Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/111 Wed, 21 Oct 2020 16:43:30 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) What's The [Data] Point? 8,200 - The Gowanus Rezoning, with City Council Member Brad Lander https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9828-whats-the-data-point-8200-gowanus-rezoning-city-council-member-brad-lander https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9828-whats-the-data-point-8200-gowanus-rezoning-city-council-member-brad-lander brla sl pod

Council Member Brad Lander (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 97: 8,200 - the Gowanus Rezoning with City Council Member Brad Lander [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

City Council Member Brad Lander joined the show to discuss the Gowanus rezoning proposal that is entering final stages of negotiation and the prospects of passage in 2021 -- 8,200 is the number of new housing units that could be created by the proposed rezoning of Gowanus, Brooklyn.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

What's The [DATA] Point? · Episode 97: 8,200, with Councilmember Brad Lander

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? 8,200 - The Gowanus Rezoning, with City Council Member Brad Lander Thu, 15 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Administration Pledges to Finally Address City's Persistent 'Digital Divide' with Universal Internet Access https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9824-new-york-city-digital-divide-de-blasio-internet-access-broadband-plan https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9824-new-york-city-digital-divide-de-blasio-internet-access-broadband-plan mayor link unb

Mayor de Blasio at a LinkNYC kiosk (photo: Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


As the pandemic forced New Yorkers to shelter at home, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration launched several efforts to assist those who lacked the necessary access to the internet to adapt to working and learning virtually. But there remains a deep digital divide across the city, particularly in terms of lack of access in low-income communities of color, creating significant challenges for students, residents of homeless shelters and public housing, and others.

According to city data, 40% of households in the city -- home to roughly 3.4 million people -- don’t have both home and mobile internet connections, and 18% have neither. At a hearing on Tuesday, City Council members sought solutions to the major gaps as they and advocates decried a slow pace of progress that has left far too many New Yorkers behind. While city officials acknowledged that progress has taken years, they pointed to accomplishments over recent months and predicted that the administration’s efforts will scale up significantly next year, providing internet access to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who currently lack it. 

“The pandemic and its consequences of online transition highlight the disparities between those with home internet access and internet-capable devices and those without,” said Council Member Bob Holden, who chairs the Committee on Technology, in his opening remarks. Given that city agreements with internet providers are also part of the picture, the hearing was held jointly with the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, chaired by Council Member Francisco Moya. 

As Holden and others at the hearing noted, the lack of internet access is an issue of inequity as New Yorkers go online to seek city services. “Internet access is not a luxury. It is a basic right that can open numerous doors. But we still have thousands without reliable access,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, noting that the city shifted to providing welfare benefits such as food stamps and rental assistance largely online during the pandemic and that many in-person enrollment centers continue to remain closed. “This compounds inequalities for the poorest New Yorkers,” he said. 

Before the coronavirus hit New York, the mayor had in January released an “Internet Master Plan” that was years in the making and aims to provide affordable and accessible high-speed internet across the five boroughs. In July, in response to the pandemic and the desperate need for more at-home internet, the city announced an acceleration of the plan with a $157 million capital investment aimed at expanding internet access to 600,000 underserved city residents, including 200,000 residents living in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) public housing developments, by the end of next year.  

In testimony before the committees, John Paul Farmer, the city’s chief technology officer, touted the internet master plan as the “most ambitious” plan of its kind across the country, noting that it would create $142 billion in gross city product and 165,000 jobs by 2045. “The current system is broken. Letting the market alone determine how to serve New yorkers has left 3.4 million people behind,” he said. 

Farmer said the administration had recognized the need to implement parts of that plan on a faster timeline in response to the pandemic, with a specific focus on public housing. The city has already distributed 10,000 internet-capable tablets to older adults living alone across 288 NYCHA developments; the city also issued a bid for vendors to provide internet service options at NYCHA housing and is expected to make an announcement on it this fall, he said.

The next major step will be a solicitation for universal broadband – which would create broadband access in every nook and cranny of the city by contracting multiple providers to fill gaps where they exist and use city real estate and municipal buildings to facilitate that expansion. Farmer said a Request for Proposals (RFP) for that bid is being finalized.

The Department of Education also gave out about 321,000 tablets to students to facilitate the shift to remote learning, though the mayor recently said another 100,000 devices are needed and being ordered.

Council Member Holden said he was “very, very skeptical” of the administration’s plans, noting that the mayor had first talked about broadband expansion in 2014, his first year in office. Even when announcing the acceleration of the internet master plan, de Blasio had promised that new pilot programs for internet access for NYCHA would be announced by the end of the summer, a deadline that came and went. “It seems to be that it's another one of the mayor's many promises that are not being delivered,” Holden said, pushing Farmer to explain what, if any, progress had been made in six years. 

Farmer emphasized, however, that much of the work had been done behind the scenes and that the city was “on the cusp of a transformation” in 2021. “The master plan didn't just come out of the blue,” he said. “It has received praise from nationally-recognized experts in this space because it's so responsive to the reality and recognizes that there is no silver bullet.”

The committee hearing also covered a proposed authorizing resolution submitted by the mayor to grant franchises for telecommunication services, specifically for the installation of fiber optics and cables across the city.

Michael Pastor, the deputy commissioner for legal affairs and franchises at the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) said that resolution, along with the approval of pending legislation in Albany, would allow the city to “be able to immediately solicit proposals for additional residential broadband franchises to bridge the digital divide and drive down residential broadband prices, all while generating millions of new revenue for New York City.”

Council Members Rory Lancman, Barry Grodenchik, and Ben Kallos all sought to ensure that any new franchises are accompanied by strong labor protections. They pointed to the ongoing labor dispute between Charter/Spectrum and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 3, members of which have been on strike for three years. Pastor, however, said the city was constrained from including any collective bargaining mandates in the franchise agreement because of federal law, but could require greater reporting that would give the city a window into a company’s labor practices. 

Representatives of the major internet service providers – Verizon, Altice, and Spectrum – testified before the committees as well, laying out the challenges they face in providing broadband options across the city while also emphasizing their own responses to the pandemic, like discounted plans for students and educators, deferred payment for delinquent customers, bill forgiveness for low-income subscribers, limited free internet access, and more. 

“We have an obligation to this city, to the people who are suffering the most throughout this pandemic,” Council Member Moya told them. “The poor, the people in communities of color, that have been suffering throughout this entire pandemic still don't have the necessary basic needs to get through this. And you as the providers, the main providers here in the City of New York, have to take on a real responsibility here.”

Smaller, independent providers sought to stress at the hearing that the city needs to encourage more competition to ensure more affordable broadband options for New Yorkers, allow access to city buildings and infrastructure, and build out its own fiber network to reduce costs.

“The digital gap in New York City is not about access, it's about affordability,” said Virginia Lam Abrams, senior vice president of government affairs and strategic advancement for Starry. “Superfast broadband is available but it remains frustratingly out of reach for millions of families due to costs, the consequences of an uncompetitive broadband market.”

“The woeful state of New York City's internet infrastructure should be ringing alarm bells throughout the City Council,” said Robert Veksler, co-founder of Brooklyn Fiber.

Advocates emphasized urgency in solving the city’s digital divide, particularly as the city’s schools have reopened and more than half of students have been opted into all-remote learning by their parents and guardians Thousands of students live in homeless shelters and risk falling behind without adequate internet access. Senior centers are closed, leaving many older New Yorkers without ready access to information and services. And those seeking to leave homeless shelters cannot easily search apartment listings or connect to the city’s online affordable housing portal since shelters lack basic access to the internet. 

“Obviously, the pandemic has exacerbated the impacts of the digital divide and raised the stakes to literally life or death,” said Sandra Gresl, a member of the New York City Bar Association’s Social Welfare Law committee. “New Yorkers now need internet to apply for essential government benefits like food stamps, and homeless parents are now forced to risk their child's health and safety for the sake of their education or allow them to fall further behind with limited or inconsistent access to remote learning due to poor internet and cell service in shelters.”

“Whichever approaches the city chooses, it must ensure that those with the most acute need are prioritized, that broadband is affordable and that any new broadband comes equipped with privacy and net neutrality protections,” said Allie Bohm, policy counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union. She pointed to the LinkNYC wi-fi kiosks around the city as an example of the wrong approach, saying the kiosks are mostly located in affluent neighborhoods and collect personal data from people who use them. 

What the advocates agreed on is the need for a municipal broadband network. “Internet access must not be contingent upon someone's ability to pay or on whether it's profitable for a private company to connect them,” said Will Luckman, a volunteer organizer with the New York City Democratic Socialists of America Tech Action Working Group. “The onus is on the government itself to ensure everyone is connected.”

Lance Van Arsdale, assistant business manager for IBEW Local 3, pointed out that city agencies are already laying fiber optic cables in city-owned buildings. “That should be used as a stopgap, not to wipe out private competition but to be part of the competition, to make it honest,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to remove mention of the LinkNYC kiosks collecting data from people who walk by them.

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De Blasio Administration Pledges to Finally Address City's Persistent 'Digital Divide' with Universal Internet Access Wed, 14 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
'One For The History Books': Race to Replace City Council Member Donovan Richards Starts to Take Shape in Southeast Queens https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9790-race-replace-city-council-member-donovan-richards-southeast-queens-special-2021-election https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9790-race-replace-city-council-member-donovan-richards-southeast-queens-special-2021-election 1 over 200 units

City Council Member Donovan Richards (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)


Donovan Richards’ likely ascension to become the next Queens Borough President at the start of 2021 would trigger a special election to replace him in the City Council in the 31st District in Southeast Queens. With several candidates already in the race to replace Richards -- a Democrat who is term-limited out of his current position at the end of 2021 anyway -- and additional potential candidates circling, the likely special election is already shaping up to be one of the most contentious City Council races of next year.

