Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics



Prison Alternatives Enhance Public Safety & Must Be Left in Place

lisa schreibersdorf

The author at a rally

As New Yorkers, we are all deeply saddened by the recent death of NYPD Officer Randolph Holder. But as we mourn and seek answers to this tragedy, we must not repeat the mistakes of past decades and allow retributive impulses to supersede evidence-based approaches to public safety.

People in drug diversion programs return to the community, as do 95 percent of people sent to prison. However, unlike incarceration, diversion successfully addresses some of the root causes of crime. Rolling back diversion programs that have increased public safety and lowered prison and jail populations would be a dangerous mistake and send a signal to policymakers across the country that New York is bound by the politics of fear.

As a public defender in Brooklyn for more than thirty years, I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of the combination of failed drug policies, disproportionate sanctions and mandatory minimums.

By the 1980s, it was becoming clear to public defenders, district attorneys, and judges alike that incarceration of poor people of color was not making our neighborhoods safer. Instead, it ensnared entire communities in an epidemic of criminal justice involvement, leaving untold numbers of New Yorkers—the vast majority low-income people of color—with the enormous burden of criminal records, in addition to the unmet mental health needs, untreated addiction, cyclical poverty, and multi-generational trauma that likely precipitated their arrests.

In Kings County we did not wait for reform of ineffective laws and decided to do something different— creating diversion programs beginning in the late 1980s and early '90s to allow defendants to enter drug and mental health treatment to address the conditions that prompted the criminal behavior in the first place. The theory was, and still is, that high quality diversion programs and treatment courts for the adjudication of cases for appropriate candidates would keep us safe, save money, and promote confidence in a troubled system. Support for these programs among politicians has varied over the years, but their success has always been validated by statistical evidence.

The point of diversion is public safety. We know that people who are given the opportunity to get clean, find stable housing, develop work skills, and avoid the collateral consequences of a conviction are much less likely to re-offend. In New York City, people who complete drug programs have a 36 percent recidivism rate, as compared to 54 percent for those sentenced to prison, jail, probation, or time served, according to a 2015 report by the Vera Institute of Justice.

To be sure, drug treatment and other court mandates can never address all of the reasons that people commit crimes. Likewise, because the success of these programs is contingent on defendants continuing to live in the community, there is an inherent risk that a small number of individuals will not comply with the mandates of the court. Incidents like Detective Holder's death, though tragic, are extremely rare. In fact, a 2000 study of diverted felony drug offenders showed that they pose no more of a risk to public safety than those traditionally prosecuted.

Brooklyn Defender Services handles over 45,000 cases a year; nearly 2,000 of our clients benefit from specialized treatment courts in Kings County annually. Two clients, Mark and John (names changed to protect their identities) have cases that are illustrative of the important role that alternatives to incarceration play in promoting public safety and helping people to improve their lives and those of their families and communities.

John, arrested in an undercover drug sale, has cognitive limitations. He accepted a conditional plea that included connection with services from Brooklyn Forensic Link, a program that assists severely mentally ill offenders each year with treatment and related transitional services. With the support of Brooklyn Forensic Link, he completed the terms of his conditional plea within six months and now receives much-improved access to services to help him navigate the city despite his disability.

Another client, Mark, was arrested for breaking into stores to steal money to support his heroin habit. Mark's case was transferred to drug court. He has already completed the inpatient portion of his treatment, is currently participating in outpatient treatment, now holds a job in construction, and recently became engaged to be married.

Their stories of success are repeated thousands of times each year. Yet I remember a time when Mark and John would have had no options other than incarceration, without the benefit of programming to prevent future contact with the criminal justice system.

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. While we still have far to go, New York has taken important steps towards criminal justice reform. Safe and effective use of diversion programs began in Brooklyn and later served as the blueprint for reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws in 2009. These programs reduce crime: arrests are down and fewer people are spending unnecessary time in jail or prison.

There is no doubt that the death of Randolph Holder deserves thoughtful pause. We are New Yorkers—thinkers and doers. We dishonor Officer Holder's service if we roll back hard-fought reforms that have made New York safer for everyone. The proposals urged thus far—fragmented bail reform, limiting access to diversion and adjustment of the sealing statutes—will not prevent future tragedies. Instead, they will hurt the thousands of New Yorkers who already suffer the most—poor people of color and the communities in which they live and work.

by Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services. On Twitter @BklynDefenders.

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Wall Street Doesn’t Work for New York, Let’s Create a Bank that Will

Cuomo capitol rally fdny

A rally at the capitol (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)


This summer treated New Yorkers to a spectacular display of the vulnerabilities of the New York region’s century-old subway system. Hardly a day passes without a rush hour social media meltdown because of delays and service interruptions. The MTA’s own data back this up: the authority is struggling to keep pace with historically high ridership while also upgrading the system.

