Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/111 Wed, 17 Jul 2019 03:07:21 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Campaigning for Congress, Torres Touts City Funding Secured for Development Outside Council District https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8672-campaigning-for-congress-torres-touts-city-funding-secured-for-development-outside-council-district https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8672-campaigning-for-congress-torres-touts-city-funding-secured-for-development-outside-council-district 1 cm r torres lib

Council Member Ritchie Torres (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)


Bronx City Council Member Ritchie Torres is touting $3 million in city funding he secured for a residential complex that falls outside the Council district he represents, but within the Congressional district where he’s seeking votes.

The money will go to Concourse Village, Inc., a nearly 1,900-unit housing cooperative located in the south Bronx, over a mile away from the border of Torres’ district. The second-term Democratic Council member is running for Congress in the primary that will be held in June of next year.

Torres sent a campaign text message announcing the “great news,” using the funding allocation he secured as a member of the City Council to advance his congressional campaign, apparently targeting voters in Concourse Village.

"This is Council Member Ritchie Torres, running to be your next Congressman,” read a text message shared with Gotham Gazette. “GREAT NEWS: In the latest NYC budget, I secured $3 MILLION for Concourse Village.” The message went on to tell the recipient not to hesitate to reach out to Torres, providing a phone number, and concluded, “You can always count on me to fight for the Bronx. - Ritchie".

The youngest member of the City Council and the first openly gay elected official from the Bronx, Torres officially announced his candidacy for Congress on Monday, though he has been exploring a run for months. He joins several other Democrats vying for the seat opened by incumbent Representative José E. Serrano, who announced in March he would not seek reelection because of health concerns related to Parkinson’s disease. Representing the district in Congress since 1990, Serrano’s current term will end at the end of next year. Torres, who has been representing the 15th Council District since 2014, is not eligible to run for reelection in 2021 because of two-term limits. (Serrano’s Congressional district also happens to be the 15th.)

Others in the race include City Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr. and Assemblymember Michael Blake.

Taking advantage of the authority and influence of elected office to secure popular measures that can later be used as campaign fodder is commonplace in New York, where local politics is often a stepping stone to higher office. But the grey area around promoting public interest and political aspirations becomes less ambiguous when the sway of an elected office goes to benefit another district entirely, with electoral goals at play.

"How do you rationalize using campaign funds to communicate with people outside your district to tell them that you got them money blatantly for the purpose of trying to curry political favor?" said Blake, whose district includes Concourse Village.

Torres says the budget allocation for what he calls the largest concentration of cooperative housing in the South Bronx is consistent with his focus on affordable housing, especially for African-Americans. So is the political campaigning that followed.

“I have been an advocate for affordable housing not only in my district but throughout the city,” Torres told Gotham Gazette. Concourse Village “has an outsized presence in the housing stock of the South Bronx, which is keeping with my record and reputation for advocating for affordable housing.”

“I think of cooperative housing like Concourse Village as the bedrock of the African-American middle class, you know, whether it’s Co-op City in the East Bronx or Concourse Village in the South Bronx,” Torres, who is black and Latino, said. Black voters in the 15th Congressional District are expected to be an important part of the primary vote. Blake is African-American and Torres is African-American and Latino.

Concourse Village, Inc. is subsidized under the Mitchell-Lama housing program, which offers income-restricted rentals and below-market value buy-in for co-ops, a boon for affordable housing.

The neighborhoods comprising the South Bronx are home to some of the worst poverty in the country and also have some of the highest rates of rent burden in the city. In the community district that includes Concourse Village, more than half of households are rent burdened, meaning they spend more than 35 percent of income on rent, according to the Department of City Planning.

Torres, who grew up in NYCHA public housing and chaired the Committee on Public Housing during his first term, has made the living conditions of the city’s most underserved residents a signature priority.

He notes the $3 million allocation did not come from the capital funding dedicated to his Council district, but from the city-wide pool controlled by Speaker Corey Johnson. Torres told Gotham Gazette, “if it had come from the Council District 15 pot then there is cause for controversy, but there is nothing unusual about funding for Concourse Village from a city-wide pot.”

“And since I had a role in securing the funds, it’s natural for me to take credit,” he added.

Each fiscal year the City Council is given a capital budget from which Council members may apply to allocate funds, according to Jonathan Rosenberg of the Independent Budget Office. Individual members can apply for district-specific projects, and borough delegations can sponsor projects that span multiple districts. The Council speaker ultimately decides how that money is disbursed and can also allocate it to city-wide projects.

In recent years, speakers have designated an equal amount of capital funding, $5 million, to each of the 51 Council members with the remainder of the now $655 million capital budget going to a city fund. City-wide allocations are controlled by the speaker and might go toward large or expansive projects like street reconstruction, according to Rosenberg, and members are able to put in requests.

“This money was funded by the City Council Speaker at the request of Council Member Torres,” said a Council spokesperson. The spokesperson said it’s not unprecedented for members to seek funding for a project outside their district, adding that the money is from the city capital funding, not the money set aside for Torres’ Council District 15.

Torres has also secured funding for cooperative housing in his district using the money designated specifically for that purpose by the Council leadership. This year, he put roughly $1 million of the $5 million towards renovationing a Mitchell-Lama co-op, known as Dennis Lane Apartments, in the heart of District 15.

Concourse Village is located south of Torres’ district off of Morris Ave. within the borders of Council District 16, represented by Vanessa Gibson. Gibson, a Democrat, is not listed among the sponsors of the $3 million Concourse Village, Inc. allocation, despite the project falling into her district. “I actually was not even made aware of this allocation until the day of adoption,” she said in a phone interview.

“I did not have the opportunity to work with the speaker nor Ritchie on this. It was something that Ritchie had done on his own, but I am grateful for the attention Concourse Village is getting in the budget,” she said.

“I get the strategic way that Ritchie is obviously looking at the future. This was a development that came up among the priorities within the district, and I truly believe that that was the logic behind it,” she added.

But Blake called foul on that strategic approach. “It is difficult to say that you want to be a fresh voice in Congress when you are directly trying to communicate to people that you want to pay for their vote," he said.

“I’m proud of the role that I played in securing the funds. Concourse Village is one of the most important housing developments in the Bronx and in the city,” Torres said. “And it’s been a stabilizing force for communities of color, for middle-class communities of color. That’s why I felt so strongly about it.”

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

Read more by this writer.

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Campaigning for Congress, Torres Touts City Funding Secured for Development Outside Council District Mon, 15 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Queens DA Recount Begins; MTA Reorganization Report Evaluation; & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 15 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8671-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-july-15 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8671-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-july-15 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week begins with New York's labor and political communities mourning the unexpected death of 32BJ SEIU President Héctor Figueroa, who passed suddently on Thursday night at 57 years old. Figueroa was widely respected as a champion for workers' rights and his compassion, honesty, transparency, and more.

The counting in the Queens District Attorney Democratic primary recount is set to begin on Monday. Based on the counting done to this point, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz was up by 16 votes on public defender Tiffany Cabán, who has been pushing to have many affidavit ballots counted. The recount will include more than 90,000 ballots, including some that voters filled out but were not read by machine scanners for whatever reason. There remains the question of more than 100 affidavit ballots that the Board of Elections initially threw out, but the Cabán campaign has sued to reinstate. A judge decided to hold off on ruling in the matter until later in the recount process given that the manual recount was about to begin. The recount is expected to take between one and three weeks.

Also as the week begins, it is unclear if there will be much, if any, additional fallout from the blackout that hit parts of Manhattan for several hours on Saturday and how it spotlighted Mayor Bill de Blasio's out of town travel for his presidential campaign. Con Edison restored the power relatively quickly, though many peope were without air conditioning for hours on a hot summer day, some were trapped in elevators, and other hardships were endured. The mayor cut short his campaign swing through Iowa (after he spoke in Wisconsin on Friday he had a full day of events in Iowa on Saturday, with more planned for Sunday), returning home on Sunday to further examine what had gone wrong and brief the public during a press conference on Sunday afternoon.

De Blasio was also facing scrutiny for leaving town amid announced raids by federal immigration officials (ICE) that, at least through Sunday evening, appeared far less sweeping than expected. The mayor's immigrant affairs commissioner and other city officials held a press conference on Saturday to help warn New Yorkers about the raids and publicize "know your rights" materials and advice for how immigrant families should handle interactions with ICE. In both the blackout reaction and ICE preparation, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson took far more public leadership than de Blasio, provoking additional comments that Johnson is the city's de facto leader as de Blasio runs for president. Governor Andrew Cuomo also jumped into action, and raised questions about de Blasio's absence from the city.

Speaking of de Blasio's presidential bid, the mayor's first fundraising numbers for the effort are expected to be posted by law this week. It will be the first insight into how de Blasio's fundraising is going since entering the campaign a couple of months ago. Beyond the raw numbers, many will be watching for how much of de Blasio's funding is coming from those with interest in city business, and who exactly is giving to the mayor's national campaign. The fundraising numbers will in part dictate whether de Blasio makes the second primary debate, which is scheduled over two nights on July 30 and 31 in Detroit.

