Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics



City Releases First 10-Year Food Plan Under New Law

de Blasio food plan

Mayor de Blasio at a food pantry, pre-pandemic (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

The New York City Mayor’s Office of Food Policy is announcing the city’s first-ever 10-year food plan, called Food Forward NYC, to better address food insecurity, improve a number of food- and nutrition-related processes, and meet the requirements of legislation passed by the City Council early last year.

The policy, previewed by Gotham Gazette before its public release on Monday, is intended to tackle hunger, food waste, malnutrition-related ailments, and food industry instability through five core goals, which all have underlying plans that require the cooperation of multiple city agencies and other entities. For example, the plan includes developing a “Food Community Hiring Initiative” to easily identify entry-level jobs in the food industry and creating a commercial kitchen for providers of the city’s Department for the Aging by partnering the program with Citymeals on Wheels.

“It should go without saying that in a truly great city, no one should ever go hungry,” writes Mayor Bill de Blasio, in part, in an opening letter of the Food Forward report. “But beyond tackling hunger, we are also committed to ensuring that all New Yorkers have the information, tools, and access to eat healthy food and learn about nutrition; to lift up food workers and reduce food waste; and to back local businesses and urban farming, among a host of other responsibilities.”

The five overarching goals of the plan are: “All New Yorkers have multiple ways to access healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food; New York City’s food economy drives economic opportunity and provides good jobs; The supply chains that feed New York City are modern, efficient, and resilient; New York City’s food is produced, distributed, and disposed of sustainably; Support the systems and knowledge to implement the 10-year food policy plan.”

According to the plan, 1.6 million New York City residents are food insecure — meaning that they do not have stable access to quality, nutritious food.

This number has only increased during the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen widespread loss of jobs and work, but there was a severe crisis even before the outbreak. Previously, 1.2 million New Yorkers were food insecure, according to data from Feeding America.

Malnutrition from a lack of nutritious food, which can be a result of food insecurity, leads to health issues such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, and therefore other challenges, shorter life expectancy, and more vulnerability to diseases like COVID-19.

“Communities of color in all five boroughs have less access to affordable, healthy food than white communities and they are disproportionately impacted by diet-related health diseases,” the food plan reads, in part. “While many food businesses are owned by people of color and workers in the sector are substantially people of color, low business margins and low wages often result in limited economic mobility. Furthermore, many distribution hubs and waste facilities are located in communities of color, therefore placing additional disproportionate environmental and health burdens on them. At the same time, many of the biggest innovations in food policy in New York City, from local farms to cooperative ownership models, have emerged from communities of color. NYC’s food policy can support these successes and turn the food system into a source of health, wealth, and sustainability.”

According to the plan, two out of every three food businesses in the city have fewer than ten workers and almost half of New York City’s food originates from locations outside the city before ending up in the boroughs’ grocery stores, restaurants and schools.

The food industry is a key part of the city’s economy and one whose workers have been hurt by the pandemic. Even before covid, restaurant and grocery store workers were already making yearly salaries far below the average New York yearly income, according to the new food plan, and while many food workers have been classified as “essential” during the pandemic, helping some to keep their jobs, they have been unable to work from home and therefore at significantly higher risk of covid. At the same time, many food businesses, like restaurants, have closed during the pandemic, costing many jobs.

“At this moment in 2021, the city is in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in extraordinary levels of food insecurity,” Director of the Mayor’s Office of Food Planning Kate Mackenzie writes, in part, in her opening letter of the new policy. “Yet, through these harrowing months, we have deepened our understanding of how essential our food workers are to our food system. From the farm workers who grow our food, to the drivers and store clerks who ensure our grocery stores and bodegas remain stocked, the delivery workers who bring food to our homes, the cafeteria workers who keep our students fed, the volunteers distributing food at pantries – we see you and we thank you.”

For goal one of Food Forward NYC, the plan is to “expand food benefits to reach more New Yorkers in more places,” “distribute food more equitably,” and “reconfigure how the city sources food,” each of which come with their own sub-initiatives.

The city plans to expand to more low-income neighborhoods the “Get the Good Stuff” program, which allows Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to earn an extra dollar in reward points for every dollar they spend on fruits and vegetables at participating grocery stores.

