Gotham Gazette Sun, 13 Jun 2021 19:37:03 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Democratic Mayoral Candidates Offer Plans for Jobs and Economic Growth city resource fair

A city resource fair (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)

According to the Mayor’s Office, the city experienced a growth of 100,000 jobs from December 2020 to March 2021, and expects to gain 400,000 more to reach a total of 4.5 million jobs by the end of 2021. Even as economic indicators have been headed in the right direction in recent months -- including significant job growth -- amid public vaccination, some easing of restrictions, and a massive infusion of federal dollars, New York City’s economy remains devastated, particularly certain industries and sectors reliant on tourism, commuting, and recreation. If those positive projections hold, the city will still be hundreds of thousands of jobs below its pre-pandemic heights, when unemployment was near historic lows at around 4% and the local economy was, generally speaking, humming.

Not only does the job loss impact individuals and families, but also the city’s tax revenue. While the city’s budget has been plugged by the federal government, long-term deficits remain, as do questions about the city’s economic health, including the availability of jobs for New Yorkers who need and want them. Just as pre-pandemic, there are also questions about the quality of the jobs that do exist or may become available, and about whether enough New Yorkers are qualified for many of the jobs that are on offer.

The recovery from the pandemic is of course beginning to unfold at the same time as a race to become the next Mayor of New York City, with a crucial primary set for June and the Democratic winner all but certain to take office on January 1 given the party’s overwhelming voter enrollment advantage.

To varying degrees, the eight leading Democratic candidates for Mayor have been talking about economic revitalization, the future of the city’s economy, how to reopen and rebuild more equitably, and much more related to jobs in New York City. Only some of the candidates have released detailed jobs plans, though there are elements of job-spurring efforts within parts of some candidates’ plans on other themes, such as climate resiliency or education.

The candidates include some with significant private sector experience and some with a lot of public sector experience: former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire, former federal and city housing chief Shaun Donovan, former social services nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, civil rights attorney Maya Wiley, former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Comptroller Scott Stringer.

McGuire, running on his big business background, is the candidate who has been most focused on jobs and the city economy, but he’s been joined in the discussion by candidates like Morales, Yang, Stringer, Wiley, and Donovan, each of whom has also released a version of a jobs plan, some with much more detail than others. Meanwhile, Garcia and Adams have released other types of plans that emphasize job creation and economic growth. And, through interviews and forums, the candidates have given insights into their overall approach to big business, small business, job growth, and the city’s overall economic health and revival, with varied perspectives evident.

Job Creation Plans
To differing degrees, the Democratic mayoral candidates are talking about how they would work with big corporations to expand in the city (and how they would have approached the failed Amazon ‘HQ2’ deal or Industry City’s proposed expansion), spur revival and growth among small business, arts and culture, and nightlife, decrease or expand the city government workforce, and support the nonprofit sector — all areas with many jobs.

But some candidates also have specific job-creation plans in terms of utilizing city policy, funding, and other efforts.

Wiley’s “New Deal New York” is being pitched as a localized New Deal Works Progress Administration for the 21st century, using city capital to hire those out of work on large infrastructure projects, but placing racial justice squarely into the center of the program.

Citing that the city needs to perform over $200 billion in infrastructure work for a state of good repair, her plan proposes to use $10 billion in city capital funds to create 100,000 new jobs in a five-year public works program. She says 30,000 of these new jobs would be project-based jobs for construction workers, artists, and others, while another 70,000 would be indirect jobs for health-care workers and child-care workers. The program would be financed in part by new city debt, as capital construction typically is, as well as unspent funds previously allocated in the city’s capital budget.

McGuire’s jobs plan provides a stark if expected contrast with his focus on private industry, though it also includes major city investment in infrastructure. McGuire and Donovan have the same big job-creation goal, but different timelines. From his launch video throughout the campaign, McGuire promised to spur the creation of 500,000 jobs in two years, while Donovan has said his commitment to the same number of jobs would be fulfilled by the end of a first four-year term. According to the Citizens Budget Commission, COVID-19 caused the loss of 833,000 jobs in two quarters, and the city has only regained 37% of those jobs by March 2021. This leaves around 500,000 jobs up in the air, a gap both McGuire and Donovan seek to fill.

McGuire’s economic recovery plan, aptly named “The Comeback Plan,” is presented as an aggressive effort to bring back jobs by focusing on small businesses through various strategies. He’s pledging about half his jobs goal at small businesses, and among those 250,000 jobs, 50,000 would be supported by his “job accelerator.”

Under that program, small businesses most hurt by the pandemic would be able to have 50% of their payroll covered by the government for one year. Instead of having the government hiring or contracting for workers, small businesses would be subsidized to bring back and hire new employees.

McGuire says he will use his connections in the business world to create partnerships for some of his programs, and he will invest in infrastructure including broadband, in part through public-private partnerships.

In addition, McGuire would guarantee summer jobs to all high school students by expanding the existing Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) -- he would, in part, “leverage his relationships with both big and small NYC employers.”

Stringer has also committed to providing a summer jobs guarantee through SYEP.

Donovan would create an NYC Job Corps, which would “address a misalignment among job seekers’ experiences, the skills that training and education providers teach, and the needs and requirements of employers.” His plan does not mention how many people it would include. A Donovan administration would partner with “the public, private, philanthropic, and academic” sectors to provide jobs and training for participants. Donovan’s plan points to relying on intergovernmental aid and “the full scope of the City’s capital budget.”

Morales’ job creation ideas are largely reflected in her “Green Jobs, Green Food, Green Justice” plan. As mayor, she would create a job corps “similar to the Works Progress Administration” that would focus on “green spaces, ecodistricts, public works, art and public beautification.”

Morales would also create a “workforce pipeline” into urban gardening, sustainability, and renewable energy, and create a jobs training program “to foster collaboration between youth and local nonprofits, unions and businesses for public resiliency projects,” her plan says. Through the use of an executive order, Morales would ban the use of criminal records to determine eligibility for municipally-supported “jobs programs, educational training, licensing and housing.” No costs or funding sources are mentioned.

Reflecting his background as an entrepreneur, Yang would create “the biggest startup incubator the country has ever seen” with $100 million of capital investment —  raised from private sources — in order to create “high quality jobs that contribute to the city’s tax base,” according to his website. Yang has shown a belief in public-private partnerships and relying on the private sector. “We don’t think that government has all the answers,” Yang said in April. “We think that the private sector is going to be key to the city’s recovery.”

Yang would create a Big Apple Corps, which would set 10,000 tutors from AmeriCorps in New York City to help students in math and English. This program, “coordinated by the City, powered by AmeriCorps and supported by business & philanthropy,” would be mostly funded from an AmeriCorps expansion at the federal level, Yang says on his website. In addition, Yang would step up the city’s youth job programs: he would significantly expand the city’s SYEP over four years to eventually serve 175,000 participants (it currently serves around 75,000 city youth). In addition, Yang has committed to expanding the year-around Work, Learn, Grow program, which provides 5,000 New York City youth with entry-level jobs in the public, non-profit and private sectors, to 25,000 over the course of four years.

Stringer’s job creation plans rest on the creation of 100,000 “good-paying” jobs as a part of a municipal Green New Deal featuring resiliency projects, retrofits of already existing buildings, such as placing solar panels on rooftops, and other expansions of green infrastructure. It is not completely clear where funding would come from, though the city has billions in capital funding and there are clear hopes of resources from the federal and state levels.

Garcia’s plan on the economy is light on details about job creation, but she mentions guaranteeing “graduates of our trade schools a path to City employment, working with the private sector to offer 10,000 paid internships to high school students, and subsidizing wages for youth who face barriers to employment.”

McGuire, Adams, Yang, and Garcia -- the more moderate candidates in the field -- appear to be most focused on creating a welcoming climate for big business growth in the city, with tactics less city economic policy and more overall approach to welcoming businesses, communicating with industry leaders, and positions like opposition to higher taxes and defunding the police. They are also the candidates who have, for example, been most vocal about what they say was a major missed opportunity in the city losing out on the Amazon ‘HQ2’ deal.

Well-established as a job-creator and economic stimulus, infrastructure projects are popular among the mayoral candidates.

A Donovan administration would target infrastructure at expanding transit in transit deserts, affordable housing, and projects to “be ready to meet the changing climate.” He would provide more parks, light-colored and reflective roofs, bicycle infrastructure, and street trees, as well as expand the city’s CoolRoofs program.