In the background of that campaign is also the issue of police reform, a topic de Blasio has again thrust to the forefront of his electoral efforts, but where questions remain. The NYPD administrative trial for Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the 2014 death of Eric Garner ended a couple of weeks ago, and many are waiting to see the outcome of the case -- what the judge has ruled and recommended for punishment (if anything), and how Commissioner James O'Neill, who holds final say over discipline matters in such trials, will handle the situation. The outcome will have significant implications for de Blasio's mayoralty and possibly for his presidential campaign. Wednesday is the fifth anniversary of Garner's July 17, 2014 death.

Also this week, we're watching for further discussion and developments related to the MTA, NYCHA, and the plan to close Rikers Island jails and replace some of its jail capacity with new or rehabbed facilities in the four boroughs other than Staten Island. The land-use review process for the city's plan is well underway, with the City Planning Commission holding a public hearing last week. As for the MTA: late in the day on Friday, the transit authority released "a preliminary report of its transformation plan as part of widespread reforms passed in the State Budget in April. The recommendations for this historic reorganization – the first in the MTA’s 51-year history – were made following an extensive evaluation process conducted by AlixPartners, and will prepare the agency to dramatically improve service, end project delays and cost overruns, and finally establish the modern system customers deserve." Evaluations of that plan from advocates and elected officials are expected this week.

There are a variety of events to be aware of this week -- see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Mayor de Blasio's lone public event scheduled for Monday is his weekly appearance on NY1's Inside City Hall with host Errol Louis, in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

Beginning at 9 a.m. Monday in Albany, the New York State Board of Regents will hold a meeting.

The Queens District Attorney Democratic primary recount will begin in earnest on Monday, and is expected to take at least a week, probably closer to two or more. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz holds a 16 vote lead over public defender Tiffany Cabán as ballots are set to be recounted, with some newly-counted ballots added to the mix.

On Monday at 9:30 a.m. outside the ballot review site in Middle Village, Queens, “elected officials will host a press conference prior to the start of the ballot count in the county District Attorney race. Joined by Cabán campaign attorney Jerry Goldfeder, elected officials will explain the recount process and highlight the need to count every ballot cast by eligible and legitimate Queens Democratic voters.” Along with Goldfeder, expected or possible speakers include Cabán supporters Comptroller Scott Stringer; Senators James Sanders, Jessica Ramos, and Mike Gianaris; Assemblymember Ron Kim; City Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Jimmy Van Bramer.

On Monday at 9:30 a.m. at Ground Zero in Manhattan, “Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) will join with New York Senator Chuck Schumer, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and 9/11 first responders and health and compensation advocates to celebrate overwhelming House passage of H.R. 1327: Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act and call on the Senate and Leader McConnell to pass this bill as quickly as possible. The final vote on the bill was 402-12.”

At noon Monday, “Amazon Prime Day, a large coalition of community, immigration, and labor groups will go to Jeff Bezos’ new $80 million dollar Manhattan home at 212 Fifth Avenue to deliver more than 250,000 petitions calling on Amazon to cut ties with ICE and end abusive working conditions in its warehouses. The New York City petition delivery and protest are part of a national day of action against Amazon on Prime Day, with protests over Amazon’s ties to ICE and mistreatment of workers happening around the country Monday. These events come amid growing outrage over Amazon’s role in providing essential technological infrastructure to ICE as the Trump administration continues to threaten mass deportations and put children in cages and concentration camps. Amazon also faces mounting public pressure to improve how it treats its warehouse workers. The online retail giant is set to testify before the U.S. House Anti-Trust Committee on Tuesday.” A long list of activist groups are leading the protest.

At 5 p.m. Monday, City Council Member Chaim Deutsch and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill will hold a street co-naming ceremony for slain police officer Leon Fox, killed on duty in 1941.

At 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will host a Dominican Heritage celebration at Queens Borough Hall.

Tuesday, July 16
At the City Council on Tuesday:
-At 9:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet to discuss four land use applications from Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.
-At 1 p.m., the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will meet to discuss two land use applications on landmarks in the Bronx and Manhattan.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, the New York State Board of Regents will meet for an executive session.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Industrial Development Agency will hold a Board of Directors meeting. 

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals will hold a public hearing relating to developments in all five boroughs.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, City & State NY will host its 2019 Manhattan Power 100 celebrating Manhattan power players, “gathering top brass from government relations, media, business and beyond for a networking opportunity you do not want to miss.” Speakers will include Borough President Gale Brewer; former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, now CEO of WIN; and Sheena Wright, President and CEO of United Way of New York City. 

Wednesday, July 17
At 11 a.m. Wednesday outside of Grand Central Terminal, Riders Alliance and state legislators will hold a rally to demand that the next MTA five-year capital plan include funding for subway signals, train cars, and station elevators. 

At 12 p.m. Wednesday, the New York Building Congress will host a committee meeting on energy and sustainability, featuring state Senator Kevin Parker (event is invite-only). 

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, this week’s Max & Murphy show will air on WBAI radio, 99.5FM and wbai.org, featuring Riders Alliance founder and executive director John Raskin on key transit issues facing New Yorkers and a separate discussion of how the de Blasio administration is handling manufacturing and industrial space in the city.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is hosting a public hearing on the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project aimed at “fortifying Manhattan’s coastline between Montgomery and 25th Streets from coastal flooding while making the waterfront more accessible to the public.” The plan will be presented by the NYC Department of Design and Construction, and will be followed by an opportunity for public testimony. The event will take place at Mt. Sinai Beth Israel. 

Also at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Reboot Democracy will host a discussion on the “development of tools that will strengthen our democratic system.”

Thursday, July 18
At the City Council on Thursday:
-At 10:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet to discuss the Kissena Center Rezoning in Queens.
-At 11 a.m., the Committee on Land Use will meet.
-At 1 p.m., the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections will hold an appointment hearing on Jeffrey Roth, the newly-nominated head of the Taxi & Limousine Commission.

At 10 a.m.,, the NYC Campaign Finance Board will hold a board meeting.

Friday, July 19
At 10 a.m. on Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Joey Fox and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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Queens DA Recount Begins; MTA Reorganization Report Evaluation; & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 15 Sun, 14 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
After Rightly Declaring Climate Crisis, the Next Important Step for the City Council https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8660-after-rightly-declaring-climate-crisis-the-next-important-step-for-the-city-council https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8660-after-rightly-declaring-climate-crisis-the-next-important-step-for-the-city-council city council press

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


It is heartening that the New York City Council recently voted unanimously to declare a state of climate crisis. 2019 has already brought a string of droughts, record-breaking heat waves, crop failures, and storms, and it is obvious that this is the challenge of our lifetimes.

Having declared an emergency, now comes the time for swift additional action. After state and city lawmakers passed mandatory building retrofits, congestion pricing, and statewide emissions reductions, the next major climate bill our local government must pass is the Commercial Waste Zone Bill (Intro. 1574 before the City Council).

What does garbage from New York City’s more than 100,000 businesses have to do with global warming?  

Our office buildings, pizzerias, hospitals, and grocery stores send about 2.2 million tons of waste per year to landfills and incinerators, where it slowly decomposes and produces methane, a climate pollutant 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

When it comes to basic recycling and composting of waste, New York’s business sector lags far behind cities like Seattle and San Francisco, which currently diverts 65% or more of their commercial waste. We simply will not meet our climate goals if we do not tackle our wasteful sanitation industry. 

Second, the 90 or so private companies that collect New York City’s commercial waste exist in a highly dysfunctional “Wild West” system in which they operate inefficient truck routes, cut corners on recycling, and pressure workers to complete dangerous and grueling shifts, as the owners attempt to compete for customers and ensure profits. Exhaustive studies commissioned by the City have found that this scheme results in 18 million unnecessary truck miles per year -- enough to drive to the moon and back 37 times.  

But, less tangibly, it also means that investments in better recycling facilities, customer education, and waste reduction initiatives such as food rescue are a low or nonexistent priority for the city’s private waste industry.

The City Council can enact a common-sense, proven solution to this decades-old mess. The commercial waste zones bill (Intro. 1574) sponsored by Brooklyn Council Member Antonio Reynoso will make this system far more rational and safe by selecting a single, high-performing waste company for each commercial zone.

After selecting 20 or so providers through a competitive bidding process, the City can hold these haulers accountable to high customer service, environmental, and safety standards through comprehensive, enforceable contracts.  

With the right incentives to make investments and adopt industry best practices, the new system can rapidly achieve the same recycling and composting rates as successful west coast cities -- which would prevent a whopping 2 million tons of greenhouse gas pollutants each year by reducing the huge amount of business waste trucked to landfills. That is equivalent to removing one in five cars from New York City streets.

Moreover, we would create hundreds of new, green jobs in and near our city as recycling and composting facilities employ far more workers than do transfer stations, landfills, and incinerators.

Moving the needle on climate emissions is a daunting challenge that will require action in every sector of our economy. The good news is that we don’t need to wait for further studies or new technologies to change our highly polluting private waste system.

Dozens of other cities have adopted similar zoned or franchised commercial waste systems, and many have rapidly increased their recycling rates while maintaining excellent customer service and fair prices for their business communities.

It would be a huge lost opportunity if the fear-mongering by a few well-financed business  interests were to delay the passage of this common-sense, historic reform. We applaud the Council for naming climate change as a crisis, and call on Council members to pass the Commercial Waste Zone bill this summer.

***
Justin Wood is Director of Organizing and Strategic Research at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. On Twitter @NYLPI.

