Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics



Making New York Public Housing Sustainable

nycha presser photo

(photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)

The New York City Housing Authority is the nation’s largest residential landlord, providing permanently affordable housing to more than 400,000 low-income New Yorkers, many of whom would be homeless without public housing.

Like many public housing authorities around the country, NYCHA has its critics. Stories of poor living conditions, safety concerns, and health hazards often grab headlines, and rightly so. That’s why housing authority leaders must respond with real, innovative solutions to maintain a decent standard of living.

That’s exactly what the housing authority is doing on Earth Day with the release of the NextGeneration NYCHA Sustainability Agenda. It’s high time that NYCHA take full advantage of—and residents benefit from—the cost savings, health improvements and climate change protections associated with sustainable buildings. This is a bold plan to make that happen.

It comes at a pivotal time for New Yorkers who live in public housing. Years of federal and state funding cuts have left the housing authority with a backlog of needed repairs totaling more than $17 billion. NYCHA is continually forced to stretch its limited resources across a vast and aging portfolio, struggling to make even the most essential repairs in 2,550 buildings throughout the five boroughs. The threat of losing apartments and whole developments to decay is real.

Making sure public housing in New York doesn’t shrink or disappear as it has in other cities will require that NYCHA take advantage of every tool at its disposal. The Sustainability Agenda represents big-picture thinking on a range of new programs, from deep energy retrofits and distributed energy systems to improved staff training and resident-owned business opportunities.

We have evidence that it is possible to bring the health, environmental, and economic benefits of environmentally sustainable building to low-income communities through affordable housing.

Since 2004, Enterprise Community Partners, a national affordable housing nonprofit with a longstanding presence in New York City, has led the charge in making affordable housing environmentally sustainable, healthy, and resilient through its Enterprise Green Communities Criteria, the first national framework for creating and preserving green affordable housing.

The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) requires all city-subsidized affordable housing that is either newly built or undergoing substantial rehabilitation to meet these criteria. Importantly, NYCHA’s Sustainability Agenda will bring this same standard to public housing developments in New York.

As part of the Sustainability Agenda, NYCHA has taken a targeted approach to identify and incorporate the most effective strategies for creating healthy environments for its residents. For example, investments in roof repairs and modernizing ventilation will eliminate a substantial cause of mold, greatly improving resident health. Children with asthma will experience fewer attacks and missed school days, improving education outcomes and helping them graduate on time. According to new research from Enterprise and the Center for Outcomes Research and Education (CORE), healthy affordable housing also improves health care access and quality while reducing costs.

Through investments in environmentally sustainable infrastructure, NYCHA will also help protect residents from the impacts of climate change. By 2025, it anticipates a 27 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from its buildings. And all of this will come with an eye toward creating quality green jobs for residents, while helping the city achieve its overall climate goals at the same time.

To be sure, achieving these goals will require additional funding upfront, though analysis of the Enterprise Green Communities Criteria has shown that sustainable buildings save money in the long run, both in building operating costs and in health improvements for residents.

The Sustainability Agenda will bring an entirely new set of private resources and community-based partnerships to the Housing Authority, but will also require support from all levels of government. Repairing the well-known decay in our public housing properties could be financed with help from New York State. That’s why a group of affordable housing and tenant advocates have called on Albany lawmakers to step up to the plate. Public housing should also be a major topic in the presidential election.

The benefits of the Sustainability Agenda—to the housing authority, its residents and the city as a whole—far outweigh the costs. As a part of the larger NextGeneration NYCHA plan, it will help preserve public housing, set the authority on the path to financial solvency and improve NYCHA’s ability to be an effective landlord.

Public housing in New York must be preserved. Although positive change in public housing doesn’t get as much attention as its struggles, NYCHA is making great strides to ensure that children who live in public housing have a safe, healthy place to grow up and the opportunity to thrive.

Judi Kende is vice president and New York market leader at Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., a national organization that creates, preserves and advocates for affordable housing linked to good schools, jobs, transit and health care. On Twitter @JudiKende and @Enterprise_NYC.

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

New York Must Invest in a More Inclusive Citi Bike Expansion

citi bike photo empty

photo via @CitiBikeNYC

Spring is upon us, and with the warmer weather come more bike commuters. Luckily, Citi Bike completed Phase I of its expansion plan this winter, meaning residents of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Long Island City will be able to zip around town on two wheels. By 2017, Phase II of the expansion will be complete, and residents of Astoria, Harlem, and the neighborhoods around Prospect Park in Brooklyn will be able to join the cycling revolution.

With this expansion, Citi Bike claims to diversify its user base. However, in looking at Citi Bike’s expansion plan, a clear pattern emerges – Citi Bike’s growth follows the migration trends of the young, affluent, and (mostly) white in the city.

Take Bed-Stuy, for example, where Citi Bike added 26 new docking stations in September 2015. In 2000, Bed-Stuy was only 1.4% white, but by 2010 the population was 10.9% white.As of 2014, the neighborhood jumped to 18.7% white. On the other hand, in the South Bronx, where Citi Bike has no current plans to expand, the population is only 1.6% white.

