Gotham Gazette Fri, 21 Feb 2020 04:11:50 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Max & Murphy Podcast: The City Council's Plan to Reduce Homelessness spk co jo ste lev

Council Member Steve Levin & Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

February 12, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: The City Council's Plan to Reduce Homelessness

ste levin wbaiCity Council Member Stephen Levin joined the show to discuss the City Council's new report and plan to reduce homelessness in New York City. Levin, chair of the Council committee with oversight of homelessness, was involved in crafting the report and its many recommendations.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: The City Council's Plan to Reduce Homelessness Wed, 12 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Johnson Unveils ‘Holistic, Long-Term’ Plan to Tackle City Homelessness Crisis cojo adv

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Thursday released a plan that he said takes a “smarter, more strategic, holistic, long-term” approach to addressing the city’s homelessness crisis, seeking to end what he called the siloed policies of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration and calling for more funding from the city and state to both help homeless individuals find permanent housing and prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.

“This is, without exaggeration, a humanitarian crisis in the wealthiest city in the United States of America, and the time has come for urgent action,” Johnson said at the steps of City Hall, standing with advocates from non-profit organizations that provide services to the homeless and Council Member Stephen Levin, who chairs the Council’s General Welfare Committee with oversight of homelessness.

There are roughly 80,000 individuals living in New York City homeless shelters or on the street, while tens of thousands of others are living doubled up with friends or relatives. Of that number, about 20,000 are children under the age of 18. De Blasio has released various homelessness plans and instituted many relevant programs, but the issue remains one of his main challenges. While the administration has been successful in slowing the growth of homelessness through rental subsidies, eviction protections, and new housing, over more than six years it has not been able to reduce the city’s homeless population.

“We know what we need to do. We know the policies that need to happen to make sure that we are doing the historic work to bring down our shelter census, to reduce the length of stay [in a shelter],” Levin said, noting that the average length of stay is 400 days.

He added, “Just think for a second about what it's like to be a three-year-old child, spending half of your life living in a hotel room without a refrigerator, without a kitchen, no place to do your homework, no place for recreation, limited opportunities for after school or any types of enrichment. What kind of stress that has on that child, what kind of stress that has on that family. Multiply that by 20,000. That’s what we’re facing.”

The Council’s plan released on Thursday is a 200-plus page document that has been in the works for 18 months, Johnson said, and would fundamentally rework the city’s current approach to homelessness that has shown limited results despite a massive increase in city spending.

The plan is extensive, with 90 policy recommendations under six umbrellas – preventing homelessness, increasing access to permanent affordable housing, increasing support for unsheltered homeless people, improving services for the sheltered population, consolidating housing and homelessness policy, and creating a long-term approach to the issue instead of “lurching from crisis to crisis,” Johnson said.

De Blasio has released different iterations of plans to fight homelessness. Most recently, in 2017, he announced a plan to build 90 new homeless shelters while closing down troubled cluster sites and inadequate hotels contracted by the city to temporarily house homeless people. In December 2019, he announced a new plan to end long-term street homelessness by enhancing outreach, opening more “safe haven” beds, and dedicating more city-subsidized apartments to those coming out of homelessness. 

But while he gave the mayor some credit, Johnson critiqued the de Blasio administration for effectively siloing homelessness from housing and not offering an overall plan to meet the real needs of the city’s most vulnerable. “That makes no sense,” he said, emphasizing that housing and homelessness are two sides of the same coin and proposing that the city create a new position of deputy mayor for homelessness and affordable housing (there is currently a deputy mayor for housing and economic development while the deputy mayor for health and human services oversees much of the approach to addressing homelessness).

“All of us know what ultimately solves homelessness is simple. It is housing,” said Nathylin Flowers, a homeless activist who said she will turn 74 in March and will have spent five years living in shelter. Flowers famously confronted de Blasio over his housing policies in 2018 while he was working out at the Prospect Park Y.M.C.A., to which he was dismissive. “That's all we need, housing,” she said.

Johnson noted that the city has massively increased spending on homelessness – the first budget passed under Mayor de Blasio spent $954 million on the Department of Homeless Services, while the mayor’s latest budget proposal for the 2021 fiscal year allocates more than $2.1 billion towards the agency. “Blind spending will not solve the homelessness crisis,” Johnson said.

One of the major steps Johnson said would immediately reduce the homeless population would be to increase the value of rental subsidy vouchers for those experiencing or at risk of homelessness from the current maximum of $1,580 to a fair market rate of up to $1,951. He largely placed responsibility for this measure on the state, calling on the Legislature to establish the Home Stability Support program proposed by Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi of Queens. The program would create a new statewide rental subsidy, but has so far been opposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

But Johnson also said the city should pitch in more funding if the state fails to act. According to estimates from the Council, increasing rental subsidies to fair market rate would cost about $236 million over five years, but simultaneously would help reduce spending on cluster sites and commercial hotels by about $400 million.

Johnson also said the city should prioritize increasing the number of safe haven beds and supportive housing for the chronically street homeless. “These are not just aspirational goals that are in this 200-plus page report,” Johnson said. “These are feasible policies that will work to help prevent homelessness, increase pathways to permanent housing, and support our neighbors who are currently experiencing homelessness.”

In response to Johnson's press conference and plan, de Blasio's office noted that the mayor still has two years left to address the homelessness crisis and that while he has admitted he should have done more earlier in his term, he has put a lot in place over the last few years. “Through unprecedented investments in legal services and housing resources, we’ve helped more than 140,000 New Yorkers secure permanent affordable homes, all while driving down evictions by over a third and overhauling our shelter system," said Avery Cohen, a de Blasio spokesperson, in a statement. "With our Journey Home Plan, we’ll be taking this progress even further—pledging to bring every last person experiencing long-term homelessness off our streets over the next five years. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with the Council as we do everything we can to bring more people home.”

Advocates and organizers heaped praise on the Council report at the news conference on Thursday. “It's not going to be one thing, and if it was, we would have solved it. It's many things done to scale that will help turn this crisis around,” said Catherine Trapani, executive director of Homeless Services United. “And that's what this report calls for.”

Johnson said at the press conference that the Council is also working on a housing plan, which will work in tandem with the homelessness plan to accomplish what the speaker stressed as an essential combination. It didn’t go unnoticed that Johnson’s announcement came the day after his likely 2021 Democratic mayoral primary opponent Comptroller Scott Stringer released a new affordable housing plan, which also assailed de Blasio for how he has approached that issue. Johnson stressed that, like Stringer’s, his was a government announcement, and that the Council had been working on the plan for well over a year, but also said that he expects housing and homelessness to be key pieces of the conversation in the mayoral race.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated with comment from Council Member Levin and from de Blasio's office.

Johnson Unveils ‘Holistic, Long-Term’ Plan to Tackle City Homelessness Crisis Thu, 30 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Following Our Faith, Marshaling Our Resources to Solve Homelessness in New York City unbranded hra

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

It was early evening on a street corner on the Upper West Side. A young woman rushed up to me and asked for money so she could buy some dinner.  She was flushed, out of breath, and pregnant. Stories like this are a frequent occurrence for any New Yorker who walks the streets and takes the subways.  

This young woman said she’d had a fight with her boyfriend and he’d kicked her out of their apartment. She had just been placed in a shelter and didn’t have supplies or food. Despite my desire, knowledge and connections, I couldn’t solve the complexities in her life that had brought us together. All I could do in that moment was give her enough money to buy a decent meal in the neighborhood. I did, and walked on, deeply troubled both by her situation and by my inability to make a real difference. 