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

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After Rightly Declaring Climate Crisis, the Next Important Step for the City Council Tue, 09 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The Mayor Must Stop Leaving Summer Camp Providers and Parents Scrambling https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8661-the-mayor-must-stop-leaving-summer-camp-providers-and-parents-scrambling https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8661-the-mayor-must-stop-leaving-summer-camp-providers-and-parents-scrambling summer camp rally

(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


Yasmin Schwartz is the Assistant Division Director for Middle School Programs at Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (CHLDC), a settlement house in Brooklyn. Starting this week, CHLDC expected to run a School’s Out NYC (SONYC) summer camp five days per week for more than 100 middle school students.

Summer camp activities require careful planning and program directors must hire and vet staff through both New York City and State background checks, register students, and secure appropriate space for programs. However, Yasmin and her team were only able to officially start these lengthy processes on June 21, after the city finally agreed to fund summer camps and the Department of Youth & Community Development was able to announce contracts.

This year, like most, Mayor Bill de Blasio refused to provide funding in his budget plans for summer camp for 34,000 middle school students and summer camp providers had to endure a “budget dance” and wait for the City Council to step in and restore the money at the last minute. Enough is enough – the mayor must permanently fund summer camp for our middle school students, ensuring an end to the uncertainty and more stability for adults and children alike.

Summer camp programs provide safe recreation and education for New York City youth. Research shows that these programs help close the achievement gap, prevent summer learning loss, and keep children safe while parents work. Summer camp provides benefits for thousands of children, but access to programs is particularly important for low-income families, who may be unable to afford the cost of other summer programs.

On top of providing continued learning and stability for working families, summer camp also offers nutritious and reliable meals. In fact, 64 percent of parents of children in summer camps rely on these programs for free, healthy meals for their children.

When the mayor eliminates funding for summer camp, he isn’t just hurting children and their families, he’s doing a disservice to program directors and staff at settlement houses and other community-based organizations across New York City.

Due to Mayor de Blasio eliminating this funding from his budget, program directors like Yasmin are left waiting for budget negotiations to conclude before planning their programs. Summer camp providers must then scramble to organize their programs for middle-schoolers. For Yasmin and her team, last-minute decisions and reduced funding means late planning, fewer summer camp slots, reduced paid staff, and starting programs a week later than CHLDC typically starts camp.

This year, CHLDC was prepared to offer 414 middle school youth spots in its SONYC summer camp programs, but now can only offer 150. Yasmin and her team also had to cut their staff from 40 to 12 and notify some parents in their community that they don’t have room for their children to attend summer camp with CHLDC this summer.

These challenges don’t just impact summer camp, they put unnecessary strain on staff and community relationships that inform year-round programming. Not to mention, in the lead up to the launch of summer camp, program directors, staff, and families had to once again head to City Hall to protest and convince the mayor to do the right thing and fund summer camp programs for middle school students. Without the City Council restoration, summer camp programs for middle-schoolers may not have received funding at all.

It is time for the mayor to make 2019 the last year without baselined funding for summer camp.

***
Susan Stamler is the executive director of United Neighborhood Houses, a policy and social change organization representing 42 neighborhood settlement houses. On Twitter @UNHNY.

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

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The Mayor Must Stop Leaving Summer Camp Providers and Parents Scrambling Tue, 09 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Paying New York City’s Debt to Taxi Drivers https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8652-paying-new-york-city-s-debt-to-taxi-drivers https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8652-paying-new-york-city-s-debt-to-taxi-drivers car service taxi

(photo: @NYTWA)


When financial bubbles burst, it’s almost always regular people whose lives are ruined. The fraudsters and scammers often avoid serious consequences. So it was with America’s mortgage crisis in 2008. And so it has been with New York City’s own home-grown mortgage meltdown: the collapse of yellow taxi medallion values since 2014, which has had a devastating impact on the lives of thousands of yellow taxi drivers.

New York City only allows a fixed number of the iconic yellow taxis on its streets--creating over the decades a consistent, recession-proof source of income for drivers. The medallion that taxis are required to affix to their hoods was an asset that commanded a steady, solid price. For countless immigrants, owning a medallion meant that the grueling work of a taxi driver could offer a path to the middle class.

Then in the early 2000s medallion prices began rising from their historically stable value of about $200,000, to a dizzying peak of over $1 million by 2014.

The medallion bubble was pumped up in part by the same forces that caused the housing mortgage crisis. Industry lenders and brokers exploited vulnerable borrowers. And thousands of owner-drivers ended up with monthly mortgage payments of as much as $4,500, an oppressive sum for workers whose earnings from fares and tips, after expenses, may only amount to $5,000 per month.

Then, in 2014, the bottom fell out. The value of medallions plummeted in the past five years, losing 80 percent off their peak. Drivers and their families who invested their life savings to purchase this asset now face financial ruin. For some the pressure has been unbearable. At least three yellow taxi drivers burdened by debt have taken their own lives.

There is no shortage of parties to blame for this debacle: overly aggressive lenders, lax financial regulators, shady loan brokers.

And then there’s New York City government -- which directly contributed to this crisis.

In 2004 the City began auctioning off new medallions to plug budget gaps. This gave the very people overseeing the industry an interest in pumping up valuations. And that’s exactly what they did.

Ads run by the City called the investments “better than the stock market,” implying medallion values would continue to rise. The City agency that regulates the taxi industry failed to act in the midst of glaring signs of financially questionable transactions and price collusion among major players. 

And the City didn’t just pump up the bubble, it also inadvertently expedited its bursting, by failing to manage the explosive growth of Uber and Lyft, which flooded the streets with upwards of 80,000 new vehicles, and used their rich valuations to undercut the regulated taxi fares.

Along the way, the City made hundreds of millions of dollars in sales at medallion auctions, including a round as late as 2014 when it set the minimum medallion bid price at a staggering $850,000, despite the fact that it was already clear by then that these assets were poised to decline.

The City profited handsomely from the medallion bubble. Now we owe a moral debt to the thousands of New Yorkers whose lives have been ruined.

The City needs to consider dramatic plans for securing loan forgiveness for owner-drivers, so that medallion mortgage payments are capped at reasonable levels -- and no driver is ever again forced to live on $500 per month after expenses.

We need to create a retirement fund for drivers as well, so those struggling with medallion payments no longer need to keep driving into their 60s, 70s, and even 80s just to make payments. The hard-working drivers who have kept our city moving for decades deserve to be able to retire with dignity.

And we should do something impactful now that would help bring immediate relief: hire an attorney for each and every one of the driver-owners with underwater mortgages.

At present the vast majority of drivers going through foreclosure proceedings are doing so without representation by an attorney, putting them at a severe disadvantage. Likewise, most have no attorney to support them in the complicated process of mortgage renegotiation. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance has provided legal support to hundreds -- but there are thousands more still in need of help. We need a robust investment by the City to close this gap. Any cost for a legal assistance program will be miniscule relative to the $850 million windfall the City reaped from the sale of medallions during the bubble years.

Lenders will have to be pressured to sit down in good faith with drivers and their representatives. The City should not be afraid to publicly call out any banks, credit unions, and hedge funds that refuse to adjust loan terms. As was the case in the housing mortgage scandal, lenders are not immune to public shaming. Statements from federal and state regulators voicing support for renegotiation of the loans would also be extremely helpful.

One thing is clear: the City helped create the medallion crisis, and we have an obligation to help fix it.

We cannot undo the damage done to thousands of lives -- some of which have already been lost -- by this scandal. But we as a city can at least do everything in our power to ensure that, for once, regular people are not abandoned while the wealthy and powerful skate away unscathed.

***
City Council Member Mark Levine represents parts of Manhattan and Bhairavi Desai is the President of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. On Twitter @MarkLevineNYC & @NYTWA.

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

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Paying New York City’s Debt to Taxi Drivers Mon, 01 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Corey Johnson Wants to ‘Break the Car Culture’ in New York City. What Does That Mean? https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8626-corey-johnson-want-to-break-the-car-culture-in-new-york-city-subway https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8626-corey-johnson-want-to-break-the-car-culture-in-new-york-city-subway city council cojo work train

Speaker Johnson on the train (photo: City Council's office)


Imagine a New York where cars no longer rule the road, and pedestrians and cyclists reclaim dominance of the city’s public space. While a New York where cars don’t dominate the streets may seem like a fantasy, to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, it is the future.

In recent months, Johnson -- a Manhattan Democrat in his second year leading the 51-member City Council -- has gone full bore touting the idea of “breaking car culture,” or prioritizing pedestrians, cyclists, and mass transit in public policy rather than private automobiles. But what, exactly, would that look like?

Johnson, who says he’s never owned a car and rides the subway all the time, has become a darling of transit advocates and experts, from his focus on the health of the subway system (and call for municipal control of it) to his pushes for congestion pricing and the “Fair Fares” Metrocard program to help low-income New Yorkers.

He’s been seen as a polar opposite to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has shown much more of a “windshield perspective” as a former everyday driver who now gets chauffeured around the city, opposed Fair Fares until Johnson prevailed in city budget negotiations, and has had reluctant overall interest in the subways and buses, not to mention biking.

Mainly, de Blasio’s vision for changing the city streetscape has been aspects of his Vision Zero program to redesign intersections, reduce speed limits, and protect people from traffic crashes. While the program has been successful, helping to continue a reduction in fatalities, the mayor has not shown an interest in creative uses of the city’s public space or the type of more radical thinking Johnson has professed.

