Gotham Gazette Sun, 09 Aug 2020 14:58:10 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) New York City to Share Homeless Shelter Data with U.S. Census Bureau in Unprecedented Agreement census julie

Efforts continue to get every New Yorker counted in 2020 Census (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

New York City has reached a first-of-its kind agreement with the U.S. Census Bureau to transfer data on the city’s sheltered homeless population in a way that is intended to negate the need for census enumerators to perform their own separate count.

Through the agreement, which was described to Gotham Gazette by an official from the city’s census office, the city will compile data on the roughly 60,000 people expected to be sheltered at around 650 sites in the five boroughs as it stands on a particular designated night. The data will then be provided to the Census Bureau via a secure file transfer protocol.

The information will include all the city has available to fill out standard census details like name, age, sex, and address (which will be the address of an individual’s shelter). Like the rest of the information collected as part of the once-in-a-decade count, it will be protected from release by federal law and cannot be shared with other components of the federal government, such as immigration enforcement authorities.

“This plan will ensure that every single homeless person in New York City is properly counted while also accounting for community health care needs during the COVID pandemic,” said Julie Menin, the director of New York City's 2020 Census office, referencing the ongoing global public health crisis caused by the novel coronavirus. The discussions between the city and the Census Bureau preceded the onset of the pandemic, but the agreement has proved particularly auspicious as the virus frustrates census outreach efforts.

Typically, the Census Bureau takes two separate and complementary approaches in attempting to count an area’s total homeless population: there’s a count of the “unsheltered” population, which includes people staying in informal spaces like subway stations, outdoor encampments, and parks, and a count of the “sheltered” population, which includes those staying at formal homeless shelters.

For this latter phase, known as the Service-Based Enumeration (SBE), census employees coordinate directly with shelters and service providers like food pantries to arrive in-person and conduct interviews with residents and clients. At shelters, their goal is to count or at least estimate the total number of people in that facility on the day they visit (this year, the SBE was slated to run between March 30 and April 1, but has been postponed).

Since 1981, homeless New Yorkers have had a legal “right to shelter,” which has meant that the vast majority of the homeless population is in sheltered as opposed to unsheltered situations, with the street population estimated at a comparatively low 3,600. (In terms of the overall homeless population, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has estimated a higher number than the city, closer to 80,000, which accounts for a wide variety of shelter settings, not only those run by the city’s Department of Homeless Services.)

This makes the SBE particularly important for getting an accurate count of the city’s population and its demographics and living situations. However, recent events have presented a cascade of complications, starting with the Trump administration’s general posture of hostility to immigrants and its very public attempts to add a citizenship question to the census questionnaire, which were ultimately blocked by the courts.

Paired with initiatives like the public charge rule and the administration’s attempts to cut food stamps and other social service programs, city officials came to believe last year that federal employees of any stripe might be viewed with suspicion in the shelters, and they wouldn’t be able to get an accurate count.

“The very notion that federal officials would be able to have access to our shelter sites was essentially a non-starter for all of our providers,” said one city census official speaking on background. “We knew for a fact that the Census Bureau's proposed approach was not actually going to yield them the results that they wanted.”

Shelters are operated by nonprofits under contract with the city to provide services to distinct populations, such as families with minor children or single adult men or women. Intake is handled centrally by the Department of Social Services (DSS) and its component Department of Homeless Services (DHS), which then refers applicants to particular providers. As such, the city possesses pretty granular and real-time data on the shelter population, including all the data points that form the basis of the census count.

Ian Hull, the deputy regional director for the Census Bureau’s New York region, said that the Bureau had been very open to the idea when city officials broached it last year, in part because they agreed that it would yield better data. “Oftentimes, when we go to shelter, people are not interested in doing a one-on-one interview, which is one of the enumeration methods… in that case, we just do headcount,” he said. “[DSS/DHS] actually have more data, and so they should be able to provide us things that we're normally seeking, such as age, date of birth, race and ethnicity, things such as that.”

The agreement now proves particularly opportune as the Bureau, and society at large, contends with the global pandemic set off by the novel coronavirus, an aggressive pathogen that spreads primarily through person-to-person contact, including through infected but asymptomatic people. The virus has spread quickly in New York City, with over 3,600 confirmed cases as of Thursday morning even as testing has lagged.

On March 15, the Bureau announced changes to the way it would conduct Group Quarters counts, which include sites like college dormitories and nursing homes; on March 18, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham announced that all field operations would be suspended until April 1, including the SBE. The original snapshot date for the city’s data transfer to the Census Bureau was March 31, but the postponements mean it will be pushed back. Hull said that the SBE had to “count everyone nationwide on basically the same three day period,” and it was unclear when exactly that would take place.

Census employees moving across shelters and interacting with large numbers of people who are themselves occupying shared spaces with dozens of others could be a perfect storm for disease propagation. However, under the agreement, enumerators would never have to enter the shelters at all, and could simply rely on the city data.

The fact of such a data transfer occurring isn’t itself unprecedented. “Other cities and other shelters have the ability to provide the data to us administratively,” said Hull, and some number of them do every count. However, this appears to be the first time a city, and certainly the largest city in the nation, has reached a specific bilateral agreement with the Bureau outside of its standard data transfer systems, partly on account of the sheer amount and complexity of the transfer. “From those standpoints, it’s definitely a one-of-a-kind of agreement, but I think it's important to note that the actual enumeration method, if you will, is not,” he said.

While the model is promising in some ways, under current circumstances the precedent is of somewhat limited applicability. By and large, the Census Bureau attempts to gather information for every American household, and only attempts group counts in limited circumstances, like for homeless populations and senior homes. Enumerators will still have to go apartment-to-apartment for households that don’t respond, presumably once the extant threat of the virus has abated. This is the first year the Census is being conducted online-first, with most households encouraged to go straight to the internet to fill out the questionnaire, and more than 10 million across the country have done so already.

The agreement between the city and the Bureau on the homeless shelter population could set a precedent other municipalities could attempt to follow. Amit Bagga, the deputy director of NYC Census 2020, told Gotham Gazette, “we found that the process of working with the Census Bureau to be incredibly collaborative and productive,” largely because, at a time when New York and the federal government are locking horns over all sorts of public policy issues, the interests of the city and the interests of the Census Bureau aligned.

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

New York City to Share Homeless Shelter Data with U.S. Census Bureau in Unprecedented Agreement Fri, 20 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
City May Soon Have More Formal ‘Fair Share’ Discussion bronx recycling center

A recycling center in the Bronx (photo: Sofie Hecht for Gotham Gazette)

For months, residents and elected officials from Wakefield in the Bronx protested a de Blasio administration proposal to site a homeless shelter in the neighborhood. They were concerned that the community would be overburdened by yet another shelter within a four-block radius, decreasing public safety and hurting “quality of life.” On August 15, the administration dropped its proposal, giving residents occasion to rejoice, while sending the City back to the drawing board.

A similar situation played out more recently in Maspeth, Queens, but with a community where even one shelter is seen as too many, and residents aggressively pushed back on a city plan to fully convert into a shelter a hotel that has been used to house homeless people. After several contentious weeks, the city announced that the plan would not move forward.

Wakefield and Maspeth are microcosms of issues facing the entire city. Some neighborhoods, particularly low-income communities of color, are overburdened by facilities like homeless shelters and underserved by others, like hospitals; while some neighborhoods want to ensure that no challenging facilities, like waste transfer stations, come into their communities at all. There are local fights over how homeless people are housed, where garbage is trucked, and how to provide adequate health care -- and thus, old and new conversations around whether the city’s “Fair Share” criteria, designed to equitably distribute facilities like shelters throughout the five boroughs, is effective enough and has been modernized to ensure justice and equity in providing essential city services to New Yorkers and not overburdening communities.

