Gotham Gazette

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The Promise - and Preservation - of Queens

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Queens BP Melinda Katz, right, with a DOT rep (photo: @MelindaKatz)

Lonely Planet travel guide recently named Queens as the number one destination on its 2015 Best in the US list, even calling it the "next Brooklyn." The New York Times, New York Magazine, and a flock of influential food, culture, and real estate bloggers agree, Queens is on the rise. Manhattanites who once might have moved to Brooklyn now consider relocating to Long Island City or Astoria for lower median rental costs, often-larger apartment units, affordable neighborhood amenities, and proximity to Midtown Manhattan.

Though Queens has been relatively untouched by the development and population shift that dominated much of Brooklyn over the past decade, the success of new luxury residential developments in western Queens, and large development projects in Flushing, Corona, and Willets Point have developers dreaming of new glass high-rise residential towers, restaurateurs salivating over customers willing to drop $17 on dinosaur kale salads, and bar owners anticipating sales of $14 muddled cocktails.

Mindful of the downside that follows uncontrolled growth, New York City and Queens must plan ahead to ensure that Queens remains vibrant, economically and culturally diverse, affordable, and unique.

On the eve that Queens threatens to become "the next Brooklyn," New York City must quickly takes steps to insulate the community from the harm that unbridled gentrification might bring. Queens has the opportunity to get it right; we can simultaneously welcome new neighbors and preserve existing communities and cultural resources. Strategic, coordinated county-wide planning must place the unique cultural aspects of Queens on par with development.

The largest borough has much to offer newcomers and long-time residents alike. The county is served by several subway lines, and is home to the city's airports, nationally respected museums, the Mets, and the US Open. The county is geographically diverse, with enviable views of the East River, Queensborough Bridge, and the Manhattan skyline; beautiful beaches to the east, and picturesque parks and neighborhoods in between. Queens has the second largest, though most diversified, borough economy, and good public schools.

However, its most remarkable and unmistakable quality, the unique asset that separates Queens from other boroughs, is demographics. Queens is the most diverse large urban area in the United States. Half of Queens' residents are foreign born. Its citizens make up about 100 nationalities and ethnicities and speak 140 languages. Flushing hosts one of the largest and most vibrant Chinatowns in America. A large Greek community lives in Astoria. South Asians and Central and South Americans prosper in Sunnyside and Jackson Heights. In Corona, a long-term Italian-American neighborhood has enjoyed an influx of Latin-American residents and businesses. Other communities, including Egyptians, West Indians, and Irish, prosper as well.

With one of the five boroughs' largest African-American communities, Queens is a significant cultural stronghold with a rich history. Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong lived there during the Jazz Era. Armstrong's home is now a museum, and it regularly hosts live outdoor jazz performances. A number of contemporary African-American musical artists are from Queens, including 50 Cent, Nicki Minaj, LL Cool J, Mobb Deep, Nas, Run-D.M.C, and A Tribe Called Quest. Two prominent African-American theater companies are based in the county.

Long regarded as a bedroom community, Queens residents are family-oriented and middle class, with 68% of its residents living in family units, and 29% with children. Home ownership rates are nearly double that of Manhattan, Brooklyn, or the Bronx.

Queens boasts the most diverse religious community in America. There are 200 houses of worship within a 2.5 square-mile, densely populated Flushing neighborhood, including half a dozen Hindu temples, two Sikh gurdwaras, over 100 Korean churches, and many mosques, churches, and synagogues.

New York City has a number of tools that could be used to help maintain what is unique about Queens.

Skyrocketing rents and unrealistic real-estate price hikes that accompany gentrification push out long-term residents, and invite unwanted speculation. Safeguarding the community requires preservation of affordable housing. The City's inclusionary housing program should be mandatory, and targeted expansion of the City's homeownership assistance program to vulnerable populations can help attract and retain neighborhood culture. Non-profits should be encouraged to buy housing units in designated areas so long as they rent to economically vulnerable populations at below market rates.

Communities remain viable and resilient when neighborhood businesses prosper. Queens is an amazing patchwork of 40,0000 small businesses that support their owners and create local jobs. Many of these businesses cater to specific ethnic communities and thereby help to ensure a vibrant, culturally diverse environment. To help protect existing business, and encourage new ventures, the City can aggressively expand the reach of its Business Improvement District (BID) program within Queens to help with business development, capital improvement, marketing, public area maintenance, and representation before city government. The City can also implement cultural preservation districts to help prevent displacement of local business and cultural anchors.

The New York Economic Development Corporation (EDC) should continue to encourage land-use planning that incorporates local manufacture and light industry in order to bring good, well-paid jobs to the borough, and tamp down overzealous real estate speculation. The City should facilitate incubators focused on development of local entrepreneurial ventures. While encouraging business development, the City must continue to regulate "big-box" and chain stores that pay low wages, insufficient benefits, unfairly compete with local business, and funnel money out of the community.

Current state law does not allow New York municipalities to control the minimum wage within their boundaries. The De Blasio administration should continue to advocate for local control in order to raise the minimum wage and thus increase economic stability and purchase power.

