Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/stephen-levin 2019-07-22T02:09:14+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com As Early Childhood Educators Consider Strike, New York City Must Achieve Pay Parity 2019-04-16T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-16T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8454-as-early-childhood-educators-consider-strike-new-york-city-must-achieve-pay-parity Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-firstday.jpg" alt="mayor firstday" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>We know now, more than ever, just how malleable the mind of a young child is, and we understand that the earlier we begin engaging a child’s mind, the better off that child will be. Early childhood education can positively impact the academic, social, and emotional development of children, while providing much-needed financial relief for our city’s low-income families with children, for whom child care is a major expense.</p> <p>Our city recognizes the significance early childhood education has, both for children and families. Mayor de Blasio’s commitment to investing in and expanding his Universal Pre-K and 3-K initiatives is proof of that, and we wholeheartedly support these programs because they help level the playing field for some of our city’s most vulnerable families.</p> <p>Yet it is unconscionable that while the programs continue to grow, City Hall has failed to address a significant inequity that threatens the very success of the initiatives – the fair pay of teachers. Our children deserve the best opportunities we can give them, and in order for that to happen, we need to fairly compensate those who dedicate themselves to caring for our children and providing that critical, quality early education.</p> <p>Most of the children who are currently enrolled in the Universal Pre-K program attend programs offered by community-based organizations (CBOs), where early childhood educators are rightfully fighting for wage parity that can help level the playing field for them and their families, as well. CBO-based pre-K teachers with bachelor’s degrees earn significantly less than their counterparts with the Department of Education (DOE) -- and often work more hours for a longer school year.</p> <p>A CBO-based certified teacher with five years of experience makes approximately $42,000, while DOE counterparts with the same credentials earn closer to $60,000. The gap in salary widens over time — nearly doubling at 10 years of experience. A DOE pre-K teacher with a master’s degree and 20 years of experience can earn as much as $91,000 annually, while a CBO-based teacher with identical credentials can max out at approximately $50,000.</p> <p>The same job responsibilities, the same experience, and the same qualifications for significantly less money. It’s not right, and it isn’t fair.</p> <p>It’s no surprise that many CBO-based early childhood programs struggle to hold on to quality educators. Wage disparity demoralizes educators at CBOs -- many of whom are women of color -- and puts them in the unfair position of having to choose between the work they have passionately dedicated their lives to and caring for their own families. How can we expect our children to be properly educated and cared for if those tasked with that responsibility aren’t provided with the resources to do the same for their own?</p> <p>Many of these educators are forced to look elsewhere for employment as a result, and that frequent turnover can have a destabilizing effect on the development of a young child’s mind. The longer we continue to drastically underpay non-DOE early childhood educators, the likelier it becomes that more and more of the early childhood programs that so many of our city’s families rely on will be forced to close their doors.</p> <p>In the City Council, we pushed for funding for pay parity to be a part of the fiscal year 2019 budget, following a summer hearing on the Early Learn transition to DOE. At the hearing, we made it clear that pay parity needed to be addressed, but the de Blasio administration failed to see the same urgency, instead promising that the issue will be resolved during contract negotiations. That still has not happened and the mayor is out of time.</p> <p>When the administration released a new round of contracts for early childhood services, it failed to include the increased funding that community providers were looking for, making clear that there is a lack of urgency or interest in addressing this problem. We need real solutions, not gestures.</p> <p>The City Council just released its response to the mayor’s fiscal year 2020 preliminary budget proposal, and under the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson, we are specifically calling on the mayor to include an $89 million investment that would close the wage gap. Securing this funding in the budget would create stability for these educators, as well as the program and the community-based organizations that provide many of these services. It's the right thing to do.</p> <p>Teacher strikes have picked up momentum across the country for better pay and improved classroom conditions; and now, early childhood educators are deciding whether to strike here in New York City. We stand with teachers in calling for wage parity for early childhood educators and know that this decision does not come lightly. It is only after years of underpayment and efforts toward a resolution.</p> <p>At a time when the mayor and his administration rightfully strive for the need for a school system that provides ‘equity and excellence for all,’ what sort of message are we sending by so drastically underpaying the teachers who primarily care for and educate children from low-income families? We’re not just shortchanging these educators; we’re shortchanging the students they teach, their families, and our city’s communities.</p> <p>We want a school system that gives every single student in our city the same opportunities to succeed – that simply cannot happen if the system itself is unstable. A teacher’s salary should not depend on the type of contract they have with the city, but too often, it does. It is time that we correct the inequities of our system and support professionals who work hard to ensure that every child is getting the proper head start on development they deserve.</p> <p>***<br />Mark Treyger is the chair of the City Council’s Committee on Education. Stephen Levin chairs the City Council’s Committee on General Welfare. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/MarkTreyger718" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@MarkTreyger718</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/StephenLevin33" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@StephenLevin33</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-firstday.jpg" alt="mayor firstday" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>We know now, more than ever, just how malleable the mind of a young child is, and we understand that the earlier we begin engaging a child’s mind, the better off that child will be. Early childhood education can positively impact the academic, social, and emotional development of children, while providing much-needed financial relief for our city’s low-income families with children, for whom child care is a major expense.</p> <p>Our city recognizes the significance early childhood education has, both for children and families. Mayor de Blasio’s commitment to investing in and expanding his Universal Pre-K and 3-K initiatives is proof of that, and we wholeheartedly support these programs because they help level the playing field for some of our city’s most vulnerable families.</p> <p>Yet it is unconscionable that while the programs continue to grow, City Hall has failed to address a significant inequity that threatens the very success of the initiatives – the fair pay of teachers. Our children deserve the best opportunities we can give them, and in order for that to happen, we need to fairly compensate those who dedicate themselves to caring for our children and providing that critical, quality early education.</p> <p>Most of the children who are currently enrolled in the Universal Pre-K program attend programs offered by community-based organizations (CBOs), where early childhood educators are rightfully fighting for wage parity that can help level the playing field for them and their families, as well. CBO-based pre-K teachers with bachelor’s degrees earn significantly less than their counterparts with the Department of Education (DOE) -- and often work more hours for a longer school year.</p> <p>A CBO-based certified teacher with five years of experience makes approximately $42,000, while DOE counterparts with the same credentials earn closer to $60,000. The gap in salary widens over time — nearly doubling at 10 years of experience. A DOE pre-K teacher with a master’s degree and 20 years of experience can earn as much as $91,000 annually, while a CBO-based teacher with identical credentials can max out at approximately $50,000.</p> <p>The same job responsibilities, the same experience, and the same qualifications for significantly less money. It’s not right, and it isn’t fair.</p> <p>It’s no surprise that many CBO-based early childhood programs struggle to hold on to quality educators. Wage disparity demoralizes educators at CBOs -- many of whom are women of color -- and puts them in the unfair position of having to choose between the work they have passionately dedicated their lives to and caring for their own families. How can we expect our children to be properly educated and cared for if those tasked with that responsibility aren’t provided with the resources to do the same for their own?</p> <p>Many of these educators are forced to look elsewhere for employment as a result, and that frequent turnover can have a destabilizing effect on the development of a young child’s mind. The longer we continue to drastically underpay non-DOE early childhood educators, the likelier it becomes that more and more of the early childhood programs that so many of our city’s families rely on will be forced to close their doors.</p> <p>In the City Council, we pushed for funding for pay parity to be a part of the fiscal year 2019 budget, following a summer hearing on the Early Learn transition to DOE. At the hearing, we made it clear that pay parity needed to be addressed, but the de Blasio administration failed to see the same urgency, instead promising that the issue will be resolved during contract negotiations. That still has not happened and the mayor is out of time.</p> <p>When the administration released a new round of contracts for early childhood services, it failed to include the increased funding that community providers were looking for, making clear that there is a lack of urgency or interest in addressing this problem. We need real solutions, not gestures.</p> <p>The City Council just released its response to the mayor’s fiscal year 2020 preliminary budget proposal, and under the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson, we are specifically calling on the mayor to include an $89 million investment that would close the wage gap. Securing this funding in the budget would create stability for these educators, as well as the program and the community-based organizations that provide many of these services. It's the right thing to do.</p> <p>Teacher strikes have picked up momentum across the country for better pay and improved classroom conditions; and now, early childhood educators are deciding whether to strike here in New York City. We stand with teachers in calling for wage parity for early childhood educators and know that this decision does not come lightly. It is only after years of underpayment and efforts toward a resolution.</p> <p>At a time when the mayor and his administration rightfully strive for the need for a school system that provides ‘equity and excellence for all,’ what sort of message are we sending by so drastically underpaying the teachers who primarily care for and educate children from low-income families? We’re not just shortchanging these educators; we’re shortchanging the students they teach, their families, and our city’s communities.</p> <p>We want a school system that gives every single student in our city the same opportunities to succeed – that simply cannot happen if the system itself is unstable. A teacher’s salary should not depend on the type of contract they have with the city, but too often, it does. It is time that we correct the inequities of our system and support professionals who work hard to ensure that every child is getting the proper head start on development they deserve.</p> <p>***<br />Mark Treyger is the chair of the City Council’s Committee on Education. Stephen Levin chairs the City Council’s Committee on General Welfare. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/MarkTreyger718" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@MarkTreyger718</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/StephenLevin33" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@StephenLevin33</a>.</p> <p>

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City Council Passes Legislation Authorizing Electeds to Create Legal Defense Funds 2019-01-23T05:00:00+00:00 2019-01-23T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8224-city-council-set-to-pass-legislation-authorizing-legal-defense-funds Super User <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayorcouncilfisacl.jpg" alt="mayorcouncilfisacl" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(Photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p><em>Update: This article was published on Wednesday and the City Council passed this legislation on Thursday afternoon with a 42-5 vote. Council Members Joe Borelli, &nbsp;Chaim Deutsch, Steven Matteo, Carlos Menchaca and Eric ulrich voted against the bill. Council Member Jumaane Williams abstained from the vote.&nbsp;</em></p> <p>A bill that would allow elected officials to set up trusts to raise money from private sources to cover legal fees is set to be approved by the New York City Council on Thursday.</p> <p>The <a href="https://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3823152&amp;GUID=665DDDF9-0F16-445F-857A-70A6A5BD5068&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">legislation</a>, sponsored by City Council Member Stephen Levin, would allow city officials to raise as much as $5,000 from individual donors through trusts, to pay for legal fees arising from criminal or civil investigations that are unrelated to their governmental duties, such as those involving campaign activity (legal fees related to government duties can be covered by public funds).</p> <p>The trusts would have to file detailed quarterly reports on fundraising and spending with the city Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB), and would be prohibited from taking donations from lobbyists, corporations, LLCs, and people doing business with the city. The reports will be posted publicly online.</p> <p>Levin’s bill is meant to fill a gap in the city’s legal framework that allows elected officials to use taxpayer funds to cover their defense in investigations arising from their official duties, but not in the case of non-governmental activity. Mayor Bill de Blasio found that out the hard way after facing dual state and federal probes into his fundraising activities through outside nonprofit groups and, in one, related government actions, which eventually led to no charges being filed but left the mayor with hefty legal fees running into the hundreds of thousands, even after he reversed course to utilize public funds to cover the bulk of over $2 million in fees related to the federal inquiry of whether he directed government favors based on campaign donations.</p> <p>The mayor initially sought to use a legal defense fund to cover the costs but the COIB issued an advisory opinion limiting any donations to a mere $50, viewing them as gifts to an elected official which are severely limited by law. The mayor then used public funds to pay for the costs related to his government duties -- about $2.6 million -- but said he could not cover a separate bill that related to his non-governmental activity. De Blasio is not the only elected official who has had significant legal bills to deal with related to their official or non-governmental activity, he and others have pointed out.</p> <p>The legislation is scheduled for a vote at a hearing of the City Council’s Governmental Operations Committee on Thursday morning, in what seems to be a rushed vote -- the bill was introduced on January 9 and the committee held an initial hearing on it last Monday, at which several questions were raised by COIB representatives and Council members. Spokespeople for Levin and for Council Speaker Corey Johnson said the bill is expected to pass through the committee and to be approved at a meeting of the full Council in the afternoon. It is very rare for any legislation at the City Council to move so quickly from introduction to passage.</p> <p>The government reform community is split in its opinion on the legislation. Groups like Common Cause New York and Reinvent Albany have supported the effort to create a framework around legal defense funds, while another reform group, Citizens Union, disagrees with the very concept. In a letter of opposition sent to the Council on Wednesday, Citizens Union argued that the bill “creates the risk or appearance of corruption and undue influence, and will necessitate a complex regulatory scheme to mitigate.” The group urged the Council to, at minimum, tweak the legislation to bring donation limits in line with the lower limits that apply to campaign contributions.</p> <p>The Campaign Finance Board, which monitors campaign fundraising and expenditure in municipal elections, also raised concerns about the bill. Executive Director Amy Loprest noted in her testimony before the governmental operations committee on January 14 that the legislation seems to allow officials to use trusts to pay for fines incurred from campaign finance violations. Officials can already cover those costs from their campaign accounts, which are subject to stricter fundraising limits.</p> <p>“By providing certain candidates, i.e. those who are elected officials or public servants, with an additional vehicle to raise funds, Int. No. 1325 creates a path for those candidates to solicit and accept contributions from individuals that aggregate well over the existing contribution limits,” Loprest said in her testimony, urging that the bill be amended. “A clear majority of voters in last November’s Charter referendum voted to reduce these limits by more than half, with reducing the risk of corruption as the main rationale.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayorcouncilfisacl.jpg" alt="mayorcouncilfisacl" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(Photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p><em>Update: This article was published on Wednesday and the City Council passed this legislation on Thursday afternoon with a 42-5 vote. Council Members Joe Borelli, &nbsp;Chaim Deutsch, Steven Matteo, Carlos Menchaca and Eric ulrich voted against the bill. Council Member Jumaane Williams abstained from the vote.&nbsp;</em></p> <p>A bill that would allow elected officials to set up trusts to raise money from private sources to cover legal fees is set to be approved by the New York City Council on Thursday.</p> <p>The <a href="https://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3823152&amp;GUID=665DDDF9-0F16-445F-857A-70A6A5BD5068&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">legislation</a>, sponsored by City Council Member Stephen Levin, would allow city officials to raise as much as $5,000 from individual donors through trusts, to pay for legal fees arising from criminal or civil investigations that are unrelated to their governmental duties, such as those involving campaign activity (legal fees related to government duties can be covered by public funds).</p> <p>The trusts would have to file detailed quarterly reports on fundraising and spending with the city Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB), and would be prohibited from taking donations from lobbyists, corporations, LLCs, and people doing business with the city. The reports will be posted publicly online.</p> <p>Levin’s bill is meant to fill a gap in the city’s legal framework that allows elected officials to use taxpayer funds to cover their defense in investigations arising from their official duties, but not in the case of non-governmental activity. Mayor Bill de Blasio found that out the hard way after facing dual state and federal probes into his fundraising activities through outside nonprofit groups and, in one, related government actions, which eventually led to no charges being filed but left the mayor with hefty legal fees running into the hundreds of thousands, even after he reversed course to utilize public funds to cover the bulk of over $2 million in fees related to the federal inquiry of whether he directed government favors based on campaign donations.</p> <p>The mayor initially sought to use a legal defense fund to cover the costs but the COIB issued an advisory opinion limiting any donations to a mere $50, viewing them as gifts to an elected official which are severely limited by law. The mayor then used public funds to pay for the costs related to his government duties -- about $2.6 million -- but said he could not cover a separate bill that related to his non-governmental activity. De Blasio is not the only elected official who has had significant legal bills to deal with related to their official or non-governmental activity, he and others have pointed out.</p> <p>The legislation is scheduled for a vote at a hearing of the City Council’s Governmental Operations Committee on Thursday morning, in what seems to be a rushed vote -- the bill was introduced on January 9 and the committee held an initial hearing on it last Monday, at which several questions were raised by COIB representatives and Council members. Spokespeople for Levin and for Council Speaker Corey Johnson said the bill is expected to pass through the committee and to be approved at a meeting of the full Council in the afternoon. It is very rare for any legislation at the City Council to move so quickly from introduction to passage.</p> <p>The government reform community is split in its opinion on the legislation. Groups like Common Cause New York and Reinvent Albany have supported the effort to create a framework around legal defense funds, while another reform group, Citizens Union, disagrees with the very concept. In a letter of opposition sent to the Council on Wednesday, Citizens Union argued that the bill “creates the risk or appearance of corruption and undue influence, and will necessitate a complex regulatory scheme to mitigate.” The group urged the Council to, at minimum, tweak the legislation to bring donation limits in line with the lower limits that apply to campaign contributions.</p> <p>The Campaign Finance Board, which monitors campaign fundraising and expenditure in municipal elections, also raised concerns about the bill. Executive Director Amy Loprest noted in her testimony before the governmental operations committee on January 14 that the legislation seems to allow officials to use trusts to pay for fines incurred from campaign finance violations. Officials can already cover those costs from their campaign accounts, which are subject to stricter fundraising limits.</p> <p>“By providing certain candidates, i.e. those who are elected officials or public servants, with an additional vehicle to raise funds, Int. No. 1325 creates a path for those candidates to solicit and accept contributions from individuals that aggregate well over the existing contribution limits,” Loprest said in her testimony, urging that the bill be amended. “A clear majority of voters in last November’s Charter referendum voted to reduce these limits by more than half, with reducing the risk of corruption as the main rationale.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