The entire 51-seat Council will be on the ballot, along with the rest of city government, through the 2021 June primaries and fall general election, but several special Council elections, including in the 31st District, are likely for earlier in the new year. Bronx Council Members Ritchie Torres and Andrew Cohen are both also likely to win new positions, creating vacancies at the start of the year that could be filled via special election in late February or March -- elections that are slated to be the first city use of ranked-choice voting, which will apply to special and party primary races beginning in 2021.

The 31st Council District includes portions of Laurelton, Rosedale, Far Rockaway, the Rockaways, South Ozone Park, and Springfield Gardens. It is split between “mainland” Southeast Queens neighborhoods like Laurelton and Rosedale, and the Rockaways, which are somewhat separated largely by John F. Kennedy Airport (also one of the district’s main employers) and Jamaica Bay. According to Census data, the district is 68% Black, 16% Hispanic, and 11% white.

The “mainland” portion of the district consists predominantly of older and Black residents. In one neighborhood, Laurelton, which is 90% Black, the percentage of owner-occupied housing units is 70% and the median household income is $87,780. The Rockaways portion of the district has a higher percentage of white residents, includes a mix of younger people, and also a significant Orthodox Jewish community.

Southeast Queens has garnered a reputation in recent years as being a stronghold for the Queens County Democratic Party, in part because the area is home to the new county party chair, Rep. Gregory Meeks, and provided the strongest base of support for county party-backed Melinda Katz in her 2019 Queens District Attorney primary against public defender Tiffany Caban, now a Council candidate herself in Western Queens, and for Richards among a crowded field in this year’s Borough President race, which only occurred because of Katz’s shift to the DA position.

While the area has supported such county-backed figures with strong ties to the political establishment, its voters have also elected progressive State Senator James Sanders Jr. and, this year, community activist Khaleel Anderson, who won decisively in a primary for State Assembly against a county-backed opponent. But it’s not always as simple as county party-backed establishment figures versus progressives within the Democratic Party: Richards has a progressive track record, and recently voted against this year’s city budget because he believed it did not go far enough in defunding the NYPD’s budget.

The 31st Council District in some ways represents why ranked-choice voting was seen as desirable for Democratic primaries and special elections. In a 2013 special election, Richards barely won his Council seat, by a margin of just 70 votes, over Pesach Osina, an Orthodox Jewish candidate, with both garnering around 29% of the vote. Richards was among six Black candidates vying for the seat, all of whom together earned roughly 70% of the vote combined, while the lone non-Black candidate nearly won the race with less than half their total.

Now, as the likely special election approaches, Osina is back, though among a different field and with the new ranked-choice system in place.

Candidates and Potential Candidates
With several candidates already running or considering runs, this change could prove especially pivotal to the ultimate outcome of the race. Six people have either entered the race or expressed interest in doing so in some form, including Manuel Silva, Richards’ chief of staff; Franck Joseph, Deputy Commissioner for the City’s Human Rights Commission; Latanya Collins, a 2017 candidate for the seat; Monique Charlton, a consultant for the Department of Education; Latoya Benjamin, director of economic development in State Senator Sanders' office; Osina, who previously worked in the New York City Comptroller’s office; and Jazmine Outlaw, an activist with the Rockaway Youth Task Force.

Gotham Gazette spoke with Silva, Joseph, Benjamin, Charlton, and Outlaw, while Osina has not responded to an interview request and Collins was unreachable. Silva, Collins, Charlton, and Benjamin are currently in the race, while Osina and Outlaw have not yet officially entered.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Joseph said “my focus right now is to help New Yorkers as I fulfill my duties at my agency.” He indicated that, while he does have a campaign account open, he is not actively campaigning at the moment and is still undecided as to whether he will enter the race.

One person familiar with the district said that they thought Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman, whose 29th Assembly District overlaps with the 31st City Council District in Laurelton and Rosedale, could enter the race. Hyndman’s office declined an interview request. If she were to enter the race, Hyndman would immediately be a frontrunner, if not the clear favorite, given success rates for state legislators moving to the City Council and vice versa.

Four candidates had open campaign accounts at the time of the last filing deadline on July 11. Osina had $10,403 in cash-on-hand; Silva had $7,100; Benjamin had $3,219; and Joseph had $3,925. Osina led the candidates with 169 donors to Silva’s 127, while Benjamin had 30. The other candidates and potential candidates did not have open campaign accounts with the city Campaign Finance Board at the time of the last filing deadline.

A Unique District
“This is a very unique district. It has extremes of wealth and poverty. And then there's a geographic difference between the Rockaways and the mainland, if you will,” said Sanders Jr., the state senator who preceded Richards in representing the 31st Council District. As Sanders notes, Laurelton is one of the few neighborhoods in the country where Black income surpasses white income. At the same time, there are seven NYCHA public housing developments in the Rockaways alone.

“The Black community in Southeast Queens is politically liberal, but socially moderate,” said Sanders, who attributes his electoral success as “an unabashed progressive” to his ability to deliver effective constituent services.

“This is going to be a fascinating race,” Sanders said. “This is going to be one for the history books.”

Khaleel Anderson surprised many by winning the June Democratic primary for the 31st Assembly District (which overlaps significantly with 31st Council District). “It should’ve been covered like every other race,” he said, and “I was surprised” it was not.

“We’re probably the farthest away from Manhattan possible,” Silva said, when asked about the lack of attention races in the area receive.

“Southeast Queens is more open-minded than folks give us credit for,” Anderson said, when asked about the area’s reputation as of late as a political-establishment stronghold. “Southeast Queens definitely can be and is a bastion of new ideas and ambition, but they love to see folks who have fought the fight alongside them.”

“Progressives have been running and they’ve been winning, but [the Queens Democratic Party] is still in denial that we exist,” said Milan Taylor, the CEO of the Rockaway Youth Task Force, noting Anderson’s recent victory. “It’s like they’re trying to wish it away. To a certain extent, this is a changing of the guard. These candidates are young. They’re literally the future of Southeast Queens and of our city.”

Manuel Silva
Like some other chiefs of staff to term-limited City Council members, Silva is running for his boss’ current job. However, unlike counterparts Erik Bottcher (Corey Johnson, CD-3) and Nicholas Roloson (Costa Constantinides, CD-22), Silva does not currently have his boss’ endorsement. He identifies himself as a “100% hardcore progressive” and said he would be seeking the Working Families Party’s backing.

“City Council is probably the most important seat in local politics,” Silva said, when asked why he had decided to run. He pointed to flooding, budgetary issues, and reforming public safety as important issues for the local community. “We need leaders who are going to make bold decisions and push our city into the 21st century.”

“We need to demilitarize the NYPD and look at our public safety system in general,” said Silva, who said he supported reallocations of at least $1 billion away from the NYPD budget but “I just wouldn’t use that terminology,” referring to the “defund NYPD” slogan.

“I want to create programs around affordable home-ownership,” Silva told Gotham Gazette, while also expressing his support for affordable housing throughout the city, pointing to his work with Council Member Richards as something he would want to replicate.

Jazmine Outlaw
In addition to her work with the Rockaway Youth Task Force, Outlaw has been president of the 101st Precinct Council and is an EMT. “I’ve been doing this since I was 17 and it just snowballed from there,” Outlaw said, of her organizing background.

“There’s a difference between a career politician who’s worked for a senator and then people who’ve built things from the ground up and understand the community’s needs,” Outlaw said, when asked why she would run for Council.“I think we need more of those people stepping up and holding a seat at the table.”

“Things were wrong in our community and our voices weren’t being heard, from a youth standpoint,” Outlaw said, about why she joined RYTF, at which Anderson also grew his organizing chops. Outlaw said ending the school-to-prison pipeline and public safety are among her top priorities, pointing to her work on her local police precinct council.

“It’s really about police officers and the police department not taking the time to learn about our communities,” Outlaw said. “At the place we are now, we really need to take a different look at what we think of as community safety. I know for a fact that our community members don’t think of the police as a means of safety.” She said mental health services, youth programming, and affordable housing are necessary for public safety; and, she supports defunding the NYPD by at least $1 billion out of its roughly $6 billion annual operating budget.

“We need to focus on community-based alternatives to police and having a restorative-based approach,” Outlaw said. “A lot of the time police officers are band-aids to community problems and don’t deal with the root causes.”

“We need to prioritize making sure that health care is accessible for all. There needs to be a major shift in making sure that communities of color are getting the services they need,” Outlaw said, noting that the Rockaways were among the hardest-hit communities in New York City during the pandemic.

“There’s a progressive movement within Southeast Queens,” she said, noting this year’s Black Lives Matter protests. “I think we need somebody who sees those issues and is ready to bring lasting change. This is something that is possible, despite what naysayers may say.”

Latoya Benjamin
Benjamin, who serves as the director of economic development in State Senator Sanders’ office, said she’s running because the Council has a more direct role in economic development projects than the State Legislature. “I want to advocate for the changes in development I want to see in the community,” she said in an interview.

Benjamin points to the effects of COVID-19 as the top issue facing the local community, noting that one of the first coronavirus cases in New York City emerged in Far Rockaway and that “A lot of the leadership positions in our community are our elders and they’re no longer here.