Food Forward NYC also plans to allow adult members of children’s families to permanently get free grab-and-go meals at public schools, during summer months even after the pandemic ends. Before COVID-19, only children were eligible for this program, and parents weren’t allowed to take food even when they came with their children. The program was expanded to adults accompanying children and then all New Yorkers at the height of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.

Other strategies to achieve the first goal are to work with the state and federal governments to get “Medicare/Medicaid coverage for medically tailored meals.” to make the city’s outdoor dining program permanent, and to improve access to cold storage in underserved areas, among other things.

“For all New Yorkers to get the food they need and want, they need multiple ways to access healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food that meets them where they are,” the plan explains. “The plan embraces that food intersects with New Yorkers’ health and the broader economy in multiple ways, and not simply with regard to hunger; that food is important as an expression of cultural identity and as a way to connect with family and friends; and that food can bring tremendous joy.”

The second Food Forward NYC goal focuses more on how the food industry relates to the economy.

Initiatives within it include enforcing already created fair-scheduling laws in the fast-food industry to make sure that workers have some control over their work schedules and get paid overtime when necessary, expanding and creating new childcare centers that have weekend and overnight hours to accommodate food service workers, pushing the state for a NYC Small Business Recovery Tax Credit for small businesses and restaurants, and developing customized workforce training programs in manufacturing and industry technologies. The city proposal for a tax credit would apply to “businesses with gross revenue below $1 million,” which would “be eligible for a tax credit equal to 6% of their calendar year 2021 rent, up to maximum credit of $10,000.”

The city will also “create financing and technical assistance plans to support worker-owned cooperatives,” by adjusting current programs to better suit the needs of food businesses and by working with community organizations and business improvement districts.

“The restaurant industry is also vital to the city as a major draw for residents, workers, and visitors, underpinning many other industries such as office employment in the central business districts and serving as a draw for tourists,” the plan says. “Indeed, the restaurant industry is key to making New York City the compelling place that it is. Its economic contribution is also large. In 2019, the industry made nearly $27 billion in taxable sales.”

Food Forward’s third main goal focuses on the way that food comes into New York City and where it originates — which more often than not is far from the five boroughs.

Initiatives in this category include modernizing the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center by implementing resiliency measures to protect the building from rising sea levels and flooding, increasing the amount of food the city buys from the New York region instead of outside sources, and removing barriers to urban farming that currently exist in the forms of laws and regulations, such as “reviewing regulations related to land use and exploring different nonprofit and for-profit operating models and mechanisms to distribute micro-grants more efficiently.”

Under the fourth goal of the plan, the emphasis is on making sure that food is distributed fairly throughout the city and that food waste is handled sustainably and resourcefully.

The city is aiming to collect 90% of organic waste by 2030 and to “mandate the source separation and recycling of organic waste within all city institutions and schools by the year 2025 and in all residential buildings by 2029”; to figure out how to make cold storage more efficient and sustainable at a lower cost; and to include local seafood and seaweed in the New York State Grown & Certified program, which “is a program that makes it easy for consumers to identify local, safely-handled, and environmentally responsible agricultural products.”

The final component of Food Forward NYC is about ensuring different stakeholders in the food and public policy worlds will work together effectively to make the ambitious new plan a reality.

“New York City’s food system is highly distributed and fragmented, made up of many small parts that interact with each other in complicated ways,” the plan reads. “In fact, the system is so complex that even people who  have spent years working in one sector of the food system often have little to no knowledge of how the rest of it works. It is not surprising that it can be extremely hard for anyone who plays a role, from policymakers to food workers to advocates to food consumers, to understand what levers to push for systemic change. This complexity also makes meaningful community engagement and decision making around food very challenging.”

Strategies to meet the goal of “strengthening community engagement and cross-sector coordination around the development and implementation of food policy” include partnering with the non-governmental sector to increase community participation in food policy decision-making, working with the private and civic sectors on food education campaigns about sustainability and nutrition, and establishing a Public Housing Food Leadership Innovation Lab to work on projects regarding food access, food production, food waste management, and community building in NYCHA. The plan indicates intention to finally begin recycling at public housing developments.

