Gotham Gazette Wed, 20 Jan 2021 11:14:32 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) New Report Highlights Sharp Income and Employment Disparities for Black New Yorkers reyna rob program

(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)

The Coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on New York City’s economy and has revealed, and exacerbated, the existing socioeconomic disparities that afflict communities of color in the city. As Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration looks to ensure a fair recovery that focuses on racial equity, a new report shows that there are deep disparities in income and employment for Black New Yorkers that will require a concerted, long-term effort to address. 

The report, released Monday by the Center for an Urban Future (CUF), a nonprofit think tank, found that Black New Yorkers hold a staggeringly low number of jobs in high-paying industries and face “strikingly large” income disparities compared to white workers across the economy. The report analyzed pre-tax wage and salary income data across 140 industries from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey’s five-year sample.

Though Black New Yorkers make up 22% of the city’s population and 21.1% of the workforce, the report found that they are underrepresented in dozens of high- and middle-wage industries, accounting for less than 15% of the workforce in sectors such as technology, finance and insurance, creative industries, manufacturing, business services, and medical and dental offices. In some industries, such as scientific research and development, Black workers make up as little as 6% of the workforce.

Wage gaps for Black New Yorkers, compared with white workers, were apparent across the board. Black workers made more than white workers in only 12 of the 140 industries that the study examined. In 92 of those industries, the gap in median annual income was more than $10,000. For instance, Black workers in department stores had a median annual income of $15,870, compared to $44,674 for their white counterparts. The biggest difference was in the banking industry, where the median annual wage for Black workers was $52,899, compared to $123,370 for white workers.

“Often, industries that typically produce middle-wage jobs for white New Yorkers pay near-poverty wages to Black New Yorkers,” the report stated. Wage gaps were similarly present in the warehousing and storage industry, sporting goods stores, beauty salons, newspaper publishing, the film & tv sector, banking, to name a few industries.

“No matter the scale of the challenge, closing these gaps should be among the city’s highest policy priorities and will require a dedicated and long-term response,” the report states. “For the city’s economy not only to recover from the current crisis, but to reemerge more equitable and inclusive, policymakers will need to take strong steps to help more Black New Yorkers gain footholds – and advance – in a diverse range of well-paying and accessible fields.”

The report recommends that the city expand programs to help Black New Yorkers advance in postsecondary education, invest in training for tech careers and apprenticeship programs, and enlist top industry executives that can improve hiring practices from within an industry, among other measures.

The city has taken some steps along that path. Recognizing the racially disparate impact of the pandemic, Mayor de Blasio in April created a Fair Recovery Taskforce and a Taskforce on Racial Inclusion and Equity, co-chaired by First Lady Chirlane McCray, to ensure that the city addresses the longstanding disparities in communities of color. The taskforce has recommended several initiatives over the last few months to provide services and resources to hard-hit neighborhoods and populations. Just last week, the mayor announced a program to assist Black-owned businesses and promote Black entrepreneurship. “The challenge of disparity, the challenge of income inequality, it has come up so sharply in the course of these last few months, but it's something we've been grappling with for a long time, and this needs to be a moment when we resolve to make more fundamental changes,” de Blasio said at the announcement. “The coronavirus itself and the economic crisis that's come with, it has hit so hard in communities of color. It's hit immigrants so hard. It's hit small businesses so hard. We have so much work to do to create something better and fairer, and that's what we're going to do.”

Though the CUF report did not study the reasons behind wage and employment disparities in depth, it does surmise that disparities are partially connected to education. It notes that most jobs in high-paying industries go to people with four-year college or graduate degrees – 68.6% of white New Yorkers in the workforce have a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education while only 30.7% of Black New Yorkers can say the same.

The report notes that there are several other factors that also play a part, including “hiring practices that disadvantage Black candidates, unequal access to peer networks and mentorship, the harmful effects of poverty, and the impact of systemic racism.”

