Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2105 Mon, 22 Jul 2019 18:51:25 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Ending Health Disparities That Disproportionately Impact New Yorkers of Color https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8548-ending-health-disparities-that-disproportionately-impact-new-yorkers-of-color https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8548-ending-health-disparities-that-disproportionately-impact-new-yorkers-of-color woodhull cm cr ar mt jm

Council Member Carlina Rivera, left, one of the co-authors (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


New York City is one of the largest, most diverse, and advanced cities in the country – in fact, New Yorkers are living one-and-a-half years longer than a decade ago and nearly nine years longer than 25 years ago. Yet behind that positive sheen lies a shameful truth – our city persistently falls short in health outcomes for people of color.

As a New York City lawmaker chairing the committee that oversees our city’s largest public health system and as the founder and leader of the city’s largest physician-led nonprofit health care network, we are troubled that despite economic and technological leadership, our city continues to fall short on health basics.

Persistent health disparities are spread across all five of New York City’s boroughs, most noticeably in communities of color. So, with another Minority Health Month in the rear-view mirror, we are hoping to spur solutions and bring much needed attention to these crises beyond just one month. Whether it is tackling the epidemic of diabetes, maternal mortality rates, or depression and suicides, we can no longer take on these issues without highlighting the disparate rates at which these medical issues affect New Yorkers of color.

And the solutions to these challenges can’t just come from one sector. We need policymakers, community doctors on the front lines, and healthcare experts to all fight together for essential access to preventive care, increasing basic health education and literacy, and addressing the social determinants of health.

Our urban reality is stark: compared to their white neighbors, Latinx women are 60% more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer and are 70% more likely to receive late or no prenatal care; Asian-Americans are 30% more likely to be diagnosed with tuberculosis and 10% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes; and African-Americans are 60% more likely to experience a stroke that could end in them becoming permanently disabled.

In addition, key survey findings in SOMOS’s State of Latino Health report highlighted a series of health disparities Latino New Yorkers struggle with every day. For example, 33 percent of Latinos don’t think people in their community get the health care they need, and 61 percent of providers think that Latinos face unique barriers that keep them from accessing health services.

Many of these conditions are exacerbated by what are known as social determinants of health, or more simply, the conditions in which New Yorkers live. These social determinants are attached to economic stability, education level, social and community context, health and health care; and neighborhood and built environment. And, every single one of these factors can determine a wide range of health risk outcomes.

Overall, New Yorkers who live in poverty and cultural isolation, including immigrant and first-generation New Yorkers, live underserved and in a political climate hostile to the historically disenfranchised. Put simply, this crisis is decades in the making, which is why the City Council Committee on Hospitals has been dedicated to examining these issues at our hearings and advocating for solutions from our city’s biggest medical providers.

We must improve health literacy through building awareness – and use cutting edge technology to meet diverse New Yorkers where they live and how they receive information. New York City has more languages and dialects than the United Nations, and we are stronger and more unique for it – yet in many communities our access to internet services is far too low. We need to translate simple, effective health literacy messages from nutrition and exercise to smoking cessation in order to better reach more families and employ digital and handheld technology to carry the message.

We must make sure nutrition and healthy eating are no longer the purview of elites. It’s worth repeating that farmers markets and supermarkets that specialize in natural, low-calorie, low-sugar, low-fat foods are economically far out of reach for far too many neighborhoods. Lowering food costs and making healthy food far more accessible and culturally relatable can make a huge difference in basic health for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who want to eat healthily but simply can’t afford it or aren’t exposed to it. And we know that local vendors who partake in farmers’ markets and sell to health food markets would like to reach more consumers.

Together, we are pursuing a collaborative agenda defined by our partnership, expertise and unique lived realities.

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City Council Member Carlina Rivera represents the 2nd district, which includes portions of the Lower East Side in Manhattan, is Chair of the Council’s Committee on Hospitals and Co-Chair of the Council's Women’s Caucus. Dr. Ramon Tallaj is Chairman of SOMOS, a non-profit, physician-led network of more than 2,000 health care providers serving over 700,000 Medicaid beneficiaries in New York City, with providers delivering culturally competent care to patients in some of New York City’s most vulnerable populations.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Ending Health Disparities That Disproportionately Impact New Yorkers of Color Mon, 03 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Heading in the Right Direction on City and State Census Funding, But More To Do https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8485-heading-in-the-right-direction-on-city-and-state-census-funding-but-more-to-do https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8485-heading-in-the-right-direction-on-city-and-state-census-funding-but-more-to-do cm carlina rivera press conference

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)


The 2020 Census is less than a year away, and it is imperative that every single person living in New York is counted. In Mayor de Blasio’s proposed Executive Budget, New York City now has $26 million set aside for census outreach, in addition to an undetermined portion of the State’s $20 million that will go to the City.

A good start, but we need more than $26 million to ensure a full count, and with less than a year to go before the counting begins, there is still too much uncertainty about how much of and how fast these funds will make their way to the organizations doing the work on the ground.

This uncertainty is particularly alarming because of how much coordination we need between the City and State to achieve a complete count. We cannot allow anything short of a comprehensive funding strategy to happen. There is too little time and too much at stake, and a smart down payment in 2019 will pay billions in federal dividends if the census is a success.

We’re talking about upwards of $73 billion in federal funding for food, schools, housing, and more for the state. Our representation in Congress is on the line. Even how we draw our State and City district lines is affected. Getting the census right isn’t a wonky statistical game. It directly affects the flow of federal resources going to New York and will determine our economic and political future for the next ten years.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Census Bureau has a hard time counting New Yorkers. More than half the people who live in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx live in “hard-to-count” neighborhoods, which the Census Bureau defines as areas with a self-response rate of 73% or less in the past census. Such neighborhoods exist in Manhattan and Staten Island as well. The hardest-to-count populations are already among our most vulnerable and underrepresented – immigrants, people of color, low-income people, people with limited English proficiency, and young children.

Yet instead of increasing funding for the Census Bureau, President Trump has slashed it to its lowest point in decades and is fighting to include a citizenship question in the Census that would further depress participation.

Many groups in New York recognize the importance of this moment and have mobilized to ensure a complete count, from community-based organizations, religious leaders, unions, and the business community.

Some of the most trusted and well-regarded advocacy organizations in the State – the New York Immigration Coalition, Asian American Federation, Citizens Union Foundation, NAACP, and Association for a Better New York, among others – have formed coalitions and started educating New Yorkers about the importance of completing the census.

Yet none of these groups can succeed without a commitment from government to work together and fund their efforts directly. These groups know how to reach hard-to-count populations and mobilize them to participate. And through the City Council’s Census 2020 Task Force, the Council can identify even more trusted hyperlocal groups for direct funds to ensure a complete count.

We believe the City and State should combine their efforts and use the most direct routes possible to fund these local census outreach operations to their maximum potential. We also believe we can do better and that the City and State must increase census funding to truly meet the challenge we face.

This is a one-time investment in our economic and political future. There are no do-overs. We will not have a chance to correct any mistakes for another ten years and will live with the effects of an undercount for a decade. We must treat this emergency with the importance it demands.