“Covid further exposed the disparities that take place within our communities,” said Benjamin, who said she’d focus on bringing more public health resources to the local community.

“I’m a native, born and raised here,” Benjamin said, arguing that her experiences make her uniquely qualified to bring jobs and public resources back to the district. She diagnosed the failure of the Amazon ‘HQ2’ deal (which Richards supported) to Amazon “failing to do community outreach,” contrasting it to the recent expansion of John F. Kennedy Airport, where “The public and private sector worked hand-in-hand to get the local community’s support.”

Benjamin said her criteria for supporting new developments in the land use process would be “If the development meets the needs of the local community,” particularly noting that the local district has a deficit of health-care facilities.

On public safety, Benjamin said, “I support reevaluating the entire system” and “I believe that there are other ways to improve police-community relations.” While she supports reallocating resources away from police programs “that aren’t really useful,” she said, “I don’t think the blanket statement of ‘defunding the police’ is going to solve that.”

Monique Charlton
“I’m a part of a demographic that is underrepresented in the City Council,” Charlton said. “I’m a Black woman, a mother of a child under 18, and I’m running to represent a voice that’s not frequently heard.”

“I do think that with some of the decision-making in our legislative body, it’s not necessarily thoughtful or demonstrating concern for the family. Putting family people, specifically mothers, into a body that has been failing mothers will definitely make a difference,” Charlton said.

She lists education, health (particularly women’s health), housing, and jobs as her top issues. One of her focus areas if elected to the City Council would be “Ensuring that hospitals and health institutions see that Black mothers and all expectant mothers get the care they deserve.” She proposes that “The city assist new moms four months post-birth.” Details of this plan would be forthcoming, Charlton said.

“I see the shortcomings of the schools, particularly when it comes to funding,” Charlton said. She is also advocating remerging schools that were formerly divided, saying “It worked for a while but now with several changes that have occurred it’s time to bring schools back together.” She believes this will help with funding issues.

Charlton praised Council Member Richards’ land use policies, saying, “I think it’s important that the community be involved in the decision-making and how it affects our families.”

On public safety, Charlton said, “I would agree that we should reallocate some of [the NYPD’s] money to social services,” such as moving mental health crisis responses away from the police department.

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

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'One For The History Books': Race to Replace City Council Member Donovan Richards Starts to Take Shape in Southeast Queens Mon, 28 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
When Can New Yorkers Expect General Election Results? City and State Officials Give Different Answers https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9788-when-to-expect-2020-new-york-election-results-city-state-differ https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9788-when-to-expect-2020-new-york-election-results-city-state-differ presidential state city

New Yorkers soon head to the polls (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)


The 2020 general election results in New York City may not be known until mid-December, six weeks after Election Day, according to Michael Ryan, the executive director of the New York City Board of Elections.

Ryan told members of the New York City Council Friday that New Yorkers could expect election results between December 8 and 15, around the same length of time it took in the primaries but ages beyond the unofficial results New Yorkers have come to expect on election night. The timeline means certified results will come just in time for the Electoral College to formally select the next president by the mid-December deadline.

"We have to complete certification in order for the electors in the Electoral College [to vote], so I would say in the December 8 to December 15 range." Ryan said at an oversight hearing Friday in response to questions from members of the Council's Committee on Governmental Operation.

"But we're already working on all of that and the idea is to try to get it done as quickly as we possibly can. We don't want to play brinkmanship," he said.

The Electoral College is set to formally elect the president on December 14.

State regulators said Ryan's projection misses the deadline to certify results set in New York's election law by about two weeks.

"I will simply remind the city board that the statutory deadline for completing the canvass is November 28," said Douglas Kellner, co-chair of the State Board of Elections, which has oversight power over local boards, in his testimony later in the Council hearing.

"I point out that that's the Friday after Thanksgiving and the state board has made it very clear that the counties must gear up to meet that," he added.

As was the case in the June primaries, finding out the winners will take weeks due to the high volume of absentee voting expected in the general election. On the ballot this year along with president and vice president are races for all of New York’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and both houses of the State Legislature, among other state and local offices.

Traditionally, local boards of elections have been able to confidently publish "unofficial" results on election night, a tally of all the in-person votes cast. In a typical New York election, these account for a vast majority of votes, with official results released later once a relatively small number of military, overseas, absentee, and affidavit ballots are counted. But with absentee voting expanded to all registered voters due to the coronavirus pandemic, mailed ballots could make up nearly half the total ballots. In New York City, the BOE is anticipating as many as 1 million absentee votes, Ryan said.

Absentee and other mailed-in ballots take more time to be counted. Along with other requirements, officials must crosscheck each ballot with those received at each of New York State's 62 county boards of elections to ensure that no absentee voter voted at a poll site -- any in-person vote nullifies a mailed vote.

There are some steps administrators can take to try to speed up ballot canvassing (the actual counting of votes), but they are limited by statutory requirements.

One method is to maximize the number of ballots cast in person, which can be tallied almost immediately by ballot scanning machines at each poll site, but which in the pandemic comes with some health risk, especially for the most vulnerable populations. The BOE and other city agencies have been promoting early voting as an option for in-person voting that does not carry as much risk of exposure to COVID-19 as a crowded poll site would. There will be eight days of early voting offered from October 24 through November 1; Election Day is November 3.

The New York City Board of Elections has also purchased ballot counting machines for each borough, which have the capacity to digitally scan and copy two-sided ballots and ballot envelopes. The technology will save hundreds of BOE staff person-hours typically required to make photocopies of ballot material to be used as evidence in court challenges. The scanners mean more efficiency in handling ballot challenges and more personnel and space available for canvassing.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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When Can New Yorkers Expect General Election Results? City and State Officials Give Different Answers Sat, 26 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 20,000 - Industry City Rezoning Negotiations Fall Apart, with Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball & City Council Member Carlos Menchaca https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9779-whats-the-data-point-industry-city-rezoning-proposal-falls-apart-jobs-menchaca https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9779-whats-the-data-point-industry-city-rezoning-proposal-falls-apart-jobs-menchaca wtdp industry city

Council Member Menchaca and others tour part of Industry City (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 96: 20,000 - The Industry City Rezoning Proposal Falls Apart, with Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball and City Council Member Carlos Menchaca [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball and City Council Member Carlos Menchaca joined the show to discuss the demise of the Industry City rezoning proposal, which Kimball spent years working on and Menchaca opposed. What happened and what's next?

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

What's The [DATA] Point? · WTDP 96 Mixdown 2

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? 20,000 - Industry City Rezoning Negotiations Fall Apart, with Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball & City Council Member Carlos Menchaca Thu, 24 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Covid Must Change How We Handle Rikers and the Future of Jails in New York City https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9762-covid-must-change-handle-rikers-health-future-jails-new-york-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9762-covid-must-change-handle-rikers-health-future-jails-new-york-city comm hospital chair

Council Member Carline Rivera, the author (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


Like most New Yorkers who lived through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am still reeling from the trauma and chaos we experienced this spring. But until I set foot on Rikers Island last week, I had an incomplete understanding of what the true horrors of COVID-19 were for some of our most vulnerable New Yorkers.

At the height of the pandemic, Rikers saw an infection rate seven times higher than the rest of the city. The Department of Correction (DOC) was forced to reopen a shuttered facility on the island to quarantine suspected covid patients when existing isolation wards and clinics reached capacity. Numerous incarcerated New Yorkers, Correction staff, and health care workers died as limited use of PPE and testing allowed the virus to spread like wildfire in closed, poorly-ventilated cell blocks.

Today, with low infection rates citywide, many may view the risk to those at Rikers to be over, but if a second wave does arrive this winter, as many scientists predict, Rikers will once again be directly in the disease’s crosshairs. It’s clear to me from the stories of whistleblowers and the conditions I just saw at the jail that there are many vulnerabilities that still exist - from inconsistent use of PPE and social distancing by staff, to sleeping situations that still place some incarcerated individuals just a few feet apart

Even if DOC commits to adopting solutions at a City Council hearing I am holding on this issue, there is only so much we can do to protect people housed in this decrepit facility.

The de Blasio administration already recognized that, when in April they began a dramatic increase in early release for incarcerated individuals. The Mayor’s Office and DOC worked quickly to identify individuals for early release, including older adults, those with underlying health conditions, those being held on technical parole violations, and those serving city sentences of under a year. In a few short weeks, we went from 5,557 people in Department of Correction custody to only 3,800 - a population drop that had previously been projected to take years to reach (the census has since crept back up to just over 4,100). And analyses show these early releases saw fewer repeat arrests than would be expected for normal release populations pre-covid.

Even with the rapid reduction, jails like Rikers have still been scrambling for space to social distance. Over the last few months, the city’s Correctional Health Services recommended more than 1,500 additional individuals be released, including hundreds who meet the same requirement that were provided for early release in April. Unfortunately, many of these recommendations continue to be rejected by DOC, which refuses to release the total number of approved releases. 

Continuing to release people in DOC custody, while implementing policy solutions to reduce arrests overall, will save lives not just on the inside but in New York City as a whole. Justice and public health advocates have identified the “jail churn,” the phenomenon by which people are cycled through jails for short periods of time, where they risk exposure to covid, and are then released back into their communities. 