The promise of Queens is not in what might be imported, but what is already here. But change is inevitable. Instead of framing gentrification as a zero sum game, the City should encourage a vision of neighborhoods as shared space, where the benefits and talents of new and often affluent residents are valued, while local businesses and cultural institutions are protected with public investment of money and expertise.

Though Queens is less vulnerable to gentrification due to the high level of homeownership, large numbers of people living in family units, substantial and healthy local business, and a solid middle-class base, the probability of permanent change that diminishes the unique character of the borough is high. By ensuring communities have adequate stock of affordable permanent housing, vibrant and diverse businesses that cater to local needs, and a government that prioritizes diversity along with economic development, Queens will be the face of America as a model of diversity, economic opportunity, and good quality of life.

Michael Greenberg is an attorney and Queens resident. Find him on Twitter @GreenbergSez.

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2015 Legislative Priorities for LGBT New Yorkers

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(photo: @prideagenda)

A new year means a fresh start in the continued fight to further equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) New Yorkers and our families. For us, 2015 marks the 25th anniversary of New York's LGBT advocacy organization, a milestone that parallels an important shift we're seeing as we turn the corner on visibility and enter our second quarter century.

With marriage equality recognized in New York and rapidly expanding to more and more states throughout the nation, the focus is turning to the other important priorities that were previously silenced, but arguably even more pertinent when it comes to life and death issues that impact our community.

The Pride Agenda's number one legislative priority is the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA. This bill, which we've been advocating for more than 12 years, will secure long overdue basic civil rights for transgender New Yorkers, including protections from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, and when seeking an education and credit.

As it stands, New York is behind more than one third of the country when it comes to including gender identity and expression as a protected class. GENDA saw its seventh passage through the New York State Assembly in 2014, but failed to come to the floor for a vote in the Senate yet again. We'll work closely with legislators on both sides of the aisle, including the nearly 100 we endorsed in the 2014 election season, to advocate for its passage in the 2015 legislative session.

We're also fighting to protect our youth from damaging and discredited conversion therapy, a practice where so-called mental health professionals licensed by the State of New York try to deny a young person of who they are. While the methods vary, none are sanctioned by any medical association – in fact, every major medical association has denounced the practice as harmful – and they are proven to leave lasting harm on young LGBT people who should instead receive affirming therapy if they're struggling to come to terms with their sense of self.

The bill to ban conversion therapy, a version of which has already become law in California and New Jersey under Republican gubernatorial leadership, passed in the New York State Assembly the first time it was introduced earlier in 2014 with resounding bipartisan support. Again, the bill got blocked from coming to a vote in the Senate, but the indication in the Assembly and the number of cosponsors of the bill in the Senate are strong signs that we will see this become law soon.

In addition to protecting our youth and transgender New Yorkers of all ages, we're fighting for greater protections for our families. New York, perhaps surprisingly, has some of the most outdated laws on the books when it comes to family building options. Contractual surrogacy, or having a baby with the help of a gestational carrier, is illegal in New York. The law is the harshest of any state with criminal penalties as punishment for entering into an agreement.

This means families who can't carry a child to term, either due to health concerns or because the household is headed by two men, have to leave their home state to work with a surrogate in a state where the practice is not banned, adding a complex and frightening array of medical, legal and logistical hurdles to an already emotional and stressful endeavor. LGBT couples have to travel to states like Kansas, which don't have basic civil rights protections in place for our community, but which have better laws when it comes to family creation.

In addition, New York law has not caught up with current family dynamics and we're fighting to bring us up to speed. For instance, intended parents have to wait until 45 days after their child is born before they're able to file for adoption if they're not biologically related. That means the child hangs in legal limbo while a sperm or egg donor has more rights to a child they never intended to parent than does the actual parent. Current law also creates harrowing uncertainty when it comes to making critical health decisions at the time of birth, insurance coverage, travel and other legal logistics. We need laws that provide safe and regulated framework so that we can create and protect our families here at home in New York.

As we enter our silver anniversary in 2015, we also celebrate our 20th anniversary of the facilitators of the LGBT Health and Human Services Network. Composed of more than 50 organizations that serve 1.5 million LGBT New Yorkers and our families in all 63 counties throughout the state, the Network delivers care that ranges from medical and mental health services to anti-violence resources and shelters, after school programs, community centers, and much more. We'll continue to convene this important group of groups and advocate for fair funding in the state budget so these organizations can continue to provide critical direct services to our community, which faces disproportionate inequities when it comes to health and safety.

In 2015 and beyond, the Pride Agenda will continue to advocate for the many disparities that impact LGBT New Yorkers with the ultimate goal of one day creating a truly equal and just Empire State.

Nathan M. Schaefer is the Executive Director of Empire State Pride Agenda; follow Nathan on Twitter @NathanMSchaefer.

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Supportive Housing Helps Solve Homelessness

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Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor (photo: Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

On December 17 at Gotham Gazette, the Doe Fund wrote advocating for 'a working solution for homelessness,' in response to a Goddard Riverside Community Center call for the City and State to renew supportive housing legislation. We at Urban Pathways agree with the Doe Fund about the role and value of work. Our goal for our clients is to help them maximize their self-sufficiency through work and other strategies. However, we respectfully disagree with the Doe Fund's categorization of supportive housing, which constitutes a successful and cost-effective solution for homelessness.

