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Opinion

A Step Toward Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline


christine rodriguez make the road new york 

Christine Rodriguez, the author


For years, the school-to-prison pipeline has afflicted communities of color in New York. From a young age, students begin to be treated like criminals within the confines of their own schools—from being handcuffed, suspended, and arrested for minor incidents to starting the day by walking through metal detectors and having police be the first people they see.

Young people treated as criminals in school are much less likely to succeed. I've seen it first-hand among my high school peers. There are more police officers than counselors in our schools, which makes students feel like they are expected to end up in jail rather college.

This year, I graduated from high school, and I am committed to help end the school-to-prison pipeline. We must stop pushing youth out of school - New York City should be leading the way.

Recently, there was good news for New Yorkers who want to see an end to punitive discipline and more support of students to succeed. The Mayor's Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline, convened earlier this year and of which I am a member, issued a set of recommendations last month that include measures to reduce school suspensions and arrests, address racial disparities, and collect more important data that will show what we know has been happening inside our schools.

The de Blasio administration, which convened the Leadership Team, has responded enthusiastically, and has committed to incorporating these recommendations into official city policy. Already, the administration has issued a new mission statement that includes a commitment to "reduce the use of suspensions as a disciplinary tool and will eliminate the use of summonses and arrests for minor school misbehavior while continuing to advance school safety."

The time is right for strong action. Students cannot wait. In 2011, Make the Road New York and many of our partners worked to pass the Student Safety Act, which for the first time made public what we already knew: too many black and Latino youth are being pushed out of school through arrests and suspensions for minor behaviors. The situation has improved under Mayor de Blasio's leadership, but there are still major disparities in school suspensions and arrests that are hurting young people of color and students with disabilities across our city.

And, under the 2011 law, we are still not able to collect data on hundreds of arrests by police offers, all suspensions, and the use of handcuffs and other restraints (which have been used on students as young as five years old). We look forward to getting this data soon.

The new recommendations from the Leadership Team acknowledge continuing challenges and signal a citywide commitment to reform. There is no time to waste.

The next step will be critical. In the coming months, the de Blasio administration, the Department of Education, and the NYPD will work to turn these recommendations into policy. Meanwhile, they will need to ensure that young people of color—who have been disparately affected by this problem—continue to be part of this conversation, weighing in on how we are being treated in our city's schools and making sure that our wellbeing is front and center in the public discussion.

Equally important, resources need to be allocated to implement new programs, trainings, and staffing to make policy changes effective and ultimately successful.

We're moving in the right direction, but we can't stop now.

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Christine Rodriguez is a Youth Power Project member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community, and a member of the Mayor's Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline. On Twitter: @maketheroadny

Homeless Solutions Instead of Homeless Shaming


homeless subway bench 

(photo: Reuters)


On Monday, Sergeants Benevolent Association (SBA) Chair Ed Mullins sent a memo to SBA members, urging them, their friends and family members, and “the silent majority of New Yorkers, to get more involved” and hold our elected City officials accountable. He encouraged members to participate in the “Peek-A- Boo, We See You Too” campaign: photograph the homeless, panhandlers, and quality-of-life offenses and send the photos to the SBA for posting on its website.

We agree with SBA Chair Mullins’ call for New Yorkers to get involved in the city and hold elected officials accountable. However, we respectfully disagree with the use of the ‘Peek-A-Boo’ campaign as the means for doing so. The focus of all of our efforts must be solutions, not shaming.

The SBA campaign further stigmatizes and shames the street homeless, potentially isolating them from assistance. This complicates the efforts of street outreach teams, like those dispatched by Urban Pathways, as they engage individuals and bring them inside. Those living on the streets already often resist engagement and distrust the systems created to assist them.

During our Port Authority Bus Terminal outreach work this past September, Urban Pathways outreach staff engaged Mark H., whose body was covered with open sores, including some on his left leg infested with maggots. Despite this, Mark H. insisted that he did not need help. While outreach staff eventually engaged him, we cannot afford to further complicate this type of work. The city’s homeless may become only more disengaged should they have to also be concerned with strangers photographing them as part of their daily lives.

The ‘Peek-A-Boo’ campaign also detracts the focus from where it should be: successful solutions in the form of safe havens and supportive housing. Safe havens provide temporary shelter and services to those unwilling to enter shelters or unable to commit to treatment or recovery as a condition to accessing shelter.

Supportive housing, a combination of affordable housing and supportive services, is a proven means to dramatically reduce chronic homelessness. It is especially helpful for those likely captured as part of the ‘Peek-A-Boo’ campaign -- the street homeless living with disabilities and chronic health conditions, leaving shelters, psychiatric facilities, and addiction treatment programs.

Effectively dealing with City homelessness requires an all hands on deck, yet caring approach. New Yorkers should call 311 or a homeless services provider when they see a street homeless individual to alert an outreach team that can assess and engage the individual. The public and private sectors should continue to creatively partner to finance outreach programs and supportive housing residences. For example, Urban Pathways has for almost ten years now contracted with business improvement districts in New York City to provide homeless outreach services.