McGuire has promised “the biggest infrastructure plan in generations.” A part of his overall comeback plan, McGuire’s infrastructure platforms focuses on repairing bridges and water main breaks, affordable housing, climate change adaptation, upgrading or building primary and urgent care facilities in neighborhoods hard-hit by COVID-19, and transit projects such as a smart grid and bus lanes.

Adams’ eye on infrastructure would see the city upgrading its electrical grid and transitioning from natural gas to wind energy. In addition, an Adams administration would conduct "a citywide audit of City infrastructure and properties for disability access and then create a plan to address the results." Adams would expand the role of franchises to "handle capital projects in our parks," saying that conservancies can execute work "faster and cheaper" than the city. 

Garcia’s infrastructure plans have a focus on ameliorating bureaucracy and logjam, with commitments to complete renovation projects faster, with 95% of community infrastructure projects completed in four years or less. Her administration would introduce a CapitalStat program modeled off the NYPD’s CompStat, to “get stalled capital projects back on track.” Under her climate plan, Garcia pledges to “expand green infrastructure citywide” with broad commitments to “maximize offshore wind generation and distributed solar power,” “Create a new “natural roofs” program that combines green roofs with solar panels on City buildings” and “work with state authorities and utility companies to build new transmission lines to bring in renewable energy from Canada and upstate New York and integrated battery storage to reduce reliance on peaker plants.”

Garcia’s plan also offers specifics within for infrastructure projects like goals to triple the availability of public car chargers, add 250 miles of protected bike lanes, renovate 100 parks, replace 100 blacktop schoolyards with “brand-new green space,” and plant 1 million trees over eight years in areas with high asthma rates. 

Stringer’s infrastructure plans would “retrofit schools into hubs of sustainability,” the installation of fully protected bus lanes for all high-ridership bus lines, and the protection of all 520 miles of coastline from climate change and rising seas by implementing a five-borough resiliency plan, among other things. He would launch RebuildNYC, a major public works program focused on “state-of-good-repair projects, to rebuild and green the City’s crumbling infrastructure.” He would also look to accelerate the city’s “lagging” capital program, “where every $1 billion spent creates more than 5,000 jobs.”

The mayoral candidates’ infrastructure plans require funding, of course, which is at times simply done through typical city debt issuance and regular debt service payments. But there are also other sources. Donovan, McGuire and Yang have pledged to use their federal connections to attract money from the Biden administration, while Wiley plans to divert money from the police department for her New Deal New York plan. Donovan has largely staked his name to his eight years in the Obama-Biden administration, where he served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2009 to 2014, then as budget director.

While McGuire’s entire career has taken place in the private sector, Valerie Jarrett, who served as a senior advisor to Obama, co-chairs his mayoral campaign, and McGuire’s name was floated in 2013 by the Obama administration for the position of deputy Treasury secretary. He has also touted a relationship with Vice President Kamala Harris, among others, and using his vast array of connections fostered during his career with Citigroup to leverage public-private partnerships while relying on his investment and management skills to get more bang for the buck.

Adams does not estimate how much money his infrastructure investments would require or any funding sources, but says his infrastructure plan would “create thousands of jobs,” particularly for “those in low-income communities facing environmental injustice.” Garcia and Morales do not include any sources of funding for their infrastructure commitments, though they appear to be factoring in the city’s typical capital spending, which is around $10 billion per year. Stringer, particularly for his climate infrastructure plans, would push for state and federal funding.

Small Businesses
While McGuire has struggled for recognition among candidates more familiar in the public eye, he stands out in presenting specifics of his plans to help small businesses, particularly the aforementioned signature program whereby the city would fund 50% of wages for workers at small businesses for one year.

Additionally, McGuire would seek to allow small businesses to hold the city portion of their sales tax for one year and to allow city permits and licenses to renew for a year with no fees. He has also committed to providing rent relief to small businesses, as well as relief on their utility bills and a “Comeback Bank Initiative,” which would provide capital to small businesses through community banks.

In the name of small business success and job creation, McGuire has a number of other pieces to his plan, including launching a one-stop portal to facilitate application and inspection processes and making more violations “curable,” which means that fines for a violation would be waived if the issue was corrected in a certain limited time frame, and still more.

Garcia has been the candidate most focused on streamlining processes for small businesses and their owners, particularly creating a single application and reducing bureaucracy.

Several mayoral candidates, including Yang, Donovan, McGuire, and Wiley, have committed to increasing the procurement of goods and services from local minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs). Yang has the most explicit promise, saying that he would double procurement awards for MWBEs by 2025, while Wiley made the bolder but less specific commitment to “prioritize procurement for all projects from local MWBE businesses.”

While Adams puts forth no specific goals for procurements from MWBEs, he says that his administration would match them with “prime contractors and other agencies” through the use of a Preferred M/WBE questionnaire that would help determine “which companies are qualified to participate in bids.” Adams, whose commitment to data-driven analysis runs throughout his entire platform, would create a tool to track “the share of M/WBE contracts and how much the City is spending on those companies versus others in real-time.”

Donovan says that he would “reinvent small business regulation—from fines to licensure—and rationalize regulations with an eye to utility, equity, public benefit, clarity, and the costs imposed on businesses,” and cease to use business fines as a source of city revenue. Also like McGuire, Donovan has pushed for a “customer-oriented approach” for small businesses, and to facilitate business licensing and regulation through updating the city’s web approach.

Wiley’s “Save Our Small Businesses” plan seeks to use federal stimulus funds to help small businesses recover, with a particular focus on equity. Like most other candidates are saying, Wiley would seek to eliminate the bureaucratic hurdles small businesses face, writing that small businesses need the “red tape wrapped around their necks to be cut so they have room to breathe,” but providing limited details.

To provide relief to small businesses that have faced lost revenues during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wiley would institute a $100 million “regulatory holiday.” Wiley would give breaks to small businesses on the fines and fees they regularly pay to the city for one year. She would waive renewal fees, fines, the municipal liquor license and defer or offer credit towards water and sewer bills for one year. In addition, she would implement a $30 million emergency grant program for small businesses, which would “target resources strategically to achieve equity goals.” The funding for this program would be drawn from the stimulus money provided to New York City by federal government.

A Wiley administration would also “tackle the racial wealth gap” by investing $7 million in growing worker co-operatives, preserving at-risk small businesses with Local Economy Preservation Funds (LEPF), and providing “seed democratic funds in communities.” LEPFs are a Depression-era tool that would allow the city to purchase struggling businesses during a recession in public holding companies, but return them to private ownership as the economy recovers. Citing the Ujima Fund in Boston, Wiley would create a municipally-run investment vehicle that would allow community members to decide where funds should go to local small businesses and infrastructure projects.

Differentiating herself from several others, Wiley highlights street vendors in her small businesses plan. In order to “acknowledge street vendor’s as New York’s smallest businesses,” Wiley would support the Street Vendor Project’s Small Business Consultation Program, expand the number of Green Cart Vendors, and take other steps.

McGuire would appoint a deputy mayor to act as a point person for small, women- and minority businesses. Similarly, a Yang administration would appoint a small business czar “so that there is a single responsible party and point of contact for small business owners to help them in their recovery efforts, while Wiley would appoint a Chief Small Business Officer (CSBO) in the Mayor’s Office. It’s not completely clear why these positions would be needed when there has typically been a Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development with oversight of the Commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services.

Adams also focused on slashing unnecessary red tape and simplifying the interactions of small businesses with the city. He would create an online portal for small businesses to use, and institute a “warning system for relatively minor violations so first-time offenders are educated instead of fined.” The warning system would have three levels to indicate how much time the owner has until the violation must be cured.

Many of Adams’ plans to assist small businesses concern the collection and distribution of tax revenue. Adams would institute “Tax-Free Tuesdays” for goods and services “likely to be paid for in-person” to help New York City small business owners compete with major companies such as Amazon. An Adams administration would allow businesses that pay the Commercial Rent Tax a break for two years, suspend property tax debt interest for two years to help hotel owners, and create a new tax program for urban farmers.

Garcia, who put forth a small business plan early in her campaign, has promoted a single small business permit that can be applied for via smartphone for any business with under 100 employees, a plan Yang endorsed at a joint press conference and pledged to implement if he is victorious. Any business that applies through the single permit process would receive a reply within one month of submitting their application. In addition, Garcia would provide all local businesses a full year of fine and fee relief, and she would launch CrowdsourceNYC, a program that would provide zero interest microloans to small businesses with up to 20 employees, beginning with “anchor investments from the City’s pension fund and support from the private sector.”