Not only are there always local fair share issues flaring up, at times prompting larger conversations -- which happened around the Maspeth fight -- but city leaders have indicated that it is time to reevaluate the fair share criteria. Both Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito have indicated an interest in modernizing the guidelines, first adopted in 1990 by the City Planning Commission.

The Fair Share guidelines state as purpose: “to foster neighborhood stability and revitalization by furthering the fair distribution among communities of city facilities.” Eight goals fall under that purpose, according to the criteria, which include equitable siting that balances needs for services, efficiency and effectiveness, and “social, economic, and environmental impacts of city facilities upon surrounding areas.”

In her February 2016 State of the City speech, Mark-Viverito announced her intention to seek updates to the Fair Share criteria, something she reiterated in an August interview with Gotham Gazette, pointing to problems with the overburdening of some communities and the lack of willingness in others to accept certain responsibilities.

In her State of the City, titled “More Justice,” Mark-Viverito discussed Fair Share as a weak spot in the quest for more justice in community planning, land use, and services.

“Our Fair Share guidelines are vague and difficult to enforce,” Mark-Viverito said in her address. “They haven’t been updated in 25 years and there is limited information available to the public to inform these critical decisions. Too often, less desirable facilities are concentrated in just a few communities - like this one, in the South Bronx,” she said, from the Samuel Gompers school.

The Fair Share criteria is meant to be a two-edged sword, insisting on shared responsibility and protecting communities, especially those that have historically had less political clout -- but that sword has long been blunt on both sides. Now, 27 years after the inception of the criteria, elected officials appear to be looking at giving new life to a once-promising idea.

“I believe the Fair Share reality needs to be really looked at,” Mark-Viverito told Gotham Gazette in August. “I think there needs to be more equity in the way that services are distributed. There are literally some districts that have no shelters in them. You look at one like mine, that we have probably over 2,000, 3,000 beds,” the speaker said of her home district, which is mostly East Harlem. “So the issue of equity comes into the siting of services as well. And that’s a real challenge.”

Along with homeless shelters, when discussing fair share Mark-Viverito references the desegregation of city schools and her goal of closing the Rikers Island jail complex, which would require additional small, localized jails.

“We’ve been doing some thinking internally, we’ve been analyzing this and...we’ve got to figure out what are the things we can do as a city, and we have the authority to do, to create some more equity,” she said. “So we think that there’s some things - hopefully, we’ll be rolling something out soon, with some ideas, or a policy paper or something.”

According to a Council spokesperson, that discussion is ongoing. Mark-Viverito is about to enter her final year in the Council, she is term-limited out of office at the end of 2017, and will deliver her last State of the City as speaker in February.

For his part, Mayor de Blasio has been frustrated by the type of pushback seen by residents and officials from Maspeth. Speaking on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show in mid-September, de Blasio admonished those who were protesting against a shelter in their Queens neighborhood and said that the city was moving ahead with its plan (which was dropped when the hotel owner backed away, according to the city). Maspeth residents even took buses to protest outside of a city commissioner’s home in Brooklyn, which de Blasio took particular issue with.

Criticizing the “not in my backyard” response, de Blasio said the “NIMBY mindset has grown over decades in New York City,” but that it is important to “tell people the truth that every community needs to bear its fair share, that this is how we turn around homelessness and get people off the streets once and for all.”

The mayor went on to say that the city is siting facilities in all types of neighborhoods, including more affluent ones, and that he aims to modify the siting process. “I want our shelter system to evolve from what is a very cumbersome citywide approach to, first, a borough-based approach, and then even more localized,” de Blasio told Lehrer.

Following the Wakefield announcement, Congressional Rep. Eliot Engel, a Bronx Democrat, said in a public statement, “Everyone agrees that the City must do more for homeless populations. However, it is unreasonable to expect one community to maintain this effort on its own. The people of Wakefield and the surrounding neighborhoods have done more than their fair share.”

Referring to the city’s Department of Homeless Services, Engel said, “It appears that DHS has come to realize that one more shelter within an area that already has been saturated with similar facilities just didn’t make sense.”

Engel’s argument is one that goes back decades and is hot today as the city grapples not only with homelessness, but also with waste transfer facilities, jails, health clinics, drug treatment centers, and more. Fair share has also been scrutinized on the flip side: ensuring more equitable distribution of open green space and other public community amenities.

During her 2015 State of the City speech, Mark-Viverito, a Democrat, was not far from the Hunt’s Point neighborhood, which -- like much of the South Bronx -- contains far more burdensome facilities than some of its higher-income neighbors. The area is home to a wastewater treatment facility, power plants, a floating jail barge, and the largest food distribution center of its kind in the world, which, while it creates jobs, also creates traffic and related community health and safety concerns.

Not surprisingly, the South Bronx shares the distinction of shouldering comparatively high numbers of undesirable facilities with other low-income neighborhoods of color: East Harlem; Central Harlem; Jamaica, Queens; and Bedford-Stuyvesant; among others. DNAinfo reported in August 2015 that just 10 New York City community board districts contain more homeless shelters than the remaining 49 districts combined.

Clearly, the problem that the Fair Share criteria was crafted to address - the unequal allotment of burdens and benefits among New York City boroughs, neighborhoods, and communities - remains unsolved today.

The issue perpetually arises in policy discussions, whether around homeless shelters or waste transfer stations, or even new Citi Bike docking sites. As the city recently went through the process of changing its zoning codes and land use rules to promote affordable housing and neighborhood development, the issue of fair share was omnipresent. One condition of the recently passed rezoning of part of East New York was the closure of three homeless shelters.

The failure of the Fair Share criteria and of political leadership to more evenly distribute facilities throughout the city is complex, and raises questions of what equitable land use really looks like: by-the-numbers equality of city sites across boroughs, community boards, and neighborhoods? More shelters located in neighborhoods where the need is greatest, or more of those facilities built in areas that aren’t already saturated? What is fair, and to whom?

The angry cousin of Fair Share is, of course, the NIMBYism that de Blasio recently railed against -- people do not want burdensome facilities in their neighborhoods. Wealthy communities are often more able to fight off such sitings.

The issue of fair share is perhaps the most central flashpoint in the ongoing debate over the closing of Rikers Island jails. In her same State of the City speech, Mark-Viverito called for moving toward closing Rikers. To make good on her proposal to close the island’s nine active jails, the city would need to relocate several thousand prisoners held there -- as of October 20, the Rikers census was about 7,500, but Mark-Viverito has said that the goal is first to reduce that population, which has been dropping over many years, through criminal justice reforms. She announced the formation of a commission to study additional reforms and closing Rikers and expects to have new things to announce by her next State of the City.

As the New York Times noted, closing a jail riddled with neglect and violence and moving prisoners to safe, clean, and humane community-based facilities is a nice idea - until any one neighborhood finds itself the potential site of a new jail facility. The reaction from various communities, regardless of demography, against receiving detainees from Rikers Island was swift and defiant.

Among the most vocal were officials from Staten Island, where worries that the city would open a jail on the South Shore resulted in an oppositional back-and-forth between Staten Island City Council Member Joseph Borelli and Mark-Viverito. City Council Member Steven Matteo, a Republican from Staten Island like Borelli, said outright that the possibility of a new prison anywhere on Staten Island is a “non-starter” in his opinion.