But one day COVID-19 will come to an end, and with the plan to close Rikers and open four smaller borough-based jails delayed until 2027 by the city’s shrunken budget, we should take this opportunity to consider how we can safely reduce the city’s current jail population beyond the pandemic, while interrogating how the physical structure of jails negatively impacts public health, and what any new jails will look like in terms of safety and scope. 

This won’t happen overnight, but we can take steps while prioritizing safety and public health. First, we as a city and state must take every possible action to reduce the number of arrests made, remove officers with histories of police misconduct, and work to dismantle the system that enables the ‘blue wall of silence.’ The state can also pass laws to remove unnecessary criminal statutes (like the “Walking While Trans” Ban) and reinstate the portions of historic bail reforms that were sadly rolled back in the wake of pressure from police unions. And we can continue to redistribute funding from our police departments towards community programs proven to be more effective at reducing recidivism.

At the same time, the Mayor’s Office could work with DOC to compile an annual report on city jail populations and corresponding recommendations on how to reduce that overall population in a time-sensitive manner beyond the census projected for the post-Rikers borough-based jails. Since demolition work at the proposed jail sites has yet to begin, these reports could influence the size of the currently proposed local jails each year before construction begins. 

COVID-19 has completely changed how we view our society and work to address its failings, including the systemic and racist inequities that ravage communities of color. There’s no reason that we shouldn’t use this opportunity to ensure we are constantly reviewing our criminal justice reform efforts, from Rikers today and into the future. 

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City Council Member Carlina Rivera represents the 2nd District in Manhattan and chairs the Council’s hospitals committee. On Twitter @CarlinaRivera.

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

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Covid Must Change How We Handle Rikers and the Future of Jails in New York City Sun, 20 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Despite Requests, No Sign of De Blasio Plan for Managing Billions in City Borrowing He's Seeking https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9757-despite-requests-no-de-blasio-plan-for-managing-billions-city-borrowing-seeing-state https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9757-despite-requests-no-de-blasio-plan-for-managing-billions-city-borrowing-seeing-state requests despite mayor

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to insist that New York City needs authorization from the state to borrow billions of dollars in operating funds to balance its budget, at least in the absence of federal aid to cover some of the massive loss in revenue from the pandemic fallout. The drastically-slashed new city budget for this fiscal year passed July 1 included $1 billion in undefined labor savings, which de Blasio said could be covered by federal aid or borrowing, or, if neither of those come through, potentially 22,000 laid off municipal workers.

But as he’s beat the drum for authority to borrow $5 billion to be granted by skeptical state government leaders, the mayor has yet to present a detailed plan for how that money would be spent and repaid, creating concern among lawmakers and fiscal watchdogs that he wants a “blank check” for the city.

By the end of the month, the mayor must present the state Financial Control Board, an oversight body, with a plan to find the $1 billion in savings needed to balance the $88.2 billion budget for the current fiscal year. But the city’s budget woes don’t stop there. The budget gap for the next fiscal year is expected to be $4.2 billion, though it could be higher pending revenue forecasts.

For months, the mayor has said that the state Legislature should allow the city to cover those costs through long-term borrowing, at times expressing frustration and exasperation about the unwillingness of his fellow Democrats to act. But they have raised questions and sought a specific plan that de Blasio has yet to provide. Asked repeatedly for any plan that de Blasio may have at this point, spokespeople for de Blasio did not respond to Gotham Gazette inquiries this week. Other relevant parties indicated that there is still no plan.

After initially proposing to borrow $7 billion, the mayor lowered the request to $5 billion, which would be repaid over 30 years. In June, de Blasio wrote a letter to legislators in the State Senate and Assembly pressing for his demand, but it offered few details.

As de Blasio continued to press his case leading up to the finalized city budget, city and state officials -- from Governor Andrew Cuomo to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and City Comptroller Scott Stringer, among others -- expressed skepticism about new borrowing.

On June 27, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester Democrat, released a statement saying, “New York City is the economic engine for our nation and our state, and so it is a priority for the Senate that it remains economically strong and viable. Prudence requires the development of a plan not rushed through before action is actually necessary, especially when the possibility of additional federal aid remains unresolved. Mayor de Blasio has made it clear we have several months before drastic measures like layoffs would occur and other city leaders have sent mixed signals about the wisdom and efficacy of the current request. The Senate will work with our partners in Government including the Mayor, the City Comptroller, the City Council, the Assembly, and the Governor to help New York City. We are open to approving limited loan authorization but more work needs to be done to develop a consensus around a sound approach.”

A spokesperson for de Blasio expressed disappointment in the State Senate.

More recently, some officials including Stringer and Johnson have changed their stance, albeit while still saying they want to see a real plan from de Blasio. Cuomo has continued to argue against new borrowing by the city to pay for operating expenses, saying the state would ultimately be on the hook.

The mayor and labor union leaders have been lobbying the state Legislature to approve the borrowing authority, which would both remove the need to cut spending on labor and prevent layoffs. “I've been asking Albany for months for something very fair and simple – long-term borrowing, which the city has received in past crises,” de Blasio said on Tuesday. “Hasn't happened. We're running out of options. Now, I do believe labor's working real hard...to help us in Albany and to come up with alternatives. So, I'm going to hold out hope that that's how we can solve this.” 

In a statement after publication, Julia Arredondo, a mayor's office spokesperson, said, "Long term borrowing is the fiscally responsible pathway to the City’s financial recovery. Without it, we face layoffs and steep budget cuts. We have had many conversations with the Council about our plan, and look forward to working together to protect the jobs of hard-working City employees and the programs and services that New Yorkers need and deserve."

The State Assembly nearly voted on the borrowing proposal in June – Speaker Carl Heastie has said he supports it – while the Senate majority remains open to the idea as well. "As we have said from the beginning we are willing to work with New York City to identify the best course forward without hurting working men and women and at the same time pursuing a fiscally responsible course,” said Mike Murphy, communications director for the Senate majority, in a new statement to Gotham Gazette. He did not say whether the mayor had presented a plan to the Senate. An Assembly spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

While Cuomo has so far been cold to the idea of allowing the city to borrow billions of dollars, the state itself has engaged in new borrowing as it struggles with lost revenue and prepares for potential cuts to local aid. Asked whether the mayor had given the state a specific borrowing plan, Division of Budget spokesperson Freeman Klopott pointed to the governor’s comments at an unrelated news conference on Long Island on Wednesday.

“The mayor has said he would have to lay off people if he didn’t borrow. I’m saying layoffs are the last thing you would want to do,” Cuomo said. “They’re the last option, especially in New York City where you have so many problems, you have the homeless problem, you have the crime problem, the city is dirty. So layoffs are the last option. But the $90 billion budget the City has, I’m sure there’s a lot of waste you can find. And that’s what you need to do before you go to borrow or lay off anyone.”

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli had his own tough words for the de Blasio administration. “The city used non-recurring revenue and some questionable savings to close its 2021 budget gap, while revenue continues to lag. The fiscal problems are daunting now but the duration is uncertain, and borrowing cannot become a crutch,” DiNapoli said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The city must provide a detailed, realistic plan for managing its finances for the next few years before turning to borrowing. It should be a last resort.”

Stringer and Johnson continue to call for a comprehensive plan, which has yet to be produced, for spending and repaying the borrowing. “We are in an unprecedented economic crisis, and so far the federal government has walked away from its responsibility to provide the relief we need,” Stringer said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The Mayor needs to stop threatening to fire frontline workers and propose a transparent, comprehensive financial plan with borrowing as one component to balance our budget and protect workers while preventing irremediable damage to the economic and social fabric of our City. The Mayor doesn’t get a blank check.”

The City Council was preparing to hold a hearing on September 21 on a non-binding resolution sponsored by Council Member Helen Rosenthal urging the state Legislature to approve the borrowing proposal. Melanie Hartzog, director of the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget was scheduled to testify. But the hearing has been postponed for the second time now. A Council spokesperson said in an email on Friday that they had expected the state Legislature to return to session, which it did not, and will reschedule the hearing once that occurs.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Johnson reiterated his support but explained what he wants to hear from the administration. “I want to avoid layoffs. That is a major reason why I support the ability to borrow long-term,” he said. “The administration has to come and participate in a meaningful way and take questions and answer them and outline their plans, their sequencing, and speak in a very specific, detailed substantive way on what they would use that borrowing authority for.”

He also said that the resolution from the Council, while potentially helpful to signal its buy-in on borrowing, is not what will or should make or break the request.

Rosenthal said in a phone interview that she hasn’t received any indication from OMB that they will provide a detailed plan prior to the hearing, or if one even exists. She said the lack of candor has been “frustrating,” particularly as the hearing was rescheduled to allow OMB officials to testify. “My gut, and I've been saying this for half a year now, is to allow borrowing, but they need to put a little meat on the bones,” she said.

“Here's everything we don't know. The amounts, over how many years. Do they have a plan for timing of paying the money back? Do they have any of those types of specifics and where are they with the labor savings?,” she said. She also noted that the city’s charter-mandated update on revenues and expenditures is due in November, when mid-year budget and four-year financial plan modifications will occur. “Are they starting to have a sense of how revenues are coming in compared to what was budgeted at the end of June?” she said.

“I guess the mayor's folks have a strategy on it,” she said of the overall plan. “I'm not sure what that strategy is because I would imagine the state people who are the ones who have to give us the authority are asking the exact same questions...Common sense would be, I think, that one would want to be as transparent as possible in order to justify to those who are giving you the authority, why you need it, and what your plans are.”