There are also industries, including several that have been considered essential workers during the pandemic, where Black New Yorkers are overrepresented. For instance, Black workers accounted for 58% of nursing care facility employees, 49% of workers in community food, housing, and emergency services, and 48% of investigation and security services workers. Industries where Black employees were generally paid on par or more than white workers included child day care, convenience stores, nail salons, barber shops, taxi and limousine services, and construction, among others.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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New Report Highlights Sharp Income and Employment Disparities for Black New Yorkers Tue, 25 Aug 2020 01:54:06 +0000
To Help More Students Succeed in College, Reform Remedial Education class2018 laguardia comm

(photo via LaGuardia Community College)

New York’s community college students face long odds of graduating. Only 25 percent of community college students statewide—and just 22 percent in New York City—earn an associate’s degree in three years, an enormous barrier to economic opportunity in a state where a college credential is becoming the floor to career success. There are multiple reasons why so many New Yorkers aren’t making it through college, but one major driver is clear: far too many students entering community colleges in New York are being pushed into remedial education programs.

Recognizing that developmental education is unintentionally derailing students from the path to a degree, both CUNY and SUNY are taking important steps to reform this system from the ground up. Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature should support these essential efforts by setting broad goals for reducing the number of students in remedial programs and funding innovative alternatives at community colleges statewide.

Remedial education has long been viewed as a necessity, since large numbers of students enter the state’s public colleges academically underprepared. At New York’s community colleges, which take all applicants and serve thousands of low-income and first-generation college students each year, most students enter struggling with at least one core subject like math or reading, and the majority are placed into remedial education.

But researchers now know that traditional remedial programs aren’t working. Students entering these programs are far more likely to drop out by the end of their first year, and the vast majority will fail to graduate with a degree—even as studies show that many students could have succeeded by staying out of developmental education entirely.

In recent years, roughly three-quarters of CUNY community college students placed into at least one remedial math, writing, or reading course. Nearly 90 percent of these students will not earn an on-time degree, and six in ten remedial math students will have dropped out within two years. Whatever initial excitement spurred these students into college quickly fades, as some of their peers make progress toward a degree while they remain stuck in classes that feel like high school never ended—all while burning through financial aid.

A better system is possible, and it starts with placing fewer students there in the first place.

In fact, evidence shows that high-stakes placement tests are weak predictors of a student’s potential, and many students who end up in remedial education can succeed in credit-bearing courses. CUNY and SUNY are developing smarter placement algorithms that analyze more than just test scores, and this data-backed reform should expand.

Of course, some underprepared students will require extra support to succeed in college. These students need access to programs that can build academic skills while maintaining momentum toward a degree.

That’s where innovative new approaches can make a difference. Study after study has shown that reimagined alternatives to remedial education programs are working for underprepared students by improving learning outcomes, boosting college completion, and speeding the path to a credential.

For instance, CUNY’s Start program has shown tremendous early results by providing an intensive, single-semester course combined with significant academic and non-academic support—all without using up financial aid. In addition, CUNY is expanding the highly-promising corequisite model, which places students in credit-bearing math and English courses bolstered by weekly support sessions. This approach is proving effective, helping students pass gateway math and English courses at higher rates and even improving college completion. Likewise, SUNY’s Math Pathways program is taking a similar approach to rethink math remediation for underprepared community college students.

As evidence mounts that these new strategies are working, it’s time for New York policymakers to give remedial reform a major boost. First, the State Legislature should pass a law setting broad goals for improving support systems for underprepared students, significantly decreasing the remedial population, and aligning SUNY’s and CUNY’s approaches with best practices nationwide, while leaving the specifics up to education leaders. Policymakers should then fuel progress toward these goals by implementing a new time-limited challenge grant for community colleges, aimed at expanding remedial education reforms quickly and efficiently to campuses statewide.

Traditional remedial education has been just another stumbling block on the road to a college credential. By investing in comprehensive remedial education reform, New York State can lift up underprepared students and put thousands more on track to a brighter economic future.