Mayor de Blasio has expressed skepticism about the notion of closing Rikers jails, but his language around it has warmed somewhat over the course of the year.

While Mark-Viverito’s commission explores the possibility of and path toward closing Rikers and critics continue to label the plan intractable and unrealistic, any Fair Share criteria update proposed by the speaker could also become a complicating factor should the time come to site new, smaller community jails or expand existing detention centers where about 2,200 detainees are currently held on any given day (the total Department of Correction headcount was 9,764 on October 20).

But separate from the closure of Rikers, the city’s fair share rules may be up for modernization.

As is, it seems clear that Fair Share is not particularly successful at preventing an uneven distribution of undesirable facilities. It is less clear why such well-intentioned city policy has not been effective -- other than, perhaps, that the criteria are too vague and that the political will to more strongly enforce the spirit of fair share has not been present.

Reasons for the criteria’s opacity and lack of efficacy may lie in its origins, as well as the complexity of how to use city-owned land in the most populous urban center in North America.

“The current fair share system was a noble idea,” City Council Member Brad Lander, a city planning expert, told Gotham Gazette in an interview. “Creating the criteria was the first time these issues were addressed in municipal public policy. But as years have gone by, the criteria have not proven to be an effective system.”

Fair Share Origins
The Fair Share Criteria emerged during a period of intense political transition and structural transformation in New York City government. In 1989, sustained protest from low-income communities and wealthy neighborhoods alike prompted the passage of the criteria.

The criteria lay down considerations the city must keep in mind when looking to site a new local or citywide facility, or expand, close or reduce an existing facility. According to the guidelines, the city must explore whether a new or expanded facility is compatible with existing ones, city-owned and private, in the immediate vicinity; whether the facility would have an adverse impact on the neighborhood; whether a site is suitable to deliver cost-effective services; and whether the facility is compatible with the facility proposals in the annual Statement of Needs compiled by the Mayor under Section 204 of the City Charter. In closing or reducing the capacity of a facility, the city must consider whether it would create an imbalance in service delivery by doing so.

The same 1989 revision of the city charter that required that the City Planning Commission adopt the Fair Share Criteria was also called “the most thorough overhaul of the municipal government since the Greater City of New York was created in 1898” by the New York Times just after November elections in 1989.

The charter revision, which passed with a fairly slim margin of 55% of the vote, dissolved the Board of Estimate, which was comprised by the mayor, comptroller, president of the City Council, and the five borough presidents, and had been “at the heart of city affairs for almost 100 years,” wrote the Times. The change was proposed after the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Board of Estimate to be unconstitutional on the grounds that Brooklyn, despite being the most populous borough, had no more representation than Staten Island, the least populous.

The revision shifted powers over land use, the city budget, and city contracts, among others, to the mayor and the City Council, and expanded the Council from 35 to 51 members.

The change also restructured the City Planning Commission, growing it from seven mayor-appointed members to 13 members, with seven appointed by the mayor, one chosen by each of the borough presidents, and one by the then-City Council President. The 13th commissioner is now appointed by the Public Advocate.

The mandates included in the 1989 charter revision essentially constructed the form of New York City governance that remains to this day, and revolutionized the way that land use, zoning, and city planning would be executed in the future.

So it was the newly-expanded City Planning Commission that formally adopted the Criteria for the Location of City Facilities, or the Fair Share Criteria, in 1990.

That same year, the Office of the Mayor passed from Ed Koch to David Dinkins, and a group of borough presidents who’d pushed for liberal reforms to Koch’s housing and environmental policies took office. With a new administration, revised charter, and a restructured and significantly larger city government, Ruth Messinger, inaugurated as Manhattan Borough President that year, called the shift a “generational change” for city government.

The Fair Share Criteria became effective in July of 1991, at which time the commission called on the Department of City Planning to “monitor and evaluate the effects of these new and untested guidelines and periodically report its findings.”

The DCP issued its one and only assessment in 1995, when it published “Fair Share: An Assessment of New York City's Facility Siting Process,” which “outlined a range of issues and shortcomings” based on community board comments, past litigation, testimony from public officials and citizens, and various other feedback sources, but did not affect any significant change to the way the criteria are structured or implemented.

In 1998, Planning Commissioner Joseph Rose, under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, published “The Fair Share Criteria: A Guide for City Agencies.” The lengthy document, after acknowledging that “developing a consistent approach to the criteria was especially challenging during the early years of new regulation,” provides detailed clarifications of the criteria, followed by descriptions of how and in what spirit the criteria should be applied as agencies attempt to open, close, or alter sites for city facilities.

The last substantive change was made to the criteria in 2010, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed a Charter Revision Commission to recommend changes to the City Charter for voter approval. The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance successfully advocated that the Charter Commission propose an amendment to include all public and private waste and transportation infrastructure facilities on the atlas that formerly only included city-owned or leased facilities.

The Criteria, Explained
The Criteria for the Location of City Facilities, or Fair Share Criteria, found in section 203 of the City Charter, are a set of processes meant “to further the fair distribution of burdens and benefits associated with city facilities.” According to the 1998 city assessment of fair share, the criteria were created in response to the “widespread perception -- and sometimes the reality -- that some communities were becoming dumping grounds for unwanted city facilities” by way of “poorly planned and often secretive siting decisions driven by expediency.” Residents of the city’s lower-income neighborhoods, the report says, believed that they were being saturated with facilities like shelters because most city-owned property is located in those neighborhoods, and because residents lacked the resources to adequately protest new sitings in their communities.

For the purposes of the criteria, a “City facility” is defined as “a facility providing City services whose location, expansion, closing, or reduction in size is subject to control and supervision by a City agency, operated by the City on property owned or leased by the City which is greater than 750 square feet in total floor area; or, used primarily for a program or programs operated pursuant to a written agreement on behalf of the City and derives at least 50 percent and at least $50,000 of its annual funding from the City.”

According to the 1998 assessment, the Fair Share Criteria are guided by a number of core goals: balancing considerations of community need for services and the cost and impact of facilities; long-term planning for land use, budget and service delivery; soliciting public input and creating consensus in the planning process; ensuring fair distribution according to local needs and reducing disparities in level of responsibility; preserving neighborhood character; and accountability in mitigating negative effects and monitoring impact after sites are built.

The document goes on to say that the criteria should be applied “whenever the City sites a new facility by purchase, condemnation, new lease, or new contract, expands or reduces size of a facility by 25% or more, substantially changes the use of an existing facility, relocates a facility, or closes a facility and does not replace it at new location.”

The criteria do not apply to the siting of facilities by private entities, state or federal agencies - an important exclusion that critics of the Fair Share Criteria say prevents communities from gaining a full understanding of the burdensome facilities in their neighborhoods.

The city ostensibly checks to see if the criteria have been applied when a city agency submits a land use (ULURP) application. The criteria guide says that agencies must prove that all criteria have been considered before a ULURP application is certified, and must account for any inconsistencies or conflicts.

This means that if the Department of Sanitation wishes to site a new waste transfer facility, it conducts its own fair share analysis, submits the application and analysis to City Planning, which then chooses whether to certify the agency’s ULURP application, in part based on whether the Sanitation adequately considered the Fair Share Criteria when choosing the new site.

Though the actual, original criteria are housed in a 14-page technical manual, they are not meant to be viewed as a silver bullet for equitable planning, according to Sarah Goldwyn, director of planning coordination at the Department of City Planning.