Rather than expanding to underserved neighborhoods throughout the city, Citi Bike is following the population flow of the upwardly mobile. Its expansion plan excludes huge swaths of the city, especially people of color living in the outer boroughs, people who would arguably benefit most from more transportation alternatives.

Mayor de Blasio has heralded Citi Bike as an extension of the city’s public transportation system, ostensibly providing New Yorkers with more options to meet their daily transit needs. But, if the city were truly to incorporate Citi Bike as part of a broader, more equitable transportation system, docking stations would be placed strategically throughout the city to better connect all residents - of all income levels and racial and ethnic demographics. For example, the expansion plan would include efforts to spread Citi Bike to Flushing, a neighborhood of mainly low-income Asian immigrants, served by a single subway stop. Instead, the bikes are concentrated in wealthier areas already with great public transportation coverage.

Bike sharing has many benefits. It is a convenient alternative when subways are running late or there are construction closings of lines or stations. It can serve as “last mile” transportation for people who live beyond the reach of subway or bus service. Carbon-free and heart-healthy, it is good for both people and the environment. It can introduce the otherwise-sedentary to a physically active lifestyle.

For all these reasons, bike sharing could be a huge boon to people in low-income neighborhoods with few public transportation options. However, Citi Bike has chosen not to put docking stations in these areas, and residents do not reap the benefits. Citi Bike cannot be used as a “last mile” alternative because there are no docking stations located at or beyond the end of any subway lines in the outer boroughs, where transit options are scarce.

Low-income residents cannot ride home when their trains are not running because there are no docking stations in their neighborhoods. When the L-train inevitably closes for repairs, people in Williamsburg will be able to hop on a Citi Bike, but residents of neighborhoods at the far Brooklyn end of the subway line, in East New York and Brownsville, will have no such option to make up for this transit shortfall.

Citi Bike’s pricing and marketing also send signals that it is only meant for certain groups of people (read: white, affluent). Citi Bike – owned and operated by Motivate, a private, for-profit company, and sponsored by Citi Bank, MasterCard, and Goldman Sachs – implicitly excludes low-income residents and people of color.

In order to buy a Citi Bike membership, users must have access to a credit card, which many low-income residents do not. Even if users do have access to credit, an annual membership costs $155, making it prohibitively expensive for many New Yorkers. There are reduced annual memberships at $60 for NYCHA residents and members of select Community Development Credit Unions, but this is still a difficult fee for people struggling to pay their rent and other bills. Citi Bikes are plastered with ads for Citi Bank and MasterCard, which screams, “These bikes are only for people who can afford these brands!”

Despite what Mayor de Blasio and Citi Bike’s owners say, neither Motivate nor the city government are trying very hard to provide Citi Bike access to all New Yorkers.

If Mayor de Blasio is going to use Citi Bike as a tool to achieve his vision of one New York City for all, the government must invest public funds in Citi Bike equity. Investing in Citi Bike will give the city more control over the system’s expansion, ensuring that all five boroughs are included. The government must sway the marketing strategy and pricing structure, making Citi Bike more inviting to people of color and the city’s low-income residents. Only when the city exercises more control over where and how Citi Bike grows can we celebrate it as an extension of our public transportation system.

If the city does not make a financial investment in Citi Bike and exert more decision-making power over the system’s expansion, it will continue to only follow the money. Instead of seeing a line cook cycling home from the end of the A-train in a couple of years, we’ll see another twenty-something riding to a new bar in “up-and-coming” Crown Heights.

Elizabeth Johnson is a Master of Public Administration candidate, studying Urban and Social Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

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

Walmart's Business Model, Like Its Stores, Should Be Unwelcome in New York City

tish james march

Letitia James, the author, at a rally

Across the country, retail businesses are taking their cues from Walmart, in a race to the bottom that New Yorkers must reject. Even though Walmart’s efforts to open stores in New York City have been consistently thwarted by intense worker opposition and community organizing, the worst effects of the company’s decisions are still felt.

Here’s why: Walmart is the largest private employer in the United States, and the largest retailer in the world. The company sets the standards for the entire retail industry. Retail is a massive, growing sector of our economy where many women, people of color, and immigrants are struggling to make ends meet.

Given its unparalleled size and influence, Walmart has a unique obligation to create higher standards for jobs. Instead, Walmart continues to set a terrible precedent for retail employers in our city and nationally, driving down wages and increasing economic insecurity for countless working people.

Earlier this year, with no advance warning, Walmart announced that it was closing more than 150 stores across the country, and putting an estimated 10,000 people out of work. This announcement came after Walmart had made promises of creating permanent jobs and helping to strengthen neighborhoods.

Communities always lose more than they gain from Walmart. Every time Walmart closes stores, cuts jobs, slashes hours, or mistreats employees, it has a huge ripple effect in communities and markets across the country. Retail workers are often left more vulnerable and worse off as a result.

Keeping a physical presence of Walmart out of the five boroughs has been a major victory for our city, but the unfortunate reality is that retailers here often emulate Walmart’s harmful practices. And Walmart will continue to look for ways to enter the New York City market and reach customers here, including luring City taxpayers to neighboring stores in Valley Stream and Westchester with appealing low prices.