Since the City and State entered into their first supportive housing agreement nearly 25 years ago, supportive housing – a combination of affordable housing with support services - has helped New Yorkers who face the most complex challenges live more stable, productive lives. These individuals extend beyond those persons "profoundly disabled." Supportive housing works well for individuals and families who are not only homeless, but who also have very low incomes and serious, persistent issues that may include substance use, prior incarceration, mental illness, and HIV/AIDS.

While these supportive housing agreements require an infusion of City and State government dollars, supportive housing constitutes a cost-effective solution to homelessness. The cost per-day, per-person in New York City for supportive housing is less than $45. This compares to approximately $74 for shelter and $167 for jail. According to a December 2013 analysis by the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the NY/NY III agreement reduced the use of shelters, hospitals, psych centers and incarceration, for an average net public savings of $10,100 per unit per year. It's also worth noting that we leverage a dollar of private investment for every dollar of City or State subsidy invested in supportive housing.

As the Doe Fund correctly notes, any solution for homelessness should not keep an individual "trapped, right where they are." Working with the City, organizations like Urban Pathways and Goddard Riverside have developed successful affordable housing models that have helped numerous New Yorkers integrate into communities and maximize their self-sufficiency. Our programs, for example, promote independence, enhance individuals' ability to function in their communities, and encourage participation in wellness and recovery-oriented activities.

It's also worth noting that even when individuals working full-time don't need social services, many still need subsidized housing. This remains true due to the disconnect between the low wages of many New Yorkers and the exorbitant cost of New York City rental housing. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, during the Great Recession, median apartment rents in New York City increased by 8.5 percent while median rent incomes diminished by 6.8 percent.

As we end 2014, almost 59,000 homeless persons sleep in City homeless shelters each night. Now is the time for us, City homeless providers and advocates, in conjunction with the City and State governments, to mobilize on the solutions for homelessness.

Frederick Shack is the Executive Director of Urban Pathways, a not-for-profit, social service and supportive housing organization that has served homeless adults in the New York City Metropolitan Area since 1975.

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What's the NYPD doing with an LRAD?


An LRAD being used by NYPD on Dec 3 (photo: @PeoplesHistory)

While the protests following the non-indictments in Ferguson and Staten Island have been disruptive, they have been mostly non-violent and clashes with police have been minimal, with the notable exception of the injury of two NYPD officers on the Brooklyn Bridge on the night of December 13.

However, on December 5 officers attempted to disperse a small march in Midtown using a new tool in crowd management, a long range acoustic device (LRAD).

LRADs have two primary functions: first as a long range communication device and second as a dispersal tool, emitting penetrating and piercing tones at high decibels.

LRADs were developed for the military following the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 in Yemen. The purpose of the device was to ward off potential attackers before they could get close enough to an intended target to strike. The device has also been used at military checkpoints to communicate with and deter threatening vehicles.

The use of LRADs as a speaker may have some justification in crowd control. Best policing practices call for enhanced communication between demonstrators and the police. While this should be done face to face and on the ground as much as possible, there are situations where the police should notify crowds of their risk of arrest or of being subjected to use of force. Such crowds should be told where to disperse to and how. LRADs might be able to help with this since they can be heard over the shouts of crowds, unlike many conventional sound systems. However, we don't really know what if any harmful effects this function might produce, especially for people with existing hearing problems.

The dispersal function is similar to tear gas or water cannons. It is intended to be a less lethal use of force that can be used as an alternative to baton charges or other more extreme measures. Their use might be appropriate in dealing with a violent crowd attempting to storm the UN or other location where force might be necessary to prevent property destruction or injury. The effect, however, is usually rather crude. Like with tear gas, flash bang grenades, and riot control projectiles, the dispersal brought about by LRADs generally is disorderly and can lead to collateral property destruction and injury to onlookers and innocent by-standers. They should be used only as a last resort, in place of relying on higher levels of force.

The question of whether an LRAD is preferable to tear gas, projectiles, or flash bangs depends on balancing effectiveness in reducing violence and property destruction versus potential injury to protesters and onlookers. The problem is that we don't have very good evidence about the potential harmful effects of this relatively new and untested technology. There have been reports of related injuries leading to a legal settlement from LRAD use in Pittsburgh in 2009 and a ministerial report in Canada raised significant concerns about their health effects.

If we knew for sure that the dispersal function had no long term health consequences, then it might be preferable. If, however, there is a risk that those with existing hearing problems, and even others might experience medium to long term problems, or if psychological or cognitive functions are disrupted, then the costs may be too high. In the absence of clear evidence we should err on the side of caution.

One of my major concerns is that like with tasers and much military hardware, there is strong temptation for "mission creep." Often these devices are obtained under the pretext of very restricted uses in extreme and highly unlikely circumstances such as terrorist attacks or snipers. However, once departments have them, there is a tendency to use them in additional ways that make life easier for police but endanger the public.