The recent agreement struck between Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio to fund the MTA five-year capital budget is encouraging, but it does not in any significant way address the agency’s failure to build and maintain infrastructure with cost-efficiency. The MTA will likely find much of the funding for the capital budget by taking on more debt.

In light of these struggles, recent (and upcoming) increases in subway fares should draw out the pitchforks -- or they would, if straphangers knew that most of the money doesn’t go to services for riders, but to paying MTA debt service, which has reached the size of whole national economies. According to the MoveNY Fair Plan, 17 percent of the MTA operating budget is spent on debt service. That’s equivalent to 47 cents of every MetroCard swipe -- and that number is rising.

Bringing MTA capital costs under control will require an overhaul of the agency’s organizational practices across the board, but why should large banks benefit from our daily commuting woes? Let’s cut Wall Street out of the equation and create a bank for the people of New York. We should be financing MTA capital projects, along with many other public goods, with a state-owned public bank.

By allowing the MTA to consolidate and refinance its debt at better rates, a public bank for New York would make available more funds for getting the New York region’s transit infrastructure to a state of good repair and expanding the transportation network.

A state bank can and should address other issues as well. It would support local community banks and credit unions in small towns and rural communities in places like Rensselaer, Niagara, and Allegany counties to make more small business and agricultural loans. It would offer competitive financing and loan products for new green technology and energy investments. By supporting local community banks and credit unions, perhaps in conjunction with a pilot program to offer banking services at post offices, it could crowd out predatory check-cashing businesses.

Finally, it would create a means for refinancing student loans, taking the strain off straphangers and students--two constituencies in which Governor Cuomo has shown limited interest.

The Bank of New York would be professionally staffed and independent from, but accountable to, both a citizen advisory board and elected representatives. Funds from state and local treasuries and from public benefit corporations like the MTA would make up the bank’s deposits.

Four times since 2011, lawmakers in Albany have introduced legislation to study a potential Bank of New York, but it has never been given a vote. It will take a social movement to make it happen. This is how reformers established the only existing state bank in the nation, in North Dakota, when a progressive populist movement swept the corrupt establishment from power. These actions helped communities weather the Great Depression, and today the Bank of North Dakota has bipartisan support from a broad range of constituencies in that deep red state.

Taking control of finance by creating a public bank sounds radical, but “radical,” which comes from the Latin word for “roots,” only means getting to the root of the problem. Sometimes it’s not enough to trim the weeds -- you have to pull them out and plant something new. Finance, like electricity, water, or the internet, is a public utility and can be harnessed for the public good or enrich a few. We've been doing the latter. We know that the Wall Street way isn’t working, but we’ve been sticking to it because we don’t yet see alternatives.

A state bank would pull out some Wall Street roots and plant new seeds based on economic democracy, a system that puts greater power in the hands of the people and communities that create our common wealth. Economic democracy is a deeply American tradition stretching from Thomas Paine to the agrarian anti-renters and Free Soilers of 19th century New York, to the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement who built institutions for community ownership in the Jim Crow South and marched on Washington for jobs and freedom.

Like any one part of a larger whole, a state bank alone won't solve all of our problems--transit or otherwise. But New Yorkers across the political spectrum see that our current system doesn’t work, and with greater economic democracy we have a systemic alternative.

A public bank would serve all New Yorkers: working and farming families, students and small business owners, drivers and straphangers. A coalition drawn from those constituencies would quickly transform any “radical” notion into a common sense solution. A state bank is one tool for the people of New York to push back against Wall Street power, move our economy forward and help us invest in the future of our transit system and our state as a whole, from Buffalo to Plattsburgh to Brooklyn.

Rather than waiting for Albany to do right by the people of New York, New Yorkers can promote these structural changes by voting “yes” in the constitutional convention referendum that will be on the ballot in 2017.

Matthew Rigney is a Master of City and Regional Planning candidate at Rutgers University. Evan Casper-Futterman is a PhD candidate in Public Policy at Rutgers University.

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Saying No to Hate in the Empire State

Make the Road protests hate

Protesting anti-immigrant messaging

As two of the 4.3 million immigrant members of this state, we, like most of our community, came to New York City with high hopes of acceptance and opportunity. And we love our city. We love how diverse it is, how progressive its values are, and how we have so much opportunity to work together to identify problems and fight for solutions.

One thing we do not love, however, is that there is a group of wealthy New Yorkers working against our immigrant communities to make us feel unwelcome and to separate our families.

As a new report, "Backers of Hate in the Empire State" (which the organizations to which we belong produced with the Center for Popular Democracy Action) has revealed, there is a group of wealthy New Yorkers who are using their millions and elite networks to fund and support the anti-immigrant movement in this country. And the anti-immigrant rhetoric and organizing they are behind is now tragically seeping into our nation's political arena.

That's why, this week, more than 50 immigrants like us joined together recently to protest in midtown Manhattan to call out the backers of hate. These organizations and individuals work together to create an irrational fear of immigrants and they work in favor of anti-immigrant policy. Individuals like Barbara Winston, beneficiary of the Winston gem fortune, have supported anti-immigrant groups for years, and now candidates like Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina are following this lead.