It’s time to insist that Walmart’s low-road business model is just as unwelcome here as its stores.

Low wages, part-time hours, and erratic schedules are increasingly common across the five boroughs. Walmart workers this year will earn an average starting wage of $10 per hour – and too many retailers here are following Walmart’s lead and paying workers the same poverty wage or even less.

Ten years ago, Walmart was an early pioneer of so-called “flexible scheduling” – a now pervasive employment practice in retail that subjects workers to constant changes in their hours and near total company control over employees’ lives and time. This is why so many retail workers are always on-call, expected to come to work at a moment’s notice, yet do not have the security of a steady full-time job.

Consider Melody, a mother living in Brooklyn with a five-year-old son. Melody works in retail and is also taking part-time classes to become a midwife. Because of her unreliable work schedule, and recent cuts to her hours, she is unable to afford childcare.

Melody is just one of the many New Yorkers in our city trying to improve their lives and get ahead, but facing major barriers.

Every day, I hear from these men and women: from the single mom in Queens working forty hours a week at a retailer who regularly skips dinner so her growing children can eat; from the young man in the Bronx who walks to his supermarket job because he can’t afford a metrocard; and from the senior in Brooklyn who is unable to retire from her minimum wage job because she has no savings.

Living wages, reliable hours, and basic respect and dignity on the job are noticeably absent in the Walmart economy – an economy that doesn’t want workers, especially moms like Melody, to win.

In the months and years ahead, New York City will have to choose between a high-road retail economy that lifts up workers and the Walmart economy that drags workers down. This crucial choice will need to be made as more retail jobs are created in neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs. Indeed, many new residential developments will include large retail stores as anchor tenants on their ground floors.

A starting wage of $15 per hour, stable full-time schedules, real respect on the job, and full acknowledgement of the right to organize are the bare minimum that Walmart must offer.

That’s why I am proud to join retail workers, the Fight for 15, and many other voices of justice in demanding an end to the current Walmart economy - an economy that leaves workers and communities behind.

This growing movement just scored a major victory in New York, with Governor Cuomo and the state Legislature agreeing to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. As part of this movement, we must and will continue to insist that Walmart, and all the retailers that follow its low-road example, remain unwelcome here. Our communities deserve better.

Letitia James is New York City Public Advocate. On Twitter @TishJames.

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

Investments, Not Cuts, in Youth Summer Programs

kids city hall eugene

Students rally at City Hall (photo via @CMMathieuEugene)

In a short time, it will be summer, but it's not the impending warm weather that's causing parents to feel the heat.

Parents are scrambling to make plans for their children because Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has not included funding for summer programs in the city budget, and this severe cut will impact more than 34,000 students across New York City.

Our children deserve to have the educational and recreational opportunities they need to succeed. School’s Out New York, or SONYC, is a vital citywide initiative that engages youth in the arts, sports, and community service. This program helps youth from all neighborhoods foster their creativity, while encouraging sportsmanship and leadership.

Summer programs are not only an expansion of classroom learning, these crucial programs also offer children creative outlets in a supervised space. Childcare is expensive and many parents can't afford pricey camps - our city's summer programs offer youth a much-needed safe space to spend the summer.

We know our children are bombarded with negativity on a daily basis—but these summer programs offer them respite. The elimination of $20.4 million in funding for middle school students—which equates to at least 34,000 summer program slots—should not be perceived as a cost-saving measure, but rather a divestment from our most vulnerable population. Cutting costs shouldn’t be at the expense of our youth.

Our city has implemented a number of truly progressive policies to improve quality of life for residents, but the decision to eliminate summer programs for middle school children will drastically hurt the tremendous progress we have been making.

Since these important summer programs impact the constituents of virtually all of our City Council colleagues, we have already received tremendous support from Council members who have signed on to a letter asking Mayor de Blasio to restore this funding immediately—and to make this funding for youth a priority in future budgets. When the mayor releases his Executive Budget in the coming weeks, many working families would be relieved to see the funding included.

Last year, summer programs were included in the preliminary budget but the funding was inexplicably removed in May. By working together with our colleagues and dozens of youth advocates, we were able to make sure that it was restored. But, less than a year later, our children—and parents—are in the same uncertain situation since funding for these programs was not included in the budget for Fiscal Year 2017. So, once again, we must join together to fight for the restoration of these crucial programs that must be baselined in the budget.

It is our moral obligation to do everything possible for our youth. Ultimately, an investment in our youth is a great investment in our city.

By City Council Members Mathieu Eugene and Laurie A. Cumbo. Eugene is chair of the Youth Services Committee; Cumbo is chair of the Women’s Issues Committee.

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

Delegate Matters: How New York’s Presidential Primaries Actually Work

sanders rally

A Bernie Sanders rally

For the first time in generations, both the Republican and Democratic parties are still engaged in extremely competitive presidential primary races as New Yorkers go to the polls. While everyone is eager to see which candidate on each side of the aisle earns the most votes on Tuesday, the statewide popular vote is not the only factor, or even necessarily the most important factor, in amassing the key prize: loyal delegates.