In ten years, we will either look back knowing we seized the opportunity to control our economic and political destiny or wonder why we lost out on billions for ordinary New Yorkers to save millions upfront. When you consider the choice, the answer is obvious. The City and State must work together and fully fund this effort.

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Steven Choi is executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. City Council Members Carlos Menchaca and Carlina Rivera are co-chairs of the Council’s Census Task Force. On Twitter @SteveChoiNY & @cmenchaca & @CarlinaRivera.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Heading in the Right Direction on City and State Census Funding, But More To Do Mon, 29 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Little-Used Community Land Trust Model for Affordable Housing May See Big Boost https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8458-little-used-community-land-trust-model-for-affordable-housing-may-see-big-boost https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8458-little-used-community-land-trust-model-for-affordable-housing-may-see-big-boost Carlina Rivera City Council rally housing

Council Member Rivera (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Manhattan City Council Member Carlina Rivera is part of a growing coalition of Council members pushing for city government's first major commitment to a seldom-utilized affordable housing model. In the face of rapid gentrification, they say, the city should invest $850,000 in Community Land Trusts, or CLTs, in the city budget currently being negotiated.

Doing so could help advocates and nonprofits acquire land to operate deeply affordable housing and amenities -- albeit on a small scale -- in perpetuity.

“They're not a silver bullet but should be a major component of any affordable housing plan,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. Other allies include Queens Council Member Donovan Richards and Manhattan Council Member Margaret Chin.

A Community Land Trust is a nonprofit that acquires and manages land, either one continuous plot or scattered sites. People who live and work on the land collectively set the terms of use, and can mix residential and commercial space with community centers and gardens. Most CLTs prohibit their properties from ever being sold for profit, ensuring affordability in the long term.

There are currently 11 community-based organizations with CLT projects underway across the five boroughs. Though several are still in early planning stages, groups hope to ultimately control thousands of housing units and hundreds of small businesses citywide.

A new $8 million bank settlement from Attorney General Letitia James is also being parceled out this spring to land trust projects across the state. Municipalities can apply for up to $2.5 million each. “The interest in CLTs has expanded a lot,” said Elizabeth Zeldin, director of Enterprise Community Partners, which is distributing the funds.

New York City’s oldest CLT model, the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association, is in Council Member Rivera’s district. It has grown to nearly 400 apartments and 20 small businesses since its formation in 1994 (including one of Rivera’s personal favorites, Pageant Print Shop, which sells antique prints and maps). “I think we have to plant seeds for these CLTs to grow,” she said. “They can ward off mass speculation of developers, like happened in Cooper Square.”

With citywide elections on the horizon in 2021, “Every front-runner in every office race should be discussing this as part of their affordable housing platform,” Rivera said.

Rivera’s spokesperson, Jeremy Unger, told Gotham Gazette that “the Councilwoman is planning a Council briefing on CLTs” and will be discussing the model during internal deliberations as the Council prepares to negotiate with the mayor’s office.

“We look forward to working with the City Council throughout the budget process and will evaluate the proposal from CLTs,” de Blasio spokesperson Raul Contreras said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. (The Council recently held a month of preliminary budget hearings, then issued its official response to the mayor’s initial budget plan for fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1.)

Barriers to CLT expansion include limited funding for housing development and renovation, and limited access to viable land. The model stands in contrast to de Blasio's 300,000-unit affordable housing plan, which predominantly enlists large for-profit developers to construct and preserve mixed-income housing on a large scale.

Council members have contributed to individual land trusts in their districts over the years. But the $850,000 ask would contribute to a broader project, organizers say, covering hiring costs for one staff member for each community group currently developing a land trust, plus technical and legal assistance.

With this funding, says Deyanira Del Rio, co-director of the New Economy Project and board chair of the New York City Community Land Initiative, CLTs can "deepen the organizing, education, and partnership development," so they can acquire and rehab properties down the road.

Del Rio draws a comparison to the city’s Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative, which has seen worker-run businesses more than double from 21 to 48 since the City Council started funding it four years ago.

The East Harlem El Barrio CLT, one of the more established in the bunch, is currently closing on a portfolio of four residential buildings in East Harlem with 36 apartments among them. The buildings are in poor condition, and the CLT is negotiating additional preservation assistance from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

“With the Second Avenue Subway coming through,” says El Barrio project coordinator Athena Bernkopf, “there are concerns about what that will do to the housing and economic landscape.” Ultimately, the CLT hopes to add more buildings “facing immediate gentrification pressure.”

Other CLTS are in earlier planning stages. Chhaya CDC, a non-profit serving the city’s South Asian Community in Queens, hopes to establish a land trust in Jackson Heights to manage affordable community space and shops. While CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities envisions a land trust in Chinatown with affordable senior housing and storefronts for immigrant-owned businesses.

HPD began working with affordable housing groups and nonprofit developers to study the viability of CLTs in the summer of 2017, distributing a $1.65 million grant from a $3.5 million bank settlement from then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Part of that initial funding covered a two-year program called the NYC CLT Learning Exchange, organized by the New Economy Project, where community groups met regularly to learn about the model.

Now, says City College of New York Political Science Professor John Krinsky, groups will begin to delve into the inevitable challenges of working together to decide how a piece of land will be used and operated. For example, “What are the tradeoffs when we are thinking about financing and affordability, and what that means in the long term?”

Down the road, advocates are hopeful that New York City will establish a pipeline of land for CLTs, and more long-term financing tools to support extremely low-income households. “I think we have to be looking at vacant lots,” Council Member Rivera told Gotham Gazette. While the city’s reserve of such lots has been dwindling over decades, there are still dozens that can be utilized for housing, with many in the pipeline for development through HPD.

Oksana Mironova is a housing policy analyst at the Community Service Society, and helps facilitate the New York City Community Land Initiative's policy work. She’s hopeful that the ongoing collaboration between various CLTs will help ensure that they don’t become affordable islands in gentrifying neighborhoods. Cooper Square, for example, organizes with neighboring tenants at risk of displacement.

“There’s a way to do CLTs where they become a sort of oasis that only benefits the people who live on the CLT,” she said. “But then there’s a way to make CLTs that are benefiting not just the people who live on the CLTs…that take a bigger look.”

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by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

Read more by this writer.

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Little-Used Community Land Trust Model for Affordable Housing May See Big Boost Wed, 17 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
New York City Can’t Be Foolish When It Comes to the Census https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8411-new-york-city-can-t-be-foolish-when-it-comes-to-the-census https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8411-new-york-city-can-t-be-foolish-when-it-comes-to-the-census Rivera outreach census

Council Member Rivera, one of the authors (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Monday may be April Fool’s, but the one thing New Yorkers shouldn’t be joking about is the importance of the 2020 Census.

April 1 marks one year until Census Day, and in preparation, elected officials are fanning out throughout the five boroughs to talk to New Yorkers about the importance of participating in the census. You may be asking – why is there so much urgency when we still have a year to get ready to fill out this form?

The census is more than just a simple count of persons. It determines the economic and political reality of the United States and its localities, including our city.

