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Opinion

The Perfect Parking Spot for Congestion Pricing


packed street

(photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)


New York City can achieve the goals of a long-vanquished congestion pricing plan through the management of its own parking property – all without making a single call to Albany.

New York is famously a city of contradictions and contrasts. Perhaps the most fundamental duality is its status among the world's most important cities and the fact that it yields much of its own governance to a hamlet up the Hudson River. Battling Albany is the oldest pastime in New York City politics. However, as Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to lobby for home rule and maneuver legislative alternatives, there already exists a latent opportunity to turn around one of the major defeats of the previous mayoral administration: congestion pricing.

A rare crushing defeat of the Bloomberg Administration, congestion pricing is a policy that attempts to lessen congestion in central urban areas by charging a fee to enter a demarcated zone. Following the lead of other major world cities, Mayor Michael Bloomberg sought to enact a congestion pricing plan in 2008, but Albany brought the mayor's plans to a halt when Speaker Sheldon Silver could not secure enough Democratic votes to bring the plan to the floor of the Assembly - where Democrats have long-held a wide majority - before the legislative session expired.

Other professionals and advocates have renewed efforts at securing more measured transportation policy from Albany. But in the meantime, New York City can pursue many of the same goals of congestion pricing through the administration of its own property: parking spaces.

At its core, congestion pricing operates with one simple mechanism: attaching a higher cost to the activity of driving into the city center. Parking is an inherent cost associated with driving – and not just a monetary one. While the City may not have comprehensive power to demarcate congestion zones or raise tolls on Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) bridges and tunnels, parking is still inevitable at the end of every trip, and can serve as an effective proxy for raising prices on the activity of driving.

There are three main ways that New York City can lower congestion, stop subsidizing personal car ownership, and raise revenue through the management of its own parking spaces. While I go into further detail on all these reasons, and the data behind them, in a white paper published by the Roosevelt Institute, here is how the City should do so in brief:

Raise parking meter rates, and ideally enact "smart" demand-responsive pricing systems
In New York City, parking simply remains far too cheap, way below market price for how valuable a resource it is. While the rate for one hour of parking in a private garage in Manhattan can easily hit $30, the most expensive street parking in the city is $3.50 an hour. This discrepancy encourages drivers to cruise around in search of dirt-cheap street parking, and constitutes a surprisingly large portion of overall congestion. Correcting the underpricing of metered street parking has proven effective at removing this particular source of congestion in other cities, in addition to raising revenues.

The most thorough manifestation of this concept is the dynamic pricing system put into effect in San Francisco, where a "smart" grid of electronic meters allows prices to be changed based on demand in nearly real-time. New York City already administers a less precise, lower tech version of this with its "Park SMART NYC" program, which raises prices during business hours based on demand in certain neighborhoods. The Department of Transportation should expand such pricing schemes until installing the kind of infrastructure in San Francisco is viable.

Residential parking permits
While metered parking is a great illustration of how parking is subject to supply and demand pressures, it ultimately constitutes a very small percentage of all parking spaces in New York City – by some estimates, a maximum of 2 percent. The vast majority of the parking stock is completely free parking spaces on residential side streets. Such an egregious underpricing of residential spaces represents a de facto subsidy for personal car ownership within the city. In addition to removing this subsidy, a residential parking permit would raise revenue from an untapped source of rentable city property, and offers residents increased certainty that a parking space will be available when they return home – a crucial factor that helps gain support from residents.

Dedicating public spaces for car-sharing vehicles
A final solution involves careful public-private partnerships to dedicate on-street parking spaces for the exclusive use of vehicles in a car-sharing service, such as ZipCar or Cars2Go. Car-sharing services provide many benefits that have already proven popular in New York. For those who cannot afford the high costs of purchasing, insuring, and fueling a car, paying a small subscription rate and hourly fee for when they actually use a car is a viable alternative. Car-sharing can also ease the decision to move to a carless lifestyle - which should be encouraged - by providing an alternative for bigger trips such as errands to big box stores or moving.

Traffic congestion remains a critical problem in New York City. In addition to the dangers of pedestrian casualties, environmental emissions, and low quality public space resulting from car-centric design, traffic congestion is estimated to have cost New York City $1.9 billion in logistical, inventory, and personnel costs, and up to $4.6 billion in unrealized business revenue.

A comprehensive congestion pricing plan should remain a goal for anyone interested in a better New York City. But while Albany continues to seethe and combat its own corruption, there is nothing holding back a self-described progressive mayoral administration and City Council from managing the city's own public space in a smarter way.

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Brit Byrd is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a Columbia University student.

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Governor’s Student Loan Relief Plan Helps Less Than One Percent


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Governor Cuomo (photo: @NYGovCuomo)


Just over 2.8 million New Yorkers hold nearly $74 billion in student loan debt. Governor Cuomo’s Get on Your Feet Loan Forgiveness Program wouldn’t even help one percent of them with their debt, even when fully phased in.