Rosenthal also said she’d been informed the Municipal Labor Committee will meet at the same time as the hearing, which may preclude labor leaders from testifying. “It'd be helpful to know where they are in those negotiations,” she said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated with a statement from the mayor's office.

Note - this article has been updated to reflect that the City Council hearing on the borrowing resolution has been indefinitely postponed. 

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Despite Requests, No Sign of De Blasio Plan for Managing Billions in City Borrowing He's Seeking Wed, 16 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Five-Candidate Field Emerges for Expected Bronx Special Election to Replace Council Member Cohen https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9720-candidates-emerges-expected-special-election-bronx-city-council-cohen https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9720-candidates-emerges-expected-special-election-bronx-city-council-cohen eebit3fuyaistaj

Council Member Cohen (left) passing out masks in his Bronx district (photo: @AndrewCohenNYC)


Bronx City Council Member Andrew Cohen’s recent nomination for a Supreme Court judgeship at the Bronx Democratic Party’s judicial convention in August means that the already-underway contest to replace him in the Council will likely move up from a June 2021 primary to a February or March 2021 special election, assuming Cohen assumes his judgeship in January. The special election in Council District 11, along with contests for soon-to-be-vacant seats in Council Districts 15 (Ritchie Torres) and 31 (Donovan Richards), appear likely to be crowded, competitive affairs and are likely to be the first uses of ranked-choice voting in New York City.

City Council District 11, which Cohen has represented since 2014, covers the northwest corner of the Bronx, including the neighborhoods of Bedford Park, Kingsbridge, Riverdale, Norwood, Van Cortlandt Village, Wakefield, and Woodlawn. Riverdale, the traditional political power center of the district, is largely white while the neighborhoods of Kingsbridge and Woodlawn, are home to a majority of people of color.

According to NYU’s Furman Center, in Community Board 8, which overlaps with much of the district, about half of the population is Hispanic, while 29% is white and 15% are black. The poverty rate in the area covered by the Community Board was 18.8% in 2018, slightly higher than the citywide rate of 17.3% but significantly lower than the borough’s poverty rate of 27.4%. Average rents in Riverdale are about $1,410, while the average rent in the Bronx is $1,210.

Even before Council Member Cohen received his judicial nomination, candidates were already lining up to replace him given term limits, including district leader and teacher Eric Dinowitz (whose father is State Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz), tech entrepreneur Jessica Haller, former Community Board 8 chair Daniel Padernacht, social worker Abigail Martin, and Marcos Sierra, a district leader and former community board member. The recent nomination kicked the budding race into a new gear, likely shortening the timeline, and Gotham Gazette spoke with the five candidates, all Democrats like Cohen, about their campaigns and the top issues in the race including housing, public safety, education, transportation, and more.

“This is a very interesting race during a very interesting time politically in the Bronx,” said Gary Axelbank, host of Bronx Buzz on BronxNet TV. “There’s no question there’s an upheaval in Bronx politics, but there’s a real opportunity for the Bronx to remake itself.”

Eric Dinowitz appears to hold an advantage in name recognition given his father is a Bronx county stalwart who has held his Assembly seat for over two decades. Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz’s 81st District is almost coterminous with the 11th Council District, with the latter extending more into Norwood than the former.

The younger Dinowitz had raised $73,550 for the race, as of a July 11 campaign finance disclosure that covered the previous six months, and had $53,966 in cash-on-hand. Haller came in second in the cash race having raised $55,827, and with a balance of $38,371 in her account. Padernacht has raised $30,961, but has only $3,099 in his account as of July. Martin has not yet filed any financial disclosures.

Eric Dinowitz had 311 individual donors to Haller’s 386 and Padernacht’s 246. Their average donations were $236, $145, and $126, respectively.

“I have hundreds and hundreds of individual donations. The vast majority of those are from the Bronx and small-dollar donations,” Dinowitz said of his fundraising lead. “What that tells me is that I’ve built a broad, deep coalition of support throughout the district.”

The other candidates have criticized the timing of Cohen’s elevation to a judgeship, which they say gives an advantage to Dinowitz since a special election will likely have lower turnout than the June primary and give the candidates less time to establish their campaigns. Eric Dinowitz has pushed back against that critique. “I am a public school teacher and have been a community activist for years,” he said, when asked about the questions surrounding the influence of his father in the race. “The voters are smart. They’re going to make a choice. It’s up to me to tell my story and share my vision of what we need to recover from this crisis and revitalize this community and this city.”

Haller, however, was critical of how the Democratic county party handled the process. “Not only is it a backroom deal where papa gets to anoint his son,” she said. “We’re going to trigger a special election that’s going to cost millions, we’re not going to get full turnout, and the community is going to be unrepresented for months.” The cost of the special election was a particular sticking point for Haller, who noted, “We have budget cuts everywhere.”

Martin echoed Haller. “This is an example of machine politics at play and Jeffrey Dinowitz has orchestrated it. It’s evidence that he doesn’t want the constituents of this district to hear from all the candidates,” she said, citing the difficulties of running as a first-time candidate, particularly during the pandemic. “Special elections are expensive and we should be using that money to keep roofs over heads and food on tables.”

Special elections in New York City are also non-partisan, meaning candidates run on ballot lines they create, and can’t be nominated by the traditional parties. Therefore, none of the candidates will appear on the Democratic Party ballot line. Assuming all goes accordingly for Cohen, the election will take place (using the ranked-choice voting system) and the winner will win the seat outright, and be sworn in soon after to serve the final months of Cohen’s second term. Like with all 51 City Council seats and many other city government positions, there will still be an election for the seat next year via the June primaries and fall general election, to see who holds the position for 2022 and 2023, but the special election will mean there’s an incumbent in that second 2021 race.

Why They’re Running
“Every single day, I see deep inequities in my classroom,” said Eric Dinowitz, who teaches at the Walton Campus, a public school in the Jerome Park neighborhood, “and there’s only so much I can do as a teacher to solve this problem. As a Council Member, I’m going to fight for the structural changes needed for all students, for working families, and for seniors.” Dinowitz, a member of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), has been endorsed by his union. He did not specify what he meant by “structural changes.”

Haller touts the environment as her signature issue and believes that the Bronx has suffered from harmful policies that can be fixed at the local level. “The Earth is on fire quite simply and we feel it quite acutely in the Bronx...We see it in lack of opportunity for kids and we see it disproportionately in all sorts of terrible things from covid to heat. So much of it is completely preventable if you think about the world and the city in a systemic way,” she said, referring specifically to asthma-related and heat deaths caused by pollution.

She describes herself as “a mom and a climate activist and I’ve been an entrepreneur for many years,” pointing to her work on the $3 billion Willets Point development, helping to make the project environmentally sustainable, through her startup at the time. “For me, the next frontier of addressing the most global issues at the most local level is moving into City Council, where I think I can pick up the reins of the really great work that has been started by the Council,” she said.

“I love government service and I think being a City Council Member would allow me to expand the amount of work I do in the community,” said Padernacht, citing his “experience, knowledge, commitment, determination, and willingness to work with everyone.”

Padernacht pointed to his twelve-year Community Board experience, which he believes gives him a “grasp on community efforts” and “really good experience working with the community in the framework of advocating for the community,” as well as a background on the issues that matter most and an understanding of city agencies. In addition to working as chair, Padernacht has served as charity of the board’s transportation committee and vice-chair of its land use committee. He says Community Board members turned Council Members “hit the ground running” because of that “wealth of knowledge.”

“We need a strong economic framework in the city of New York and in order to do that we need to create opportunity for business, support for business, and make sound financial decisions,” said Padernacht, who opposes any city tax increases and supports eliminating waste in city agencies to close the budget gap. “We need that to be able to support our most vulnerable populations.”

Martin was spurred into the race by witnessing the city’s worsening affordability crisis. “After watching families get squeezed out of this city year after year, I’ve grown increasingly concerned that New York is becoming more and more expensive, and then covid hit, leaving us in an enormous fiscal crisis,” she said. “I saw services being cut for those who need it most all while politicians are refusing to ask those who can to help out.”

“We have to do better to save this city and the Bronx from complete collapse,” she added, pointing to affordable housing and childcare as top concerns. She opposes any increases to MTA fares, if possible.

“I’m running because I want to have equitable representation,” said Sierra, a Norwood resident, “that leads to an inequitable distribution of resources. The 11th Councilmanic District is larger than Riverdale.” Sierra serves as a district leader in the 80th Assembly District, only about a fifth of which overlaps with Council District 11.

Sierra continued, “In the uncertain and turbulent times ahead, the people of the 11th CD deserve a representative with real life qualifications. Someone who has lived their struggle, experienced their grief, and can relate to walking in their footsteps.”

Housing & Land Use
Affordable housing is a preeminent issue for voters in the district, as it is across the city. Council Members play a prominent role in the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and the entire Council traditionally defers to the judgement of the local member when choosing to approve or reject a particular land use application, which at times become controversial when large projects or increased density are involved. The area is home to few public housing units: in Community Board 8, only 3.4% of rental units are NYCHA housing, compared to a borough-wide average of 9.7%, according to the Furman Center.

“It’s vital that we keep people in their homes, especially our seniors,” Eric Dinowitz said, stressing the importance of ensuring access to the city’s Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) Program and the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) programs. He wants to expand the city’s affordable housing supply, “so people can afford to live in their own city,” but did not specify how the housing supply should be grown.