New Yorkers should also hold our elected officials accountable and push for funding of these solutions. In particular, they should hold elected officials accountable on the creation of a new statewide supportive housing program consisting of 35,000 units. Call your City Council Member, State Assembly Member and State Senator, as well as Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo and demand the 35,000 units of supportive housing that the Campaign for NY/NY Housing – now 262 members strong – has requested for over a year.

Now, we have solutions that can effectively reduce the city's homeless population. Let’s get involved and hold our elected officials accountable the right way. Homeless solutions, not homeless shaming, is where we should focus the attention.

***
Gary Belsky has been an Executive Board Member of Urban Pathways since 1996, serving as Board President from 2000-06.

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The Mayor and the Governor: A History of Tension and Cooperation


cuomo bdb Spencer Platt Getty

The Mayor & the Governor in happier times (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty)


Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have been openly feuding for months.

Cuomo helped sidetrack de Blasio's proposals for affordable housing and multi-year extension of the mayor's authority over city schools. In the spring, an unnamed source in the Cuomo administration -- possibly the governor himself -- called de Blasio "bumbling and incompetent."

Late in June, in an interview on NY1, de Blasio unloaded his frustrations about the governor: "he engaged in his own sense of strategies, his own political machinations, and what we've often seen is, if someone disagrees with him openly, some kind of revenge or vendetta follows."

The heated rhetoric has raised concerns. As has a lack of coordination on key matters related to public health and transportation. New York's governor and the mayor of its largest state need to get along for the welfare of both entities.

But there is a built-in historical tension in the relationship. The mayor governs the city. Yet state aid is essential to city finances, the state's Metropolitan Transportation Authority operates city subways, rent control falls under the auspices of the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, and the state has other oversight and control mechanisms.

Usually, the relationship between the governor and the mayor is marked by reluctant cooperation and pragmatic compromises. De Blasio and Cuomo can look toNew York history to find helpful models.

For instance, Robert F. Wagner, mayor 1954-1965, often traded barbs in the press with Republican governor Nelson Rockefeller. But that did not prevent them from making behind-the-scenes deals when it served both their interests. When Wagner needed more state aid or expanded taxing power to support city services, he was usually able to persuade Rockefeller and the legislature to come to his assistance. In 1960, Wagner orchestrated a newspaper campaign showing that the city was getting short changed on state aid. The stories included a coupon readers could clip out and mail to Rockefeller in protest. The governor chafed at the pressure, then gave in and at the last minute boosted state aid to the city by $81 million. Rockefeller and Wagner appeared together to announce the deal, and share the credit.

Early in 1950, work on the New York State Thruway, begun in 1946, was stalling due to lack of funds. Governor Thomas Dewey, a Republican, proposed a new state Thruway Authority empowered to issue up to $400 million in bonds to build the superhighway, to be repaid by tolls. Public skepticism mounted. That would amount to "little more than a shakedown of the motorist," fumed the Automobile Club of New York. Democrats in the legislature vowed to block what they called "Dewey's Upstate Boulevard."

The governor needed help. In March, after a number of meetings, a deal was brokered by New York City transportation chief Robert Moses. Dewey agreed to connect the Thruway to the Major Deegan expressway, giving it entree into New York City, and to speed construction of expressways in New York City, using state and federal funds. O'Dwyer endorsed Dewey's proposal, undercutting Democrats' plans to block Dewey since most of the Democrats in the Assembly came from New York City. Asked whether it would put him in conflict with Democrats who had opposed it, O'Dwyer deadpanned: "I wouldn't know anything about that. I'm a city manager." Dewey professed surprise at allegations of political maneuvering. The Thruway would mean safe travel and, he explained, "I can't see anything political in saving lives." The legislature approved Dewey's proposal. Dewey appointed David J. Martin, a New York City real estate developer and political ally of mayor O'Dwyer, to the newly-created Thruway Authority.

In other cases, the relationship has seemed like a political kabuki dance.

For instance, in 1910, the state developed plans to build the Mohansic State Hospital in Yorktown Heights, Westchester County. John P. Mitchell, who became New York City mayor on a "fusion" ticket in 1914, initially supported it because it would serve people from his city. But as construction was about to begin, the New York Times and other city papers began asserting that sewage from the facility could pollute the city's water supply at the Croton Reservoir, though it was several miles away. Mitchell suddenly reversed himself, saying that the city would oppose anything that would "permit its citizens to drink polluted water." Governor Charles Whitman, a Republican, publically rebuked the mayor, saying his views were "far from expressing the real facts" and explaining that the systems for treating sewage were more than adequate. Mitchell escalated his criticism and threatened to get a court order to stop the project. The controversy grew heated. New York City residents would resist "the privilege of drinking such sewage," said the Merchants' Association.

Whitman put the project on hold and asked for legislative guidance. In 1917, he reversed himself and came over to Mitchell's view, asserting that polluted water could become "a constant and dangerous menace" and should not "become commingled" with New York City water lest it lead to "an epidemic of disease." Both the mayor and the governor exaggerated the threat and pandered to unwarranted public fears. But the legislature killed the project, opting instead to expand Middletown state mental hospital, several miles north and on the opposite of the Hudson from the Croton watershed. Expansion of a small boys' school on the Mohansic location was authorized, but the rest of the site was transformed into a park and transferred to Westchester County. It was deeded back to the state in 1957 and renamed Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park in 1982.