Morales’ small business platform is focused on diversity and equity issues more so than bureaucracy or tax and fine relief. Her plan would support efforts to create “community ownership models, worker cooperatives and employee stock ownership.” Her administration would facilitate conversions from conventional business plans by “increasing funding from FY 2020’s $3.6 million to $10 million with projections for increases every year.” Morales would work to lift the cap on street vendor permits and expand “the initial small business economic recovery and support by 30%.” And she would pursue a vacancy tax on landlords who leave storefronts vacant for lengthy periods of time and pursue creation of a small and cooperative business registry.

CUNY and Workforce Training Opportunities
A Donovan administration would create a “CUNY Center for the Future of Work,” a digital space to connect CUNY students and faculty to employers for micro-internships, capstone projects, and applied learning prospects. He would also create a “Workforce Innovation Lab” to allow participants to remotely gain training in high-growth sectors such as health care, IT, and sustainability.

Garcia, Wiley, Stringer, and Donovan seek to work with the CUNY system for job training and placement, with Wiley naming the Grove School of Engineering as one with which she’d like to partner.

Donovan has pledged that he would “create the largest comprehensive skills-based training program in the US,” with 10,000 apprenticeship placements by 2025. Moreover, he has committed to guarantee at least one “meaningful” career opportunity for all CUNY and Department of Education high school students, meaning that the city would guarantee at least one paid job, apprenticeship, or internship opportunity for them.

McGuire shies away from a direct CUNY job pipeline, but promises to make CUNY the top supplier of tech talent to companies. He hones in on New Yorkers who are rejected from the city’s current workforce programs due to educational gaps, committing $100 million a year to provide 15,000 seats in programs that pair education with job training.

Wiley would seek to centralize all of the city’s workforce training programs by placing them under the authority of her New Deal Czar. This appointee would distribute funding to these programs, including from philanthropic donations and federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act dollars Wiley expects from the Biden administration. 

Garcia has said she would bring economic development and workforce development under the same deputy mayor, and promotes providing job training for fields expected to grow such as the wind power, life sciences, and film and television industries. At a forum, Garcia, Donovan and Adams all committed to giving 10% of funding for economic development projects for local workforce development and hiring. 

Stringer would seek to create a “world-class workforce development program” at CUNY. He would establish a universal, paid internship program for CUNY students, and would work with private partners to provide training programs. He would also expand career and technical education schools, which he calls “a key cog in preparing students for the workforce.” 

Wiley, Stringer, and Garcia stand out for their focus on child care. Wiley released an ambitious “Universal Community Care” plan that would compensate informal caregivers with money diverted from the NYPD and Department of Correction, build neighborhood community centers, and create stronger worker protections for caregivers. “Investment in care work should be recognized as not only a viable economic development strategy, but crucial to our city’s recovery,” her website states. Wiley’s care plan is explicitly tied to her New Deal-style strategy, and meant to help the city recover from COVID-19 while building a new economy that recognizes the importance of women of color.

Stringer would “dramatically increase” child care assistance to working families with children under 3 and expand eligibility requirements to serve families making up to $100,000 per year. He would invest $500 million over five years to address child care deserts by renovating child care facilities and opening new ones, and would triple the number of infants and toddlers in City-backed care.

McGuire, the child of a single mother as he often states on the campaign trail, promises to provide access to affordable childcare and early education for New York City families. As a part of his Affordable Childcare for All Initiative, a McGuire administration would “guarantee every parent access to quality early childcare.” The initiative would include increased funds to strengthen current childcare programs, as well as create a grant program to build childcare centers in areas without them.

The Donovan economic recovery plan contains no mention of childcare, but he gets at it somewhat in his education plan. He recognizes COVID-19 has been particularly hard related to childcare and is among those who cite the fact that many women have dropped out of the workfroce amid the pandemic and its demands on families, including via remote schooling. Donovan identifies it as “a national problem which will take action from the federal government and states.” Donovan does say he would have the city do more about providing childcare by strengthening coordination among departments and community-based organizations to provide better and more tailored care for families, better racially-integrating childcare programs, and investing in the childcare workforce through tuition assistance or a career ladder.

Garcia pledges to offer free childcare for families making less than $70,000 annually for children up to 3. And Adams also commits to providing “childcare for every parent who cannot afford it, starting at birth.” Morales pledges “free, universal and culturally-responsive childcare.”

Arts and Culture Work
All of the candidates have committed to supporting the city’s arts sector, which has been extremely hard hit by COVID-19. According to the Citizens Budget Commission, the leisure and hospitality sector, which includes workers in the arts, lost over 280,000 jobs in 2020.

As part of her New Deal New York plan, Wiley has promised $1 billion in new and accelerated spending on the arts over the course of five years. She would hire artists and performers and provide them with performance and studio spaces, in another harkening of the 1930s Works Progress Administration.

Donovan has committed to “sustained investment in arts and culture,” but has emphasized working with philanthropic institutions to provide necessary. He has mentioned working with artists for city information campaigns and incorporating the arts sector to his job training program. In addition, Donovan would make unoccupied commercial spaces like empty storefronts available to visual and performing artists, using an online reservation app and providing subsidies and grants available for arts organizations looking to use those spaces if needed.

McGuire’s largest announced commitment to the arts is his idea for a Comeback Festival, which he says would be the biggest festival in city history. The Comeback Festival would be a yearlong event, kicking off in the spring of 2022, and include, among other things, many performances and art shows. McGuire would raise private funds to hire artists to create projects in vacant commercial spaces and outdoor venues, he says.

On a similar note, Wiley would support a “Grand Reopening” festival for NYC, occurring in September 2021. Because she would not be mayor by this point, Wiley’s website says she would push the de Blasio administration to host a week-long celebration incorporating elements of “San Genaro, Mardi Gras, and the World’s Fair” throughout all five boroughs. The Grand Reopening would include items such as art exhibitions, performances and food offerings. Wiley would want the MTA to be free that week, as well as the use of union labor to “the maximum extent possible.”

Yang has put forth a plan targeting the arts and culture industry — “Support for NYC’s Nightlife and Cultural Sector” — but much if it involves calling on the state to provide additional funding to live music venues, comedy clubs, and nightlife establishments through leftover CARES Act federal funding as well as working with the State Liquor Authority to streamline liquor licenses.

In addition, Yang would further invest in the Public Arts in Residence (PAIR) Program, where the city “embeds” artists into city government to “propose and implement creative solutions to pressing civic challenges.” To further support the local music industry, Yang proposes a census to determine the number of musicians and those in the music business in the city. His administration would create a  “comprehensive picture with the data, including policy recommendations to support musicians’ recovery.”

On a similar note to McGuire, Yang would host “outdoor celebrations in each borough” following the end of COVID-19 restrictions (though this appears on the verge of happening well before the next mayor takes office). Yang’s planned celebrations would be “ten times bigger” than the 2019 ticker tape parade for the US Women’s National Team World Cup victory, which drew 300,000 people.

Yang would also purchase “hundreds of thousands'' of Broadway tickets after negotiating prices with shows to help spur the industry. Funding would come from the Mayor’s Fund and Yang would seek commitments from private sector entities such as J.P. Morgan, Deloitte, PricewaterCooper and Ernst & Young. While some of the tickets would be kept by private entities who bought them, the other tickets would be distributed to non-profit organizations, particularly those that support first responders and essential workers.

Similarly, a Stringer administration would purchase 250,000 tickets at “cultural venues throughout the five boroughs” to distribute to frontline workers, students, and families. Stringer would also support the arts sector by creating more tax-advantaged cultural districts and expand internships and apprenticeships for creative sector careers as a part of his workforce development plans.

Industry Growth
Donovan’s economic plan highlights pursuing innovation, with particular interest in developing the life sciences and climate adaptation economic sectors. With a mission of “capturing a growing wave of investment and job creation,” a Donovan administration would make large-scale investments in order to build more lab space, “align private investments with regulatory actions,” and create employment centers outside of Manhattan’s Central Business District. Donovan would work in particular with residents in the Bronx and Harlem to “shape a vision” for a “dual uptown life-sciences hub” to provide job training and employment opportunities for residents.