The proposal would apply to New York State residents who graduate from college in the state, continue to live here, and make less than $50,000 per year. It would allow those New Yorkers to pay nothing on their student loans for the first two years out of school. Instead, the State would make loan payments so long as debt holders are participating in a federal program - the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) income-based loan repayment program – an option that forgives the remainder of a federal loan after 20 years of consecutive monthly on-time payments or 10 years if you're enrolled in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

It’s great that Governor Cuomo is thinking about the student debt crisis by helping a few recent graduates get on their feet. However, without addressing the high and rising cost of going to college, which is the root cause of high and rising student debt levels, debt will continue to cripple an entire generation’s ability to fight ever-growing inequality. Some are referring to bleak employment prospects, unemployment rates, and low wages for young people as the “Lost Decade” effect.

This unprecedented student debt crisis continues to impact economic markets like housing. According to a report by Young Invincibles, the average single student debtor is likely ineligible for a typical home mortgage due to their debt-to-income ratio.

It’s important to note that this wasn’t always the case. Prior to the Great Recession, homeownership rates of those with a history of student debt were substantially higher than those without. This is because earning potential is higher for those with degrees. However, despite it being a buyer’s market, student loan debtors are still less likely than non-debtors to buy a home.

The biggest growth in student loans came in the past decade, as student debt rose an average of 14 percent per year from $364 billion in 2004 to over $1 trillion today, according to the New York Fed. To be fair, total student debt has ballooned in part because more people are going to college and therefore taking out student loans. It’s good that more people are earning college degrees. However, that’s not the only contributor to the ballooning of student debt. The cost of getting a bachelor’s degree is 12 times higher than it was 35 years ago, far outpacing medical care, housing, and all other commodities – and that’s accounting for inflation.

New York is no outlier. State tuition has increased by nearly 130 percent at New York’s public four-year colleges over the last two decades. Tuition at the City University of New York (CUNY), which was once free for all city residents, will increase nearly 60 percent from 2008 to 2016 alone. Meanwhile the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) remains grossly inadequate. This is why 60 percent of New Yorkers graduate owing student loan debt with an average amount of $26,381.

To seriously address the student debt crisis in New York, Governor Cuomo must:

  1. Inject general resources into SUNY and CUNY so the universities can rely less on tuition revenue. Decades of disinvestment has made higher education either inaccessible for many or comes with an unsustainable and long-lasting cost.

  1. Rollback the annual tuition increases made since the Great Recession. Raising tuition through a recession and the years that followed unfairly burdened families during difficult times while also reducing the multiplier effect we could be realizing if dollars weren’t being drained into paying high tuition and then paying off student loans;

  1. Bring TAP into the 21st century through a number of common sense reforms. This includes streamlining the rules of the program to open access to students in need and increasing the maximum award to $6,500 to keep up with rising costs associated with going to college.

  1. Integrate rewarding and incentive-driven loan forgiveness programs in all economic development initiatives to help address the more than 2.8 million state residents with student loan debt. This includes expanding the reach of initiatives like the NY SUNY 2020 Grant Challenge Program, STARTUP NY, and others to reduce and forgive the student loan debt of employees as a baseline of doing business in the state and benefiting from these very rewarding programs.  

The shared value in the above four policies that the state requires is simple: an increase in the capital that can be reinvested into the New York economy in other ways by reducing the monthly and overall amount of student debt that New Yorkers are paying.

It’s time for the governor and state policy-makers to start thinking differently about higher education and student debt. Most of the conversations happening around student debt policy don’t actually reduce payments or forgive debt. Instead they make loans cheaper or easier to repay - this type of thinking will only further fortify the crisis that is already having long-term negative effects on millions of people and the American economy.

But, implementing policies that reduce debt owed and forgive total debt will dig us out of this hole, and propel us into a brighter economic future.  

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Kevin Stump is Leadership Director at Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network

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The Limits of Community Policing


NYPD-L-Train 

NYPD Transit (photo: @NYPDLTrain)


We share many of the recent concerns about overly aggressive, discourteous, and unlawful policing that have been raised in the last several months. Every day hundreds of mostly poor and non-white New Yorkers have unwanted and problematic interactions with the police including unjustified stops and illegal searches, frequent issuances of summonses for non-criminal behavior, and harassment and intimidation by police. Therefore we applaud the holding of a hearing Tuesday by the Public Safety Committee of the New York City Council on improving policing. There is a need for major reforms in how policing is conducted in New York City.

We are very concerned, however, that the leadership of both the NYPD and the City Council are proposing to add 1,000 police officers to the NYPD headcount under the guise of expanding community policing. Too often, community policing means more intensive and invasive policing of minor disorderly behavior that serves to criminalize mostly people of color without dealing with the underlying causes of this behavior like poverty, homelessness, problematic drug use, mental health issues, and more.