“Rather than being a strict set of rules or regulations used for enforcement, the criteria are intended to serve as a set of considerations to support an early and informed public dialogue and assist decision-makers in the process for siting city facilities,” Goldwyn told Gotham Gazette.

The criteria attempt to achieve this both by providing guidelines for agencies to consider when choosing sites for city facilities, and by creating a public review process once those sites have been identified.

The guidelines span a great deal of potential siting scenarios, but some of the most salient areas concern logistical feasibility (“Site should be optimally located, other sites being more cost-prohibitive because of location or positioning”), and clustering of burdensome facilities (“Agency must consider presence of other sites within a half mile with similar environmental impact”).

To ensure public review of all new city sites, Section 204 makes necessary the Citywide Statement of Needs, in which the city must publish annually all facilities that the city “plans to site, close or substantially change in size over the next two years.” This document, City Planning says, allows community boards, City Council members, and borough presidents to review facilities that will appear or be removed from their jurisdiction so that they may offer statements or propose new facilities. The Citywide Statement of Needs is published each fall by the mayor.

According to the criteria, the statement of needs must be accompanied by a list and map of city-owned and leased properties, called the Gazetteer and Atlas of City Property. Today, the “gazetteer” is an online database of City Owned and Leased Properties (COLP), and the sites formerly found in the atlas are now available as “Uses on City Owned and Leased Properties” on ZoLa, the city’s zoning and land use website.

COLP and ZoLa include only properties owned or leased by New York City - not private facilities, and not facilities owned or leased by state and federal agencies. Private facilities, which can include waste transfer stations and recycling facilities, are stored in a separate database.

The database, which includes geographic data, type of use and agency will be updated again in mid-November of this year along with the map of city-owned properties. The properties fall in general categories according to use, including cultural and recreation, education, health and social services, public safety and criminal justice, and residential, among others.

While the Fair Share Criteria are outlined in considerable detail, their real-world application is less clear. The 1998 revision of the criteria state that, although an agency’s consideration of the criteria is not publicly reviewed until the ULURP or contract procurement process is underway, “project planners should begin to keep the criteria in mind well before that time - when they evaluate service needs and consider new facilities or chances in facilities.”

While City Planning emphasizes that the Fair Share Criteria were never meant to be hard-and-fast rules for how the city sites facilities, some hold that the criteria should have - and could have - been a more helpful tool in building a more equitable New York.

This is part one of a two-part series on Fair Share. READ PART TWO >>> FAIR SHARE: DESIGN FLAWS, FLASHPOINTS & POSSIBLE UPDATES

by Maggie Calmes & Samar Khurshid

City May Soon Have More Formal ‘Fair Share’ Discussion Thu, 17 Nov 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Push for a Better Mayor's Management Report Continues 311-cust-serv 

The City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations held an oversight hearing on Wednesday to evaluate the structure and content of two annual city reports that measure everything from the wait times on 311 calls and the conditions of city parks to the number of unsheltered homeless people and traffic crashes in the city each year. These key performance indicators help the City Council and the public keep city agencies and offices accountable. Those agencies, in turn, rely on these reports to improve their policies and functioning.

The administration releases two detailed reports each year - the Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report (PMMR), two weeks after the January financial plan, and the Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), in September. The reports include evaluations of annual goals set by 41 city agencies and 3 non-mayoral agencies that report directly to the Mayor, and whether these agencies are succeeding or failing to meet their objectives.

Wednesday’s hearing, the third one held by the governmental operations committee on this issue, gave Council members an opportunity to delve into the process of how agency goals are included in the reports and to reiterate their request for adding more data to future reports. Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the committee, highlighted some of the key concerns the Council has about a lack of clarity in certain agency goals, agency indicators with no set targets, and the need to directly link agency performance with corresponding budget allocations.

The PMMR and MMR are produced over six to eight weeks by the Mayor’s Office of Operations (MOO). About 10 MOO staff members work with more than 150 senior staff across the agencies, including deputy mayors and agency commissioners, and coordinate efforts with City Hall to release the final products, which detail agency goals and indicators of whether those goals are being met year after year.

There are 1649 metrics by which agency performance is tracked in the two reports. Examples include quality-of-life summonses issued by the New York Police Department, the number of people on the city’s cash assistance rolls, the average daily attendance in city schools, and the number of families entering the city’s homeless shelter system.

The report tracked the NYPD’s goal to reduce the number of quality-of-life violations, a critical indicator without a set target. The four-month numbers (the timeframe for the PMMR) fell from 142,434 in Fiscal 2015 to 125, 685 in Fiscal 2016.

Under the Department of Education’s performance, the report looked at average daily attendance in city schools, which surpassed the 91.7 percent target in Fiscal 2016 (93.2 percent) and Fiscal 2015 (93.5 percent). Similarly, the report showed that the Department of Homeless Services had been successful in reducing the number of adult families entering the shelter system from 521 families to 466.

The data, which is available on an interactive website, includes comparisons with previous years, five-year trends and a look at desired directions for performance. This year’s PMMR data was also available on the city’s Open Data Portal, providing public access to all the information collected under the report. Kallos, an ardent supporter of transparent and accessible information and technology, praised MOO for this effort.

“We really take care not to take a one-size-fits-all approach to targets and indicators in the PMMR and MMR,” said Mindy Tarlow, MOO director, at one point during Wednesday’s hearing. “We try to see each indicator and each agency as a complex diverse case that’s in some ways reflective of the complex diverse city that we’re monitoring and reporting on.”

City Council members took turns questioning Tarlow and her colleague Tina Chiu, deputy director for performance management. The members usually stuck with issues germane to issue committees they chair or sit on, but the larger concerns voiced at the hearing were about the lack of targets for many critical performance indicators and the ways in which targets are set and the reports are improved.

Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the government operations committee, commended MOO for changes they had made to the PMMR based on recommendations from a December 2015 hearing about how targets were defined in the reports. This year’s PMMR included a more nuanced description of targets, which can be numeric or directional. Numeric targets set expected performance levels including a maximum that should not be exceeded or a minimum level that should be met. Directional targets indicate whether an indicator should go up or down. Many indicators had no target at all, which gave cause for concern to Kallos and Dick Dadey, executive director of government reform group Citizens Union, who testified at the hearing.

When Kallos asked why certain indicators had no targets, citing the number of lawsuits brought against the city as an example, Tarlow clarified that many of these indicators are “neutral” statistics out of their control, such as certain population numbers, for which it’s impossible to set directional targets.

“Although the committee is pleased that some improvements have been made,” Kallos said in his opening statement, “our review of the most recent PMMR suggests that further changes could make both of these publications more helpful tools for the Council, the public, as well as  the agencies.”

The City Council, in its Monday response to the mayor’s preliminary budget for fiscal year 2017, identified 57 indicators across 18 agencies that they want included in the MMR going forward. Kallos brought this up at the hearing, specifically pointing to indicators for the Board of Standards and Appeals, which falls under the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which is under Kallos’ committee’s oversight. He also mentioned a City Council data study that found 107 indicators (70 critical ones) where there was a 28 percent discrepancy over last year’s PMMR and average performance over the prior three years.

kallos rules hearingKallos (pictured*) also questioned Tarlow and Chiu about indicators relating to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the 311 helpline system and the Department of Homeless Services, but his main concerns were about holding people accountable for changes to the PMMR and MMR, further clarifying how targets are defined, minimizing the number of indicators without targets, and linking performance indicators in the PMMR to the corresponding allocations in the preliminary budget, as the City Charter mandates for the PMMR.