Tasers can be life savers, but they can also be torture devices when used improperly. LRADs have this potential and we saw something like this when they were used during the Garner protests in New York. A few individuals in a larger group threw some things and the police used the dispersal function against the whole group on a Midtown street with no real plan for managing their dispersal. Other less dangerous methods could have been used and the effect on an already dispersed group was just to splinter them, making it harder for police to track them and leaving open the opportunity for random property destruction. Generally, this technology should not be used on a few troublemakers in an otherwise peaceful protest and it should not be used on more broadly violent crowds unless there are limited alternatives and a plan for managing an angry and disorganized splintering of the group.

Last week a group of lawyers sent a letter to the NYPD asking them to clarify their policies about the use of this technology. So far there has been no official response. There needs to be much greater transparency about the plans to use such intensive riot control tools. In fact, the NYPD also owns water cannons, and there has been no public discussion of their appropriate use either. It's time for the City Council to step in and hold hearings about the proper uses of riot control equipment in the New York.

Alex S. Vitale is associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics. He is senior policy adviser to hte Police Reform Organizing Project and serves on the New York State Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission. You can follow him on Twitter: @avitale

A Working Solution for Homelessness

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Members of the Doe Fund march in the Veterans Day Parade (photo: @TheDoeFund)

In a December 11 Gotham Gazette editorial advocating for more supportive housing, a program director from the Goddard Riverside Community Center made a bold statement: "The number one cause of homelessness[...]is a lack of affordable housing." That's a clean explanation for one of society's most vexing problems, but it's not true.

If housing was the answer to homelessness, we would have solved this crisis a generation ago. Homelessness isn't a state of being; and it's not a condition that people must live with and manage, like diabetes or cancer. It's an outcome. In a small fraction of the cases, it's the result of a serious disability that precludes a person's ability to work. But to say that all—or even most— homeless people require subsidized housing implies that they as a "group" are incapable of supporting themselves. And that line of reasoning is offensive to advocates like me, who know this population and have served them for decades.

Permanent supportive housing is our responsibility to provide for people who are profoundly disabled. But it also requires enormous and unending support from taxpayers. What happens when programs change, budgets get cut, and the money runs out? The homeless people warehoused in supportive housing are back on the streets, without any of the tools they need to live independently. To make supportive housing possible and sustainable for those who really do need it, we need a strong city with a strong workforce.

Any way you slice it, the answer to both our growing homelessness crisis and our need to build supportive housing is work.

The city, the state—the nation as a whole— has to recognize the dignity and potential in our homeless and long-term unemployed populations. We need programs that address not just a bad outcome, like homelessness, but the complex web of barriers, behaviors, and circumstances that have produced it: education, skills and experience gaps, vocational training and workforce development, substance abuse treatment, and reentry support for the formerly incarcerated.

When my husband and I started our work thirty years ago, people told us there was no way to put the homeless to work. They were lost causes; they would never be able to support themselves. They were simply "too lazy, or too crazy."

We can all agree that that's a disgusting statement. But is it really so far from dismissing all homeless people as permanently disabled? I can think of at least 21,000 individuals who would beg to differ; they're just some of the people we've served over the last three decades. They didn't come to our organization for a free house. They came to us for an opportunity: to work, to grow, and to support themselves and their families—for life.

Ms. McCullough of Goddard Riverside is right: the measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. Let's start by recognizing their dignity and abilities. Then, let's give them the hand up they deserve, one that frees them from homelessness forever; not a handout that keeps them trapped, right where they are.

Harriet McDonald is the Executive Vice President of The Doe Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides transitional housing, paid work, job training, and supportive services for the formerly homeless and incarcerated.  Find The Doe Fund on Twitter: @TheDoeFund

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The 2014 Republican Victory for New York State Senate: Impressive...and Fragile


Republican Senate leader Dean Skelos (photo: Skip Dickstein/Times Union)

The decisive GOP return to control of the New York State Senate has been attributed to many causes: disproportionate resources, clever campaign tactics, individual candidate strengths and frailties, the coattails of a nationwide "Republican sweep." All are plausibly contributory to this impressive Republican win. Most important, however, are these four structural and tactical factors: gerrymandering, a strikingly smaller electorate, selective voter drop-off among those who turned out, and systematic statewide inter-party coalition building.

New York did its typical bi-partisan gerrymander in 2010. Republicans designed the Senate districts; Democrats did those for the Assembly. Nonetheless, in 2012 there were a number of unexpected GOP losses in areas of rapid demographic change, for example the Hudson Valley. After his vote for same sex marriage, long time Dutchess County GOP veteran Senator Steve Saland was knocked out in a three way race. In a neighboring district across the Hudson, Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk used late big-money backing to win by a hair's breadth. Republican victories this year in both of these same GOP designed districts might be regarded as "a return to gerrymandered normal."

The electorate was unexpectedly small. A smaller electorate favors Republicans, who are disproportionately in demographic groups that are more likely to vote. The reasons:

First, the usual: It was not a presidential year: Turnout in New York is always lower in the even numbered years in which we elect a Governor than in those in which we elect a President.

This said, turnout was a million votes lower in 2014 than in 2010, the previous gubernatorial year. Why?