As New Yorkers, we have an obligation to do something to help our neighbors who experience homelessness. The question is, how can we make a difference?  

Many people on the streets suffer from mental illness and substance use disorders and have histories of criminal justice involvement. Many had childhoods filled with domestic violence, child abuse, family instability, overcrowding, inadequate nutrition, inconsistent education, and poverty. The effects of structural racism make these problems even worse for people of color. Whether or not we give money to people asking for it, we must acknowledge the essential humanity of the person in front of us and support ways to make our society more compassionate, and effectively so.

It’s important to understand how homelessness has become so widespread, despite the dramatic increases in spending that have occurred under successive city administrations. It must be baffling that despite these increases, there seem to be so many people on the streets asking for help.

Some context matters. The number of single adults in shelters has increased by 65 percent in just the past six years. Sadly, this should be no surprise. The number of psychiatric hospital beds in the city has been significantly reduced from 2014 through 2018, and we are laudably moving to reduce incarceration rates (including the closing of Rikers Island, where 40 percent of the inmates have severe mental illness). The shelter system was never intended to be the housing solution for people suffering from serious mental illness – but where else, other than the streets, can they go?

In order to truly make a difference for New Yorkers who are homeless, we should concentrate our energy to make the city’s large shelter and support system fully realize its potential to help homeless people achieve maximum independence. This is in keeping with Jewish teaching, which urges us to ensure that poor people have what they lack in order to attain self-sufficiency.

We need to stop thinking of shelter as a band-aid or emergency. Shelters should be purpose-built with in-house services the clients need most. They should be small enough to be manageable, especially for clients that are severely challenged; and they should be operated by reputable nonprofit providers like mine, that are open 24/7/365, delivering social services, medical care for both physical and mental health, good nutrition, job training, and support to find permanent housing, all with good governance and oversight. 

Shelters like these should also be in every community—including yours! Many people are afraid of shelter and supportive housing opening in their neighborhoods. The prophet Isaiah urged that we should take the poor into our homes; this teaching was deemed so central that it is read every year on Yom Kippur. In our day, we can enact this mandate by committing to be vibrant communities that care for all members.

You can become involved by getting to know the nonprofits that operate in your community, and the people that run them. You can participate in Community Advisory Boards that meet regularly with nonprofit operators. You can volunteer, join a board of directors, and if you don’t feel comfortable giving handouts on the street, commit to providing ongoing financial support to the nonprofits that provide services.  

I invite you to join me on Sunday, January 26, for Reconstructing Judaism’s New York Day of Learning: Jewish Response to Homelessness in the New York Area. We’ll discuss how Jewish texts and values can guide both individual response and public policy, and explore how we can accomplish systematic change.  

I often think of that pregnant woman I’d met and hope that she and her child are now in better circumstances. What I know is that if we invest in shelters and affordable housing, and consider them communal responsibilities just like local hospitals and schools, we can make that crucial difference for people like her. No, we won’t eliminate homelessness, but we can help each and every person who is homeless find the right path forward for them. As we read in Pirkei Avot, a collection of rabbinic wisdom dating to the third century, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

Eric Rosenbaum is President and CEO of Project Renewal, a leading New York City homeless services agency, and is also a board member of Reconstructing Judaism, the central organization of the Reconstructionist Movement. On Twitter @reconjudaism.

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Following Our Faith, Marshaling Our Resources to Solve Homelessness in New York City Mon, 20 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
6 Keys to Reduce the Number of People Sleeping on the Streets and in the Subways hud sec julian castro mmv

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

The city’s homelessness crisis is well-documented and deeply troubling, including far too many people sleeping on the streets and in the subways. If it seems like there are more and more people in those situations, it is because there are: the estimated number jumped 23% from 2018 to 2019, based on the one-night winter HOPE Count, to about 3,500 in total.

The city’s efforts to reduce the street population have mostly failed. Nothing emphasizes this failure more than the recent murder of four homeless men who were sleeping on the streets in Chinatown.

The mayor's response to this tragedy was to increase the number of outreach workers and urge other city workers to call 311 about people living on the streets. However the city’s own statistics show that the number of placements into housing has actually dropped, per the Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), after having risen.

In addition, reporting has shown that many of the homeless people on the streets have been told that they must be seen on numerous occasions in the same spot in order to prove that they are homeless and qualify for a caseworker. If this wasn't bad enough, the process, once it begins, can take up to nine months before someone gets a placement in supportive housing.

There is an option other than going into a dangerous shelter, which many homeless people living on the streets or in the subways fear, or staying on the streets and in the subways, which is going into a drop-in center. Unfortunately, these drop-in centers were reduced by 50% during the Bloomberg administration.

A drop-in center is an oasis for homeless individuals living on the street. They can get food, clothing, showers, medical care, and meet with a social worker. These centers do not have beds, they have chairs but there is an option for people to be transported to a shelter or local church or synagogue where volunteers will help them stay for the night.

I have been advocating in writing and on television for four years for the city to increase the number of drop-in centers and the response has been to only open one part-time center in Queens. We need more -- there are only five full-time centers and only two of them are in Manhattan, which is the epicenter of street homelessness.

The most effective method for reducing homelessness has always been supportive housing. I ran two supportive housing programs, which provide a homeless person who is disabled, usually from mental illness or substance misuse, with an apartment and a social worker. Unfortunately, once again the city has failed in this effort, with placements at a 14-year low with only 1,300 supportive housing units opened of 15,000 promised four years ago, or less than 10%. These incredibly slow building and placement rates must be accelerated immediately.

The city recently announced the expansion of outreach efforts and addition of 1,000 safe haven beds. This is a step in the right direction as safe havens have only one or two clients in a room and are considered much safer than a regular shelter. Which begs the question: why aren't the other 12,000 beds for single adult males safe?

The number one reason people on the street give for not going into shelter is fear. Many of them have had bad experiences, ranging from assault to robbery. In fact a recent exposé by The City showed that crime is rampant in the single adult shelters and the Mayor's Management Report shows a 25% increase in serious violent incidents in adult shelters. A few weeks ago, two homeless men in an Upper West Side shelter got into a fight and one stabbed the other to death.

These shelters are patrolled by Department of Homeless Services peace officers and private security guards. The peace officers do not carry guns but they have tasers available to them and they have the power to make arrests. I have advocated for the NYPD to take a greater role in shelter security and a few years ago the mayor decided that the NYPD would supervise the security operation. However, a handful of officers is not enough.

The city should institute a 90-day pilot program where NYPD officers would be stationed 24/7 in the city’s two worst men’s shelters, at 30th Street and First Avenue and the Bedford Atlantic Armory, to support the DHS officers in their duties.

This suggestion will probably be met by criticism from some advocates as criminalizing those experiencing homelessness, but the fact is that homeless people are the victims of crimes committed inside the shelters to such an extent that many would rather sleep on the streets.

In addition to this pilot, the state must stop dumping thousands of newly released former prisoners into the shelter system. They must do a better job of discharge planning and setting up halfway houses to assimilate that population into society.

As we see more homeless New Yorkers on the streets and in the subways, it is time for new action by our government officials.