The rhetoric of Trump and other Republicans reflects the hate and lies of these groups. And the same is true for policy. Like anti-immigration groups such as the Federation for American Reform (listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center), Keeping Identities Safe, the Center for Immigration Studies, and NumbersUSA, leading GOP candidates oppose immigration relief and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and they want to get rid of birthright citizenship.

Most New Yorkers disagree with these extreme views, and that's why we're fighting back. We first picketed outside a jewelry store owned by members of the Winston family, and then marched and continued to rally outside of Trump Tower. Our march traced the dangerous connections between the backers of hate in New York State and the toxic conversation around immigration that Republican candidates have launched. This followed several other protests against Mr. Trump himself, at which immigrant New Yorkers have directly confronted him for his anti-immigrant positions.

It's time for the millionaires and billionaires who are using their resources to back anti-immigrant movements to stop and instead use their money and energy to improve schools for our children and housing for our communities—to create a better future for this nation. But, while they continue their anti-immigrant work, it's critical that politicians, the media, and other organizations cut ties with individuals and organizations who support a hateful, anti-immigrant agenda. New York should be a progressive beacon for our country—not a haven for hate.

by Maria Rubio, Make the Road Action Fund, and Elva Meneses, New York Communities for Change.

More NYC Families Will Soon Have Access to Care


A citizenship ceremony (photo: Ed Reed, Mayor's Office)

New York City's new plan will expand access to care for immigrants across the City

Access to health care is on the rise all across New York City, thanks to federal, state, and city efforts over the last few years.

For example, the latest data show that the number of people who are uninsured dropped 34 percent from 2013 to 2014. That's the good news. The bad news is that many of the remaining uninsured New Yorkers still face daunting barriers to access basic care because of their immigration status or because they don't yet speak English fluently. Indeed, during the congressional debates on the Affordable Care Act, immigrants were treated as the "poison pill" for the legislation, and during debates on immigration reform, health care coverage is similarly sidelined.

We are working to change that dynamic at the local level. With Mayor de Blasio's new plan to improve immigrant access to health care, we are creating a more equitable city. Over the coming months, we will launch the Direct Access project, to explore an affordable system that will provide comprehensive primary and preventive care to immigrants who are ineligible for support under the Affordable Care Act. This project's success will serve as the basis for a more inclusive health care system, including families in our city without access to insurance.

Direct Access is a recommendation of the Mayor's Task Force on Immigrant Health Care Access, a group of City government officials, community advocates, health care professionals, hospital administrators, and public health experts. The Task Force's recommendations acknowledge that many immigrants face unique struggles in accessing care. Many who do not yet have full English proficiency have difficulty finding help in their language. Some encounter a health care system that seems dauntingly unfamiliar. Others find themselves excluded from access to care due to our broken federal immigration system's outdated rules and the failure of multiple attempts at federal reform.

These barriers mean that far too many of our fellow New Yorkers are relegated to a second-class health care system in which they must forgo basic medical care such as check-ups, cancer screening, and chronic care management. Instead they are forced to rely on inefficient emergency room visits and overburdened neighborhood providers, with little to no opportunity for follow-up care. This means that our immigrant family members and neighbors often do not get sufficient basic health care, resulting in missed workdays and unnecessary illness, and a cost that we all share.

The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, has helped to solve these problems for millions of Americans. It has expanded access to health care across the country, providing support to nearly all low-income and moderate-income Americans to get health insurance.

But that qualifier—"nearly all"—makes a big difference in our diverse city. According to our analysis, as many as 345,000 uninsured New York City residents who live, work, and raise their families here will remain uninsured because they are ineligible for help under the Affordable Care Act due solely to their immigration status. That is more people than the entire population of St. Louis. Much, perhaps most, of this population would benefit from proposed immigration reforms or the President's November 2014 executive actions. However, all of those measures have been held up in congressional committees or in the courts, victim to political calculations.

We cannot wait for others, in D.C. or Albany, to solve this problem for us. The health and safety of our residents is ultimately our responsibility, and the Mayor's plan represents a bold step forward—the first effort in the country since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act to grow immigrant health care access.

The Mayor's new immigrant health effort is the first step towards a more inclusive health care system. This will strengthen our health care system, our immigrant communities, and our city as a whole.

by Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner, NYC Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs. On Twitter at @NYCImmigrants.


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New York’s Much-Needed New Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation

Pat Dolan

Pat Dolan, the author, at a rally

Governor Andrew Cuomo has just announced an initiative to combat worker exploitation in New York, including investigations focused on employers who are serial offenders, along with the creation of a hotline for reporting worker abuse.

At the first public meeting of the New York Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation, on October 14, abused workers came forward to give firsthand accounts of living lives in virtual serfdom for employers giving little consideration towards abiding by our state laws, safety or wage mandates.

