Gotham Gazette

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Initiative Offers Blueprint for Inclusive New York City Recovery and Growth

NYC resource fair growth

City resources on offer (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

The New York City Inclusive Growth Initiative -- an effort organized by three major nonprofit groups -- this week released a “blueprint” of 50-plus recommendations for the next Mayor and City Council to guide an equitable recovery from the devastating covid pandemic. Noting the propensity for change during times of crisis and the history of disasters like Hurricane Sandy and the 2008 financial crisis that only worsened existing disparities, the Inclusive Growth Initiative report calls for an incoming city government that puts low-income New Yorkers, immigrants, and communities of color at the center of recovery initiatives and future growth.

The project aims to challenge city leaders “to rethink how to approach economic success” and “change the way development is done — to prioritize infrastructure and development projects that proactively address long-standing disparities and meet the material needs of New Yorkers, especially the communities that are usually left out of the decision-making process.” It calls for comprehensive planning, better city agency coordination, more public input, and greater transparency.

A group of 18 community organizers from non-profits across the city convened for several months to put together the blueprint. The Inclusive Growth Initiative was initially founded in November 2020 by the New York City Employment and Training Coalition (NYCETC), a group supporting workforce development training for 600,000 New Yorkers; the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD), an umbrella group for affordable housing and community development advocacy in New York; and the Regional Plan Association (RPA), a think tank focused on urban planning including around transit, housing, economics, open space, and more. The three groups then helped assemble the 18-member steering committee and support its work.

The effort intends to offer a framework for the next city government -- set to take office January 1 -- to be proactive in rolling out policies geared toward an equitable recovery, aiming to create a ‘new normal’ instead of returning to pre-pandemic ways of doing business. The agenda also appears aimed at heading off another instance of ‘disaster capitalism,’ where shocks to public systems are often taken advantage of by powerful private interests and socioeconomic disparities only worsen.

The blueprint is broken down into three pillars: economic development, workforce development, and affordable housing, while it also touches on many other issues that intersect. It includes ideas to create accessible and paid local civic engagement, invest more in social infrastructure, including bringing more voices into land use decisions, ramping up and better integrating workforce development programs, and boosting the rehabilitation and expansion of affordable housing.

Among the broader recommendations are: “Prioritizing investments in real estate and physical infrastructure that are also investments in social infrastructure, including parks, libraries, transit and more”; “Shifting government approach around workforce development policies and systems to being seen as a fully integrated part of the city’s overall economic development, as opposed to the current view as a poverty reduction strategy”; and “Creating a housing plan focused more on outcomes than outputs, and targeting subsidies and tax incentives toward development projects that meet the deepest needs of households within that plan, and more.”

The recommendations begin, though, with making it easier for all to engage with government decision-making. Suggestions include providing compensation for time spent at public forums and long-term strategic planning groups, more assertively reaching out in communities, and making meeting times and locations flexible are all proposed to ensure that government responds to the needs of those who often don’t have time to advocate for themselves through the traditional avenues of community input.

There are dozens of more specific recommendations, too, like “Create a utility-consumer bill of rights that prevents threats of life safety,” “Raise new revenue for street improvements by managing and fairly pricing more curb space,” and “Require major economic development projects to prioritize local residents as first-look candidates for jobs generated by the development.”

“We have a rare window of opportunity to undo decades of flawed decisions and unintended consequences, starting by recognizing that a genuinely inclusive workforce development system sees people as the source of our economic prosperity and growth,” said Jose Ortiz, Jr., CEO of NYCETC, in a statement accompanying the release of the blueprint. “There are always New Yorkers left behind during recovery, and all too often they are people of color, immigrants, and other historically underserved groups. By embracing the Blueprint’s Inclusive Growth mindset, we can finally tear down barriers to individual and communal success and build a truly fairer, better city.”

The blueprint documents the deep economic and racial disparities that have defined New York for decades. According to the Initiative’s findings, which analyze U.S. Census data, New York City has the highest number of low-wage workers and the State has the largest income gap in the country. While the top 5% of New York City earners experienced a roughly 25% increase in mean household income since 2006, the lowest quintile of earners only experienced a 5% increase in income. Simultaneously, while white earners’ median income increased almost 30% since 2006, Black median income only rose only 10%, Hispanic income rose 15%, and Asian income rose 20%. New York City has also become more unaffordable since 2000, with overall income increasing 31% compared to an 87% rise in consumer prices.

Beyond the financial disparities across race and economic class, the city’s welfare infrastructure, designed to alleviate these inequities, is also lacking adequate investment, the Initiative found. New York City’s affordable housing program, for example, is overwhelmed by need -- for example, there are 170,000 New Yorkers waitlisted for NYCHA public housing. Furthermore, the report argues, community input into development decisions leaves out the voices of low-income residents and people of color who may not have the flexibility to engage in time-consuming, unpaid community engagement opportunities.