Decision NYC: Guiddalia Emilien Discusses Her Run for Mayor

guiddalia emilien free

Guiddalia Emilien (photo: Guiddalia for Mayor)

Guiddalia Emilien, a Democrat running for Mayor in the 2021 election, joined MNN's "Decision NYC with Ben Max" for an in-depth discussion of her candidacy for the city's top job. This interview is part of a series produced by Manhattan Neighborhood Network. Watch:

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

Democratic Mayoral Candidates Appear at 'Follow Black Women' Forum

Black women lead

Activists (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

Seven Democratic candidates running to become the next mayor of New York City appeared Tuesday evening at a virtual town hall event to share their agendas for tackling the systemic obstacles facing Black women, who are doubly affected by racism and sexism and are often referred to as the backbone of the Democratic Party.

At the “Follow Black Women Mayoral Candidate Town Hall,” billed as the first-ever mayoral forum created by and for Black women and hosted by Community Voices Heard Power, the candidates discussed centering Black women on important issues, while also pitching themselves as the most qualified to craft a comprehensive plan that will implement broad and structural change to empower Black women. The candidates discussed a range of topics, including racial disparities in health care, vaccine distribution, job scarcity, affordable housing, economic recovery, the public school system and higher education, police reform and incarceration, homeownership, supporting small business owners, and more.

Participants included Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur and former Democratic presidential candidate. (It was one of Yang's first public campaign appearances after having contracted COVID-19 and stepping back from such forums as he dealt with symptoms, but after about 10 days he is feeling healthy again and appeared so at the forum.)

The virtual town hall was moderated by Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, with some questions coming from Community Voices members. Some questions were addressed to all candidates, other questions were directed to specific candidates.

In her opening remarks, Afua Atta-Mensah, the executive director of Community Voices Heard Power, reflected on the importance of Black women voters in the mayoral race. “In New York City, just like in many other communities across the country, Black women are in fact the margin of votes needed to win an election. I have it on good authority that Black women intend to show up and show out in this primary election. We will have something to say about who gets the privilege of living in Gracie Mansion.”

She continued, “Our communities are not a monolith. There is no one answer that is going to magically conjure the Black woman vote. We are sisters, daughters, mothers, essential workers, providers. But most importantly, we are New Yorkers, and we helped build this city.”

After Greer told the candidates to throw their stump speeches out and focus their opening remarks and answers to questions on Black women, some did so more than others.

“My opening statement is relevant to Black women because I am a Black woman, and so everything that I have to say is connected to that,” began Morales, who kicked off candidates’ opening statements. Morales differentiated herself as a political outsider with non-profit expertise “managing large human service organizations because the city’s leadership continues to fail the needs of our people of women, children, Black and brown people, queer people…The time is now, I believe, for those that are closest to the problems drive the solutions.” Morales highlighted her Afro-Latina roots, giving her opening remarks in Spanish as well as English.

Yang, who is the son of Taiwanese immigrants, used his opening statement to acknowledge the record turnout of Black voters in Georgia’s Senate runoff election, in part powered by Stacey Abrams, LaTosha Brown, and other Black women leaders, which cemented wins by Democrats Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the historically Republican state to flip the U.S. Senate to Democrats. Yang spent time in Georgia campaigning with the two Democratic candidates.

“I am totally sure that the next mayor is going to be determined by Black women voters here in New York City,” Yang said before lamenting the gap in maternal death between Black and white women, as well as the disproportionate job losses among Black women as a result of covid. He spotlighted his “anti-poverty agenda,” designed to “change things fundamentally,” before concluding, “you [Black women voters] are going to lead us there.”

Wiley began by thanking the panel of Black women members of Community Voices Heard Power, recognizing Atta-Mensah in particular as “a leader who has inspired me,” as well as Greer. “I’ve been Black all my life,” said Wiley, pitching herself as the best candidate to tackle issues important to Black women because she’s experienced them firsthand. Wiley described growing up as “a little girl in segregated, underfunded, overcrowded public schools.” She also discussed “the trauma of watching my community start to disappear” as a result of rent hikes and displacement. Wiley spoke of herself as a political outsider, citing her experience as a civil rights lawyer and racial justice activist.

McGuire credited his mother, a “Black woman who was a social worker, who raised me and my two brothers on the wrong side of the tracks,” for inspiring his mayoral run. “Based on her sacrifices, I’m able to be here, and I’m able to present myself as a leader who can meet the moment, who can lead this city forward in the most inclusive economic recovery that the city has ever encountered.” McGuire centered Black women in his economic- and business-oriented bid for mayor: “I have a history and a track record that says if you invest in Black women, you invest in Black communities, and as a whole, you invest in this city.”