In addition, Donovan says he would bring life sciences talent to the city by creating a fully endowed research center in Upper Manhattan, as well as create a “Grad-School-to-Enterprise” training pathway for life sciences PhD students to sway them to work the private sector rather than at a university research center. To facilitate the growth of the life sciences sector, Donovan would make it easier to build lab spaces by updating zoning and building requirements, and would work to establish a clearer and quicker path to run clinical trials in the city. Building on his ideas for workforce training programs, he would develop lab technician apprenticeship programs.

Adams has promised to make New York City “the life sciences capital of the world,” and like Donovan committed to providing incentives and zoning changes to grow the industry. Garcia, on the other hand, includes the vague commitment to “incentivize growth within the biotech sector, including the Brookdale science corridor.”

Donovan also wishes to “lead the world in climate adaptation and jobs” by creating a NYC Climate Corps to provide jobs, incorporate climate adaptation industry training into the city’s workforce programs, “support private sector innovations for “Finance & Install” offerings,” clarify regulations surrounding the wind power generation sector, and buildings’ climate adaptation investments.

Adams stands out for his focus on wind power, releasing a plan called “The Tailwind for Our New New York Economy” solely on the subject. Adams would invest in developing current waterfront assets to be the "backbone of the East Coast's wind power industry." He would accomplish this by developing new wind power manufacturing centers, expediting approvals and permits for wind power projects, putting "upfront investments" into upgrading city ports and on-shore infrastructure and committing the city to purchase a certain amount of the wind power generated to help spur the industry.

McGuire has given a spotlight to growing the soon to be legal cannabis industry in New York City. He would create a Cannabis Opportunity Fund through his Comeback Bank initiative, which would offer grants and subsidized loans for cannabis retail locations and other businesses. McGuire would launch a mentorship and workforce training program for those looking to open a “cannabis or cannabis-adjacent” business in the city. Partnering with industry experts in legal cannabis and other fields, McGuire’s cannabis workforce development plans would be a part of his overall plan to update the city’s workforce training programs. In addition, McGuire would invest in incubators for cannabis startups and work with the real estate industry to create affordable space available for cannabis businesses. 

Internet Access
Recognizing the importance of high-speed Internet in allowing people to connect to the economy, particularly during the COVID-19 epidemic, candidates such as Donovan, McGuire, Garcia, Yang, Morales, Wiley, Stringer and Adams have gone on the record pledging universal broadband access. Morales is the lone candidate to pitch free broadband. Her administration would launch a city-run fiber-optic network across the city to provide free municipal broadband to New York City.

Wiley, who had broadband in her portfolio when she worked in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration as his counsel, has committed to “leverage the City’s digital infrastructure spending to help tackle the pervasive digital divide” and implement the de Blasio administration’s Internet Master Plan. Wiley’s focus would be on creating more low cost options and access, saying on her website that her administration “would work with internet providers to offer accessible, low-cost packages for communities in the hardest hit Covid-19 areas, and develop wireless technology to expand connectivity for public school families at home. Her plan would involve both public and private funding.

Adams has proposed “Mandatory Inclusionary Internet,” would use rezoning powers to require affordable internet access in new developments. Adams has committed to the creation of a  real-time GIS mapping platform so that New Yorkers can track progress on expanding internet access.

by Grace Getman for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Democratic Mayoral Candidates Offer Plans for Jobs and Economic Growth Wed, 19 May 2021 04:00:00 +0000
The Next Mayor Must Finally Address Our Commercial Affordability Challenge our commercial afford

(photo: Edwin J. Torres. Mayoral Photo Office)

New Yorkers know that love of neighborhood is synonymous with love of small businesses. But in 2020, we suddenly learned just how thin the reserves of our shops, restaurants, and bars can be. Many New Yorkers responded by doubling down on that love of local; meanwhile, too many businesses felt deeply let down by their elected officials as they faced mounting rent debt and great uncertainty. And so when small business owners vote in June’s Democratic primary to elect the next mayor, many will be voting for the candidate they believe can best revitalize the main streets of our neighborhoods.

Most candidates are talking about small businesses. Good.

There is widespread agreement to cut more red tape. We may finally get that one-stop portal for all permitting needs. There may be stimulus through sales tax holidays. But these are mostly lightweight fixes. None of them address the more worrisome trend that since the early 1980s, small business start-up has been declining while concentration in most industries has grown.

Between 2000 and 2015, we lost 108,000 independent retailers. Pre-pandemic, Black business ownership was only at 2% in New York City. To create a thriving small business economy, the next mayor has to address this city’s long-term commercial affordability challenge, which plays out in two ways: in how market rents are determined and in who gets access to capital for business start-up and growth.

Between 2007 and 2017, retail rents rose by 22% citywide, a rate that was much greater in pockets like Williamsburg and doubled in neighborhoods like Soho. Now the pandemic has brought incredible variation to the marketplace. Here’s a snapshot: CBRE data shows that rents are especially down in Manhattan’s higher-end retail corridors. According to reporting in The City this March, “The deals [being discussed] include periods of free rent - along with rent being a percentage of the sales in the first two years, followed by a reset to market rents in years three and four.” This was echoed by the Wall Street Journal, which cited brokers seeing lease resets returning rents to 2019 levels. It also reported very short-term leases being signed as well as landlords keeping spaces off the market to lock in higher rents later under a recovered economy.

The New York Hospitality Alliance’s December survey of more than 400 restaurants and bars found that 86% of businesses reported failing to renegotiate their leases. I know of a Gowanus performance venue currently being asked to renew their lease at a considerable increase while another business peer inquired on a property and was told that the landlord was only considering chain tenants. By contrast, the business improvement district (BID) for Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue has seen more new leases signed than the number of businesses that closed in 2020. In sum, deals are happening but we would be absolutely naive to think the pandemic will only bring about long-term affordability and small business opportunity.

This lack of affordability has been driven by the interplay of big brands, banks, and developers. Online retailers have realized that they still need brick and mortar locations while multinational chains have been eager to expand beyond the high-end retail corridors of Manhattan into other boroughs. In such cases, rent is often parked as an advertising cost and affordability is not a function of revenues estimated to be earned in that location. And as smaller landlords have exited in place of larger developers, the latter tend to hold commercial mortgages underwritten by mostly national banks that have stringent requirements on rent rolls and a comfort for chain store tenants.

These banks are also determining who gets access to capital that can help create affordability for entrepreneurs. The four dominant banks in the U.S. have been lending less to small businesses since the Great Recession. Black entrepreneurs in New York City have overwhelmingly identified access to capital as their number one challenge. Under the pandemic, more small business owners have taken on debt and some are in personal bankruptcy. Meanwhile, Shake Shack has announced that it is borrowing $225 million to fund a massive expansion.

The result is that giant corporations, banks, and developers are all too often determining the landscape of our neighborhoods while small businesses are seen as a problem to fix through mostly technical assistance. So what is the next mayor to do?

One approach is to let markets be markets and accept that New York City has a “sticky rent” problem but create ways to get tax dollars back to small business tenants or to landlords who rent to small business tenants under favorable terms . A different approach would be to try to actually lower the rents themselves by creating caps on increases in high residential neighborhoods, either directly through a regulatory board or indirectly by altering the marketplace of what kinds of businesses can bid on a space, such as the zoning permissions San Francisco uses to keep chains out beyond their downtown corridor or the law North Dakota uses to keep out chain pharmacies. A vacancy tax on viable commercial spaces would be another tool in this approach. At the same time, the next mayor needs to consider how to grow both the assets and locations of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) to get capital into the hands of more entrepreneurs.

Revitalizing our main streets across the five boroughs for the long-term is a massive challenge but with the right dose of ideas, research, and courage, we can make progress. The next mayor must lead the way.

Natasha Amott is a small business owner and active in small business advocacy. On Twitter @Natasha_Amott.

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The Next Mayor Must Finally Address Our Commercial Affordability Challenge Tue, 11 May 2021 04:00:00 +0000
We Passed Outdoor Dining Into Law, Now We Must Improve It open restaurants post

Ourdoor dining (photo: @nycgov)

In March of 2020, COVID-19 brought the pulse of our vibrant city to a devastating halt. New Yorkers were directed to stay in their homes, subways shut down and buses cleared out, offices closed, small businesses shuttered, and the vibrant action stopped in the restaurants that are so essential to our culture and quality of life.