In still other cases, the relationship has been mostly sour. For example, Governor Rockefeller disliked and distrusted Mayor John Lindsay, whom he regarded as incompetent and a loose financial manager. Lindsey thought Rockefeller was autocratic and tight-fisted on New York City aid. Elected as a Republican in 1965, Lindsay switched to being a Democrat in 1971, and the political rivalry with the governor escalated. "I wish Lindsay would become an actor and leave the governance to me," Rockefeller remarked to GOP state chairman Richard Blum. In 1971, after Lindsay exploded in the press about Albany's holding the city in a financial vicegrip, the governor responded, "He's not responsible for what he's saying...The poor man has been under a lot of pressure."

Cuomo's response to de Blasio's NY1 interview had an air of condescension. "I understand why he's frustrated. I get frustrated, but we have a situation in Albany where you don't always get everything you want. That's called life. It's clear that his style is to air his public frustration."

The confrontational tone of the governor's and mayor's comments does not bode well for the future of the relationship.

It's time for the governor and the mayor to turn away from the sort of bickering and impasse that have characterized the relationships between some of their successors. They need to return to the historical tradition of discussion, negotiation, and compromise, sometimes including political competition and public posturing, but in the end settling on policies that benefit both the city and the state.

***
Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne is the author of the book The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State's History, published in 2015 by SUNY Press.

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The President's Clean Power Plan Offers Great Opportunity to NYC


Rep Serrano

Rep. Serrano, right, is the author


In September, Pope Francis will bring his message of compassion, care, and justice to New York City. This historic and momentous occasion comes after His Holiness released an Encyclical earlier this year on climate change and ecology. In "Laudato Si," Pope Francis highlights the moral obligation we all have to confront climate disruption and to protect the most vulnerable communities among us threatened by climate change. Last week, our nation took a significant step towards meeting that goal.

Until now, there have been no limits set on the amount of climate-disrupting carbon pollution that dirty power plants can dump into our air, endangering the health of families throughout our country and fueling the climate crisis we currently face. We've already seen the impact here in New York, where Superstorm Sandy ravaged our homes and our neighborhoods.

More often than not, the power plants spewing dangerous pollution have a disproportionately negative effect on low-income communities and communities of color, which end up suffering from the worst effects of toxic pollution, including heart attacks, asthma, and premature death. This has been the case in my Bronx district, where we have had to fight to improve some of the worst air quality in New York City, clean-up our waterways, and improve access to quality parks and green spaces.

The Clean Power Plan announced last week by President Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will for the first-time limit the amount of dangerous carbon pollution from power plants. These protections will ensure that our kids, our communities, and New York's workforce are healthier, while also creating much-needed jobs, reducing energy costs, and fighting climate disruption.

We've already seen the enormous economic benefits of reducing carbon pollution here in New York and throughout the Northeast. New York is a proud member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which is a cap-and-trade effort of Northeastern states to reduce carbon pollution across our region. This effort has not only been successful in reducing carbon pollution, but also in spurring economic development for our communities and lowering electricity bills for our families.

Let's build off of this momentum and seize the opportunity we have through the Clean Power Plan to go even further in making environmental justice a reality for all communities, promoting the growth of clean energy, and protecting the health of families here in New York and throughout the rest of the country.

As we look forward to Pope Francis's visit in September, let us all reflect on the responsibility we have to care for our environment and the health of the most vulnerable among us. While there is much work to be done, the President's Clean Power Plan is a historic step forward in answering that call. Let's do our part and support him in the implementation of this important framework, for our communities and for the world.

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by Congressman José E. Serrano (D-NY15)

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Airbnb Eats 20% of City's Housing, What To Do About It


nyc youth hostels

Youth hostel solutions (photo: CTA Architects)


New York City is suffering from a severe affordable housing shortage and it has only gotten worse since 2010. A recent study by New York Communities for Change and the Real Affordability For All Coalition illustrates how Airbnb is exacerbating the affordable housing crisis in New York City.

What's shocking is that 20 percent of all New York City apartment vacancies in certain communities are simply disappearing, with the East Village losing 28 percent to illegal hotel rooms on Airbnb.

The study revealed those apartments are instead being offered on average 247 days a year and rented 109 nights a year as unregulated hotel units; and that nearly 60 percent of 27,000 units listed were "whole apartment rentals," meaning they are illegal.

As former chair of the New York State Assembly Ways and Means Committee, what's most shocking to me is that the City and State of New York see zero tax revenue from these illegal hotels. That is simply a crime.

The seeds of this crisis sprouted in 2010 when an unintentional legislative act forced the shutdown of over 50 regulated youth hostels representing over two million bed-nights in the city. Lacking that inventory and without more affordable options, victims were made of unknowing tourists, our city's scarce housing inventory, and travel-related tax revenue.

As more communities and building residents across the five boroughs are up in arms about illegal rentals under their noses, the New York City Council now has a sensible, although indirect legislative solution (Intro. 116) that just might begin to ease the housing shortage, by first legalizing the construction, licensing, and regulation of a new generation of safe, urban youth hostels in city commercial districts. This can make a significant difference.