There was an incumbent governor running, with little perceived competition. The top of the ticket race thus did not bring voters to the polls. Andrew Cuomo also benefitted from the deterrent effect of a massive political bank roll and a record that appealed to right-center voters. Though he ran a lively campaign, Rob Astorino, the Republican candidate for governor, suffered from the self-fulfilling prophecy problem. He was written off early and relentlessly by analysts as an under-funded sure loser.

Many normally Democrat voters were mad at the governor: disaffected government reformers and social-activist liberal Democrats to his left, public employees in the center.

Additional evidence that Democrats disproportionately did not vote is that low turnout was not evenly distributed across the state. About half the proportion of eligible voters in overwhelmingly Democrat New York City (21.1%) cast ballots compared to voters outside the city (42.6%).

Politics generally is in disrepute. A November, 2014 Pew Research Center report documented that trust in government continued at "historic lows." Stay-at-homes may not participate because "voting 'just encourages them.'"

Add in another usual pattern, down-ticket voter drop-off. About 10% of the people who came out to vote cast no ballot in a Senate election. We can't tell what party each of these 381,000 voters might have favored, but we know that these down-ticket dropouts lived disproportionately in Long Island and upstate districts that elected Republican Senators.

All this resulted in a Republican total for Senate candidates (1,355,591) about 175,000 greater than Rob Astorino's for Governor, and just 26,385 fewer than cast for all Senate Democrat candidates in this dark blue state.

Then there's what New York pols call "the cross." Cross-endorsed candidates for office in New York may run on multiple party "lines." While much attention focused on whether the Republican/Independent Democrat (IDC) coalition would persist following the election, there was little given to the systematic pre-election coalition that the Republican Senate campaign effort cemented with the Conservative and Independence parties. The Republicans wrote off 15 Senate districts entirely (13 in NYC), and had mere token candidacies in at least another seven. This left 41; in 34 of these GOP candidates, whether challenged or not, had both the Conservative and Independence Party ballot lines. With few exceptions, Democrats with the Independence line were either unchallenged or IDC members.

The total Conservative vote in Senate races (251,103) exceeded that on this line for the race for Governor. The Independence total for Senate contests (185,427) was more than double that for Andrew Cuomo at the top of the ticket, even after removing Mark Grisanti's 21,826 votes in the unusual four-way contest in Erie County's Senate District 60. Almost all of these third party votes went to Republican Senate candidates.

Focus on these particulars brings into question any prediction of an incipient GOP resurgence in New York State politics. Many senior Republican Senators are aging; so are many of those who voted for them. Republican Senate candidates got clear majorities of those that turned out in fewer than half the districts they won (15 of 32) and in nine of these there was no Democrat on the ballot. If patterns hold, as they likely will, the 2016 New York electorate will be about two million or more voters bigger than that of 2014. And specific circumstances in the presidential race - e.g. a Hillary Clinton candidacy - may drive the New York participation up even further. Cross endorsement is volatile, and sometimes two edged. The base of GOP power in New York State government is still most fragile. If the GOP planning to protect its win did not begin on the morning of November 5, 2014 (the day after Election Day), it started too late.

Gerald Benjamin, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, is director of the Center for Research Regional Engagement and Outreach at SUNY New Paltz (CRREO).

Sadie Godlis, a major in Political Science, is a student researcher at CRREO.

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In Support of Council Efforts to Diversify City Schools

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Council Chambers during Thursday's packed hearing (photo: @MarkLevineNYC)

There is no more important factor than classroom diversity to assure quality education and a just society for our children. I commend the New York City Council for its courage in addressing this issue since we know that actions to correct segregation are almost as painful and politically dangerous as a failure to act.

Recently, I have discussed the need to adjust the Department of Education's policies around the placement of so-called "over-the-counter" students; single-test admissions to the city's elite high schools; and the school choice system.

On Thursday, I testified at the City Council, expressing wholehearted support for legislation to require the DOE report each year on diversity in the city's schools (Int. 511) and calling on the DOE to officially establish diversity as a priority in admissions policies and practices (Res. 453). These are necessary steps to focus the Department of Education's attention on schools and school processes that limit diversity. Every time a selection procedure fails to provide for diversity of academic, economic, geographic, racial, linguistic, gender, and ethnic populations, the DOE should have to justify not just the reasons for disproportionate inclusion of certain groups but why others are excluded.

We know from studies of student progress that all gain from exposure to difference. Even if, in a given school, test scores go up or down, individual student scores do not decline and the humans behind those scores infinitely profit from diversity's cognitive, affective, and social benefits. If the administration is serious about reducing pressure on test scores, that will have the beneficial effect of reducing pressure on principals to pre-select high scoring students.

When we ignore the importance of diversity in the name of privilege or identity, we take a step backward in fulfilling the American promise. Current crises of racial polarization, income inequality, and sexual predation are tied to the limited opportunities and demographic isolation inherent in segregated school settings. Int. 511 and Res. 453 put the Council squarely on record promoting those goals.

In qualifying my support for the third piece of legislation at hand on Thursday (Res. 442), I note my long and vigorous involvement in the federal complaint against the current Specialized High School exam which has a clear, shameful discriminatory impact against Black and Latino students.