Eli Dvorkin is editorial and policy director of the Center for an Urban Future, a New York–based think tank focused on expanding economic opportunity. On Twitter @WetWax & @nycfuture.

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To Help More Students Succeed in College, Reform Remedial Education Thu, 03 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Revitalizing New York’s Aging Parks parks department

(photo: Parks Department)

New Yorkers are all too familiar with the consequences of aging urban infrastructure. Years of underinvestment in New York City’s century-old subway system has led to a full-blown transit crisis, with rampant delays, consistently overcrowded trains, and frequent equipment breakdowns.

But the subways are just the most glaring problem in an aging city. Another vital piece of public infrastructure is also several decades old, years behind on basic maintenance, and nearing a breaking point: New York City’s parks system.

With more than 100 million parks visitors each year and the city’s population at a record high, New York’s 1,700 public parks have never been busier. These open spaces provide a communal backyard to millions, with major benefits for health and happiness in every corner of the city. But the combination of advanced age, record usage, and decades of underinvestment in maintenance and infrastructure means that serious cracks are showing.

The average city park is 73 years old, and parks in every borough are struggling with aging assets that are at or near the end of their useful lives—including drainage systems, retaining walls, and bridges. About 40 percent of pools and almost half of the 53 recreation centers in city parks were built before 1950. The waterfront facilities overseen by the Parks Department—148 miles of coastline, including beaches, marinas, piers, and docks—are on average 76 years old.

Yet one in five parks has not had a major infrastructure upgrade in 25 years, according to a new report from the Center for an Urban Future. At least 46 parks, triangles, and plazas have not received significant capital investment in nearly a century.

In many cases, the results are plain to see. Serious flooding, damaged pathways, missing stairs, out-of-order bathrooms, and neglected horticulture are common problems in parks across all five boroughs. Other times, the infrastructure issues are hidden from view. For example, numerous drainage systems in city parks still rely on clay pipes from the mid-20th century. Most of the city’s thousands of park retaining walls are cracking and in need of repair or replacement. And one in five park bridges was found to be seriously deteriorated during its most recent inspection.

As maintenance and infrastructure needs soar, the city has struggled to keep pace. The Parks Department’s state-of-good-repair needs jumped 45 percent over the past decade, from $405.9 million in 2007 to $589.1 million last year. Meanwhile, recommended maintenance needs more than doubled, from $14 million to $34 million. But fewer than 15 percent of these needs were funded in the city’s most recent budget—among the lowest levels of any agency.

Although age is the major culprit contributing to mounting infrastructure needs, decades of underinvestment in basic maintenance has taken a toll. The Parks Department has too few full-time staff—including plumbers, masons, and gardeners—to keep parks assets in good shape and mitigate problems before they grow. New York’s system has about 150 gardeners citywide for roughly 20,000 acres of parkland—a ratio of 1 gardener to every 133 acres. By comparison, San Francisco employs over 200 gardeners for 4,113 acres of parkland—a ratio of 1 to 20.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council deserve credit for taking important steps to address parks infrastructure needs. In recent years, the Community Parks Initiative and Anchor Parks Initiative have dedicated more than $300 million to improve chronically underfunded parks, with significant benefits in every borough. But there’s still much more work to do to shore up the city’s aging parks system and lay the foundation for the next century of public open space.

It starts with committing to strategic increases in the Parks Department’s expense budget, with the goal of permanently funding much-needed skilled maintenance staff such as gardeners and foresters, masons, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, and other skilled workers, while closing the maintenance gap. In addition, the mayor and the City Council should establish a dedicated pool of capital funds for the parks system’s unsexy infrastructure—such as drainage systems and retaining walls—which are often passed over in discretionary funding.