With De Blasio in Debt, City Council Considers Bill to Allow ‘Legal Defense Trusts’ 2019-01-21T05:00:00+00:00 2019-01-21T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8218-with-de-blasio-in-debt-city-council-considers-bill-to-allow-legal-defense-trusts Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/nycczerohearingsl.jpg" alt="nycczerohearingsl" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>City Council Member Stephen Levin (photo via New York City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawyers who helped him during legal investigations that ultimately resulted in no criminal charges against the mayor, but left him with bills to pay even after he reversed course and decided to use public funds to cover the portion of his legal expenses related to his government work. The remaining balance, for work related to campaign activity de Blasio was involved with that was the subject of part of the inquiries, has left de Blasio looking for a new way to pay off his debts: a legal defense fund whereby he raises money from donors willing to help him.</p> <p>But, there’s been a key catch: the city does not have a legal framework for allowing public officials to create such accounts, and the advice the mayor got from the city’s Conflict of Interest Board limited him to receiving very small gifts from prospective benefactors.</p> <p>Spotlighting this perceived gap in the city’s legal and campaign finance framework, de Blasio’s situation, as well as others before him, has spurred action, and the City Council has begun to consider a new law to create “legal defense trusts.”</p> <p>On Monday, January 14, the Council’s Committee on Government Operations held a hearing on <a href="https://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3823152&amp;GUID=665DDDF9-0F16-445F-857A-70A6A5BD5068&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a bill</a> proposed by Council Member Stephen Levin, a Brooklyn Democrat, that would allow city officials to establish such trusts for fees incurred during an investigation or trial. The bill sets a donation limit at $5,000 per donor, which is more than double the $2,000 limit for campaign contributions, with no limit on how much an official can raise in such a fund. As written, the bill bans lobbyists, persons doing business with the city, corporations, and LLCs from contributing to legal defense trusts. Additionally, any legal defense trusts would be required to make quarterly reports to the Conflict of Interest Board on their donations, which would then be made public and posted online, in a manner similar to the Campaign Finance Board’s reporting of political donations. No campaign funds could be used for a legal defense trust or vice versa and each trust will be overseen by an independent trustee.</p> <p>Levin said that his bill “would bring transparency and regulation to a system that is in need of improvement.” Under the current law, city officials in civil and some criminal cases are entitled to a legal defense paid for by the city, as long as the cases relate to their public duties. However, offenses unrelated to an official’s public duties (such as political campaigns, issue advocacy, and certain administrative issues) are not paid for by the city.</p> <p>Council Member Fernando Cabrera, a Bronx Democrat and the chair of the Government Operations Committee, explained it as a problem because “public officials are not highly paid and rarely independently wealthy,” and “defending against allegations and investigations for alleged wrongdoing can be financially devastating for someone of average means.”</p> <p>While there have been past instances to raise the issue, the bill and committee hearing were spurred by a March 2017 advisory opinion from the city’s Conflict of Interest Board, which stated that because there was no law specifically addressing the issue, donations to a public official’s legal defense fund are considered gifts under current law and therefore limited to $50 per person. The advisory opinion came after Mayor de Blasio planned to create a legal defense fund to cover fees from state and federal investigations into his fundraising activities.</p> <p>De Blasio, a second-term Democrat, was never mentioned by name during the hearing, but was frequently referred to as a “public official in the headlines,” when the advisory opinion was brought up during testimony provided by representatives of the Conflict of Interest Board.</p> <p>At a press conference on January 8, de Blasio reiterated his assertion that a new legal framework was necessary. “I believe there is a need in a democratic society for this kind of mechanism, a legal defense fund is a very well established idea,” he said. He added the caveat that the bill had not gone through the legislative process, so he didn’t know the final wording. When asked if he would disclose his donors if the bill passed, he replied “absolutely” (it may be required).</p> <p>While de Blasio has been earning the salaries afforded to elected officials for many years, he also owns two houses in Park Slope, Brooklyn, making him fairly wealthy. He has indicated he does not have the means to pay his legal bills, not acknowledging the possibility of leveraging his property, or at least its value. He has pointed to the larger case for legal defense funds that goes beyond his situation, something it appears City Council members and others are in agreement about. De Blasio has claimed that law enforcement investigations are part of being in political office.</p> <p>At the hearing, the bill appeared to have the support of the Council members who spoke, although some had suggestions for improving it. The Conflict of Interest Board, represented at the hearing by its executive director, Carolyn Lisa Miller, and general counsel, Ethan Carrier, also expressed general support. However, Miller said there are some reservations about a section of the proposed bill that would ban the use of a defense fund from paying legal fines, but allows a fund to pay civil and administrative fines, such as Campaign Finance Board fines. Council Member Keith Powers, a Manhattan Democrat who expressed support for the concept of the bill but is undecided about its current form, asked about this section, but it was unclear if the provision would be changed.</p> <p>Miller stated the COIB already does not have enough resources to do its mandated work and would require additional funds to fulfill the requirements of the bill. She estimated that an online reporting portal would cost $40,000 to set up and a few thousand each year afterwards for licensing. The bill requires quarterly reporting for defense funds and each audit would cost between $5,000 and $10,000, according to Miller’s estimate based on information from other city agencies. When asked about the number of defense funds that would be registered, she said she did not know. If the section allowing defense funds to pay campaign finance violation fines were to be included in a final bill, she estimated that as many as 50 defense funds could be established. Without that provision, she said there were only be a few, if any, per year. Many candidates for office wind up incurring some amount of fines from the Campaign Finance Board, often ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.</p> <p>Council Member Kalman Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat, said he supports the concept behind the bill, but thinks that the specifics could be improved. He questioned why the Campaign Finance Board would not allow COIB to use its reporting portal or certified auditors, which he said would save taxpayers money. According to Miller, the CFB’s portal is proprietary to that agency and cannot be used by COIB. Near the end of the hearing, Cabrera proposed that the CFB could administer the bill’s requirements instead of the COIB. Both Levin and Treyger were against this proposal, but Yeger reaffirmed that he would like a mandate included in the bill for the CFB and COIB to share resources.</p> <p>While not at the hearing, watchdog group Common Cause supports the bill. In <a href="https://www.commoncause.org/new-york/press-release/recommends-legislation-create-legal-defense-funds/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a July 2017 statement</a> in support of legal defense trusts, Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause/NY, &nbsp;said that “there must and should be a process for public officials to raise funds to pay for legal bills” and “we need a policy in place to give public officials a workable solution and avoid ad hoc improvisation.” Common Cause commissioned a study of legal defense fund laws across the country and made recommendations to cover New York City’s perceived “policy gap.” Levin’s bill includes many of Common Cause’s recommendations.</p> <p>The Council committee hearing on the bill only included a statement from Council Member Levin, its lead sponsor, and the representatives from COIB. The Council now has to decide whether to amend Levin’s bill and if more hearings are required to address the issues raised at the January 14 hearing. The Council will also have to decide to vote on the bill or put it on indefinite hold. If it passes committee, it will go to the full 51-member Council. Meanwhile, it is unclear when exactly Mayor de Blasio’s legal bills are due, the debt has been outstanding for quite some time now.</p> <p>In response to a tweet about the bill from Politico reporter Sally Goldenberg, former City Council Member Sal Albanese, a 2013 and 2017 Democratic primary opponent of de Blasio, said that Levin and the bill’s other sponsors “should be held accountable for introducing this self serving corruption hazard” and called them “Bill de Blasio sycophants.” Levin replied to Albanese, stating that “I never spoke to [the Mayor’s Office] before introing this bill” and that “the bill itself is specifically designed to eliminate a corruption hazard.”</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p> <p>Note: after initially mistaking Council Member Yeger for Treyger, this article has been corrected. It has also been updated to clarify Council Member Powers' stance on the bill.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/nycczerohearingsl.jpg" alt="nycczerohearingsl" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>City Council Member Stephen Levin (photo via New York City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawyers who helped him during legal investigations that ultimately resulted in no criminal charges against the mayor, but left him with bills to pay even after he reversed course and decided to use public funds to cover the portion of his legal expenses related to his government work. The remaining balance, for work related to campaign activity de Blasio was involved with that was the subject of part of the inquiries, has left de Blasio looking for a new way to pay off his debts: a legal defense fund whereby he raises money from donors willing to help him.</p> <p>But, there’s been a key catch: the city does not have a legal framework for allowing public officials to create such accounts, and the advice the mayor got from the city’s Conflict of Interest Board limited him to receiving very small gifts from prospective benefactors.</p> <p>Spotlighting this perceived gap in the city’s legal and campaign finance framework, de Blasio’s situation, as well as others before him, has spurred action, and the City Council has begun to consider a new law to create “legal defense trusts.”</p> <p>On Monday, January 14, the Council’s Committee on Government Operations held a hearing on <a href="https://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3823152&amp;GUID=665DDDF9-0F16-445F-857A-70A6A5BD5068&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a bill</a> proposed by Council Member Stephen Levin, a Brooklyn Democrat, that would allow city officials to establish such trusts for fees incurred during an investigation or trial. The bill sets a donation limit at $5,000 per donor, which is more than double the $2,000 limit for campaign contributions, with no limit on how much an official can raise in such a fund. As written, the bill bans lobbyists, persons doing business with the city, corporations, and LLCs from contributing to legal defense trusts. Additionally, any legal defense trusts would be required to make quarterly reports to the Conflict of Interest Board on their donations, which would then be made public and posted online, in a manner similar to the Campaign Finance Board’s reporting of political donations. No campaign funds could be used for a legal defense trust or vice versa and each trust will be overseen by an independent trustee.</p> <p>Levin said that his bill “would bring transparency and regulation to a system that is in need of improvement.” Under the current law, city officials in civil and some criminal cases are entitled to a legal defense paid for by the city, as long as the cases relate to their public duties. However, offenses unrelated to an official’s public duties (such as political campaigns, issue advocacy, and certain administrative issues) are not paid for by the city.</p> <p>Council Member Fernando Cabrera, a Bronx Democrat and the chair of the Government Operations Committee, explained it as a problem because “public officials are not highly paid and rarely independently wealthy,” and “defending against allegations and investigations for alleged wrongdoing can be financially devastating for someone of average means.”</p> <p>While there have been past instances to raise the issue, the bill and committee hearing were spurred by a March 2017 advisory opinion from the city’s Conflict of Interest Board, which stated that because there was no law specifically addressing the issue, donations to a public official’s legal defense fund are considered gifts under current law and therefore limited to $50 per person. The advisory opinion came after Mayor de Blasio planned to create a legal defense fund to cover fees from state and federal investigations into his fundraising activities.</p> <p>De Blasio, a second-term Democrat, was never mentioned by name during the hearing, but was frequently referred to as a “public official in the headlines,” when the advisory opinion was brought up during testimony provided by representatives of the Conflict of Interest Board.</p> <p>At a press conference on January 8, de Blasio reiterated his assertion that a new legal framework was necessary. “I believe there is a need in a democratic society for this kind of mechanism, a legal defense fund is a very well established idea,” he said. He added the caveat that the bill had not gone through the legislative process, so he didn’t know the final wording. When asked if he would disclose his donors if the bill passed, he replied “absolutely” (it may be required).</p> <p>While de Blasio has been earning the salaries afforded to elected officials for many years, he also owns two houses in Park Slope, Brooklyn, making him fairly wealthy. He has indicated he does not have the means to pay his legal bills, not acknowledging the possibility of leveraging his property, or at least its value. He has pointed to the larger case for legal defense funds that goes beyond his situation, something it appears City Council members and others are in agreement about. De Blasio has claimed that law enforcement investigations are part of being in political office.</p> <p>At the hearing, the bill appeared to have the support of the Council members who spoke, although some had suggestions for improving it. The Conflict of Interest Board, represented at the hearing by its executive director, Carolyn Lisa Miller, and general counsel, Ethan Carrier, also expressed general support. However, Miller said there are some reservations about a section of the proposed bill that would ban the use of a defense fund from paying legal fines, but allows a fund to pay civil and administrative fines, such as Campaign Finance Board fines. Council Member Keith Powers, a Manhattan Democrat who expressed support for the concept of the bill but is undecided about its current form, asked about this section, but it was unclear if the provision would be changed.</p> <p>Miller stated the COIB already does not have enough resources to do its mandated work and would require additional funds to fulfill the requirements of the bill. She estimated that an online reporting portal would cost $40,000 to set up and a few thousand each year afterwards for licensing. The bill requires quarterly reporting for defense funds and each audit would cost between $5,000 and $10,000, according to Miller’s estimate based on information from other city agencies. When asked about the number of defense funds that would be registered, she said she did not know. If the section allowing defense funds to pay campaign finance violation fines were to be included in a final bill, she estimated that as many as 50 defense funds could be established. Without that provision, she said there were only be a few, if any, per year. Many candidates for office wind up incurring some amount of fines from the Campaign Finance Board, often ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.</p> <p>Council Member Kalman Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat, said he supports the concept behind the bill, but thinks that the specifics could be improved. He questioned why the Campaign Finance Board would not allow COIB to use its reporting portal or certified auditors, which he said would save taxpayers money. According to Miller, the CFB’s portal is proprietary to that agency and cannot be used by COIB. Near the end of the hearing, Cabrera proposed that the CFB could administer the bill’s requirements instead of the COIB. Both Levin and Treyger were against this proposal, but Yeger reaffirmed that he would like a mandate included in the bill for the CFB and COIB to share resources.</p> <p>While not at the hearing, watchdog group Common Cause supports the bill. In <a href="https://www.commoncause.org/new-york/press-release/recommends-legislation-create-legal-defense-funds/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a July 2017 statement</a> in support of legal defense trusts, Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause/NY, &nbsp;said that “there must and should be a process for public officials to raise funds to pay for legal bills” and “we need a policy in place to give public officials a workable solution and avoid ad hoc improvisation.” Common Cause commissioned a study of legal defense fund laws across the country and made recommendations to cover New York City’s perceived “policy gap.” Levin’s bill includes many of Common Cause’s recommendations.</p> <p>The Council committee hearing on the bill only included a statement from Council Member Levin, its lead sponsor, and the representatives from COIB. The Council now has to decide whether to amend Levin’s bill and if more hearings are required to address the issues raised at the January 14 hearing. The Council will also have to decide to vote on the bill or put it on indefinite hold. If it passes committee, it will go to the full 51-member Council. Meanwhile, it is unclear when exactly Mayor de Blasio’s legal bills are due, the debt has been outstanding for quite some time now.</p> <p>In response to a tweet about the bill from Politico reporter Sally Goldenberg, former City Council Member Sal Albanese, a 2013 and 2017 Democratic primary opponent of de Blasio, said that Levin and the bill’s other sponsors “should be held accountable for introducing this self serving corruption hazard” and called them “Bill de Blasio sycophants.” Levin replied to Albanese, stating that “I never spoke to [the Mayor’s Office] before introing this bill” and that “the bill itself is specifically designed to eliminate a corruption hazard.”</p> <p>

***
by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p> <p>Note: after initially mistaking Council Member Yeger for Treyger, this article has been corrected. It has also been updated to clarify Council Member Powers' stance on the bill.</p>
Proposed Changes to ‘Public Charge’ and Access to City Benefits: What To Know 2019-01-09T05:00:00+00:00 2019-01-09T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8190-proposed-changes-to-public-charge-and-access-to-city-benefits-what-to-know Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/24128710992_658f50cdcf_z.jpg" alt="24128710992 658f50cdcf z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New Yorkers know that it is the city government’s job to make sure that they’re taken care of. We fill potholes, pick up the trash, clean the streets, clear the drains, prune the trees - you name it.</p> <p>But that’s not all we do. And while we faced many challenges as a city and as a nation in 2018, New Yorkers continue to step up and help their neighbors in need.</p> <p>Through our public health facilities, tens of thousands of dedicated professionals help their fellow New Yorkers put food on the table, help expectant mothers get access to critical health care, help seniors make ends meet, and so much more. We even helped non-English speaking eligible voters participate in our democracy, by expanding our poll-site interpretation program. We work to serve New Yorkers every day because that’s our number one job. It’s why we’re here.</p> <p>Back in October, the Trump administration announced a proposal concerning “public charge,” a complex aspect of immigration law. If implemented, the proposal would make it easier for immigration officials to prevent an otherwise eligible person from getting a green card or certain kinds of visas. They could make that life-changing decision just because one day, the applicant could find herself or himself down on their luck and in need of important public resources.</p> <p>Over 200,000 public comments were submitted to the federal register – a truly remarkable display of civic participation and responsiveness from residents of all walks of life. We thank you, and every single New Yorker who took the time to make their voice heard on this issue.</p> <p>We can all agree that in this country – in this city – of immigrants, no one should have to choose between relying on the help for which they’re legally eligible and pursuing the American Dream.</p> <p>In the past few months, we’ve heard from folks across the five boroughs, some scared or confused, and even more who want to know how to help their fellow New Yorkers.</p> <p>So let’s get some facts straight.</p> <p>First: the public charge proposal is not in effect, and nothing about eligibility for benefits has changed. New York City’s doors remain open to those in need. The Department of Social Services is continuing to accept applications from all New Yorkers for benefits, and is continuing to deliver benefits and services to all who are eligible. The same is true for all of the public hospitals and community clinics operated by NYC Health + Hospitals. If you’re in need of health care, you’ll be able to find it there.</p> <p>Second: many immigrants would not be impacted by this proposal. If you are a naturalized citizen, a refugee, an asylee, or a green card holder thinking about renewing or becoming a U.S. citizen, this proposal would not apply to you. This is also true for many other categories of immigrants.</p> <p>That leads us to the next – and very important – point.</p> <p>Third: If you are concerned about this proposal’s possible impacts on you or your family, don’t make any decisions without getting safe and trusted legal advice first.</p> <p>You can get help in many languages by calling the Office of New Americans hotline, operated by Catholic Charities, at 1-800-566-7636. You can also call the city’s 311 and say “ActionNYC” to schedule a free consultation with a trusted immigration legal services provider, funded by the City of New York.</p> <p>If New Yorkers begin to disenroll from health care, nutrition, or housing programs for which they’re eligible, the consequences could be dire. We could face a public health crisis and <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/507-18/mayor-up-475-000-immigrant-new-yorkers-could-be-harmed-trump-s-public-charge-" target="_blank" rel="noopener">lose hundreds of millions of dollars</a> in economic activity annually.</p> <p>As public servants, our job is to serve you. And in the fairest big city in America, no one should struggle alone. We’ve got your back.</p> <p>***<br /> Bitta Mostofi is the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; Steven Banks is the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, City Council Member Carlos Menchaca is chair of the Immigration Committee, City Council Member Mark Levine is chair of the Health Committee, City Council Member Stephen Levin is chair of the General Welfare Committee.</p> <p>