Each party uses its own arcane system to apportion and select its bound delegates for the coming national nominating conventions. This process is now of interest to a much wider group than in the past, and will significantly influence the path ahead for all five candidates, their supporters, and millions of other Americans.

The Basics
New York holds closed primaries with strict registration rules. As Douglas Kellner, co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections, said, “Only enrolled party members have the right to vote." Kellner added that "The deadline for changing enrollment was last October,” with new voters allowed more leeway.

Most New York Republicans will be voting for one of the three remaining GOP presidential candidates, although a fourth, Ben Carson, will still be on the ballot. They will send 95 delegates to their national convention in Cleveland. All will be bound by Tuesday’s vote, at least through the first convention ballot.

Democrats will not only vote for a presidential candidate, but also for up to seven individual delegates, whose names will be organized into Clinton and Sanders slates by congressional district. They will send 247 pledged delegates to their national convention in Philadelphia alongside New York’s 44 unpledged “super” delegates.

Both parties use a combination of at-large delegates, who will be pledged to presidential candidates based on the statewide vote, and district-level delegates, who will be pledged based on the vote in each of New York’s 27 congressional districts. The Republicans have 14 at-large and 81 district delegates, while the Democrats have 84 at-large and 163 district delegates.

Democratic delegates will be pledged proportionally, while Republicans give a far greater share to the winner, both statewide and by district. According to the latest Quinnipiac poll, Donald Trump continues to lead with 55% statewide and “in every region of the state.” If Trump holds that broad lead, he could walk away with almost all of New York’s delegates.

New York Republicans have a two-step process to their national convention. On Tuesday, they choose how all 95 delegates will be pledged. But if there are multiple ballots in Cleveland, who the actual delegates are will matter. That is where the second step comes in: the New York Republican State Committee will choose its delegates at its own convention, likely in May.

In contrast, the Democrats will elect most of their specific delegates on Tuesday, although their at-large delegates will also be chosen at a later state convention.

The Republicans
New York Republican rules are considered “proportional” by the Republican National Committee (RNC), but in reality are “winner take most” due to their majority triggers for winner-take-all at both the statewide and congressional district levels. If any candidate wins over 50% statewide, he would collect all 14 at-large delegates. Otherwise, they split proportionately among all candidates who cross a 20% minimum threshold.

Each of New York’s 27 congressional districts gets three Republican delegates. At that level, the GOP awards all three delegates to a majority winner. If no one breaks 50% in a given district, then two delegates would go to the plurality winner and one to the runner-up.

As Adele Malpass, chair of the Manhattan Republican Party, puts it: "The thing to watch for on Tuesday night is whether Trump breaks 50%."

With three Republican delegates per congressional district whether an area is deeply red, deeply blue, or pretty purple, things can get interesting. The system means a few hundred Republican voters in a (heavily Democratic) New York City district could be enough to swing its GOP delegates, while it might take tens of thousands upstate.

One GOP strategist told me, "Ted Cruz is smart to focus on the Orthodox Jewish vote. About 40% of the registered Republicans in the 10th [Congressional District], which includes really liberal areas like the Upper West Side, actually live in Borough Park. That's the kind of district where Cruz might be able to beat Trump."

But Malpass, who is one of the few large county party leaders to remain neutral in the primary, said, “Cruz hasn't been able to overcome his ‘New York values’ comment.” She added “Manhattan could be Kasich country.”

With Trump polling around 55% statewide, and Cruz and Kasich both hovering around 20%, it can help to look at three possible scenarios:

  1. If Trump wins a majority both statewide and in every district, he wins all 95 delegates.
  2. If Trump breaks 50% statewide and in half of the districts but lands just below 50% in the other half, he wins 81 or 82 delegates. Kasich and Cruz would split the remainder based on who finished second in each of the districts where Trump failed to break 50%.
  3. If Trump only scores a plurality statewide and in all 27 districts, he would still win 61 delegates. Cruz and Kasich would then have 34 to split, 7 proportionately statewide and 27 to whomever came in second by district. And for each district Trump actually loses to Kasich or Cruz, another one or two delegates would swing away from him.

Regardless of which scenario occurs, Trump is almost certain to win a clear majority of New York’s delegates unless polling proves to be very wrong.

The real drama on the GOP side might well occur weeks after the primary, when the Republican State Committee meets to select the actual delegates.

Through 2012, the New York GOP selected its delegates much the same way that the Democrats do: each presidential candidate would submit a slate of delegates in each congressional district. But after some tension between the state party and the Romney campaign, the state party changed its rules.

Under the new rules, the full Republican State Committee will later name the 11 at-large delegates (the other three of the 14 are ex officio, but still pledged), while the State Committee members within each of the 27 districts will decide their three delegates.

Trump has recently taken to accusing the GOP of running a “rigged” system for selecting delegates, including in states with similar procedures. However, Malpass says "I don't think the system is ‘rigged,’ but it is complex and different in each state."

And if County Party Chairs exercise as much influence over State Committee members as is generally assumed, Trump’s recent announcement that he has been endorsed by the Republican Party Chair in 32 of New York’s 62 counties, including 16 of the 20 largest, bodes well for his chances of having at least some delegates remain loyal to him if there are multiple ballots in Cleveland.