Breaking the car culture is at the center of Johnson’s proposed “master plan for city streets,” new legislation that would require the city Department of Transportation (DOT) to improve pedestrian and cyclist access and safety by establishing benchmarks and, in five-year increments, aggressively building out a network of bike lanes, bus lanes, and pedestrian plazas that transform the city.

By 2024, the master plan would institute a connected bike network across the city, install many miles of protected bus lanes, install accessible pedestrian signals at all intersections with a pedestrian signal, redesign all intersections with a pedestrian signal according to a checklist of street design elements designed to enhance safety, and complete all these improvements within the standards for accessible design held by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The CIty Council held a hearing on the bill recently, its fate is unknown at this time.

But beyond the elements in Johnson’s legislation and the policy-making lens it represents, the speaker and others looking to break the car culture in the city also point to changing the decision-making process to give DOT authority over community boards when it comes to specifics of implementation, like getting rid of parking spots and installing bike lanes.

Others advocate for expanding the subway, bus and bicycle networks, building more pedestrian plazas and parks, pedestrianizing certain streets and neighborhoods, rethinking car-focused bridges, aggressively fighting parking placard abuse, and more.

Johnson’s bill comes as the city has seen an increase in traffic fatalities this year over last, despite Vision Zero and its progress over several years. During the first five months of the year, fatalities of pedestrians, bikers, and those in cars were up 21 percent over the first five months of last year.

The number of cyclist fatalities is up 66 percent over the same period, and this year has already surpassed last year’s 12-month total in terms of the number of cyclists killed.

Since its launch in 2014, Vision Zero has helped decrease the number of traffic deaths in every subsequent year, but this year is on pace for an alarming regression, adding to the calls for a much more ambitious approach to street safety and undoing deference to cars.

De Blasio and his administration have been reluctant to support Johnson’s “master plan,” citing the improvements already made and in the works, and what it would require in terms of DOT workload and budget. But Johnson is not satisfied with the pace or scope of the city’s efforts. He wants to prioritize pedestrians, cyclists, and bus riders, ultimately reducing a reliance on cars in the city -- in large part by making the alternatives more attractive.

From 2005 to 2017, the number of cars in the city increased by 15%, or 250,283 cars, to a total of 1,923,041, according to the summary of Johnson’s bill.

Meanwhile, in 2017 the subways had an average weekday ridership of 5,580,845 people a day, while average weekday bus ridership that year was 1,923,993, according to MTA statistics. Bus ridership has declined every year since 2012 and subway ridership hit a four-year low in 2017, as both public transportation systems have been mired in failure. However, there have been recent attempts to reinvent the bus system and fix the subways, and the work on both is ongoing.

“Breaking the car culture means not prioritizing public policy as it relates to private automobile use and doing what we can to reprioritize pedestrians and cyclists and buses and mass transit users,” Johnson told Gotham Gazette just after the Council’s first hearing on his master plan legislation, held on June 12.

The City Council hearing featured testimony from DOT and advocacy groups. Johnson again touted the importance of breaking “car culture,” and questioned DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg for nearly an hour on what the DOT could do to better manage the city’s streets. Johnson lauded the DOT for the improvements it has made, but said that it could do more, especially on bike lanes, improved bus service, and accessibility.

“What this bill is about is shifting away from car culture, breaking the car culture, prioritizing people not in cars, prioritizing pedestrians, cyclists, and mass transit,” Johnson said at the hearing.

He was critical of DOT for not putting enough effort into doing the same.

However, Trottenberg maintained that DOT has been prioritizing those not in cars and is moving ahead on bike lanes and bus improvements at a solid rate.

“In our designs we have tried to change that priority,” Trottenberg said at the hearing. Through increasing the amount of resources dedicated to public transport, bicycles, and other alternatives, “we absolutely could accommodate people by getting rid of cars.”

According to Rosalie Singerman Ray, a PhD student at Columbia University studying institutions in transportation planning, breaking car culture has two components. First, politicians and activists must name cars as the problem and come up with feasible solutions to make people less dependent on cars. Second is increasing the capacity of local agencies to enforce the new solutions, such as improving public transport and getting rid of parking spaces, among other proposals.

“That's where we're struggling,” Ray said in an email to Gotham Gazette. “Unenforced, unplanned streets don't work well for anyone,” she said.

Breaking the car culture in the city would not be an easy task even if it was the stated goal. Johnson’s bill outlines concrete steps to make people less reliant on cars, and he tasks DOT with many of the improvements necessary to do so. While DOT is eager to continue to make improvements, it does not currently have the resources to accomplish all the initiatives in the bill, Trottenberg said. DOT is “aggressively growing,” but it would need to “aggressively grow some more” to make all the changes in the bill, she said.

“I think we are a piece of it, but I don’t think it's fair to say that DOT is the sole entity that is going to break the car culture in New York. To break the car culture in New York you need an incredibly robust functioning and expanding mass transit system, you need to build political consensus with players above and beyond this agency,” Trottenberg said.

In an interview earlier this year on the What’s The [Data] Point? podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission, Trottenberg said that the MTA, a state-run authority that controls the subways and buses with city representatives on its board, should be in the subway-building game, expanding the network like other cities are doing around the globe.

Many of the initiatives in Johnson’s bill must be implemented by DOT in conjunction with the MTA and community boards, creating bureaucratic speed bumps in the bill’s feasibility.

To implement a bike corral, or curbside bike storage, a private business or individual must petition DOT, which in turn must file an application before the community board, before the corral is voted on. Often these bike corrals will take the place of a parking spot.

“My feeling is that DOT regulates the curb and they should have the ability to say that parking spot for one car is going to be changed now,” activist Doug Gordon said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. Gordon is a co-host of The War on Cars podcast, examining transit issues. Eliminating the process by which the city litigates every single parking spot could make the DOT more efficient and encourage biking, Gordon said.

Gordon, like many transit advocates, including Speaker Johnson, is active on Twitter and posts a lot about mobility around the city. He recently celebrated a new protected bike lane painted along 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. However, building protected bike lanes can be difficult, because they require the approval of a community board, which often boosts the voices of local residents who drive, Gordon said.

Last year, DOT constructed 21.9 miles of new protected bike lanes, falling short of its goal of 30. Johnson’s plan would require the construction of 50 miles of new protected bike lanes a year. The DOT defines protected bike lanes as a lane separated from traffic by vertical delineations or a physical barrier, including parked cars.

Increasing the number of protected bike lanes can have the potential to increase ridership. According to a 2014 report by City Lab, protected bike lanes increase ridership 21 to 171 percent, with about ten percent of new rides drawn from other modes of transportation.

To build so many miles of protected bike lanes, many of the city’s free public parking spots would have to be removed. For example, in its resolution to build a protected bike lane on the east side of Central Park West, Manhattan’s community board 7 eliminated parking on the east side of the avenue, and with it 400 parking spots. The community pushed for the protected bike lane following the death of a 23-year-old cyclist in the current bike lane, which is unprotected.

The DOT estimates that there are 3 million free public parking spots in the city. “We have too much free parking in New York City,” Trottenberg said at the Council hearing. She also agreed with Johnson that there are “too many” cars in the city.

Three million free parking spots is “an astronomical number,” Johnson said. “If you tried to calculate the amount of cubic square footage that is and the amount of people and bike lanes and bus lanes that could fit in that area, you could potentially have a transformative effect on New York City if you started prioritizing breaking the car culture,” he said.

De Blasio has demonstrated a reluctance to remove parking spaces, though he has backed the expansion of CitiBike bike-share, the docks for which often take away a few spots.

“There is a little bit of fear that pervades the development of these plans because there is the sense that if parking is taken there will be community pushback,” Gordon said.

“We all as New Yorkers understand how to maximize the least amount of space for the most amount of good,” Gordon said. “I think we need to extend that very New York point of view to the curbside,” he said.

When the city repurposes parking spots, DOT considers the parking needs of the neighborhood and tries to redesign streets in a way that works for everyone, DOT official Sean Quinn said at the hearing.

Gordon and others want not only parking spaces turned over to other public uses, but also some of the land currently used for driving, such as a lane on the Brooklyn Bridge, which could be given to cyclists, thus alleviating some of the at-times dangerous overcrowding that happens on the pedestrian and bike pathway across the bridge. Gordon and others have also called for pedestrianizing Broadway from Union Square to Times Square, if not beyond, as well as much of downtown Manhattan.

“Making provisions for individuals to be allowed to drive and park wherever and whenever they want makes pretty much everything harder in New York,” Ray of Columbia said in an email to Gotham Gazette.

In London and Paris, both cities that have been cited by Johnson as examples of how to break car culture, the push against car dominance began with parking and public transit investment. Both cities cleared street parking off of major avenues.

London instituted congestion pricing in February 2003, built bus lanes and invested in its bus network, and its bus system boasted a higher ridership than New York’s subway system in 2010. Paris built tramways and bus lanes, putting them on the street to take the place of cars. Paris has since raised the cost of parking on the street, with parking fees higher outside of one’s home neighborhood.

At the same time, both London and Paris kept costs relatively low while they implemented alternatives.