Donovan explained how increased homelessness and witnessing burning buildings in the South Bronx “lit a fire in me to go to work on behalf of the city that I love.” He described working with Rev. Johnny Ray Youngblood on rebuilding the South Bronx and other neighborhoods, which Donovan said helped Black women exit public housing and achieve homeownership. Donovan pitched himself as uniquely experienced in crisis management, citing his leadership after 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. He argued that these experiences have equipped him to lead during the covid crisis, but he did not connect this particular emergency to the experiences of Black women.

“If we want to have a real and equitable economic recovery, we need to have Black women front and center in our policymaking,” asserted Stringer, who like Donovan is a white man. While he made a point to acknowledge Wiley and Morales right off the bat for “bringing their lived experience to this race,” adding, “I think we’re all better for it,” Stringer did of course argue that he is the candidate with “the skill and experience to help deliver change for Black women and all New Yorkers.” Stringer flexed his history with Community Voices Heard Power, citing his work and collaboration with them from advocacy for NYCHA residents, and developing his affordable housing and childcare plans.

“I am who I am because of Black woman,” said Adams, referring to his mother. Unlike the other candidates, Adams did not spotlight his agenda but used his opening remarks to tell a personal story about a group of Black women he encountered as a child growing up in South Jamaica Queens, could not “afford to buy us food,” but “gave us half of what they had” in a gesture of kindness. “That’s what I know about Black women,” Adams concluded. “They were in front of my house when someone shot up my car. And I didn’t even know them. They were praying for me and hoping for my safety. They've been with me throughout my entire life.”

Equity and accessibility were major themes throughout the forum, especially on eradicating systemic racism in health care. Morales and Adams said they’re equipped to tackle the issue of unequal medical treatment because they’ve experienced it firsthand.

Morales said that she almost died after she was “rushed into emergency surgery as a result of not getting medical treatment when I needed it, despite repeatedly saying that something was wrong.” Disparities in medical treatment among Black women, “even when our socio-economics are the same [as white women]” is why she’s emphasized “local integrated community health clinics that focus on education and prevention first” as a crucial component of her campaign platform. Morales also said she would invest in doula programs.

“They stated that there was nothing they could do for me,” said Adams of health care professionals after he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2016 and lost eyesight in his left eye. “Once I made a lifestyle change, I was able to regain my sight. I was able to put my diabetes in remission.” Adams did not propose new policy proposals to address health inequities, but he cited the plant-based nutrition pilot program that he spearheaded at Bellevue Hospital, which has helped patients reverse chronic illnesses, as “the symbol of America’s health-care system improvement.”

Yang expressed his belief that inequities and abuses in the medical field are due in part to “a power dynamic imbalance,” citing his wife, who was “preyed upon by her doctor,” along with 40 other women. He said he would pursue policies that ensured patients have advocates with them as desired and needed.

In addition to Morales, other candidates called for community-based health care, with McGuire pledging to “create primary care facilities” and “increase investment in public hospitals and health care centers.” McGuire also flagged inconsistent pricing as an issue of equity, saying, “You can't go to one health care facility and get one price and go to another health care facility get another price.” Stringer pledged to “expand health care options,” citing the “Go Green East Harlem” initiative that he launched when he was Manhattan Borough President, which created a center dedicated to providing asthma-related services.

Stringer took aim at real estate developers for increasing asthma rates and other pre-existing health conditions in the first place, saying he would “stop this notion that developers and city agencies dump everything in communities that have already been marginalized.”

Morales, Stringer, Donovan, and Yang emphasized the need for more doctors and health care professionals of color. “We need to involve community based organizations in the implementation of training programs for people that look like us to increase their entry into the field,” said Morales. She also called for increased bias training for medical professionals. Stringer proposed leveraging the City University of New York network to create a more diverse workforce.

“I will absolutely have our Department of Health and H+H track the data, make it public, and hold folks accountable when their numbers don't add up,” said Wiley, citing 30-year-old Rana Mungin, a Black teacher who died from covid after she was denied coronavirus tests.

Wiley and Donovan homed in on health insurance, with Wiley noting that her campaign was “working on a plan,” while Donovan pledged to create a “true public option” that would give people the flexibility to visit their community-based doctors, not just those affiliated with NYC Health + Hospitals, as well as cover “prenatal care, mental health care, all of the services that you deserve.”