The ten-agency task force will coordinate data collection, investigations, prosecutions, and compliance, as well as outreach and education with workers and employers, made possible with a $700,000 state allocation.

The findings will shed light on the widespread mistreatment of workers, especially within New York's construction industry, which accounts for less than four percent of statewide employment but 20 percent of the state's occupational fatalities. 3

At the first public hearing, five workers testified about abuses they have suffered on their worksites including racial discrimination, sexual harassment, wage theft, assault, and lack of worker's compensation for when they are injured on the job.

"It's just an abusive system that's going on around here," said Carrol Turner, a non-union construction worker, originally from the island of Jamaica, who discussed repeated instances of wage theft among his co-workers. "You don't have the slightest idea what's going on, especially in the non-union construction world. You have to live it to tell what's going on."

In his more than 13 years with his employer, Mr. Turner testified that he never received safety or industry training and admitted many of his co-workers had been injured on the job. He recalled an instance when his supervisor threatened to fire him if he didn't return to work immediately after receiving an on-the-job injury to one of his fingers that necessitated medical treatment.

According to the U.S. Labor Department's report, Adding Inequality to Injury: The Costs of Failing to Protect Workers on the Job, it is estimated that worker's compensation covers only 21 percent of workplace injury and illnesses. Costs are then primarily footed by employees, their families, and their private health insurance (63 percent), while taxpayers are socked with 16 percent of the tab. But what if your employer provides no healthcare coverage, as is the case with many of these workers?

When asked by a Task Force committee member if his workplace displayed information regarding worker's compensation, Mr. Turner responded, "Plenty of us don't even have an idea there is a thing called worker's compensation."

In construction, falls are the most common cause of serious workplace injuries and comprise half of fatalities in New York State. This occurs in spite of federally-mandated rules requiring safety equipment on worksites including harnesses and safety lines, nets, guard and stair rails. In 2012, 79 percent of fatal fall accidents occurred at non-union construction sites and 60 percent of victims were immigrant and/or Latino, according to the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health (NYCOSH).

Another non-union construction worker, Carlos, testified with only his first name, fearing vengeance from his employer after coming forward with stories of assault and wage theft. During Hurricane Sandy, he worked for a contractor at a federal building for 12-14 hours per day without ever seeing a dime. "When you complained about that, they would retaliate against you," he said. The punishment? Taking employees off the work schedule for days, even weeks at a time.

These are some of many tactics used to threaten and intimidate employees in New York's growing and seedy underground construction economy. Those who testified told of scraping by on wages as little as $5 per hour while working 50-60 hour weeks, with no healthcare protection should they become sick or seriously injured on their job site. Many are kept silent by the threat of losing their meager earnings, which can be the difference in providing a hot meal for their families or making rent payments.

The governor's new effort to battle rampant worker exploitation should not be a brief, formulaic exercise. When it is becoming more the norm for workers across our city to be forced to work on dangerous construction sites ten or 20 stories above street level without basic safety gear or training, or perhaps earning half of minimum wage, it's truly time to reexamine what our priorities are. The Governor's Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation is welcome and necessary.

Patrick Dolan Jr. is the President of the 8,200-member Steamfitters Local Union 638. Members of Steamfitters Local 638 install and maintain high-efficiency, state-of-the-art heating, air conditioning, ventilation, fire-suppression and sprinkler systems in commercial, residential and industrial buildings in New York City.

New York Community Colleges Desperately Need Comprehensive Investment

Cuomo college event

Gov. Cuomo (Office of the Governor - Kevin P. Coughlin)

Governor Cuomo’s leaked plan to make community colleges in New York tuition-free, potentially aligning with President Obama’s America’s College Promise initiative, is an exciting step towards reinvesting in higher education after years of flat-lined funding and tuition hikes. This thinking, if it indeed means increasing our state’s investments in higher education, reflects an awakening around the role that community colleges play in the fabric of society and the future of our economy. 

As it currently stands, insufficient state support for higher education in New York is failing students and families. Funding is down seven percent since the Great Recession, and a necessary “Maintenance of Effort” bill passed by the Senate and Assembly forcing the Governor to fund mandatory costs for SUNY and CUNY is on the Governor’s desk with an uncertain future.

What’s more, state support makes up only about a quarter of total community college revenue – leaving students to pay more in tuition, which is among the highest in the country. And at the same time that tuition at our community colleges has increased by $735 over the last 10 years, the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) - our state’s need-based aid program, not available to part-time students - has only increased by $165 during that same time.

Indeed, increased investment by the state would mark a drastic and much-needed shift from burdening students and families with tuition hikes throughout the Great Recession, and a smart move that would renew our commitment to boosting the take home pay of hard-working New Yorkers.

Average earnings for full-time workers with an associate’s degree are nearly a third higher than earnings for those with only a high school diploma, not to mention that more educated people have additional opportunities to ascend the economic ladder.