New Yorkers “don't actually know what it looks like to break car culture wallet-first,” Ray said, meaning that New York’s infrastructure costs are often astronomical, and the state is set to institute congestion pricing while investments in the subway and bus systems have not been clearly planned and funded, much less implemented -- though some investments have been made through the emergency Subway Action Plan and initial re-signaling of the 7-line. Still, the MTA must soon perform an authority reorganization while also designing a new five-year capital plan to outline roughly $30-60 billion in planned investments.

Part of Johnson’s master plan includes getting people to rely on cars less by improving the mass transit system, especially buses.

“If the subways and buses are more reliable, if the buses are faster, if there are dedicated bus lanes, if there are more pedestrian spaces, I’m going to rely on something that is cheaper, that is more reliable, that is better for the environment, that is more affordable,” Johnson told Gotham Gazette just after the hearing. There are indeed elements of public transit and space that the city has a great deal of control over, including establishment and enforcement of bus and bike lanes.

Johnson’s plan calls for 30 miles of new bus lanes each year and the implementation of transit signal priority, a method used to coordinate vehicles and traffic signals to reduce the time buses are stopped at traffic lights along a corridor and therefore improve bus travel times, according to DOT.

“We need much better bus and commuter rail service,” Nicole Gelinas, a Manhattan Institute fellow, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “We need a better bus network to take pressure off the subway as we decrease reliance on cars.”

Improvements to the bus system would come at a time of decreasing ridership, as more and more New Yorkers get around in for-hire vehicle services, like Uber and Lyft. In January 2016, taxis and for-hire vehicles combined to provide 680,000 rides, according to statistics released by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission and DOT. Today, they combine to provide over one million daily rides. From 2012 to 2017, bus ridership decreased by 12.75 percent.

To break car culture, the city would have to address the increasing number of New Yorkers who are reliant on taxis and app-based for-hire vehicles. The city recently announced a plan to extend the existing cap on fire-hire vehicle licenses another year and introduced another regulation to limit the amount of time drivers cruise, or drive without a passenger. The state also recently passed a congestion pricing program, which will begin in 2021 and charge a fee for entering Manhattan’s central business district, which will add a cost on top of the other new fee recently assessed to for-hire vehicles.

Johnson said that congestion pricing is another part of breaking the car culture. Congestion pricing “will at least below 60th street reduce the number of cars that come in every day,” he said.

Congestion pricing may also eliminate some effects of pollution, which could have environmental and public health benefits. Breaking the car culture could be beneficial to the health of New Yorkers and the globe. High density of cars has been linked to noise and air pollution problems, so creating an environment with fewer cars would make the area less polluted, Ray said.

“Congestion pricing in NYC can do more than address congestion—it can open the city’s streets to better transportation choices and new economic prospects,” former DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan wrote on Twitter. “Cities need people-friendly mobility options that reclaim streets from the damage caused by cars. Sadik-Khan spearheaded the Times Square pedestrian plaza, and under her leadership in the Bloomberg administration, the city began implementing CitiBike terminals and the transformation of approximately 180 acres of road space into pedestrian and cyclist zones.

Some advocates have called for even more pedestrian plazas and spaces in the city, such as the idea of turning Broadway into a pedestrian-only park between the Times Square pedestrian plaza and Union Square.

Breaking car culture will also require the city to become more accessible, Johnson said. The plan calls for the introduction of accessible pedestrian signals (APS), or devices fixed to pedestrian signal poles to assist the blind or low vision pedestrians crossing the street. The devices emit a sound that tells the pedestrian when to cross.

“Cities that have broken their car culture have more public space to talk and play and eat and breathe, and paradoxically, roads that work better for more people,” Ray said.

Johnson noted that there are some parts of New York City that are “transit deserts,” and people who live in those areas will not give up their cars unless the city provides them with an alternative. Eastern Queens and South Brooklyn both lack significant transit options, for example.

“You’re never going to eradicate cars in New York City. That’s just not possible. But it’s about reprioritizing, giving people better options, making significant investments in things that don’t relate to private automobile use,” Johnson said.

***
by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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Corey Johnson Wants to ‘Break the Car Culture’ in New York City. What Does That Mean? Sun, 30 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
'We're Moving Now': City Pursues School Desegregation Measures, with Major Looming Test https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8644-we-re-moving-now-city-pursues-school-desegregation-measures-with-major-looming-test https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8644-we-re-moving-now-city-pursues-school-desegregation-measures-with-major-looming-test Carranza De Blasio education

Chancellor Carranza & Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced on June 10 that the city will adopt 62 recommendations focused on diversity and integration in public schools, focusing on middle and elementary schools, from the Department of Education’s School Diversity Advisory Group, a new step toward school desegregation as many students, families, educators, and others have waited years for the city to make progress.

A 2014 UCLA report said New York public schools were the most segregated in the country, but stressed that they didn’t have to be. The report said a combination of demographic transformations and a lack of diversity-focused policies led to “problematic segregation patterns.” 

Adding metrics to an annual report to track numbers related to diversity and integration, defining a city goal to aim to have “all schools to look like the city,” and investing in programs to provide more opportunities in high poverty schools are some of the recommendations that some say are the most significant. Also part of the picture is city grants to school districts that want to design their own integration plans, as a few districts have already done.

The adoption of the recommendations come after “a long period of frustration,” according to City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat who has been one of the leaders in pushing school desegregation efforts in the city. Lander added that Carranza’s leadership has been significant in moving the advisory group and broader conversation along. The city accepted all but five of the group’s 67 recommendations, with two rejected and three are still under review.

While many say the initial slate of recommendations is a positive step, some have criticized the plan for lack of timelines for implementation and not being aggressive enough to make fast progress on school integration. Members of the group have said this report is just a start, and a second set of recommendations in July will address some of those concerns, including taking on the tough subject of high school admissions. 

Some have also said the two recommendations the de Blasio administration did not select — the creation of a Chief Integration Officer position and analyzing the possibility of moving the supervision of School Safety Agents from the NYPD to the Department of Education — could have spurred more progress. 

The three of the 67 from the first report that are still under review would make resources available to any district making diversity plans if the DOE receives more applications than the $2 million it already set aside can support and establish a separate set of funds for districts that have not started integration discussions yet. The third suggests developing and investing in enrichment programs in elementary schools.

Since Carranza took over as chancellor in April 2018, he has taken a much more aggressive approach to school desegregation than his predecessors, the apparent result of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new willingness to address an area of significant criticism during his first five years in office, though the mayor is still facing heat for his tepid approach to what is a civil rights and education issue with major socioeconomic and racial implications.

Carranza has implemented mandatory implicit bias trainings for all teachers, lobbied state lawmakers to drop the single entrance exam for the city’s specialized high schools where few black and Hispanic students are enrolled, and eliminated the use of “limited unscreened” enrollment policies in high schools, which gave priority to applicants who attended admissions fairs to show interest and were thought to favor students with more engaged and wealthier parents. 

Mayor de Blasio in 2017 had created a modest diversity plan and established the School Diversity Advisory Group, which came up with the recently-released recommendations. But, de Blasio’s agenda had lacked plans on school integration until recent years. Council members as well as student and teacher advocates increasingly pressured the mayor in the years after the UCLA report. Then he appointed Carranza, who has been outspoken, at times ruffling feathers de Blasio had been loathe to disrupt, to push conversation and action around school integration.

“The chancellor’s coming and embracing that advocacy and working together to build it...has been essential,” said Lander, who co-sponsored a package of legislation passed in 2015 that intended to bring attention to segregation in public schools, “because we had all that organizing going on, but we did not yet have much progress.” 

Preliminary Movement: 62 Recommendations
The 2014 UCLA report found that of the city’s 32 school districts, 19 included 10 percent or fewer white students. Additionally, it said the combination of “double segregation” by both race and socioeconomic status created more inequalities. 

An updated 2019 report found that while some progress had been made, the city’s schools remained largely segregated. From 2001 to 2015, the number of “intensely segregated” elementary schools in gentrifying areas declined by about 10 percent (from 91 percent in 2001 to 83 percent in 2015), those in non-gentrifying areas increased by 15 percent. Intensely segregated schools are defined as 90 to 100 percent non-white. 

Maya Wiley, former counsel to Mayor de Blasio and now senior vice president for social justice at the New School and a co-chair of the School Diversity Advisory Group, said in an interview on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC that school integration benefits all students. She said dropout rates go down while graduate rates go up, and students do better in college.

Wiley said that the recommendation adding diversity metrics is a “game changer.” She said having numbers on diversity and providing the public with the reports will help keep the city accountable. 

She added that one of the recommendations, creating diversity targets in middle school admissions, is an expansion on the mayor’s 2017 Diversity in Admissions program that planned for 50,000 more students to attend racially representative schools. Because some researchers noted that the goal could be met by demographic shifts alone, Wiley said the SDAG wanted to be more aggressive. 

“In the short term we said schools, meaning zero to three years, schools should look like their districts. Then over five years they should look like the borough. In 10 years they should look like the city,” Wiley said on WNYC. “The link to the metrics is how do you know if you’re getting that done if you’re not reporting?”

Two-thirds of the students in the city’s school system are black and Hispanic, 15 percent are white, and 16 percent are Asian, according to DOE data. In the city overall, 33 percent are white, 26 percent are black, 24 percent are Hispanic, and 13 percent are Asian.

Clara Hemphill, the director of education policy and editor at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs’ project InsideSchools, said the recommendations serve as a guide for how the city can move forward with integration on the district level.