Virtually every domestic policy decision the federal government makes in the next ten years will be conditioned by how many people it believes live and work in the country and its specific regions, states, cities, and other municipalities. And the census affects whether New York will continue to receive roughly $73 billion in federal funds for programs like SNAP, Section 8, WIC, and Medicaid, as well as how much representation New York has in Congress and the Electoral College.

If we don’t invest in a serious outreach and education effort, New York State could be at serious risk of an undercount on April 1, 2020 -- when counting begins -- and an underinvestment for New York for many years to come.

New York has struggled with census response rates going as far back as 1990. In 2010, the initial response rate for New York City was 61.9 percent, compared to 76 percent nationwide.

This is because more than half the people in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn live in official “hard-to-count” neighborhoods, which is also the case for those in specific neighborhoods in Manhattan and Staten Island. These areas may be home to large populations of young children, people of color, foreign-born individuals, low-income households, limited English proficient communities, and frequent movers.

And while new changes to the census process such as improved language access and the ability to respond online will help, numerous obstacles must be overcome to reach these populations.

But as co-chairs of the New York City Council’s 2020 Task Force, we are working to re-engage these communities. We are working with each of the city’s 51 Council members to coordinate outreach with local organizations that have a proven track record in their communities.

We are also keeping up the pressure on elected officials to invest serious financial resources in outreach and education. We are disappointed that in its new budget the state only allocated up to $20 million for this critical effort, far short of the $40 million that advocates have been calling for. We need more details about how this funding will be distributed and will keep fighting to ensure that community based organizations in New York City get the funding they need to get an accurate count locally.

We need these resources because the Trump administration is doing everything in its power to ensure there is an undercount in states like New York, including fighting to place a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

Regardless of the legal outcome of that fight, persuading foreign-born New Yorkers to participate will now require a level of outreach unseen in any previous census.

But regardless of the difficulties we face, we know we must succeed, in part because we both personally know what failure could mean for New Yorkers.

Our parents were able to provide wonderful homes for us because of the supplemental food programs that fed our families and the subsidized housing we lived in, and we were able to focus on our educations because of other financial support services that help low-income families like ours access funds for basic necessities. We probably wouldn’t have become New York City Council members without those programs, and we need to ensure that the next generation of New Yorkers who grow up in poverty have a shot at becoming a doctor, a CEO, or an elected official.

We know President Trump is eager to see us fail. But we can make him look like the fool on April 1, 2020 if every New Yorker does their part, fills out the census, and fights for the basic right for everyone to be counted.

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City Council Members Carlos Menchaca and Carlina Rivera are co-chairs of the New York City Council’s 2020 Task Force. On Twitter @cmenchaca & @CarlinaRivera.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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New York City Can’t Be Foolish When It Comes to the Census Sun, 31 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Expanding Health Insurance Enrollment Will Help Heal New Yorkers and Our Public Hospitals https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7672-expanding-health-insurance-enrollment-will-help-heal-new-yorkers-and-our-public-hospitals https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7672-expanding-health-insurance-enrollment-will-help-heal-new-yorkers-and-our-public-hospitals Carlina Rivera City Council

Council Member Rivera, one of the authors (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Even in an era of relentless attack on health care by the Trump administration and its allies in Congress, New York City is continuing to reap enormous benefits from the Affordable Care Act. This year alone another 80,000 city residents enrolled in health coverage through our state’s Obamacare exchange.

But a huge number are still being left behind: an estimated 962,000 adults in the five boroughs remain uninsured. These New Yorkers -- many of whom are living in poverty -- often receive no health care until their conditions are severe enough to land them in the emergency room.

The trend is not good for those New Yorkers’ health, as they should have access to preventive care, regular check-ups, and other aspects of quality health care. What’s more, the current situation is also dealing a serious financial blow to our struggling public hospital system (known as Health + Hospitals), whose vital mission it is to serve those in need, including the uninsured. For H+H to avoid financial disaster we need to close the health insurance gap in New York City.

H+H serves over a million patients per year in a network of 11 acute care hospitals and dozens of other facilities throughout the five boroughs. These institutions are by far our city’s largest provider of care to Medicaid recipients, mental health patients, and -- critically -- those who are uninsured.

For decades our public hospitals -- Bellevue, Kings County, Harlem, Elmhurst and others -- have been the ultimate safety net for New Yorkers with nowhere else to turn. H+H’s diverse and committed staff, its proximity to low-income communities, and its sliding-scale fees have helped establish it as second-to-none in serving the neediest New Yorkers.

But balancing the books at our public hospitals has never been easy, in part because Medicaid reimbursement rates are so low. The system’s challenges have only gotten worse in recent years as federal and state safety-net funding has shrunk. And now tectonic changes in the health sector have dealt further blows, as care rapidly moves from inpatient to outpatient services.

The result: H+H is confronting a $1.3 billion deficit this year, projected to balloon to $2.1 billion next year.

This financial strain has real implications for patients, compounding long-running problems in the system. The wait time for appointments at H+H can stretch into the months. Many of the system’s buildings are crumbling, with leaking roofs at Harlem Hospital, deteriorated plumbing at Lincoln, obsolete electric systems at Metropolitan, and elevators throughout the system that are so outdated that their replacement parts are no longer sold.

H+H’s new CEO, Dr. Mitchel Katz, has laid out a multi-pronged plan to address this crisis. He has set out to reduce administrative expenses, more effectively bill insurance companies, and retain more paying patients, among other efforts.

But there is another critical strategy needed to save H+H: New York City urgently needs to enroll more people in health insurance.

Our public hospitals treat over 400,000 uninsured patients each year. That represents hundreds of millions of dollars of lost insurance billing for those eligible for coverage. Providing this health care regardless of ability to pay is the moral thing to do. It also affects the health of all New Yorkers by helping us prevent the spread of communicable diseases.

We need to tap health insurance as a way to make this important work financially sustainable. That’s why it’s critical that we dramatically ramp up our outreach and enrollment efforts.

Today, most funding for ACA enrollment is provided by the State, which spends about $12 million per year on a network of community-based organizations in the five boroughs offering health insurance navigation assistance.

Several City agencies also have dedicated teams doing enrollment, but the numbers are small: only about 50 staff at Human Resources Administration (HRA) and 70 at Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).

We need an aggressive, coordinated plan to take this work to the next level. And we need to be on the ground in neighborhoods. Community-based non-profits make ideal partners for this work, because of their cultural competence and because of the trust they so often have earned in low-income communities.

One group of New Yorkers can’t get enrolled no matter how much we spend on outreach: undocumented immigrants. But there’s a win-win possibility for them as well. By investing in a program to provide them access to primary care we can improve health outcomes and prevent the more costly H+H emergency room admissions that would otherwise occur.

A twin effort to enroll more New Yorkers who are eligible for insurance and to fund access to primary care for those who are undocumented would improve the health of our people while going a long way to shore up the finances of our public hospital system.

That would be a giant step forward to the goal of ensuring that each and every New Yorker, regardless of income or immigration status, has access to the affordable, high-quality care they need.