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

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/24128710992_658f50cdcf_z.jpg" alt="24128710992 658f50cdcf z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New Yorkers know that it is the city government’s job to make sure that they’re taken care of. We fill potholes, pick up the trash, clean the streets, clear the drains, prune the trees - you name it.</p> <p>But that’s not all we do. And while we faced many challenges as a city and as a nation in 2018, New Yorkers continue to step up and help their neighbors in need.</p> <p>Through our public health facilities, tens of thousands of dedicated professionals help their fellow New Yorkers put food on the table, help expectant mothers get access to critical health care, help seniors make ends meet, and so much more. We even helped non-English speaking eligible voters participate in our democracy, by expanding our poll-site interpretation program. We work to serve New Yorkers every day because that’s our number one job. It’s why we’re here.</p> <p>Back in October, the Trump administration announced a proposal concerning “public charge,” a complex aspect of immigration law. If implemented, the proposal would make it easier for immigration officials to prevent an otherwise eligible person from getting a green card or certain kinds of visas. They could make that life-changing decision just because one day, the applicant could find herself or himself down on their luck and in need of important public resources.</p> <p>Over 200,000 public comments were submitted to the federal register – a truly remarkable display of civic participation and responsiveness from residents of all walks of life. We thank you, and every single New Yorker who took the time to make their voice heard on this issue.</p> <p>We can all agree that in this country – in this city – of immigrants, no one should have to choose between relying on the help for which they’re legally eligible and pursuing the American Dream.</p> <p>In the past few months, we’ve heard from folks across the five boroughs, some scared or confused, and even more who want to know how to help their fellow New Yorkers.</p> <p>So let’s get some facts straight.</p> <p>First: the public charge proposal is not in effect, and nothing about eligibility for benefits has changed. New York City’s doors remain open to those in need. The Department of Social Services is continuing to accept applications from all New Yorkers for benefits, and is continuing to deliver benefits and services to all who are eligible. The same is true for all of the public hospitals and community clinics operated by NYC Health + Hospitals. If you’re in need of health care, you’ll be able to find it there.</p> <p>Second: many immigrants would not be impacted by this proposal. If you are a naturalized citizen, a refugee, an asylee, or a green card holder thinking about renewing or becoming a U.S. citizen, this proposal would not apply to you. This is also true for many other categories of immigrants.</p> <p>That leads us to the next – and very important – point.</p> <p>Third: If you are concerned about this proposal’s possible impacts on you or your family, don’t make any decisions without getting safe and trusted legal advice first.</p> <p>You can get help in many languages by calling the Office of New Americans hotline, operated by Catholic Charities, at 1-800-566-7636. You can also call the city’s 311 and say “ActionNYC” to schedule a free consultation with a trusted immigration legal services provider, funded by the City of New York.</p> <p>If New Yorkers begin to disenroll from health care, nutrition, or housing programs for which they’re eligible, the consequences could be dire. We could face a public health crisis and <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/507-18/mayor-up-475-000-immigrant-new-yorkers-could-be-harmed-trump-s-public-charge-" target="_blank" rel="noopener">lose hundreds of millions of dollars</a> in economic activity annually.</p> <p>As public servants, our job is to serve you. And in the fairest big city in America, no one should struggle alone. We’ve got your back.</p> <p>***<br /> Bitta Mostofi is the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; Steven Banks is the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, City Council Member Carlos Menchaca is chair of the Immigration Committee, City Council Member Mark Levine is chair of the Health Committee, City Council Member Stephen Levin is chair of the General Welfare Committee.</p> <p>

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

</p>
As We Close Rikers, Criminal Justice Reformers are Ready for Full Partnership in Albany 2018-12-16T05:00:00+00:00 2018-12-16T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8143-as-we-close-rikers-criminal-justice-reformers-are-ready-for-full-partnership-in-albany Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/29358752836_a86b6139d4_z.jpg" alt="guards rikers" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Riding high on the crest of a Democratic blue wave powered by grassroots progressives, New York Democrats finally took back the state Senate for the first time in nearly a decade. With this accomplishment comes a responsibility to finally act upon a long list of priorities that have been stymied by the Republican-controlled upper chamber of the Legislature in Albany. &nbsp;</p> <p>Chief among these priorities is criminal justice reform, a topic that the New York City Council has been tackling aggressively for some time. Perhaps the Council’s most ambitious effort in this sphere has been to close all jails on Rikers Island. The decrepit jails on this island embody human misery and tragedy and it is our moral imperative to close them forever.</p> <p>Any realistic effort to close these jails requires reducing the pretrial detention population, as close to 90 percent of those housed on Rikers are merely accused and not convicted of crimes. While the city has managed to take several bold steps in this area, state action will be required to make the dream of closing Rikers a reality. Over the past few years, our efforts at state reform have been hamstrung by an uncooperative state Senate. Throughout the process, our progressive allies in the Assembly majority and Senate minority voiced support for progressive criminal justice reform but were unable to move key bills to fruition.</p> <p>Their inability to move legislation through the Senate did not stop some state elected officials from crafting bills that would greatly improve our criminal justice system. This legislation now stands a strong chance of passing once the new Democratic majority sits for the 2019 legislative session.</p> <p><strong><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a></strong>First and foremost, bail and speedy trial reform must be prioritized. Both efforts would go a long way towards a more equitable criminal justice system writ large, while lowering the detainee population on Rikers Island. While we here on the City Council have done much to make our bail system fairer, only Albany can implement the deep and systemic reform necessary to make our pretrial detention system truly fair and just. There are a number of bills in the Assembly and Senate that either significantly restrict or eliminate cash bail, encourage the use of monitored release in lieu of detention, and help ensure that pretrial detention is reserved for only the most severe cases. Any of this legislation would go a long way towards fixing what is a fundamentally broken and unfair bail system.</p> <p>Meanwhile, speedy trial reform is arguably even more important in reducing pretrial detention. Given that close to 90 percent of the jail population is pretrial detainees, cutting the speed with which cases are resolved has a direct and massive impact on the jail population: a 25 percent faster system would mean close to a 25 percent reduction in the jail population. Much like our state’s bail laws, our speedy trial laws are outdated and ineffective, lagging far behind the federal system and other states. As they say, justice delayed is justice denied, so resolving criminal prosecutions faster not only reduces our jail population, it also helps our criminal justice system as a whole. While Senate Democrats tried to push for some minor reforms to our broken speedy trial laws in recent years, our new Senate leaders must be aggressive in tackling this issue.</p> <p>There are also lesser-discussed issues that could be enormously transformative, such as parole reform. Approximately 16 percent of the population of Rikers Island jails is incarcerated for parole violations, and the state controls this issue in its entirety. According to a report issued by Columbia University’s Justice Lab, the state parolee population is the only jail group that saw an increase in its size over the past four years. Thankfully, Albany is aware of the issue, evident in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State speech, in which he touched on the importance of parole reform. When the new state Legislature convenes in January, it can move to shorten parole terms, incentivize good behavior, and require speedier hearings on these issues.</p> <p>Though its impact on our jail population may not immediately be apparent, discovery reform should also prove critical in helping the city to run a more just criminal justice system and to close Rikers Island jails. Discovery is the process by which the prosecution provides its evidence to the defense. New York State has among the most restrictive discovery laws in the country. While the issue may seem complex, it is actually fairly simple: since well over 95 percent of criminal prosecutions result in a plea or dismissal, the faster the defense is able to assess the strength of the prosecution’s case, the faster a plea or dismissal can be reached. Luckily, there is already legislation in Albany to ameliorate the situation, and our new leaders should embrace these progressive reforms. &nbsp;</p> <p>Over the past several years, we here at the City Council worked hard to bring our criminal justice system into the 21st century. However, there has always been a limit to what we can accomplish without willing partners in Albany. In early January, when our fellow Democrats in the state Senate take their seats as the new majority and work with the Democratic majority in the Assembly, the possibilities for progressive criminal justice reform will widen tremendously.</p> <p>The progressive activists who helped make Democratic victories a reality in November will be watching the new Legislature closely. It is imperative that our state elected officials finally act to create a criminal justice system in New York that reflects our values as a state and a city.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>***<br /> Diana Ayala, Margaret Chin, and Stephen Levin are members of the New York City Council, representing parts of the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn, and members of the Council’s Progressive Caucus. Their districts are all slated to be home to new or larger jails as Rikers Island facilities are closed. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/DianaAyalaNYC" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@DianaAyalaNYC</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/CM_MargaretChin" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@CM_MargaretChin</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/StephenLevin33" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@StephenLevin33</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/29358752836_a86b6139d4_z.jpg" alt="guards rikers" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Riding high on the crest of a Democratic blue wave powered by grassroots progressives, New York Democrats finally took back the state Senate for the first time in nearly a decade. With this accomplishment comes a responsibility to finally act upon a long list of priorities that have been stymied by the Republican-controlled upper chamber of the Legislature in Albany. &nbsp;</p> <p>Chief among these priorities is criminal justice reform, a topic that the New York City Council has been tackling aggressively for some time. Perhaps the Council’s most ambitious effort in this sphere has been to close all jails on Rikers Island. The decrepit jails on this island embody human misery and tragedy and it is our moral imperative to close them forever.</p> <p>Any realistic effort to close these jails requires reducing the pretrial detention population, as close to 90 percent of those housed on Rikers are merely accused and not convicted of crimes. While the city has managed to take several bold steps in this area, state action will be required to make the dream of closing Rikers a reality. Over the past few years, our efforts at state reform have been hamstrung by an uncooperative state Senate. Throughout the process, our progressive allies in the Assembly majority and Senate minority voiced support for progressive criminal justice reform but were unable to move key bills to fruition.</p> <p>Their inability to move legislation through the Senate did not stop some state elected officials from crafting bills that would greatly improve our criminal justice system. This legislation now stands a strong chance of passing once the new Democratic majority sits for the 2019 legislative session.</p> <p><strong><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a></strong>First and foremost, bail and speedy trial reform must be prioritized. Both efforts would go a long way towards a more equitable criminal justice system writ large, while lowering the detainee population on Rikers Island. While we here on the City Council have done much to make our bail system fairer, only Albany can implement the deep and systemic reform necessary to make our pretrial detention system truly fair and just. There are a number of bills in the Assembly and Senate that either significantly restrict or eliminate cash bail, encourage the use of monitored release in lieu of detention, and help ensure that pretrial detention is reserved for only the most severe cases. Any of this legislation would go a long way towards fixing what is a fundamentally broken and unfair bail system.</p> <p>Meanwhile, speedy trial reform is arguably even more important in reducing pretrial detention. Given that close to 90 percent of the jail population is pretrial detainees, cutting the speed with which cases are resolved has a direct and massive impact on the jail population: a 25 percent faster system would mean close to a 25 percent reduction in the jail population. Much like our state’s bail laws, our speedy trial laws are outdated and ineffective, lagging far behind the federal system and other states. As they say, justice delayed is justice denied, so resolving criminal prosecutions faster not only reduces our jail population, it also helps our criminal justice system as a whole. While Senate Democrats tried to push for some minor reforms to our broken speedy trial laws in recent years, our new Senate leaders must be aggressive in tackling this issue.</p> <p>There are also lesser-discussed issues that could be enormously transformative, such as parole reform. Approximately 16 percent of the population of Rikers Island jails is incarcerated for parole violations, and the state controls this issue in its entirety. According to a report issued by Columbia University’s Justice Lab, the state parolee population is the only jail group that saw an increase in its size over the past four years. Thankfully, Albany is aware of the issue, evident in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State speech, in which he touched on the importance of parole reform. When the new state Legislature convenes in January, it can move to shorten parole terms, incentivize good behavior, and require speedier hearings on these issues.</p> <p>Though its impact on our jail population may not immediately be apparent, discovery reform should also prove critical in helping the city to run a more just criminal justice system and to close Rikers Island jails. Discovery is the process by which the prosecution provides its evidence to the defense. New York State has among the most restrictive discovery laws in the country. While the issue may seem complex, it is actually fairly simple: since well over 95 percent of criminal prosecutions result in a plea or dismissal, the faster the defense is able to assess the strength of the prosecution’s case, the faster a plea or dismissal can be reached. Luckily, there is already legislation in Albany to ameliorate the situation, and our new leaders should embrace these progressive reforms. &nbsp;</p> <p>Over the past several years, we here at the City Council worked hard to bring our criminal justice system into the 21st century. However, there has always been a limit to what we can accomplish without willing partners in Albany. In early January, when our fellow Democrats in the state Senate take their seats as the new majority and work with the Democratic majority in the Assembly, the possibilities for progressive criminal justice reform will widen tremendously.</p> <p>The progressive activists who helped make Democratic victories a reality in November will be watching the new Legislature closely. It is imperative that our state elected officials finally act to create a criminal justice system in New York that reflects our values as a state and a city.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>***<br /> Diana Ayala, Margaret Chin, and Stephen Levin are members of the New York City Council, representing parts of the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn, and members of the Council’s Progressive Caucus. Their districts are all slated to be home to new or larger jails as Rikers Island facilities are closed. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/DianaAyalaNYC" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@DianaAyalaNYC</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/CM_MargaretChin" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@CM_MargaretChin</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/StephenLevin33" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@StephenLevin33</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
Added Scrutiny of City’s Delinquent Contracting Practices 2018-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7748-added-scrutiny-of-city-s-delinquent-contracting-practices Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cm-stephlevin-ant-reynoso.jpg" alt="cm stephlevin ant reynoso" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Levin (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The new city <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/erc4-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a> does not do enough to address the tremendous backlog of city contracts with nonprofit groups that have been left languishing by city agencies, the groups say. This comes after a recent <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> from the city comptroller that shows 81 percent of new and renewed contracts were registered retroactively, meaning after their start date, last fiscal year. Human services were the most affected, with more than 90 percent of contracts in this category submitted retroactively to the comptroller’s office by city agencies, half of them late by six months or more.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council recently agreed to a $89.2 billion operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Though it continues to increase spending at various city agencies that rely on human services nonprofits, there is no accompanying deal to address the rampant contracting delays across city agencies.</p> <p>The problem of contract delays affects cash flow and services to the public, and also compounds other issues, such as contracts not accounting enough for overhead expenses, that together contribute to a financial crisis for many organizations that the city contracts with to provide vital services from homeless shelters to after school programs.</p> <p>“It needs to be a priority of this administration to fix the backlog in contract registration and also the significant amount of contract amendments that are pending from investments the city made last year: money that was announced on July 1 of 2017 that providers still have not gotten in June of 2018,” said Michelle Jackson, spokesperson for the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group (HSASG), in an interview last week. The group, which consists of nine associations and represents some 2,000 human services provider organizations in New York City, will be testifying at a City Council <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=605915&amp;GUID=E847EE2B-9412-4205-B4B2-D7FE144D23D8&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">oversight hearing</a> on the issue at City Hall this Thursday, June 21. “There really needs to be a focus on getting all of those amendments and registrations up to date,” Jackson added.</p> <p>The delay in the city’s procurement process means vendors -- predominately nonprofits in the human services sector -- are forced to either fund their own work while they wait for the city to register and approve their contracts, or delay starting operations entirely. For providers waiting to have their contracts renewed, Jackson said, “they have to just keep operating the service because you don’t just send all the kids home, you don’t kick everyone out of the shelter. It’s not like a construction project where you can just wait to get all your documents signed…Nonprofits are taking a real fiscal and legal liability by waiting for these contracts.”</p> <p>It’s a system in “dire need of reform,” according to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>. In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, Stringer’s spokesperson added: “One of city government’s most important jobs is delivering services to New Yorkers in need – that’s why fixing the city procurement process is urgent and essential. Providing services to our most vulnerable residents depends on our ability to execute social service contracts expediently.”</p> <p>The next step in addressing the issue is this week’s hearing of the City Council Committees on Contracts and General Welfare at City Hall, which will be co-chaired by Brooklyn Council Members Justin Brannan and Stephen Levin, the respective chairs of those committees. The “process has to be sped up,” Levin said.</p> <p>“These providers are operating at significant deficit and often we engage with providers that are doing a lot of the work that we would like to see providers do, and they are doing it on their own fundraising,” Levin told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The backlog is also putting pressure on the city’s Returnable Grant Fund, a revolving fund providing interest-free loans to nonprofits. February testimony from Acting Chair of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, Dan Symon, to the City Council was referenced in the comptroller’s report, claiming the Fund processed 751 loans for nonprofits in fiscal year 2017 as a “direct result of delayed contract awards.” The combined total of these loans was $149.9 million.