The recommendations encourage districts to develop their own diversity plans similar to the one in Brooklyn’s District 15, part of Lander’s Council district, which eliminated the use of screens in middle school admissions and committed 52 percent of seats to students who are low-income, learning English as a new language, or are homeless.

The city announced that five districts will receive $200,000 in grants to increase their schools’ diversity, and one recommendation from the advisory group encourages nine more districts to develop integration plans. Another recommendation outlines that the DOE will “support and encourage” districts to examine new middle school admissions policies, while another urges districts to be transparent about their integration processes to ensure progress.

However, Hemphill said for a borough like the Bronx, whose population is largely black and Latino, there is not going to be integration of different races and income levels at most schools in those districts. She added, though, that the recommendations do layout an answer to help those schools: providing more and encouraging the recruitment of diverse faculty create ways to improve the schools’ quality.

“At neighborhoods where you can’t have racial integration of students, you can still make schools that have plenty of resources and represent the kids,” Hemphill said.

The mayor’s approach to school desegregation so far has been to encourage districts to pursue their own integration plans with assistance from the DOE, which has happened with success through parent-led efforts in Districts 15 and 3. De Blasio regularly says he believes it must be a bottom-up, not top-down effort to integrate city schools.

City Council Member Daneek Miller said at a June 19 press conference that there is a consensus from the members of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus as well as the Progressive Caucus that the recommendations are necessary to address school segregation problems. He added, though, that “these 62 points don’t necessarily address everything.”

Perceived Shortcomings
Critics have said the recommendations lack specific timelines for implementation and fail to address greater issues of enrollment screens and district segregation.

David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, said because the recommendations focus on district plans rather than a city-wide plan, not much progress can be made on desegregating schools. The district lines are ethnically and racially drawn, so desegregation efforts need to happen across districts rather than within districts, he said.

Bloomfield added that one of the rejected recommendations, the creation of a Chief Integration Officer, was a “major mistake” because someone in that position could have focused on the city as a whole rather than the individual districts.

“[A city-wide plan] does require imagination and professional staff,” Bloomfield said. “That seems to be lacking in how the mayor sees desegregation efforts. In some ways it’s a plan for a plan, and it’s too late to be going so slow.”

Carranza has said that in his role as chancellor, he is the Chief Integration Officer.

Of the other of two recommendations the city did not adopt, that of moving the supervision of the School Safety Agents to the DOE from the NYPD, would have been beneficial in decreasing police presence in schools and students getting caught up in the criminal justice system as opposed to having more issues handled at their schools. Not long after the de Blasio administration announced it was accepting the 62 of 67 recommendations from the advisory group, it announced a new school discipline code and new agreement between the NYPD and DOE to lighten how students are policed in schools — the first update to that memorandum of understanding in about 20 years.

Given the lack of timelines for implementation, the advisory group recommendations form a “roadmap” for what the city wants to do rather than a plan with deadlines, Hemphill said. 

The recommendations also did not take on high schools and screened admissions policies.

Lander said while some of the recommendations are significant and are an overall positive step, they tackle the “lower hanging fruit.” He said there is room for the city to make changes in the admissions processes of high schools that use academic screens, which does not require changes in state law and is a “more thoughtful” approach to integration. 

The student advocacy group Teens Take Charge, which held a rally at the steps of the Tweed Courthouse, home to the DOE, calling for a high school integration plan four days before de Blasio announced the adoption of the recommendations, echoed Lander’s sentiment.

Soknadiarra Ndiaye, the chief operations officer of Teens Take Charge, said the group hopes the next set of recommendations due next month will deal with enrollment processes and high schools. The group set a June 26 deadline, the last day of school, for de Blasio to announce a comprehensive high school integration plan, and held a sit-in at City Hall when no such plan was announced. 

The Teens Take Charge campaign calls for the city to promote academic, racial, and socioeconomic integration at high schools by setting diversity thresholds in the admissions process that all high schools would have to meet. 

“When it comes to high school, one of the reasons why our high school system is so segregated is because of enrollment,” Ndiaye said. “So we’re hoping that [the city] will either adopt our policy or something similar to it.” 

City Council Member Mark Treyger, the chair of the Council’s education committee, said making changes to admissions processes is one way for the Department of Education to take steps forward on school integration without needing state lawmakers to change state law, which is necessary for tackling issues related to the three (of the eight) marquee specialized high schools and the SHSAT used for admissions (the state legislative session just ended with no movement on reforming the specialized schools’ admissions).

De Blasio has said he does not think it is wise to change the process at the five specialized high schools the city controls, pushing for state law changes to scrap the test in favor of multiple measures and criteria that would diversify the schools, home to high percentages of white and Asian students.

Treyger said he is “pleased” that the recommendations signal the city is moving forward on the issue, but added that “time is of the essence.”

“Every school year delayed is justice delayed and these are precious years that our students can never get back,” Treyger said. “There needs to be a real effort underway, not just to simply form another working group or have another study, but to really find ways to implement strategies right now that we know work.” 

Matt Gonzales, school diversity director at the nonprofit New York Appleseed and also a member of the city’s SDAG, said SDAG is writing the second report, which he said will take on high school policy and enrollment issues. He added that the group did not design the first set of recommendations to be the only plan they propose.

“I guess there’s a distrust that the advisory group isn’t going to follow through,” Gonzales said. “There was never an intention just to lay out this first report and wipe our hands.” 

The City’s Slow Progression
School integration was not on de Blasio’s platform when he ran for mayor in 2013, nor was it included in his “Equity and Excellence” education speech in 2015, though he discussed a number of education initiatives. Those programs, like Algebra for All and Computer Science for All and AP for All, are virtually all aimed at enhancing schools as they are currently constituted, while ignoring racial segregation, an approach some have called de Blasio’s version of ‘separate but equal.’

Pushed on not moving to desegregate city schools, de Blasio repeatedly said he had put a great deal in motion to improve schools. He also pointed to the historical constructs and sources of segregated schools and neighborhoods, and to the fact that many New Yorkers had made major life decisions, like buying homes, with the current school districts in mind. Those comments received significant criticism. 

Bloomfield said de Blaiso started to tackle the issue after years of increasing pressure from the public, advocates, and other city leaders. He added that the timing of the city moving forward also coincides with the arrival of Carranza, who prioritized the issue, as well as de Blasio’s reelection.

“He felt that he could risk some political capital on this initiative,” Bloomfield said of the Democratic mayor, now in his second and final term (and running for president).

The City Council, however, began to address school segregation issues in 2014, just after the UCLA report. In October of that year, Council Members Lander, Ritchie Torres, and Inez Barron introduced a package of legislation to draw attention to the lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity in schools. The Council has no power to change admissions processes or school district lines, policies that are set by the mayoral-controlled Department of Education, technically a state entity, local parent education councils, and the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, which is mostly run by mayoral appointees.

Lander’s portion of the legislation included requiring the Department of Education to publicly report diversity metrics. Torres and Barron both introduced nonbinding resolutions that sought to officially declare diversity one of the Department of Education’s goals and to rewrite the law requiring the city’s specialized high schools to admit students based on an entrance exam. 

The Council passed the legislation, and in 2015 passed the School Diversity Accountability Act, which requires the Department of Education to annually report on steps they are taking to address school segregation. The Council has also held several hearings on the issue, including one in May. 

“We have been pushing for integration efforts for quite some time,” Treyger said. “And the City Council is limited in terms of its legislative authority in terms of DOE policies, but we do have oversight power. We’ve used it and we’ll use it again to hold the DOE accountable.”

Districts themselves have also implemented their own integration plans, with District 15 in Brooklyn and District 3 in Manhattan both enacting more inclusive admissions practices in their middle schools. 

No action was taken to further school integration by either the Department of Education or the mayor’s office until 2017, when de Blasio established the SDAG and set goals for more diverse schools. 

The 2017 diversity plan outlined diversity as a priority for the Department of Education and included short-term goals such as decreasing the number of economically stratified schools by 10 percent and increasing the number of schools that serve English Language Learners and students with disabilities. 

“It was very weak tea,” Lander said. “I mean, it was better than nothing, but the goals were very modest. And there was no reason to believe that the School Diversity Advisory Group would be real, would be meaningful would be independent with recommendations.” 

Lander said Carranza was key in giving the SDAG confidence to be bolder and move forward with proposing the recommendations in February 2019. 

Treyger said after some months had passed, he wanted to hold a hearing to find out where the administration stood on the recommendations. He said he, Speaker Corey Johnson, and other Council members were “frustrated” that the city was not ready to publicly weigh in yet. 

At the hearing held in May, Carranza testified that he needed to further discuss the recommendations with the SDAG before making a public announcement on which ones the DOE would adopt. A month later, the city announced the adoption of most of the recommendations.

Lander emphasized that this action comes after years of waiting, but the recommendations signal an intention that there will be more progress on the issue. 

“I’m glad we’re moving now,” Lander said. “I wish we started earlier.” 

Bloomfield said after the second report comes out in July, there could be months of waiting for the mayor to decide which portions of the proposal he wants to adopt. Though he said the progress that has been made now will make it more difficult for the city to stop the movement. 

“The significance is that it’s now squarely part of the city’s agenda,” Bloomfield said. “A new mayor will have a harder time putting the genie back in the bottle.”

