168 by itself won’t solve the deeper problems that allow three-quarter houses to exist -- the severe shortage of truly affordable housing and the lack of options for people in recovery and reentry – but it will strike a critical blow against exploitation. If Intro 1168 had been the law back when I lived at Baumblit’s house, getting treatment would have been my choice, not his. Most importantly, if it becomes law now, it will help stop the next landlord who gets the idea to exploit New York’s most marginalized tenants for personal profit. We need this law now, before another tenant is forced to choose between health and home.

Darryl Gates is a member of the Three-Quarter House Tenant Organizing Project (TOP). He is a former three-quarter house tenant.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

New Affordable Housing in Every Neighborhood, Including Mine

 margaret chin committee

Council Member Chin, the author (photo: Charles Eshelman)

No one said it would be easy.

When voters overwhelmingly elected Mayor de Blasio almost three years ago, New Yorkers chose an elected official who pledged to tackle the tough issues plaguing us — including a promise to create 80,000 units of new affordable housing for a city in desperate need.

Almost three years later, Mayor de Blasio — in partnership with many of my City Council colleagues — is making steady progress towards that goal. In March, after a substantial amount of public review, I joined an overwhelming majority of Council members to approve a sweeping change in zoning law that promises to accelerate the creation of affordable housing where none would otherwise be built.

Identifying sites for affordable housing in a city as crowded as ours can be a monumental challenge. Communities must be consulted about changes coming to their neighborhoods. It is they, after all, who bear the brunt of nearly constant construction and other serious quality of life issues affecting a city in the midst of an unprecedented building boom.

But in almost every case, the question before us must not be if, but how affordable housing is to be created.

We are not living in ordinary times. People who have lived in their neighborhoods for decades, whether it be in Battery Park City or Little Italy in my Council district or elsewhere, are facing the reality of losing their homes.

Some have already received a letter from their landlord informing them of a double-digit rent increase. Others, including too many of our seniors, are desperately searching for any space available in a city that seemingly has none.

It is true that our city needs more open space for residents of all ages. But this crisis demands that we make tough decisions to accommodate the pressing needs of all New Yorkers.

That is why I am proud of the public process that led to the inclusion of at least 5,000 square feet of publicly-accessible space at a new affordable senior housing project on Elizabeth and Mott streets in Little Italy in my Council District.

When it is built, this permanent open space will be the result of the advocacy of a group of passionate neighbors fighting for more places for New Yorkers to play, relax, and enjoy the natural world around us. These neighbors, along with the local Community Board, have spoken in a clear voice, and I hear them.

I also hear the pleas of our seniors for housing that is safe, age-friendly, and above all, affordable. Their voices matter, and must be taken into consideration.

The decision to pursue this 100 percent affordable housing project has not been an easy one. But in my heart, I know that this is the correct decision. Because for me, leadership isn’t about always doing what is popular, but what is right.

By pursuing this project in the heart of Little Italy — a place steeped in history that welcomed my newly-arrived immigrant family a half-century ago — I am fulfilling my promise to those who elected me to preserve what makes this tiny slice of our city great, and to ensure that the people who made it great can afford to stay there.

Margaret S. Chin is the City Council member representing Lower Manhattan. On Twitter @CM_MargaretChin.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Jail Abuse, Lawsuit Show Need to ‘Raise the Age’

raise the age five protesters

"Raise the Age" advocates (photo: Correctional Association)

Last week, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York filed suit against the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office in Syracuse for placing juveniles in solitary confinement. According to the suit, children aged 16 and 17 have been subjected to extended and arbitrary solitary confinement for up to months at a time despite mental health and personal safety concerns. These practices continue in Onondaga County despite the fact the both New York State prisons and New York City jails have banned it. And just this summer the Obama administration also banned the solitary confinement of juveniles in the federal prison system.