Robert Mascali is a former Deputy Commissioner at the NYC Department of Homeless Services and Vice President for Supportive Housing at Women in Need.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

6 Keys to Reduce the Number of People Sleeping on the Streets and in the Subways Mon, 13 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Many Major Challenges, Decisions for De Blasio in 2020 may townhall residents

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photo Office)

As Mayor Bill de Blasio enters his seventh year in office, on the heels of a failed presidential bid and at a time when his political clout appears at its nadir, he faces many major challenges and big decisions ahead.

2020, the next-to-last year of his second and final term, begins with a focus on public safety, including recent spikes in anti-Semitic hate crimes, murders, and byciclist fatalities, as well as how the city is adjusting to new state-mandated bail reforms that the mayor has criticized.

Then there are the intractable issues, such as homelessness, public housing, and school segregation, which continue to confront the mayor. There are issues that emerge every year during budget season, some predictably and others not, including how the state will treat the city, whether city spending can continue to rise as it has each year under de Blasio, and whether the city is prepared for the inevitable recession.

And then there are the more dormant issues coming to life or the surprises: Will de Blasio finally be forced to act on property tax reform? Will his jails plan advance on schedule? Who will he endorse in the Democratic presidential primary? Can he make more of his own good fortune by shifting course on any of his self-defeating habits or by becoming more creative and aggressive on certain challenges?

The mayor has two years to answer many crucial questions, determine where he will expend what political capital he has, and shape his legacy. While he will undoubtedly be known for his expansion of early childhood education, other elements of de Blasio’s legacy remain up in the air. He has shown some indications of attempted course-correction over the last few months after he abandoned his four-month bid for the presidency, the culmination, but perhaps not final chapter, in his yearslong quest for national prominence, largely at the cost of his work and image at home. Two key questions de Blasio will have to answer in 2020 are whom he will endorse in the Democratic presidential primary, likely Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, and how much of a role he will try to play in the national conversation.

With six years down and two to go, de Blasio’s mayoralty has already been the subject of a great deal of scrutiny, including his own consistent attempts to dispute how many portray his shortcomings and accomplishments. One of the essential questions for de Blasio in 2020 is whether he can significantly alter the larger narrative about him and his leadership, and shift how so many New Yorkers see him. He enters the year with his most recent approval rating of 25% among New York City voters, according to a Siena College poll, the lowest of his tenure as mayor.

But underlying those broader, big-picture questions are the details, and the many specific challenges and decisions de Blasio faces. While many New Yorkers are awaiting his plans on a variety of fronts -- from school desegregation to property taxes and more -- and are hoping for more progress on crises like homelessness and public housing conditions, de Blasio has an array of strengths and weaknesses, advantages and vulnerabilities as his seventh year as mayor begins.

The city’s economy is still growing, poverty has declined, jobs are at an all-time high, and unemployment is low. Most major crimes are at or near historic lows, even as arrests and summonses have massively decreased; the number of complaints of misconduct against police officers is relatively flat over four years, while the mayor’s many critics assail him as too soft on crime or a weak reformer of the police department.

De Blasio’s universal pre-kindergarten program has been broadly welcomed as a success, with its expansion to “3-K” in the works. His affordable housing and street safety programs have shown progress, though remain the subjects of intense debates over their scope. De Blasio must also implement a wide variety of more recent announcements, promises, and laws, including the closure of Rikers Island jails and development of revenue-generating housing on public housing authority land.

These and many more policies and programs, challenges and relationships, form the backdrop for the mayor’s 2020, which may very well be the last year for him to announce any new ideas that he has any hope to implement. As he hits the second half of his second term, the race to replace him will begin to intensify, with most if not all the candidates pitching themselves as a break from de Blasio in various ways.

But in his lame duck months, however many they may be, de Blasio could find new opportunities to work with City Council members seeking to burnish their resumes as they run for higher offices, including the Speaker, Corey Johnson, who has his eye on the mayoralty. And as always, de Blasio will be navigating his complicated relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo, beginning with what may be one of their most contentious budget seasons of their overlapping tenures.

Budgeting and Property Taxes
As the new year begins, the next budget season follows. The city’s budget has rapidly expanded under de Blasio, with projected spending hitting $94.3 billion for the current fiscal year which ends June 30, 2020, according to the latest budget modification released in November. That’s a whopping $21.6 billion more than the last budget modification under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, shortly before de Blasio took office.

The city’s Office of Management and Budget predicts that spending will break the $100 billion mark within the next two fiscal years, a number that has fiscal watchdogs worried since savings and reserves haven’t increased at the same rate.

The good news is that economic growth the city has seen for years is expected to continue, albeit perhaps at a slower pace, though fears of a recession have not entirely been eliminated. There are some signs of slowing – the growth of the national economy has fallen but the city’s economic growth experienced a slight uptick in the first nine months of 2019 compared to 2018, according to a December 13 report by Comptroller Scott Stringer. The report predicts that the city will have a modest surplus by the end of the current fiscal year (June 30) and that gaps in outyears will be smaller and manageable.

“We're six years into an administration and there hasn't ever really been a big push to reexamine how government is doing things and making sure it's doing it in the most efficient, effective way possible,” said Maria Doulis, vice president at Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog, noting that the City Council has been more focused on finding savings than the mayor. De Blasio has begrudgingly instituted certain budget savings programs and the results, according to watchdogs, have been more appearance than reality, and certainly more limited than those watchdogs would like.

At the same time as the Council has called for more savings, it has also pushed the mayor to provide more funding for its priorities, sometimes in the hundreds of millions, and has been effective in baselining several programs that will continue to be funded. The mayor will have to contend with that as well as any attempts by the governor to shift costs to the city, as he has done in the past. 

Doulis also noted the “real risks” to the city budget from rising costs at three major entities – the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), NYC Health+Hospitals, which are city-run and supported by a mix of funding, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which is effectively state-run, but with some city say via board seats, and receives city funding.

De Blasio’s 2020 approach to the next city budget will be closely scrutinized as it becomes more clear what type of fiscal shape he will leave the city in when his tenure ends. The city’s budget, due by July 1, will also again be significantly shaped by the state budget, due by April 1, and it will soon become clear what de Blasio asks of the state in its budget and legislative processes, as well as how he will react to Governor Cuomo’s annual executive budget proposal and how it treats the city.

As has been the case in the past, some years more than others, de Blasio may have to marshal support among members of the state Legislature to push back on certain aspects of Cuomo’s plan.

Another issue that will have a major impact on the city budget, though not in 2020, and need collaboration in Albany is a potential push for property tax reform, which the mayor has promised for years.

A commission created in 2018 by the mayor and Speaker Johnson has yet to issue its initial report, well past a promised deadline, while a lawsuit over alleged inequities in the system is making its way through the courts. Developments from either could force the mayor’s hand in 2020, when he has promised action. De Blasio has said that he will evaluate the commission’s recommendations and come up with his own agenda, including a 2020 push for needed state reforms, though that timeline has been seriously threatened by the commission’s delay.

De Blasio has vowed that any changes to the antiquated and unequal property tax system will have to be revenue neutral for the city, which relies on property taxes for tens of billions of dollars annually to fund the city budget.

“I think what happens with property tax reform will be important and something that the mayor and the Council speaker should really march ahead on,” Doulis said.

[Read: City's Property Tax Reform Delay Threatens Promise to Pursue Essential Changes in Albany]

Homelessness, Housing, and NYCHA
Homelessness continues to be an issue where the mayor has shown too little progress, despite a variety of significant new programs, a great deal of spending, multiple resets in approach, and adjustments to the city’s housing plan to build more rent-restricted units across the city and reduce the cost of housing. 