The majority of New Yorkers are not actively engaged in the political life of their local neighborhood. Some may be politically active in other venues, others may be focused on national or international concerns, and most are caught up in the daily struggles of home and work.

Part of the problem with so-called community policing lies in the nature of community. Those who are active in community affairs are not always representative of the full diversity of views and experiences in our many neighborhoods. Community Boards and Precinct Community Councils tend to be populated by long-time residents, those that own rather than rent their homes, business owners, and landlords. The views of renters, youth, homeless people, and the most socially marginalized are rarely represented in these bodies.

Community policing tends to turn all neighborhood problems into police problems. Across the country, community police programs have been based on the idea that the community should bring its myriad of concerns about the condition of the community to the police, who will work with them on developing solutions. Invariably, however, the range of community problems extends far beyond serious crime. Why should the police necessarily be the sole or even lead agency in developing strategies to address community concerns about disorder and public safety?

One of the most frequent concerns of neighborhood residents is the presence of low level drug dealing and use. This generates a tremendous number of calls to 311 and 911. Enhancing the ability of police to respond to these community concerns will just further criminalize people involved with low level drug use and sales. The failed "War on Drugs" strategy of criminalizing these activities has done nothing to reduce the availability and negative effects of drugs on individuals or communities, has produced substantial negative collateral consequences for those arrested, and has been a major drain on city resources. The cost of running each bed at Rikers Island comes to over $150,000 a year; money better spent on prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and jobs programs.

There is extensive research that shows that most complaints that "community representatives" take to the police are about "quality of life" problems rather than serious crime. People tend to raise concerns about local disorderly conditions such as noise and traffic, or public behaviors they find annoying such as small-time drug dealing, prostitution, and any gatherings of young people. More intensive police attention to these "community" concerns will invariably lead to further unnecessary and counterproductive harassment and criminalization of many of New York's poorest and most vulnerable.

As an example, at a recent 67th Precinct Community Council meeting in Flatbush, Brooklyn the main complaint of community members was the regular presence of homeless people in and around businesses at the corner of Church and Nostrand Avenues. Some of these people had obvious mental health problems and others panhandled for money for subsistence purposes. The local police commander pledged to respond to these concerns but acknowledged limited capacity and resources to do so. Increased police responsiveness to these complaints, in the absence of new services, will lead to the harassment and arrest of these people in the name of community policing. This is not the kind of improved policing we need.

To the extent that police need to be involved in managing quality of life community concerns, it should be restricted to responding to truly dangerous conditions. The police could also play a role as gatekeeper to enhanced services, such as how Seattle's Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program diverts low-level drug offenders and sex workers to social services instead of jail. For too long the city has over-relied on the police as first responders to a range of community concerns that might better be dealt with through other city agencies. The police primarily have punitive tools at their disposal, such as arrest and the use of force. What is needed instead are responses that are less punitive and provide real pathways out of addiction, joblessness, homelessness, and poor health.

We do want the police to be more courteous, professional, and respectful, but expanding the ability of police to respond to community concerns will lead to more criminalization of people trying to survive when their most basic needs are not being met. Therefore, we oppose any increase in the number of police at this time and instead call on the City Council to use whatever resources it would have used to increase the headcount of the NYPD to instead invest in supportive housing, harm reduction programs, evidence-based drug treatment, and health services that can play a much more positive and sustained role in reducing very real community concerns about disorder and public safety.

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by Alyssa Aguilera and Alex S. Vitale

Aguilera is Political Director at VOCAL-NY.

Vitale is Associate Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics.

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A Short-Sighted Garbage Plan


garbage truck

(photo: @wasterecycling)


Effective management of waste is a topic that concerns many individuals, community leaders, and business organizations, especially when new proposals presented in the City Council threaten hard-earned jobs in the waste and recycling industry.

On February 13, union workers, city council members, business leaders, and waste industry experts joined forces to oppose Intro. 495, a proposal that seeks to reduce waste transfer station capacity in select neighborhoods in New York City.

The idea behind the legislation is attractive, but naïve, as it simply glazes over current problems without providing real waste and recycling processing solutions. The proposal aims not to reduce waste, but simply to distribute it to different neighborhoods in the city. In doing this, Intro. 495 actually adds truck miles throughout the city as sanitation trucks will have to travel further to these alternative transfer stations, and will result in higher costs for New York City businesses.

Proposals like Intro. 495 would also destroy good-paying jobs. Despite claims from opposing parties, private waste companies are required by federal, state, and city law to ensure their trucks are in good working order for their trained workers and the communities they serve. Intro. 495 would eliminate many jobs in a workforce predominantly composed of people of color. These opposing parties are unions that represent a tiny fraction of the private sector waste industry, and are trying to use Intro. 495 to further their own interest while harming the majority of workers who would be adversely affected by this ill-conceived plan.