“Who has ultimate responsibility for the changes that are being implemented?” Kallos asked Tarlow, frustrated that Council members’ requests for additional indicators in the past had been routinely agreed to by agencies but not followed through on. “Is it with the agency or Operations, and how do those changes actually end up happening?

Tarlow stressed that the creation and addition of indicators was a collaborative process with agencies. “We don’t dictate play to the agencies and the agencies don’t just unilaterally make changes,” she said, agreeing to consider improvements in communication with Council members. She also said that they had started to work with the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget to cross-reference and link the PMMR with the preliminary budget.

Kallos’ concerns were echoed by Dadey, who reiterated recommendations that Citizens Union had made in the past, which shows, he said, “a challenge that we face that we’ve been back here several times making the same recommendations and while some of them get adopted we think that some of the more common sense ones are not being embraced and we’re at a loss to understand why.”

Dadey floated three specific proposals: setting targets for half the indicators in the report which had no metrics to judge them by (the number of indicators with no target increased from 948 to 961 this year from last); providing more budget detail alongside performance indicators; and expanded reporting on cross-agency initiatives to track transparency (for instance Freedom of Information Law requests) and voting registration programs at agencies.

He called the lack of targets for half the proposals “disconcerting” as “it indicates one of two troubling possibilities. Either the agency experienced difficulty in setting goals in coordination with the office of the mayor or that these goals have been established and are possibly being concealed from the public. Neither is satisfactory,” he said.

To the administration’s credit, MOO has made effort to add sections on multi-agency initiatives, such as IDNYC, which was eventually folded into the report on the Human Resources Administration. “That’s what we want,” Tarlow said in response to questions from Council Member Carlos Menchaca. “To really feature a multi-agency new initiative and then have it be so routine that it becomes baked into the fabric of what we do on a day-to-day basis.”

Menchaca wanted to know how the PMMR and MMR reports evolve and about efforts to make the report machine readable. His larger concern, as chair of the Council’s immigration committee, was that the data be accessible to New York’s immigrant communities. “What do you do to get the report out in other languages?,” he asked.

Tarlow’s answer was unimpressive. “I actually don’t know,” she said.

Lisa Neary, general counsel for the Independent Budget Office, also testified, although less about the content of the reports than the process. IBO had testified at the December 2015 hearing as well, recommending legislation that would require citizen surveys to be included in the reports. The idea has been championed for a long time by Baruch Professor Doug Muzzio and a relevant bill has been introduced by Council Member Corey Johnson, though it has not received a vote.

On Wednesday, Neary focused on the timing of the two reports. She said the PMMR being released early in the year was inadequate since it only accounts for the first four months of the financial year (July to October).

“With only this partial picture in hand,” Neary said, “the Council lacks crucial information that would allow you to link objectives to resources, and resources to outcomes.” She cited the current PMMR’s data on Department of Education programs, where at least a dozen critical indicators were listed as “not available.” She said the MMR’s release was “even more poorly timed,” and should be some time between January and June to have maximum influence on budget decisions.

When Kallos asked her for suggestions, she said perhaps the MMR should be released with the executive budget in May and then a full accounting of the year should come out in October or November. “The key thing is to have as much information as you can at the time that you’re making resource allocation decisions,” she said.

Council Member Mark Levine, chair of the parks committee, questioned Tarlow and Chiu about PMMR indicators on park maintenance and capital park projects, as well as on the lack of information on eviction prevention and legal services. Council Member Vincent Gentile, in keeping with his position as chair of the oversight and investigations committee, asked MOO to consider tracking the performance of individual Inspectors General under the Department of Investigation. Tarlow had ready answers for both Council members and promised to discuss their concerns with individual agencies.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

*Photo of Ben Kallos by William Alatriste

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization to Citizens Union.

Push for a Better Mayor's Management Report Continues Thu, 07 Apr 2016 19:34:38 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, Feb. 15-19 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York

Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday February 19

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio celebrates the launch of the LinkNYC wifi hubs, via The Mayor's Office; Governor Cuomo rallies to promote paid family leave, via The Governor's Office.

de blasio LINKNYC

cuomo paid family leave motion


1. Closing Rikers: City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called for a commission to study the potential of closing Rikers Island jails during her State of the City address last week, sparking discussions on what to do about the city’s notorious complex. Mayor de Blasio said closing Rikers is a “noble concept,” but unrealistic, while his wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray, called closing Rikers a “great idea.” Mark-Viverito has continued the discussion this week, explaining that the criminal justice reforms aim to reduce the number of New Yorkers who end up in Rikers, diminishing the population in the jail. [Read: Mark-Viverito 'Doubles Down' on Criminal Justice Reform in State of the City]

2. Mayor Signs Raises, Reforms: Mayor de Blasio signed a package of legislation into law today that raises the salaries of the city’s elected officials by at least 12 percent and reforms the job descriptions of City Council members, even though the raises for Council members were $10,185 higher than what he initially approved. While the Council has been praised for several good government reforms included in the bills, the lack of public input, rushed timeline, and size of the pay increase has sparked criticism. [Read: De Blasio to Sign Higher Raises for Council Than He Previously Approved]

3. Stop-and-Frisk: A report released Tuesday by a court-appointed federal monitor found that NYPD officers are still unclear about changes to stop-and-frisk rules, leading many to continue to stopping New Yorkers on the streets without providing a just cause. Stop-and-frisks have decreased from 685,000 in 2011 to 24,000 in 2015, yet according to the report, officers failed to explain the grounds on which they stopped someone to question them in more than a fourth of all stops.

4. Vacant Lots: An audit released by city Comptroller Scott Stringer criticized the city for not using vacant lots to create more affordable housing after finding that more than 1,000 city-owned lots have been sitting vacant for over 30 years. The audit faults the Department of Housing Preservation and Development for routinely failing to properly turn over land to developers. City officials have called Stringer’s report “false and misleading,” saying many of the properties lack basic infrastructure and that many others are in line for development.

5. Shelter Squalor: An audit released by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli slammed the Cuomo administration for a severe lack of oversight of homeless shelters, saying the state’s failure led to squalid living conditions, including rodent infestations, fire hazards, and mold. Auditors noted that 22 of the 47 most serious issues had previously been pointed out in annual inspections, but had never been corrected. Governor Cuomo has since conceded “the state was not aggressive enough for a period of time.”


  • 10,000 people are currently locked up at Rikers Island, NY1’s Errol Louis writes for the Daily News.
  • 24,000 stop-and-frisk stops in 2015 - a 661,000 decrease in the number of stop-and-frisks since 2011, the Times reports.
  • 75 schools across New York City will overhaul math teaching, Chalkbeat reports.
  • 1,000 city-owned lots or more have been sitting vacant for over 30 years, according to an audit from city Comptroller Scott Stringer.
  • $47 million from the state will be spent on the development of the Empire Outlets on Staten Island as part of a “multi-pronged subsidy that increased after the developers contributed $85,000 to the governor’s campaign,” Politico reports.
  • 16 shelters with rodent and vermin infestations statewide, 18 with fire safety issues, and 8 with mold growing in residents’ rooms, an audit by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli criticizing the Cuomo administration for failing to provide adequate oversight of homeless shelters revealed.
  • 200 recommendations for improving East Harlem and informing Mayor de Blasio’s rezoning plan from a coalition of East Harlem stakeholders, Gotham Gazette reports.
  • 490,000 New Yorkers on the welfare roles over the course of 2015, with the average family of three receiving $826 per month under the system, and an individual receiving about $485, Gotham Gazette reports.