De Blasio has run into a number of obstacles as he’s sought to implement aspects of his housing policies, including local opposition to neighborhood rezonings and the placement of homeless shelters. The administration has passed a smaller number of neighborhood plans than it had hoped at this point, and the Inwood rezoning approved by the City Council last year was struck down by a judge just before the new year. Its fate, subject to legal appeal, is up in the air.

There are several rezonings left to accomplish and the city will have to make a concerted effort to move them across the finish line. Which ones de Blasio prioritizes and how effective the administration is at completing them are key questions for the year ahead. The list includes planned rezonings in Gowanus and Bushwick in Brooklyn, Southern Boulevard in the Bronx, and SoHo/NoHo in Manhattan, each at a different stage of the process. There is little time left for de Blasio to announce any new swaths of the city he may want to rezone before his time in office is up.

The administration is also hoping to advance a major redevelopment plan at Sunnyside Yards in Queens, the next iteration of which is expected to be released by the end of 2020. Some of the same elected officials who criticized the proposed Amazon satellite campus (a de Blasio-backed deal that came undone in shocking fashion, with some saying the mayor failed to aggressively sell its virtues and placate criticism) are apprehensive about how the city will approach this project.

In April, when he appointed Vicki Been as the new Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development to replace Alicia Glen, the mayor promised she would oversee another adjustment to his 300,000-unit affordable housing plan. Like property tax reform plans, it has yet to materialize.

There have been several recent developments that fit into the larger housing and homelessness plans, which some advocates say should be more completely integrated, along with public housing and the NYCHA rescue efforts.

On December 17, the mayor announced a new five-year plan to end chronic street homelessness that includes opening 1,000 new “safe haven” beds, converting 1,000 privately-owned housing units into new permanent housing for those leaving homelessness, expanded outreach, health care, and rental subsidies. The administration has celebrated its effective efforts to cut down on evictions through free legal services for many low-income households and in re-housing thousands of people who have wound up in city shelters.

Still, there are estimated to be more than 75,000 individuals in various city-run shelters and another 3,500 on the streets or in the subways, and de Blasio has not adjusted his 2017 goal of reducing the city Department of Homeless Services shelter census from about 62,500 to 57,500 over five years.

“The main message that we would want for both Mayor de Blasio and any elected official to have going into 2020 is that whatever progress has been made is never going to be enough until we actually end homelessness in New York City,” said Jacquelyn Simone, policy analyst at Coalition for the Homeless.

She applauded a bill passed by the City Council in December, after a compromise with the de Blasio administration, that would require real estate developers who receive city subsidies for projects of 40 units or more to set aside at least 15% of new units for homeless families.

“We hope the mayor signs that bill into law soon and we also hope that the administration goes above and beyond the minimum requirements established in that bill,” Simone said. “Following through on and going above and beyond the general homeless housing commitments, I think would be one main priority. We would also like to see Mayor de Blasio accelerate the supportive housing pipeline that he has made.”

The mayor announced in 2015 that the city would build 15,000 supportive housing apartments in 15 years and Symone said that timeline should be shrunk to 10 years considering the urgency of the homelessness crisis.

On the public housing front, though the administration has been successful in stabilizing the operating finances of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), its plan to raise funds for capital repairs from new infill projects that create mixed-income housing, has stalled. The authority has a $32-billion five-year capital need for repairs and maintenance, and the city has managed to identify $24 billion over 10 years through various mechanisms that must be executed. A new chair and CEO, Gregory Russ, was appointed in June to manage the scandal-ridden agency, which is also under the watchful eye of a federal monitor who has been scrutinizing its functions and monitoring its progress in handling lead abatement.

De Blasio’s 2020 challenges include whether he can advance infill projects and ensure NYCHA is on track with lead testing and removal, boiler and elevator replacements and repairs, and more.

Transit and Infrastructure
The state and city have just over a year to prepare for the implementation of congestion pricing, the controversial traffic mitigation (and MTA revenue-raising) strategy that was approved by the state Legislature and Governor Cuomo last year. De Blasio was a reluctant supporter of the plan, which cedes much authority over city streets to the state-run and Cuomo-controlled MTA. But transit experts say the city must also undertake several measures to make the program a success, including by expanding and improving bus service.

“I don't know if he has a day-to-day grasp of some of the transportation issues,” said David Jones, president and CEO of Community Service Society, who is an appointee of the mayor on the MTA board, about de Blasio. “He seems somewhat removed.”

De Blasio has often been critiqued for having the ‘windshield perspective’ of a car-driver or -passenger, for not riding public transit with any regularity, and for prioritizing his ferry program over the city’s buses. More than a month after its launch, de Blasio rode the 14th street busway, which he green-lit, and while he has touted its successes, especially after initial data was released in late December, he has yet to indicate any plans for other such bus-dominant roadway plans.

Moreover, the mayor has faced increasing criticism for touting his commitment to Vision Zero – which aims to eliminate traffic fatalities – while the number of cyclist and pedestrian fatalities jumped in 2019 and advocates asked for more aggressive implementation of street and intersection redesigns and protected bike lanes. De Blasio has praised the aims of City Council Member Brad Lander’s “Reckless Driver Accountability Act,” which aims to take dangerous drivers off the road for repeated violations, but has not fully endorsed it or reached agreement with the Council on language so it can pass.

De Blasio may also have to decide in 2020 whether he is willing to increase the fare on the heavily-subsidized ferry system, where he has initially pegged each ride to the same price as a Metrocard swipe for the bus or subway, currently $2.75, and whether his plan for the BQX, or Brooklyn-Queens Connector streetcar, will truly advance.

School Desegregation
Six years into de Blasio’s mayoralty and New York City schools remain the most segregated in the country. The mayor and his two schools chancellors, Carmen Farina and Richard Carranza, have proposed a series of fairly tepid, incremental initial reforms.

De Blasio did empanel the School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG), which released two sets of recommendations, with the administration adopting most of the first, more mild set. The second set, full of more controversial proposals, including related to the city’s admissions policies and gifted and talented programming, was released in August and de Blasio has yet to give them more than an initial nod, saying that there would be an extensive public conversation to come in order to engage parents and other stakeholders in crafting reforms.

“Moving forward in 2020, it would be great for the mayor to start moving on these recommendations,” said Nyah Berg, the Integrated Schools Project Director at New York Appleseed, which was represented on the advisory group.

De Blasio and Carranza separately proposed scrapping the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), which determines admission at the eight “elite” high schools in the city. But that requires action by the state, where the proposal has not been warmly received. Even locally, elected officials and parent groups have complained that his proposal pits minorities against each other and will not have the intended effect.

De Blasio announced he was backing off of his proposal, which included a new system for more diversified admittance to the specialized schools, where black and Latino students are severely underrepresented, and would come up with something new this year.

“Outside of those eight specialized high schools, there’s still over a hundred screened high schools and also screened middle schools and exclusionary gifted and talented programs,” Berg noted. SDAG “has recommendations for how to work on integrating those, integrating our students better in New York City in that report. So I would hope that there is more of a focus on what he has the ability and power to do than a fight that’s happening in Albany.”

“I think if he was bold that he would have stood up and we would have already heard from him on the report,” she added.