Now, I may be biased, but I believe that Brooklyn has some of the best food options the city has to offer -- and some of the hardest working service workers, too! So when businesses in our communities reached out for urgent relief while the pandemic raged, I sponsored and passed legislation for outdoor dining to be allowed all across New York City. 

It worked. Restaurants expanded onto our sidewalks and into our streets. Relieved owners received a newfound ability to serve customers in a safe manner after months of lost revenue. Residents were delighted to leave their homes and apartments, helping to relieve cabin fever and offering a glimmer of “normalcy.” Kitchen and wait staff had work. We also found an amazing opportunity to reimagine our streetscape, reclaiming precious sidewalk and street space for New Yorkers — building community and providing an economic lifeline. 

The outdoor dining program saved countless restaurants from bankruptcy while creating more space for residents to enjoy our street life, lifting the spirit of our city in an otherwise dark period. As we emerge from this pandemic, outdoor dining is a successful program we should keep, not just for our neighborhoods, but for all the small businesses still fighting to survive. With the obvious benefits for employers, employees, and our city as a whole, it deserves to keep going, especially if we learn from past lessons and make key improvements. 

We must make the program more accessible to small businesses in every corner of our city by increasing educational outreach, providing technical assistance so businesses are set up for success, and streamlining the cure process for infractions. 

From the taquerias and dim sum restaurants of Sunset Park to the roti shops in Flatbush, what makes New York City’s restaurant scene so tantalizing is its diversity. We need to ensure that restaurant owners in outer-borough communities of color -- those neighborhoods hit hardest by the pandemic -- have the tools necessary to successfully utilize the outdoor dining program. We can do this by increasing targeted, multilingual, educational outreach about the program and how to use it. Encouraging more restaurants to participate not only helps the individual businesses, but will also uplift communities that have suffered the most during this pandemic. Increased outdoor dining will attract more customers to locally owned businesses and create more vibrant outdoor spaces, powering neighborhood recoveries.

Getting an outdoor dining program up and running at a restaurant is just one piece of the puzzle. We also need to make it easier for restaurants to successfully use the program. This means ensuring that technical assistance and support is readily available. Let’s set businesses up for success by equipping restaurant owners and workers with knowledge about how to set up a safe and compliant outdoor dining space and avoid fines. While several agencies are able to levy fines, information about how to avoid and cure violations should be easily accessible from one central source and available in all languages. Restaurant owners and workers need to spend this time making their businesses successful, not navigating a needlessly complex bureaucracy of city government in order to avoid being fined. 

As we begin to emerge from pandemic restrictions, we have to look back and assess our government’s response to the challenges we faced. We can be proud of what we did with outdoor dining, creating a policy that extended a critical lifeline to our residents, reimagined how our streets and sidewalks could be used, and provided our neighbors with a safe and much-needed escape in a time of great isolation. 

Moving forward, we need to make sure that the program becomes permanent and harness its benefits while improving access and usability so that all small business owners can take advantage of this opportunity as we recover. Our restaurants have intersectional relationships with our communities, creating jobs, particularly for immigrant communities, serving as local gathering spaces, and giving hard-working New Yorkers a place to blow off steam. I want to build on this creativity and excitement, and if elected Brooklyn Borough President I will continue to explore innovative solutions that open up our public spaces in ways that benefit all Brooklynites.

City Council Member Antonio Reynoso represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens. On Twitter @CMReynoso34.

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We Passed Outdoor Dining Into Law, Now We Must Improve It Sun, 09 May 2021 04:00:00 +0000
‘Open Restaurants’ Shouldn’t Close Them Down food center frank ies dot

Outdoor dining (photo: @NYC_DOT)

Surviving as a restaurant in New York City was never easy. But more than a year of indoor dining restrictions and the economic ruin of a global pandemic brought many restaurants that were able to hold on to the brink of bankruptcy. That is why we cheered when the city announced the permanent extension of the Open Restaurants program back in September, preserving an estimated 90,000 jobs by letting more restaurants serve customers outdoors. 

If properly implemented, Open Restaurants should help lessen the pandemic’s economic impact on business owners and restaurant workers, including women, people of color, immigrants, and New Yorkers of all stripes who work in the restaurant industry. Unfortunately, the program has proved costly for the restaurant owners it was meant to help. It’s time for the city to fix it.

Open Restaurants has been plagued by challenges from the start. Restaurants had to use their remaining cash to build outdoor structures for their customers. Then came a cascade of costly, chaotic rules and regulations that changed month to month. The rollout of the safety barrier policy – intended to safeguard patrons from the danger of passing cars – left owners frustrated after the city failed to provide the free barriers it promised, only to then change its mind regarding what types of barriers were sufficient. Many restaurants had to pay out of pocket to construct, and then re-construct, their own barriers at a time when they could barely afford to keep their staffs employed. 

Six months after the program was made permanent, problems persist. Restaurant owners report that inspectors aggressively and inconsistently fine and issue cease and desist orders to “out of compliance” restaurants with hardly any time to remedy the violation.

Rather than regulating restaurants into ruin and their workers into unemployment, our city should bolster the Open Restaurants program so that it actually works with restaurants, rather than against them. 

First, the city should provide restaurants with the clear guidance and resources they need to protect patrons. The city should actively engage restaurant owners to understand the hurdles they faced during the initial rollout of the Open Restaurants program; their direct feedback will better inform a regulatory framework that supports restaurants and keeps patrons safe.

Second, the city should not enforce cease and desist orders against restaurants that make a good faith effort to comply with regulations. A cease and desist order can kill a business by forcing it to shut down, at least temporarily putting staff out of work. As long as restaurant owners are taking active steps to comply with the regulations, they should feel secure in the certainty that they will be able to stay open. The New York State Liquor Authority should also adopt a similarly transparent, fair, and consistent enforcement approach to liquor licensing. 

Finally, going beyond the Open Restaurants program, the city must codify its commitment to restaurants and small businesses alike. The Mayor just announced a $159 million investment in small business recovery and job training; we should increase this funding so that resources are available for small businesses in all of our communities and beyond this coming fiscal year. More so, at a time when thousands are still looking for work, we should invest additional funding in Apprentice NYC, a program that helps New Yorkers learn skills in industries including food service. Let’s also make sure our small business owners are aware of these programs by committing to direct outreach and informational campaigns.    

As the city works to fully reopen and support small businesses, it must take a comprehensive and thoughtful approach to address the Open Restaurants program’s flaws. Before the pandemic, the city’s 23,000 restaurants and bars employed 1 out every 12 private-sector workers in New York. The Open Restaurants program is our chance to save this vital industry. Let’s make it stronger, so our restaurants can safely declare themselves open for business.

Mark Levine is currently the City Council member for Manhattan’s District 7 and Chair of the City Council Health Committee. He is running to serve as Manhattan’s next Borough President. Shaun Abreu is a tenants’ rights attorney who represents low-income families from Northern Manhattan in housing court, and a candidate for City Council in Manhattan’s District 7. On Twitter @MarkLevineNYC & @ShaunAbreu.

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‘Open Restaurants’ Shouldn’t Close Them Down Tue, 04 May 2021 04:00:00 +0000
Tech Jobs in the City are Growing; Here's How to Make Sure New Yorkers Can Fill Them robotics tech class

Robotics and tech ed (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)

With more than half-a-million New Yorkers out of work amid a painful economic downturn, the continued growth of tech positions stands out as a beacon of economic recovery. Connecting more residents with these jobs presents an important opportunity for the next mayor to get New Yorkers working again.

Despite months of grim economic news, tech firms have continued to double down on New York City. Over the past year, companies including Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Netflix have signed new leases, ramped up hiring, and invested millions of dollars in the city. 

This deepening commitment is reflected in the latest hiring data: Since the pandemic hit, new research reveals that New York City employers have posted more openings for tech roles than any other job category—over 67,000 in all. In total, nearly one in five (18%) jobs posted from April to November 2020 was for a tech position. That’s greater than the demand for healthcare jobs, more than double that of finance positions, and almost five times larger than hospitality or education. And the growth of tech roles isn’t limited to the tech sector, but threaded across nearly every part of the economy, from health care and education to finance, media, transportation, and manufacturing.

But far too few of the most economically vulnerable New Yorkers and their families—from young children to out-of-work adults—have access to high quality computing education or in-depth training for tech careers. As a result, many of these good jobs remain out of reach for New Yorkers with the most to gain. 

To rebuild a more equitable city in the months and years ahead, this will have to change.