To pay for all this, New York City should explore new revenue streams dedicated to parks maintenance and unglamorous capital projects. For example, a small surcharge on tickets to sporting events and greens fees at city golf courses could fund routine maintenance at parks, playgrounds, and recreation centers. Likewise, a surcharge on dockage fees at city-owned marinas could be used to maintain waterfront facilities. There are also numerous parks where the city could add a reasonable number of concessions that enhance the experience of parkgoers while providing vital new sources of revenue.

Given the scale of the parks system’s needs, the city’s capital dollars need to stretch as far as possible. But today, that’s hardly the case. A single bathroom can cost upward of $3 million and ten-year renovations are not uncommon. The mayor should make reforming the broken capital construction process a top priority, and the Parks Department should work to significantly speed up each phase of the process under its control.

New York’s public parks have benefited countless New Yorkers for well over a century. By investing wisely in their revitalization, these essential open spaces can continue to thrive into the next century and beyond.

Eli Dvorkin is managing editor of the Center for an Urban Future, a New York–based think tank focused on expanding economic opportunity. On Twitter @nycfuture & @wetwax.

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Revitalizing New York’s Aging Parks Mon, 25 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
On New York’s Amazon Wishlist? More Homegrown College Graduates amazon go via amazon dot com


Bids are due today for Amazon’s new headquarters and it seems cities across North America have joined the fray. The suitors are lining up with billion-dollar bouquets, and with good reason. What mayor could resist the promise of 50,000 well-paying jobs and all the economic energy that comes with the headquarters—a massive boost to the tax base, new cafes and food trucks, spin-off companies, and a legion of happy vendors? New York City alone has nearly two dozen neighborhoods vying for Bezos’ bounty.

Pundits have frequently written off the five boroughs as Amazon’s second home because of the exorbitant cost of living. Some are pointing to the subway meltdown. Yet an even greater obstacle may be the city’s underprepared workforce.

While New York has always been a beacon for titans of industry, striving immigrants, and the creative cognoscenti, for too long, the city has failed to develop enough local talent into the kind of smart, savvy employment base a modern company like Amazon demands. Just 36 percent of New York City residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the latest Census data, compared to 45 percent in Denver, 46 percent in Austin, and 55 percent in Washington, D.C. In Amazon’s current home base of Seattle, it is a whopping 59 percent.

New York’s ability to lure the world’s fourth largest corporation, or even its 40th or 400th, will hinge on whether its workforce is primed and ready. By that measure, the city has a long way to go.

More than 3.3 million city residents over age 25 lack an associate’s degree or higher level of college attainment. Residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher are largely concentrated in Manhattan, where the attainment rate stands at 62 percent, followed by just over 30 percent in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. In the Bronx, it is a distressing 18 percent.

Amazon should still see boundless potential on the Hudson. New York boasts a booming and entrepreneurial tech sector with more than 115,000 jobs today, an unparalleled smorgasbord of arts and culture, and the brand new Cornell Tech campus, alongside other world-renowned educational institutions.

But if New York succeeds in attracting Amazon, or any large company for that matter, whether GE, Aetna, or Tesla, it will be in spite of the city’s education and training systems, not because of them. New York can do so much more to ensure that its residents can access the opportunities that an Amazon would bring, while offering employers a much larger pool of homegrown talent.

Yes, New York is full of tech talent today. This is true, in part, because the city has become increasingly successful at attracting engineering and computer science graduates from Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and other top universities around the world. But in an economy where technically skilled workers are prized—not just on Silicon Alley but in nearly every large and mid-sized company—demand is through the roof. New York needs a much bigger pipeline, not just for Amazon, but for blue chip companies and local start-ups alike.

Even if the vast majority of Amazon’s 50,000 new hires were imported from other places, New York would still be better off with them here than in Denver or Chicago or Atlanta. But no company—and certainly not a company with so many hiring needs—is going to make locational decisions that are completely dependent on bringing in outside talent. It is simply not realistic, or sustainable. Meanwhile, if half those workers or more were born, raised, and educated in New York, the benefits would be far broader—allaying the fears of those who see Amazon as more of an economic development trophy than an opportunity generator.