In 2014, cities including Boston, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C., attracted hundreds of thousands of youth travelers (age 15-30) patronizing a new generation of safe and affordable youth hostels. This happened as the old boarding house-style facilities many New Yorkers might think of yielded to the modern urbanism millennials demand.

The U.N.'s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) identifies millennials as the next big hospitality market explosion. The U.N. says international youth travel will grow from $173 billion annually today to $320 billion by 2020, and soon command 25 percent of all international travel. Industry data finds those international youth hostel customers' top destination is the United States, and the city they desire to experience the culture of most is New York.

These travelers may be pre- or post-college, alone or in a group, going to multiple cities where their budgets require lower-cost lodging to maintain their ability to afford several cultural experiences. Just think about the college kids you know, traveling through Europe or South America on a budget during a semester abroad. They likely did not stay at a single luxury hotel, unless of course mom and dad came to join for a week and pick up the tab.

So what option have these international youth travelers been left with in the Big Apple? They can either avoid New York City completely, or more likely find some cheap, albeit unregulated, unlicensed, likely unsafe and illegal place to stay. Enter Airbnb.

On the other hand, travel industry data reveals that tourists who travel the world and patronize hostels in their youth are more likely to return back to the cities they experienced favorably in later years, for business and vacation, and then it is their turn to finally patronize full-service hotels.

New York City should open its arms and eyes to this next, big, youth cultural and hospitality market – some of it happening around our city already.

Legalizing and regulating modern youth hostels creates a free market incentive for companies that own and operate them to offer the highest quality, safest, and most welcoming facilities that fit well into the communities where they are located.

The U.N. is telling us that waves of young tourists are going to travel to New York. The question is, will New York allow them to continue renting out scarce apartments as illegal hotels, or will it follow the lead of other U.S. cities that recognize, regulate, and collect taxes from them as legitimate contributors to the hospitality economy?

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Hon. Jerry Kremer is Chairman of Empire Government Strategies and served 23 years as a member of the New York State Assembly, including 12 years as Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee and served by appointment of the Governor on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Capital Review Board and the Public Authorities Control Board. He is also a spokesman for Hostelworld, the globe's largest reservation service in the hostel industry. Hostelworld does not own or operate hostels.

Cuomo Should Properly Fund CUNY, Not Shift Burden to City


PSC CUNY

Calling on the governor to support CUNY staff (photo: @PSC_CUNY)


Employees at the City University of New York (CUNY) have been without a contract for over five years, despite the fact that most other state workers have not only settled their contracts but are actually preparing to negotiate the next round of agreements. The major hold up is a demand by Governor Andrew Cuomo that any salary increases for CUNY employees come out of the University’s operating budget - in essence, a major cutback in CUNY funding.

Given the long period without a contract, the cost of retroactive pay, just for faculty and professional staff, is at least $240 million to stay consistent with what other state workers received. The City has agreed to pay its share. This tension exists despite the fact that CUNY only receives around $500 million in direct support from the State each year and another $300 million out of the statewide Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) that serves public and private colleges. A cut of the magnitude created by forcing CUNY to pay for salary increases from operating expenses would be devastating to the university system and the 275,000 students it serves.

Last Tuesday, Governor Cuomo told reporters that rather than the State providing additional funds for CUNY and its employees, the City should pay more of the costs, a message similar to the one he has delivered recently concerning shortfalls at the MTA. The State took over primary financial responsibility for CUNY during the New York City fiscal crisis of the 1970s. Since then, the State has provided about 75 percent of government funding, with the City picking up the rest, mostly in support of CUNY community colleges. Cuomo says that he wants to revisit that arrangement given the City’s relative fiscal health. This seemingly rational stance belies several important facts that undermine the governor’s position.

First, the State’s fiscal health is not really an issue. The State had several billion dollars extra in revenues this year to spend, but it chose not to spend it on public higher education. Both CUNY and SUNY were given flat funding, budgeting that failed to take into account mandatory cost increases such as higher energy and maintenance costs, resulting in a $63 million shortfall for CUNY.

The governor has not said whether he will support a new bill passed by the Legislature this month that would fix that problem going into the future. In addition, last year the governor saw fit to use some of the State’s extra revenue to actually cut taxes for many residents, resulting in millions of small checks being sent out that seemed more like an election year stunt than rational fiscal policy. In fact, generous tax cuts made under Governor Pataki have severely undermined the state’s finances. Ending these tax breaks, which went overwhelmingly to the very richest New Yorkers, would generate billions in revenue, more than enough to place CUNY on stable footing.

According to an analysis by the Professional Staff Congress - CUNY, the State has consistently shifted funding during this period from state aid to student tuition. In 1989, tuition covered less than 20 percent of CUNY operating costs, while today it is closer to 50 percent. This, despite the fact that over half of CUNY students come from families that make under $30,000 a year. Tuition has increased by 58 percent in the last five years alone and more tuition increases are being planned.