The test also fails to meet modern standards of merit-based admission practiced by other selective high schools and colleges nationally. The exam's single great appeal is that it sorts quickly and numerically, inducing a test centered culture mired in racial bigotry. But to my mind the answer is not to amend New York State Education Law 2590-h(1)(b), which requires the test admissions practice, but to repeal it.

Why should the State Legislature be dictating selection procedures at all, setting in stone criteria which will always be, at best, imperfect? I prefer to devolve selection procedures to the city, without this strange legislative strangle-hold established by Calandra-Hecht in 1971.

David C. Bloomfield is Professor of Educational Leadership at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

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Renewed Supportive Housing Legislation is a Must

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Staff from Goddard's Manhattan Outreach Consortium at the NY/NY Press Conference

On December 8, a press conference was held on the steps of City Hall on behalf of the Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing. Undeterred by the cold, housing advocates, politicians, and formerly homeless individuals gathered to make their voices heard and to show support while City Council Member Steve Levin introduced a resolution to urge the Mayor and Governor to sign a new NY/NY agreement that would create additional units of supportive housing over the next ten years. To date, both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have stated that they would support a NY/NY IV, but neither has taken the next step to sign an agreement.

Why do we need additional units of supportive housing?

NYC homelessness is at a record high and Goddard Riverside Community Center believes that housing is a human right. It is something that each New Yorker deserves and we must ensure access.

The number one cause of homelessness is not unemployment, it is not issues related to substance abuse, nor is it ramifications of mental health problems. The number one cause of homelessness in our city, and indeed our nation, is a lack of affordable housing.

NY/NY III, the 2005 City-State agreement that provided 9,000 units of supportive housing over ten years, expires next year. A new initiative, NY/NY IV, is necessary to ensure that the creation of supportive housing does not stop. Demand has certainly not stopped. According to the Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing, for every six New Yorkers hoping (and eligible) to get a home where he or she can have a stable place to rest, to shower, to prepare a meal for his family, only one will be granted access to that home. While this number is shamefully high, it will only continue to rise if a new agreement to build additional units of supportive housing is not signed soon.

For those more swayed by economic rather than social costs, supportive housing has been proven to be a cost saving measure at a time when city and state budgets are already tight. Homeless individuals utilize emergency services, hospitals, and the criminal justice system at higher rates than those who are not homeless. When the cost of using the shelter system is also factored in, the Campaign 4 NY/NY cites that placing an individual in supportive housing saves over $10,000 per year. By this logic, place ten people in supportive housing and save over $100,000. This model has also proven to be a sustainable one that will continue to save the city and state money as people remain housed. Of all of the clients placed into permanent housing through Goddard Riverside and the Manhattan Outreach Consortium in 2013, a remarkable 92% remain housed after one year.

As the adage goes, the measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. We've got some work to do.

Allison McCullough is a Program Director with Goddard Riverside Community Center's Manhattan Outreach Consortium. On Twitter: @goddardriv

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More Justice, Less Politics - In Every Borough

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Mayor de Blasio, left, and Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson (photo: @BilldeBlasio)

Amidst calls for special prosecutors, public hearings, and the attorney general to take over, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson has stridently defended the prerogative of his office to call a grand jury in the police killing of Akai Gurley.

It's his "duty" as Brooklyn's "duly elected district attorney" to pursue cases of police brutality, Thompson says. And citing the Ferguson and Staten Island decisions, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, a key Thompson ally, notes that when it comes to grand juries, "prosecutors often get their wish."

Both figures may be well-intentioned proponents of police accountability, but their statements nonetheless illustrate the core problem with the grand jury process in such cases. The outcomes often boil down to politics, not law.

A closer look at the potential jury pools in Staten Island and Brooklyn illustrates the point.

Though it's becoming more diverse, Staten Island's population remains largely white, with blacks numbering about 12%. Nearly 30% of the borough's 265,000 registered voters are Republicans. About 45% of the island's potential voters are registered Democrats, but those ranks are not dominated by progressives.

The last Democrat to carry Staten Island in the mayor's race was Ed Koch (in 1985), a conservative on law-and-order issues. And while Joe Lhota lost by a landslide in the mayor's race last fall, he did carry the island, beating de Blasio 53-44%.

Staten Island, of course, is also home to many current and retired NYPD officers. There are 3,000 active duty cops living there, and together with retirees and jury-eligible family members, they constitute a vocal bloc.

As a result, "it would be difficult to empanel a grand jury in Staten Island that is not sympathetic to cops," observes veteran city reporter Wayne Barrett. "But it certainly doesn't seem like the D.A. wanted to go to trial."

In addition, D.A. Dan Donovan called a special grand jury, which makes more demands on jurors' time. Not many working people can commit to a schedule requiring a few daytime visits per week over the course of several months.

In general, this increases the likelihood that housewives and retirees are over-represented on the final panel. We don't know the occupational status of Garner jurors, but 15 of the 23 jurors were white—and based on the composite sketch above, they were likely to be sympathetic to the police.