The Democrats
New York Democrats have a total of 291 delegates: 247 pledged (84 at-large and 163 district-level) plus 44 unpledged “super” delegates. Each of New York’s 27 congressional districts elects either five, six or seven, depending on the district’s proportion of Democratic votes in recent presidential elections.

Trudy L. Mason, a vice-chair of the New York State Democratic Committee, described Tuesday’s process: “First, you vote for Clinton or Sanders, then you vote for individual delegates. Within each district, the pledged delegates are apportioned based on the presidential preference vote. The delegates are then chosen in descending order of votes received on each slate, alternating by gender to ensure equal balance.”

Mason added, “[Another] 84 at-large, pledged delegates will be chosen at the New York State Democratic Convention in May, also proportionate to the statewide presidential primary vote. This may sound like a Byzantine system, but it works.”

The Democratic Party system is designed to achieve two things. The first is proportional representation at the national convention for each candidate. The second is selection of a gender-balanced group of pledged delegates who will be loyal to their candidates, or at least nominated by their campaigns. And while the “Byzantine system” should work as planned, what it will not do is give Sanders much of a chance to catch up to Clinton in pledged delegates should he win New York. Nor will it give Clinton the kind of opportunity to deliver a knock-out blow that a winner-take-all victory could.

Get Ready for Tuesday
So what can New Yorkers expect to see after the polls close on Tuesday?

In all likelihood, Clinton and Sanders will run close enough together that the proportionate split keeps Clinton’s lead in pledged delegates intact. She is polling around 10 points ahead of Sanders across the state and has a sizeable delegate lead coming into New York, though Sanders has been shrinking her margin with a steady stream of recent wins.

On the Republican side, Trump is likely to win the lion’s share of delegates, at least through the first ballot in Cleveland. And, given the breadth of Trump’s support throughout the state party, many of the individual delegates chosen to go to Cleveland may stick with him.

Cruz has the opportunity to beat expectations by picking up some delegates on what is considered unfriendly turf for him.

And all John Kasich has to do to win his first delegate in over a month is come in second to Trump in at least one district, keeping Trump below 50% there in the process. Kasich has an even bigger opportunity to collect some at-large delegates and a lot of press attention if a late surge in his support holds Trump below 50% statewide. To paraphrase Fred Ebb's famed lyric, if Kasich can't make it here, he probably can't make it anywhere.

Gus Christensen is a financial consultant to non-profits and start-ups, as well as a former investment banker and political candidate.

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

Toward Progress on Equal Pay Day

womens caucus council

The City Council Women's Caucus, including two authors (photo: William Alatriste)

Today - Tuesday, April 12 - New York City recognizes Equal Pay Day – a day to confront the challenges our mothers, daughters, and sisters still face in achieving workplace equality.

Significant progress has been made, but substantial discrepancies exist between women and men – most notably, a sizable wage gap. As of 2013, women still earned only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, with a median income over 27 percent lower than that of men. For women of color, the pay gap widens: black and Hispanic women earn 64 and 56 cents on the dollar, respectively. Stretched over a lifetime of work, this leaves women with much less money than the average man.

At S&P Fortune 500 companies, women hold less than 5 percent of CEO positions and only 16 percent of board seats. When women are top earners, the pay gap tends to close at a faster pace. But disappointingly, the numbers show that women are vastly underrepresented in these higher-level positions, resulting in a persistent pay gap and lack of diversity in board rooms big and small.

Yet, women are more educated and prepared for the workforce than ever before. Women now account for nearly 60 percent of annual four-year university graduates, 60 percent of master’s degrees, and 52 percent of doctorates being awarded in the United States.

Though the longstanding pay gap is an undeniable social injustice; it amounts to much more, and is actually hurting corporate bottom lines.

Study after study, particularly those from Catalyst, the global expert on accelerating progress for women through workplace inclusion, has stated that when women hold leadership or board positions, it improves company financial performance, economic growth, productivity, and profitability. This makes it crystal clear that business is better and companies perform most effectively when they bring equal opportunity, allowing everyone a seat at the table.

The City of New York, as the global center of business and commerce, and proprietor of billions in private contracts, can play an important role in promoting the levels of diversity we need in the 21st century. Let’s make sure we get the best value for our own tax dollars, and promote businesses that promote equal opportunity.

Last week, the City Council voted and passed Introduction 704-A, a bill we sponsored to gather more information on the gender and racial makeup of the individuals who make up executive-level staff and boards of companies that do business with the City. Once signed into law, it will require the Department of Small Business Services to survey companies that do business with the City and obtain the demographics of companies’ executive-level staff and board members.

In 2015, the City procured $13.8 billion worth of goods and services through more than 60,000 transactions, yet we do not know who is running the companies that are conducting this business. Our new law will provide the City with the data it needs to ensure that city-contracted companies are promoting the diversity that makes this City so great, and could ultimately boost the economy.

It’s a small step that we believe will go a long way to help our City recognize inequities in our own front yard and create incentives for businesses throughout New York to promote diversity in their top ranks.

We hope you will all join us today in the fight for equal opportunity, equal pay, and a New York City where everyone can succeed.