New York City produces more than 35,000 tons of waste every day. Were the marine transfer stations called for in the plan to open, around 5,700 tons per day would be diverted to these facilities. As a result, more than 400 trucks per day would be redirected from areas targeted by Intro. 495. These are part of the City's Solid Waste Management Plan, which is in the process of being implemented. We firmly believe careful planning and measurement should be a priority before passing laws that will adversely affect communities, jobs, and our environment.

Waste workers work when it's sunny, raining, or blistering cold outside. They don't get a "day off" when natural disasters hit our fast-paced city. They quickly respond to emergencies in order to keep New York City open for residents and commuters. The transfer stations targeted by Intro. 495 played a crucial role in managing debris after Superstorm Sandy, and this capacity would not be available if the bill is enacted.

For all of these reasons, dozens of representatives from Laborers Local Union 108, United Service Workers Union Local 339 and the International Union of Journeyman & Allied Trades Local 726, NW&RA members, and business leaders joined to express their opposition to Intro. 495 on the steps of City Hall on January 22.

We are open to discuss other options with the City Council and de Blasio Administration to reach a more viable solution without jeopardizing union jobs and neighborhoods. We know already that Intro. 495 is not the answer to this complex problem.

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Tom Toscano chairs the National Waste Recycling Association NYC Chapter and is CFO of Mr. T Carting.

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The Case for Mayoral Control


bdb reading school

Mayor de Blasio reads to students (photo: @MelindaKatz)


The state legislature will soon decide whether to reauthorize, amend, or eliminate mayoral control of the New York City public schools. Mayoral control should be extended and, as suggested by the Mayor, made permanent - with the possibility of amendment as with any law.

The most important reason to keep mayoral control is to keep city funding of our schools at a high level. Prior to mayoral control there were incessant and critical battles over the city's underfunding of our schools. That in part resulted from the demise of the old Board of Estimate, which set the City budget, and its mirrored membership on the Board of Education, consisting of single representatives of each Borough President and 2 mayoral appointees.

Once the Board of Estimate was eliminated, the connection between operational and budgetary authority of the schools was lost. The effect was immediate and harsh. An era of underfunding ensued, propelled by a new City Charter giving the Mayor strong budgeting powers but without authority for schools. As a result, the Board of Education budget withered while mayoral agencies were privileged.

Only with mayoral control did city funding increase and increase substantially. We no longer hear cries of impoverishment over the city's education budget. The fight now is over State funding because mayoral control means more money. Pure and simple.

While adequate city funding is the main reason for retaining mayoral control, there are additional benefits. The old Board of Education was a recipe for paralysis because six appointing authorities controlled seven votes on the Board. As Board Counsel, I saw petty political horse trading, patronage, and personal ambition mean more than quality education since no one was in charge. Kids, parents, and taxpayers bore the consequences, not those who bore real responsibility. A parade of short-term Chancellors came and went, leaving a legacy of instability that subverted any stirrings of instructional success.

Mayoral control has given us continuity and stability, prerequisites for educational improvement. Despite the churn of the last decade - and my strong public opposition to Bloomberg/Klein policies - leadership stability has been a plus. (Remember the chaos of Cathie Black!) Nothing is worse for a system than constant leadership changes and mayoral control has brought surprising system stability.

And stability is good for direction. Like it or not, clear institutional direction - the ability to make and implement decisions - is another requirement of strong institutions. I know that many of my friends claim the need for "checks and balances," but public education is not a national government to be protected from extremes of political volatility. It is fundamentally an executive function, requiring the clarity of mission and organizational structure that comes from having someone in charge.

It is easy to criticize the present scheme; harder to find a practical alternative, especially under a Charter giving the Mayor such strong fiscal power. Why believe shared authority will work when it failed before? Why believe elections will make schools less political and any more stable? When Board of Education members served fixed terms, we had the ridiculous spectacle of Board appointees betraying their Borough Presidents to side with Rudy Giuliani in a political power play, resulting in the anti-Dinkins "Gang of Four." This was not about kids but personal ambition.

If we need tweaks - and I warn of opening the door to all manner of tweakers - City Council advice and consent over the Chancellor's appointment and removing the Chancellor from PEP membership would create greater community input into DOE leadership and more pluralism in PEP deliberations.

As a former President of the Citywide Council on High Schools, I see the need for greater collaboration between the DOE and parent groups at the central, district, and school levels but that requires non-legislative solutions, not more regulation.

Much of the current opposition to mayoral control is a reaction to the Bloomberg years. But we have only begun to explore the opportunities and proven strengths of the law. If mayoral control has so far not yielded school policies attractive to particular constituencies, that is not the problem of governance but those who govern. Let's not be led astray by believing our policy preferences can be guaranteed by some new structure.

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David C. Bloomfield is Professor of Education Leadership at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of American Public Education Law, 2nd edition, among other works.