Additionally, Donovan reiterated his pledge to appoint a chief equity officer, who “would have power to hold agencies accountable” regarding medical mistreatment and other health-care inequities. He also spotlighted his “15-minute neighborhoods” proposal, which he said would holistically upend medical disparities by providing New Yorkers with quality education, reliable transportation, fresh food, green space, and health care within walking distance of their homes.

There was broad consensus from the candidates on leveraging partnerships with trusted community organizations and faith-based institutions, as well as mobile vans and 24-hour sites, to distribute covid vaccines. Candidates also voiced support for vaccination priority to essential frontline workers, senior citizens, and undocumented immigrants, especilaly those of color. Morales noted that “we should have paid [Black and brown people] to stay home, so we could keep them safe” from the outset of the pandemic. Yang also called for adjusting vaccine eligibility, such as lowering age requirements for high-risk populations and neighborhoods, pointing out that “Black people are at higher risk of covid, so it would be wholly appropriate to do it.”

Adams and Stringer said that they’ve been leaders on safe and equitable vaccine distribution from the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. Adams cited a letter he spearheaded with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and other elected officials in May that called for a federal investigation into covid racial disparities. More recently, Adams said he developed a seven-point plan in January, which he presented to the Department of Health, that would expedite the vaccine rollout “in real time.” Stringer spotlighted his vaccine equity plan called NYC Fair Shot, which would “develop a centralized database” to help hospitals and health care providers track vaccine demand and usage. 

Yang noted that outreach about vaccine education is now part of his campaign, saying, “Over 3,500 volunteers starting today are calling and texting and reaching out to New Yorkers to try and get them the vaccination information.”

Morales pledged to implement NYC5000 within her first 100 days as mayor, which would connect vulnerable populations to covid education, testing, and vaccination.

Morales, Yang, Stringer, and McGuire were specifically asked what two signature initiatives they would implement within their first 100 days in office and how those priorities would benefit Black women. While most of these four candidates broadly emphasized economic recovery as their top priority, their responses revealed differences in how they would try to stimulate fiscal growth.

Morales and Yang pledged to provide economic relief through cash grants, varying in scope and methods. Morales said she would ensure an unspecific dollar amount to “every household,” including “excluded workers and those that we know were left out on the federal and state level” by defunding $3 billion from the NYPD budget, which includes roughly $6 billion in annual operating funds and billions more each year in other costs like benefits and capital spending.

While Yang popularized universal basic income when he ran as a Democratic presidential candidate, his plan for New York City is to launch a version of a grant program starting by providing “$1 billion in cash relief” to “the extreme poor,” effectively providing 500,000 residents with an average of $2,000 per year (up to $5,000 per year), and utilizing the IDNYC municipal identification card program. His campaign website explains that this program would be “grown over time as it receives more funding from public and philanthropic organizations.” Yang also pledged “to reduce the 12% of New Yorkers who don't have access to basic financial services.”

McGuire, the longtime Wall Street executive running on a business- and jobs-focused platform, promised to appoint a deputy mayor who would focus on small, women- and minority-owned businesses. “I would designate $50 million to directly invest in M/WBEs” to access city contracts, added McGuire, referring to the minority- and women-owned business enterprises program. He explained that the M/WBE program has failed to meet its overall goals, noting that Black-owned businesses should be getting 8% in designated M/WBE construction spending. “Right now, we get .5 or .7%. That is not acceptable,” McGuire said. He would only approve contracts that include minority- and women-owned enterprises, he pledged. McGuire also promised to “make sure that we get people back to work,” citing his economic recovery plan, which would bring back 50,000 jobs for small businesses and 500,000 jobs overall.

Morales prioritized small business owners, as well, but suggested an approach that differed from McGuire’s, saying, “We need to move away from the historic model of counting on big corporations for jobs, who come into our communities, exploit our labor, and extract our wealth.”

Stringer emphasized investment in Black women through his child care-focused “NYC Under 3” plan, which he says would cut child care expenses for up to 70,000 New York City families and extend child care assistance to families making up to $100,000 a year. “My plan would send 20,000 people, mostly women of color, back into the workforce,” said Stringer.

Morales and Stringer included housing as one of their top priorities. Morales said an unspecified portion of the money defunded from the NYPD would “house everyone who have been unhoused.” She also called for ‘cancelling rent’ and ensuring housing for all more broadly. Stringer called for transforming vacant city-owned land into low-income housing, part of his larger affordable housing plan that would focus city resources on “low-income housing.”