Policing and Criminal Justice
One of the issues where de Blasio has disappointed many of his supporters the most has been policing. Though he came to power indicating he would take a more sweeping approach to reform of the NYPD, he has been more of an incrementalist and has often had to be pushed into accepting increased accountability and oversight of the department.

In 2020, de Blasio and the NYPD are expected to finally show evidence for their claims that the mayor’s neighborhood policing program is as effective as de Blasio often claims. The mayor will also likely have to continue to justify his support for the MTA’s planned addition of 500 new MTA police officers, many of whom are meant to patrol the subways and buses in conjunction with the NYPD in a plan that currently has more questions than answers.

The MTA plan was pegged as a way to reduce homelessness and fare evasion and other crime in the subways. De Blasio has also directed the NYPD to conduct outreach in the subways and on the streets, which advocates say turns homelessness from a social problem to a policing one. “One thing that's completely in the mayor's control right now would be if he would reverse this really misguided, overreliance on police for street outreach work and if he would, instead, focus more on the elements of his plan that are related to safe havens and permanent housing,” said Simone of Coalition for the Homeless.

“He's been perceived, obviously, as not taking on some of the hangover problems of broken windows policing,” said CSS’ Jones, who voted no during the MTA Board’s December budget vote due to his opposition to the police officer hiring plan.

Jones was particularly critical of the mayor’s recent choice to make Dermot Shea the new commissioner of the NYPD. It was the third time the mayor picked a white man to lead the department, again passing over First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker, who is African-American.

2020 will be a year of tests for Shea, and therefore de Blasio. Those tests include whether the city can reverse the 2019 increases in murders and hate crimes, as well as pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities, all while implementing additional promised reforms to bring police and community closer together, hold NYPD officers accountable for breaches of public trust, overhauling the Special Victims Division, and more.

The mayor and the NYPD also have their work cut out for them as new criminal justice reform measures take effect, including bail reforms intended to drastically reduce the detainee population in city jails.

And the Rikers Island jail closure plan is far from fruition. Though the City Council approved the plan to build four new borough-based jail facilities, the design and construction of the buildings is yet to come, not to mention navigating all of the logistical and community-based details.

“2020 is going to be a year of moving from big ideas to the nuts and bolts of implementation on many fronts,” said Greg Berman, executive director of the Center for Court Innovation.

Berman did have high praise for what the mayor has done in the last six years, reducing incarceration while keeping crime down and the city safe. “I think that de Blasio actually has a significant legacy to boast about in criminal justice,” he said.

Berman added that “the crucial thing is to not lose sight of the legitimate concerns that opponents” have raised about the jails plan, “in particular the concern that...what's to prevent these new jails from just emulating the dysfunctional culture that can be found in the Rikers jails?”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Many Major Challenges, Decisions for De Blasio in 2020 Mon, 06 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Christine Quinn on Solving Homelessness: 'This is Not Brain Surgery' chris quinn cm annoace

Christine Quinn (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)

Christine Quinn is frustrated. Quinn, formerly the Speaker of the New York City Council and currently the CEO of Win, a nonprofit that is the largest provider of shelter and permanent supportive housing to families in New York, believes much more can be done to support homeless New Yorkers.

The city continues to grapple with an immense homelessness crisis, with more than 60,000 people in city shelters each night, roughly 3,000 people living on the streets or in the subways, and several thousand others in various drop-in centers and other types of temporary shelters. About a third of the city’s homeless population is children.

Win houses 5,000 people a night, roughly half of whom are children under the age of 18.

“Twenty-five percent of everyone in shelters tonight are six years of age or younger. The face of homelessness in New York right now is a mom with a little child,” Quinn said during a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast, where she discussed the city’s homelessness crisis, her work at WIN, and other topics, including former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s then-imminent entrance into the presidential race.

Two major factors in driving homelessness among families in New York City are high rates of domestic violence and evictions, even if the city has taken major steps to reduce the latter in recent years. The administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who defeated a field including Quinn in the 2013 Democratic primary for mayor, regularly says that its many homelessness-fighting strategies have helped “break the trajectory” of increase that the city was on when de Blasio became mayor, and that homelessness would be much worse if not for its programs, which include free legal counsel to many low-income tenants facing eviction as rental vouchers.

Quinn said that 80 percent of mothers in Win shelters report having experienced domestic violence in their adult lifetimes, and the actual number is likely higher. Despite such a staggering rate of abuse, Quinn believes that the city’s support for these women has been lackluster.

“We don’t get any special money from the City of New York to address the 80% of our moms who are experiencing domestic violence...why wouldn’t you have these shelters prepared to take on domestic violence?” Quinn said. “All the current administration cares about is getting to the day where they can have a press release saying that we’re not at an all time high [of homelessness].”

Quinn wants to see more affordable housing and increased rental vouchers for families being rehoused; such vouchers can pay up to 70% of a family’s housing cost. While Quinn gives credit to de Blasio for having reinstated the voucher system in New York City, she also emphasized the need to do more with the program.

“Right now the amount that a voucher covers for a family of four is $1,551 [a month]...we’ve done a study, there’s nowhere in the borough of Manhattan [where a family can live for this amount],” she said. “We have people in shelters waiting months and months, working trying to find an apartment that will take their vouchers.”

Quinn does believe the city needs to build new shelters, which de Blasio is in the midst of doing, in part to get homeless families out of commercial hotels and unsafe “cluster site” shelters, which have often been rundown private apartments that the city rents. Part of the work at Win is identifying sites for new shelters and working with community stakeholders to encourage a welcome response to a new shelter and its residents. Win shelters often see less pushback than those for single adult men.

“The Win shelter has 24-hour security, CCTV cameras everywhere except the private rooms. These hotels have none of that,” Quinn said comparing Win shelters and the hotels. “We have extensive social services, security, job training, after-school homework help for kids, daycare, for our shelters.”

Asked about the debate between those advocating the “housing first” model of addressing homelessness, emphasizing the need for increased economic opportunity, and those who believe that homelessness cannot be tackled without first addressing other issues that cause people to become homeless in the first place, such as mental illness and past trauma, Quinn was dismissive of the debate, saying that such arguments served more to distract from taking necessary action.

“The last thing we have any time for is an academic ivory tower debate,” Quinn said. “All sides of that argument are correct. There’s different reasons people end up homeless. There’s different needs that need to be addressed. Not one of the families we have in Win have the same story...All sides are right, let’s get working...this is not brain surgery.”

“You can have a good proces conversation and move to perfection on process until you’re blue in the face,” Quinn said. “There are good people out there who want to talk about process and then there’s people who just want to delay the process and hope that the homeless people will go away because of their fear — we can’t get confused about which is which.”

Responding to the critique of a “shelter-industrial complex” leveled by those who believe that the shelter systems are too large and bureaucratic, Quinn made it clear that she felt the critique was completely illegitimate. 

“We have 60,000 people living in can cancel all of Win’s funding, you can make every private funder who funds us take our money away — where will the homeless go? Beyond humanity, we have a legal requirement to house all of the homeless. Where will they go — when I tell the 200 families living at one of our shelters tomorrow that they have to leave? The majority of people who work at organizations like Win do not make a lot of money and could be making a lot of money elsewhere.”

Bloomberg 2020
Shifting topics, Quinn addressed questions related to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s since actualized entrance into the 2020 Democratic presidential primary field. Quinn, who worked closely with Bloomberg when he was mayor and she led the City Council for eight years, said that she thought that Bloomberg’s move was unwise, as it’s already late in primary season.