Elizabeth Crowley and Darlene Mealy are New York City Council Members; Deborah Gillis is President & CEO of Catalyst.

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

Forget the Brooklyn Presidential Debate, the Real Battle is New York State

silver skelos cuomo 2012

Albany of yesteryear (photo via The Governor's Office on flickr)

With an April 14 date set for the Clinton-Sanders Brooklyn debate, New York and Kings County are now center stage in the ever-engrossing presidential election. Though bringing the ninth Democratic presidential debate to Brooklyn might help New Yorkers become more informed voters, it also sadly serves as a timely distraction from the latest setback to progressive governance reforms in the Empire State.

Thanks to the exclusion of any government ethics reform measures in the state budget deal reached last week, New Yorkers will continue to live in a state that offers public pensions for longtime legislators turned felons, loopholes for special interest groups to funnel millions into local campaigns, and no limits on outside income for our part-time legislators.

With wealthy donors this free to inject money into politics, it's easy to understand why in the last decade over 40 New York lawmakers have been arrested or left office after being accused of impropriety, including a notable few from Brooklyn. As such, it’s also not much of a surprise that the Center for Public Integrity has given New York State a D- in its State Integrity Investigation and consistently ranks New York among the worst for government accountability and transparency nationwide.

When the presidential candidates debate national politics in our borough, let’s hope they remember that all politics are ultimately local. If Senator Sanders is committed to taking money out of politics, there are plenty of easy targets right here in New York. If Secretary Clinton cares about building trust with voters, she could be served well by demanding an ethics package in her own state.

New Yorkers are frustrated with business as usual in Albany—a sentiment easily seen in abysmal voter turnout numbers. While a Brooklyn debate will help both campaigns excite their supporters in time for the April 19 primary, supporting reforms to the state’s election laws would ensure that New York voters have their voices heard in all elections.

Common sense reforms like online voter registration, early voting, and same-day party enrollment are commonplace in other U.S. states but denied to New York voters. These reforms would not only increase voter participation for working families but help newer residents still registered in their long-abandoned “home” states have a voice in electing their representatives.

Brooklyn is home to a strong Democratic majority and some promising progressive leaders but we’ve been “led” by entrenched political powers for much too long.

New York and Kings County can become more democratic, but this can only happen through ongoing political engagement on the local level. Before we start celebrating public debates between national candidates in our community, let’s demand public conversations on decision-making in New York State, a modernized electoral system, and state ethics rules with teeth. Whether we vote for our first democratic socialist president or first female president in New York’s primary, let’s not let the revolution stop there.

by Anusha Venkataraman and Rodrigo Camarena on behalf of New Kings Democrats, a progressive, grassroots political organization committed to bringing trans­parency, accountability, and inclusionary democracy to the Kings County Democratic Party.

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

An Imperfect Victory for New York Workers

15 rally

Millions of New Yorkers are celebrating a deal this week to raise the state’s minimum wage. The deal puts a better future in sight for families around the state and sends a powerful signal to other states considering wage hikes of their own.

The deal is a testament to the power of organizing. Today’s headlines would be unimaginable just a few years ago. When New York Communities for Change organized the first fast food worker strike – almost four years ago – people thought we were crazy.

As the federal government repeatedly stalled on a meaningful increase to the nationwide minimum wage, it seemed that higher wages were out of reach.

In response, fast-food and other low-wage workers rose up to fight for better wages and a better quality of life, sparking a movement that spread to cities and towns across the nation.

It is no coincidence that the Fight for $15 began right here in New York City. The level of inequality in our city has long been one of the worst of the country – and has grown to historic proportions in recent years.

According to a 2014 Census Bureau survey, the top 5 percent of Manhattan households made 88 times as much as the poorest 20 percent. And as of last year, workers earning minimum wage could not afford median rent in a single neighborhood in New York City.

Wages have long failed to keep pace with the growing cost of living. In fact, the Economic Policy Institute found that the statewide wage of $9.00 per hour was well below what it would be if it had simply kept pace with inflation since 1970. The same study found that, accounting for both inflation and a higher cost of living, the minimum wage today would match its 1970 value if it reached $14.27 per hour this year – nearly the level agreed on by the New York State Legislature.

Governor Cuomo made the right move last year by mandating higher wages for fast-food workers – those on the front lines fighting for reform. But leading industry by industry risked neglecting too many workers. In order to truly create change, the rules must apply equally to everybody. Last week’s deal did that, letting workers across the economy finally dream bigger than the next paycheck.

The deal is a victory for New York City workers. However, it bypasses hard-working families in Upstate New York. While over a million low-wage workers in the city will see their wages rise to $15 per hour by the end of 2018, those in Long Island will only reach $15 in almost six years and those upstate will need to wait five years only to reach $12.50. Although the deal allows wages to rise to $15 after that, the rate will depend on review and inflation and could take years.

It is a painfully long stretch given the growing cost of living north of the city. The New York State Comptroller, for example, has found housing costs skyrocketing, with at least one in five people in every county – including those far upstate like Warren and Monroe – spending more than a third of their salary on rent. In some counties half of residents must spend that much. With added expenses like utilities and food, it leaves little room to save up for college or retirement.