The city’s next mayor, elected this year to take office January 1, should launch a bold, long-term plan to expand and improve the tech skills-building ecosystem, backed up by significant new public investment. An expansion of both career training and K-12 computing education can help dislocated workers get on the path to in-demand occupations and ensure that future generations of New Yorkers build computational thinking skills as part of a sound basic education.

Policymakers face an enormous need—and an important opportunity—to make those crucial investments now. After a year of virtual schooling, the need for investment to close the city’s digital divide has never been clearer. The Department of Education (DOE) deserves credit for distributing more than 320,000 devices to students and improving WiFi connectivity, but the problem extends far beyond hardware. Too many schools lack quality computing education at all grade levels, and too many teachers and administrators were ill-prepared to manage the transition to virtual learning. The opportunity divide is growing as a result.

That’s why the next mayor should commit to a new level of investment in K-12 computing education: preparing New Yorkers to pursue STEM degrees at CUNY and to succeed in training programs for tech careers. The newly-adopted 2021-2022 state budget presents an important opportunity to do just that by allocating more than a billion dollars in long-sought additional education funding to New York City. City leaders should use this funding to ensure that every student can experience effective, age-appropriate computing education.

It starts with building on—and going beyond—the success of the city’s Computer Science for All (CS4All) initiative, which has embedded computer science education in more than 825 public schools since 2015. The next mayor should champion the program’s expansion to reach every student by 2025 and ensure that DOE has the institutional support and accountability to keep on pace. 

Next, city leaders should focus on expanding computing education in grades K-5, where current offerings are limited. Early exposure to foundational computing education can help close achievement gaps for low-income students and shape early attitudes toward technology careers. The next mayor should lay out a vision for universal computing education. 

To accomplish this, the city should also invest in professional development and pre-service training in computing education, building on a promising pilot program at CUNY. That way, every teacher can gain the tools needed to integrate computational thinking into their classrooms.

The challenges fueled by the pandemic have also exacerbated preexisting holes in the city’s tech skills-building ecosystem for adults. Fortunately, New York City is home to a number of high-quality tech training programs that consistently lead to good jobs for New Yorkers from underrepresented communities. But most of these programs serve from a few dozen to a few hundred people annually, when New York needs to be reaching thousands. The next mayor needs to scale up these effective tech training programs to reach their full potential.

At the same time, far too many New Yorkers from low-income communities lack the literacy, numeracy, and digital skills needed to qualify for the best tech training programs . The next mayor needs to build a new infrastructure of bridge programs, providing onramps to tech career training for those without a high school diploma or with limited English proficiency.

In addition to skills needs, cost barriers prevent New Yorkers from accessing workforce development programs—even ones that are tuition-free. The city should step up its support for the many non-tuition roadblocks to career advancement, from lack of childcare or at-home WiFi to the cost of transportation, and incentivize providers to collaborate on wraparound services.

A deep and diverse talent pool will help ensure that tech-powered industries can stay here and grow, while producing good jobs for New Yorkers. To tap this powerful opportunity, the next mayor should make a long-term investment in K-12 computing education and tech career training, equipping every New Yorker with the skills, tools, and opportunities they need to thrive in a digital world.

Eli Dvorkin is editorial and policy director of the Center for an Urban Future. Amber Oliver is managing director of Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund. On Twitter @nycfuture & @RobinHoodNYC.

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Tech Jobs in the City are Growing; Here's How to Make Sure New Yorkers Can Fill Them Sun, 02 May 2021 04:00:00 +0000
It’s Time to Bring Joy Back to New York stand up ny

Stand Up NY

Laughter brings people joy, something that we’ve been missing for so long in New York thanks to the shutdowns by Governor Andrew Cuomo. We need New York to heal. That’s why I convinced my friend Dani Zoldan, the owner of Stand Up NY, to sue the governor. 

Prior to this lawsuit, Dani was putting on shows in parks and subway cars. He was working around the mandates imposed on small businesses by the governor and other elected representatives. Dani skirted the law and put on comedy shows without a license, because the law was unjust. It was this injustice that left no choice but to take legal action. Dani said, “The comedy scene in New York City is the best in the world. The overall consensus is that comics want to perform again, New Yorkers want to laugh and venues want to receive guidelines so they can safely reopen.”

He’s right.

Getting this right required conversations with numerous lawyers, including Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians, among others, and they had different approaches to this case. Some were too expensive. Others didn’t have the right experience. Some had positive results in bringing suit, but didn’t come across as compelling litigators. After numerous consultations, we felt good about hiring James Mermigis, the “Anti-Shutdown Lawyer.” But, there was a problem.

Imagine being a comedy club owner on the Upper West Side like Dani—who considers himself an independent with progressive values, teaming up with Mermigis, who voted for Trump. Dani depends on the local community to put food on the table, and this might feel like doom for a small business. But that’s not the case.

Part of the healing process is bringing people together. After four years of heated debates and a year of social isolation forced upon us by the governor, it’s time to bridge the divide. Dani and James were a great match because they think differently, yet want the same outcomes.

Dani and James may not agree on everything, but they agree on enough. This team championed the arts, culture, and small businesses that are dear to our hearts. We announced the lawsuit on The Sharpe Way, and raised awareness with LegalizeComedy.NYC. The lawsuit was filed on March 1, and Dani went on a media blitz the next day. By March 3, Governor Cuomo announced that he would permit entertainment venues to open on April 2. Pushing him into a corner to make the right decision was a huge win for our wonderful city. With comedy and other entertainment come laughter and joy.

Dani was not just representing his club. He was representing the community of local comics and other artists in New York who could not work, because of these suffocating mandates. We went to battle with the governor, head on. We won. We’re bringing back comedy clubs, laughter, and joy. We have a chance to heal.

Larry Sharpe is host of The Sharpe Way and was the Libertarian Party nominee for governor of New York in 2018. On Twitter @LarrySharpe.

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It’s Time to Bring Joy Back to New York Mon, 15 Mar 2021 04:00:00 +0000
WATCH: Experts Discuss What's Next for New York City, Including Help from Washington 1 unveils vision airport

Joe Biden in New York (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Gover nor)

On a new episode of CUNY TV, host Bob Liff talks with four expert panelists -- former City Planning leader Carl Weisbrod, Assemblymember Amanda Septimo, Laura Nahmias of the Daily News Editorial Board, and Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max -- about what's next for New York City's recovery, including what the city may expect from the Biden administration and Democratic Congress. Watch:

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

WATCH: Experts Discuss What's Next for New York City, Including Help from Washington Wed, 03 Mar 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Video Brief: The Economy and the 2021 Election cele nyc open

A ribbon-cutting (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

In this episode, we discuss the issues of the economy and jobs, and key aspects of what candidates in the 2021 New York City elections are considering, should be asked by voters, and more.

Video Brief: The Economy and the 2021 Election Sun, 07 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Leveraging City Assets and Community Input to Jumpstart Our Economic Recovery cm dromm grod

Construction workers at work (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)

As our city stays focused on managing what we hope to be the final chapter of the COVID-19 pandemic, we also need to keep thinking proactively about driving a strong and just economic recovery.

It’s no secret that in my Brooklyn district and across the five boroughs, there’s a long road ahead. Our official citywide unemployment rate is now hovering around 12%, with the highest jobless rates still in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.

A recent report showed that year-to-date filings for new construction – one of our city’s most vital industries – are currently at their lowest point since the Great Recession a decade ago. Kick-starting our construction pipeline will play an important role in creating more good-paying jobs to help drive the city’s recovery. One way to start is by looking seriously at opportunities to develop on city-owned land in ways that serve long-standing neighborhood needs – particularly the increasingly urgent need for more truly affordable housing.

There are a host of ideas out there about how best to deal with our affordable housing crisis, from community land trusts and comprehensive planning to reforming the land use approval process (ULURP) and rejuvenating our public housing. All of those ideas and more should be on the table but all will take lots of time and money to get right and get going, two things that our city doesn’t have enough of right now.

So how can we get started on driving our recovery and dealing with our affordable housing crisis sooner, without waiting for Albany or Washington or revising the city charter? Part of the answer is all around us in the form of city-owned land.

I am certainly not the first politician to propose building affordable housing on city-owned land. Like many of my colleagues, I’ve had conversations with myriad stakeholders about how to activate city-owned sites. Proposals to build on city-owned land seem like a silver bullet – the land is ours, we should be able to do what we want with it! – but they haven’t been scaled up for the reason they’re appealing: public ownership raises the stakes and makes the dynamics that come with any development much more acute: “Who is this for?” “How tall will it be?” “Where will people park?” “Who is making money off this and how much?”