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Responsibility for Akai Gurley's Death


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NYPD recruits (photo: @CommissBratton)


A Brooklyn grand jury recently indicted NYPD probationary Police Officer Peter Liang in the death of Akai Gurley, who was shot in a darkened public housing stairwell in November. The indictment means Liang will be brought to trial on homicide charges.

But an important question remains: is anyone else responsible for Gurley's death?

The finger of blame points at two of New York City's largest and most important agencies. First, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) must bear responsibility. NYCHA knows that stairwells are crime-prone locations that require regular patrols by the NYPD. By failing to maintain a properly lit stairwell, NYCHA placed its tenants and the city's police officers at serious risk of harm.

Worse, Gurley and his girlfriend used the darkened stairs after growing tired of waiting for an elevator, which apparently wasn't working properly. Another example of the disrepair that we know plagues NYCHA buildings, yet receives too little attention.

Indeed, the darkened stairwells that were the norm at the Louis Pink Houses created a crime prone location that no doubt necessitated the NYPD conduct vertical patrols in the buildings' staircases and on its rooftops. The darkened stairwells also contributed to the practice of officers performing these vertical patrols with their guns drawn, as it appears Liang did.

Clearly, NYCHA's failure to maintain a lighted stairway created a dangerous condition for both tenants and police officers which directly contributed to Gurley's death.

The NYPD is responsible for this tragedy as well. Two inexperienced and unsupervised "rookie" officers – Liang and his partner Shaun Landau – were given the dangerous job of patrolling the stairway. The officers may very well have been inadequately trained, and they were authorized by NYPD to draw their weapons while they patrolled the unlit staircase.

It is especially troubling to consider why the NYPD assigned two rookies to conduct a vertical sweep of this housing complex. Compounding the problem, Police Commissioner William Bratton - before Gurley's death - recognized that his predecessor's practice of pairing rookies together must be changed.

Unfortunately NYPD's decision to eliminate this risky practice of teaming inexperienced officers is ending too late for Gurley and his loved ones - and for the officers involved. Perhaps if a more experienced officer had been partnered with Liang, this tragedy might have been avoided.

As Bratton publicly stated, Gurley was "a total innocent" and the shooting was "an unfortunate accident." But, the NYPD's institutional culpability must not be overlooked. Calling it "an unfortunate accident" does not absolve NYPD's managers from its responsibility.

Gurley's death – whether caused by criminal or civil negligence – is a tragedy of enormous proportions. The criminal process may bring some closure to Gurley's family and friends, notwithstanding the fact that a trial verdict is always uncertain.

In the end, two major City institutions – NYCHA and NYPD – failed Gurley and Liang.

We must not allow those in charge of NYCHA or the NYPD to hide behind "no comment" when questioned about their roles in this tragedy. Although criminal and civil matters are pending, these city officials must tell the people of New York what institutional mistakes were made and how these mistakes are being corrected.

What's needed now is the light of full disclosure. If these agencies fail to acknowledge their roles in this terrible event, further investigation by the Brooklyn District Attorney may be required.

In the realm of public accountability, there should be no darkened stairwells.

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Arnold Kriss is a former NYPD Deputy Commissioner-Trials and Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney. He is presently a Manhattan attorney.

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Housing Needs Deserve Spotlight In This Year's Budget


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Gov. Cuomo speaking about his 2015 agenda (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)


Existing programs are simply not sufficient to meet the demand for more affordable homes in New York State, in large part because they do not serve people across a wide range of incomes. Budget season is the perfect time to address this problem.

Strict income restrictions coupled with limited subsidy are obstacles to many families that apply for affordable homes. A recent New York Times article highlighted the challenges faced by many – people like Leigh Lumford, a Brooklyn resident who was rejected for an affordable apartment because she surpassed the income requirement by only $3,000 a year. Narrow income ranges make it nearly impossible for many families at the middle and very low end of the income spectrum to get the help they deserve.

However, there is a lot that New York State can do to help meet the housing needs of these individuals and families. The windfall from mortgage foreclosure and other settlements is an opportunity to make affordable housing programs work better for more New Yorkers. At NYSAFAH, we are calling for this year's budget to include a new $500 million fund to encourage the development of mixed-income housing. Mixed-income development serves a broader range of people and helps foster economic diversity, spur community revitalization, and create jobs.

Hardworking individuals shouldn't be forced into long commutes and less time with their families because of a shortage of affordable, middle-income housing. Teachers, firefighters and other professionals often find they can't afford to live in the communities where they work due to a shortage of quality rental housing plaguing towns throughout the state.

Proven programs, like the State Low Income Housing Tax Credit (SLIHC), encourage private investment in affordable housing projects. Today, there is more demand for SLIHC than credits available, which means some projects that would help middle-income families are never built. The State should increase funding for SLIHC by infusing $150 million into the program to help generate capital for mixed-income projects. Unlike federal programs, SLIHC supports housing for moderate- to middle-income households earning up to 90 percent AMI, and has helped build affordable homes in every corner of the state.