But economic prosperity isn’t just good for the workers who are lucky enough to achieve it; it’s good for our state as a whole. It’s estimated that New Yorkers with an associate’s degree will contribute more than $35,000 in state taxes and a New Yorker with a bachelor’s degree will contribute more than $60,000 in state taxes throughout their lifetime. With 330,000 enrollees in the CUNY and SUNY community college system, that means an impressive return on investment.

The President’s initial vision for creating a federal free community college plan is understood to be a first-dollar contribution that pays tuition and fees up front, leaving any remaining federal Pell Grants to cover expenses like textbooks and other living expenses. For context, last year more than 160,000 New York State students received $160 million worth of federal Pell Grants, relying on both state and federal investments to cover not just tuition and other costs of attending school.

A state-federal partnership such as the one described by the Obama Administration (but that has stalled in Congress) could be crafted in a way that gives a federal match encouraging states to invest more and provide first-dollar support, making much-needed increased investment.

If a state pursues a free community college plan poorly, however, it could merely repackage its current investments to cover whatever tuition that the Pell grant (or any other future federal match) does not cover, or to make tuition free but reduce investments in critical need-based aid that help cover the full cost of going to school. That’s a direction that policymakers here should steer clear from.

As we head into the next legislative session in Albany, one thing is clear: we need to act quickly, and not point to the gridlock in Washington as a reason to throw up our hands, say we tried, but ultimately leave New Yorkers further behind.

Even with no additional matching federal dollars forthcoming anytime soon, the governor and other state policymakers can and should lead on this vision around committing new investments to community college students. Governor Cuomo can start with his upcoming executive budget proposal due in late January.

With the governor talking about an initial $500 million investment, and policymakers such as Assemblymember James Skoufis talking about a $2 billion “TuitionFreeNY” bill to provide free tuition to all SUNY and CUNY students, the time has come for New York State to put forward a comprehensive solution to address the needs of the state’s grossly under-resourced community college system and lead the country in creating a universally accessible public higher education opportunity.

In the early 1890s, the Committee of Ten, an elite group of academics and bureaucrats, found that four additional years (what we know as high school) of public education for every American student was necessary. It’s fitting that 125 years later we are having the same conversation to better fit our institutions to the needs of today’s workforce. The additional investment of $500 million, with or without federal matching dollars, is a step towards leading the way in what it means to value and leverage public education in the 21st century.

Kevin Stump is the Northeast Director for Young Invincibles (YI), 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? E-mail editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In Schools and at Home, We Must Talk to Young People About Sex

PPNYC volunteers

PPNYC volunteers (photo: @PPNYCAction)

When I heard Salt-n-Pepa's song "Let's Talk About Sex" as a young person in the 1990s, it stirred my interest in the subject. I remember coming home and asking my mother about sex, and receiving responses that left me feeling frustrated.

I wasn't getting my questions answered in school either. Sex ed did not go into detail about body image or the emotional connection that came with experiencing sexuality. Unfortunately, in New York City many young people still aren't getting adequate information about sexual health or relationships at school. Like me two decades ago, many aren't getting this information from their parents or caregivers either. Today, young people are often left unequipped in a world filled with distorted sexual messages everywhere on social media, in advertisements, on TV, and elsewhere.

That's why it's so important that, as a city, we prioritize comprehensive, age-appropriate sex ed for all students, kindergarten through 12th grade.

It's also why, as a parent, I make a point to let my children know they can always come to me with questions about sex and sexuality, and I make sure they have accurate information and skills to make healthy decisions. I also joined Planned Parenthood of New York City's Adult Role Model team to educate other parents about how to talk to their kids about sex. Because so many parents are uncomfortable, the program helps provide them with guidance to start what should become an ongoing conversation.

My parents migrated to this country from the Caribbean, and in their culture, sex was not discussed in detail, especially with daughters. It was a brief topic of doom discussed when a girl began menstruating because then there was fear that she could end up pregnant. Girls were typically warned that if they had sex before marriage and became pregnant, the young man was likely to leave, which meant raising the child alone.

I was left on my own, with myths and misinformed answers from my friends, to figure out sexuality. Had my parents felt comfortable and had accurate information about sexuality, or had I learned much-needed information in the New York City school system, I believe my sexual experiences would have been filled with fewer heartbreaks and less gloom.

When I gave birth to my children, I vowed to educate and enlighten them on sexuality because I did not want them to go through similar experiences. When my daughter started middle school, I had questions about what exactly to tell her about sexuality. One day, she came home with a flyer for a workshop hosted by Planned Parenthood of New York City about sexuality and how parents could have these conversations with their children. I was elated - I went to the workshop eager and left equipped with the information and skills to talk more adequately with my children.

I learned that it was OK to give my children my values and that sexuality is more than just sex. I also learned how important it is for parents to have accurate information. In no way was I going to leave it up to the media, or my children's friends. Information about sex needs to come from me, I decided.