In December 2014 the New York State Advisory Committee of the US Commission on Civil Rights, on which I sit, released a report calling for the elimination of solitary confinement for everyone under the age of 25 in New York City and across New York State. We interviewed young people who had been in solitary, toured facilities, heard from experts in the field, and reviewed the existing academic literature and found that these practices are extremely detrimental to the health of young people and do little if anything to make either jails or communities any safer. In fact, spending time in solitary confinement is correlated with higher recidivism rates upon release. There is no evidence that the use of solitary reduces violence in prisons or jails.

We also found that while solitary is an extreme and damaging punishment for adults, it is especially harmful to juveniles given that their brains are still developing and they may not have the same coping skills of a more mature adult. We need only look at the case of Kalief Browder, who killed himself after spending almost two years in solitary at Rikers Island as a juvenile.

Throughout the country juvenile facilities have banned the use of solitary confinement. It continues to be practiced only in a handful of places that place juveniles in adult facilities -- something New York is phasing out even though it remains just one of two states in the country to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Alleged abuses in Syracuse are even more reason for New York to “raise the age” of adult criminal responsibility, a push that has languished in the state Legislature, largely due to State Senate Republicans.

The NYCLU lawsuit is on behalf of six black and Latino young people who have been subjected to assaults, sexual harassment, threats, and denial of educational access over the most minor infractions or at the whim of guards. Here are some of the details of the individual plaintiffs who are identified by an initial because they are juveniles:

--R is currently in solitary, in part for singing a Whitney Houston song in his cell. In solitary, guards heard the adult above him shout “I’m gonna stab you in the showers” and threatening sexual abuse at all hours of the night, and they responded by moving the adult directly next to him. Yesterday that same adult used a cup to throw his urine in R’s face during recreation.

--V is currently in solitary, and has not been able to change his clothes since September 8. A pre-trial detainee who has never been convicted of a crime, he nonetheless has spent over 115 days in solitary.

--C, currently at the Justice Center, once tried to file a grievance in solitary, and a guard drew a penis on his form before throwing it away. “Being in the box changes you. It makes you do things like think about jumping off your table into the ground,” C said.

--M, currently at the jail, has been sent to solitary for reasons including wearing his shower shoes at the wrong time. A deputy once responded to his complaints by threatening to “bash [his] skull in.” After being in solitary, M now finds it hard to even be in a regular cell for any period of time.

While Onondaga County needs to ban the practice of putting juveniles in solitary confinement, this problem could also be eliminated if the state Legislature would pass the “raise the age” bill. Treating 16- and 17-year olds as adults in the criminal justice system is an inexcusable policy based on the politics of retribution and the hysteria over youthful predators that surfaced in the 1990s, just as juvenile violent crime rates plummeted.

According to Raise the Age NY, the campaign to raise the age that has helped bring the issue to a boiling point, including support from Governor Andrew Cuomo:

--Studies have found that young people transferred to the adult criminal justice system have approximately 34% more re-arrests for felony crimes than youth retained in the youth justice system.  Around 80% of youth released from adult prisons reoffend often going on to commit more serious crimes

--Studies show that youth in adult prisons are twice as likely to report being beaten by staff, and nearly 50% more likely to be attacked with a weapon than children placed in youth facilities.

--Youth in adult prisons face the highest risk of sexual assault.

--Youth in adult prisons are often placed in solitary confinement. The isolation young people face in adult facilities is destructive to their mental health and can cause irreparable harm.

--Youth are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult facility than in a juvenile facility.

Last year the State Assembly passed a raise the age bill, only to see it blocked by the Senate. It’s time for the Legislature and the governor to act on this issue as well as put pressure on Onondaga County to join the rest of the state in banning this cruel and counterproductive practice.

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 the 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.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Improving Entrepreneurial Opportunities for Hispanics Will Be a Boost for the City

pichardo presser

Assemblymember Pichardo, one of the co-authors

New York City is, and always will be, one of the world’s economic powerhouses. Yet that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. In fact, although unemployment across the city has fallen faster than the rest of the country since the recent recession, areas like the Bronx still lag.