McGuire and Yang said they would broaden internet access, with Yang specifying that he’s “committed $100 million” to this endeavor.

Yang also said he would amend the language in the City Charter to explicitly address ending racial health disparities, as well as “have the DOHMH [Department of Health and Mental Hygiene] and New York hospitals have it actually baked into their DNA,” though he did not explain what this would look like in practice.

Wiley, Adams, and Donovan were specifically asked about their plans to ensure public safety, including whether or not they would commit to defunding the police.

“I'm going to put the public back in public safety,” began Wiley, in her usual tag line on the subject. “We are going to take money from the NYPD,” she continued, though she did not specify how much she would reduce police spending during the forum, she pledged “to invest $18 million in a participatory justice fund” as part of her Gun Violence Prevention Plan, which according to her campaign website, would be created with money divested from the police budget.

“That means communities with high rates of gun violence get to say where those resources get spent, what makes them safe,” said Wiley, listing public school funding, trauma-informed care, mental health crisis intervention and services as possible resources to invest in.

“Reducing the role of the police requires that we focus them on guns and violent crime, not on patrolling the hallways of our schools, not on criminalizing homelessness,” said Donovan. He was vague about how he would “create transparency and accountability,” but he was more specific on his plan to break the cycle of incarceration.

“Today, more than $400,000 per prisoner per year at Rikers. I worked with President Obama to close the most expensive prison in the world: Guantanamo. Rikers is the second most expensive when we get bad results.” He added, “I would dedicate within my first two years as mayor $500 million a year to [reinvesting in communities], and by the end of my first term, $3 billion a year; 20% of our entire criminal justice budget would go to reinvest in communities.”

Adams expressed concern that cutting police spending would adversely impact Black women living in neighborhoods where violent crime is prevalent.

“When you talk about public safety, you are talking about Black women. We saw the case in Harlem where a Black woman was walking out of a store and was attacked brutally — her eye socket was bit out.” He continued, “I know about police abuse. It's no secret I was arrested and beat by police officers. But I also know that we could have public safety and justice. They go together. The prerequisite to prosperity is public safety, and our Black women need to be safe.”

Adams touched on incarceration, as well, noting that 30% of those incarcerated on Rikers Island are dyslexic. “Let’s be more proactive and do dyslexia screening at all of our schools,” he said.

Several candidates pitched ideas for creating pathways to homeownership for middle- and low-income people.

Morales built upon her earlier rallying cry to create housing for all and move away from the “developer-led, for-profit model,” saying she was in favor of “community-led planning that would be focused on” increasing “social housing,” “cooperative housing,” and “the expansion of community land trusts.” She also called to “move away from the shelter-based system to a system that moves to immediately providing permanent affordable housing for everybody."

Morales and Yang voiced support for relaxing zoning regulations and utilizing the city’s power of eminent domain to repurpose covid-vacated commercial spaces, office spaces, and hotel spaces for housing.

“I’ve made a pledge not to accept any real estate dollars,” said Morales, who argued this grants her the ability to be “unapologetic and unabashed about whatever real estate policies I put in place moving forward.”

In addition to funding and creating more co-op housing models, Wiley targeted home loss and deed theft among Black homeowners as a serious issue. She called for “building up community-based organizations, both for the education support to prevent the scamming, as well as the enforcement to prevent the home loss.”

Wiley voiced support for property tax reform, an effort Mayor de Blasio recently promised to revive, which Wiley said she would “see it through to its end,” though she did not get into specifics. Wiley pledged “$2 billion will be earmarked for NYCHA for renovation and rehabilitation, and I won’t need agreement from Albany or dollars from D.C. to get it done” as part of her larger $10 billion “New Deal for New York” economic recovery plan using the city’s capital budget.

Wiley and McGuire said the homeownership gap between Black and white New Yorkers is entrenched in job scarcity and low wages and said a jobs-focused economic recovery plan was essential to building wealth and homeownership. “Jobs give people the income so that they can afford homes, so they can move from no-class to middle-class, which is homeownership,” said McGuire.

“Many of the underserved pay 50% to 60% of their income on rent,” McGuire pointed out, adding, he would extend the moratorium on evictions, as well as “make sure that they can continue to rent.”