The Brownfield Tax Credit program is another important driver of affordable housing development, providing much-needed resources for the remediation of environmentally contaminated areas as well as credits to build affordable housing on remediated sites. Governor Cuomo has identified affordable housing as a priority use for the program, and its reauthorization this year is essential to continue transforming vacant lots into affordable homes for New York residents.

In addition to meeting the housing needs of low-, moderate- and middle-income New Yorkers, the Governor should be commended for establishing a NY/NY IV program to provide 5,000 units of permanent supportive housing for New York's homeless population. However, only a small fraction of those in need are ever placed in a supportive housing unit, even though supportive housing saves at least $10,000 per person per year. With approximately 80,000 homeless individuals throughout the state, NYSAFAH is calling for additional funding to develop and preserve 30,000 units of supportive housing over the next 10 years.

The growing demand for more affordable and supportive housing means communities, industry members, advocates, and lawmakers must come together to forge creative, new tools to get the job done. This year's budget and the funds from settlements are a once-in-a-generation opportunity to throw our support behind programs that make a real and measurable difference in the lives of New Yorkers.

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Jolie Milstein is President & CEO of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH), the largest trade association for the affordable housing industry statewide.

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New York City Students Deserve the Whole Story on Sexual Health


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(photo: dnj_Brian via flickr)


I never thought I could get HIV. From the little I learned about HIV in high school in Far Rockaway, Queens, I thought that anyone who has it looks really sick. At school, they only showed us photos of people who looked thin and like they were dying.

In November 2012, the unthinkable happened. I was diagnosed with HIV. My heart stopped, and all I could think about was death. How could my boyfriend have had HIV? He looked so healthy. Unfortunately, my school didn't teach us the whole story about HIV - or about anything involving sexual health for that matter.

I didn't even learn about using condoms or tips for negotiating condom use with a partner. And we only learned about straight sex and didn't learn anything about LGBTQ health and sexuality. I began to feel attracted to boys at a young age, but since straight relationships were the only ones discussed in school, I felt like my feelings were not counted. I also didn't connect with the small amount of information I received about HIV since in school they only focused on straight relationships. If I had learned more, maybe I would not be HIV-positive today.

Unfortunately, many schools across New York City are still failing students when it comes to sex education. The City requires a semester of sex ed in middle school and one in high school, but that's not enough, and a lot of students still aren't receiving even that minimum amount. Connect 2 Protect (C2P) Bronx Coalition recently conducted a survey of high school students in the Bronx, and just 37 percent of them said that at school they had learned communication skills when it comes to sex. Only 47 percent had learned about condom negotiation. And only 26 percent learned about support for LGBTQ students.

This is unacceptable. If more students learned skills such as condom negotiation or protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections, young people in New York City would be healthier. It's also important that young people learn about healthy relationships and consent. Sex ed should be comprehensive, and it should start early, in elementary school, with content that's appropriate for younger kids, and then continue through high school.

It's so important that young people learn about sexual health and relationships at school, because many kids aren't learning about this at home. My family never talked about sex, so I never brought it up with them. Plus, when I came out to my family in 10th grade, it was clear that my parents didn't want to accept that I'm gay. So I never brought up sexuality or sex again. There are many young people who can't safely or comfortably talk to their families about sex for a variety of reasons. Even if kids do learn about sex at home, it's important that it's reinforced with accurate sex ed in school.

I feel like society failed me by not making sure that every student receives honest, accurate information on sexual health and preventing sexually transmitted infections and HIV. It hurts to know that there are still young people like me in schools across the city who are not getting the information they need to protect themselves and make healthy decisions.

I talk to my friends to share the real facts about HIV. I make it clear that someone doesn't have to look sick to have HIV. In fact, HIV often has few or no symptoms for up to 10 years or more before symptoms develop. I also tell people how HIV is not spread. People who have HIV are still discriminated against, because many people still don't know the facts about HIV.

New York City schools must do more to educate students about sexual health. Every young person in the city has a right to know how to protect themselves from HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and unintended pregnancies. They also deserve to learn about consent and what constitutes a healthy relationship. Improving sex ed in city schools must be a priority, and there's no time to waste.

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by Ernesto

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This Budget, Let's Make HOPE Truly Count


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DHS Commissioner Taylor during HOPE 2015 (photo: @JennsLenz)


Last Monday night, thousands of volunteers spanned across New York City to conduct Homeless Outreach Prevention Estimate (HOPE) 2015. HOPE is the annual point-in-time count of the New York City street homeless. It enables the City to gauge the extent of street homeless in New York City – an estimated 3,357 individuals last year. HOPE also helps the City to evaluate the ongoing street homelessness work it and its nonprofit partners are doing, including outreach.