  • It was a good week for First Lady of New York City Chirlane McCray, who made several media appearances this week to discuss the city’s mental health roadmap, which McCray spearheads, and was extensively and favorably profiled in The New York Times Magazine and in Jezebel.
  • And, it was a good week for the city’s 64 elected officials, all of whom received at least a 12 percent increase to their salaries today.
  • It was a bad week for Governor Cuomo after state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released an audit that criticized the Cuomo administration for failing to provide enough oversight of homeless shelters.


  • Around this time 65 years ago, on February 16, 1951, the City Council passed a bill barring racial discrimination in housing projects, according to NY1.
  • Around this time 63 years ago, on February 17, 1953, a New York federal court delayed the executions of Cold War spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to allow time for a final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Their appeal failed, and the two were executed in New York months later, according to NY1.



In Departure from Predecessors, De Blasio Administration Overhauls City Welfare System, by Samar Khurshid

De Blasio to Sign Higher Raises for Council Than He Previously Approved, by Meg O’Connor

To Influence Rezoning, East Harlem Stakeholders Preempt City Plan With Own, by Maggie Calmes

Eyeing 100 Schools, Will Success Academy Expand to Staten Island? by Samar Khurshid

'New York Values' in Historical Perspective, by Bruce W. Dearstyne (opinion)

'Making A Murderer' Flaws All Around Us, by Christopher Beall (opinion)

Rebuilding NYCHA: A Fresh Look, by Nicholas D. Bloom (opinion)

Goodbye to ‘First Generation’ NYCHA, by Nicholas D. Bloom and Matthew G. Lasner (opinion)

Looks Matter, Especially in Public Housing, by Nicholas D. Bloom and Matthias Altwicker (opinion)


Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max and DNAinfo reporter Danielle Tcholakian discussed Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan on BRIC TV.

Council members Donovan Richards and David Greenfield spoke with NY1’s Grace Rauh about Mayor de Blasio’s city-wide rezoning plan.

Daily News reporter Greg Smith joined NY Slant’s Alexis Grenell and Nick Powell to discuss all sides of the affordable housing debate, and whether the de Blasio administration has assuaged concerns about gentrification.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito appeared on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show to discuss the criminal justice reforms proposed in her State of the City address and potentially closing Rikers Island.

Mayor de Blasio spoke with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer about the proposed federal cuts to counter-terrorism funding for New York City, the pay hikes for elected officials, the debate between Apple and the FBI, and more.

NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max:

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

The Week That Was in New York Politics, Feb. 15-19 Fri, 19 Feb 2016 17:20:17 +0000
Homeless Young Adults Can Fall through a Crack in Shelter System crackinshelter.jpg

Julie Laurence, Chief Program Officer at Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS) with one of their members at their drop-in center. (Photo by City Limits/Adi Talwar)

Turning 21 is a milestone with a different meaning for a homeless youth in New York. When that day arrives, he or she usually must leave the city's youth shelter system, and they also lose many essential services. If they haven't found permanent housing on their own, they are forced back out onto the street. They can go into the large adult shelter system, but most youth don't feel safe mixed into the general adult population. Yet the city's supportive housing and the new LINC housing program are accessible only through shelters, meaning young people can miss out.

"The youth population is not provided with anywhere near enough resources to prevent them from becoming chronically homeless adults," says Craig Hughes, Assistant Director of Resource Counseling at Safe Horizon's Streetwork Project. "Without access to housing subsidies provided by the City, as well as resources such as public housing and consistent access to supportive housing, far too many homeless young people are at significant risk for violence, abuse and exploitation."

Read more at City Limits

Homeless Young Adults Can Fall through a Crack in Shelter System Wed, 03 Feb 2016 15:54:31 +0000
At Homelessness Forum, Manhattanites Voice Local Concerns on Pressing Issue Mendez homelessness town hall

Homelessness town hall on the East Side (photo via @RosieMendez)

At a Tuesday night town hall hosted by City Council Members Dan Garodnick and Rosie Mendez at Gramercy’s Church of the Epiphany, stakeholders voiced concerns about problems related to homelessness, an increasingly controversial issue facing the East Side of Manhattan.

After presentations from city officials and nonprofit leaders who work on homelessness issues, local residents asked questions about how they can resolve problems specific to the area, like the myriad issues with the 850-bed 30th Street Men’s Shelter (also known as “Bellevue”).

“New York City is dealing with a homeless crisis today,” said Council Member Garodnick in his opening remarks. “And this crisis is felt rather acutely in our neighborhood, because we have a lot of facilities which are serving homeless people.”

The most significant one, Garodnick added, being Bellevue.

One audience member asked officials about reducing the size of the shelter: “Can we really think about a path or a strategy to get [the 30th Street Men’s Shelter] from 800 beds to 200 beds, which could then be manageable for all of the fabulous people that work there and all the great programs that you’re doing?”

Garodnick replied that “850 beds is obviously far too large for a particular community to deal with and we see the effects of that every day. We also have a crisis in the city where the city can’t find, build, access facilities sufficiently enough and quick enough to be able to deal with the problem in the entire city.”

Bellevue was a frequent topic of concern and conversation Tuesday night.

“How many people at the 30th Street Center are paroled violent felony offenders?” one person asked. “It’s never related to the public, so we have no way of knowing.”

Though officials mentioned that Bellevue has no sex offenders, they did not indicate that the city has the same knowledge about violent offenders. “I can’t answer that question, because we don’t track every crime category of every client that comes into the shelter system,” Department of Homeless Services security official Louis A. Molina said. Molina also followed up with the person who asked the question after the Q&A session.

Around two hundred people attended the event. In addition to brief remarks from Garodnick and Mendez, other speakers included Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Liz Krueger, Council Member Ben Kallos, and Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steve Banks - who is leading the de Blasio administration’s review of its homelessness policies. Garodnick led the fielding of audience questions.

Banks informed the audience about the city’s new Home-Stat program, which is aimed at helping those living on the streets, and reiterated support for a “commitment that was made to the community to convert a number of beds at Bellevue into an employment program.” Banks left the forum early to assist a street outreach team, but said that he would receive the community’s input from staff members that attended.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio announced the hire veteran health administrator Dr. Herminia Palacio as deputy mayor for health and human services. The position, which includes oversight of homeless policy, had been vacant since August.

The forum amid heightened political and policy controversy around homelessness, which has become a multifaceted crisis for de Blasio. After months of criticism over the city’s response to it, the de Blasio administration began a 90-day review of its policies and announced the departure of Gilbert Taylor from his post as head of the beleaguered Department of Homeless Services.

Homelessness is also the latest policy issue in the crosshairs of the feud between de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a harsh critic of the city’s management. On Jan. 13, Cuomo will reveal a plan for the city’s homelessness in his State of the State address.  

Earlier this week, Cuomo issued an executive order mandating that municipalities across the state make efforts to move all street homeless individuals into shelters during below-freezing temperatures; that shelter hours are expanded; and that shelters are kept in good condition. De Blasio has indicated that the order would not alter city policy.

During Tuesday’s East Side forum, Commissioner Banks explained that community input will influence his review and recommendations.