“I don’t understand the this point in the race when the field is narrowing how it’s a viable or appropriate moment to enter the race,” Quinn said. “As a former campaign staffer I don’t see it and I don’t get it,” Quinn said, adding that Bloomberg’s campaign announcement “feels like a distraction.”

While Quinn and Bloomberg worked collaboratively a great deal when they were both at City Hall, they also disagreed at times. Their relationship, including their work together to extend term limits, also appeared to hurt Quinn in her 2013 bid for mayor. Since that election, Quinn has been a vocal presence in Democratic politics, including an alliance with Governor Andrew Cuomo and frequent appearances on cable news to discuss national politics. She has not made an endorsement in the Democratic presidential primary, but made it apparent that she is not considering Bloomberg, who was a Democrat before becoming a Republican to run for New York City mayor in 2001. He later switched to independent.

New York City 2021
Regarding the next mayoral election in New York, set for 2021 and where her name comes up regularly as a potential candidate, Quinn said she hopes that the race would be focused on “the big issues of the moment,” such as homelessness, a lack of affordable housing, and New York’s issues with mass transit.

“I hope that the conversation around homelessness in the mayor’s race unites the reality that the affordability crisis and the homelessness crisis are two sides of the same coin,” she said. “We need to continue to have a big, bold, and specific conversation around mass transit transportation, the car traffic that’s on the streets, that’s an issue that’s not just a quality of life issue but it’s an economic development issue, it’s a job retention issue. This is critical to making sure that people who can’t afford to live at the center of Manhattan can be a part of that economic opportunity,” she said.

Asked how likely she is to be a candidate for mayor herself, Quinn said the question “sounds like a bet, and I’m not a betting girl.” Regardless of whether she pursues public office, Quinn maintained that she would remain politically active and listed a variety of issues she sees as important to the next big citywide debate about the future of the five boroughs.

“Whatever position I’m in in 2021...I will advocate aggressively, strongly, and God-willing effectively for the issues I care about; women’s issues, LGBT issues, the issues of homeless mothers and their children, the issues of homeless single men and single women, the issues of those who have been incarcerated for too long or unfairly, the issues of sustainability and environmental issues, and really make New York the urban leader in the climate crisis. Whatever position I’m in for whatever reason, I’m gonna make sure my mouth is loud and strong in 2021,” Quinn said.

In closing, Quinn was asked about how her perspective on issues of public policy had changed after serving in both the public and private sectors. She said that in general she was disappointed by what she identified as a failure in government to devote resources towards combating issues such as homelessness, which she argues shifts the burden further onto nonprofits.

“I now see really clearly how we don’t fund our service providers correctly, we don’t listen to them when they come forward with needs. Everything is too driven by the Office of Management and Budget, and the number crunchers, and not first by the issue,” she said. “I’ve also seen how not giving enough resources also burdens nonprofit service providers unnecessarily...I am just struck by the lack of partnership, the adversarial posture government takes towards service providers.”

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: Christine Quinn on Homelessness, Bloomberg 2020 & Her Future]

by Ben Max & Stephen Wyer

Christine Quinn on Solving Homelessness: 'This is Not Brain Surgery' Mon, 16 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Two Troubling Trends Collide in City Homeless Outsourcing mbdb flcm mayor

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Last week the City of Newark sued New York City over New York’s placement of more than a thousand homeless individuals and families in Newark, through the city’s Special One Time Assistance (SOTA) program. Under the program, New York City employed private brokers to find homes for the families in New Jersey and elsewhere, and, without checking to see if the homes were habitable, paid a full year’s rent in advance and left families to live there. The result was thousands of families sent out of the city into homes that were uninhabitable.

The Newark lawsuit, which details instances of lack of heat and vermin infestations, sought to prevent New York from “coercively relocating” any future families via the SOTA program. Newark’s brief goes on to object to New York’s “ill-conceived, surreptitious efforts to shift the burdens associated with the homeless to other communities in this nation.” In court on Monday, New York agreed to a temporary halt to the program in Newark, but the lawsuit continues.

The SOTA program represents the culmination and convergence of two particularly disturbing recent trends: New York’s failure to provide safe housing for homeless people and New York’s propensity to outsource social services without proper oversight.  

As to the first trend, New York City’s recent history in providing unsafe housing for homeless people is distressing. During our time running New York City’s Department of Investigation we did two Reports outlining the deplorable conditions at New York City shelters. Those Reports detailed fire and safety hazards, dead vermin in bedrooms, widespread prostitution activity, and a lack of essential services.  

The second, equally disturbing trend, is New York’s continued outsourcing of government programs without proper oversight. While at DOI we witnessed the tendency of New York City agencies to hire private vendors to provide essential services yet fail to: one, set standards for the work to be done; two, supervise the agencies; and three, take action against contractors who neglected to carry out their requisite functions.  

For example, one DOI investigation found that while the city’s Administration for Children’s Services hired private providers to carry out certain ACS functions, ACS failed to take action even after learning that some of these providers were not performing up to standards and were putting children in harm’s way. Indeed, ACS continued to pay these providers for dangerously inadequate care.

Similarly, for years, the City’s Department of Correction hired a private company, Corizon Health, to provide health care services to inmates in city jails. Corizon neglected to screen and manage staff, creating a series of dangers without effective oversight from the city.  A report from DOI that exposed the problem finally forced the city to remove Corizon.

City government’s mishandling of SOTA combines both trends with the worst possible outcomes. Not only did the city outsource its problem – hiring private brokers to find apartments – but by sending the families to other jurisdictions, and refusing to provide those jurisdictions with the identities and locations of the families, they made oversight impossible.  

In theory, getting homeless families housing in New Jersey, where rents are cheaper, is not inherently wrong (regardless of whether the motivation is to get families off New York City’s rolls or some other greater good). But doing this without checking to make sure the housing is habitable and refusing to tell the New Jersey localities who has been placed in their jurisdiction, is unacceptable. Only the filing of a lawsuit forced New York to provide Newark with information on the families’ locations.

This goes beyond a failure to set standards and supervise outside contractors. Here, when New York sent these families to Newark and paid the private landlords for a year in advance, New York gave up the ability to have its own agencies make sure the housing was habitable and it failed to give New Jersey that opportunity. The end result was that New York had less money -- having sent it to landlords who provided deplorable housing -- and Newark, not aware of where the placements were, was unable to fix the problem.

Going forward, if New York is to continue sending homeless families out of state – and, it appears that it plans to do so – at a minimum the city must properly check the habitability of all dwellings, stop paying for a full year in advance, and coordinate with the other jurisdictions, providing them full information and cooperation. Anything less is not an anti-homelessness program but a dumping of responsibilities.

Peters and Brovner are the founding partners of the law firm Peters Brovner LLP and were, respectively, the Commissioner and First Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation from 2014 to 2018.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

Two Troubling Trends Collide in City Homeless Outsourcing Wed, 11 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
A Well-Meaning But Misguided Housing Proposal city council cm raf salamanca

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

A year ago, a homeless woman confronted Mayor de Blasio during his gym workout in Park Slope to ask why the city doesn’t set aside more apartments for homeless people. The incident and a video of it in which the mayor refused to talk with the woman, Nathylin Flowers Adesegun, were widely reported. A few weeks later, City Council Member Rafael Salamanca of the Bronx introduced legislation that would require any rental housing project receiving taxpayer subsidies such as tax abatements, loans, tax credits or reduced-cost land to set aside 15% of its units for people living in the city’s shelters. 