When it comes to developing city-owned land, we have a trust deficit as big as our budget deficit and if we don’t implement a framework based on trust and respect with impacted communities from the start, we’re doomed to repeat the development stumbles of the past.

In order to deal with that trust deficit, I suggest we create and convene, in collaboration with local community boards, Constituent Assemblies to review all the city-owned sites in each district to come up with a vision for how to best use them to jumpstart our recovery and put a dent in our housing affordability crisis. Each Constituent Assembly would be made up of stakeholders representing everyone with a stake in the area – from renters, homeowners, and business owners to immigrants, seniors, and organized labor – and will receive pro-bono technical support from affordable housing experts to make sure the Constituent Assembly’s vision is grounded in reality. Local elected officials could then work with city government entities - the housing department, Economic Development Corporation, and more - to issue requests for proposals that conform to the Community Assembly’s vision. As proposals come in, the Assembly for the area of each proposal will serve as another guiding light along with the relevant community board in helping the City Council member determine whether to lend his or her support to the proposal in the land use review process (ULURP).

You may be saying, “Justin, we already have community boards to issue advisory opinions on ULURPs, why do we need Constituent Assemblies?” And I’m glad you asked! While doing this in collaboration with community boards is crucial, community boards have a lot to do and cover a lot of ground, whereas Constituent Assemblies would be laser-focused on this one issue of what to do with city-owned sites in their assigned area in order to balance neighborhood concerns with city-wide priorities. I believe that focus is key to accomplishing anything and by focusing their time, Constituent Assembly-like bodies in Europe have tackled far thornier issues than building affordable housing.

There’s no getting around having debates about development in this city – they’re as old as the city itself. But I firmly believe that by starting these debates sooner and outside the twin pressure cookers of ULURP and social media, representative groups of constituents can grapple with the trade-offs inherent in any development in a much more just and productive manner that would ultimately lead to better results.

We should get started now by identifying sites that make the most immediate sense. There's no time to waste.

Justin Brannan is a member of the City Council representing parts of Brooklyn. On Twitter @JustinBrannan.

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Leveraging City Assets and Community Input to Jumpstart Our Economic Recovery Sun, 07 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Despite Assurances, De Blasio Yet to Release Recovery Plan for City's Devastated Economy media avail th

Mayor de Blasio at his September announcement (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

New York City went into partial lockdown in March as the coronavirus ravaged the population, bringing a once booming economy to its knees and leaving the city teetering on the edge. The immense flock of tourists ground to a halt; the flow of suburban commuters reduced to a trickle; an untold number of residents fled the five boroughs; “non-essential” businesses were forced to shutter at least temporarily; and people were told to stay inside but for essentials. Many thousands fell sick or died, more than 1 million jobs were lost and thousands of businesses closed for good.

After the worst of the spring outbreak and months of being asked about how he intended to spur economic recovery and get people back to work, in September Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the broad strokes of an agenda meant to restore both the public and economic health of the city. “This announcement will kick off a series of policy proposals,” a press release from the mayor’s office said at the time. But both at the time and in the four months since that declaration, de Blasio has offered few concrete policies to usher in “a transformational era” as he promised. Big business leaders, small business owners, jobless New Yorkers, and other experts worry that the mayor’s dithering is delaying the city’s comeback.

Pressed for the whereabouts of his full recovery plan at a January press conference, de Blasio said he would focus his February State of the City speech and agenda on the city’s economic revival. After jumping from just under 4% to over 20%, the city's unemployment rate is at roughly 11%, though it's unclear how many New Yorkers are not included in that figure because they've dropped out of the workforce altogether.

The mayor’s announcement in September -- dubbed “New York City’s Recovery Agenda” -- was big on assurances and scarce on detail. He called it “the pillars of our future” and said the pandemic had made it abundantly clear that “There is no economic health without public health.”

It came after the mayor had been slow to allow restaurants to use outdoor space then dragged his feet for months more before allowing retail stores to do similarly. He made no effort at creative solutions for business or the arts during the summer months when infection rates were low and the weather warm.

The September presentation included new plans to expand lab and testing capacity with the private sector to continue battling the pandemic as new infections had begun to spike. He said the city would invest in new health research and development facilities and establish a Public Health Corps of community workers. He made a vague pledge to “encourage the creation of new, high-quality jobs” and to advance policies to fight economic and health inequities through “better use of public spaces, a more equitable transit system, and small business recovery, all of which are critical to a healthy and thriving city.”

Asked about the limited agenda he was offering after so many months of economic devastation in the city and the relatively calm summer months of virus spread, de Blasio said, “Like every other blueprint in the world, we want to lay out how we get there. To me, you start with a big vision strategy in all great endeavors, and then you put together a blueprint and it gets more and more specific as you go along. So what we'll give you in the coming weeks is the next steps on how we get there and then we're going to learn by doing as with everything else.”

Fast forward four more months to January and little of what the mayor had proposed is September has materialized in any coherent form. A small number of additional announcements have been made, including in recent days, while he has repeatedly pointed to February for his State of the City, which will occur roughly one month before the one year anniversary of the city’s near-shutdown in March 2020 and one year since his last State of the City speech, which included his pre-pandemic “Save Our City” agenda.

Since the September 2020 announcement, the mayor’s office has issued 12 press releases pegged as part of the “Recovery Agenda,” but some are mere continuation of the regular work of his government. They included an announcement on extending outdoor dining year round, guidelines for outdoor dining in the winter, an expansion of open streets and a new open storefront program. But there were also four announcements on bus lane improvements and new protected bike lanes, work that was already underway through the Vision Zero and Better Buses programs. There have been three new initiatives: a $20 million investment in a Pandemic Response Institute, $37 million for small business support in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, and a solicitation to build a hub of climate-focused businesses and nonprofits on Governors Island (though the process to rezone the island for these purposes began in 2018). 

When asked at a January 5 news conference if he had a comprehensive economic recovery plan, de Blasio said he would have more to present throughout January, at his State of the City speech, and during the rest of 2021, his last year in office. “The bottom line to me is I feel very, very positive about where the city's going to go in 2021 and beyond,” he said. “We're already seeing some very promising signs, real investments coming into the city in our technology community, life sciences, a lot of what is going to indicate the future of New York City.” 

He insisted that the first priority is to ensure a successful program to vaccinate city residents against the coronavirus, fitting a pattern where despite his assurances otherwise de Blasio has shown that he mostly cannot multitask on more than one big challenge at a time. “But we're going to flesh out a detailed plan and not just a plan, a lot of very specific announcements that'll be happening this year about how we build our economy up, bring back jobs, and recover and move forward as a city. I'm very optimistic,” he added.

He previewed part of the State of the City agenda on Thursday, announcing four grants worth $38 million as part of the city’s LifeSci NYC initiative, a $500 million pledge first launched in 2017. And he announced that the $210-million New York City Acquisition Fund, launched in 2007 to build affordable housing, will now exclusively focus on minority- and women-owned businesses and community-based nonprofit developers.

“Recovery – we're going to keep talking about it. We're going to focus on it constantly, because the momentum is growing all the time,” he said. “Every single time a New Yorker gets vaccinated, every shot in the arm is another step towards our recovery. And the recovery is going to come with a lot of energy, a lot of activity, a lot of new jobs, a lot of jobs coming back, a lot of things we need. But it's not, again, just an effort to re-establish the status quo that existed before the pandemic. That is not our mission. Our mission is to create something different and better. Our mission is to address inequity more deeply and create more opportunity for all. This is a crucial element of the right kind of recovery.”

The coronavirus has devastated entire industries, particularly service, hospitality, tourism, and small businesses, and there has been insufficient relief from all levels of government. De Blasio’s $92.3 billion preliminary budget proposal released last week did little to assuage fears that his administration has a clear vision for an uncertain future. The mayor did announce additional funds for the vaccination and test and trace programs, tax relief for homeowners, and disbursements for child care, WiFi in homeless shelters, emergency food assistance, the 311 helpline, social and emotional learning programs, and the restoration of the Summer Youth Employment Program. De Blasio insisted that much of the recovery will depend on additional federal aid and stimulus and if the city can avoid cuts from the state, which has its own budget deficit.