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Mark Levine and Carlina Rivera are members of the New York City Council. Levine chairs the Council’s health committee, Rivera chairs its hospitals committee. On Twitter @MarkLevineNYC and @CarlinaRivera.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Expanding Health Insurance Enrollment Will Help Heal New Yorkers and Our Public Hospitals Mon, 14 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Brooklyn City Council Member Setting Early Foundation for Speaker Run https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7610-brooklyn-city-council-member-setting-early-foundation-for-speaker-run https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7610-brooklyn-city-council-member-setting-early-foundation-for-speaker-run justin brannan city council

Council Member Justin Brannan (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


City Council Member Justin Brannan is everywhere.

He’s at the governor’s mansion discussing the state’s efforts to empower women- and minority-owned businesses. He’s meeting with the president of the Building and Construction Trades Council about the city’s construction industry. He’s at the Chinese-American Planning Council’s 53rd anniversary celebration, posing for photos with Congressional Rep. Grace Meng, state Assembly members Peter Abbate Jr. and Yuh-line Niou, and fellow Council members. He’s talking police-community relations with NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill. He’s speaking with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. He’s at union rallies, nonprofit galas, senior centers, PTA meetings and parades.

He’s being interviewed on television and photographed at City Hall, and he’s developing more and more of a social media presence, showcasing both his travels around the city but also his focus on constituent services in his district, praising his colleagues, chronicling his subway struggles, and sharing song lyrics. And, he’s campaigning for Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley, the Queens Democratic Party leader with outsized influence in other parts of government.

All that in the last two months, part of a frenetic start for a Council Member who has only been on the job since January, though he has been involved in city politics for much longer. And those activities haven’t gone unnoticed as Brannan, a Brooklyn Democrat, is emerging very early on as a potential contender to be the next Speaker of the City Council.

The Council Speaker, arguably the second-most powerful elected official in the city, is chosen internally by members every four years, in a process that is less-public facing and more backroom-dealing. In 2021, the next city election year, 36 Council members will be term-limited, portending a sea change in the 51-member legislative body and giving incumbents, who usually sail to reelection, a leg up in the speaker race. Brannan seems to be following the playbook of current Speaker Corey Johnson, who started making moves for the speakership early in his first four-year term.

It is, of course, far too early to tell what the field of candidates will look like, which is why Council sources are reluctant to speak openly. But the buzz around the Council threw up the same names over and over. Besides Brannan, other potential contenders -- all of them Democrats -- include Bronx Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Queens Council Members Francisco Moya and Adrienne Adams, Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera, and Brooklyn Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel. The list, save for Brannan, who seems to be the most active, is the same as that reported by City & State earlier this year. Some seem to have better odds, given their prominence on the Council and their relationships with the powerful Queens and Bronx Democratic county committees.

Brannan represents District 43 in Brooklyn, covering Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Bath Beach. He has a deep well of experience, as a former chief of staff to his predecessor, Council Member Vincent Gentile, and as intergovernmental affairs director at the Department of Education. He founded the Bay Ridge Democrats and served as its president. He’s also been a professional musician.

“You can see that he’s been out there, in other Council members’ districts and all over the city, so he might be taking a cue card from Corey Johnson’s playbook,” said a Council source who wished to remain unnamed. The source noted that though it will be an “open field” of candidates in 2021, the names that are popping up early are because of their relationships with county committees. “I think people are trying to get a sense of how to play the game...so it’s early to put money on a particular candidate.”

Another source with knowledge of Brannan’s moves noted that he has the advantage of being one of the few members who will be returning to the Council. “The fact that there’s only a handful of members coming back in four years sort of narrows the pool because...unless people would be OK with another two-term speaker, the next speaker is going to be one of the people that’s coming back,” the source said. Brannan, if reelected, would be serving his second and final term, as would the other contenders previously mentioned.

The source also noted that Brannan has made relationships over the last few years that will be beneficial down the line. “I think Justin’s always had, whether it was through the Bay Ridge Democrats or whether through campaign work he did, he’s always had those relationships,” the source said. “When he goes to the boroughs, it’s not like he’s introducing himself for the first time.”

Those relationships, including with Crowley and labor union leaders, will largely determine how the speaker race shakes out. The other members on the list of contenders have their own strengths and connections as well, and the speaker race often comes down to powerful stakeholders compromising in support of one candidate, taking into account a wide variety of factors.

Council Member Salamanca chairs the powerful land use committee and is a product of the Bronx Democratic County Committee. Salamanca’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Council Members Moya and Adams are closely aligned with the Queens Democratic County Committee and its powerful boss, Rep. Crowley, who played kingmaker in the election of Johnson as speaker, in partnership with others, especially state Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who heads the Bronx Democrats. Moya has the added bonus of having worked in the Assembly with Crespo.

“I’m sure this makes for great debate among all the political junkies out there, but the speakership is more than three years away,” Moya said in a statement. He insisted his focus is on his community, particularly on affordable housing, reduced-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, and protections for workers in the building industry. “There will be a time and place to talk about the speakership but that’s a long ways away,” he said, not denying interest.

Stacey Yearwood, a spokesperson for Adams said the Council Member would not comment on being a speaker contender “as it is premature.”

None of the six potential candidates denied an interest in being the next speaker of the Council.

Council Members Rivera and Ampry-Samuel are viewed as rising stars in the Council and have have both been given prominent committees to lead -- hospitals and public housing, respectively. Rivera also received considerable support from Johnson in her election to the Council; they represent neighboring districts. Rivera declined to comment. Ampry-Samuels said in a statement, “My focus right now are the constituents of the 41st District and the residents of public housing.”

There’s no one predictable path to the speakership. “I think it’s hard because there’s been so few speakers that to go back and look historically how a speaker gets made, it’s different every time,” said the second Council source. “There’s the wisdom that Queens and the Bronx never make their own person the speaker, that would mean that Salamanca and Moya wouldn’t be the speaker. But who knows? There’s a lot of dynamics. There’s also the demographic dynamics. If we have a white mayor, chances are Justin’s not gonna be the speaker. If we have a black mayor, maybe there’s a chance there.”

In this last speaker’s election, there was vocal indignation that yet another white man was going be elected to a powerful seat in city government -- both Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Comptroller Scott Stringer are white men, Public Advocate Letitia James is a black woman. There were calls for electing a speaker of color, including from black and Latino Council members who were running for the seat themselves. All that could change, as the source noted, if the citywide seats aren’t occupied four years from now by mostly white men.

Brannan is coy about his plans, even if they seem transparent to others. “It’s April 2018!,” he said with a jovial laugh, when asked outside City Hall whether he was making an early move for the speakership. “It’s barely four months into my first term and I’m just laser-focused on being a good Council member for my district. Having succeeded a guy that was in office for a long time, I’ve got a lot to prove. So that’s my number one focus.”

He added, “It’s fun and flattering to be mentioned in that circle [of speaker potentials]. I think this new crop of my colleagues are all very talented and very smart. To be mentioned with this class is great.”