</p> <p>“We need to make sure we are providing services equitably across the board,” Levin said. “That when you go to shelter you’re not just lucking out in getting into a good provider or a provider that’s has the ability to raise significant money versus a provider that can’t. That’s not an equitable system.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio and his administration were widely criticized following the release of Stringer’s report, with questions raised about the progressive mayor’s commitment to human services organizations and their clients. The issues raised by the comptroller’s report are longstanding and nonprofits groups and their supporters <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6266-city-approach-to-nonprofit-contracting-questioned" target="_blank" rel="noopener">have been lobbying city government to improve the process for sometime</a>.</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, a City Hall spokesperson said the mayor’s office has been working to reduce contracting backlogs and that model budgets -- a system introduced this year designed to increase rates for providers funded below what is considered the ‘model’ to deliver appropriate service -- will help these departments fulfil their administrative duties to outside contractors. &nbsp;</p> <p>“We’ve invested more than a quarter-billion new dollars annually in our shelter provider partners to address decades of disinvestment and reform outdated rates they were paid for many years,” the spokesperson said. “We have also been working closely with these vital partners to resolve inherited contracting backlogs, implement model budgets for the first time ever, and address any outstanding challenges they may have to ensure they can deliver the services our neighbors in need deserve as they get back on their feet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Due to this work in resolving contracting issues, the City Hall spokesperson said this year is the first time in recent memory that providers will be operating with registered current contracts. As of May 2018, 97 percent of fiscal year 2018 contracts are registered and active, with only one contract still at the comptroller’s office and another contract pending provider budget submission.</p> <p>According to the comptroller’s report, the seven city agencies that contract for the majority of human service programs are: the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), Department of Education (DOE), Department of Youth &amp; Community Development (DYCD), Department for the Aging (DFTA), Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Human Resources Administration (HRA), and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).</p> <p>All of these departments submitted more than half of their registration and renewal contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year. DHS and HRA submitted 100 percent of these contracts retroactively, and the DOE was at 99.8 percent of registration and renewal contracts submitted after their start date. In HRA’s case, more than 60 percent of retroactive contracts were submitted to the comptroller’s office more than six months after the contract was due to start.</p> <p>Despite the backlog, some departments are set to receive less funding in fiscal year 2019 than in the current, soon-to-end fiscal year, according to the city <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/erc4-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a> that was released on Monday June 12.</p> <p>DYCD, for example, is receiving about $121 million less in funding via the city budget this financial year, yet of 859 registered or renewed contracts it received last year, 795 (92.5 percent) were submitted retroactively, according to the comptroller’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>. Similarly, DOHMH is allocated $112 million less in fiscal 2019 than it was in 2018, and of 314 new and renewed contracts it handled last fiscal year, 265 (or 84.4 percent) were submitted after their start date.</p> <p>When asked if the budget has allocated enough resources to these city agencies that are struggling with contracting, Council Member Brannan said: “This is something we intend to discuss at the hearing on the 21st, both from the administration side as well as what the providers think. I am committed to working with the Speaker, Administration, as well as the Comptroller, to ensure we are processing contracts in as swift a manner as possible so that vital services are not being jeopardized due to procedural snafus that can be remedied.”</p> <p>“I hope that through our hearing we can shed light on the administration’s progress implementing model budgeting across different agencies as well as seeing how the providers are faring with model budgeting,” Brannan added. &nbsp;</p> <p>DHS and the DOE, which respectively submitted 100 percent and 99.8 percent of contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year, are both receiving an increase in funding for the upcoming fiscal year. According to the city’s preliminary budget, DHS is receiving more than $183 million in additional funding compared to the current fiscal year and DOE is budgeted an additional $1.2 billion.</p> <p>Speaking to Gotham Gazette, Council Member Levin said the Council’s preliminary budget hearing with DHS dealt largely with where the increased funding is going and he is confident the additional funding will help the agency in improving contract delays.</p> <p>“In our preliminary budget hearing with DHS, we did talk a lot about where a lot of the increased funding is going and they spoke a lot about the model budget contract,” Levin said. “So we’re expecting that it should be able to be covered in the significant increases in budget year-over-year in DHS. I have every expectation that they’ll be able to be covered it for sure. And if they’re not, there’s opportunities to do budget modifications.”</p> <p>“We need a system that’s set up that can afford the services that we need to provide for over 60,000 people in shelter ...” Levin continued. “We need to make sure that the providers are funded enough so that they can provide adequate services.”</p> <p>Comptroller Stringer's report makes two recommendations for improving the processing of contracts within city agencies: to stipulate deadlines for every agency that handles contract applications and to implement a transparent tracking system for vendors to follow their applications through the process. But the report also describes an extremely cumbersome system, weighed down in bureaucracy, in which up to five departments sometimes will handle a contract before it reaches the comptroller’s office -- the only agency with a deadline, which is 30 days -- where it is ultimately approved or kicked back to city agencies for more processing.</p> <p>“What we’re looking at now is 100 percent late registration [from some departments] and what’s going to happen today and tomorrow to get that fixed?” Jackson, of the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group, said, adding that while she “absolutely agrees” with the comptroller’s recommendations, “a tracking system and a timeline are not going to fix the backlog” already in existence.</p> <p>The HSASG is calling for a “SWAT Team” to immediately help clear the backlog, as well as allocation and recognition of this in the budget. Jackson said the group is asking for an additional $200 million to human services, not only to fix the contracting delays, but to also go to areas such as benefits, insurance, and occupancy costs.</p> <p>“A lot of these contracts don’t have cost escalators, and obviously in New York City rent goes up every year (a lot of expenses go up), and there’s not a way to capture that,” Jackson said. “Of course we were disappointed to not see further investment in the sector but we appreciate it’s a long-term investment that needs to be made.”</p> <p>Brannan said he “supports the recommendations” laid out in the comptroller’s report and that he is “working with the Comptroller’s office to come up with potential legislative fixes that would provide for agencies to process city contracts within a much more reasonable period of time.” He said he’s spoken to the Mayor's Office of Contract Services about next phases in rolling out the city’s Procurement and Sourcing Solutions Portal (PASSPort), saying it “in theory should significantly reduce procurement delays.”</p> <p>The spokesperson from City Hall also said the planned updates to PASSport will “make it easier for agencies to order and pay for goods off centralized contracts.” The system, which was initially launched in August 2017, will be updated with “phase two” in 2019 and “phase three” will launch approximately one year later to “enable online bidding and invoice management for all agencies,” the spokesperson said. &nbsp;</p> <p>New York City isn’t the first city to require urgent and comprehensive procurement reform. A 2005 report by the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) on fixing that city’s similarly “slow and burdensome” contracting system provided the administration with a range of recommendations that might be applicable in New York City today. These included, not only fixed deadlines for every department and a transparent tracking system, but also recommendations to increase public information and awareness of the city’s contracting system; allow simultaneous review by agencies; develop clear and explicit procedures for fast-tracking contracts; and use a post-audit approach to test compliance by departments, instead of every single contract moving through the comptroller’s office.</p> <p>There is no indication of any other measures being taken to address the contracting backlog in New York City, though the City Hall spokesperson said: “We are continuously looking to improve our practices to also realize timely procurement.”</p> <p>More ideas will likely be raised at Thursday’s Council hearing, but for those in the nonprofit sector, the fiscal year 2019 budget was the perfect place for the city to demonstrate its understanding of, and commitment to solving, the problem. “We would have liked to see it in the budget, even if it was just a statement about how to get all this money out the door,” Jackson said. “I think there needs to be a real recognition that this is a priority to fix the registration process and it needs to happen right away.”</p> <p>

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by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cm-stephlevin-ant-reynoso.jpg" alt="cm stephlevin ant reynoso" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Levin (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The new city <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/erc4-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a> does not do enough to address the tremendous backlog of city contracts with nonprofit groups that have been left languishing by city agencies, the groups say. This comes after a recent <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> from the city comptroller that shows 81 percent of new and renewed contracts were registered retroactively, meaning after their start date, last fiscal year. Human services were the most affected, with more than 90 percent of contracts in this category submitted retroactively to the comptroller’s office by city agencies, half of them late by six months or more.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council recently agreed to a $89.2 billion operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Though it continues to increase spending at various city agencies that rely on human services nonprofits, there is no accompanying deal to address the rampant contracting delays across city agencies.</p> <p>The problem of contract delays affects cash flow and services to the public, and also compounds other issues, such as contracts not accounting enough for overhead expenses, that together contribute to a financial crisis for many organizations that the city contracts with to provide vital services from homeless shelters to after school programs.</p> <p>“It needs to be a priority of this administration to fix the backlog in contract registration and also the significant amount of contract amendments that are pending from investments the city made last year: money that was announced on July 1 of 2017 that providers still have not gotten in June of 2018,” said Michelle Jackson, spokesperson for the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group (HSASG), in an interview last week. The group, which consists of nine associations and represents some 2,000 human services provider organizations in New York City, will be testifying at a City Council <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=605915&amp;GUID=E847EE2B-9412-4205-B4B2-D7FE144D23D8&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">oversight hearing</a> on the issue at City Hall this Thursday, June 21. “There really needs to be a focus on getting all of those amendments and registrations up to date,” Jackson added.</p> <p>The delay in the city’s procurement process means vendors -- predominately nonprofits in the human services sector -- are forced to either fund their own work while they wait for the city to register and approve their contracts, or delay starting operations entirely. For providers waiting to have their contracts renewed, Jackson said, “they have to just keep operating the service because you don’t just send all the kids home, you don’t kick everyone out of the shelter. It’s not like a construction project where you can just wait to get all your documents signed…Nonprofits are taking a real fiscal and legal liability by waiting for these contracts.”</p> <p>It’s a system in “dire need of reform,” according to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>. In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, Stringer’s spokesperson added: “One of city government’s most important jobs is delivering services to New Yorkers in need – that’s why fixing the city procurement process is urgent and essential. Providing services to our most vulnerable residents depends on our ability to execute social service contracts expediently.”</p> <p>The next step in addressing the issue is this week’s hearing of the City Council Committees on Contracts and General Welfare at City Hall, which will be co-chaired by Brooklyn Council Members Justin Brannan and Stephen Levin, the respective chairs of those committees. The “process has to be sped up,” Levin said.</p> <p>“These providers are operating at significant deficit and often we engage with providers that are doing a lot of the work that we would like to see providers do, and they are doing it on their own fundraising,” Levin told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The backlog is also putting pressure on the city’s Returnable Grant Fund, a revolving fund providing interest-free loans to nonprofits. February testimony from Acting Chair of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, Dan Symon, to the City Council was referenced in the comptroller’s report, claiming the Fund processed 751 loans for nonprofits in fiscal year 2017 as a “direct result of delayed contract awards.” The combined total of these loans was $149.9 million.</p> <p>“We need to make sure we are providing services equitably across the board,” Levin said. “That when you go to shelter you’re not just lucking out in getting into a good provider or a provider that’s has the ability to raise significant money versus a provider that can’t. That’s not an equitable system.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio and his administration were widely criticized following the release of Stringer’s report, with questions raised about the progressive mayor’s commitment to human services organizations and their clients. The issues raised by the comptroller’s report are longstanding and nonprofits groups and their supporters <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6266-city-approach-to-nonprofit-contracting-questioned" target="_blank" rel="noopener">have been lobbying city government to improve the process for sometime</a>.</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, a City Hall spokesperson said the mayor’s office has been working to reduce contracting backlogs and that model budgets -- a system introduced this year designed to increase rates for providers funded below what is considered the ‘model’ to deliver appropriate service -- will help these departments fulfil their administrative duties to outside contractors. &nbsp;</p> <p>“We’ve invested more than a quarter-billion new dollars annually in our shelter provider partners to address decades of disinvestment and reform outdated rates they were paid for many years,” the spokesperson said. “We have also been working closely with these vital partners to resolve inherited contracting backlogs, implement model budgets for the first time ever, and address any outstanding challenges they may have to ensure they can deliver the services our neighbors in need deserve as they get back on their feet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Due to this work in resolving contracting issues, the City Hall spokesperson said this year is the first time in recent memory that providers will be operating with registered current contracts. As of May 2018, 97 percent of fiscal year 2018 contracts are registered and active, with only one contract still at the comptroller’s office and another contract pending provider budget submission.</p> <p>According to the comptroller’s report, the seven city agencies that contract for the majority of human service programs are: the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), Department of Education (DOE), Department of Youth &amp; Community Development (DYCD), Department for the Aging (DFTA), Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Human Resources Administration (HRA), and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).</p> <p>All of these departments submitted more than half of their registration and renewal contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year. DHS and HRA submitted 100 percent of these contracts retroactively, and the DOE was at 99.8 percent of registration and renewal contracts submitted after their start date. In HRA’s case, more than 60 percent of retroactive contracts were submitted to the comptroller’s office more than six months after the contract was due to start.</p> <p>Despite the backlog, some departments are set to receive less funding in fiscal year 2019 than in the current, soon-to-end fiscal year, according to the city <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/erc4-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a> that was released on Monday June 12.</p> <p>DYCD, for example, is receiving about $121 million less in funding via the city budget this financial year, yet of 859 registered or renewed contracts it received last year, 795 (92.5 percent) were submitted retroactively, according to the comptroller’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>. Similarly, DOHMH is allocated $112 million less in fiscal 2019 than it was in 2018, and of 314 new and renewed contracts it handled last fiscal year, 265 (or 84.4 percent) were submitted after their start date.</p> <p>When asked if the budget has allocated enough resources to these city agencies that are struggling with contracting, Council Member Brannan said: “This is something we intend to discuss at the hearing on the 21st, both from the administration side as well as what the providers think. I am committed to working with the Speaker, Administration, as well as the Comptroller, to ensure we are processing contracts in as swift a manner as possible so that vital services are not being jeopardized due to procedural snafus that can be remedied.”</p> <p>“I hope that through our hearing we can shed light on the administration’s progress implementing model budgeting across different agencies as well as seeing how the providers are faring with model budgeting,” Brannan added. &nbsp;</p> <p>DHS and the DOE, which respectively submitted 100 percent and 99.8 percent of contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year, are both receiving an increase in funding for the upcoming fiscal year. According to the city’s preliminary budget, DHS is receiving more than $183 million in additional funding compared to the current fiscal year and DOE is budgeted an additional $1.2 billion.</p> <p>Speaking to Gotham Gazette, Council Member Levin said the Council’s preliminary budget hearing with DHS dealt largely with where the increased funding is going and he is confident the additional funding will help the agency in improving contract delays.</p> <p>“In our preliminary budget hearing with DHS, we did talk a lot about where a lot of the increased funding is going and they spoke a lot about the model budget contract,” Levin said. “So we’re expecting that it should be able to be covered in the significant increases in budget year-over-year in DHS. I have every expectation that they’ll be able to be covered it for sure. And if they’re not, there’s opportunities to do budget modifications.”</p> <p>“We need a system that’s set up that can afford the services that we need to provide for over 60,000 people in shelter ...” Levin continued. “We need to make sure that the providers are funded enough so that they can provide adequate services.”</p> <p>Comptroller Stringer's report makes two recommendations for improving the processing of contracts within city agencies: to stipulate deadlines for every agency that handles contract applications and to implement a transparent tracking system for vendors to follow their applications through the process. But the report also describes an extremely cumbersome system, weighed down in bureaucracy, in which up to five departments sometimes will handle a contract before it reaches the comptroller’s office -- the only agency with a deadline, which is 30 days -- where it is ultimately approved or kicked back to city agencies for more processing.</p> <p>“What we’re looking at now is 100 percent late registration [from some departments] and what’s going to happen today and tomorrow to get that fixed?” Jackson, of the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group, said, adding that while she “absolutely agrees” with the comptroller’s recommendations, “a tracking system and a timeline are not going to fix the backlog” already in existence.</p> <p>The HSASG is calling for a “SWAT Team” to immediately help clear the backlog, as well as allocation and recognition of this in the budget. Jackson said the group is asking for an additional $200 million to human services, not only to fix the contracting delays, but to also go to areas such as benefits, insurance, and occupancy costs.</p> <p>“A lot of these contracts don’t have cost escalators, and obviously in New York City rent goes up every year (a lot of expenses go up), and there’s not a way to capture that,” Jackson said. “Of course we were disappointed to not see further investment in the sector but we appreciate it’s a long-term investment that needs to be made.”</p> <p>Brannan said he “supports the recommendations” laid out in the comptroller’s report and that he is “working with the Comptroller’s office to come up with potential legislative fixes that would provide for agencies to process city contracts within a much more reasonable period of time.” He said he’s spoken to the Mayor's Office of Contract Services about next phases in rolling out the city’s Procurement and Sourcing Solutions Portal (PASSPort), saying it “in theory should significantly reduce procurement delays.”</p> <p>The spokesperson from City Hall also said the planned updates to PASSport will “make it easier for agencies to order and pay for goods off centralized contracts.” The system, which was initially launched in August 2017, will be updated with “phase two” in 2019 and “phase three” will launch approximately one year later to “enable online bidding and invoice management for all agencies,” the spokesperson said. &nbsp;</p> <p>New York City isn’t the first city to require urgent and comprehensive procurement reform. A 2005 report by the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) on fixing that city’s similarly “slow and burdensome” contracting system provided the administration with a range of recommendations that might be applicable in New York City today. These included, not only fixed deadlines for every department and a transparent tracking system, but also recommendations to increase public information and awareness of the city’s contracting system; allow simultaneous review by agencies; develop clear and explicit procedures for fast-tracking contracts; and use a post-audit approach to test compliance by departments, instead of every single contract moving through the comptroller’s office.</p> <p>There is no indication of any other measures being taken to address the contracting backlog in New York City, though the City Hall spokesperson said: “We are continuously looking to improve our practices to also realize timely procurement.”</p> <p>More ideas will likely be raised at Thursday’s Council hearing, but for those in the nonprofit sector, the fiscal year 2019 budget was the perfect place for the city to demonstrate its understanding of, and commitment to solving, the problem. “We would have liked to see it in the budget, even if it was just a statement about how to get all this money out the door,” Jackson said. “I think there needs to be a real recognition that this is a priority to fix the registration process and it needs to happen right away.”</p> <p>