Second, it is revenue from the city that makes state government possible in the first place. The state budget is a giant engine of resource shifting from downstate to upstate. An analysis by the Rockefeller Institute done in fiscal year 2010 showed that upstate regions received 42 percent of state funding despite generating less than 28 percent of revenue, including those from tuition, gambling, etc. New York City generated 45 percent of revenue, but received only 40 percent of funding, with downstate suburban counties making up the remaining difference. The idea that New York City is not paying its fair share is ridiculous.

Third, no other local area is being asked to engage in cost sharing to support public higher education at the four-year colleges and graduate schools. Upstate counties do contribute to community college funding, but Buffalo, Albany, and other cities with SUNY schools are not asked to cover basic operating expenses in the way Cuomo is proposing for CUNY.

Fourth, the City actually is spending more. In the last two budget cycles Mayor de Blasio has added additional funds to support the community colleges, especially for financial aid and special programs such as the highly successful Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) recently touted by President Obama.

Fifth, funding for CUNY generates significant fiscal as well as social advantages for the state. CUNY students, who are mostly non-white and first generation college students, tend to shift from being consumers of government resources to producers of tax revenue upon graduation. Failing to invest in this population suggests a callous disregard for both this economic reality and the interests of these students and their communities.

Perhaps the governor, who like his father was a product of parochial and private schools, fails to appreciate the central importance of CUNY for communities of color and immigrants. CUNY, as much as any other government institution, has been a central force in the building of the middle class and the integration of immigrants into the mainstream of society. It’s time that he treats funding for CUNY as the social justice issue it is, rather than a punching bag in his fight with the mayor. 

***
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

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

A Call for Equitable Development in Southeast Queens


rev wilkes

Rev. Wilkes, middle, leads a prayer & voter registration drive (photo: @andrewjwilkes)


Jamaica needs development that benefits long-term residents, workers, and the families of Southeast Queens. Development is a multidimensional process. At best, the process not only supports real estate firms, but also expands the availability of affordable housing opportunities and family-sustaining jobs that pay a living wage. Although we applaud the efforts for improving Jamaica, we are concerned that current plans are not going far enough to guarantee equitable development of jobs and housing for local families.

Under the Bloomberg administration, New York City witnessed rezoning to facilitate development in industrial neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Long Island City. With that process came the escalation of rents, leases, and the overall cost of living. While some individuals benefited from this process, wide scale displacement of residents and the local workforce occurred, especially among people of color. In 2007, under the same administration, 368 blocks of downtown Jamaica were rezoned for higher-density development, meaning more units of housing, office, or retail space for the broader community of Southeast Queens. As the economy crashed in 2008, much of the anticipated development was stalled, but a real estate boom is kicking in now with estimates of more than 3,000 units of housing in the coming years. As faith leaders of Southeast Queens, we're lifting up our voices to ensure that our community promotes equitable development of job and housing opportunities for individuals and families whose labor makes this area such a vibrant constellation of neighborhoods.

We recognize and appreciate the contributions of other voices to this conversation. Participants who created the "Jamaica NOW" action plan, for instance, have championed valuable – and viable – ideas for improving Jamaica. The plan intends to do three things: increase quality jobs and small business support; promote commercial growth and economic development; and improve livability for both residents and visitors. Already, the beautification of Rufus King Park is making a difference in the recreational and cultural life of Jamaica. The plan, however, doesn't specify a comprehensive vision for equitable development. Without such details, our concern is that modestly inclusive projects will benignly, but mistakenly, be heralded as successes and the best we could do for our communities.

Two examples illustrate our concern. Let's start with the NYPD lot development project on 168th and Archer Avenue. The city's Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act defines a "living wage" as just $11.50 per hour and notably applies to construction workers on this project because the property is receiving more than $1 million in subsidy from the city Economic Development Corporation. However even if two members of a family were working full-time, with no vacations, at this wage they would still be ineligible for the affordable housing within the project because they would not make enough to meet the income threshold accorded by the zoning of the area.

Another example drives from the de Blasio administration's plan to rezone East New York. In that community, the administration recently announced a plan for 50 percent of new housing to be affordable at neighborhood-based incomes, yet in Jamaica we are talking about just 20 percent of affordable housing being produced – and that only within a smaller "special inclusionary zone" in which the builders are only required to build if they take additional subsidy. Yet even this 20 percent is not truly affordable - a family of three would need to make at least $62,150 to be eligible for the housing, while the median income in Community Board 12 representing Southeast Queens is $50,857 per year.

Given the dynamics outlined above, our question is: what can be done differently? How can we ensure that we advance equitable development in Southeast Queens, that we build it right in our community?

Three ambitious, yet achievable goals stand out for our community, congregations, and city. First, we can lift up the moral imperative of our faith traditions to make the case for equitable development. Our religious traditions teach us that laborers deserve to be paid; that what's done in the dark – negotiation of terms and deals – should be brought into the light; that attending to the weighty matter of justice is central to our convictions and congregations. Second, we can use city subsidy and the leverage that it brings to infuse parity into the production of affordable housing. Instead of settling for developments whose housing is 80 percent market-rate and 20 percent affordable, we can pursue an even division of residential opportunity: 50 percent market-rate and 50 percent affordable for local residents. Third, we can ensure that strong legal protections prohibit harassment and displacement among tenants living in downtown Jamaica and surrounding communities.