“During our 90-day review, we’re certainly going to be looking at how to implement the kind of employment programs that we want to implement, from HRA’s perspective, from DHS’ perspective, and from the community and from the leadership of the community’s perspective,” Banks said.

by Ryan Brady, Gotham Gazette

At Homelessness Forum, Manhattanites Voice Local Concerns on Pressing Issue Wed, 06 Jan 2016 23:10:59 +0000
Something Cuomo & De Blasio Agree On: City Shelters Need Improvement cuomo thanksgiving

Gov Cuomo (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)

As homelessness has become the latest front in the rivalry between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, there is at least one thing that the State and the City agree on: New York City homeless shelters need improvement.

Considering all of the political posturing and seeming lack of coordination between city and state officials, the fact that eyes and efforts are being trained on substandard shelter conditions for tens of thousands of New Yorkers who lack stable housing, this source of agreement may lead to positive results.

"Homeless people don't want to go into a shelter," Cuomo said Monday during an aside as he gave a speech on his minimum wage push. "Why? Because it's dirty, it's unsafe. So they're staying out on the street...It's just not right...It's not right to have a shelter system that is so dirty and unsafe, that people have to stay on the street corner."

"Shelters absolutely have to be improved," de Blasio said Monday as he continued to be peppered by press questions about Cuomo's new executive order, which was announced Sunday and deals with homelessness in several ways, including insisting that shelters are in good condition. As Cuomo acknowledged to reporters on Monday, the state has oversight of homeless shelters across New York.

"There's been a safety issue in shelters for years, in fact for decades," de Blasio said, in what is a common refrain: that his administration is taking steps to mend a mess it inherited.

On Monday, de Blasio again pointed to the "shelter repair squad" that the city announced in May after a damning Department of Investigations report (which de Blasio had asked for), and said that "there are very real things that have to be fixed in our shelters...we're on the case."

For many, though, de Blasio isn't acting quickly or effectively enough in reducing the city's street and shelter homeless populations, which total around 60,000 people, or in improving the quality of the city's shelters. Thus leading to Cuomo's executive order and his promise to lay out new policy this month. A recently released audit from Comptroller Scott Stringer - which Cuomo referenced on Monday - brought further detail to shelter problems.

Calling the audit a "damning commentary on the shelter system," Cuomo said he'd be "contacting the comptroller, literally this week" to go over the report and Stringer's proposed remedies. Stringer's audit shows deplorable conditions in many shelters and a lack of city oversight of shelter providers with whom they contract.

In response to the audit, the de Blasio administration said it largely agree with Stringer's recommendations and explained that progress was already being made, including in terms of the repair unit, which, it said on Dec. 21, had "already cleared more than 12,000 violations and will continue until all are cleared."

De Blasio and his aides have continued to push back against some of the criticisms of their management of the homelessness crisis while the city also undergoes a shakeup in leadership and a reassessment of all aspects of its approach to the issue. They cite major increases in rental assistance programs and a significant increase in funding toward new supportive housing units, calling on Cuomo to match.

And, even as that 90-day review progresses, new homelessness-related policies have been rolled out by de Blasio and Steve Banks, commissioner of the city's Human Resources Administration and the administration's point-person on homelessness.

One of those announcements also came Monday: a plan to phase out so-called cluster site homeless sheltering over the next three years. Cluster siting means apartments being rented by the city as shelters, for which the city pays landlords above market-rate prices to provide shelter and services. But, this approach has proven ineffective on several levels, including the condition in which many landlords keep the cluster units - they had been found to be in the worst condition of all shelter types by the DOI.

The governor's executive order, which goes into effect Tuesday, includes a mandate that shelters are kept in good condition: "I direct all local social services districts to comply with their obligation to ensure that all facilities used for temporary housing assistance placements are safe, clean, well maintained and supervised and fully compliant with existing state and local laws, regulations, administrative directives, and guidelines," the order reads.

Stringer's audit says that the city has been placing "homeless families with children in shelters plagued by rodents, mold, peeling paint, and broken windows," among other structural and maintenance problems. There are also problems with theft and violence at and around some shelters.

De Blasio said multiple times Monday that the city must "fix" shelter problems and indicated he feels the city is on the right track. Banks said progress has been made, but also that these processes are under review like everything else involved in the city's approach to homelessness.

Cuomo said on Monday that he would be laying out a "comprehensive plan on the entire matter" in his Jan. 13 State of the State and budget address. He indicated that improving the shelter system will be a part of that plan, saying, "We have to improve the shelter system, one way or another."

Shelters in all New York municipalities are under the governor's purview, of course. "The state regulates the city system," Cuomo said Monday. "The constitutional responsibility runs to the state. The state delegates the responsibility to local - what they call local service districts - basically, cities. We regulate and we reimburse the shelters all across the state. If shelters are not up to code, then we are going to be very diligent in our inspection and management of the existing shelter system. I'm going to lay out that program in the State of the State."

Though they may not be working hand in hand, Cuomo and de Blasio both now own the homelessness crisis, including the shelter crisis therein.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Something Cuomo & De Blasio Agree On: City Shelters Need Improvement Mon, 04 Jan 2016 22:59:57 +0000
City Fights to Stem Annual Tide of Summer Family Homelessness BdB Taylor DHS

Mayor de Blasio, at podium, & DHS Commissioner Taylor, left (photo: @NYCDHS)

New York City is home to about 10 percent of the homeless population in the United States. By the end of 2014, the number of homeless in the city's shelters reached a historic high of nearly 60,000 that included 25,849 children. But since the start of this year, there has been an 11 percent decrease in homeless children. As of July 10, the figure stood at 22,864 homeless children according to city data (with 55,837 total homeless individuals).

Traditionally, though, when the school year ends there is a jump in the number of families applying to stay in homeless shelters. This year, New York City may have broken that trend.

While the number of single adults in the city's shelters is still increasing, there has been a slight but steady decrease in the number of homeless families. This reversal is giving hope to those advocating for the homeless that the summer spike in family homelessness may not be happening this year. They credit this to new programs under the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to help homeless families move out of shelters and into housing. The administration has also upped efforts to help at-risk families stay in their homes.

New programs are tailored to help homeless families whose situations are often different from those of homeless single adults. About one-third of homeless families have at least one working adult, according to Gabriela Sandoval, policy analyst at Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit group. "It's not that they don't have an income, it's that their income might not be enough to have an apartment," she says of these families. Eviction, domestic violence, and overcrowding of one apartment by multiple families have been identified as the main causes of family homelessness in New York City.

The last few years, the summertime increase in family homelessness has been significant. While the number of homeless families has been rising consistently for years, there is typically a sudden jump of about 500 or more families around the end of each school year, according to Sandoval.

There are several reasons for this surge. To avoid moving to a shelter during the school year, many families double up, that is, live with other families in cramped living conditions. When the school year ends, all the children from both families are home during the day. This increases stress on the host family, often to a point where they ask the other family to leave.

Going to a homeless shelter can mean disrupting or changing a child's school. Some parents who are trying to give stability to their children end up staying in normally unacceptable living conditions while waiting for the end of the school year. Landlords are also less hesitant to evict families with children in the summer than they are in the wintertime.

Families that enter the shelter system at the start of the summer do not necessarily leave once the summer ends, of course. For many, initial sheltering becomes long-term, with the average family stay in the shelter system at over 400 days.

"The kids are really the voiceless victims in the whole system," says Sandoval. Jeff Foreman, policy director of Care for the Homeless, agrees and describes the impact of homelessness on children as "phenomenal."

Last year, 1,800 babies were born in New York City's shelters. "Kids who are born in shelter can be in shelter long enough that they have those incredibly important developmental years—learn to walk and maybe talk—while they're growing up in a shelter," says Foreman. This is the case for Elizabeth, whose grandchildren are growing up in a shelter and who spoke with Gotham Gazette about her family's experience. Elizabeth came with her daughter and her children to a shelter three years ago, hoping that the stay would be temporary. "His first steps, he took in here," she says of her three-year-old grandson growing up at the shelter.