He conceded that maybe another white man may not be the way the Council will look to go and that diverse representation is sorely lacking in the legislative body. “Bottom line is that it’s gotta be someone that’s qualified for the job...I’ve already said in my Council seat, I would love nothing more than to be succeeded by a woman. So those things are important to me too. I’m certainly not blind to those dynamics but it’s just so far away.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Brooklyn City Council Member Setting Early Foundation for Speaker Run Thu, 12 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Women's Caucus Gets Additional Support to Meet, Expand Agenda https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7575-city-council-women-s-caucus-gets-additional-support-to-meet-expand-agenda https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7575-city-council-women-s-caucus-gets-additional-support-to-meet-expand-agenda Carlina Rivera City Council

Council Member Carlina Rivera (photo: Emil Cohen)


The New York City Council’s Women’s Caucus, comprised of the 11 women in the 51-member legislative body, will soon have additional support for its legislative and programmatic agenda with new funding for a full-time paid staff person added to the Council’s operating budget for the next fiscal year.

The Council’s finance committee voted last week to approve a $17.3 million increase in the Council’s own budget, which it can insert into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s yet-to-be-released executive budget, due in the next few months. That budget uptick includes additional funding, provided through Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s office, for the Women’s Caucus and the Progressive Caucus to each hire a full-time staffer. The Progressive Caucus, now 21 members, has so far pooled resources to pay for a full-time staffer while the Women’s Caucus has had to depend on individual Council members’ staff. The only caucus that has had a full-time staff person paid for by the Council has been the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.

“We secured a commitment from [Johnson] so it is a campaign promise fulfilled,” said Council Member Carlina Rivera, who is co-chair of the Women’s Caucus along with Council Member Margaret Chin, referring to pledges made by Johnson before he was elected speaker. The caucus, then under the leadership of Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Laurie Cumbo, met and interviewed all eight candidates who were running to lead the Council, and extracted several promises from each, including funding for a new staff position to serve the caucus.

“As he was running for speaker, he told the Women’s Caucus that this is something he would do, recognizing our number, of course, that we comprise over 50 percent of the population,” said Rivera, whose Manhattan district borders Johnson’s and Chin’s. “So what we’re hoping to do with a full-time person is really to push forward our agenda, which is comprehensive.”

As Rivera alluded, the Council comprises an abysmally low number of women members -- the 11 is down from 18 in 2009. There is an effort -- 21 in '21 -- underway being spearheaded by former Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and others to see a wave of women elected to the Council through the next city elections, in 2021. None of the eight main speaker candidates for this term were women (though Council Member Inez Barron did cast a protest vote for herself the day the Council voted for speaker, and that too because of the lack of people of color in leadership positions in the city.) Since before the last election cycle, there have been increasing calls for improving women’s representation across city government and to add women’s voices to important policy decisions.

“Every issue is a women’s issue,” Rivera emphasized, “but specifically, we really want to focus on a couple of things. We want to address the issues of underrepresentation of women in elected office, of course, but not just in elected office, corporate boards, local and state commissions.

“We want to be sure that we have the data to just really identify where these gaps are and to make sure that we are giving women opportunity at every level of government but also in the private sector,” she said, indicating some of the work that the caucus’ new staff member may be tasked with.

The new funding is slated for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1, giving the Women’s Caucus just over three months to go through the hiring process. The position is expected to be posted publicly and every member of the caucus will have a voice in choosing the new staffer.

Rivera laid out a long list of policy priorities for the caucus that is likely to keep it busy in this four-year legislative session. Among them: pay equity, ending sexual harassment in the workplace, equal access to quality education, health care for incarcerated women, adult literacy. The Women’s Caucus will host a series of workshops on salary negotiations, Rivera said, and also push strongly on a package of anti-sexual harassment legislation recently introduced at the Council.

Rivera said she’s focused on “making sure that women have full access and they feel like whether its in education, the workplace, or just civic life, the opportunity is there.”

“In the past the Women’s Caucus has put forward some amazing initiatives and pieces of legislation, whether its paid family leave, whether its access to feminine hygiene products in our public spaces -- that is something that we want to continue to build on,” she said.

The new staffer will also liaise with the Council’s other caucuses, certain members of which overlap, and with partners in state and federal government and advocates on the ground. “What I’m hoping to do is be a little bit more collaborative than historically within the caucuses so there’ll definitely be cross collaboration since we now have a full-time staffer for each of these caucuses,” Rivera said. “And I think they’ll benefit from working together and of course will increase our capacity.”

“I’m excited,” Rivera added. “I think that a woman having a seat at the table changes the dynamic and trajectory of important policy discussions. And I think if we had more women as representatives, we’d be better off as a city and as a nation. So I’m looking forward to it.”

Council Member Chin, in a statement to Gotham Gazette on Wednesday, thanked the speaker for following through on his promise to the Women's Caucus. "This year, we’re fighting to expand our agenda, build local relationships, and increase our visibility to ensure that the causes of women and girls never take a backseat. This will be a game-changer in moving that agenda forward," Chin said.  

[Read: Fulfilling Johnson Promise, City Council Significantly Increases Its Operating Budget]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated to include a statement from Council Member Margaret Chin. 

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City Council Women's Caucus Gets Additional Support to Meet, Expand Agenda Tue, 27 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Under New Leadership and Oversight, City’s Hospital System in Spotlight https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7515-under-new-leadership-and-oversight-city-s-hospital-system-in-spotlight https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7515-under-new-leadership-and-oversight-city-s-hospital-system-in-spotlight Carlina Rivera hospitals hearing

Council Member Carlina Rivera (photo: @NYCCouncil)


The new CEO of the city’s beleaguered Health + Hospitals (H+H) public hospital system, Dr. Mitchell Katz, testified in front of the City Council’s new hospitals committee, and its chair, Carlina Rivera, for the first time on Wednesday, discussing the progress of the “One New York” plan to 'transform' and improve the system.

H+H is a public-private corporation that manages the city’s 11 public hospitals, health centers, and municipal healthcare provider, MetroPlus.

“Its mission is to provide quality, comprehensive health services to all New Yorkers, regardless of their ability to pay,” Rivera said. “In effect, Health + Hospitals is the default system of care for Medicaid patients, the uninsured, and other vulnerable populations, and is integral to our system of safety net hospitals.” Rivera noted that approximately 70% of H+H patients are uninsured or on Medicaid.

H+H has faced numerous fiscal challenges over the past few years. When the original One New York report was released in 2016, its intention was to reduce an anticipated budget deficit of $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1, 2019.

Last fiscal year, the de Blasio administration provided $1.8 billion in city aid to H+H as its interim leadership also took measures to overhaul its operations and finances, before Katz was brought in from Los Angeles to accelerate that work. (That was an increase from $607 million in fiscal year 2011, according to the Citizens Budget Commission.)

A recent fiscal scare originating in the federal government concerned the potential defunding of the Disproportionate Share Hospital program, which provides additional funding for hospitals that see a disproportionate number of low income patients, who may be uninsured and/or on Medicaid. The threat of cuts, which has loomed since 2014 but has become especially acute since President Donald Trump took office, was averted for the immediate future with a recent two-year extension of funding in the latest federal stopgap measure passed in February. When the cuts take effect, federal and state funding is expected to drop by approximately $800 million.