“The lens that I am viewing my vision of the city is equity, resilience, and sustainability,” Haller said, clarifying that “sustainable also means financially sustainable.” “Affordable housing has to be built well and built safely,” she said. “Everything that we build in this city needs to be able to withstand what’s coming and to be operating into the future.”

“We need to focus on affordable housing, but the business model needs to work so developers come and do it,” Haller stated, decrying some “false business models” that use too-high Area Median Income (AMI) numbers, often set by city and federal formulas, that make included affordable housing unaffordable to local residents.

“One of the biggest things we can do to create stable housing is affordable housing through homeownership,” Padernact told Gotham Gazette. He praised the state’s Mitchell-Lama program, which provides rental and cooperative housing to moderate- and middle-income families through private development, and said that the opportunity exists for the city to establish similar programs.

On land use, Padernact said he would take a “holistic view” and “look at the benefit to the community of any potential new development. I’m going to look to see how that development fits within the immediate community. I’m certainly going to seek feedback from neighbors and stakeholders. And, I’m going to look at its impact on the district’s infrastructure,” specifically its effect on public transit, schools, and emergency services.

“I would suggest a more aggressive approach,” Martin said, on affordable housing, saying there was “room for improvement” with Mayor de Blasio’s housing strategy, which relies on subsidizing the development of rent-restricted housing and rezoning large swathes of neighborhoods to create more density. “We need to talk about [land use]. We have areas that don’t have the infrastructure to handle more people and we have areas that can,” she said, emphasizing the importance of impact studies that can gauge the long-term effects a rezoning would have.

Sierra said his top priority is “real affordable housing, not that band-aid stuff,” specifically referring to Area Median Income determinations. “The AMI for the City of New York is artificially inflated because it includes affluent suburbs,” he said, and pointing out that the AMI assesses the median income for a family of four at around $113,700, when the Bronx’s median income is closer to $36,530. “Because of this AMI, people in the Bronx pay 50% of our income to rent, when the national average is 30%. It blows my mind that the borough that has the lowest pay per capita in the country pays the most rent in the entire nation.”

Sierra suggested that the City Council create an AMI specifically for the Bronx, so that affordable housing guidelines reflect the actual incomes of the residents of the borough, though it is not clear if that is something the Council can do and have the city still be eligible for federal housing funds.

Police Accountability & Public Safety
Amid recent Black Lives Matter protests and the “Defund the NYPD” movement, police accountability and reform are once again major issues in city elections. The candidates in the District 11 race all voiced support for the movement for greater police accountability, but some stopped short of advocating for significantly shifting funds from the police department to social services.

“We obviously have deep problems with policing in New York City,” said Eric Dinowitz, who supported recently enacted reforms such as the repeal of Section 50-A of the state civil rights law, which shielded police officers’ disciplinary records from public view, and a state law criminalizing the use of chokeholds by officers during arrests. “Maybe we don’t need to criminalize certain behaviors,” he added, particularly in reference to people experiencing homelessness. “Something I’ve been advocating for years has been more social and emotional health training.”

“I struggle to see what a simple statement like getting rid of a billion dollars does,” Dinowitz said, when asked about the ‘defund the NYPD’ movement, which had called for cutting $1 billion from the police department’s roughly $6 billion annual operating budget. “Cutting the budget in and of itself does nothing to change the culture or legislation of what police do.”

Haller initially supported defunding the police budget by $1 billion over four years in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, and now supports calls for a $1 billion reduction in the police budget. However, she said, “I will not legislate by hashtag. You can’t take an organization and say ‘I’m going to give you less money and fewer resources and you have to do better.’”

“The slogan ‘defund the police’ is a bad slogan,” Padernacht said. “I would be supportive of diverting money to other services that add to the public safety of the city.” Citing recent cash bail reforms and a purported NYPD work slowdown, he said, “I think the increase in crime is due to a perception that there aren’t many consequences for those committing the crimes in New York at this moment and I think perception is the key word there.” Notably, while overall the major index felony crimes are slightly lower than last year, murders and gun violence have increased significantly.

Martin said she’s still “in the fact-finding phase,” but added, “In general, we are watching crime go up and I think that that is becoming a big concern for people. When you talk about tightening the budget, every single city agency has to do their fair share to get us through this crisis.”

Similar to other candidates, Sierra expressed skepticism over “Defund the NYPD” as a slogan, saying, “I believe that you can support the police and still be against police brutality. We need law enforcement in our neighborhoods. Anyone who says otherwise is not paying attention, for practical safety purposes.”

“I agree with the reallocation,” Sierra said, referring to recent budge shifts by the City Council and mayor, adding, “I feel that we should not have police officers in school.”

Education
The reopening of city schools is an issue raised by many of the candidates, who almost uniformly expressed skepticism about the city’s plan, which involves partial in-person instruction mixed with virtual learning. New York City is currently the only major school system in the country with plans for in-person learning to begin when the school year starts (for New York City students on September 10).

“I’m a parent myself. I think all of us want our children back in the classroom, but I think we all want our children to be safe,” Eric Dinowitz said.

Haller, a mother of four school-aged children, said, “There’s an absolute lack of common sense and common goals, so that the teachers don’t trust that they’re going to be safe and the parents don’t trust that their kids are going to be taken care of.”

“I believe that housing, education, and public safety are inextricably combined with one another and when it comes to education we need to move to skills-based education and away from teaching to a test,” Padernacht said. On the school reopening plan, he said “We’re not prepared for blended learning” and “we should target in-person teaching to the students who need it most.”

Martin, who has children in public school, has decided to keep her young children in remote learning this year. She explained, “Parents who are able to make that choice should make that choice so that parents who are unable to, who have to go to work, can. I’m very concerned with how things are going to go. I’m going to be watching it very closely and we’ll see what happens. I wish the Department of Education had been able to get more creative, but here we are.”

On the city's school reopening plans, Sierra said, “It could be better.” He specifically cited air filtration systems in school facilities as a major concern. “If there is no comprehensive testing done on the ventilation systems in every school, we are potentially putting children and faculty in extreme danger for exposure to covid and that’s not acceptable.”

Transportation
Communities like in Council District 11, at the very edges of the city proper, are in constant need of mass transit access and reliability.

Eric Dinowitz pointed to his activism on transit, campaigning for accessibility at an MTA station in the district, which was ultimately successful. He tied the city’s recovery efforts inextricably to this issue. “As we’re looking to revitalize this city, especially our businesses, we have to ensure that our transit system works and that it works for everybody,” he said. Dinowitz points to his advocacy against the MTA’s plans during the Bronx bus route redesign to cut express bus service in the district, which ultimately did not happen.

“Covid really makes this very hard,” Haller noted, citing the fall-off in the MTA’s revenue. “We need to make public transportation such that people find it convenient enough not to need a car.” She proposes installing CitiBikes in the northern Bronx, which currently does not have any, and focus on other “micro-transit” solutions to make public transportation more accessible. Despite the recent redesign of bus routes in the Bronx, which Haller called “a great attempt,” she said that “it’s going to be really hard to satisfy everyone.”

Sierra opposed the recent Bronx bus redesign, saying, “I thought it was a bad idea from the beginning” and decrying what he called a lack of community engagement. ADA compliance is also a top concern when it comes to transportation for Sierra. “If we’re going to have a conservation about improving transportation, that should be number one if not number two on the list," he said.

“There are still a lot of residents [of the district] who rely on cars,” Padernacht said. He supports the expansion of bike routes in the district, saying “it’s a safety issue for pedestrians, bikers, and drivers.”

Additionally Haller discussed at length her signature issue of the environment, noting that heat deaths and childhood asthma hospitalization rates are on the rise in the city, and saying “The heat island that is the Bronx and all of New York City is even hotter” than the world as a whole. She wants to see congestion pricing, low-emission zones, and other policies that would reduce the cars on the city’s roads.

“We’re terrible,” Haller said of the city’s resiliency efforts. She opposes a massive proposed sea wall and instead believes the city should be pursuing “living shorelines” and “other small, diverse” resiliency projects. “We have to learn to live with the water,” she said. “We’re not going to hold it back.”

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

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Note: this article has been updated to remove Dionel Then, who dropped from the race just as this story went to publication. It has also been corrected to remove mention of Martin's fundraising numbers, she has not yet filed any and updated to add that Marcos Sierra is running and comments from an interview with him.

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Five-Candidate Field Emerges for Expected Bronx Special Election to Replace Council Member Cohen Mon, 31 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Donovan Richards on Development, Jobs & His Vision for Queens https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9697-max-murphy-podcast-donovan-richards-nypd-reform-jobs-vision-queens-borough-president https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9697-max-murphy-podcast-donovan-richards-nypd-reform-jobs-vision-queens-borough-president donovan richards 600

City Council Member Donovan Richards (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


August 19, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Donovan Richards on Police Reform, Jobs & His Vision for Queens

City Council Member Donovan Richards, very likely the next Queens Borough President, joined the show to discuss how he plans to operate as borough president and what's next as he chairs the Council's public safety committee.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org.

Max & Murphy · Episode 243: Donovan Richards On Police Reform, Jobs & His Vision For Queens

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Donovan Richards on Development, Jobs & His Vision for Queens Wed, 19 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Providers, Participants Scramble for Scaled Down Summer Youth Employment Program https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9694-providers-participants-scramble-summer-youth-employment-program-new-york-city-syep https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9694-providers-participants-scramble-summer-youth-employment-program-new-york-city-syep melissa life camp

Mayor de Blasio with local activists (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Every morning, Joaquin Soto wakes up to participate in Summer Bridge, New York City government’s 2020 summer youth employment program. Instead of commuting to a work site, Soto turns on his computer, attends Zoom meetings, watches videos on professional development, and takes quizzes to show what he’s learned.