‘A Witch Hunt’
Carranza has come under fire from some parents and City Council members following a lawsuit filed by three white veteran Department of Education administrators who claimed they were demoted because of their race, as well as anti-bias trainings that have become the subject of ire from some officials, the New York Post, and others.

A Post columnist, Bob McManus, wrote that Carranza’s agenda is all about “racial division” and that the anti-bias trainings are “white-bashing” sessions that have inflamed rather than eased race relations.” The Post editorial board has written several pieces critical of Carranza in recent months.

In a letter dated June 15, seven City Council members and two state Assembly members sent a letter to de Blasio saying if Carranza continues to “divide the city” then the mayor should replace him. Eight of the nine signers were white, and Council Member Robert Holden of Queens spearheaded the action. The other signator, Council Member Peter Koo, is Asian, and representative of a community that has taken issue with Carranza and de Blasio seeking to overhaul admissions to the specialized high schools, where Asian students are far overrepresented compared to their population in the city or larger school system.

For Council Member Daniel Dromm, a former teacher and former chair of the Council’s education committee, the situation was “almost predictable.”

“As soon as you start to talk about implicit bias or culturally responsive education, you could’ve put money on it that you’re going to get this kind of backlash,” Dromm said during a June 19 press conference held by both the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus and its Progressive Caucus. “Which is why no other chancellor would go near the issue to begin with.” 

In response to the letter, the Mayor de Blasio has said the chancellor is not going anywhere. He said on NY1’s Inside City Hall that the Council members “should have known better.” 

“[Carranza] is doing a great job,” de Blasio said. “I think a lot of people in this city really look up to him and are depending on him.” 

Several other Council members also released statements of support for Carranza. Lander said the New York Post is leading a “witch hunt” against the chancellor. 

Others have echoed Dromm’s sentiment that much of the backlash Carranza has received is a nature of his progressive agenda. Gonzales said the New York Post is trying to “discredit” the chancellor as he pushes a progressive agenda.

“Everything that’s been happening in response, I don’t think now that any of this was a response to any particular one thing,” Gonzales said. ‘It’s just a response to who he is, and how bold he has been about identity, how that informs the work he does, and the prioritization of a racial justice agenda.” 

Carranza, who is of Mexican descent, said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on June 11 that the letter is “just a distraction.” He said he will continue to work on making sure all students have access to the same opportunities, a goal outlined in the 62 recommendations the city accepted.

“It’s always often kind of rich when there are inequities happening in a system and the minute you start pointing out those inequities and actually working to change those inequities it becomes divisive,” Carranza said on the show. “I’ve never seen how you can improve a system without identifying what the issues are in the system, and you can’t fix the inequities without talking about them.”

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bySamantha Handler, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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'We're Moving Now': City Pursues School Desegregation Measures, with Major Looming Test Thu, 27 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
At Stonewall 50, Ensuring Students Know the Real Story of Our City and See Themselves in Its History https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8646-at-stonewall-50-ensuring-students-know-the-real-story-of-our-city-and-see-themselves-in-its-history https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8646-at-stonewall-50-ensuring-students-know-the-real-story-of-our-city-and-see-themselves-in-its-history harvey feinstein hosts

Council Member Daniel Dromm, the author (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


New York City is among the most diverse places in the country. It is home to more than 3 million foreign-born residents, 200 languages, 80 religious affiliations, and countless individuals who are part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. Our city should celebrate the diversity that defines New York, including teaching young people about our extraordinarily rich history and culture.

Fortunately, there is already a model that can show us the way forward. Culturally responsive education (CRE) aligns educational curricula with students’ backgrounds and life experiences. The education with which we equip the next generation should enable our students to connect their classroom studies to their lived experiences. Moreover, it should instill confidence in our students of their own identities so that they may see how others like themselves have contributed to America’s history.

This Sunday, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ movement. Out of this movement emerged two prophetic voices: Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. Both of these transwomen of color were at the Stonewall Inn during the clashes with police and participated in numerous protest rallies and marches in the aftermath.

They were known for founding STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) and supporting LGBTQ+ homeless individuals. The city will soon immortalize Johnson’s and Rivera’s places in history with a monument in Greenwich Village. However, too few New Yorkers, including students in our schools, know about these civil rights heroes and their work protecting and empowering the most marginalized and vulnerable members of our society.

CRE asks us to view the accolades of historical figures such as Harlem Renaissance performer Gladys Bentley and 1963 March on Washington architect Bayard Rustin in the context of their lives. They were queer people of color who overcame tremendous obstacles, long before Pride marches and Black Lives Matter. They are fascinating figures worthy of study precisely because of the multiple identities and the various environments they had to navigate.

Recognizing the complexity of such persons and promoting their stories allow the youth of New York City to find themselves in history. Amending school curricula and changing reading lists to reflect the contributions of a wide variety of Americans creates an environment that celebrates the richness of New York’s many communities. It also fosters a more welcoming classroom and an education that is personally relevant to our students.

In this way, CRE is truly student-centered learning. It keeps our students – particularly those who feel least included – engaged in and attuned to the accomplishments of those sidelined by the traditional narrative of American history and culture.

City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza has agreed to accept the School Diversity Advisory Group recommendation to have CRE imbedded into all schools for all grades, welcome news indeed. I encourage the New York City Department of Education to implement it as soon as possible and ensure that sexual orientation and gender identity are fully integrated.

We deprive our students when we do not tell them the truth about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. All of our schools need to embrace CRE and prepare the next generation for a future where well-informed, critically-thinking citizens and residents will be even more desperately needed.

***
Daniel Dromm is a former New York City public school teacher and represents the communities of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst in the City Council. On Twitter @Dromm25.

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

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At Stonewall 50, Ensuring Students Know the Real Story of Our City and See Themselves in Its History Thu, 27 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Adjusts Its Digital Footprint https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8648-city-council-adjusts-its-digital-footprint https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8648-city-council-adjusts-its-digital-footprint lcitycouncilmaykr

CM Espinal, center, with Speaker Johnson (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


When Corey Johnson took over as Speaker of the New York City Council last year, he quickly took steps to shake up the way the legislative body does business. He created new issue-focused committees and leadership positions, including naming Council Member Rafael Espinal the new Deputy Leader for Digital Communication.

The position was intended to create a more coherent public face for the Council, easing communication with constituents, modernizing the Council’s digital operations, and spreading the gospel of legislative progress to all New Yorkers.

Espinal and Johnson quickly set about overhauling the Council’s digital communications, bringing in a new digital director and consolidating a separate public tech team -- created by the prior Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and reporting directly to her -- into the communications umbrella. In an interview earlier this year, Espinal boasted of the progress made in the first year, though it appears he’s no longer overseeing those efforts.

Over the course of a few weeks early in 2018, Johnson changed the structure and personnel of the Council’s communications team, bringing his own people in, and putting the imprint of his hyperkinetic style across the board.

Johnson and his team, headed by communications director Jennifer Fermino, took an active interest in cultivating the Council’s online presence, through social media, digital campaigns, and data analysis projects aimed at improving how New Yorkers access and interact with the City Council. They flooded the market with Johnson’s busy activities and outgoing personality.

Despite Espinal’s title, which doesn’t appear on his Council member page, he seems to have effectively ceded the role to Fermino, who oversees all aspects of the Council’s central communications. (Fermino was hired after Espinal was named to the position.)

In the 18 months since Johnson took the helm, the Council’s Instagram account has nearly doubled its followers to more than 5,200, the Council gained 13,000 new followers on Twitter, and the speaker’s own newly-created account has almost 18,000 followers. “The Council is proud of the work it has done to digitally reach New Yorkers and educate the public on what we are doing,” Fermino said in an email.

Early on, Johnson faced criticism when he fired several staffers from the Council’s public tech division, created by Mark-Viverito and headed by Erica Gonzalez, a Latina emblematic of Mark-Viverito’s efforts to make the Council more representative of and able to communicate with New Yorkers. The unit led communication efforts directed at communities of color, spreading the first Latina speaker’s message and Council’s work to a broader audience.

In April 2015, Mark-Viverito launched her own precursor effort to improve digital engagement, under a plan called Council 2.0. The Council partnered with Civic Hall, a civic tech business and venue, and redesigned its website, launched a new legislative tracking portal, and an initiative called ‘Council Labs’ meant to test new ideas. “The council must grow into a digitally agile institution that can easily adapt to emerging technology while remaining grounded in our communities," Mark-Viverito said at the time.

During his tenure, Johnson has moved that work along, launching new interactive tools, including maps, and surveys.

A few months into his term, Johnson displayed an ability to use social media to help get things done, launching an online campaign to push for funding the Fair Fares program, which provides half-priced MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. Johnson and his fellow Council members hit the streets to talk to commuters outside subway stations, shooting videos and straight-to-camera testimonials to post to the Council’s Twitter account. Mayor Bill de Blasio, initially hesitant to pony up the funds for the program, eventually relented, giving Johnson an early legacy-making victory.  

The Council also took a data-analytic approach to its website, looking at the pages that New Yorkers tend to visit the most and highlighting them on the homepage, including links to city budget documents, hearing schedules and livestreams, and Council members’ individual pages. The Council central staff has also trained Council members to use Facebook, particularly those who don’t have staff running social media.