Outreach work has two components. First, workers attempt to engage the street homeless individual, who is often living with a mental illness, substance abuse issue, or severe health problem.

"You introduce yourself, give them your card and ask them if there's anything they need," says Hilton Douglas, an Urban Pathways outreach worker. "Sometimes they tell us to get out of their face, but you just have to keep engaging with them day in and day out. Other times you catch them at the right time and with the right tone, and they open up."

On day one of Port Authority Bus Terminal outreach work this past September, Urban Pathways staff engaged Mark H. His body was covered with open sores, including some on his left leg infested with maggots. When outreach approached him, he insisted he did not need help. After outreach workers found him 24 hours later, he agreed to go to the Olivieri Drop-In Center where he got a shower and new clothes and met with a nurse. He also agreed to go to the hospital where he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.

The second important component of outreach work is placement. For Mark H, placement was a return home to his family. After initial assessment, Olivieri staff discovered he was the subject of a six-month, Ohio missing person report. Once staff contacted the local Ohio sheriff office and Mark H was stabilized, his brother came and took him home.

The placement that occurred for Mark H is infrequent though. More often, street homeless individuals are placed in drop-in centers or city single adult shelters. There, with the invaluable assistance of case managers, they stabilize and work to become housing-ready and move along the path to self-sufficiency and permanent housing.

However, many homeless adults living on the streets are unwilling to enter the city shelter system. They fear they will be victimized. Or, they may be seriously impaired due to mental illness or substance abuse and unable to commit to treatment or recovery as a condition to accessing shelter. For this chronically homeless population, the City offers safe havens, which operate using the housing first model – an approach that centers on providing the homeless with housing as quickly as possible and then providing services as needed.

Safe havens constitute a particularly viable placement option. Beside providing shelter and services, they allow for a transitional period to begin the rehabilitative process and recovery from the harshness of the streets. New York City has recognized the utility of safe havens. There are ten in four boroughs - three in the Bronx, four in Manhattan, two in Brooklyn, and one on Staten Island.

Another key service model in addressing street homelessness is supportive housing - affordable housing combined with support services tailored to individual needs. Supportive housing has proved effective. In the first five years of the most recent New York City/State supportive housing agreement, New York City chronic homelessness decreased by almost half. The utility of supportive housing, in part, stems from the stabilization it provides to those who have lived extremely unstable lives. However, there is a dearth of supportive housing in New York City. Only one supportive housing unit is available for every six eligible individuals. At least two-thirds of New York City street homeless are in need of permanent supportive housing.

As the City and State move forward in budget season, let's make HOPE truly count by adequately investing in these placement options. It is encouraging that the City will devote more resources to unsheltered homeless people this year, allocating more than $45 million in City and State funds, up from $35.5 million the year before. It is less than encouraging that the City and State have not adopted a new City/State supportive housing agreement. In particular, we call on the State, notably Governor Cuomo, to amend the proposed state budget and fully fund the State's share of a New York City/State supportive housing agreement. The time is now to account for and support all those counted during this year's HOPE and those before.

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by Nicole Bramstedt and Erik Ipsen

Bramstedt is the Policy Analyst at Urban Pathways.
Ipsen is a member of the Board of Urban Pathways, where he has served since 2002.

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Moving Forward in Sunset Park


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CMs Garodnick, left, and Menchaca visit the site in question (photo: William Alatriste)


Mayor Bill de Blasio's mantra around addressing the "Tale of Two Cities" that is New York particularly resonates in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. It is one of the city's few remaining industrial waterfront neighborhoods with a high concentration of working-class and poor residents, mostly immigrants from Asia and Latin America. However, the growing presence of the creative class including fashion designers and artisanal manufacturers has stirred concerns of gentrification and displacement among long-time residents and community stakeholders.

Make no mistake, Sunset Park is at a crossroads. The industrial waterfront is changing through private and public investment after long years of neglect. But if the tale of two cities is to be truly tackled, the waterfront's renaissance needs to be inclusive.

Measures must be taken to ensure that long-time residents and businesses are not forced out due to rising property values triggered by the introduction of affluent millennials as Sunset Park entrepreneurs and residents. The de Blasio Administration must recognize that creating jobs with living wages is as essential as affordable housing.

Toward that end, it might be instructive for the administration to revisit the de Blasio mayoral campaign's ideas. Mayor de Blasio was one of the few candidates to specifically articulate an industrial attraction and retention policy, doing so in a paper titled, "A Progressive Vision for Industrial Development in New York City."