“The application was really straightforward and very accessible,” said Soto, a 17-year-old from Cypress Hills. “But I feel like there’s definitely been some kind of trouble for people that are navigating it now and understanding the hours that are required, and what exactly is expected from them.”

Soto is one of 35,000 participants working in remote job placements for young people this year. In April, Mayor de Blasio cancelled the summer youth employment program, or SYEP, citing the uncertainty of COVID-19 and tough economic straits -- its removal would save the city roughly $124 million, as outlined in his April savings plan. But after much criticism and intense lobbying by youth, advocates, and other elected officials, he agreed to partially reinstate it at the eleventh hour, on June 30, after a tumultuous budget negotiation with the City Council that centered on dealing with the coronavirus fallout, the city’s dire financial picture given billions in lost tax revenue, an increase in gun violence, and calls to “defund the NYPD” amid renewed Black Lives Matter protests.

The push to save some version of the summer youth employment program included ideas for remote programming. The timing and scope of the summer jobs have proved challenging for teens and providers, though those involved generally feel appreciative to have work for youth at all given that the entire program was almost wiped away.

Once the city partially restored the youth employment initiative, the newly-named SYEP Summer Bridge 2020 program was set up for just five weeks, with the number of slots for young people cut from about 75,000 in last year’s SYEP to 35,000. The cost came to about $51 million in a public-private partnership among the city, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City (a city-led nonprofit), and philanthropies. Participants scrambled to apply while organizations rushed to arrange programming for the almost-exclusively remote, scaled-down SYEP offering.

Once onboarded, the youth that did attain spots tackle the challenges of remote work, including completing hours on Hats & Ladders, a web program for professional development learning. SYEP Summer Bridge 2020 differs from the traditional SYEP because of its focus on online programming instead of in-person work. A DYCD spokesperson said students are participating remotely and the traditional “worksites,” or where providers place youth for in-person work, do not exist this year, although providers are working with over 90 organizations and business partners to administer programming.

Providers designed jobs for youth with the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) that had to be safe yet meaningful, while also managing a significant reduction in these temporary employees. The program features civic engagement skill-building, career exploration, and project-based learning on topics such as community service, COVID-19 recovery, and careers in STEAM. Older participants also complete a “workplace challenge,” where providers team up with organizations and agencies that give youth real-world, on-the-job problems to solve.

To have their say in the new program, advocacy groups like Teens Take Charge said they worked with DYCD to launch an advisory council with Summer Bridge participants. Researchers have also pointed to the importance of summer youth employment programs in providing skill development, career knowledge, and financial opportunities, and have shown that they lead to improved long-term criminal justice, academic, and employment outcomes.

The widely-celebrated growth of New York City’s SYEP to last year’s 75,000 slots was many years in the making, and last year over 150,000 youth applied. This year, DYCD received over 135,000 applications for its 35,000 Summer Bridge slots, according to Cynthia Malave-Baez, the director of the SYEP program. The city retained 115,000 opportunities for young people this summer overall, the mayor and City Council said, but not all fall under the umbrella of SYEP programming. The other experiences included paid positions as social distancing and Test and Trace ambassadors, and at summer camps for kids through the COMPASS initiative and Beacon and Cornerstone programs, according to the mayor.

As for SYEP’s future, providers and advocates have said they see an online summer with a smaller headcount as a one-time occurrence because of the pandemic. Brian Chen, the chief strategy officer from the Chinese-American Planning Council, said his organization aims to employ as many youth as possible and, if health and safety conditions permit, he would want to push for a full restoration of programming and possibly an expansion next year.

“In an ideal world, and speaking personally, if there was an opportunity for us to really service and enroll and enrich and empower every single youth that actually applied to the program, that would be kind of the North Star,” said Chen. “Are we going to continue to push for funding? Yeah. Is it 75,000? I would say that would be the baseline because we’ve reached that number not too long ago.”

Teens Have Their Say
Teens Take Charge led a significant part of SYEP advocacy, with a months-long campaign to reinstate the program and support from organizations and City Council members, and their involvement continued following passage of the city budget. The youth group, which is a program under nonprofit The Bell, provides programming for Summer Bridge participants for the first time this year.

Also, after what they called a “partial win” regarding the new youth employment program, Teens Take Charge proposed a youth advisory council to DYCD that would give recommendations and feedback on Summer Bridge, according to Jorge Morales, a 20-year-old alumni advisor and mentor for Teens Take Charge. He said the council has 13 young members, all current or former summer youth employment program participants. They had their first meeting on July 23 and will have two more, one in the middle of the program and another towards the end, according to Morales.

“We always told them, it’s very crucial you create programming that the youth are gonna want to do,” said Morales, who lives in Harlem. “Because if you’re creating programming that you think they’ll like, it doesn’t mean that they will like it.”

The youth council mostly works with the NYC Center for Youth Employment, which works as a private-public partnership to expand and improve opportunities for youth work experiences. The goal of each meeting, according to a CYE representative, is “for the city to understand young people's experience with the program to help inform planning for next year.”

“Teens Take Charge was instrumental both in organizing young people to advocate for this year's SYEP Summer Bridge and informing this new remote program model,” said David Fischer, the executive director of the Center for Youth Employment. “We're glad to be working with them to better understand how participants are experiencing Summer Bridge."

As for the program as a whole, Morales said the de Blasio administration should have expanded youth programming instead of cutting it. Some families rely on the stipend youth receive during the summer to pay for essentials, he stressed. On the timing, he described how the delay in a decision regarding SYEP led to uncertainty and insecurity, contributed to website crashes as students started applying, and sowed ambiguity around whether applicants had been accepted as DYCD held multiple lotteries.

“When this occurs, it’s truly affecting our most vulnerable communities and those that live in a lot of areas that are very dangerous,” said Morales. “When you take this source of revenue out, and there being very few jobs out in the city now because of covid, you don’t really give them many options here.”

Reflecting on the campaign Teens Take Charge ran since de Blasio’s announcement in April, Morales said the mayor never mentioned youth efforts to save the program, and members of the City Council, most notably Speaker Corey Johnson, declined to meet with them. A representative from the speaker’s office said Johnson receives hundreds of meeting requests during the budget process so he often has other members or staff attend meetings instead of or for him, and in this case Council Member Deborah Rose, the Staten Islander who chairs the Council’s youth services committee and was a leading voice for restoration of SYEP, met with members of Teens Take Charge. Johnson focused on saving summer youth employment because he and the Council knew SYEP was “a lifeline for many New York City youth,” according to Jennifer Fermino, the Council’s communications director.

“It was a hard fight, but ultimately the Council's painstaking advocacy restored $700 million in programs and services that had been cut from the Executive Budget - including SYEP,” Fermino said in a statement. “The Council was united on saving SYEP under the leadership of the Speaker and Council Member Debi Rose. The Council will continue advocating for New York City young people.”

The number of youth slots the Council restored were not enough, said Morales, and Teens Take Charge’s advocacy around employment for young people will continue in the next round of city funding.

“Regarding SYEP, we’re going to be fighting for it next year because we already see that fight starting, just because we know there’s still going to be discrepancies within budgets,” said Morales. “And people are still going to make excuses about not being able to afford a program that is so crucial for the youth.”

Participants Struggle Through Summer
Teens Take Charge is Soto’s placement for the summer. That means every day he signs on from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. to participate in Zoom meetings about advocacy work, an interest he said he  partially developed from working with IntegrateNYC, a student-led organization working towards equity and integration in schools.

Soto said he enjoys the daily meetings. He listed topics such as social media campaigns,  testimonies at hearings, and case studies throughout history as some of the focuses of these sessions, and also mentioned that the video calls are interactive so participants can share personal experiences related to their backgrounds, expanding learning beyond the planned lesson.

But when Soto finishes his video call, he faces hours of Hats & Ladders. The website provides short videos that explore career readiness and professional development. Soto said some subjects include dressing for a job, crafting a resume or managing a professional phone call. While he admits he likes that he can watch the videos on his own schedule throughout the week, Soto said building up to the 30-hour requirement of Hats & Ladders in the first three weeks, with videos running about five to ten minutes each, can become tiring.

“I just don’t think the website and watching videos that you’re getting kind of tested on is the best way,” said Soto. “It just kind of feels like school all over again. I’d rather have someone really talk about it on the Zoom call, live, where people can comment on it, et cetera.”

DYCD already had plans to include Hats & Ladders -- which the de Blasio administration called “a nationally recognized education software provider” -- as a supplement to youth programming even before the pivot to remote programming, according to Malave-Baez. She said DYCD decided to rely on the website’s videos more heavily to facilitate remote learning.

“But we realized SYEP has been around for many, many years and that we thought it was important to start leveraging the information that’s out there, and bring this aspect of career readiness and career exploration to the 21st century,” said Malave-Baez. “And that’s the opportunity that the Hats & Ladders platform gives us and gives young people.”

When Summer Bridge started, Soto said he felt confused about how to complete his hours. Participants engage in 60 to 90 hours of programming, with teens ages 14 to 15 completing 60 hours, and youth 16 to 24 completing 90 hours, according to DYCD documents.