We celebrate the resurgence of downtown Jamaica and the surrounding community. In many respects, this resurgence is a belated recognition of the tremendous legacy and potential of Southeast Queens. We invite you to join us as we learn, pray, and take action together for a renewed call for equitable development in Southeast Queens tonight, Tuesday, at 6:30 p.m. at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York. Our best days await us, and we look forward to continued collaboration with elected officials, labor unions, congregations, and other community groups to create deeply affordable housing and family-sustaining jobs in our neighborhoods.

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Rev. Andrew Wilkes, the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York
Bishop Joseph Williams, Christ Church International
Pastor Brian Ellis Gibbs, Queens Baptist Church
Father Jeffry Dillon, Christ the King & St. Mary Magdalene

City Industrial Manufacturing Plan Still Needed


Sunset Park

Rally outside City Hall before a land use committee hearing


Since the recent announcement by Jamestown Properties and partners of a $1 billion investment to rebrand and renovate a massive 16-building complex - which will require a rezoning to permit a hotel and academic facility as well as a public investment of $100 million to improve the surrounding streetscape and infrastructure - there has been a steady stream of media accounts of new tech and commercial tenants drawn to Industry City.

While the successful marketing of an “innovation district” has generated much interest and activity, the city has yet to state its policy on industrial land uses contributing to the real estate uncertainty that is threatening Sunset Park’s industrial small businesses including those in the Industrial Business Zone. Heightening real estate speculation is exemplified by the impending acquisition of the 14-acre, M3-1 zoned Sunset Industrial Park by a real estate investment joint venture, which “immediately after closing on the Property, Savoy/601W will begin the design and approval process to rezone this site and to redevelop it into a large-scale residential community“ thereby increasing the site’s value by more than four or five times the acquisition price of $130 million.

A month ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Sunset Park’s elected officials including City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, Congress Member Nydia Velazquez, State Assembly Member Felix Ortiz, and long-time maritime advocate Congress Member Jerrod Nadler joined federal officials on the Sunset Park waterfront to announce the reactivation of the 72-acre South Brooklyn Marine Terminal (SBMT) and its designation as part of America’s Marine Highway System. All speakers lauded reactivating Brooklyn’s working waterfront, the environmental and public health benefits of truck traffic reduction, and the creation of unionized jobs. 

When the Mayor was asked to comment on neighboring Industry City’s prior request to use five acres of SBMT for 750 parking spaces to accommodate new tenants and shoppers, he affirmed SBMT would only be used for industrial purposes. While the parking issue appears to have been resolved for the immediate future, a substantive public discussion about the co-existence of an innovation economy district and a traditional maritime-manufacturing hub remain outstanding.

Jamestown Properties specializes in the adaptive reuse of industrial buildings. Its Innovation and Design Building in Boston’s Innovation District is similar to its plans for Industry City. Boston Globe columnist Paul McMorrow in “Old vs. new Seaport needs public debate” argued that for traditional and modern manufacturing sectors to work together, “it will only be after serious coordination, and hard conversations about what industry means in the 21st century.” Although the New York City Council released a comprehensive study of industrial land uses in November 2014, which was followed by a Land Use Committee public hearing in April 2015, Mayor de Blasio and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen have yet to weigh in on a substantive public conversation about industrial manufacturing and its importance to New York City’s economy.

The City Council report found that the decades-long decline of industrial manufacturing sectors has ended and, in fact, industrial employment grew modestly from 2010 to 2014.  Sunset Park is a prime example of this trend. Based on the New York State Department of Labor Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, Sunset Park’s industrial firms increased slightly from 1,138 in 2010 to 1,193 in 2014. The number of employees also grew during this period from 10,651 to 11,614 workers.

Although maligned for creating few jobs, warehouses are an important part of an industrial ecosystem and in Sunset Park warehouses employed 103 workers at an average annual wage of $31,236. Representing a third (33%) of the local employment base, this data underscores how traditional industrial manufacturing sectors continue to anchor Sunset Park’s neighborhood economy. These are jobs that have historically and continue to provide opportunity for working class immigrants and workers of color.

In response to a question posed by a Protect Our Working Waterfront Alliance (POWWA) member, Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball discounted community concerns about gentrification and displacement because contrary to “pushing people out”, he claimed the innovation economy is about “bringing people in.” But the real issue may be who is being brought in.

UCLA geographer Allen Scott argues that innovation districts are enclaves that represent a “privileged foci of production, work, and social life.” A mundane illustration is the branding of Industry City’s Food Hall, which is not called a food court because the term conjures up a shopping mall – the quintessential symbol of mass consumption.  Affluent consumers desire a unique experience in “great gathering places,” according to developer/architect Young Woo, who is “curating” a mix of retail tenants in refurbished shipping containers on Manhattan’s Pier 57. Clearly, an innovation economy is not just a reference to a mode of production but connotes a cultural milieu and aesthetic deemed creative, hip, and artisanal.