***
by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
A Supportive Housing Victory, and Much More To Do 2018-06-18T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-18T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7743-a-supportive-housing-victory-and-much-more-to-do Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/salamanca-levin-2.jpg" alt="salamanca levin 2" /></p> <p>Council Members Levin &amp; Salamanca, the authors, foreground (photo: Jeff Reed)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City is facing a crisis. There are more than 60,000 homeless individuals living in the city shelter system daily, and thousands more in shelters for survivors of domestic violence, youth, and those living with HIV/AIDS. An additional estimated 4,000 New Yorkers sleep on the streets each night. And according to the <a href="http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/basic-facts-about-homelessness-new-york-city/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Coalition for the Homeless</a>, the number of homeless New Yorkers sleeping each night in municipal shelters is 83 percent higher than it was a decade ago.</p> <p>These numbers are staggering. We, as elected leaders have a responsibility to do better and fully invest in solutions that work.</p> <p>That is why, as moderators at this year’s New York State Supportive Housing Conference, we are proud to champion the city’s efforts to build more supportive housing -- a critical component of the City’s efforts to combat the homelessness crisis. We’re proud that the new city budget recently agreed upon by the Mayor and City Council, which we are members of, increased from 500 to 700 the supportive housing units that will become available in the next fiscal year. There is still much more to do.</p> <p>Supportive housing is permanent affordable housing paired with wrap-around services designed to help people maintain their homes for the long-term. All tenants have a lease, and are provided with individualized on-site care, including case management, job training, and mental health and substance abuse counseling. Supportive housing developments are run by non-profit organizations that typically provide both support services and management.</p> <p>Last year, the City Council General Welfare Committee held a hearing in The Schermerhorn, a supportive housing building that also contains affordable housing units for community members and artists, along with a theater for the public. It is a good example of how these developments create jobs and contribute to the growth and well-being of a neighborhood.</p> <p>Supportive housing’s track record has shown its effectiveness in ending homelessness, and &nbsp;improving neighborhoods, creating much-needed affordable housing and saving taxpayer dollars. Simply put, it is housing for those most in need. Residents have a place to call home in an environment that provides direct case management and access to mental health providers. We know all too well how vital mental health care is to a person’s wellbeing, and is that much more critical for individuals who are unstably housed and have often faced significant trauma. The integrated service model enables people to connect to the programs that are right for them, helping them to lead their best lives.</p> <p>Organizations like the Supportive Housing Network of New York, comprised of more than 200 nonprofit organizations, link the 50,000 units of supportive housing they’ve created with critical services and programs that give New Yorkers a jumpstart on advancing the lives they want to lead through a more holistic approach.</p> <p>Supportive housing has made a world of difference to New Yorkers:</p> <p>Like Robert, who struggled with mental illness and addiction most of his life, living in Madison Square Park for ten years. After a health emergency, Urban Pathways’ outreach team helped him move into a beautiful new apartment in his native Bronx. He’s an active participant in his building and in client advocacy groups, regularly visits with his mother and grandchildren, and is beloved by residents and staff alike.</p> <p>And like Shannon, who has dealt with undiagnosed bipolar disorder and PTSD from a lifetime of sexual assault and domestic abuse. When she became a tenant at Community Access’ Gouverneur Court, things started to change: she fell in love with her current life partner, fellow resident Kenny, and overcame addiction with the support of the staff at Community Access. She now has full time work at the Social Security Administration and recently graduated with a master’s degree.</p> <p>These stories show firsthand that supportive housing works. It’s why the Mayor proposed a plan in 2015 to build an additional 15,000 supportive housing apartments over 15 years through the city’s new NYC 15/15 program. We applaud the administration for this plan, yet we also know the need is immediate. We need to do more to bring units online today.</p> <p>As Chairs of the City Council’s Land Use and General Welfare Committees, we’re working collaboratively with our fellow Council Members to help speed the creation of the Mayor’s promised 15,000 supportive apartments over the next several years so that all New Yorkers will have a place to call home.</p> <p>We need a bold vision to end homelessness. Supportive housing is the key.</p> <p>***<br /> Stephen Levin represents the 33rd City Council District, including parts of Brooklyn, and Rafael Salamanca, Jr. represents the 17th District, including parts of the South Bronx. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/StephenLevin33" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@StephenLevin33</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/Salamancajr80" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@Salamancajr80</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/salamanca-levin-2.jpg" alt="salamanca levin 2" /></p> <p>Council Members Levin &amp; Salamanca, the authors, foreground (photo: Jeff Reed)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City is facing a crisis. There are more than 60,000 homeless individuals living in the city shelter system daily, and thousands more in shelters for survivors of domestic violence, youth, and those living with HIV/AIDS. An additional estimated 4,000 New Yorkers sleep on the streets each night. And according to the <a href="http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/basic-facts-about-homelessness-new-york-city/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Coalition for the Homeless</a>, the number of homeless New Yorkers sleeping each night in municipal shelters is 83 percent higher than it was a decade ago.</p> <p>These numbers are staggering. We, as elected leaders have a responsibility to do better and fully invest in solutions that work.</p> <p>That is why, as moderators at this year’s New York State Supportive Housing Conference, we are proud to champion the city’s efforts to build more supportive housing -- a critical component of the City’s efforts to combat the homelessness crisis. We’re proud that the new city budget recently agreed upon by the Mayor and City Council, which we are members of, increased from 500 to 700 the supportive housing units that will become available in the next fiscal year. There is still much more to do.</p> <p>Supportive housing is permanent affordable housing paired with wrap-around services designed to help people maintain their homes for the long-term. All tenants have a lease, and are provided with individualized on-site care, including case management, job training, and mental health and substance abuse counseling. Supportive housing developments are run by non-profit organizations that typically provide both support services and management.</p> <p>Last year, the City Council General Welfare Committee held a hearing in The Schermerhorn, a supportive housing building that also contains affordable housing units for community members and artists, along with a theater for the public. It is a good example of how these developments create jobs and contribute to the growth and well-being of a neighborhood.</p> <p>Supportive housing’s track record has shown its effectiveness in ending homelessness, and &nbsp;improving neighborhoods, creating much-needed affordable housing and saving taxpayer dollars. Simply put, it is housing for those most in need. Residents have a place to call home in an environment that provides direct case management and access to mental health providers. We know all too well how vital mental health care is to a person’s wellbeing, and is that much more critical for individuals who are unstably housed and have often faced significant trauma. The integrated service model enables people to connect to the programs that are right for them, helping them to lead their best lives.</p> <p>Organizations like the Supportive Housing Network of New York, comprised of more than 200 nonprofit organizations, link the 50,000 units of supportive housing they’ve created with critical services and programs that give New Yorkers a jumpstart on advancing the lives they want to lead through a more holistic approach.</p> <p>Supportive housing has made a world of difference to New Yorkers:</p> <p>Like Robert, who struggled with mental illness and addiction most of his life, living in Madison Square Park for ten years. After a health emergency, Urban Pathways’ outreach team helped him move into a beautiful new apartment in his native Bronx. He’s an active participant in his building and in client advocacy groups, regularly visits with his mother and grandchildren, and is beloved by residents and staff alike.</p> <p>And like Shannon, who has dealt with undiagnosed bipolar disorder and PTSD from a lifetime of sexual assault and domestic abuse. When she became a tenant at Community Access’ Gouverneur Court, things started to change: she fell in love with her current life partner, fellow resident Kenny, and overcame addiction with the support of the staff at Community Access. She now has full time work at the Social Security Administration and recently graduated with a master’s degree.</p> <p>These stories show firsthand that supportive housing works. It’s why the Mayor proposed a plan in 2015 to build an additional 15,000 supportive housing apartments over 15 years through the city’s new NYC 15/15 program. We applaud the administration for this plan, yet we also know the need is immediate. We need to do more to bring units online today.</p> <p>As Chairs of the City Council’s Land Use and General Welfare Committees, we’re working collaboratively with our fellow Council Members to help speed the creation of the Mayor’s promised 15,000 supportive apartments over the next several years so that all New Yorkers will have a place to call home.</p> <p>We need a bold vision to end homelessness. Supportive housing is the key.</p> <p>***<br /> Stephen Levin represents the 33rd City Council District, including parts of Brooklyn, and Rafael Salamanca, Jr. represents the 17th District, including parts of the South Bronx. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/StephenLevin33" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@StephenLevin33</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/Salamancajr80" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@Salamancajr80</a>.</p> <p>

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De Blasio's Record on Poverty and Inequality 2017-10-31T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-31T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7280-de-blasio-s-record-on-poverty-and-inequality Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/37243746344_76954aa35e_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio equality shaking hands crowd" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio at an announcement (photo:&nbsp;Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>Bill&nbsp;de Blasio ran for Mayor in 2013 as an unabashed progressive, painting the image of a city cleaved in an even two by its wealth distribution. There existed, he explained, a relatively small class of New Yorkers at the top holding the majority of the city’s wealth and making immense sums of income each year. The rest, a large underclass of New Yorkers struggling to make ends meet, left behind during the boom of the Bloomberg years and decades of insufficient federal policy, especially on taxes and redistribution of wealth. De Blasio envisioned, with lofty rhetoric and ambitious policies, bridging that gap and pulling up those at the bottom while asking those doing very well to chip in a bit more.</p> <p>He was elected overwhelmingly.</p> <p>“New York has faced fiscal collapse, a crime epidemic, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters. But now, in our time, we face a different crisis – an inequality crisis,” de Blasio declared in his <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/02/nyregion/complete-text-of-bill-de-blasios-inauguration-speech.html?mcubz=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inaugural address</a> as mayor on January 1, 2014. “It’s not often the stuff of banner headlines in our daily newspapers. It’s a quiet crisis, but one no less pernicious than those that have come before.”</p> <p>Equity became the foundation of the de Blasio administration, enshrined in virtually every policy coming from City Hall and, more comprehensively, in the <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/visions/equity/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">OneNYC roadmap</a> for the city’s future, which sets poverty reduction and other goals to fulfill de Blasio’s promises.</p> <p>Whether it’s affordable housing, sustainability, economic development, community infrastructure, or education, the administration has sought to build equity, though de Blasio has at times been accused of not going far enough by those who had immense expectations of him. Tellingly, under de Blasio, the annual Mayor’s Management Report, which is mandated by law and details the accomplishments of more than 40 city agencies on hundreds of performance indicators, included for the first time evaluations of agency efforts for their “focus on equity.”</p> <p>With data showing an acute poverty problem in New York City, amid its immense wealth and gleaming towers, de Blasio sought to drastically increase opportunities available to poor, working class, and middle class people, and reduce the number of people in or near poverty, a rate that stood at <a href="https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_08_1YR_S1701&amp;prodType=table" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly</a> 21 percent -- or 1.74 million people -- when he took office.</p> <p>De Blasio set the city on a path that he believes will reach the OneNYC goal of pulling 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty or near poverty by 2025. And though the results of many of his policy actions cannot easily be gauged in the short term, there are a few clear indicators that the city’s approach is working. Notably, between 2014 and the end of 2017, about 281,000 New Yorkers will have left poverty or near-poverty simply due to an increase in the minimum wage to $11. That wage, set by state policy that de Blasio and his allies have helped influence, is <a href="https://www.govdocs.com/new-york-state-15-minimum-wage-paid-family-leave/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">set to jump</a> to $13 at the start of 2018 and hit $15 per hour in New York City on December 31, 2018 for companies with 11 or more employees (the wages will be $12 then $14 for smaller companies).</p> <p>According to five-year estimates from the <a href="https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/community_facts.xhtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">American Community Survey</a> for 2011-2015, about 20.6 percent of New York City residents lived below the federal poverty level. The latest one-year <a href="https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_16_SPL_K201701&amp;prodType=table" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ACS supplemental estimates</a> for 2016, released September 14, show improvement. People living under the poverty level in New York City, measured by the federal threshold, fell to 18.9 percent or 1.59 million New Yorkers, itself still an astonishingly large number. And, the number remained marginally higher than the pre-recession poverty level of 18.5 percent in 2008 and far higher than the national poverty level of 14 percent in 2016.</p> <p>The federal measure only takes into account pre-tax cash income. New York City has its own poverty measure which also accounts for non-cash benefits, tax credits, and housing subsidies, and sets a threshold that includes housing costs to judge poverty more accurately. By <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/opportunity/pdf/NYCgovPovMeas2017-Highlights.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">city estimates</a>, poverty in the city is at its lowest since the Great Recession, at 19.9 percent in 2015, down from 20.7 in 2013. The city’s data does not account for the latest ACS microdata yet.</p> <p>Although the mayor has little control over the broad contours of the economy, he has been able to use the significant authority at the local level to enact a multi-faceted approach to lifting up wages, giving low-wage earners better opportunities, and enhancing access to city services for New York’s most disadvantaged residents.</p> <p>In his first term, de Blasio has invested heavily in early childhood education and the universal pre-kindergarten program, his signature achievement, is serving nearly 70,000 children in 2017 (up from 20,000 prior to the UPK expansion) and is estimated by the city to have put $1.4 billion back in the pockets of New Yorkers who do not have to pay for child care. About 500,000 people were covered by the city’s expansion of paid sick leave in 2014, especially helping low-wage workers become more likely to keep their jobs if they get sick and need to miss work.</p> <p>And though the city’s homelessness crisis continues to be blight on the mayor’s record, he has taken steps to stem the tide by funding free legal assistance for tenants in housing court and increasing rental subsidies for low-income families. In the lead up to Election Day, de Blasio announced an expansion of his affordable housing program, from a target of 200,000 affordable rental units over 10 years to 300,000 over 12.</p> <p>On Tuesday, the mayor said he would also double the number of units planned for seniors from 15,000 to 30,000. This, after having adjusted his housing plan earlier this year to increase the number of deeply affordable units and those for seniors.</p> <p>De Blasio has increased funding and attention to NYCHA, the public housing authority home to about half a million New Yorkers, while launching a community parks initiative and a variety of other programs aimed at equity across neighborhoods and demographics. IDNYC, the city’s municipal identity program with 863,464 card holders, allowed more New Yorkers, particularly undocumented immigrants, to avail of city services. These are among other initiatives, both large and small, that the administration has set in motion to increase opportunity, especially for those struggling.</p> <p>Most significantly in terms of income inequality, de Blasio made a concerted effort in his first term to push for a higher minimum wage at the local and state level. The increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 in 2013 to $11 has had its intended consequences. Last year, the mayor approved an increase to a $15 minimum wage, by the end of 2018, for all city employees and nonprofit human services contractors, the groups for which he has discretion. He also instituted a paid family leave program for 20,000 city workers whose contracts are not part of labor union collective bargaining. New York State followed in the city’s footsteps by announcing its $15 minimum wage program, which is phased in faster in New York City than several other parts of the state, and a paid family leave program that begins its phase-in in 2018.</p> <p>“De Blasio deserves a lot of credit for that, and it appears to be having a pronounced effect in reducing poverty,” said James Parrott, director of economic and fiscal policy at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, of the minimum wage efforts.</p> <p>Other than the paid sick leave law and universal pre-kindergarten, according to Parrott, a chief accomplishment of the administration has been the settling of 99.1 percent of expired municipal union contracts, which gave many low- and moderate-income workers wage increases. Parrott also cited other positive developments, including new labor protections for freelancers and the creation of an Office of Labor Standards at the Department of Consumer Affairs. “I’m not gonna give [de Blasio] all the credit but the things he has done have led to some pretty remarkable improvements in wages and incomes of the bottom 30-40 percent of the income distribution since 2013,” Parrott said.</p> <p>Parrott also noted that there are limitations in judging progress from the federal poverty measure or from the Gini coefficient, a statistical tool used by the U.S. Census to measure income inequality. Instead, Parrott prefers to use income tax data, which he said shows a more complete picture of wealth distribution, combined with other data measures on wages and family income. All these together, he said, have shown “the best improvements in the last 30 to 40 years, it could even be 50 years if we had comparable data to make a careful comparison.”</p> <p>An encouraging trend, evinced from 2016 census data, is that median household income in 2016 &nbsp;was $58,856, up from $56,457 in 2015, and surpassing the pre-recession peak level of $56,982 in 2008, according to an <a href="https://www.cccnewyork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Census-Data-Statement.9.14.