The mayor’s comments about the proposed legislation were on target. He said:

“I think that the [current] affordable housing plan works for the people of the city because it is for everyone. It is meant to reach working-class people, middle-class people, low-income people,” and, “I don’t want to send a message that the only folks who can get affordable housing are folks who end up in shelter. I think that’s wrong for everyone.” 

Now, almost exactly a year later, Salamanca has re-introduced the same bill but the mayor’s response has been quite different -- he says he is sure he can reach a deal with Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

The mayor was right a year ago and there is no reason to change positions now. His apparent disinterest in or distaste for conflict with the Council cannot be allowed to lead to bad policy that will impede what has been a successful program to build and preserve affordable housing for needy New Yorkers at a variety of income levels.

In 2014 the de Blasio administration issued Housing NY, a ten-year plan to build and preserve a total of 200,000 units of housing in the five boroughs. An important principle of the plan was that the apartments developed would be affordable to families at an array of income levels, from those of extremely low-income, defined as below $25,000 a year for a family of four, to those of middle-income, families of four earning $100,000-138,000 a year, and others in between. The plan projected the distribution of units developed at 20% (40,000) for extremely low- and very low-income households, 58% (116,000) for low-income households, and 22% for moderate- and middle-income households (44,000).

In 2017 Housing NY 2.0 modified the administration’s already-ambitious goals by accelerating its plan, extending it two years, and adding an additional 100,000 units to be preserved or created by 2026. The new targets increased the number of extremely low- and low-income households to be housed to 25% of the total.

Providing affordable housing to New Yorkers at all low- to middle-income levels is important to maintaining a thriving economy and a diverse, vibrant city. As a recent report from the Department of City Planning shows, the city’s supply of jobs far exceeds its supply of housing and we need to generate more places for workers to live.

It is very expensive to build and maintain units for extremely low-income households (approximately $150,000- $200,000 in city capital subsidy per unit for construction, plus ongoing rental assistance) so the rents at higher income levels are necessary to make developments economically viable.  The situation is not helped by the fact that the City Council keeps piling on requirements -- like the just-added prevailing wage requirement -- that are not only costly, but deter developers (both for- and non-profit) from wanting to even do deals with the city. It also must be acknowledged that many families in the shelter system need a variety of on-site services in addition to housing, services that private-sector buildings do not provide.   

Reasonable people can debate the shortcomings and details of Housing NY,  for example, the inclusion of thousands of units in Stuyvesant Town as “preserved” but there is no denying that it has been an ambitious effort that has thus far leveraged over $14 billion in city capital commitments and generated 135,000 units of urgently needed housing.

City officials need the flexibility to design each project based on its overall size, location, and cost; they should not be constrained by arbitrary apartment allocation requirements to particular income levels or types of tenants. 

Mayor de Blasio needs no prodding to devote priority and resources to homeless individuals and families. His annual budget provides more than $3 billion a year for shelters, rent assistance, legal assistance, and other homelessness prevention programs, re-housing efforts, and related social services.

So far, about 11% of the units generated by Housing NY have gone to homeless households. Moreover, in 2016 NYCHA started giving preference to homeless families and over the past three years, nearly half of all tenants placed in NYCHA units -- 6,400 -- have been formerly homeless. Another 4,400 homeless families have received Section 8 rental assistance through NYCHA in the same time period.

The City Council should not create a one-size-fits-all set-aside that would tie the hands of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor for Housing, and other city officials who are trying to spur as much housing construction as possible and who are already motivated to create units for homeless families without compulsion.

If the 15% homeless requirement is in addition to the 25% proportion of units Housing NY 2.0 already requires for extremely low-income units, it will make some projects so costly that they will not be built. If the homeless allocation is instead made part of the total number of project units allocated to low-income families, it will take much-needed units out of the pool available to the thousands of other families earning less than $25,000 a year who also need decent and affordable places to live in New York City. Neither is acceptable.

The Council’s focus should be on streamlining the process for project approval and creating more new affordable housing across the income spectrum, not counterproductive requirements and virtue posturing.

Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email


A Well-Meaning But Misguided Housing Proposal Sun, 17 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Christine Quinn on Homelessness, Making Government Work, & Her Future christine quinn wbai600

(photo: @WINNYC_ORG)

November 13, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Christine Quinn on Homelessness, Making Government Work, & Her Future

christine quinn 150pxFormer City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, now the CEO of Win, one of the city's largest homeless shelter providers, joined the show to discuss the city's homelessness crisis, Win's work, broader government issues, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's likely entrance into the presidential race, and her own political future.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Christine Quinn on Homelessness, Making Government Work, & Her Future Wed, 13 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Facts Don't Support Expanding the Size of the MTA Police Force mtapd grad

(photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Patrick Cashin)

MTA Chair and CEO Pat Foye says the transit authority’s operating budget is in “dire” condition and independent budget watchdogs are alarmed its deficit is growing to unmanageable levels. Citizens Budget Commission estimates the MTA will be $740 million in the red in 2023 -- and this does not include new debt payments for the new, massive $51.5+ billion 2020-2024 capital plan. Separately, NYPD data shows subway crime is down 3% from last year, and Police Commissioner James O’Neill says the subway, which carries 6 million passengers a day, averages only six major crimes a day. 

Given the gaping budget hole -- which recently led to cuts in bus service on the B46 -- and the low crime rate, we wonder how the MTA justifies a costly increase in the size of its police force by 581 more officers and supervisors as first uncovered by Gothamist to address “quality of life issues.” This larger MTA force will cost the authority an additional $260 million more in operating costs over the next four years, as calculated by Citizens Budget Commission, and will force cuts elsewhere in the operating budget -- including, logically, in transit service.  

The MTA should make a decision of this magnitude based on a transparent, data-driven analysis that shows why expanding the MTA police force is more worthwhile than expanding transit service -- or even preserving existing service. The MTA should explain to the transit riding public what an expanded MTA police force can do that the current 2,500 NYPD officers and approximately 300 redeployed MTA police officers patrolling the subways and buses are not doing.

Disappointingly, the decision to increase the MTA police -- which is widely believed to be at Governor Cuomo’s behest -- has been made in a fact-free zone. The reasoning used has also shifted from fare evasion to homelessness to worker and rider safety, or a combination of all of the above. The public discussions by some MTA Board members has consisted of anecdotes and unfounded assumptions on these issues, and MTA staff have not provided analyses that examine alternatives or even dig deeply into existing MTA data.

(Note to MTA Board: MTA police officers guarding a turnstile only pay for themselves if fare revenue at that station goes up by at least the cost of the officers stationed there. Can we see some actual data that supports the argument that spending $260 million over the next four years on more MTA police will increase fare revenue by that much? What about the four years after that, etc.?)

If one of the governor’s stated goals is to reduce the number of homeless people in the subways, let’s see some evidence that an expensive increase in the size of the MTA police force will or even can do that, or that spending large sums on more police is even the best way to do that. Again, where is the data showing a relationship between the number of police officers and homelessness in the subways?

What we are seeing with the MTA policing issue is the latest example of a once-respected public authority that has been politicized and compelled to spend huge amounts on political grandstanding rather than objective priorities. Just last month, the MTA’s $51.5+ billion capital plan was approved by its Board before it published a needs assessment that establishes detailed baseline costs for getting the system to a state of good repair. 