On the day of the City Council Land Use Committee hearing, POWWA – a citywide alliance which includes UPROSE, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Teamsters Local 812, Trinity Lutheran Church, and the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance – held a rally at City Hall where elected officials and advocates addressed the importance of preserving and protecting industrial jobs for working class New Yorkers. A Crain's article in March indicated that Mayor de Blasio was soon to announce his industrial manufacturing policy but that has yet to happen. In the meantime, the lack of an engaged public conversation about 21st century industry is contributing to speculative real estate activity and rising rents threatening Sunset Park’s viable industrial manufacturing ecosystem.

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Tarry Hum is a professor at the City University of New York and author of Making a Global Immigrant Neighborhood: Brooklyn's Sunset Park.

A Win for $15 Within Reach


fight for 15 minimum wage make the road

Fight for $15 rally, including the author (photo: Make the Road NY)


I came to this country in 2010 with my two children looking for a better future. My first job was as a cashier at McDonald's at Penn Station, earning the minimum wage of $7.50. Although I was hired as a cashier, management asked me to do other tasks such as food preparation and cleaning the restaurant. Despite all my hard work, the salary was never enough.

When I received my first check, I was shocked: How was I supposed to be able to support my family with a $200 paycheck? I could not help but wonder: Given that McDonald's is one of the richest companies in the world, how they were paying me such a low salary? As a mother, the minimum wage was not paying me enough to cover rent, food, and my family's other expenses. This was true no matter how carefully we spent.

The same is true for thousands and thousands of fast food workers who earn the current minimum wage of $8.75. In the end, I had to leave my job because the salary was not enough, but about 180,000 New Yorkers continue working with these miserable conditions due to a lack of other options.

That's why this week is critical for workers across our state. On Wednesday, we expect that a State Wage Board will make its recommendation for a new minimum wage in the fast food sector. We are hoping that the wage board will step up for workers and provide a much-needed wage increase.

The wage board must show that it has heard the voices of workers like me and thousands more who have spoken at the public hearings and rallies across the state and recommend an increase to $15 per hour as soon as possible. And then New York State's Labor Commissioner, Mario Musolino, must accept the recommendation so that it takes effect.

Large corporations like McDonald's continue to provide poverty wages while earning billions of dollars each year. The vast majority of fast food workers in New York have to rely on government subsidies to sustain their families because of low wages that are not enough to meet basic needs. Many do not earn enough to pay their rent, while others have to walk miles to work because they have no money for a MetroCard, despite working full-time.

We all deserve a fair chance to succeed, not a minimum wage that guarantees our continued poverty. Therefore, we need the whole community to raise its voice for $15 per hour. If you believe in fair wages, join me at the last meeting of the Wage Board this Wednesday, at 2:30pm, at 90 Church Street. And once we get the recommendation that workers across this state deserve, we must all communicate with Commissioner Musolino to demand the wage increase be adopted.

And when we win the fast food fight, let there be no doubt: we will continue the Fight for $15 in Albany to ensure that all workers in all industries get a fair wage. This week will be a critical step in a larger struggle for all of us.

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Paola Angel 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

Taxpayer Payoffs for Layoffs at Time Inc.


Time Inc nyse 2014

Time Inc joins the NYSE in 2014 (photo: @TimeInc)


Publishing giant Time Inc. has been cutting hundreds of jobs in recent years, but its next round of layoffs come despite significant financial help from New York State taxpayers.

Last year, when it was reported that the recently spun-off company was looking to relocate its midtown headquarters, the state's economic development agency awarded $10 million in grants and tax credits to encourage Time Inc. to move downtown instead of Jersey City.

Companies that benefit from public development subsidies should be required to create new jobs or at least protect existing ones. Time Inc.'s "job retention" grant should ensure that the company will maintain or increase its jobs in the state.

Unfortunately, that requirement doesn't appear to apply to Time Inc.

Documents revealed in a WNYC report show that the company can cut more than 900 jobs – about one-third of its entire New York City workforce – and still keep every penny of public money.

It's not the first time Time Inc. has cut jobs while getting tax breaks. According to research by Good Jobs New York, from 2003 to 2010 Time Inc. benefitted from more than $7 million in incentives through the New York City Industrial Development Agency to retain jobs in the city. Yet during that time, Time Inc. cut over 3,000 jobs. As a penalty, the Agency recaptured $1.4 million and charged Time an additional $187,000.

So what's next for Time Inc. employees? Sadly, there is no indication that the company's management is even remotely serious about keeping jobs in the country, let alone in the Big Apple.

Rather than reinvesting in the state that is backing his company, Time CEO Joe Ripp seems bent on outsourcing everything he can, even prized journalism. Last November, Ripp unilaterally implemented changes to the negotiated working conditions at Time Inc. that would allow the company to send overseas up to 60 full-time journalist positions and about 100 more temporary journalism jobs from its five most prestigious and widely read magazines: TIME, People, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, and Money. The Manhattan office of the National Labor Relations Board, acting on a charge filed by The NewsGuild of New York, has said it believes the move was illegal and that it plans to issue a complaint against the company by the end of June.

In a 2014 government filing, Ripp told shareholders that the firm "anticipate(s) additional headcount reductions and efficiency measures...including global sourcing of personnel." Subsequently, the march of Time Inc. jobs to low-wage countries, including hundreds held by workers not who are not Guild-represented, is apparently accelerating.