Adams cited his personal experience “of growing up in South Jamaica, Queens, carrying a garbage bag full of clothing to school everyday because Mom thought we were going to be thrown out by the marshals, and she did not want us to be embarrassed by not having a change in clothing,” saying this shaped his “concept of what we must do when you talk about Black women around homeownership.”

As Brooklyn Borough President, Adams flexed his experience conducting “first-time home buying seminars” and “a series of financial literacy programs to show people how to navigate the complexities of filling out a mortgage.” Adams decried development in the city that displaces poor communities, saying, “We should be developing affluent communities with great access to transit, great schools, great access to healthy food, and allow poorer people to move into those communities.”

Adams also called for reviving or building upon programs like the Tenant Interim Lease (TIL), which enabled tenants in certain city-owned buildings to develop low-income, tenant-owned cooperatives, as well as Mitchell-Lama, which provides government subsidized housing to middle-class residents. Wiley expressed support for this, as well, citing her personal experience living in Mitchell-Lama housing when she was an infant and as a law school student at Columbia.

Donovan promised to tackle gentrification and displacement, saying, “In this city, the first Great Black Migration was into our cities. Now, Black folks are being pushed out.” He cited Rev. Dr. Johnny Ray Youngblood, who Donovan said he worked closely with to build 5,000 affordable homes in predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods when he was New York City’s Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, saying this experience influenced his “citywide inclusionary housing program with homeownership opportunity.”

Donovan said he was the only candidate with a design for a program that would “keep housing permanently affordable and still allow real wealth-building.” He said his housing initiative would include “housing counseling to build financial knowledge and the savings to be successful homeowners,” as well as “equity bonds,” which would give every child $1,000 when they’re born and $2,000 every year after.

Stringer expanded on his earlier plan to return vacant-city-owned land to community-based organizations for low-income housing purposes, saying it would “flip the script on developers and speculators and build more opportunity for homeownership.” He added that “when it comes to as-of-right development, no more luxury buildings without affordable housing.” Stringer also pledged to “improve Black homeownership by helping renters grow their credit scores with their rent payments,” explaining that “Black women are denied mortgages, and they have to pay higher mortgages due to discimination.”

All candidates pledged to schedule a session to hear the NYCHA division of CVH Power’s plans for public housing.

Adams, McGuire, and Donovan were specifically asked about their plans for ensuring the academic success of immigrant children, with a consensus that the education system is plagued with systemic inequities.

Adams and McGuire stressed early childhood education, with some differences. “The first classroom is in the mother’s womb,” said Adams, who pledged to provide every first-time mother with a doula and to focus on prenatal care. McGuire advocated for a “cradle to career” plan that ensures students entering pre-K are on a level playing field.

As mayor, McGuire said he would ensure that every child can read by the end of the third grade. McGuire also proposed “public-private partnerships” that aid students between the 6th and 12th grades in finding summer jobs “in whatever career path they decide to choose.”

Adams and Donovan emphasized supporting immigrant students by recruiting more racially diverse teachers and staff, with Donovan noting in particular that he would build training programs to leverage CUNY as a source of diverse hiring. Donovan pledged to create “450 new dual language programs across our schools” and ensure more broadly that all immigrants, regardless of their documentation status, have the right to vote.

Morales, Wiley, Stringer, and Yang were specifically asked what strategies they would implement to help small businesses reopen and what agencies they would trust to carry out their visions, revealing differences among the candidates.

Morales argued that creating a “solidarity economy” would support Black women, who “have always had a much higher rate of participation in the labor force than white women, despite the fact that we actually have had much higher unemployment rates.” She said a solidarity economy would tackle citywide problems systemically, but she did not provide details about how this transformation would be actualized. “We need to extend full protections to all of our workers,” said Morales, citing the Fair Labor Standards Act, social security protections, and unemployment insurance protection as measures that should be rigorously enforced. Morales reiterated her mission to provide New Yorkers with a minimum guaranteed income “and then supporting them with incentives and subsidies, so that they can get back on their feet.” 

Yang criticized the city’s current relationship with small business owners. “Right now if you’re a small business, you’re hearing from the city about whether you’re complying with various regulations. We need to be a partner in helping people stay open.” As an example of this partnership, Yang proposed the city buying “heaters, dividers, and air filtration systems in bulk” and distributing them to small businesses.