The next day I began educating my children, and put them at ease so they could come to me with questions. It was not just a one-time discussion or an accusatory one; it was from and full of love and respect for my children.

So then it began. I became their "go to" person for accurate messages and information about sex and sexuality. When my son was in middle school, he received a sex ed class. When the teacher described the reproductive systems, his peers were "oohing" and "ahhing." He said that he was so comfortable because he already received education about sexuality from his mom. In my head I was doing flips and shouting for joy.

Today, I go to various schools and communities, and I'm surprised that some parents are still not having these important conversations with their children. My children tell me stories about their friends and peers not having someone they can trust to talk to about sexuality.

So let's talk about sex—both in schools and at home. Who do you want your children to learn values from, if not from you? Would you want your child to engage in sexual activities with a partner out of fear or in ignorance? Would you want your child to engage in unprotected sex because they don't know any better?

It's heartbreaking that so many students still aren't learning these essential lessons at home or at school. We must prioritize sex ed in city schools, and encourage parents and the caring adults in the lives of youth to talk to young people about sexuality and sexual health early and often.

Marsha Blackman is an Adult Role Model with Planned Parenthood of New York City. Find Planned Parenthood on Twitter @PPNYCAction.


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The Future of Stuyvesant Town & Peter Cooper Village

Garodnick Stuytown Deal

CM Garodnick, the author, announcing the ST/PCV deal (photo: @DanGarodnick)

Major real estate transactions in New York too often create uncertainty for tenants living in previously stable communities. We all know what typically happens: the deal is done, the tenants are displaced, money is made. This is the story that has played out in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village (ST/PCV) since 2006, when MetLife sold ST/PCV to Tishman Speyer for a record-setting $5.4 billion and many feared for the future of New York City's last big bastion of affordable housing for middle class New Yorkers.

These concerns only increased after the sale, as Tishman Speyer tried to make good on its investment by raising rents and eliminating as many affordable units as possible, converting them to market rate. Tishman Speyer was unsuccessful in its effort, and in 2010, defaulted on its significant debt. The fate of ST/PCV was left up in the air, and the tenants were left dreading that the story would end the way most would expect, with another unscrupulous landlord trying to force them out.

After years of hard work and advocacy, including winning a class action lawsuit at the Court of Appeals, fighting and reversing mid-lease rent increases, and getting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to stay away from any deal that did not have our blessing -- we have finally succeeded in getting the community on a more stable path.

Earlier this week, CWCapital announced its sale of ST/PCV to the Blackstone Group and Ivanhoé Cambridge, in an agreement that will be the largest city-led affordable housing preservation deal in history -- and one that can serve as a model for other parts of the City.

As part of the negotiations with the tenants and Mayor de Blasio, Blackstone has committed to preserving 5,000 rent-stabilized units for the next generation of middle-class residents. Under this deal, tenants who are currently in rent-stabilized units will be protected by rent-stabilization laws for as long as they reside in their apartment, and they are further protected by the City's agreement, which restricts the rent that can be charged on 5,000 units for the next 20-25 years, giving the new owner little incentive to turn over the units. And that timeframe could be extended down the line (as has happened many times in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper since the early 1970s), with new agreements between the owners and the City or State.

Blackstone has also agreed to cap rent increases on about 1,400 tenants affected by the Roberts case, whose below-market-rate units could have been immediately brought to the market when the J-51 property tax abatement expires in 2020.

As a co-founder of the Coalition Against Predatory Equity in Housing, it was also critical to me that the structure of the deal was one that did not create pressure to evict rent-stabilized tenants based on the debt load. In 2006, the new owner had overleveraged the deal to a significant degree -- they had borrowed 80 percent of the purchase price, and the rents did not at all support the debt burden. That meant that they needed to quickly raise rents to pay their debt. In today's framework, the cash flow on day one will more than support the debt, creating very little pressure on Blackstone to make any sudden changes, or go after tenants.

That is why this deal has earned my support. When an active and organized body meets with the political will at all levels of government, important things can happen. And at a time when too many tenants are being left on the sidelines, we have struck a deal that will lead to a more stable community for tenants both old and new, and for the City.

Dan Garodnick is a member of the New York City Council representing the fourth district, in Manhattan, which includes Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. Garodnick has served on the Council since 2006. He is on Twitter @DanGarodnick.

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A More Cost-Effective Adult Homeless Services System

de blasio speech photo distance

Mayor de Blasio (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

Last week, the New York City Independent Budget Office published a fiscal brief -Albany Shifts the Burden: As the Cost for Sheltering the Homeless Rises, Federal & City Funds Are Increasingly Tapped- detailing the financing of city homeless shelters from 2007 to 2014. The brief sheds light on the imminent need for reform of the single adult homeless services system. It also provides a roadmap that the City and State should follow to address the issue in a cost-effective manner.

In particular, the IBO report illuminates the rising costs of sheltering single homeless adults. From 2007 to 2014, city shelter costs for the population more than doubled, rising from $196 million to $343 million (75 percent increase). Aghast to think, the financial cost of single adult homelessness in New York City is actually above $343 million, though.