Meanwhile, after H+H announced plans to file a lawsuit against New York state government for failing to provide $380 million in funding, Governor Andrew Cuomo relented, giving H+H $360 million of the $380 million H+H claimed it was owed in October. Cuomo had initially suggested that the city tap into its reserves to provide the funding.

Tellingly, Katz, who assumed his current role after leading the Los Angeles County Health Agency for seven years and turning a $250 million budget deficit into a $560 million budget surplus, did not focus his City Council testimony on short-term revenue streams coming from Albany and Washington but rather on what he assesses are deficient practices within H+H operations and bureaucracy that are hindering its ability to collect revenue to its full potential.

Katz outlined a seven-point plan to increase revenues without cutting vital services. It includes cutting administrative expenses, which Katz said has begun recently by eliminating outside consultants from the system to the tune of $16 million in savings, and investing in new “revenue generating positions” such as primary care doctors, pharmacists, and nurse practitioners instead of solely ER doctors, a goal Katz outlined at the beginning of his term.

Hiring more people will also cut down on wait times, Katz said, in response to Rivera bringing up the issue. Katz described waits for appointments as “hugely variable.”

“One of the things that I found distressing was at Bellevue, is that the wait for behavioral assessments for a kid is currently months,” Katz said. “Which, frankly, has nothing to do with money, because kids are fully insured.”

But perhaps the more significant stabilization schemes, which were the focus of more attention at the hearing, relate to reforming H+H’s billing processes and bringing more insured patients into the system. Because H+H has a reputation as the hospital network that serves the indigent, many insured people do not use municipal hospital services. As a result, Katz said there is a substantial amount of bureaucratic waste within the system due to poor administrative skills on the part of system workers, who normally work with people who are either uninsured or on Medicaid.

This point was hammered by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who recently became a father and described his experience as an individual with private insurance at Woodhull Hospital, an H+H hospital “across the street” from his district. Reynoso effusively praised Woodhull’s maternity ward and other services, but chastised billing procedures as inefficient.

Katz agreed that H+H needs to develop better billing procedures, including diagnostically coding bills correctly, checking insurance cards, checking prior authorization, and better communication with insurance companies. He cited a skilled nursing facility that spends roughly $21 million on drugs but only has revenues of $5 million.

“That’s impossible,” Katz said, “because we’re talking about skilled nursing facilities where there are almost no uninsured patients.” Katz claimed that the $21 million was a fair market value for the drugs but that the significant revenue shortfall had its roots in poor billing practices.

The situation at the skilled nursing facility is only the tip of the iceberg. In response to a question from Rivera, H+H Chief Financial Officer Plachikkat Anantharam stated that H+H lost between $130 million and $290 million in 2017 as a result of chronic underbilling.

Further, Katz said that H+H should not be referring patients out of the system and into the private market. Via MetroPlus insurance, H+H by proxy essentially pays private hospital operators to provide care, resulting in a significant amount of lost revenue.

Katz also stated that H+H needs to begin offering services that are “well reimbursed.” He illustrated this point by comparing behavioral health, for which H+H is the largest provider in the city and which is “poorly reimbursed,” and angioplasties, a heart procedure that is well reimbursed by insurance companies, but is rarely performed by H+H, and only at Bellevue Hospital.

Katz also wants, as part of his plan, to “convert uninsured people who qualify for insurance to be insured,” whether through Medicaid or MetroPlus, the government sponsored health insurance provider wholly owned by H+H that insures around a half-million New Yorkers and is offered on the Affordable Care Act exchange. Katz identified 250,000 people in the city who are uninsured but qualify for insurance coverage, out of a total of 667,000 uninsured people in the city.

“250,000. Let’s agree we won’t get 250,000,” Katz said, in reference to not being able to insure every eligible uninsured New Yorker. “That’s a lot of people. But if you got 100,000 of the 250,000 that we believe are currently getting our services and are insurable, that would be huge.”

Regardless, the Council members and Katz acknowledged that signing up tens of thousands of people for insurance is easier said than done. Council Member Mark Levine, chair of the Council’s health committee, asked whether it was possible to enroll patients who walk into a facility on the spot, and why this hadn’t been done in the past.

“Is that another cultural challenge you have to overcome,” he asked. “Is that a resource issue? Or am I making it seem simpler than it really is?”

“No, Council Member, I think you’re right, and accurate. It’s both of those things,” Katz responded.

“I think another part of that is that there’s no -- right now, we haven’t constructed a system to make it that that’s the easiest choice for the person, right, to be able to enroll in insurance,” he continued. “We’ve kind of made it easier to pay $10, which might be the same copay that they would pay if they had insurance. But the difference between what our system and city would receive is huge.”

Katz cited his experience in Los Angeles as evidence that the public hospitals system could be stabilized without attrition, or mass firings in other terms. Indeed, as Citizens Budget Commission noted in its analysis, "Lessons from La La Land," previewing Katz's takeover at H+H, "The good news was all on the revenue side."

“When I started in Los Angeles, there was also a deficit. It was $226 million, which at the time seemed to me like a lot of money, before I came to New York City,” Katz said, eliciting laughter from the audience of healthcare advocates and professionals in the Council’s Committee room. “But when I left, not only did we have a surplus, but we had added 1,500 public sector jobs. So one thing I do know is that you have to take financial problems seriously, but you can grow out of financial problems sometimes more easily than you can shrink out of financial problems.”

Reynoso was particularly fond of that line. “Grow out of a financial problem, that’s a great way to put it,” he said.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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Under New Leadership and Oversight, City’s Hospital System in Spotlight Sun, 04 Mar 2018 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Examines Sexual Harassment Policies, Considers New Laws https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7508-council-examines-city-sexual-harassment-policies-considers-new-laws https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7508-council-examines-city-sexual-harassment-policies-considers-new-laws Helen Rosenthal women

Council Member Rosenthal and others (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


As the nation grapples with how to confront sexual misconduct, the New York City Council is addressing the issue in its oversight and legislative capacities. On Wednesday, Council members held a press conference and subsequent hearing on “best practices” for preventing sexual harassment, identifying current city government protocols, and considering a slate of new legislation.

The 45-minute press conference outside City Hall featured about a dozen Council members, along with advocates, promoting the action being taken by the Council. It was led by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat who chairs the Committee on Women and ran the hearing that was held jointly with the Committee on Civil and Human Rights. During the hearing, members formally introduced the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act, a package of 11 bills aimed at preventing and punishing sexual harassment in much of city government and the private sector.

“Countless women and men have raised their voices and built the #MeToo movement,” Rosenthal said at the press conference. “The courage and the grace of these survivors has made a reckoning inevitable, not just for the powerful individuals finally brought to account, but for our society as a whole. We owe them a great deal of gratitude--and more to the point, we owe them action.”

“Because although we have strong sexual harassment protections on the books,” she said, “we know that reality has not caught up with the law. Harassers are still too often able to operate with impunity.”

Among the Council proposals is a bill requiring city agencies to administer anti-sexual harassment training twice per year. The lead sponsor of the bill is Council Speaker Corey Johnson. Another bill, introduced by Council Member Mark Levine, would require the dozens of city agencies to produce a yearly report of sexual harassment incidents. Additionally, Rosenthal introduced a bill mandating that the city’s Commission on Human Rights distribute a “climate survey” to city agencies to “assess the general awareness and knowledge of workplace sexual harassment policies and prevention” in them, according to the bill’s summary.  