In an interview earlier this year, Espinal said he had pushed to create the digital communications position, working with Digital Director Kevin Groh to focus on the entire City Council membership rather than just the Speaker. (Somewhat ironically, Espinal also introduced a bill last year that would limit employers’ digital communications with employees after work hours).

“It was a new position that I wanted to create because I think now more than ever, it’s important for New Yorkers to be able to connect with local government,” Espinal said, citing his own proclivity for social media. 

In line with that effort, the Council’s communications team made tweaks and enhancements to all digital outreach. Every video posted to social media is now captioned and images are posted with alt-text, to make them more accessible to people with disabilities. 

“Now members feel as if they’re a part of the City Council digital communications outreach team,” Espinal said. “There have been more videos made of Council members in specific districts, videos focused on legislation that they’re working on or passing.”

Council members’ work is now highlighted on the Council’s website, linking to albums on the Council’s Flickr account. 

But the digital efforts go beyond fun and interesting photos, they’re used to inform policy, help people understand its effects, and move New Yorkers to get involved, as in the Fair Fares campaign. When tech giant Amazon was attempting to locate a major campus in the city, the Council wanted to know more about its plans and how it would affect the communities in Long Island City, Queens, and beyond.

Prior to holding hearings where Amazon executives testified, the Council solicited questions from the public through the hashtag #AmazonAnswersNYC on Twitter. Johnson posed some of those questions at the hearings, which were particularly tense, and later used Twitter to highlight key testimony. “Real New Yorkers are tweeting questions using #AmazonAnswersNYC and top Amazon executives are answering those questions right now at the @NYCCouncil. That’s accessible and modern government,” Groh tweeted at the first hearing in December.

There’s also a new Data Operations Unit, housed under the legislative division, which creates graphics and charts to make policy proposals more interesting and accessible, and which explores issues empirically to craft bills. A central dashboard of data, for instance, allows New Yorkers to delve into the number and type of 311 call requests made in each Council district. 

The Council has also used data to map out the misuse of city-issued parking placards, complete with 311 complaints, responses, and the bills under consideration to tackle it. They compiled data on lead paint in homes across the city, mapping violations and listing litigation and legislation related to it. When considering a bill to give the Parks Department authority over Hart Island, the potter’s field where the city’s indigent are buried, the data unit laid out its background, the age and location of death of people buried there since 1977, and, of course, the legislative package under discussion.

One can also find data and charts on city schools, school bus delays, physical education in schools, immigrant resources, and the Council’s participatory budgeting program.

“The overall aim and goal here was to make our social media presence a lot easier to digest, to access,” Espinal said, “and also to highlight Council members and make sure that members’ work is being recognized by New Yorkers but also folks like you in the press.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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City Council Adjusts Its Digital Footprint Thu, 27 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Council Takes Stock of City's Efforts to Help Victims of Domestic Violence https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8634-council-takes-stock-of-city-s-efforts-to-help-victims-of-domestic-violence https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8634-council-takes-stock-of-city-s-efforts-to-help-victims-of-domestic-violence first lady chirlane annual dom vio

Annual Gladys Ricard and Victims of Domestic Violence Memorial Walk/Brides' March (2016) (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


The City Council held an oversight hearing Monday to discuss an annual report on domestic violence in New York City, including city initiatives to help victims. The hearing featured testimony from Cecile Noel, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV), and advocacy groups.

“As more survivors come forward to report abuse we must make sure the city is capturing the demand for services,” said City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the Council’s Committee on Women and Gender Equity, at the hearing. Indicators continue to show that reports of domestic violence are on the rise in the city, though it’s unclear if that is more a result of victims reporting the abuse than more incidents actually taking place.

ENDGBV was re-launched in 2018 by Mayor Bill de Blasio to develop policies, organize training, and operate the New York City Family Justice Centers, among other responsibilities. With one located in each borough, Family Justice Centers connect survivors of domestic and gender-based violence with organizations that provide case management, economic empowerment, counseling, civil legal, and criminal legal assistance. Many of these services are located within the Family Justice Center, so survivors only need to go to one location.

In 2018, 25,222 different clients visited a Family Justice Center, according to ENDGVB statistics, and made a total of over 65,000 visits to the centers.

The new report - the first of its kind mandated by a recent city law - and the Council hearing, come at a time of higher reporting of domestic violence in the city. While the “Me Too Movement” and associated cultural awareness has brought more attention over the last few years to domestic violence and sexual assault, after spiking, NYPD “radio runs” responding to alleged or suspected domestic violence decreased slightly last year.

Police officers responded to 241,584 domestic violence calls in 2018, down from 245,577 in 2017, according to an NYPD spokesperson. Police officers received 287,549 domestic violence incident reports in 2017, a number that dropped by about 5,000 in 2018, according to the spokesperson. More domestic violence incident reports were received by the NYPD in 2017 than in any year since 2014.

However, the number of felony assault complaints related to domestic violence increased from 7,800 in 2017 to 8,200 in 2018, according to data from the NYPD’s website.

A dozen years ago, in 2007, 4.8 percent of all major crimes in the city were related to domestic violence. In 2016, domestic violence constituted 11.6 percent -- a function of both most other major crimes continuing to drop and reporting of domestic violence increasing.

Domestic violence was a factor in 17.5 percent of homicides and 20 percent of assaults in the city in 2017, according to ENDGVB’s annual report. The number of homicides related to domestic violence increased from 51 in 2017 to 54 in 2018, according to NYPD statistics. There were just under 300 total murders in the city in each of those years, meaning roughly one in six murders in the city are related to domestic violence.

Vulnerable New Yorkers are disproportionately affected by domestic violence, especially low-income New Yorkers and people of color, Council Member Rosenthal pointed out at the hearing.

While Family Justice Centers provide integral services to often underserved communities, they are still in need of improvements, said Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat. Rosenthal highlighted the significant number of New Yorkers that speak a language other than English, and the challenges posed to them by using a contracted interpretation service to communicate at Family Justice Centers.

To communicate with clients who do not speak English, Family Justice Centers employ Voiance, a telephonic interpretation contractor. Rosenthal pressed Noel on the sensitivity of the subject requiring interpretation, suggesting that interpreters should receive training on how to discuss trauma with survivors.

“Given the inherently sensitive nature of this work and what we’ve learned about the implications for people who are not trained for survivors, it would be of the interest of the committee and the counsel to find out how that’s working out,” Rosenthal said at the hearing. “Perhaps there should be more preventative training for these workers,” she said.

“To every degree possible we make sure the contractor understands both the Family Justice Center and our issues,” Noel said. “We don’t provide direct training to Voiance but if issues come up that present any problem to the contractor those are immediately addressed.”

The language barrier has not gotten in the way of the Family Justice Centers doing the work, Noel said. Every one of the unique clients who visited a Family Justice Center in 2018 filled out a client intake form, the first step in receiving services.

Rosenthal encouraged the Family Justice Centers to bolster their economic empowerment initiatives. ENDGVB operates a learning lab at the Manhattan Family Justice Center, increasing the capacity of ENDGVB’s existing four-month career training program by 50 percent. Learning labs do not exist at Family Justice Centers in any other borough.

“We are aware of no public investments specifically allocated to workforce programming for gender-based violence survivors,” said Sarah Hayes, Deputy Director of Economic Empowerment Program at Sanctuary for Families, a group providing services for survivors of domestic and gender-based violence.

While the Family Justice Centers track their visitors and the services they use, they do not track from where the clients are referred.

“A tracking mechanism is essential because it will tell us where the bulk of our constituents are coming from and will allow us to better engage with them,” Council Member Diana Ayala said at the hearing.

De Blasio has taken several steps to address domestic violence as incident reports have grown, introducing in 2017 the Domestic Violence Task Force, which invested nearly $11 million in programs to enhance legal protections for survivors of domestic violence and improve education on the issue, according to a press release from that year.

“This report sends a loud and clear message – we will not tolerate domestic violence, survivors have the City’s full support, and abusers must be held accountable. We will do everything we can to ensure that New York City is safer for everyone, everywhere, at all times,” de Blasio said in a May 2017 press release announcing the results of the task force’s report. As the city saw increased domestic violence reporting, de Blasio and other city officials were pushed to take action.

In 2018, de Blasio signed bills to combat workplace sexual harassment, expand the city’s paid leave laws to employees who are survivors of domestic violence, and enacted ENDGBV by executive order, mandating the city to address and coordinate a response to domestic violence.

First Lady Chirlane McCray has taken a primary role in the city’s efforts to combat domestic violence, announcing in 2018 Interrupting Violence At Home, a citywide program to address domestic violence through services, training, and intervention for abusive partners who are not involved in the criminal justice system.

“Any kind of violence is unacceptable. But as we keep survivors and families safe, we must also do everything we can to intervene directly with their abusive partners,” McCray said in a 2018 press release announcing the initiative. “Hurt people hurt people.”

The Council committee also discussed on Monday a resolution to encourage the federal passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019. The Violence Against Women Act was first passed under President Bill Clinton in 1994, but must be renewed by Congress. The bill has been renewed in every subsequent administration and was last renewed in 2013.

The bill passed in the House of Representatives in April, but has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. Opposition to the bill has focused on a provision, known as the “boyfriend loophole,” that would make it easier for law enforcement to strip perpetrators of domestic violence of their guns.

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

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Council Takes Stock of City's Efforts to Help Victims of Domestic Violence Wed, 26 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000