Yang pitched the idea of appointing a “small business recovery czar,” who would help 15,000 small businesses reopen. Lastly, Yang said he would implement a People's Bank of New York, which would “guarantee a certain level of risk, and then free up a lot of capital from community development, financial institutions, and other lenders to actually make capital available” to small businesses.

“Black women as entrepreneurs are 42% of new businesses in this country, but we also saw more shrinkage during recession of earnings. That was before covid,” Wiley said. She went on to argue, “It’s not one-size-fits-all because it depends what the business model is.” Wiley proposed implementing “programs to foot the rent, pay it, and keep them open, so that they can come back when they reopen.”

Stringer identified wealth creation as a broader economic issue adversely impacting small business owners, pointing out that the city’s agencies spend a total of $20 billion on contracts, but only 5% of that spending is awarded to M/WBEs. As comptroller, Stringer said, “I took my spending on M/WBEs from 30% to 50%,” which he credited to the chief diversity officer he appointed, who monitors and oversees the city’s M/WBE programs. As mayor, Stringer said he would appoint a citywide chief diversity officer. Stringer also called for creating additional tax breaks and tax incentives for small businesses.

The last question was addressed to all candidates except Adams, who had just left by this point in the forum to appear at another event. On addressing the rising cost of tuition and curbing budget cuts at CUNY, candidates pitched distinct strategies, some more specific than others.

Wiley expressed support for the Invest In Our New York Act, a six-bill state legislative package that would raise tens of billions of dollars in new revenue and is designed to fund $2 billion into the CUNY and SUNY systems. Of her $10 billion city capital construction “New Deal New York” plan, Wiley said, “We’re looking at how that also helps CUNY,” but did note, “We're going to put $5,000 in 100,000 families’ pockets to recognize that it is our caregivers that need taken care of and that will help with CUNY.”

Morales identified the lack of funding for CUNY as an issue with historically racist roots, saying, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that CUNY, like NYCHA, the disinvestment in the system started when the ratio of Black and brown students to white counterparts started to get a little bit too high.” Morales was the only candidate to bring up support for adjunct professors in her response, noting, “We know that they're the ones that are also bearing a significant brunt of the challenge right now,” but she didn’t say what form this support would take.

Candidates broadly homed in on CUNY as a rich source for hiring opportunities. McGuire said he planned to make the school network the primary supplier of tech talent to New York City companies. Stringer also called for creating “a worker program that will allow people to do real job training for the post-pandemic economy,” including jobs in telehealth and IT. Donovan said, “I've committed to creating the New York City Job Corps, the biggest commitment to apprenticeships that the city’s ever seen, and this would be a huge opportunity for CUNY students, as well.” Morales said, “CUNY would be the critical center where we could incentivize the labor force.”

To varying degrees, Wiley, Morales, Stringer, and Donovan voiced support for free tuition for CUNY students, with Wiley saying that she believes in “the free-tuition movement” broadly. Stringer pointed out that “debt is crushing our Black women,” but only called for making community colleges tuition-free, a point Donovan also made, while he also said students at the four-year CUNY schools should be able to graduate debt-free. Morales proposed the most far-reaching reform, calling for free tuition across “all of CUNY,” though she did not mention any ideas for how to fund that shift.

Wiley noted that implementing free tuition “means we do have to work with D.C. to make something real for us,” referring to federal funding. Donovan grabbed onto this point, saying of himself, “No one can work better with the Biden-Harris administration or our leaders in Congress to get us the help that we need to do that.” Morales asserted that she would be “unabashed about taking on the forces and the powers that be in Albany” to achieve her policy goals.

Yang said, “We need to make sure that CUNY is affordable for everyone moving forward” and that students “emerge debt-free.” On how to achieve this, he said, “This is something that we have to work out with Albany to some extent, and there may be some money coming in from the feds.”

by Allison Smith for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice

Gotham Gazette: 
CUNY and New York City Could Recover Together, or the Public University System Could Be Left Behind
CUNY and New York City Could Recover Together, or the Public University System Could Be Left Behind
Gotham Gazette: 
Amid Another Poorly-Run Election, Top New York Officials Point Fingers, Offer Plans, or Say Nothing
Amid Another Poorly-Run Election, Top New York Officials Point Fingers, Offer Plans, or Say Nothing
Gotham Gazette: 
Big Flushing Project Up Next in City Debate Over Development Big Flushing Project Up Next in City Debate Over Development Gotham Gazette: The Max & Murphy Podcast The Max & Murphy Podcast