In a similar vein, Council Member Adrienne Adams proposed a bill requiring the Commission on Human Rights to join forces with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to deliver an “assessment of risk factors associated with sexual harassment within city agencies” to the mayor and speaker. Notably, this assortment of legislation applies only to mayoral agencies, including the mayor’s office, but not the City Council itself, according to a spokesperson for Rosenthal. The bills do not apply to the Borough Presidents’ offices, the Comptroller’s office, the Public Advocate’s office, or other non-mayoral government entities, either.

At Wednesday’s hearing, representatives from DCAS presented a new citywide employee handbook that outlines guidance for many examples of inappropriate workplace behavior and what to do when an employee feels harassed.

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer submitted legislation that would require businesses contracting with the city to include sexual harassment policies and procedures in their division of labor services employment reports.

The array of proposals also addresses private businesses throughout the city. For example, Council Member Laurie Combo and Public Advocate Letitia James put forward legislation requiring businesses with more than 14 employees to conduct sexual harassment prevention training. Along similar lines, Council Member Keith Powers’ bill on the matter would amend the city’s Human Rights Law related to sexual harassment to apply to businesses employing any number of people, rather than the current threshold of businesses with more than four employees.

Council Member Robert Cornegy, for his part, introduced a bill that would mandate that employers inform workers of their rights vis-à-vis sexual harassment with an office poster and a bill introduced by Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel would direct the Commission on Human Rights to provide resources regarding sexual harassment on its website.

Council Member Carlina Rivera has legislation classifying sexual harassment as a form of discrimination under the city’s Human Rights Law. In an interview prior to the hearing, Rivera explained the goals of the effort. “What we’re looking for is clearly to show everyone that as a city we’re going to set the model for others, whether it’s the public or private sector,” she said. “What we’re looking for are best practices.”

The Council wants to ensure “every workplace is free from sexual harassment,” Rivera added.  

“When it comes to private businesses,” Rivera said, “one of the things that is incredibly challenging is transparency.” The legislation pertaining to private businesses, Rivera said, needed to not just be symbolic, but must clearly codify what is and is not acceptable workplace conduct.

“We’re doing this to open that door for all to come forward and say, ‘Hey, this is what’s happening to me in my own business,” she continued, “and we’re going to be able to challenge them on their own set of practices in terms of protecting their employees.”

Former City Comptroller and Congressional Representative Liz Holtzman, who participated in both the press conference and hearing, echoed Council Member Rosenthal. She noted that though there have been previous efforts to address seuxual harassment, not enough has been done to follow through once the problem had been identified.

The Council bills may be amended before either another hearing to discuss them or committee votes to move them through. Bills passed by committee are then voted on by the full 51-member City Council. Mayor Bill de Blasio would then be asked to sign any bills passed by the overwhelmingly Democratic Council. The Democratic mayor has indicated he is supportive of taking new legislative action on this front, and representatives of his administration appeared supportive of the Council’s proposals at the Wednesday hearing.

Public Advocate James contended that as high-profile instances of sexual harassment make headlines, it is also a common occurrence in daily life of too many everyday New Yorkers. “We all have our own individual, personal Harvey Weinstein’s that we know,” she said.

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City Council Examines Sexual Harassment Policies, Considers New Laws Wed, 28 Feb 2018 23:15:00 +0000
Union Square Hub, with 600 Projected Tech Jobs, Appears on Smooth Path to Reality https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7471-union-square-hub-with-600-projected-tech-jobs-appears-on-smooth-path-to-reality https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7471-union-square-hub-with-600-projected-tech-jobs-appears-on-smooth-path-to-reality union square tech hub

Union Square tech hub rendering via the mayor's office


This past week, two Manhattan Community Board 3 committees voted to approve the city's application for the proposed Union Square Training Center, also known as the Union Square tech hub, which the de Blasio administration says will create 800 construction jobs and then 600 permanent jobs in the growing technology sector. The land use and economic development committees of CB3 opted not to condition their vote in favor of the proposal on rezoning several blocks south of the proposed project as the board had considered and some preservationists and long-time community members are fighting for.

The non-binding community board vote to approve the project came on the heels of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) setting in motion the public review process, known as the Uniform Land-Use Review Procedure (ULURP), on January 29 by officially obtaining permission to move forward with the initial project design and chosen developer, RAL Companies & Affiliates LLC. The clock will continue to tick on the roughly seven-month timeline that requires approval by the City Planning Commission and the City Council before any demolition or construction can take place in Union Square.

The tech hub would serve as a state-of-the-art multi-purpose facility, with floors allocated to technology training and startup offices, as well as retail space, located on 14th Street between Third and Fourth Avenues. The building, which sits on valuable city-owned land, is currently a P.C. Richard & Son. Community board approval, and without conditions, indicates that the project is almost certain to become a reality, though there are indeed still points of contention that will be negotiated over the coming months among local stakeholders, the de Blasio administration, and elected officials, especially City Council Member Carlina Rivera, who represents the area, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

According to EDC, the 240,000-square-foot, 21-floor facility would allocate six floors to Civic Hall -- three for digital skills training center, three for the company’s own operations as a center for tech innovation  -- five for “flexible” office space, eight for larger office space, and the ground floor for retail and market space, 25 percent of which would be reserved for first-time entrepreneurs and new local businesses. EDC projects construction would cost $250 million and last 18 months, after which the building would be the third-tallest on the block, behind Zeckendorf Towers and the Consolidated Edison Building, and open for business sometime in the middle of 2020.

The project is a component to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “New York Works” plan, a decade-long initiative to create 100,000 jobs, 30,000 of them coming from the technology sector, that pay salaries north of $50,000 annually. Currently, technology is the fastest-growing sector in New York City’s economy. Increasing jobs in the field has been a point of emphasis for de Blasio, continuing the Bloomberg administration’s prioritization of creating tech jobs in New York, as evidenced by his heading the effort to bring the Cornell Technion campus to Roosevelt Island. The city also says the project will serve those that might otherwise not have access to jobs in the technology sector.

“This new hub will be the front-door for tech in New York City,” de Blasio said in a February 2017 press release announcing an outline of the project. “People searching for jobs, training or the resources to start a company will have a place to come to connect and get support. No other city in the nation has anything like it.”

“One of the biggest priorities for the de Blasio administration when it comes to the the economy is really ensuring that there is access to tech jobs [and] that they are accessible to New Yorkers of all neighborhoods and backgrounds,” said Anthony Hogrebe, EDC senior vice president of Public Affairs, echoing de Blasio’s pitch for the tech hub, on a call with Gotham Gazette. “One of the biggest ways you do that is improving workforce development, and by helping folks get the skills they need to qualify for those jobs.”

Hogrebe said the tech hub would “ensure tech jobs really are for all New Yorkers,” not solely for “those who have advanced degrees in computer science.”