Such an achievement today would be almost impossible.

While New York City has done an increasingly impressive job of getting students through high school, it continues to struggle with college success, leaving students without the credentials an employer like Amazon demands. Today, fewer than half of all four-year college students at the City University of New York (CUNY) graduate with a degree in six years. Just 22 percent of CUNY’s community college students earn a degree in three years.

CUNY’s highly successful ASAP initiative, which provides supports to full-time community college students, and the CUNY Start program, which provides intensive preparation for students with remedial needs, are important steps in the right direction. But New York has a long way to go to achieve true college success for all.

Beyond the classroom, the city’s workforce development system still functions too much like a cumbersome placement agency. The de Blasio administration has laid out an impressive new vision with its Career Pathways initiative, aimed at developing career trajectories through skills building and education. But after more than three years, there is too little to show for it. The city needs to double down on proposed investments in bridge programs, career exploration, and on-the-job training, while strengthening and expanding partnerships with nonprofit providers, employers, and the public education system.  

There’s no doubt that New York City is a formidable competitor in the quest for Amazon’s HQ2. No other city offers so expansive a world of culture and commerce in a single place, a paragon of urbanism and urbanity animated by an astonishingly diverse population. But if Amazon heads elsewhere, policymakers should not just blame cost and congestion. They should look to the serious shortcomings in the city’s human capital development system, which remains far from meeting its full potential.

Matt A.V. Chaban is the policy director and Fisher Fellow at the Center for an Urban Future. On Twitter @MC_NYC and @nycfuture.

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On New York’s Amazon Wishlist? More Homegrown College Graduates Wed, 18 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Experts Analyze Mayor De Blasio's Jobs Plan 32122764952 40cb06af67 z

Mayor de Blasio and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

An expert panel convened at The New School on Wednesday by the Center for An Urban Future delved into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to create 100,000 “good-paying” jobs in the next ten years, discussing the challenges of growing the city’s economy while ensuring that New Yorkers are its beneficiaries.

The mayor’s “New York Works” plan, unveiled in June, envisions targeted city investments in booming or burgeoning industries such as cybersecurity, life sciences, virtual reality, tech, culture, freight, and manufacturing to create 10,000 jobs each year that pay at least $50,000 a year, promoting the middle class and reducing income inequality in the city. Some have questioned the less-than-ambitious goal -- the city has created on average about 90,000 jobs each year in the last decade -- while others have raised concerns that the new jobs may not be sufficiently well-paying in a city that is increasingly unaffordable for many. The panel of experts explored those issues, and the related economic factors that they agreed were necessary to facilitate and maximize the impact of the job creation plan.

Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen kicked off the event with the administration’s pitch for its ten-year plan. She pointed to the city’s record-high employment rates and job growth -- employment is at 4.4 million jobs, unemployment is at 4 percent this year and the private sector has grown overall by 9 percent under this administration -- and laid out the strategies for creating quality jobs through city actions. Notably, the 100,000 target only accounts for jobs created directly through city intervention, and doesn't include employment that may be created as a secondary result.

“It’s really important to remember there’s a short game here and a long game and we have to play both of them,” she said, touting the administration’s first-term achievements as contributors to a stronger economy including universal pre-kindergarten, improvements in educational achievement, record-low crimes and the building of affordable housing, among other factors.

But she recognized that industry trends such as automation and globalisation are increasingly impacting the middle class and that the city would have to actively intervene to stem job losses and promote growth in specific sectors “where specific government intervention in either space or talent or certain kinds of incentive structures, we believe, are actually necessary for them to reach their true potential. So this is on top of any organic growth that would happen without our interventions.”

She also noted that the administration has leveraged its land use and regulatory powers to encourage economic development. Referring to comprehensive land use changes passed in East Midtown, Far Rockaway and East New York, she said, “All of these neighborhood rezoning plans are not just about housing, it’s also about creating opportunity for smart job growth and many of those will have very interesting overlaps with this plan.”