As IBO acknowledges, $343 million is merely the cost to shelter those associated with the Department of Homeless Services. There is also the cost to shelter domestic violence victims, persons with HIV/AIDS, and runaway youth through the Human Resources Administration and Department of Youth and Community Development. In addition, there is the cost of outreach programs, drop-in centers, and respite beds ($35 million in 2014) to bring homeless individuals inside. There are also the public institutional costs of street homelessness: $40,000 per individual per year, as of 2012, according to former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.

The IBO brief also reveals the increasing financial share that New York City pays to shelter single homeless adults. State changes in funding rules have shifted single adult shelter costs from the State towards the City. In 2007, the City funded 53 percent ($104 million) of the single adult shelter cost. However, in 2014, the City funded 73 percent ($252 million).

The IBO brief recommends that since the City largely goes it alone in funding single adult shelters, it should focus on reducing the single adult census. As a nonprofit that has worked for forty years to provide this population a way home, Urban Pathways encourages the City and State to focus on the following.

Paramount is the City and State funding effective exit options. First and most important is a new supportive housing agreement, a NY/NY IV. The first three agreements were extremely successful in stably housing homeless adults. More than 86 percent of NY/ NY III tenants remained housed after one year. More than three-quarters of homeless individuals remained housed after two years. Supportive housing is also cost-effective. It costs significantly less per day than shelter ($55, as opposed to $78).

The second exit option is a more long-term and jointly-financed Living in Communities (LINC) rental subsidy program for homeless adults. Admirably, the City initiated, and is solely funding, several rental subsidies. It is unrealistic for the City to sustain this investment in the long term without a commitment of matching funds from the State and Federal governments.

Additionally, a more long-term, State- and City-financed rental subsidy may also appease currently resistant landlords, freeing up needed apartments. Right now, it is difficult to get landlords to accept the LINC voucher. They can get higher rents from other tenants, and they harbor concerns from the demise of the Work Advantage program.

Also important is that the City and State governments reassess the single adult homeless services system. Currently, it is chiefly a one-size-fits-all model of large shelters. However, just as LINC vouchers are tailored to specific populations, the single adult system should be tailored to its populations. For example, for the chronically homeless that often choose the streets over shelter, the City should divert dollars from shelters to alternatives to shelters such as drop-in centers and safe havens. In conjunction, for single adults at risk of homelessness, the City should divert dollars from shelter to Homebase prevention to provide housing mediation, short-term financial assistance and anti-eviction programs.

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

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Why I'm Fasting for Immigration Relief

Mauricio Fast

Mauricio Jiménez, the author (photo via Make The Road NY)

I came to the United States more than twelve years ago from my home in Ecuador. I had to leave my country, because, as a journalist who had written about criminals, I feared retaliation. Living here—first in Washington, D.C., and now in New York—hasn't been easy. In that time, I've been undocumented, experienced and witnessed employers stealing immigrant workers' wages, and seen—time and again—the injustices that immigrants face in this country.

Because of my experiences, I decided to join the fight for the rights of immigrants and workers. In recent years, I've joined my fellow immigrants to demand justice at the local, state, and federal levels on issues including wage theft, the minimum wage, and immigration reform.

This week, I've traveled to New Orleans to join immigrants from around the country to denounce another grave injustice against our community, which has serious effects in New York: a federal court is stalling on ruling on President Obama's immigration relief program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). In response, immigrants like me from around the country are fasting this week to demand that the 5th Circuit rules quickly so that millions of immigrants can get the relief they need. We are now in the eighth day of our fast.

Last year, President Obama announced the DAPA program and related forms of immigration relief, which would benefit millions of immigrants by enabling them to come out of the shadows, get work authorization, apply for driver's licenses, and live without the fear of being separated from their families.

Since then, anti-immigrant Republican politicians filed a lawsuit to stop DAPA from taking effect, and they intentionally filed it in one of the most conservative courts—and appellate jurisdictions—in the country. Now, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals appears to be playing a cynical political game and delaying issuing its ruling so that, if it rules against DAPA, the Department of Justice will not be able to have its appeal heard by the Supreme Court before the 2016 elections.

In other words, far-right judges are playing along with far-right politicians to prevent immigration relief from taking effect. The result is simple and disastrous: if they do not issue their decision immediately, millions of immigrant families will remain at risk of being torn apart, instead of living with the peace of mind they need.

This is personal for me and my community. For my family and friends, DAPA would make an enormous difference. We will not stand by idly and permit a court to keep our families in limbo. This week, we are showing that we are willing to put our bodies on the line to ensure that justice is done.

The Court must rule immediately so that the immigration relief provided by DAPA can move forward. We're going to continue fighting for DAPA until it's a reality, and then we will continue the fight for immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants, 500,000 of whom live in New York City. We will not stop fighting until we win.