It is imperative that legislators now finish the job and give all New Yorkers a chance at a living wage.

Just days before Albany finalized its deal; California showed us that a $15 wage statewide is possible. Our state must fulfill the promise of Fight for $15 statewide and let all workers adequately provide for themselves and their families. Otherwise New Yorkers will continue doing what they have been doing for almost four years: risking everything to provide a better life for their families.

JoEllen Chernow is Director of Economic Justice at Center for Popular Democracy. Jonathan Westin is Executive Director of New York Communities for Change. On Twitter: @popdemoc and @nychange.

Eviction Bonuses and Preferential Rents, Not 421-a, Should Be the Focus in Albany

aff housing march rally

An affordable housing march 

We have long advocated for the elimination of the 421-a tax abatement because it has been nothing but a giveaway to developers masquerading as a means of affordable housing production. This is why affordable housing advocates across the city celebrated when 421-a expired on January 15.

Since its expiration, arguments about its possible revival are popping up more and more frequently, along with lamentations about its demise. How quickly we forget the many published analyses exposing the fact that even though the controversial tax abatement has created little affordable housing, it has cost New York City taxpayers up to $1 billion in lost tax revenue annually.

Only about 1,350 affordable apartments were created over the previous four years of this wasteful program. That is fewer than 350 per year, and with a price tag of $833,000 per affordable apartment created.

Instead of discussing benefits for rich developers, all attention should be on fixing the major loopholes in the rent regulation system that houses 2.5 million tenants in approximately 1 million units with no cost whatsoever to the taxpayer.

One of the most egregious of these loopholes is the "eviction bonus," which allows enormous rent increases of up to 20 percent in rent-stabilized apartments upon vacancy. This may be the greatest threat to the affordability and retention of rent-regulated housing, which is the foundation of strong and diverse communities and the reason that tenants looking to move are faced with unaffordable rents in every neighborhood in this city. The eviction bonus affects tens of thousands of low- and middle-income tenants – far more than those benefiting from 421-a.

Then there are "preferential" rents, the other much-used landlord tool for driving rents and pushing tenants out of rent-regulated apartments. An estimated 325,000 low-income families are vulnerable to unaffordable rent increases upon lease renewal because the preferential rent system affects 1,000 times as many families than those that benefit from new 421-a affordable units each year.

These were the reasons for a major rally of 300 community folks this week in the quickly gentrifying neighborhood of Bushwick, where Brooklyn residents described the many tactics used by landlords to evict rent-stabilized tenants in order to increase rents.

The rent laws were renewed in June 2015, with nowhere near the reforms necessary to protect tenants in New York. Without strong rent regulations, tens of thousands of tenants will eventually be met with only two choices: end up in homeless shelters or leave the city altogether. Neither is acceptable.

As the state moves beyond budget negotiations into legislative session, rent laws should become the focus of discussion, not the $1 billion 421-a developer giveaway. The millions of low-income tenants at risk of losing their homes and stable communities are more than enough reasons.

[Related: De Blasio Calls for Albany to 'Make Right' on Program at Center of Rift with Governor]

Delsenia Glover is the campaign manager for the Alliance for Tenant Power. On Twitter @TenantPowerNY.

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

Key Piece of City's New Housing Deal Will Protect Tenants from Harassment

housing ny presser

Housing plans (photo: Ed Reed for the Office of Mayor)



Last week, New Yorkers learned that a bill creating a new Citywide Certificate of No Harassment program would be part of the city's new housing deal. The legislation, which will be finalized by a new task force before being adopted, will require landlords to get a certificate confirming that they have not harassed their tenants before demolishing or altering a building.

This provision of the housing deal is especially good news for tenants across the city.

As real estate prices have skyrocketed and gentrification has spread, so too has rampant harassment by landlords. All too often, they try to get rid of working-class and low-income tenants, especially those in rent-regulated apartments, so they can renovate units and lease them at much higher prices. This pattern has displaced thousands of tenants and left all too many with nowhere to go.

Take the case of María Elena Khochaiche, a retired, low-income renter who lived in her rent-regulated Bushwick apartment for 40 years. Recently, the value of her apartment rose quickly with the neighborhood's gentrification. Her landlord responded with greed: he tried to get rid of the rent-regulated tenants, including her, because he knew that he could make more with market-rate tenants.

He began by taking them each to court. They had done nothing wrong, but the fear of frivolous lawsuits led several residents to simply give up and leave.

Eventually, all the other tenants left, but María Elena had nowhere to go. She knew she'd never be able to afford another apartment in Bushwick. But that didn't stop the landlord. Instead of letting María Elena stay in peace, the landlord opted to stop making legally-required repairs to pressure her to leave. Broken windows stayed so she could not open them, the bathtub stayed backed up so she could not bathe, and a mouse infestation went unaddressed. For months, the lights in the hallways did not work. Seventy-five-year-old María Elena had to use the light from her cell phone just to make sure that she didn't fall while she struggled to reach her front door.

María Elena followed the rules and filed a housing complaint, but her landlord took advantage of the process and filed numerous motions to bog down the case.

Eventually, María Elena couldn't take it anymore. When the landlord offered her a buy-out to leave, she just couldn't fight on, even though she knew that taking it would mean not being able to stay in the community she loved.