Massive job loss caused by the pandemic -- five times greater than during the Great Depression -- has only made matters worse. New York City lost 1,025,000 jobs in the months after the March 2020 covid shutdown, and has so far only regained 47% of them. The losses have exacerbated inequalities and have primarily been in hotel, restaurant, and arts and entertainment industries, which include more low-income earners. Meanwhile, high-income industries like in the finance and tech sectors have even seen some expansion.

Working from this dire illustration of New York City’s rampant inequalities, the Inclusive Growth Initiative hopes to guide the city’s incoming governmental leadership to realign the fight against poverty and for economic growth. The report envisions inclusive growth that “would ensure that all New Yorkers have access to quality careers and livelihoods, affordable housing, and economic opportunity.”

The Inclusive Growth Initiative report points to the “role of white supremacy at the heart of our current systems,” including its most recent manifestations in the form of hate crimes against Asian and Pacific Islander communities and police brutality against African-Americans. One goal is creating “prosperity for most people,” with emphasis on the need to listen to and invest in historically ignored communities. A central tenet of the report’s new vision for government’s approach to economic growth is that “communities who have been left behind have more of a say in shaping economic development processes, planning and leadership.”

The report lays out a vision to tackle wealth and power disparities exacerbated by the pandemic, climate change, and long-term disinvestment. Key to the vision is that almost all initiatives are rolled out in low-income and communities of color first, where the problems are usually the most acute.

The project proposes that city government focuses on creating a more sturdy small business framework that better supports minority- and women-owned businesses (MWBEs). Specific proposals include fast-tracking MWBE certification and encouraging big chains to offer supplier opportunities to local businesses.

The report also puts health and wellness at the center of development efforts, including covering gaps in existing medical and mental health services for employees. This initiative extends to many parts of life and society, including suggestions for adding after-school and summer programs in addition to funding apprenticeship and other non-college paths. Agricultural infrastructure to supply communities with reliable, healthy food year-round, as well as investment in other social infrastructure like parks, libraries, and transit are also part of the blueprint.

Reforming New York’s land use decision-making process is another key piece of the recommendations. Arguing that many land use decisions are made largely by developers, city government, or both, with limited community input, the report advocates for the creation of a centralized database for community land use projects and more analysis of the outcomes of public-private partnerships to tackle discrepancies in input toward and outcomes of land use decisions.

Developing New York’s workforce should be central to the city’s economic development plan, the report says. Starting by empowering the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development to exercise greater influence in the city’s investment decisions and creating a permanent Workforce Development Fund, the Inclusive Growth blueprint details plans to offer city-run workforce development and entrepreneurship programs, integrate more immigrants into the workforce, and strengthen worker protection from discrimination and abuse.

The affordable housing ecosystem is also a central focus of the report. Currently, the report says, the city’s affordable housing programming underserves very and extremely low-income New Yorkers. The new housing vision calls for a “focus on racial equity based outcomes, increasing options for the deepest need households, and supporting opportunity, mobility, and self-determination for NYCHA residents.” To help people stay in their homes, the blueprint recommends investment in low- and extremely low-income rental assistance as well as strengthening renter protections like Universal Access to Counsel and Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemptions.

Along with ensuring the renewal of 547,900 rent-regulated units set to expire over the course of the next mayor’s first term, the report calls for the creation of more affordable housing in areas with a lower share of affordable units to combat neighborhood-level segregation.

Improving NYCHA residences, integrating NYCHA campuses into surrounding communities, and legalizing basement apartments and accessory dwelling units are also recommended by the Inclusive Growth Initiative.

The report ends with an ask of the next mayor -- likely to be Democratic nominee Eric Adams -- to enact an economic recovery that breaks away from “the old playbook” that tends to compound inequality by allowing the same mostly white and wealthy powerful interests dominate.

“As a Native New Yorker, public housing resident, and climate activist, I am glad to work amongst the other Steering Committee members to elevate decades of community concerns and collectively develop the Inclusive Growth framework,” said Daphany Rose Sanchez, Executive Director at Kinetic Communities Consulting and Inclusive Growth Initiative Steering Committee Member, in a statement accompanying the blueprint’s release. “To me, this framework is a first step towards reframing our city. It is an opportunity to develop and sustain equitable, restorative, and sustainable pathways forward for BIPOC, immigrant, and low-income communities who are often ignored and disinvested in.”

According to the announcement of the blueprint, the Inclusive Growth Initiative’s work was supported by NYCETC, ANHD, and RPA via “original research, providing leadership and facilitation, lending policy and issue expertise, and utilizing relevant connections to give the cohort access to government and civic organizations.” And the effort is funded by the Ford Foundation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., PNC Foundation, and Robin Hood Foundation.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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