Is this the type of company the public should be subsidizing? State development dollars have poured into media companies recently, helping Buzzfeed and Vice ink deals to expand in new facilities. Those grants may be questionable, too, but at least those companies are growing.

Sadly, over the past decade Time Inc. has been laying off journalists and hollowing out its once industry-leading magazines. The company has rationalized job cuts as a necessary evil, though past cuts to its journalism have failed to turn it around.

Taxpayer dollars should go to create good, living wage jobs. Instead, New Yorkers are again throwing millions at Time Inc. even as it clearly signals it will thank taxpayers with even more layoffs and off-shoring of jobs.

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Elizabeth Bird coordinates Good Jobs New York, a project of Good Jobs First. Bill O'Meara is president of The NewsGuild of New York.

Eric Garner's Final Words, One Year Later


NYPD presser

An NYPD press conference (photo: @NYPDnews)


For good reason, Eric Garner's last words are well remembered. "I can't breathe" -- repeated 11 times by the dying man and ignored by the officers who had jumped on him, choked him, and forced his body to the ground. These are words, along with "Black Lives Matter," advocates for police reform across our country chant while marching and put on their clothing and protest placards.

Also significant were the words Garner spoke at the beginning of the video that showed the officers' reckless and excessive use of force and Garner's last moments. "This stops today," he said with his hands raised. Although he probably did not conceive the meaning of the words in this way, he was clearly referring to harassment he felt he experienced from 'broken windows' policing and its harsh effects on his life. Police actions on July 17 of last year would have been the ninth time officers had arrested Garner for selling loose cigarettes. His "this stops today" was, in effect, his protest against this approach to law enforcement; his stating that he is not a criminal, he is not engaged in predatory conduct; his asking, in effect, 'why are you harassing me?'; 'why aren't you fighting real crime that threatens and disrupts my community?'

Many New Yorkers and Americans fervently hope that Eric Garner did not die in vain, that his death so powerfully imprinted on the public mind's eye will lead to changes in the practices that directly contributed to his brutal end. It is undeniable that, among the things that this tragic incident reflected, central was the reality that it was a dramatic case of 'broken windows' policing gone terribly, terribly wrong. So have the city's officials, led in this instance by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, taken meaningful steps to correct or abandon 'broken windows' or to make city law enforcement practices more fair? The answer, despite the superficial reforms rolled out periodically by de Blasio and Bratton, is an unqualified "No."

Training officers in how to take in New Yorkers resisting arrest or how to treat people more respectfully? Officers see the training as public relations exercises with little relevance to their day-to-day duties on the street. As long as the problematic policies persist — in this case, 'broken windows' policing — no meaningful change in cops' conduct will result from additional training.

Ticketing New Yorkers, rather than arresting them, for marijuana possession? This step does nothing to eliminate the racial bias associated with marijuana enforcement — over 85 percent of marijuana possession arrests and summonses still involve African-Americans or Latinos, although studies show that the majority of people who use and sell the drug are white. Besides, in our court monitoring work, PROP volunteers have seen many instances where people, almost always New Yorkers of color, have been arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana, real or synthetic.

Body cameras on police officers? It makes sense that in some cases cameras might curtail aggressive policing. Of course, cynics could reasonably think and say that if the Garner video, with all its compelling visible evidence on display did not lead to any police accountability, why should we trust that film that remains in the NYPD's hands will have any benign effect?

De Blasio and Bratton have continued their enthusiastic embrace of 'broken windows' practices that involve mainly arresting and ticketing African-American and Latino individuals, sometimes on bogus charges, for engaging in minor infractions that have been virtually decriminalized in the city's white neighborhoods. PROP's Court Monitoring Project regularly visits the arraignment parts of the city's criminal courts where our volunteers observe and record who the police are arresting and on what charges. We have attended ten court sessions in the last two months in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan - our findings reflect an up-to-date picture of NYPD arrest practices. Of the 268 cases observed, 250 - or 93.3 percent - involved New Yorkers of color. Charges included park after dark, open alcohol container, jaywalking, marijuana possession, and "unlawful solicitation" (usually when the police arrest someone who has asked another person to swipe him/her into the subway).

Police had arrested all these people, cuffed and confined them, and kept most of them locked up overnight. Some charges that the court officer or judge stated out loud in the courtroom included "man-spreading" on the subway; "the unauthorized selling of smoothies in Central Park"; "the unlicensed practice of massage"; and "the selling of bottled water on a public road." Current police practices are not only blatantly racist and wasteful, they sometimes border on the surreal.

In a July column published in the Daily News, Eric Garner's 20-year-old son Eric Snipes wrote: "I don't think things have gotten better because cops are still out there harassing people. I've been stopped by cops. They just come over and ask me for my ID and pat me down. But if I was white, walking in a white neighborhood, they wouldn't do that. They need to stop discriminating."

The challenge for us advocates and for every New Yorker, in Eric Garner's name and on behalf of justice for all people, is to keep the pressure on, to keep the spotlight on biased and abusive policing until city leaders fully and completely "stop discriminating."

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Robert Gangi is the director of the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP). Find PROP online at its website and on Facebook and Twitter.

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