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">analysis</a> by the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York. Median incomes for families with children grew at 10.4 percent between 2015-2016, outpacing overall household income growth. Black and Latino New Yorkers benefited from the largest decreases in poverty rates -- nearly 2 percentage points each -- and poverty fell across racial and ethnic groups. The report did point out some worrying trends. Poverty on Staten Island, for instance, was 3.2 points higher than pre-recession levels; income increases were concentrated in Manhattan and Brooklyn; and the gap in median household income for racial and ethnic groups, which expanded during the recession, has continued to grow.</p> <p>Jennifer March, executive director of CCCNY, praised numerous policies enacted by the de Blasio administration that are “positioned as vehicles to combat income inequality,” including universal prekindergarten and its planned expansion to three-year-olds, the paid sick leave expansion, the minimum wage increase, the recent implementation of free universal school lunch and universal after-school programs for middle school students. She also commended initiatives such as the piloting of child savings accounts, and the overall efforts at creating affordable housing and rent freezes for rent-regulated tenants.</p> <p>“Those things combined really suggest that he has an ambitious multi-pronged approach to help families and New Yorkers afford to live here and to reduce the gap between those that are earning more and those that are really struggling,” she said.</p> <p>In 2015, de Blasio launched an ill-fated attempt to influence the national conversation around income inequality through a nonprofit organization that brought together progressive elected officials, leaders, and celebrities from across the country. The nonprofit, the Progressive Agenda Committee, fizzled out after an unsuccessful bid to host a presidential candidate forum in Iowa in late 2015, and de Blasio’s message about economic inequality and the need to put it at the forefront of the Democratic platform was largely subsumed by the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.</p> <p>Since the election of President Donald Trump, de Blasio has doubled down on his agenda, pushing multiple proposed tax increases on wealthy New Yorkers -- which would require action by the State -- to fund items such as affordable housing for seniors and subsidized transit fares for low-income commuters. De Blasio has regularly criticized the Hillary Clinton campaign for not focusing on economic populism enough.</p> <p>As he heads toward an expected second term, de Blasio has announced a shift to actively creating better paying jobs in burgeoning economic sectors and building talent pipelines to ensure that New York City residents are the beneficiaries of city-funded economic growth. He acknowledged, in a sobering <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/081-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-presents-2017-state-the-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">State of the City speech</a> this year, that “people are so fundamentally challenged by the affordability crisis that this city simply must do more and must do it quickly.” &nbsp;</p> <p>“So many people love this city. But here is a blunt truth,” he said. “They love it, but that doesn't mean it's easy to live here. Right? For a lot of seniors, this is not an easy place to live. For a lot of young people just starting out, it's not so easy. For folks struggling to make ends meet, this can be a punishing environment.”</p> <p>De Blasio announced the broad contours of a plan to use city resources to spur the growth of 100,000 jobs paying at least $50,000 over a 10-year period. A few months later, he and his team unveiled a more detailed plan, which was met with snickers about a lack of detail and questions about its necessity, or whether it is more of an election year gimmick.</p> <p>As many people evaluate the mayor in his reelection bid, the stubborn nature of income inequality and the fact that so many New Yorkers continue to struggle to live secure, decent lives raise questions about de Blasio’s ability to deliver on his core 2013 promises. The mayor has largely shifted his lens, at least when speaking publicly, from income inequality and toward efforts to lift up those at the bottom.</p> <p>De Blasio is, in part, a victim of his own rhetoric, says Alex Armlovich, adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. “That wasn’t a good promise to make on the mayoral level,” said Armlovich, of the mayor’s commitment to fight the “tale of two cities” that he evoked on the campaign trail. “Inequality is a national issue. At the local level, [population] displacement and retention effects are going to swamp your efforts to reduce inequality.”</p> <p>In <a href="https://www.manhattan-institute.org/sites/default/files/IB-AA-1017.pdf">a report</a> released earlier this month, Armlovich noted that income inequality as judged by the Gini coefficient has in fact remained flat under de Blasio and that changes in income inequality were affected by compensation trends in the financial sector rather than by the city’s policies. The Gini measures income distribution on a scale of 0 to 1, and the higher it is, the higher the inequality. The city’s Gini score in 2016 was about 0.55. Armlovich pointed out that city policies that help poor New Yorkers live in the city, such as more affordable housing, naturally increase the Gini, even though they are laudable policy goals, because they wind up keeping many low-income people from moving elsewhere.</p> <p>Debate over the use of the Gini notwithstanding, Armlovich said the mayor should focus on providing equitable services across the five boroughs. “That’s what you can hold the mayor accountable for, because the mayor doesn’t control the economy,” he said. “His whole mistake in all of this was making himself politically accountable for a statistic that he doesn’t control.”</p> <p>In an interview with&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/mayor-de-blasio-visits-daily-news-editorial-board-audio-article-1.3572377" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Daily News editorial board</a>, the mayor insisted that the static Gini score was not reflective of a failure by his administration. “I'm very comfortable saying when I think something that I've done has not worked, or hasn't worked well enough,” he said. “But on this one, because we have seen job growth, we have seen wage growth, we have seen people getting out of poverty, we certainly have tangible evidence of reducing people's economic burdens. I think the central question is, were we going to give folks, low-income folks, working class people, middle class people, all of whom felt economically stuck, were we gonna give them more upward mobility? That's the central question in New York. It's also the central question in the country. Here we've been able to prove, not just because of public sector policies, but sustainability because of public sector policies, that we can increase upward mobility. That doesn't answer the question about the rich getting richer. Now, again, how do you address that? In my view, most notably, through tax policy.”</p> <p>Indeed, income is one measure of inequality, and de Blasio has consistently sought to go further, whether in his attention to NYCHA or his parks or community schools efforts. He’s increased the city’s annual operating budget by about 18% since taking office, up to its current $85 billion, in large part to expand services and add to the public payroll, including thousands more early education teachers, police officers, and others. While some can aptly criticize this budget growth and others question how effective additional spending has been in certain areas, there is little question that de Blasio has heavily invested taxpayer money in building equity.</p> <p>The CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance devised the <a href="http://2pamhxjr83j1pnmowx9otlyb.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Equality-Indicators-Annual-Report-2016.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NYC Equality Score</a>, a tool for a more holistic view of inequality in the city, first published in 2015, with 95 indicators across six areas: economy, education, health, housing, justice, and services. Out of a possible 100, the city’s 2016 score was 46.01, up from 45.45 in 2015. “These scores suggest that NYC continues to be characterized by vast inequalities, and that when looking at the city as a whole, little has changed,” the report reads. “Generally speaking this score means that overall, the disadvantaged groups represented here are almost twice as likely as those not disadvantaged to experience negative outcomes in fundamental areas of life, as measured by the Equality Indicators.”</p> <p>“It’s such a daunting challenge,” said City Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the general welfare committee, which tackles with issues including poverty and homelessness (and was once chaired by de Blasio himself), “because you’re dealing with broader economic issues, you’re dealing with the persistent challenge of lack of affordable housing, and you’re dealing with the issues in Albany.” Levin was referring to state government, where Republicans hold power over the state Senate and often put the kibosh on progressive legislation floated by Democrats who control the Assembly and supported by de Blasio. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who de Blasio often feuds with, is inconsistent in his support for policies backed by the mayor, regularly opposing any tax increases.</p> <p>Levin, a fellow Brooklyn Democrat who has endorsed de Blasio for reelection, said the mayor’s dedication on equity is “indisputable.” “This mayor and administration are using every tool in their toolbox,” he said, lamenting their inability to affect larger trends that can be influenced much more strongly by either state or federal policy. “I expect that over the next four years, this continues to be a priority.”</p> <p>De Blasio does face significant challenges ahead. Federal policy proposals on taxes and healthcare threaten to blow holes in the state and city budgets, and could shred the city’s social safety net. Large-scale budget cuts at a time when the city’s budget has ballooned by billions of dollars would put the mayor in a tough spot, despite the significant rainy day funds built up over the last four years.</p> <p>“What remains to be fixed is the highly regressive nature of the local tax structure, and mainly the property tax system,” said Parrott, of the New School. “He has to really work on it to figure out how to build the alliance in Albany. And he’s gotta keep making tweaks to his policies on affordable housing, homelessness, and education.” De Blasio has promised to push property tax reform if he’s reelected but has not provided specific details for addressing a system that is seen as disadvantageous to many middle-class New Yorkers of color because of how assessments are made in part based on geography.</p> <p>CCCNY’s March said the mayor should advocate for deepening the earned income tax credit and the child care tax credit, both of which bolster the finances of working families and would require the state to pass legislation. “I think the challenge he will face moving forward, assuming he’s reelected, is the federal context in which we’re working,” she said, noting for instance that 900,000 children in New York rely on some form of public health insurance, which face proposed federal cuts. She also stressed the need for increased investment in affordable housing and reducing family homelessness. “One of the biggest conundrums will be that incomes have not kept pace with rising rents in the city,” she said, pointing to a challenge frequently cited by de Blasio and his top aides, like social services Commissioner Steven Banks.</p> <p>“Many of the things that he started in his first term, we will see the real benefits of years from now,” March added. “Whether that’s universal pre-K, universal school lunch, or universal after-school for middle school, all of those things. It’s the consistent access that populations have to programs that are designed to promote school preparedness or reduce hunger or promote a college-oriented identity, over time we will see the results of these things.”</p> <p>Mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips declined to comment for this article. Emails and messages to spokespersons for the Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services went unanswered.</p> <p>A <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=2475">Quinnipiac University Poll</a> from July 31 showed that a majority of New Yorkers, 63 percent, disapproved of the way de Blasio has handled poverty and homelessness while only 29 percent approved. In eight polls conducted by Quinnipiac between 2015 and 2017, it was the worst appraisal the mayor received on the issue, likely due to the problems de Blasio has had in controlling and reducing homelessness.</p> <p>Another particular issue related to poverty and inequality where de Blasio has disappointed advocates has been his lack of direct support for the “Fair Fares” proposal, which would provide half-price MetroCards to 800,000 low-income New Yorkers.</p> <p>The proposal was created by two advocacy groups, the Community Service Society and Riders Alliance. De Blasio refused to fund the proposal in the city budget and wouldn’t support a pilot program floated by the City Council either, instead insisting the state-run MTA should provide the funds to those riding its services. Eventually, in his “Fair Fix” proposal for funding mass transit through a tax increase on the highest-earning New Yorkers -- which would need state-level approval -- the mayor included a set-aside for Fair Fares, which he called an “ultimate act of justice” despite his hesitance to identify the roughly $200 million to cover it annually. It’s unlikely that the state Senate, run by Republicans, or Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who largely opposes tax increases, would approve the so-called millionaires tax in 2018, which is a state-level election year.</p> <p>“That would have a significant impact on low-income New Yorkers, first financially, but also by helping them access better jobs, training, things that would increase their upward mobility,” said Nancy Rankin, vice president for policy, research and advocacy, CSS. “It’s unfathomable to us why [Mayor de Blasio] wouldn’t want to do something that’s at the core of what he says his administration is about. That’s why people voted for him. That’s a practical step that would make an enormous difference in people’s lives.”</p> <p>Council Member Levin holds out hope that the balance of the state Legislature would shift in next year’s election cycle towards Democrats who are friendlier to New York City and its progressive priorities. “Hopefully some of the dynamics shift and we can move the dial in a more accelerated way,” he said.</p> <p>Jesse Laymon, director of policy and advocacy at the New York City Employment and Training Coalition, an organization comprised of more than 150 workforce providers, praised the de Blasio administration for leveraging economic growth into lifting wages at the bottom of the economic ladder, but nonetheless had pointed criticism for their policies. “It’s one thing to make it less terrible to be poor in New York, and I think they’ve done a good job of making it less terrible to be poor, but they have not done a great job of making it easier to get out of poverty,” he said. “And that’s really the goal that they should focus more attention on in the second term.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/37243746344_76954aa35e_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio equality shaking hands crowd" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio at an announcement (photo:&nbsp;Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>Bill&nbsp;de Blasio ran for Mayor in 2013 as an unabashed progressive, painting the image of a city cleaved in an even two by its wealth distribution. There existed, he explained, a relatively small class of New Yorkers at the top holding the majority of the city’s wealth and making immense sums of income each year. The rest, a large underclass of New Yorkers struggling to make ends meet, left behind during the boom of the Bloomberg years and decades of insufficient federal policy, especially on taxes and redistribution of wealth. De Blasio envisioned, with lofty rhetoric and ambitious policies, bridging that gap and pulling up those at the bottom while asking those doing very well to chip in a bit more.</p> <p>He was elected overwhelmingly.</p> <p>“New York has faced fiscal collapse, a crime epidemic, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters. But now, in our time, we face a different crisis – an inequality crisis,” de Blasio declared in his <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/02/nyregion/complete-text-of-bill-de-blasios-inauguration-speech.html?mcubz=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inaugural address</a> as mayor on January 1, 2014. “It’s not often the stuff of banner headlines in our daily newspapers. It’s a quiet crisis, but one no less pernicious than those that have come before.”</p> <p>Equity became the foundation of the de Blasio administration, enshrined in virtually every policy coming from City Hall and, more comprehensively, in the <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/visions/equity/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">OneNYC roadmap</a> for the city’s future, which sets poverty reduction and other goals to fulfill de Blasio’s promises.</p> <p>Whether it’s affordable housing, sustainability, economic development, community infrastructure, or education, the administration has sought to build equity, though de Blasio has at times been accused of not going far enough by those who had immense expectations of him. Tellingly, under de Blasio, the annual Mayor’s Management Report, which is mandated by law and details the accomplishments of more than 40 city agencies on hundreds of performance indicators, included for the first time evaluations of agency efforts for their “focus on equity.”</p> <p>With data showing an acute poverty problem in New York City, amid its immense wealth and gleaming towers, de Blasio sought to drastically increase opportunities available to poor, working class, and middle class people, and reduce the number of people in or near poverty, a rate that stood at <a href="https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_08_1YR_S1701&amp;prodType=table" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly</a> 21 percent -- or 1.74 million people -- when he took office.</p> <p>De Blasio set the city on a path that he believes will reach the OneNYC goal of pulling 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty or near poverty by 2025. And though the results of many of his policy actions cannot easily be gauged in the short term, there are a few clear indicators that the city’s approach is working. Notably, between 2014 and the end of 2017, about 281,000 New Yorkers will have left poverty or near-poverty simply due to an increase in the minimum wage to $11. That wage, set by state policy that de Blasio and his allies have helped influence, is <a href="https://www.govdocs.com/new-york-state-15-minimum-wage-paid-family-leave/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">set to jump</a> to $13 at the start of 2018 and hit $15 per hour in New York City on December 31, 2018 for companies with 11 or more employees (the wages will be $12 then $14 for smaller companies).</p> <p>According to five-year estimates from the <a href="https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/community_facts.xhtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">American Community Survey</a> for 2011-2015, about 20.6 percent of New York City residents lived below the federal poverty level. The latest one-year <a href="https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_16_SPL_K201701&amp;prodType=table" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ACS supplemental estimates</a> for 2016, released September 14, show improvement. People living under the poverty level in New York City, measured by the federal threshold, fell to 18.9 percent or 1.59 million New Yorkers, itself still an astonishingly large number. And, the number remained marginally higher than the pre-recession poverty level of 18.5 percent in 2008 and far higher than the national poverty level of 14 percent in 2016.</p> <p>The federal measure only takes into account pre-tax cash income. New York City has its own poverty measure which also accounts for non-cash benefits, tax credits, and housing subsidies, and sets a threshold that includes housing costs to judge poverty more accurately. By <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/opportunity/pdf/NYCgovPovMeas2017-Highlights.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">city estimates</a>, poverty in the city is at its lowest since the Great Recession, at 19.9 percent in 2015, down from 20.7 in 2013. The city’s data does not account for the latest ACS microdata yet.</p> <p>Although the mayor has little control over the broad contours of the economy, he has been able to use the significant authority at the local level to enact a multi-faceted approach to lifting up wages, giving low-wage earners better opportunities, and enhancing access to city services for New York’s most disadvantaged residents.</p> <p>In his first term, de Blasio has invested heavily in early childhood education and the universal pre-kindergarten program, his signature achievement, is serving nearly 70,000 children in 2017 (up from 20,000 prior to the UPK expansion) and is estimated by the city to have put $1.4 billion back in the pockets of New Yorkers who do not have to pay for child care. About 500,000 people were covered by the city’s expansion of paid sick leave in 2014, especially helping low-wage workers become more likely to keep their jobs if they get sick and need to miss work.</p> <p>And though the city’s homelessness crisis continues to be blight on the mayor’s record, he has taken steps to stem the tide by funding free legal assistance for tenants in housing court and increasing rental subsidies for low-income families. In the lead up to Election Day, de Blasio announced an expansion of his affordable housing program, from a target of 200,000 affordable rental units over 10 years to 300,000 over 12.</p> <p>On Tuesday, the mayor said he would also double the number of units planned for seniors from 15,000 to 30,000. This, after having adjusted his housing plan earlier this year to increase the number of deeply affordable units and those for seniors.</p> <p>De Blasio has increased funding and attention to NYCHA, the public housing authority home to about half a million New Yorkers, while launching a community parks initiative and a variety of other programs aimed at equity across neighborhoods and demographics. IDNYC, the city’s municipal identity program with 863,464 card holders, allowed more New Yorkers, particularly undocumented immigrants, to avail of city services. These are among other initiatives, both large and small, that the administration has set in motion to increase opportunity, especially for those struggling.</p> <p>Most significantly in terms of income inequality, de Blasio made a concerted effort in his first term to push for a higher minimum wage at the local and state level. The increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 in 2013 to $11 has had its intended consequences. Last year, the mayor approved an increase to a $15 minimum wage, by the end of 2018, for all city employees and nonprofit human services contractors, the groups for which he has discretion. He also instituted a paid family leave program for 20,000 city workers whose contracts are not part of labor union collective bargaining. New York State followed in the city’s footsteps by announcing its $15 minimum wage program, which is phased in faster in New York City than several other parts of the state, and a paid family leave program that begins its phase-in in 2018.