He emphasized the centrality of the space allocated to teaching technological skills. “The cornerstone of this project is the digital skills training center. This is a place where some of the top organizations from all over the city will train New Yorkers on how to do the jobs that are in demand and give New Yorkers the skills they need,” said Hogrebe.

Most elected leaders, advocates and residents of the community are in favor of the proposal; they see it as a way to bring to the area jobs and educational opportunities that prepare people for job-rich fields. But some are pushing to include a concession in the deal: rezoning several blocks south of the hub in order to limit development.

During her 2017 City Council campaign, then-candidate Carlina Rivera said she was open to the tech hub project as long as the city implemented protective zoning measures aimed at curbing commercial and residential development in the nearby areas. The de Blasio administration, on the other hand, has generally been less likely to favor down-zonings as it seeks to add housing density, with affordability provisions, across the city. It remains to be seen how hard Rivera will push for the restrictive measures, and it is telling that the community board did not insist on them despite some loud and organized voices who call them essential to the neighborhood’s future.

In order to build the tech hub as planned, the lot in between two New York University-owned buildings -- University Hall and Palladium -- needs to be rezoned for additional height allowances. The rezoning must be approved through the five-step, roughly seven-month ULURP process. After the de Blasio administration put forward its ideas, solicited bids for the project via a request for proposals (RFP), and chose a developer, last month’s certification was the first hoop the proposal was required to jump through and this past Wednesday’s community board hearing was the second.

Next, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the Borough Board, which includes community board leaders and City Council members from across the borough, will review the proposal. While they may influence the project, the opinions of the local community board and borough board are both advisory.

However, the following steps, the City Planning Commission and the City Council, both have power to either approve or deny the tech hub project. In the coming months, the Council will hold committee hearings and subsequently vote on the matter -- the full Council approval of the project, in whatever exact form it is finalized, will likely occur around Labor Day. Usually, City Council members follow the lead of the member who represents the area home to a proposed rezoning, and there has been little to suggest this particular rezoning process will be a departure from the norm.

New City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who represents the area west of Union Square, said at a press conference on January 24 that he expects Rivera to helm negotiations with the de Blasio administration and trusts her judgement on the issue. “I defer to Council Member Rivera,” he said. “She has my full support and she knows that. She’s a pragmatic, thoughtful person who spent time on her local community board, who understands these issues, so I think she will handle this in a responsible, thoughtful way.”

Additionally, Johnson indicated that he was sympathetic to the idea of rezoning the blocks south of Union Square to limit development. “I know that area. It’s right on the border of our district,” he said. “To me, I think it makes sense, knowing that area, seeing developments going on there.”

At the Community Board 3 hearing on the matter, a slight majority of those who testified voiced support for the tech hub. They said it would bring jobs and educational opportunities to the area, though some in the pro-tech hub camp wanted confirmation from the EDC representatives in attendance that those from the local communities would reap the benefits of the new facility. Another faction, which skewed older, whiter, and included many long-time residents of the East and West Villages, expressed their concern the tech hub would spawn unwanted changes in the neighborhood if they didn’t fight for measures -- like more restrictive zoning on commercial development -- to thwart these shifts.

After the tech hub is erected, one theory goes, more residential and commercial development -- such as luxury and market-rate apartment buildings, chain stores, and hotels -- would change the community character, make the surrounding areas less affordable to small businesses and unrecognizable to long-time residents. Rezoning the area, in the skeptics’ telling, would preserve affordability by forestalling a potential wave of development adjacent to the tech hub.

Notably, many of the expressed qualms with the project sans an accompanying downzoning closely mirrored those voiced by Greenwich Village Society For Historic Preservation (GVHSP), a community nonprofit that typically opposes development. In a press release following the project’s ULURP certification and ahead of the community board hearing, GVPA executive director Andrew Berman, who made his case to the community board Wednesday night, argued that if the “surrounding predominantly residential neighborhood” is not protected, the tech hub would “accelerate the transformation of the area.”

Following over four hours of testimony and discussion, the community board committees voted 16 to 5 to approve the ULURP application without any condition.

After Wednesday’s vote, Rivera said in a statement to Gotham Gazette that she will work with the local community board, the mayor, and stakeholders to construct a “plan that satisfies and includes everyone.”

“This tech center has the potential to be a great space for the local residents who historically have not had access to the high-paying jobs of the tech industry, a field whose companies continue to grow in and around our neighborhoods,” Rivera continued.

Rivera said she will ensure the impending construction of the tech hub does not encourage excessive commercial development, which she said would adversely impact nearby residents and small businesses. “I will also continue to work towards the protections and rezoning which have broad community support that promote the development of housing and projects that are in line with our values and residential character,” she stated.    

Berman, for his part, expressed displeasure with the community board’s process and decision. “By the narrowest of votes in which several of our supporters who should have been allowed to vote but were not given the opportunity to do so, a strong resolution incorporating all of our concerns was defeated for a weaker one incorporating some but not all of our concerns,” said Berman in a statement to Patch. He vowed to “keep working” to advocate for policies that ensure the neighborhood “gets the protections it deserves and needs."

Needless to say, not all of those who participated in the hearing were disappointed with the outcome. Meghan Heintz of More New York, a group that advocates for policies that increase housing supply in the city, argued at the hearing that the tech hub was a boon to residents of nearby neighborhoods, and warned against the consequences of prohibitively restrictive zoning.

Heintz was pleased with the board’s decision to approve the ULURP application.

“Education and job training for the new economy is vital and should be accessible to people from all backgrounds and delaying it is the same as denying those benefits to New Yorkers. We staunchly oppose the exclusionary zoning proposal that NIMBYs from an adjacent neighborhood clumsily tried to tack onto the project,” she said Thursday in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

Heintz added, “If their proposal could really stand on its own merits, they wouldn't need to try to take a great project hostage to pass it.”

Along with the community advocates and stakeholders, New York University would also be impacted by the tech hub as the lot on which the new facility would be built is in between the two aforementioned NYU buildings. NYU spokesperson John Beckman said Wednesday that while the university has not had “direct involvement” in the project, the university supports “overall efforts to strengthen NYC's science, tech, and innovation economy” which includes the tech hub. “The Union Square Tech Hub is meant to advance NYC's tech economy, and that's an objective NYU supports,” he stated.

Asked to evaluate the idea to downzone areas surrounding the planned tech hub during a call Tuesday, Regional Plan Association director of community planning and design Moses Gates said that though fears of displacement are legitimate, downzoning would not advance the preservationists’ goals. Gates said the proposed rezoning would only be good news for those who “don’t want to see any change in the neighborhood.”

“I think a downzoning is not really in the community interest,” he said. “I don’t think it will release any kind of displacement pressures, which have been going on for decades at this point in the East Village.”

Instead, Gates said, the city should build more housing in the transit-rich area while ensuring that a sufficient amount of it is affordable under Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) guidelines, which require affordable housing in any area or project that is upzoned to add housing density. “We should also be looking to get some mixed-income housing in a very upper-income and increasingly exclusionary neighborhood,” he said.

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Union Square Hub, with 600 Projected Tech Jobs, Appears on Smooth Path to Reality Sun, 11 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000