Donovan, a Republican, is up for reelection in 2015, and he's also been mentioned as a possible contender for Michael Grimm's congressional seat, should the latter be forced to resign due to his legal troubles. In terms of his own career, Donovan had more to lose than gain by pursuing an indictment in the Garner case.

Demographically and otherwise, there's very little similarity between New York City's smallest borough and its most populous. For starters, Brooklyn is more diverse, checking in at 36% white, 32% black, 20% Latino and 10% Asian.

There are also nearly 930,000 registered Democrats in Brooklyn, as opposed to only 115,000 Republicans. While Bill Thompson (no relation to DA Ken) carried Brooklyn in the 2009 mayoral campaign (52-45%), last year de Blasio, running as a progressive with a police reform agenda, easily beat Thompson in the primary (46-27%) before crushing Lhota, the 'get tough' law and order candidate, in the general election (78-20%).

After successfully toppling long-time incumbent Joe Hynes last year, Ken Thompson, unlike Donovan, is not facing reelection, nor is he yet a potential candidate for another office. Meanwhile, it's more likely that amidst the outrage over the Garner decision, an indictment (and possibly a conviction) in the Gurley case will help more than hurt him politically.

Such glaring differences between two neighboring jurisdictions create different scales of justice. While Thompson may be able to show that the grand jury process "works" in Brooklyn, it's just as likely to remain biased in favor of police in Staten Island.

In the name of equality under the law, and in the same city, the fairest solution is thus to implement one identical process in all major cases involving police misconduct.

Theodore Hamm (@HammerDaily) is chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph's College in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.

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

New York's Signature College Aid Program Turns 40, But Falls Short of Meeting Needs

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Gov. Cuomo making a SUNY-related announcement (photo: @NYGovCuomo)

The Tuition Assistance Program can't keep up with soaring tuition costs without comprehensive reform.

Total student loan debt in the U.S. is currently more than $1 trillion, surpassing credit card and auto-loan debt. This debt is not only threatening young graduates' ability to fully participate in the economy, but also suffocating too many families and middle-aged adults. According to the New York Federal Reserve, 30-year-old student debt holders are less likely to own a home and more likely to delay their own retirement.

Sixty percent of New York college graduates – nearly 3 million residents – incur debt, with a total of $73 million and an average amount of more than $25,000. To make matters worse, median wages for people between the ages of 25 and 34 have fallen in every major industry except healthcare.

Unfortunately, New York State has responded by cutting funding and increasing tuition. In fact, over the last two decades, average tuition and fees at public four-year colleges in New York have risen 127 percent while students continue to foot the bill. Since 2008, New York State cut nearly $2 billion to higher education. Tuition at the State University of New York (SUNY) has increased by $1,550 and at the City University of New York (CUNY) by $1,700. Those costs will continue to grow as a result of the NY SUNY 2020 "Rational Tuition Bill," which is scheduled to raise tuition at public colleges by $300 annually for five consecutive years.

Meanwhile, New York State's signature college aid program – the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), which turned 40 this year – has remained grossly inadequate, leaving too many New Yorkers behind.

After years of cuts to this $1 billion program that helps over 300,000 students annually, there are a number of important policy reforms that the state needs to consider. Fortunately, New York State Assembly Higher Education Chairwoman Deborah Glick is holding a public hearing in Albany on Wednesday, December 10 to review TAP.

While tuition continues to surpass the maximum TAP award of $5,165, universities are left to fill the gap for the most at-need students. This costs the universities tens of millions of dollars every year, which takes away from other vital needs. It's time for the State to increase the maximum TAP award to at least $6,500 to match public tuition and to take some of the debt burden off of New York families.

In addition, the fight over the NY DREAM Act has gone on long enough. It's time to allow all young people – including our undocumented youth – the opportunity to pursue their dreams. Governor Cuomo must include funding for undocumented youth to access state financial aid – including TAP – in this year's budget. The cost would be less than 2 percent of the total TAP budget and would not take away from other students who currently receive the award or will do so in the future. The Office of the New York State Comptroller estimates that extending aid to the state's 8,000 undocumented youth would enhance the earnings of individuals and grow the state's tax revenue.

The State needs to make it easier for part-time students to access aid and pursue a degree by eliminating the requirement that students attend college full-time for a year before becoming eligible for Part-Time TAP. From 1980 to 2012, the number of part-time community college students in New York increased by 193 percent, yet the State has been non-responsive to their growing need. What's more, even students who are eligible for Part-Time TAP can only receive six semesters of aid, which contributes to the college completion challenge.

This isn't just a problem for younger New Yorkers: TAP has historically left out lower-income working adults and must open access for all, regardless of age. Its current award schedule is based on the first year a student received an award, meaning that if a student first enrolled in a college in 1998 and received the maximum TAP award ($4,125 at the time), and that same student re-enrolled today, he or she would still only be eligible for the 1998 award level, notwithstanding subsequent increases to tuition or TAP.

Despite the many reforms needed to bring the program into the 21st century, the State did make two improvements to the program last year. For the first time in 14 years, it finally increased the award, adding $165. In addition, the final budget included a no-brainer reform to make orphans and wards of the State eligible for the $5,165 maximum award available to "dependent" students instead of the $3,025 maximum award available to "independent" students.