</p> <p>“De Blasio deserves a lot of credit for that, and it appears to be having a pronounced effect in reducing poverty,” said James Parrott, director of economic and fiscal policy at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, of the minimum wage efforts.</p> <p>Other than the paid sick leave law and universal pre-kindergarten, according to Parrott, a chief accomplishment of the administration has been the settling of 99.1 percent of expired municipal union contracts, which gave many low- and moderate-income workers wage increases. Parrott also cited other positive developments, including new labor protections for freelancers and the creation of an Office of Labor Standards at the Department of Consumer Affairs. “I’m not gonna give [de Blasio] all the credit but the things he has done have led to some pretty remarkable improvements in wages and incomes of the bottom 30-40 percent of the income distribution since 2013,” Parrott said.</p> <p>Parrott also noted that there are limitations in judging progress from the federal poverty measure or from the Gini coefficient, a statistical tool used by the U.S. Census to measure income inequality. Instead, Parrott prefers to use income tax data, which he said shows a more complete picture of wealth distribution, combined with other data measures on wages and family income. All these together, he said, have shown “the best improvements in the last 30 to 40 years, it could even be 50 years if we had comparable data to make a careful comparison.”</p> <p>An encouraging trend, evinced from 2016 census data, is that median household income in 2016 &nbsp;was $58,856, up from $56,457 in 2015, and surpassing the pre-recession peak level of $56,982 in 2008, according to an <a href="https://www.cccnewyork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Census-Data-Statement.9.14.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">analysis</a> by the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York. Median incomes for families with children grew at 10.4 percent between 2015-2016, outpacing overall household income growth. Black and Latino New Yorkers benefited from the largest decreases in poverty rates -- nearly 2 percentage points each -- and poverty fell across racial and ethnic groups. The report did point out some worrying trends. Poverty on Staten Island, for instance, was 3.2 points higher than pre-recession levels; income increases were concentrated in Manhattan and Brooklyn; and the gap in median household income for racial and ethnic groups, which expanded during the recession, has continued to grow.</p> <p>Jennifer March, executive director of CCCNY, praised numerous policies enacted by the de Blasio administration that are “positioned as vehicles to combat income inequality,” including universal prekindergarten and its planned expansion to three-year-olds, the paid sick leave expansion, the minimum wage increase, the recent implementation of free universal school lunch and universal after-school programs for middle school students. She also commended initiatives such as the piloting of child savings accounts, and the overall efforts at creating affordable housing and rent freezes for rent-regulated tenants.</p> <p>“Those things combined really suggest that he has an ambitious multi-pronged approach to help families and New Yorkers afford to live here and to reduce the gap between those that are earning more and those that are really struggling,” she said.</p> <p>In 2015, de Blasio launched an ill-fated attempt to influence the national conversation around income inequality through a nonprofit organization that brought together progressive elected officials, leaders, and celebrities from across the country. The nonprofit, the Progressive Agenda Committee, fizzled out after an unsuccessful bid to host a presidential candidate forum in Iowa in late 2015, and de Blasio’s message about economic inequality and the need to put it at the forefront of the Democratic platform was largely subsumed by the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.</p> <p>Since the election of President Donald Trump, de Blasio has doubled down on his agenda, pushing multiple proposed tax increases on wealthy New Yorkers -- which would require action by the State -- to fund items such as affordable housing for seniors and subsidized transit fares for low-income commuters. De Blasio has regularly criticized the Hillary Clinton campaign for not focusing on economic populism enough.</p> <p>As he heads toward an expected second term, de Blasio has announced a shift to actively creating better paying jobs in burgeoning economic sectors and building talent pipelines to ensure that New York City residents are the beneficiaries of city-funded economic growth. He acknowledged, in a sobering <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/081-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-presents-2017-state-the-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">State of the City speech</a> this year, that “people are so fundamentally challenged by the affordability crisis that this city simply must do more and must do it quickly.” &nbsp;</p> <p>“So many people love this city. But here is a blunt truth,” he said. “They love it, but that doesn't mean it's easy to live here. Right? For a lot of seniors, this is not an easy place to live. For a lot of young people just starting out, it's not so easy. For folks struggling to make ends meet, this can be a punishing environment.”</p> <p>De Blasio announced the broad contours of a plan to use city resources to spur the growth of 100,000 jobs paying at least $50,000 over a 10-year period. A few months later, he and his team unveiled a more detailed plan, which was met with snickers about a lack of detail and questions about its necessity, or whether it is more of an election year gimmick.</p> <p>As many people evaluate the mayor in his reelection bid, the stubborn nature of income inequality and the fact that so many New Yorkers continue to struggle to live secure, decent lives raise questions about de Blasio’s ability to deliver on his core 2013 promises. The mayor has largely shifted his lens, at least when speaking publicly, from income inequality and toward efforts to lift up those at the bottom.</p> <p>De Blasio is, in part, a victim of his own rhetoric, says Alex Armlovich, adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. “That wasn’t a good promise to make on the mayoral level,” said Armlovich, of the mayor’s commitment to fight the “tale of two cities” that he evoked on the campaign trail. “Inequality is a national issue. At the local level, [population] displacement and retention effects are going to swamp your efforts to reduce inequality.”</p> <p>In <a href="https://www.manhattan-institute.org/sites/default/files/IB-AA-1017.pdf">a report</a> released earlier this month, Armlovich noted that income inequality as judged by the Gini coefficient has in fact remained flat under de Blasio and that changes in income inequality were affected by compensation trends in the financial sector rather than by the city’s policies. The Gini measures income distribution on a scale of 0 to 1, and the higher it is, the higher the inequality. The city’s Gini score in 2016 was about 0.55. Armlovich pointed out that city policies that help poor New Yorkers live in the city, such as more affordable housing, naturally increase the Gini, even though they are laudable policy goals, because they wind up keeping many low-income people from moving elsewhere.</p> <p>Debate over the use of the Gini notwithstanding, Armlovich said the mayor should focus on providing equitable services across the five boroughs. “That’s what you can hold the mayor accountable for, because the mayor doesn’t control the economy,” he said. “His whole mistake in all of this was making himself politically accountable for a statistic that he doesn’t control.”</p> <p>In an interview with&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/mayor-de-blasio-visits-daily-news-editorial-board-audio-article-1.3572377" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Daily News editorial board</a>, the mayor insisted that the static Gini score was not reflective of a failure by his administration. “I'm very comfortable saying when I think something that I've done has not worked, or hasn't worked well enough,” he said. “But on this one, because we have seen job growth, we have seen wage growth, we have seen people getting out of poverty, we certainly have tangible evidence of reducing people's economic burdens. I think the central question is, were we going to give folks, low-income folks, working class people, middle class people, all of whom felt economically stuck, were we gonna give them more upward mobility? That's the central question in New York. It's also the central question in the country. Here we've been able to prove, not just because of public sector policies, but sustainability because of public sector policies, that we can increase upward mobility. That doesn't answer the question about the rich getting richer. Now, again, how do you address that? In my view, most notably, through tax policy.”</p> <p>Indeed, income is one measure of inequality, and de Blasio has consistently sought to go further, whether in his attention to NYCHA or his parks or community schools efforts. He’s increased the city’s annual operating budget by about 18% since taking office, up to its current $85 billion, in large part to expand services and add to the public payroll, including thousands more early education teachers, police officers, and others. While some can aptly criticize this budget growth and others question how effective additional spending has been in certain areas, there is little question that de Blasio has heavily invested taxpayer money in building equity.</p> <p>The CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance devised the <a href="http://2pamhxjr83j1pnmowx9otlyb.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Equality-Indicators-Annual-Report-2016.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NYC Equality Score</a>, a tool for a more holistic view of inequality in the city, first published in 2015, with 95 indicators across six areas: economy, education, health, housing, justice, and services. Out of a possible 100, the city’s 2016 score was 46.01, up from 45.45 in 2015. “These scores suggest that NYC continues to be characterized by vast inequalities, and that when looking at the city as a whole, little has changed,” the report reads. “Generally speaking this score means that overall, the disadvantaged groups represented here are almost twice as likely as those not disadvantaged to experience negative outcomes in fundamental areas of life, as measured by the Equality Indicators.”</p> <p>“It’s such a daunting challenge,” said City Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the general welfare committee, which tackles with issues including poverty and homelessness (and was once chaired by de Blasio himself), “because you’re dealing with broader economic issues, you’re dealing with the persistent challenge of lack of affordable housing, and you’re dealing with the issues in Albany.” Levin was referring to state government, where Republicans hold power over the state Senate and often put the kibosh on progressive legislation floated by Democrats who control the Assembly and supported by de Blasio. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who de Blasio often feuds with, is inconsistent in his support for policies backed by the mayor, regularly opposing any tax increases.</p> <p>Levin, a fellow Brooklyn Democrat who has endorsed de Blasio for reelection, said the mayor’s dedication on equity is “indisputable.” “This mayor and administration are using every tool in their toolbox,” he said, lamenting their inability to affect larger trends that can be influenced much more strongly by either state or federal policy. “I expect that over the next four years, this continues to be a priority.”</p> <p>De Blasio does face significant challenges ahead. Federal policy proposals on taxes and healthcare threaten to blow holes in the state and city budgets, and could shred the city’s social safety net. Large-scale budget cuts at a time when the city’s budget has ballooned by billions of dollars would put the mayor in a tough spot, despite the significant rainy day funds built up over the last four years.</p> <p>“What remains to be fixed is the highly regressive nature of the local tax structure, and mainly the property tax system,” said Parrott, of the New School. “He has to really work on it to figure out how to build the alliance in Albany. And he’s gotta keep making tweaks to his policies on affordable housing, homelessness, and education.” De Blasio has promised to push property tax reform if he’s reelected but has not provided specific details for addressing a system that is seen as disadvantageous to many middle-class New Yorkers of color because of how assessments are made in part based on geography.</p> <p>CCCNY’s March said the mayor should advocate for deepening the earned income tax credit and the child care tax credit, both of which bolster the finances of working families and would require the state to pass legislation. “I think the challenge he will face moving forward, assuming he’s reelected, is the federal context in which we’re working,” she said, noting for instance that 900,000 children in New York rely on some form of public health insurance, which face proposed federal cuts. She also stressed the need for increased investment in affordable housing and reducing family homelessness. “One of the biggest conundrums will be that incomes have not kept pace with rising rents in the city,” she said, pointing to a challenge frequently cited by de Blasio and his top aides, like social services Commissioner Steven Banks.</p> <p>“Many of the things that he started in his first term, we will see the real benefits of years from now,” March added. “Whether that’s universal pre-K, universal school lunch, or universal after-school for middle school, all of those things. It’s the consistent access that populations have to programs that are designed to promote school preparedness or reduce hunger or promote a college-oriented identity, over time we will see the results of these things.”</p> <p>Mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips declined to comment for this article. Emails and messages to spokespersons for the Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services went unanswered.</p> <p>A <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=2475">Quinnipiac University Poll</a> from July 31 showed that a majority of New Yorkers, 63 percent, disapproved of the way de Blasio has handled poverty and homelessness while only 29 percent approved. In eight polls conducted by Quinnipiac between 2015 and 2017, it was the worst appraisal the mayor received on the issue, likely due to the problems de Blasio has had in controlling and reducing homelessness.</p> <p>Another particular issue related to poverty and inequality where de Blasio has disappointed advocates has been his lack of direct support for the “Fair Fares” proposal, which would provide half-price MetroCards to 800,000 low-income New Yorkers.</p> <p>The proposal was created by two advocacy groups, the Community Service Society and Riders Alliance. De Blasio refused to fund the proposal in the city budget and wouldn’t support a pilot program floated by the City Council either, instead insisting the state-run MTA should provide the funds to those riding its services. Eventually, in his “Fair Fix” proposal for funding mass transit through a tax increase on the highest-earning New Yorkers -- which would need state-level approval -- the mayor included a set-aside for Fair Fares, which he called an “ultimate act of justice” despite his hesitance to identify the roughly $200 million to cover it annually. It’s unlikely that the state Senate, run by Republicans, or Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who largely opposes tax increases, would approve the so-called millionaires tax in 2018, which is a state-level election year.</p> <p>“That would have a significant impact on low-income New Yorkers, first financially, but also by helping them access better jobs, training, things that would increase their upward mobility,” said Nancy Rankin, vice president for policy, research and advocacy, CSS. “It’s unfathomable to us why [Mayor de Blasio] wouldn’t want to do something that’s at the core of what he says his administration is about. That’s why people voted for him. That’s a practical step that would make an enormous difference in people’s lives.”</p> <p>Council Member Levin holds out hope that the balance of the state Legislature would shift in next year’s election cycle towards Democrats who are friendlier to New York City and its progressive priorities. “Hopefully some of the dynamics shift and we can move the dial in a more accelerated way,” he said.</p> <p>Jesse Laymon, director of policy and advocacy at the New York City Employment and Training Coalition, an organization comprised of more than 150 workforce providers, praised the de Blasio administration for leveraging economic growth into lifting wages at the bottom of the economic ladder, but nonetheless had pointed criticism for their policies. “It’s one thing to make it less terrible to be poor in New York, and I think they’ve done a good job of making it less terrible to be poor, but they have not done a great job of making it easier to get out of poverty,” he said. “And that’s really the goal that they should focus more attention on in the second term.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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City Council Tenant Advocate Bill Met with Resistance 2017-04-20T22:04:05+00:00 2017-04-20T22:04:05+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6884-city-council-tenant-advocate-bill-met-with-resistance Samar Khurshid <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/32212877203_635c2c312c_k.jpg" alt="Councilmember Helen Rosenthal" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings on Wednesday heard more than a dozen bills that would enhance tenant protections and combat abuses by landlords. Among those proposals was one that would create a new ombudsman within the Department of Buildings whose responsibility would be to prioritize the welfare of tenants when property owners and builders apply for construction permits.</p> <p>The bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2984646&amp;GUID=D8E10F34-2500-481A-B58C-28E3BA5669B1&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1523</a>, was introduced by Council Member Helen Rosenthal last month and heard for the first time Wednesday. It would create an Office of the Tenant Advocate, charged with approving and monitoring tenant protection and site safety plans submitted to the Department of Buildings for construction work on occupied multiple dwellings.</p> <p>The OTA would receive and redress complaints from tenants and would be required to publish quarterly reports on its work, including data on the number of complaints received, time taken to respond to complaints, and the number of tenant protection and site safety plans reviewed.</p> <p>Rosenthal, a Democrat from the Upper West Side, said the OTA is a crucial tool to fight tenant harassment by landlords, particularly those who may use legally approved construction work to continually hassle and drive out rent-stabilized tenants. “Dealing with building owners who operate unscrupulously can be a Sisyphean task,” Rosenthal said in a phone interview, “and having more eyes on the ball can only help. Having an office or deputy commissioner on equal footing with other deputy commissioners at DOB will allow tenant voices to be heard.”</p> <p>But her bill received push back from the de Blasio administration as well as the real estate industry, both of which argue that the OTA would be redundant. “While we generally support the bills discussed at yesterday’s hearing, we’re concerned that this particular legislation would duplicate work the Department already performs,” said Joseph Soldevere, a DOB spokesperson, in an email.</p> <p>Soldevere said the department’s experts thoroughly examine tenant-protection and site-safety plans and, along with other agencies like Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), have a “robust system” for responding to tenant complaints. DOB also partners with HPD and law enforcement agencies, Soldevere added, in a joint city-state Tenant Harassment Task Force which has conducted more than 2,000 inspections since 2016.</p> <p>Council Member Stephen Levin, a Brooklyn Democrat, is a co-sponsor on Rosenthal’s bill. He criticized the DOB’s often-delayed response time to complaints, calling them “totally ineffective” and insisting that the raft of proposals, dubbed the “Stand For Tenant Safety” <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=539361&amp;GUID=5A278FCF-8C83-43AC-86E5-EF3C3998D566&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">package</a>, was essential. “It’s important that agencies coordinate their actions in working with tenants,” he said.</p> <p>The Real Estate Board of New York, the trade association that represents more than 16,000 members, including developers, property owners, managers and brokers, filed a <a href="https://www.rebny.com/content/rebny/en/newsroom/testimony/2017_Testimony/Legislative_Memorandum_Tenant_Harassment.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">legislative memo</a> with the City Council committee on Wednesday, stating its outright opposition to the OTA bill and generally to the larger package of proposals.</p> <p>“The creation of the Office of the Tenant Advocate within DoB might be a worthy endeavor,” the REBNY memo reads, “if the Office is devoted not only to protecting the interests of the tenant during construction, but also to assisting tenants with their responsibilities during such times.” It goes on to argue, similar to the administration’s stance on the bill, that other units within the DOB already cover the office’s proposed duties. They also insist that the bill should drop any references to site safety plans which are “technical documents requiring high-level expertise and developed to safeguard the general public and workers on-site, not specifically tenants.”</p> <p>For Rosenthal, those concerns aren’t unfounded and she said she’s not looking to duplicate efforts already underway. Rather, she wants to streamline existing resources and prioritize the city’s response to tenant concerns. “Simply organize it in a fashion that would be more supportive for people going through construction, where construction is used for harassment,” she said. “What I’m trying to do is level the playing field within the DOB so that a tenant’s voice is heard as well as a building owners.”</p> <p>The broader package of bills addresses a number of issues, with proposals including oversight of contractors that work without a permit; added requirements for information in tenant protection plans; a safe construction bill of rights for tenants; a rebuttable presumption of harassment for certain landlord actions; increased civil penalties for harassment and enhanced definitions of acts that constitute harassment; among others.</p> <p>The package is also keeping in line with the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s increased focus on tenant protections, including the recently agreed upon “Right to Counsel,” which provides free legal representation or advice to tenants facing eviction. The mayor has pointedly cited his anti-eviction and pro-tenant policies as a significant part of his overall agenda to combat the city’s record levels of homelessness and affordable housing crisis.