Shelter conditions affect parents and other caregivers, which in turn affects children in the family. Elizabeth and her daughter both regularly meet with a therapist to treat depression. Even though the family has an apartment in the shelter, they still have to deal with a curfew, restrictions on visitors, and water getting cut off for hours at a time. Last winter, Elizabeth and her family had no heat or hot water for three days. "There's nothing you can do," she says of the situation. "The stress is getting to me."

Studies show that homelessness also takes a toll on children's academic performance - it leads to more missed school days, and higher dropout and grade failure rates. Homelessness also leads to developmental delays, health problems, and higher rates of depression and other emotional problems. "It's a life-long impact if you're in a shelter long enough," says Foreman.

The summer spike in family homelessness has occurred consistently since at least 2005 when the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg ended programs that gave homeless families priority access to public housing. The administration felt that this policy was an incentive for families to become homeless so that they could jump the line and get quick access to subsidized housing.

In the decade that followed, the number of homeless families in New York City increased from 8,722 to a high of 14,524 in January 2015. The situation worsened in 2011 when the administration, facing budget issues on the city and state levels, also ended its Advantage program, started in 2007, which was providing temporary rent subsidies to families. Once again, the administration felt it was incentivizing homelessness. "One theory is that some people have been coming into the homeless system, the shelter system, in order to qualify for a program that helps you move out of the homeless system," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at the time.

The current commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, Gilbert Taylor, does not share that view. "These are not single individuals who enter the shelter system by themselves. But rather these are mothers and fathers, these are aunts and uncles, these are grandparents, who are caretakers of the children who are in tow," he told Gotham Gazette. "And it matters. If you have a child, you really think about what's best for your child."

The current administration has introduced eight new programs to decrease homelessness. Many of these programs are targeted at helping families with children. In 2015, there appears to be something of a breakthrough, with a sustained decrease in the number of homeless families. "We've been hopeful for a very long time. It's just that this year, we're finally seeing...some changes in the right direction," says Sandoval.

At an affordable housing press conference on Monday, de Blasio discussed the state of homelessness in the city, saying, "Homelessness is not going up, thank God. The number of street homeless has gone down a little. We have a long way to go. The number of folks in a shelter has gone down about two or three thousand. We have much more work to do."

The CITYFEPS and Living in Communities, or LINC, programs provide eligible families with assistance in paying rent to move them out of the shelter system. CITYFEPS is a rent supplement program for families that are living in or at risk of entering shelters due to a recent eviction or foreclosure. LINC are rental assistance programs that are also intended to move families out of shelters. Three of the six versions of the LINC program are specifically for families. LINC I is for families with at least one working adult, LINC II is for families that have had multiple stays in shelters, and LINC III is for victims of domestic violence. "There's really evidence here of the start of the success of these programs," says Foreman.

The city is also financially supporting landlords who are often reluctant to rent to homeless families. This support includes providing incentives such as a signing bonus and security fund. The current administration has also restored priority access for homeless families to public housing. These policies led to over a thousand families making the transition from shelter to public housing in the last fiscal year.

In the past, the city often coped with the summer increase of homeless families by opening new shelters. But many of these emergency shelters lacked facilities, such as kitchens, needed for family living, like the Pan Am Hotel in Queens that was converted into a shelter last summer, and was widely criticized after bug and rat infestations were exposed.

This year, to check the summer increase in homeless families, DHS has stepped up efforts to prevent families from becoming homeless.

The recently passed fiscal year 2016 budget, which went into effect July 1, increases funding for homelessness prevention. This builds on last year's increase when the administration doubled Homebase, the homelessness prevention services that DHS provides through various nonprofit organizations. Homebase tries to keep families out of the shelter system by providing legal services, rent arrears and other grants, as well as mediation to help them stay in their homes. DHS boasts a 95 percent success rate for families it helped keep their homes last year through Homebase. The agency has also stepped up outreach efforts with an ad campaign targeting at-risk communities as well as a television ad encouraging families facing eviction to contact Homebase. Toward the end of the school year, DHS partnered with the Department of Education to reach out through schools to help families identified as at risk of losing their housing.

Through its programs, DHS is also trying to provide after-care services to avoid families returning to shelters when their subsidy ends, as happened at the end of Advantage. "We offer after-care services that help our clients connect to their communities in a way that will make their movement from shelter be long-standing and permanent," said Taylor. "Part of the after-care services for working families is really thinking about ways in which those employed can build wealth, can build income, and be prepared to afford and maintain their housing at the end of the subsidy period, which is up to five years."

These after-care services are targeted to the particular need of the population of each program and include help with maintaining employment and building income, providing access to vocational training, and aid in safely maintaining housing. "I would like to hope that it is a sustainable decrease, that the number of families that are leaving are leaving permanently," says Sandoval.

The city's fiscal 2016 budget is seen positively by providers of homeless services. "There's a lot of big victories in there," Foreman says of this year's budget. He estimates that there is theoretically enough funding to provide housing vouchers for 800 households under the eight new programs. This could mean thousands of people moving out of shelters and into permanent housing. Another victory in the budget is more funds for DHS to hire housing specialists to help homeless individuals find and keep permanent homes.

Despite the beginnings of progress, as de Blasio said on Monday, a lot more needs to be done to combat the city's chronic homelessness problem. Advocates would like the five-year time limit on the LINC programs for families to be extendable on the basis of need to avoid a return to shelter after the subsidy expires. And, while this administration is allocating 750 NYCHA apartments annually to the homeless, advocates want the number increased to at least 2,500.

Advocates are also seeking over 30,000 new supportive housing units in the city through New York/New York. These are affordable units, jointly funded by the city and the state, with targeted support services within the building for tenants with particular needs such mental illness, substance abuse, or having exited the foster system or incarceration. In New York City, many of the people in supportive housing have come through the shelter system.

On Friday, July 10, New York State Assembly Social Services Chair Andrew Hevesi released a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo calling for 35,000 new supportive housing units. The letter, signed by a bipartisan group of 133 Assembly members, specifically asked for 10,150 units for families. "There's definitely more that the city should be doing," says Sandoval, "and the state should be doing."

For now, the city is processing summer shelter applications from homeless families. While a summertime increase is expected, the numbers may finally be smaller this year. For those who do come to the city's Bronx family intake center to apply for shelter, DHS will also be providing resources to help them stay in their homes in the chance that it is still possible. What will not be known until later in the year is if the summertime surge, even a smaller one than usual, will be offset by the number of families moving out of shelters.

"You don't turn a ship in a day," said Foreman, before adding, "it is beginning to work."

by Zehra Rehman, Gotham Gazette

City Fights to Stem Annual Tide of Summer Family Homelessness Mon, 13 Jul 2015 22:32:45 +0000
Proven Homelessness-Fighting Program Loses State Funding, Faces Uncertain Future Cuomo church appearance

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Office of the Governor - Kevin P. Coughlin) 

More than 60,000 people will spend the night in a New York City homeless shelter tonight. Estimates suggest roughly one-third struggle with untreated mental illness, many of whom find themselves trapped in a turbulent cycle of life including jail, psychiatric wards, homeless shelters and living on the streets.

Proven Homelessness-Fighting Program Loses State Funding, Faces Uncertain Future Tue, 02 Jun 2015 21:45:50 +0000