The state budget must reflect the values of New York residents. As Governor Cuomo begins to prepare his Executive Budget for next year, we must continue to remind him that high and preventable student loan debt caused by high tuition and inadequate state aid are not New York values.

Kevin Stump is Leadership Director for the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network and former chair of the Coalition to Reform TAP

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

Dear Educators: Please scrap your lesson plans

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Protesters on Wednesday evening in New York (photo: William Alatriste)

Good morning. I'm incredibly appreciative that school is in session today in New York City and that you're there to care for our children. I thank you for the leadership you show and the responsibility you embrace every day. I wish I was going to be leading a classroom today, but I'm not, I left teaching a couple of years ago. So yes, I'm a quitter and you should take the thoughts I offer with whatever skepticism you deem appropriate.

Now I run this news publication. I try to educate the public about New York politics and government; and I continue to closely follow and care deeply about what happens in our schools.

I'm writing to ask that you scrap your lesson plans for the day - and probably tomorrow too.

I know the panic that this notion can instill, bumping anything a day or two often means making even more difficult an already insurmountable task of trying to fit everything in before the end of the marking period. I've been there. But, this is really important.

Today is a day for social studies in virtually every classroom in every school in this city. It's a day to study our society. It's time for current events.

Whether or not you spent some of Wednesday afternoon or evening following the decision of a Staten Island grand jury and its aftermath; and whatever you think about that decision and what has been said and done since; it's incredibly important that we make sure students know what is going on and provide them with space to process. It's important for us adults too, of course. I hope you agree.

I understand what I'm getting at here - bumping whatever you have planned for today (and maybe tomorrow) and talking with students about controversial political things that center around race and crime and protest - might be making you pretty uncomfortable. As it would. And you may have already rolled your eyes at me, which I completely understand. But, bear with me, please.

If you (or your students) haven't been following the circumstances around the July 17 death of Eric Garner on Staten Island and the case of Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who the grand jury decided not to indict relative to Garner's death, (or even if you have), here is a timeline of key developments courtesy of The New York Times.

Because it never makes sense to ask a teacher for a last-minute change in plans as dozens of students head for your door without offering support, there are a few other resources linked below, including video of Mayor Bill de Blasio and President Barack Obama commenting in response to the grand jury's decision and a few articles and opinion pieces.

Yes, I'm asking that you talk with your students about what is happening in New York City (and elsewhere). About race and policing and protest and justice. You don't have to have all the answers, or even most of them. You don't have to give your opinions, or even have them. You don't have to tolerate racism or hate in your classroom. But, man oh man do we have some very 'teachable moments' here. Moments for students to ask questions, talk about personal experiences, share what they might have seen or heard last night as New Yorkers marched all over Manhattan in protest.

We shouldn't pass this moment up - we should talk about these things - even in biology or algebra.

As Chancellor Carmen Fariña wrote in a memo to Department of Education staff on Wednesday morning that you may or may not have seen: "As adults, we know that there are many positive ways to respond to complex situations that result in greater insight and understanding; current events can be a great learning experience for the entire school community."

Clearly doing even a little bit of what I'm suggesting could be very tenuous, even dangerous, in many classrooms, I'm not naive. Obviously you know your students and class dynamics better than anyone else and will use your discretion. But, perhaps there's space for at least some discussion around what almost all students are surely at least somewhat aware of.

Maybe it's just the basics of the Garner incident and Pantaleo case, what happened last night, and where things stand: with federal and internal NYPD investigations underway and several more chapters likely to come in this tragic saga.

Maybe it's a discussion of whether protesters should be allowed to block traffic or of what students think police officers' biggest challenges are in doing their jobs. Maybe it's just journaling and conversation in pairs or small groups about something relevant.

You probably don't need me to tell you any of this, and forgive me if you're annoyed - I know that often the last thing teachers want to hear is other people telling them what to do in their classrooms. I'm simply hopeful that New York City classrooms will be the best places for learning that they can be, today and every day.

Thank you.

A brief sample of resources (note: much of the above and below is maturity and age-dependent):

The New York Times
De Blasio Reacts as Mayor and a Father (includes video of the mayor's remarks)

The New York Times
Officer Told Grand Jury He Meant No Harm to Eric Garner

4+ mins of President Obama discussing the issues at play in response to the Staten Island ruling Wednesday afternoon (YouTube via The White House)

Capital New York
Justice department to investigate Garner's death

Arrests on Brooklyn Bridge as Protesters Fan Out Across City

83 People Arrested as Thousands Protest Eric Garner Decision

Newspaper Editorial Boards:
The New York Times
A Search for Justice in the Eric Garner Case

The New York Daily News
The Eric Garner 'chokehold' grand jury decision has the earmarks of a gross miscarriage of justice

The New York Post
No indictment

New York Newsday
Eric Garner Case Decision Defies Belief

Something different, but very relevant (probably only appropriate for high school and beyond):
#CrimingWhileWhite Opens A Prism On Police And Race

by Ben Max, executive editor, Gotham Gazette
email me: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.