Governor Cuomo has publicly called on the MTA to be more professional and efficient. We agree, but competent, professional management is fact- and data-driven, and does not make decisions based on the politics of the moment. The data here does not support almost doubling the size of the MTA police force from 783 to 1,364 -- especially given the “dire” budget. 

Professional, fact-based thinking by the MTA Board and management would mean rejecting this unnecessary expenditure and recognizing there is a direct trade-off between more police and more transit service. 

How Much Money Are We Talking Here?
According to Citizens Budget Commission, increasing the size of the MTA police force with 500 new officers and 81 supervisors for the new hires will cost $56.1 million in year one and $119.9 million in year ten. Over the 2020-2023 financial plan, the new officers will cost $260 million and push the MTA’s projected operating budget deficit of $740 million to $1 billion.


nyc transit 1

Reinvent Albany and other watchdog groups including Citizens Budget Commission, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, TransitCenter, and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign sent a letter to the MTA Board calling on the MTA to identify exactly how it will fund nearly doubling the size of the MTA police force without increasing its growing operating deficit. The groups specifically expressed the concern that an expanded MTA police force will reduce the MTA’s ability to maintain a high level of transit service -- its core responsibility.

The MTA still hasn’t said how it will pay for these officers, and what the true cost will be in terms of reductions in staff and service. Its next budget presentation is due at its November 14 Board meeting, and this is likely to be the first time this new expense shows up in its budget. The MTA Board will then approve a final budget at its December meeting, so it is not too late to reverse course.

The MTA’s Many Justifications for Increasing its Police Force
There are many opinions about having more police in the subways and buses. Some oppose over-policing and some are concerned about service cuts, while others believe more police will increase customer and operator safety.

For Reinvent Albany, what cuts across all of these issues is the consistent failure of the MTA -- or Governor Cuomo -- to make credible, fact-based decisions regarding major spending. The governor and the MTA have access to professional analysts, detailed data about operations and crime, and outside experts who could guide their decisions. Instead, this decision has been made without meaningfully using any of them. 

We at Reinvent Albany are not criminologists or experts in homelessness or fare evasion. But we do believe in and know the value of data and rational decision-making. Given that the MTA hasn’t been allowed to do its homework, we are providing just some of the data and options that need to be examined before any decisions are made.

Crime on the subways is a clear area where perception and reality aren’t matching up. Governor Cuomo was recently blasted by the NYPD’s own leader for saying that crime in the subways is on the rise, with Commissioner O’Neill noting that the opposite is true. O’Neill instead said there has been a decrease in crime and “I absolutely disagree with Governor Cuomo’s characterization.” According to the latest stats from New York City Transit, total major felonies are down this year versus last (January-September) -- with 1,774 major felonies in 2019 and 1,799 in 2018.

Major crimes have dropped significantly since 1997, when there were 6,218 major felonies in the subways and buses. For the last four years, major felonies have numbered about 2,500 per year. It is worth noting the decrease happened during a period of increasing ridership: since 1997, annual ridership increased from 1.1 billion to nearly 1.7 billion

nyc transit 2

Perception often colors riders’ feelings about crime rather than actual data, as noted in a New York Times piece from earlier this year on subway crime. Social media, for example, is one big driver of perceptions. In speaking with the Times, NYPD Transit Chief Edward Delatorre said that the number of crimes in the subway is so small that “one or two recidivist offenders can enter the system and throw the crime numbers out of whack.” (For scale, there were 95,883 major felonies committed in New York City as a whole in 2018, down from 184,652 in 2000.)

Where particular types of crime have increased yet overall major crimes are flat or decreasing, refocusing existing officers is a more reasonable approach than hiring hundreds of new ones. Two areas that have received considerable attention are hate crimes, which increased from 37 to 65 from 2018 to 2019 (January-September), and assaults against subway workers, which according to the transit workers union (TWU) increased from 61 to 85 when comparing the first eight months of 2018 to 2019. 

The MTA recently released a 9-page “report” of recommendations from its Homelessness Task Force. To be clear, this is not a “report,” as there is no credible analysis: it is essentially a directive from the governor to the MTA. The "report," which came after repeated complaints by the Governor about homelessness on the subways, found a 20% increase in homelessness in the subways from 2018 to 2019. The total increase found from a January 2019 survey was from 1,771 to 2,178, an increase of 407 people. This single data point was then used as the sole justification for a directive by the task force to increase the MTA police force by 50%. 

 Despite the report saying that the task force was “charged with delivering a set of recommendations to the MTA Board of Directors for actions to address the growing number of homeless individuals,” the report says that the MTA will increase its police force.  

 The MTA Board has not yet approved a budget for these new officers. At the direction of the governor, MTA staff is moving forward with these hires, undermining the fiduciary responsibility of the Board, who must consider how the MTA can best serve riders with its scarce resources. 

Fare Evasion
Fare evasion has become a fixation for the governor and some of his appointees to the MTA Board, with more and more demands being placed on MTA staff to address the issue. According to the MTA’s June 2019 data, it lost $240 million to fare evasion over 12 months. But while the MTA has said fare evasion is growing, its Inspector General, who is appointed by the governor, in an audit said the MTA’s fare evasion stats are not credible

 At the same time, the MTA has ramped up enforcement efforts with redeployed police, new signage, and more cameras. If you believe the data, this may not be working. The MTA IG’s audit said that the “impact of these initiatives would be difficult to assess without reliable data on evasion levels and trends.” 

 The MTA can’t make rational decisions on fare evasion unless it better understands the problem first, and can trust its own data. And before jumping to any solutions, it would be worth assessing any number of other options to get more riders to pay the fare.

 Rather than punitive approaches, options include providing better service so riders feel like they are getting what they pay for. The MTA and New York City could enroll more people in the Fair Fares program, which provides low-income riders a 50% fare discount. A Wall Street Journal report found an approach from behavioral psychology of praising paying customers decreased evasion in other systems.

 The MTA could also examine further expanding station infrastructure like cameras and more signage to deter the use of emergency gates. (This was the original stated purpose of $40 million in funds coming from the Manhattan District Attorney, which the MTA has erroneously claimed will largely cover the cost of new officers.)

 Yet another option is deployment of more cost-effective civilian staff. The MTA has said that more orange-vested staff could provide a deterrent to fare evasion, while providing more customer service. Additionally, the MTA’s Select Bus Service enforces fare payment with its Eagle Teams, who are not police officers. Unlike on other buses and the subway, Select Bus riders do not have to dip their Metrocards on the bus to pay the fare, but instead pay in advance and must show proof of payment upon request of the Eagle Teams. Ironically, the MTA’s Eagle Teams saw 22 staff members cut in the MTA’s 2018 budget reduction program, which in retrospect seems highly questionable as the MTA has said they do indeed pay for themselves.

The MTA Board Must Reject this Proposal
Before spending scarce transit operating dollars that almost doubles the size of the MTA police force, the MTA should work with its own officers and those from the NYPD to establish clear goals and expectations and improve the effectiveness of existing policing. The MTA Board needs to hear fact-based arguments with cost/benefit analyses of the various options to address safety, homelessness, and fare evasion. The MTA Board should reject hiring more police officers until its members and the public have real information about the opportunity costs of this proposal.

Rachael Fauss is senior research analyst for Reinvent Albany. On Twitter @RachaelFauss & @ReinventAlbany.

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Facts Don't Support Expanding the Size of the MTA Police Force Mon, 04 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000