Though urban and economic experts concede that the mayor is juggling multiple crises, they’ve been disappointed with his play-it-by-ear approach. Even their optimism about the city’s prospects under President Joe Biden and the new Democrat-led federal government likely to send more money to the city is tempered by de Blasio’s lack of vision. 

“As hard as it is, the administration does need to fight three intertwined crises: health, economic, and fiscal. It needs to do all three at once,” said Andrew Rein, president of Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog and policy think tank. “Obviously, the health piece is so proximate that it gets a lot of attention. But New York needs to not only survive the pandemic recession, it needs to thrive after it. So we need the economic piece to be strong.” 

“The workload is heavy. But you have to be able to address what you need to do today and plan for tomorrow, the next month, the next year, frankly the next few years. And we haven't seen enough of that. We just haven't,” he added. 

Rein pointed out what most others have said, that the mayor needs to take an all-of-New York approach that includes stakeholders from big and small businesses, nonprofits and corporations, and every industry and cross-section. De Blasio would have to set aside his contentious attitude towards the city’s biggest businesses and their leaders, which seemed to be acting as a roadblock in the early months of the pandemic. More than 160 top business leaders would later go on to pen an open letter to the mayor in September, offering their assistance and urging him to “take immediate action to restore essential services as a necessary precursor for solving the city’s longer term, complex, economic challenges.”

He dismissed it. 

“So far, we haven't seen that level of wide-ranging, coordinated planning that this will require,” said Eli Dvorkin, editorial and policy director at Center for an Urban Future, a nonprofit think tank focused on the economy, jobs, and equitable opportunity.

The mayor had given an indication he was trying, but it did not pan out as promised. In April 2020, he announced a series of task forces and advisory councils that covered education, public health, labor, surface transportation, businesses, construction and real estate, faith and clergy, nonprofits and social services, arts, culture and tourism. But there’s scant proof that those were more than just lip service to planning, as none of the panels have issued any public reports. Rather, there’s evidence to the contrary, that the mayor has repeatedly ignored his own appointed advisors.  

Politico New York reported in July that City Hall had convened a “Recovery Kitchen Cabinet” of experts and industry leaders to plan the city’s recovery, but subsequently mothballed its report because the panel was “‘terrifyingly monolithic’ — too white and too pro-business, according to an administration official familiar with the matter.” Then, in early September, members of the surface transportation panel released an open letter to the mayor for failing to follow their recommendations. The mayor’s botched attempt to reopen city schools that same month, which was delayed twice at the last minute, was also made against the advice of his education panel, according to a New York Times report. Members of the small business council told Gotham Gazette in October that the panel hadn’t been convened in months and that their voices were falling on deaf ears. 

“These are difficult issues and it's smart to try to get the best ideas from the widest possible range of people. The problem is that once you solicit that input, you have to run with it,” Dvorkin said. He did praise the mayor for taking steps to “stanch the bleeding” from the coronavirus and to bring the pandemic under control. “But we need to see a similar level of focus and execution around the response to the economic crisis,” he said. 

Chiefly, Dvorkin said the city needs to plan for the industries that will spring up after the pandemic is over and how the nature of work will change. The administration, he said, should be investing in apprenticeship programs, workforce development, job training, CUNY and community colleges, and partnering with employers to ensure that New Yorkers have equitable access to those new jobs. “That's planning that should have started at the onset of the pandemic and I would hope that there would be a little more to show for it at this point,” he said.   

“It's pretty clear we can't have an inclusive recovery, if we don't have a recovery in the first place,” said Dvorkin. “In having such a clear focus on the impact of the crisis, it's past time to really focus on how we dig ourselves out of it.”

There are illustrative examples of the mayor’s lagging approach. He announced his Open Storefronts plan at the end of October, months after small businesses and business associations had been calling for it and it would have been especially useful during warmer weather. In the intervening time, businesses were shuttering left and right and people were losing their jobs. When it did launch, business leaders criticized it as far too limited and too late. And as the City Council took steps to support arts and culture by passing legislation in December to create an outdoor arts program, de Blasio has done nothing for the sector, which is an important economic driver for the city. Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo filled the void and announced a major arts program as part of his State of the State agenda this month, with key planks focused in New York City. 

CBC’s Rein said the mayor needs to present plans of growth for jobs, the economy, and housing as the basis for any recovery, provide direct support to small, medium, and large businesses, and ensure that the city’s schools remain open and attractive. “New York City government has to be a better partner, they need better customer service,” he said, about reducing regulations and red tape for businesses. But, overall, he said, “You need to, in a certain sense, carve out some of your staff, your intellectual capacity, and then your operational time to move on these fronts.”

As the mayor has hemmed and hawed on offering more details, the governor advanced several proposals and programs in his State of the State that will particularly help the city with its recovery. Along with the arts program, that includes several infrastructure projects on the west side of Manhattan, an offshore wind turbine hub in Brooklyn, and a commission to examine the future of jobs, among his broader ideas.

The “Recovery Kitchen Cabinet” had proposed a series of projects and schemes to the mayor, and some appeared especially up his alley like expanding affordable broadband to all NYCHA properties. Several others were long-term initiatives and would involve additional funds that could be hard to spare during the city’s budget crunch. But there are several proposals that the mayor could easily take up, either on his own or with government partners. For instance, legalizing short-term rentals of apartments, organizing festivals and brand campaigns to promote the city, partnering with philanthropic organizations to create an Arts and Culture Emergency Recovery Fund, temporarily increasing filming permits and easing restrictions, reforming nonprofit contracting, suspending fines and fees for small businesses, offering tax holidays, and more. 

Maulin Mehta, a senior associate at the Regional Plan Association, acknowledged the tough hand de Blasio is playing, and said the recovery may well have to fall to the next mayor. “Because we're still in this health crisis, it's going to be very difficult to start actually moving on some of the economic recovery pieces that are important,” he said. Instead, he insisted that de Blasio should try to solicit feedback from the communities and industries that have been hardest hit by the pandemic and set in motion the planning process that his successor can take to the finish line.

“Be the conduit between the public sector, the nonprofit sector, the private sector, and start that kind of planning so that when the new leadership comes in, they can kind of pick up the ball and keep moving with it,” Mehta said. “I think it'll be tragic if a new leader comes in and has to start from scratch to get the ball rolling because we really should start seeing movement once there's a transition.”

Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank, said the mayor’s focus should be on Midtown Manhattan, the core of the city’s business that has been hollowed out but pre-pandemic accounted for a significant portion of economic activity, revenue base, and tens of thousands of jobs, particularly in retail. “It’s a centrifugal force. If we don't emerge from this with a healthy Midtown, in the long term it really does hurt the boroughs and it hurts the tri-state region,” she said. 

Gelinas floated several ideas to balance the need to maintain public health while also encouraging people to return. Workers could come back one day a week, the city could partner with restaurants and retail stores, or offer discounted vouchers for Metro North or the Long Island Rail Road. “Quality of life issues, quality of commute issues, I think that those things should be at the top of the mayor’s mind,” she added. 

She did commend the mayor for taking steps to pursue some surface transportation improvements such as the protected bike lane on 6th Avenue. “We should be doing much more and much more aggressively, the things we did with transportation starting over the summer and giving people an alternative way to get to work if they're kind of leery of using the transit system,” she said. 

One danger on the horizon for which there seems to be barely any preparation, Gelinas said, is the fate of rental housing and how both tenants and landlords will emerge from the crisis. As Gelinas noted, if market rents continue to decline, they will not be able to subsidize the creation of affordable housing under the mayor’s housing plan. And for tenants that have been unable to pay rent for months, it is unclear what will happen or be in place once the eviction moratorium lifts. 

“If people need help getting the aid they're supposed to be getting, then they should be in the system to start getting that help,” Gelinas said. “We should be starting to quantify how many of the people not paying the rent are undocumented immigrants, how many have actually left their apartments and let's get that process started. We have very little information about this...There are a lot of smaller landlords that need this rental money to be coming in. So if this housing sort of becomes abandoned housing, then that's a real problem.”

Governor Cuomo, in his State of the State agenda, has proposed allowing conversions of vacant office and hotel space to housing as one solution to Midtown’s woes. De Blasio said on NY1 on January 11 that the idea “sounds sensible” but “the question is going to be the resources to pay for that, especially in the middle of a fiscal crisis.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Despite Assurances, De Blasio Yet to Release Recovery Plan for City's Devastated Economy Sun, 24 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000