Recognizing the need for blue-collar jobs and manufacturing's high annual wages in comparison to the retail or food service industries (two of the city's fastest growing job sectors), candidate de Blasio pointed to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the Greenpoint Manufacturing Design Center as "models for non-profit industrial development" that create good jobs. In the same paper, he specifically proposed that Sunset Park's Brooklyn Army Terminal and Bush Terminal - two massive industrial sites managed by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) - "would benefit from an independent non-profit manager dedicated to strategic investment, workforce development, and reinvestment into the target area." [italics added]

Sunset Park City Council Member Carlos Menchaca seems to have read the same policy paper when he proposed the formation of such a non-profit entity to act as a steward for the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal (SBMT) rather than signing away control of the 70-plus-acre site to the EDC for the next half-century.

EDC's chief, a mayoral appointee, called off the deal claiming "it's not good public policy" in the New York Daily News and described the proposal as "confounding" in Crain's New York.

We're puzzled by the EDC's actions. We grew up in Sunset Park and our father continues to live in the same house he's called home since 1974. Both of our parents labored in industrial, manufacturing jobs. We wholeheartedly support Mayor de Blasio's commitment to ensuring that the same opportunities our family had remain available for all New Yorkers.

In his State of the City speech, Mayor de Blasio stated that "[c]reating more affordable housing; raising wages and benefits; strengthening our neighborhoods by better connecting them to jobs and opportunity—that is how we'll take on the Tale of Two Cities." Now is the time to move this vision forward and candidate de Blasio proposed a way to do so in Sunset Park.

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by Tarry and Carl Hum

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

Carl Hum is a civil rights attorney in Washington D.C. and former director of the New York City Mayor's Office of Industrial and Manufacturing Businesses

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Labor Supports a Fair Trash Plan


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George Miranda, the author, at a rally (photo via International Brotherhood of Teamsters)


There are few things more political in New York City than garbage.

On Friday, the City Council's Sanitation Committee held a hearing on Intro. 495, legislation that will cap the amount of trash that can be sent to any one neighborhood for disposal.

It sounds simple enough and only fair. But fights between communities and big corporations, who make a lot of money hauling garbage, are rarely easy. Intro. 495 is a different story. Labor is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with these communities and holding the companies where our members work accountable.

The Teamsters are New York City's sanitation union. From the Department of Sanitation workers who pick up the trash and recycling from your home, to the private carting workers who collect and process waste from New York City businesses, we take out the trash.

In the past, unions did not see community activists as our allies – or worse, we saw them as Not-In-My-Backyarders standing in the way of jobs. I now know that these fights are our fights too. Caring about workers does not end when they clock out. If our members do not have clear air to breathe or safe streets to walk with their kids, that is a union issue.

It is also about fundamental fairness. Forcing a few neighborhoods to take almost all of the city's trash is just plain wrong.

Currently, three-quarters of New York City's trash is sent to three communities: the South Bronx, North Brooklyn, and Southeast Queens. Almost half of our city's trash comes from Manhattan, but the borough lacks a single transfer station, the facilities where garbage is dumped every day and loaded onto trucks destined for out-of-state landfills.

The Department of Sanitation plans to change that with a state-of-the-art transfer station on East 91st Street, and others around the city. Technology will control odors and pollution, and trash will be exported by barge and rail, reducing the number of trucks on our streets. The employees will join the ranks of the city's sanitation workers, Teamster members who receive good pay, benefits, and safety protections.

The South Bronx, where I grew up, is home to numerous dirty, old waste transfer stations. Every morning, long lines of private garbage trucks form in front of homes, schools, and parks, waiting to drop off their loads. The smell is even worse than the sight – garbage fumes and diesel exhaust – and the problem is more than aesthetic. Children in these communities have higher asthma rates than the city as a whole because of pollution like diesel exhaust.

It's not a coincidence that neighborhoods like the South Bronx get saddled with all of our waste. The sanitation corporations have always found it easier to operate in poor communities of color. Our city government has gone along with it.

Mayor de Blasio and the City Council can do better. Voters want elected officials who will make sure the trash gets picked up, but we also voted for a vision of one city, where the poorest and most vulnerable among us are protected.

Intro. 495 would do two things. It would reduce the amount of trash going to the three most burdened neighborhoods. They would still take more trash than anywhere else, but the impact would be lessened. This has been the goal of opening a fleet of modern transfer stations, which will soon come on line around the city, but this legislation would make it the law too.

Second, the legislation would create a cap for all communities, so that no neighborhood ever again takes more than its fair share of trash.

Intro. 495 is part of a larger movement to make a waste system that works for everyone. At the same time, we are working to increase recycling, expand composting, and raise working standards in the sanitation industry.

You might be asking yourself, why would the sanitation workers union want to reduce the amount of trash we collect? The truth is, this is an industry where becoming more efficient actually creates more and better jobs. Recycling creates five to 20 times more jobs than landfilling trash. By increasing recycling we won't just be cleaning up our communities, we will also be creating good jobs for New York families.

Less trash is better for New Yorkers, at home and at work.

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George Miranda is President of Teamsters Joint Council 16.

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