Mauricio Jiménez is a Board 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.

There is Nothing Innovative About Displacement


Industry City courtyard development (photo: Industry City on Instagram)

Sunset Park is at a crossroads. With one of the city’s few remaining industrial waterfronts in a heavily, working-class Latino-Asian neighborhood, its development looms large in shaping the future of New York City and, dare I say, the city’s soul.

Since the March announcement of a $1 billion investment by Industry City’s owners – a consortium of commercial real estate titans - the most dramatic changes along the waterfront have not been the building upgrades, bicycle racks, summer dance parties, or high-end artisanal purveyors. Rather, it is the stupefying number of speculative sales of industrial real estate.

Jamestown Properties is working hard to rebrand Industry City as a site for cutting edge, modern manufacturers in technology, media, design, and high-value added fashion and food production. The developer is working to placate community concerns that the Williamsburg experience of massive displacement and gentrification will not be repeated.

To this end, Jamestown Properties announced the establishment of an “Innovation Lab” in collaboration with CUNY; Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation, which manages Sunset Park’s Industrial Business Zone; and several community non-profit social service and workforce organizations. Largely funded by public dollars, the Innovation Lab seeks to connect the neighborhood’s immigrant, non-English speaking labor force with low levels of formal education to the innovation economy.

While Andrew Kimball’s success at the Brooklyn Navy Yard should reassure us that his expertise is preserving and promoting industrial jobs and small businesses, Mr. Kimball’s employer is no longer a non-profit organization that manages city-owned properties.

The redevelopment of Industry City is not about modern manufacturing. Industry City is a commercial real estate venture and its rezoning proposal will make that crystal clear. Most of Industry City’s 16-building complex is in a heavy manufacturing M3-1 zone which prohibits retailers and hotels (unlike light manufacturing M1-1 zones). Industry City’s “unprecedented” development proposal entails designating a “special innovation zoning district” to permit a hotel, university facility (some say dormitory), conference center, and retailers.

Industry City’s consortium of owners has hired Fox Rothschild LLP to prepare its rezoning proposal. A website search of Fox Rothschild LLP’s recent projects lists one for New York City – Ian Schrager’s ultra-luxury, condo-hotel at 215 Chrystie Street on the Lower East Side.

Referencing the area’s industrial past, Schrager describes his 28-story, Public Hotel project as “refined gritty” and “tough luxe.” While one journalist described this branding as “enough to make you lunge for the barf bag,” the transparent and cavalier manner in which the lives, experiences, and neighborhood spaces of an everyday public, made up of working-class people and communities of color, are erased and then commodified for a new “public” elite is astounding.

Fox Rothschild LLP secured the necessary permits and zoning changes for its client’s “refined gritty” condo-hotel project on a former urban renewal site.

Mr. Kimball’s participation in numerous real estate conferences, including the Commercial Observer’s recent “Brooklyn’s Renaissance” event held at Industry City, has helped fan real estate speculation and small business displacement in industrial Sunset Park.

A late September Crain’s New York Business article announced the sale of two Sunset Park warehouses by New Jersey-based Hampshire Companies. Approximately two years ago, Hampshire Companies purchased the pair of buildings from Brooklyn Commercial Realty Corporation and Commercial Associates LLC for $18.5 million dollars.

At the time of the sale in June 2013, based on my research of the New York State Department of Labor’s database of registered apparel contractors and manufacturers, there were 35 garment shops located at 341 39 Street employing hundreds of workers. These small businesses included Sew Wonderful US Inc., NYC Fashionwear Inc., and MM Pleating & Sewing Inc. Today, Hampshire Companies is selling the “warehouses” for $50 million dollars having made no physical improvements or changes except for the displacement of numerous small business tenants and their employees.

The Hampshire Companies is marketing the pair of industrial buildings, which are located a few blocks away from Industry City, “as conversions to hip, creative office space or residential units.” In addition to Industry City, there are now several new property owners in Sunset Park’s industrial waterfront anticipating a rezoning to commercial and possibly, residential uses. Sunset Park’s working waterfront is being eviscerated by real estate speculators who see great profits in branding the industrial infrastructure as part of an innovation economy district.

In this hyped real estate context, Mr. Kimball will go to extremes to portray Industry City as a site of modern manufacturing. For example, the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg are great additions to Industry City because, according to Mr. Kimball, they have long-served as “a platform for Brooklyn’s makers.”

Sunset Park is at a crossroads and its future depends on Mayor Bill de Blasio and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen recognizing that protecting industrial and maritime-related jobs and land uses are as critical as affordable housing in sustaining the vibrant, diverse neighborhoods that have always made New York City a place of possibilities for working-class families.

While “Brooklyn players (were) mingling and gnoshing on a lucrative breakfast spread” at the Brooklyn Renaissance event at Industry City, UPROSE and Protect the Working Waterfront Alliance were organizing to save Sunset Park because there is nothing innovative about displacement.

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

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