Soto said he noticed a discrepancy. The program requires his age group to work 18 hours a week, but with two-hour daily meetings with Teens Take Charge and about 10 hours of Hats & Ladders videos, that adds up to 20 hours a week, said Soto. He also described not knowing at first if he needed to complete 10 hours every week, or if he could work up to the 30 hours as he wished, and that a 45-minute orientation call did not help define the details.

“I remember it was very unclear at first, but after that, it’s kind of just like they tell you the hours and you go about it yourself, and not much guidance, I would say,” said Soto. “I’ve been emailing a lot of people from SYEP and they’ve been saying they’re being more flexible with them. I mean, I have high hopes but in the beginning, honestly, it was difficult.”

Malave-Baez said DYCD tries to connect with youth through social media platforms and their hotline Youth Connect, which is a resource and referral service for all youth-related city programs, as well as instruct providers on how to support youth throughout the summer.

For Soto, who plans to attend Yale University this fall, the timing of the program proved tricky. When he participated in SYEP two years ago, he said it ended in mid-August, but now he finishes August 28. Soto must move to Connecticut during the last week of Summer Bridge, but said he’s unsure of how he will make up his hours.

Logistical issues aside, Soto still said he feels grateful the SYEP program can provide him with some pocket money as he heads to college. Teens who are 14 or 15 will receive a $700 stipend, while young people between the ages of 16 and 24 will collect a $1000 stipend, according to the DYCD website.

Providers Race to Create Programming
The Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC), usually relies on in-person summer work opportunities for youth, but this year pivoted to fully-online programming in just a few weeks. Chen said as the city shut down after the governor’s PAUSE order, the CPC reimagined SYEP without knowing if it would be reinstated.

“We wanted to ensure the youth and young adults, many of whom are from low-income backgrounds or from immigrant families that were hit very hard when the pandemic rolled around, at the time, initially, this was a safety net for them,” said Chen. “We didn’t want to discount the fact there wouldn’t be anything and for lack of a better term, that summer would be ‘cancelled’ for youth and young adults.”

The timing of Summer Bridge challenged CPC, Chen said. The organization mobilized with different providers to advocate for SYEP, pitch ideas, and hold meetings with DYCD, he said, between the mayor’s cancellation and budget deal reinstatement. He said his team learned the city saved part of the employment program the day the budget passed, and moved “really quickly from no offering to a virtual offering.” They brought back staff, got word out to community members, and briefed families and youth on Summer Bridge all while handling enrollment and attending workshops and training provided by DYCD.

“It was a lot to do in a very truncated period of time,” said Chen. “Just knowing that we had to adjust to the new deadlines but also trusting, that given our experience as an SYEP provider and just the capabilities of our team members and our staff to really get that done, we just powered through.”

Chen said CPC worked closely with DYCD to conceptualize a remote summer. Instead of working at an in-person location, he said youth receive work readiness training and career exploration activities online, and then providers will present them with real workplace challenges so they can think through solutions. The nature of the activities and challenges depends on the providers, but Chen said he appreciated DYCD’s flexibility on this summer’s work model. 

“As an organization and me personally speaking, I understand the challenges that the pandemic has brought in the decisions that had to be made on a macro and micro level,” said Chen. “If I had a magic wand, and if I had to change anything, it would just really be the city really coming up earlier on and committing to the restoration on the program to give providers and youth and young adults enough time to do the work that’s necessary. We’re here now, we move forward, right?”

DYCD holds weekly online meetings and one-on-one calls with providers as necessary, and has partners like representatives from Hats & Ladders available for questions, according to Malave-Baez.

Last year, CPC worked with 2,200 youth for SYEP, while this summer they employ about half, 1,100 young people.

The reduction of youth slots and shift to online learning has left providers and their advocates wondering how future summers will look. Nora Moran, United Neighborhood Houses Director of Policy and Advocacy, said the best way to run SYEP is through in-person work and she wants to ensure this summer is a one-time experience because of COVID-19.

“We’re obviously relieved and grateful that there was something back in place for young people this summer. It’s very distressing that we’re only serving half of SYEP this year as opposed to last summer, and it just makes you wonder what all of those 40,000 young people who don’t have a job this summer, what they’re doing,” said Moran. “We don’t want this to be an opportunity for the city to cut corners in the future and have a smaller and cheaper program.”

UNH represents over 40 settlement houses around the city, many of whom help run SYEP. Moran said UNH advocated for their constituents when the city cancelled summer youth jobs, and while it received strong support from City Council members, it also confronted mixed messaging from the mayor’s office and DYCD.

“Throughout the budget, the response from the mayor’s office and from DYCD went back and forth between we don’t have the funding to run this program and it’s unsafe to run this program given covid and given the need for social distancing,” said Moran. “So that was a challenge because it was hard to know what’s the problem that we’re trying to solve, is it funding or is it, you know, program design.”

At the height of renewed Black Lives Matter protests, and calls to “defund the police,” the mayor promised to move NYPD funding to youth and social services. Moran said it’s difficult to say with certainty that “there was a one-to-one move from one area of the city’s budget to another.”

“Something I will say is that we don’t have full funding for the summer youth employment program in FY 2021, the program is running at half capacity as it did the previous summer, young people are receiving stipends as opposed to an hourly wage so they technically took a pay cut,” said Moran. “Though the statement was made that the funding is going to be moved from the NYPD to support social services, the budget still came up short in a lot of key social service areas.”

Last year, SYEP collaborated with 67 providers, and this year works with 57 organizations on providing Summer Bridge programming, according to DYCD. In 2019, providers also  worked with over 13,000 worksites. This year, because of the nature of remote projects and career exploration activities, there are no traditional worksites, according to the DYCD.

The scope of the program this year, especially with the drop in funding and youth slots, tightened providers’ pockets. Michelle Jackson, the executive director of the Human Services Council, which represents a number of SYEP providers, explained how the city budget affects these organizations’ operating budgets for the whole year because providers run youth programs all the time, just with a summer component.

“So when you cut out two months of someone’s budget, you don’t cut out two months of expenses,” said Jackson. “You know, insurance is year-round, utilities are year-round, rent is year-round. So providers really scrambled to figure out how to cut two months out of their budgets, some by laying off staff, some by figuring out how to move people around, et cetera.”

Providers previously collaborated with worksites during SYEP to place youth in job environments such as offices or camps, but with a remote program, many worksites have grappled with fewer employees for their summer offerings. Some have none. City Growers, a nonprofit that teaches children about nature and urban agriculture and a former SYEP worksite, employed 20 participants last year but this summer had none.

With the absence of city-funded youth workers, Executive Director Becca Di Meo said City Growers used its own budget to hire former SYEP participants to help run a shortened, virtual camp this year. She said they are waiting for discretionary funding from City Council members to help with the rest of their programming, but filling the learning gap is a top priority of theirs while children remain stuck at home.

“Our summer camp supervisor has been sending me messages saying the turnout is great, the kids are having a lot of fun,” said Di Meo. “So I think a little goes a long way now in maybe ways that it hadn’t before.”

Research Support for SYEP
Boston’s development of its SYEP program this year contrasts to New York City in terms of its timing and preparation. Alicia Sasser Modestino, an associate professor at Northeastern University and an associate director of the college’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, described how she and her colleagues presented a plan to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and showed him the benefits for youth, especially in terms of reducing violence, based on their studies.

“We went to the mayor’s cabinet and presented not only our research on how impactful the summer jobs program is, but then also these four [program] tracks,” said Modestino, who teaches in Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and its economics department. “And basically the mayor’s cabinet was like, ‘You had me at crime.’”

After receiving full support from the mayor on their plan, and an additional $4 million, Modestino and other key SYEP players worked as quickly as possible to start programming in early July. Youth participate in four tracks: Boston’s Blue Shirt program, which employs 500 youth for the beautification of outdoor areas; Earn and Learn, which allows students to take college-level courses for free while also receiving money; Peer-to-Peer COVID-19 Campaign, which engages youth in developing marketing materials around public health messages; and virtual internships, which facilitate a remote work opportunity for young people. Boston managed to expand its SYEP funding during COVID-19, totaling about 8,000 jobs.

Modestino’s team at Northeastern University researched the effects of SYEPs on youth for about five years. In the short-term, they survey what young people learn during a summer job, like writing resumes, interviewing, managing emotions, resolving conflict with peers, and imagining future plans and aspirations. In the long-term they track trajectories in terms of criminal justice, academic, and employment outcomes.

She said they found SYEPs reduce violent crime by 40 percent and property crime by 30 percent after young people participated in a summer youth employment program, which is linked to youth improving soft skills like conflict and emotional management as well as other effects of being employed such as job readiness skills, work habits and college aspirations . They also increase high school graduation rates by six percent, which they correlated with increased attendance after working a summer youth job that requires punctuality. Finally, they found a higher likelihood of employment and increased wages among Black and brown young adults from the ages of 18-24 who participated in SYEP.

Modestino said she and other stakeholders in SYEP will continue to study Boston’s summer youth employment program this year to see if the tracks they put in place replicated the outcomes of traditional summer employment opportunities. She stressed that, especially now during COVID-19, youth, particularly poorer or Black and brown youth, need SYEP to keep them engaged and provide gateways to opportunities.

“Even in good times this is a really good program to employ youth, especially low-income youth,” said Modestino. “So it’s been an important way for low-income youth to be able to get job experience that other wealthier, whiter kids living in the suburbs get on a routine basis because their parents brokered them a job."

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by Melissa Lent, Gotham Gazette
  

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Providers, Participants Scramble for Scaled Down Summer Youth Employment Program Tue, 18 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000