The decision troubled her, but María Elena was one of the "lucky" ones. Her neighbors were forced out without getting as much in return.

María Elena's experiences are all too common for New York City tenants. Landlords harass tenants to try to get them out of affordable housing—often by using threats or legal action, or failing to make repairs that they need to make apartments livable—and then, once the tenants are gone, either renovate or build new market-rate units to rake in as much profit as possible.

The result: many New Yorkers end up with nowhere to go.

Without requiring landlords to obtain a Certificate of No Harassment, unscrupulous landlords will continue to use every trick in the book to cut corners and push tenants like María Elena out. But when landlords are required to get a Certificate of No Harassment before starting renovations or demolition, they will not be able to get away profiting from mistreating their tenants. And if they do, their mistreatment would come to light and subsequent construction or demolition would be blocked unless the landlord provided a "cure" of permanently affordable units.

This "cure" of setting aside permanently affordable units will be critical for making sure no landlord can profit from harassment. And taking away the profit motive will provide a strong disincentive for harassing tenants in the first place.

The Certificate of No Harassment legislation, once finalized and voted into law, will bring greater peace of mind to tenants like María Elena and be a substantial victory in the fight to hold abusive landlords accountable for harassing their tenants.

Javier H. Valdés is the Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York. Benjamin Dulchin is the Executive Director of the Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development. On Twitter: @MaketheRoadNY & @ANHDNYC.

New Yorkers Run for President: History and Insights for 2016

trump rally

Donald Trump at a rally (photo: Trump campaign website)

continued from page 2 - this is page 3 of 3

Even more New Yorkers
If you count vice presidential nominees too, New Yorkers were on major ballots in 15 out of the 29 races from 1900 to 2012.

The New Yorker vice presidential nominees during the period since 1900 were Theodore Roosevelt, R, 1900; James Sherman, R, 1908; Franklin D. Roosevelt, D, 1920; William Miller, R, 1964; Geraldine Ferraro, D, 1984; and Jack Kemp, R, 1996. TR was elected with William McKinley. Sherman was elected with Taft (but died in office in 1912). The others went down to defeat along with the presidential nominees at the head of their tickets.

Of course, the list of New Yorkers in presidential politics gets even longer if you count prominent New Yorkers who were major contenders but failed to get the nomination. That would include Governors Nelson Rockefeller (R), who lost the nomination to Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Mario Cuomo (D) who agonized over whether to run in 1988 and 1992 and decided not to take the plunge.

The list would include Senator Robert Kennedy (D), who was assassinated during his quest for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. Rep. Shirley Chisolm, the first black woman elected to Congress (in 1968) campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. New York City Mayor John Lindsay switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party in 1971 and launched a brief but unsuccessful bid for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. Rudolph Giuliani (R), mayor from 1994 to 2001, sought his party's 2008 nomination, losing to John McCain.

Possible insights for 2016
It is always exciting when New Yorkers run for president! But finding parallels or applicable lessons from that history is a challenge. A few tentative insights:

*The New Yorkers who made it to the presidency in the 20th century -- Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt-- were among the nation's strongest presidents, constantly rated by historians in the top tier of our national leaders.

*Defeating a sitting President is difficult, as challengers learned in 1904, 1912, 1936, 1940, 1944, and 1948. On the other hand, running on the legacy of a previous president can help, as it did for Taft in 1908, Hoover in 1928, and Truman in 1948. That pattern may help Hillary Clinton, who can claim to be heir to at least some of Barack Obama's policies.

*Americans seem to prefer an exuberant campaign style over what might be called a judicious, restrained style. That subdued demeanor is sometimes associated with judges who are inclined to weigh and balance and look for nuances, e.g., possibly Parker in 1904, Hughes in 1916, and Taft (a judge before becoming TR's Secretary of War.)

*Red herrings and false issues can derail even a strong, thoughtful candidate, as Al Smith learned in 1928 when he was attacked for his religious beliefs.

*Wendell Willkie, a businessman who had never held political office, made a credible candidate in 1940. But his tenor and message were much different from businessman Donald Trump's today. He was a moderate, compromiser, inclined toward inclusion and accommodation, a unifier who tried to swing his party toward the mainstream.

*There may be a rough parallel between the "Stop Roosevelt!" campaign in the Republican party in 1911 and 1912 and the "Stop Trump!" campaign that some Republican leaders are mounting today. TR had triumphed in most of the primaries in 1912, though only a minority of states had them at that time, and could claim with some justification that where people had the chance to vote, they favored him as the Republican candidate. Trump is racking up primary wins this year. But TR expressed concrete, progressive, well-considered proposals and never resorted to bombast or bullying, which seem to be part of Trump's style.

*Hailing from New York can be a mixed blessing, as evidenced by Senator Ted Cruz' snide comment about Donald Trump representing "New York values." That sort of comment, with the vague innuendo it conveys, is something that Al Smith might have understood.

The New York presidential primaries are Tuesday, April 19; the general election will take place on Tuesday, November 8, 2016.

This is page 3 of 3. Revisit page 1 or page 2 of this article.

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

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