While the Bronx has seen some progress, there is still much work to be done for shared prosperity and economic opportunity for all. With the right tools and policies focused on entrepreneurial growth, the most impoverished borough can have the opportunity to complete the city’s economic boom and ensure that the entire city, not just the lower half of Manhattan and a few other areas, experiences long-lasting economic growth.

New York City’s resilience was again proven by an impressive return to economic prosperity after the recent worldwide recession. Although it’s near 5 percent overall unemployment rate may make much of the rest of the country envious, the Bronx continues to have a rate above 7.5 percent, more than 50 percent higher, while the 1.5 million Hispanics in the borough also make up a majority of its unemployed.

Hispanics in New York City total nearly 2.5 million people; alone they would be the fourth-largest and one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Even while Hispanics still constitute a disproportionate amount of the unemployed, also losing more of their wealth than any other demographic during the recession, Hispanic-owned businesses have proliferated across New York. In fact, new business growth in this demographic has increased at a rate of more than eight times the overall rate, simultaneously improving total payroll by 40 percent and revenue by almost 50 percent.

Local representatives and appointed officials shouldn’t take these statistics lightly. While we’ve always known that something has to be done to improve economic outcomes in more disadvantaged areas such as much of the Bronx, what hasn’t always been clear is what will drive results. It should now be clear: the best opportunities for long-term growth reside in improving entrepreneurial opportunities.

There is plenty of room for improvement. While the Governor Cuomo’s Unemployment StrikeForce is a great program to increase employment, New York City was recently ranked 145 of 150 U.S. cities for Hispanic entrepreneurs. More should be invested in creating entrepreneurial opportunities, while also ensuring that regulations don’t impede them.  

When asked, one of the greatest impediments to creating and growing a business is the lack of access to capital. Hispanics in particular receive funding at rates far lower than the rest of the population. In one recent study, it was found that across the country less than one percent of venture capital funding went to Hispanics. Grants and other creative funding opportunities should be pursued through both the private and public sectors, especially here in the New York City.

While some ventures require significant capital to start, it should be noted that thousands of small business owners across the city continue to bootstrap their way to success. While few are lucky enough to get angel funding and share space with other like-minded entrepreneurs, many more start businesses selling products such as those offered by Herbalife, which focuses on expanding its line of nutrition products and is especially popular in the Hispanic community.

With little up front capital, these “micro-entrepreneurs” are creating additional income for their families that is otherwise hard to obtain. When considering easing the burden of the city’s bureaucracy, officials should realize that many of these smaller startups might not find it worthwhile to take the time – and pay the fees – to navigate the existing regulatory process. Although tempting to focus on the direct revenues gained from complying with existing regulations, if we have to choose between a profitable, tax-generating, employee-paying business in operation versus an entrepreneur sitting on the sidelines, the former should always win.

Incubators and accelerators are another alternative to promote economic development and are fast becoming the best way to improve the economy of a particular region, especially one that is currently plagued by poor economics. Thus far, few of these exist in areas outside of Manhattan.

It’s not unreasonable to ask a municipality to get involved in the creation and development of a local accelerator; after all, the entire region benefits. Just ask 1776, which has incubated hundreds of local startups in Washington D.C. with a relatively small grant from the city and has begun expanding across the country, recently opening a branch in Brooklyn. New York should have similar success stories in every borough.

Whether a future business mogul looking to get that tech startup on its feet or a local family just hoping to help make ends meet with income selling nutritional products within their neighborhood, one thing is certain: New York’s future resides in these entrepreneurs. Local appointed and elected officials should remember that New York City’s best chance to grow is through the expansion of new, and improvement of existing, entrepreneurial opportunities outside of lower Manhattan. Only then can we guarantee the successful future that New York has always promised.

Assemblymember Victor M. Pichardo represents the 86th District in the New York State Assembly.

Justin Vélez-Hagan is the executive director of the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce and an economic policy researcher at the University of Maryland.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.