</p> <p>Kerri White, director of organizing and policy at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, a tenant advocacy group, said the Office of Tenant Advocate would be a step towards addressing systemic issues that tenants face. “DOB still perceives each problem as its own island and that’s not the reality,” she said, emphasizing that the city needs a comprehensive approach that recognizes the larger context of tenant issues. She said HPD has in part embraced this need, after years of advocacy, but DOB lags behind. “Right now there’s no centralized person you can talk to,” she said. “You call 311 and put in complaints but those are not always effective.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/32212877203_635c2c312c_k.jpg" alt="Councilmember Helen Rosenthal" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings on Wednesday heard more than a dozen bills that would enhance tenant protections and combat abuses by landlords. Among those proposals was one that would create a new ombudsman within the Department of Buildings whose responsibility would be to prioritize the welfare of tenants when property owners and builders apply for construction permits.</p> <p>The bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2984646&amp;GUID=D8E10F34-2500-481A-B58C-28E3BA5669B1&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1523</a>, was introduced by Council Member Helen Rosenthal last month and heard for the first time Wednesday. It would create an Office of the Tenant Advocate, charged with approving and monitoring tenant protection and site safety plans submitted to the Department of Buildings for construction work on occupied multiple dwellings.</p> <p>The OTA would receive and redress complaints from tenants and would be required to publish quarterly reports on its work, including data on the number of complaints received, time taken to respond to complaints, and the number of tenant protection and site safety plans reviewed.</p> <p>Rosenthal, a Democrat from the Upper West Side, said the OTA is a crucial tool to fight tenant harassment by landlords, particularly those who may use legally approved construction work to continually hassle and drive out rent-stabilized tenants. “Dealing with building owners who operate unscrupulously can be a Sisyphean task,” Rosenthal said in a phone interview, “and having more eyes on the ball can only help. Having an office or deputy commissioner on equal footing with other deputy commissioners at DOB will allow tenant voices to be heard.”</p> <p>But her bill received push back from the de Blasio administration as well as the real estate industry, both of which argue that the OTA would be redundant. “While we generally support the bills discussed at yesterday’s hearing, we’re concerned that this particular legislation would duplicate work the Department already performs,” said Joseph Soldevere, a DOB spokesperson, in an email.</p> <p>Soldevere said the department’s experts thoroughly examine tenant-protection and site-safety plans and, along with other agencies like Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), have a “robust system” for responding to tenant complaints. DOB also partners with HPD and law enforcement agencies, Soldevere added, in a joint city-state Tenant Harassment Task Force which has conducted more than 2,000 inspections since 2016.</p> <p>Council Member Stephen Levin, a Brooklyn Democrat, is a co-sponsor on Rosenthal’s bill. He criticized the DOB’s often-delayed response time to complaints, calling them “totally ineffective” and insisting that the raft of proposals, dubbed the “Stand For Tenant Safety” <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=539361&amp;GUID=5A278FCF-8C83-43AC-86E5-EF3C3998D566&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">package</a>, was essential. “It’s important that agencies coordinate their actions in working with tenants,” he said.</p> <p>The Real Estate Board of New York, the trade association that represents more than 16,000 members, including developers, property owners, managers and brokers, filed a <a href="https://www.rebny.com/content/rebny/en/newsroom/testimony/2017_Testimony/Legislative_Memorandum_Tenant_Harassment.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">legislative memo</a> with the City Council committee on Wednesday, stating its outright opposition to the OTA bill and generally to the larger package of proposals.</p> <p>“The creation of the Office of the Tenant Advocate within DoB might be a worthy endeavor,” the REBNY memo reads, “if the Office is devoted not only to protecting the interests of the tenant during construction, but also to assisting tenants with their responsibilities during such times.” It goes on to argue, similar to the administration’s stance on the bill, that other units within the DOB already cover the office’s proposed duties. They also insist that the bill should drop any references to site safety plans which are “technical documents requiring high-level expertise and developed to safeguard the general public and workers on-site, not specifically tenants.”</p> <p>For Rosenthal, those concerns aren’t unfounded and she said she’s not looking to duplicate efforts already underway. Rather, she wants to streamline existing resources and prioritize the city’s response to tenant concerns. “Simply organize it in a fashion that would be more supportive for people going through construction, where construction is used for harassment,” she said. “What I’m trying to do is level the playing field within the DOB so that a tenant’s voice is heard as well as a building owners.”</p> <p>The broader package of bills addresses a number of issues, with proposals including oversight of contractors that work without a permit; added requirements for information in tenant protection plans; a safe construction bill of rights for tenants; a rebuttable presumption of harassment for certain landlord actions; increased civil penalties for harassment and enhanced definitions of acts that constitute harassment; among others.</p> <p>The package is also keeping in line with the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s increased focus on tenant protections, including the recently agreed upon “Right to Counsel,” which provides free legal representation or advice to tenants facing eviction. The mayor has pointedly cited his anti-eviction and pro-tenant policies as a significant part of his overall agenda to combat the city’s record levels of homelessness and affordable housing crisis.</p> <p>Kerri White, director of organizing and policy at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, a tenant advocacy group, said the Office of Tenant Advocate would be a step towards addressing systemic issues that tenants face. “DOB still perceives each problem as its own island and that’s not the reality,” she said, emphasizing that the city needs a comprehensive approach that recognizes the larger context of tenant issues. She said HPD has in part embraced this need, after years of advocacy, but DOB lags behind. “Right now there’s no centralized person you can talk to,” she said. “You call 311 and put in complaints but those are not always effective.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
10 Key Data Points from Social Services Budget Hearing 2017-03-27T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-27T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6836-10-key-data-points-from-the-social-services-budget-hearing Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/33170291706_9f3a92280c_z.jpg" alt="Corey Johnson hearing" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council Member Corey Johnson (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council General Welfare Committee conducted a budget hearing Monday to evaluate the programs, expenditures, and needs of the Human Resource Administration (HRA) and Department of Homeless Services (DHS). Steven Banks, Commissioner of the Department of Social Services (DSS), which oversees both HRA and DHS, provided testimony for the two agencies before taking questions from concerned Council members.</p> <p>Though HRA provides a wide variety of services -- including job training and emergency food assistance -- the committee’s questioning focused almost exclusively on the city’s homelessness crisis and the lack of progress that has been made by the de Blasio administration.</p> <p>“Is this something that New Yorkers are going to have to accept as a new norm?” asked Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the committee. “Are we to look ahead to future years and future generations and accept that the reality is that there are going to be 50,000 individuals and families living in our shelter system?”</p> <p>There are currently about 60,000 New Yorkers living in homeless shelters, and Mayor Bill de Blasio recently outlined the goal of reducing the population to about 57,500 over five years. While the mayor has admitted that his administration has not made enough progress reducing homelessness, he argues that the population would be around 70,000 if not for the rent subsidy and anti-eviction measures his team, led by Banks, has implemented.</p> <p>Responding to Levin and committee members, most of whom were late to the hearing, Banks provided a comprehensive rundown of the investments DSS and the de Blasio administration have instituted, such as voucher programs and legal assistance to tenants facing unwarranted eviction.</p> <p>He also discussed the HOME-STAT initiative, which has doubled the number of outreach workers on city streets in order to bring people into shelter. Though the committee acknowledged its support for these measures and conceded that significant investment has been made, they nevertheless stressed their dissatisfaction -- often bordering on outrage -- with the lack of progress, especially considering the concentration of resources targeted at homelessness. Expenditures for HRA and DHS have ballooned under de Blasio, and the mayor is proposing more money for the fiscal year 2018 budget, which is due by July 1.</p> <p>In his $84.67 billion preliminary budget proposal, 18 cents of every dollar goes to social services, the second largest portion behind education. The mayor has allocated $7.5 billion for the Department of Social Services and $772 million for the Department of Homeless Services, though both numbers are likely lower than the adopted budget will show at the end of June.&nbsp;</p> <p>At Monday's hearing, Council Members Barry Grodenchik, Corey Johnson, and Brad Lander were particularly critical of the administration’s efforts.</p> <p>“It seems to me that this city has committed an immense amount of resources and...it doesn’t seem like we’re getting value for our dollars,” Grodenchik told Banks, questioning both the effectiveness and scope of the administration’s plan to stop using 360 cluster apartment and commercial hotel locations and open 90 new homeless shelters throughout the city. “It seems to me that the goal is not as ambitious as it needs to be.”</p> <p>Banks defended “a concrete and realistic goal.”</p> <p>Lander expressed frustration that is shared by de Blasio, his predecessor on the Council, and other stakeholders. “On the one hand I appreciate being realistic, on the other I appreciate that this is an absolute crisis and we need to do more,” Lander said, before proceeding to recommend that Banks and his team focus on “getting families into affordable, permanent public housing.”</p> <p>The notion of placing more homeless families into public housing, through NYCHA, is something that some elected officials and advocates have long-called for, but that Banks and de Blasio have said is not the right approach. The mayor has cited the already-long NYCHA wait-lists.</p> <p>“It’s disturbing to walk down the streets everyday and to see homeless people on nearly every block...even after all these efforts at homelessness prevention, it still feels like we are not being successful,” added Council Member Johnson, who represents Chelsea and Greenwich Village.</p> <p>Banks’ testimony touched on other important DSS initiatives, in addition to homelessness, and provided updated data points on a variety of key topics:</p> <p>--The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps feed 1.7 million New Yorkers, including more than 650,000 children, added 8,371 participants in the last year. Asked about the future of SNAP in New York City, given the uncertain prospects for federal funding under the Trump administration, Banks said that he and the mayor would be working with Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to retain SNAP funding for New York City recipients.</p> <p>--According to Banks’ testimony, HRA provided rental assistance to 58,100 households in 2016 at a cost of $214 million. Asked about the widespread problem of landlords refusing to honor rental assistance programs and vouchers, Banks provided a phone number that residents can now call if they experience such refusal. Banks said HRA is determined to identify non-compliant landlords and compile a database of these individuals.</p> <p>--Banks’ testimony also explained that HRA has eliminated the Work Experience Programs (WEP) in favor of Job Training Program slots at NYPD, Parks Department, Department of Sanitation, and Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). The programs will serve up to 210 cash assistance participants annually.</p> <p>--The HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) accepted 3,444 new clients from August 2016 through January 2017, which is 1,410 more than the same period from the previous year. This was result of an HIV expansion program that allowed “all financially-eligible New York City residents with HIV to seek and obtain HASA services.” Applicants previously had to have developed AIDS or be “symptomatic” to be eligible. Council Member Johnson, who chairs the health committee, spoke about the success of HASA as a key achievement.</p> <p>--Banks’ testimony also announced a DHS plan to add 10,000 affordable apartments specifically for seniors, veterans, and New Yorkers earning less than $40,000 per household. DHS also has plans to institute an Elder Rental Assistance program, to be funded through the mayor’s “mansion tax,” to help more than 25,000 seniors with monthly rental assistance of up to $1,300. The mansion tax is unlikely to be approved in Albany, though.</p> <p>--In 2016, DHS placed 3,153 homeless veterans in permanent housing.</p> <p>--30% of families with children in a DHS shelter have a history of domestic violence. The Fiscal Year 2017 budget included $217 million for DHS security purposes.</p> <p>--Banks also referenced the 24% drop in evictions citywide since the institution of free legal assistance programs for many New Yorkers facing eviction. More than 40,000 residents avoided eviction in 2015 and 2016. The mayor and the City Council recently agreed to expand such assistance further.</p> <p>--Banks provided figures to demonstrate why the city has struggled to contain its homelessness problem. Between 2000 and 2014, Banks testified, median rent has increased 19%, while household income decreased by 6.3% over the same period.</p> <p>--360,000 New Yorkers now spend more than 50% of their income on rent and utilities. Another 140,000 spend more than 30%.</p> <p>--All in all, homelessness has increased by 115% over the past two decades. In 1994, 23,868 New Yorkers were homeless, by 2014, when Mayor de Blasio took office, that number was 51,470. It is now around 60,000.</p> <p>Banks' testimony was followed by the General Welfare Committee's examination of the Administration for Children's Services.</p> <p>

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by Luke Foley, Gotham Gazette

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/33170291706_9f3a92280c_z.jpg" alt="Corey Johnson hearing" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council Member Corey Johnson (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council General Welfare Committee conducted a budget hearing Monday to evaluate the programs, expenditures, and needs of the Human Resource Administration (HRA) and Department of Homeless Services (DHS). Steven Banks, Commissioner of the Department of Social Services (DSS), which oversees both HRA and DHS, provided testimony for the two agencies before taking questions from concerned Council members.</p> <p>Though HRA provides a wide variety of services -- including job training and emergency food assistance -- the committee’s questioning focused almost exclusively on the city’s homelessness crisis and the lack of progress that has been made by the de Blasio administration.</p> <p>“Is this something that New Yorkers are going to have to accept as a new norm?” asked Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the committee. “Are we to look ahead to future years and future generations and accept that the reality is that there are going to be 50,000 individuals and families living in our shelter system?”</p> <p>There are currently about 60,000 New Yorkers living in homeless shelters, and Mayor Bill de Blasio recently outlined the goal of reducing the population to about 57,500 over five years. While the mayor has admitted that his administration has not made enough progress reducing homelessness, he argues that the population would be around 70,000 if not for the rent subsidy and anti-eviction measures his team, led by Banks, has implemented.</p> <p>Responding to Levin and committee members, most of whom were late to the hearing, Banks provided a comprehensive rundown of the investments DSS and the de Blasio administration have instituted, such as voucher programs and legal assistance to tenants facing unwarranted eviction.</p> <p>He also discussed the HOME-STAT initiative, which has doubled the number of outreach workers on city streets in order to bring people into shelter. Though the committee acknowledged its support for these measures and conceded that significant investment has been made, they nevertheless stressed their dissatisfaction -- often bordering on outrage -- with the lack of progress, especially considering the concentration of resources targeted at homelessness. Expenditures for HRA and DHS have ballooned under de Blasio, and the mayor is proposing more money for the fiscal year 2018 budget, which is due by July 1.</p> <p>In his $84.67 billion preliminary budget proposal, 18 cents of every dollar goes to social services, the second largest portion behind education. The mayor has allocated $7.5 billion for the Department of Social Services and $772 million for the Department of Homeless Services, though both numbers are likely lower than the adopted budget will show at the end of June.&nbsp;</p> <p>At Monday's hearing, Council Members Barry Grodenchik, Corey Johnson, and Brad Lander were particularly critical of the administration’s efforts.</p> <p>“It seems to me that this city has committed an immense amount of resources and...it doesn’t seem like we’re getting value for our dollars,” Grodenchik told Banks, questioning both the effectiveness and scope of the administration’s plan to stop using 360 cluster apartment and commercial hotel locations and open 90 new homeless shelters throughout the city. “It seems to me that the goal is not as ambitious as it needs to be.”</p> <p>Banks defended “a concrete and realistic goal.”</p> <p>Lander expressed frustration that is shared by de Blasio, his predecessor on the Council, and other stakeholders. “On the one hand I appreciate being realistic, on the other I appreciate that this is an absolute crisis and we need to do more,” Lander said, before proceeding to recommend that Banks and his team focus on “getting families into affordable, permanent public housing.”</p> <p>The notion of placing more homeless families into public housing, through NYCHA, is something that some elected officials and advocates have long-called for, but that Banks and de Blasio have said is not the right approach. The mayor has cited the already-long NYCHA wait-lists.</p> <p>“It’s disturbing to walk down the streets everyday and to see homeless people on nearly every block...even after all these efforts at homelessness prevention, it still feels like we are not being successful,” added Council Member Johnson, who represents Chelsea and Greenwich Village.</p> <p>Banks’ testimony touched on other important DSS initiatives, in addition to homelessness, and provided updated data points on a variety of key topics:</p> <p>--The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps feed 1.7 million New Yorkers, including more than 650,000 children, added 8,371 participants in the last year. Asked about the future of SNAP in New York City, given the uncertain prospects for federal funding under the Trump administration, Banks said that he and the mayor would be working with Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to retain SNAP funding for New York City recipients.</p> <p>--According to Banks’ testimony, HRA provided rental assistance to 58,100 households in 2016 at a cost of $214 million. Asked about the widespread problem of landlords refusing to honor rental assistance programs and vouchers, Banks provided a phone number that residents can now call if they experience such refusal. Banks said HRA is determined to identify non-compliant landlords and compile a database of these individuals.</p> <p>--Banks’ testimony also explained that HRA has eliminated the Work Experience Programs (WEP) in favor of Job Training Program slots at NYPD, Parks Department, Department of Sanitation, and Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). The programs will serve up to 210 cash assistance participants annually.</p> <p>--The HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) accepted 3,444 new clients from August 2016 through January 2017, which is 1,410 more than the same period from the previous year. This was result of an HIV expansion program that allowed “all financially-eligible New York City residents with HIV to seek and obtain HASA services.” Applicants previously had to have developed AIDS or be “symptomatic” to be eligible. Council Member Johnson, who chairs the health committee, spoke about the success of HASA as a key achievement.</p> <p>--Banks’ testimony also announced a DHS plan to add 10,000 affordable apartments specifically for seniors, veterans, and New Yorkers earning less than $40,000 per household. DHS also has plans to institute an Elder Rental Assistance program, to be funded through the mayor’s “mansion tax,” to help more than 25,000 seniors with monthly rental assistance of up to $1,300. The mansion tax is unlikely to be approved in Albany, though.</p> <p>--In 2016, DHS placed 3,153 homeless veterans in permanent housing.</p> <p>--30% of families with children in a DHS shelter have a history of domestic violence. The Fiscal Year 2017 budget included $217 million for DHS security purposes.</p> <p>--Banks also referenced the 24% drop in evictions citywide since the institution of free legal assistance programs for many New Yorkers facing eviction. More than 40,000 residents avoided eviction in 2015 and 2016. The mayor and the City Council recently agreed to expand such assistance further.</p> <p>--Banks provided figures to demonstrate why the city has struggled to contain its homelessness problem. Between 2000 and 2014, Banks testified, median rent has increased 19%, while household income decreased by 6.3% over the same period.</p> <p>--360,000 New Yorkers now spend more than 50% of their income on rent and utilities. Another 140,000 spend more than 30%.</p> <p>--All in all, homelessness has increased by 115% over the past two decades. In 1994, 23,868 New Yorkers were homeless, by 2014, when Mayor de Blasio took office, that number was 51,470. It is now around 60,000.</p> <p>Banks' testimony was followed by the General Welfare Committee's examination of the Administration for Children's Services.</p> <p>

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by Luke Foley, Gotham Gazette

</p>