After Glen spoke, she quickly departed and a five-member panel comprising real estate insiders and urban policy experts, and one City Council member, took the stage.

Panel moderator Winston Fisher, a partner at real estate firm Fisher Brothers and co-chair of the NYC Regional Economic Development Council, posed the central question. “If the economy is doing so we need a strategy for good jobs?” he asked. “Why do we need this and how do we even measure this?”

“Absolutely we need it,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future. “This is the big economic development question today.” Bowles noted that projections show seven out of the ten occupations that will create the most jobs in the next ten years will be in low-wage sectors, and the other three in high-wage fields. “It’s not just that we need more jobs, we need more good-paying jobs that are accessible for a broad range of New Yorkers because so few of the new jobs are in that middle range that are accessible to people without a college degree.”

There was general praise for the administration's jobs plan but certain concerns among the members of the panel about whether it targets the right population, whether job growth will directly benefit the city’s residents, and whether it adequately accounts for the overarching factors that affect the economy and income inequality at large.

City Council Member Dan Garodnick, chair of the economic development committee, questioned whether the administration was being sufficiently ambitious in aiming for 100,000 jobs. “I do think we need to be asking the question, is that the right number? Is it aspirational enough?”

But panellist Seth Pinsky, executive vice president at RXR, a real estate firm, and former president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, said the problem was not the number of jobs. His “quibble” about the plan was that it does not explicitly address the need to bring jobs to those who require them most, particularly New Yorkers without an advanced education.

“The problem is not creating jobs, it’s who’s getting the jobs,” Pinsky said, noting that the unemployment rate for those without a high school degree is three times that of those with a master’s degree or higher. That was, for him, the biggest challenge for the city, noting that the administration would need to figure out how to “creatively” educate those without a formal education and also establish a robust safety net for those who are likely to never catch up in education and job skills in increasingly automated industries. “This is a problem that’s bigger than New York City, it’s a problem that cities and countries all over the world are dealing with,” he said.

Kevin Ryan, an entrepreneur and founder of companies including MongoDB, Zola, Workframe and NoMad Health, echoed that uncertainty. Although the high school graduation rate in the city hit an all-time high of 79.4 percent last year, Ryan was pessimistic about the job prospects of the more than 20 percent who don’t receive diplomas. He also pointed to the city’s lack of affordable housing and abysmal transit infrastructure as factors that negatively impact the economy.

Marlene Cintron, president of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, stressed that jobs created should meet the needs of residents of communities and also the needs of current and prospective employers. Chiefly, she said, it was necessary to ensure that “our students, our New York City residents get the first bite of this New York City apple…Economic development and jobs start at the cradle, we need a healthy child, we need a great excellent education system, we need affordable ensure our kids get the first crack at the apple.”

One of the more pressing issues, repeated often by different panellists, was the need to enhance affordability to complement increased wages among lower- and middle-wage job holders.

Pinsky emphasized the role real estate could play, by increasing housing density to create more affordability. And, if the city were to invest heavily in transit infrastructure and connectivity across the boroughs, he said, it would relieve stress on the housing market and automatically lead to more affordable housing units farther from the city center. He also pointed out that, since the economy is not organically creating middle-wage jobs, the city should take an aggressive approach to incentivise companies to create those jobs through subsidies, similar to the way the de Blasio administration has approached affordable housing.

Cintron repeatedly emphasized the need for affordable education, which she suggested could be implemented through the CUNY and SUNY systems by New York State, building on the recent Excelsior program that provides tuition-free college for families making $100,000 a year or less. Ryan added that creating a more affordable city, through infrastructure and housing, would also discourage companies from outsourcing jobs and would draw more qualified workers to the city.

Pinsky, Bowles and Garodnick also touched on the broader economic conditions that are necessary to promote job creation. Noting Pinsky’s argument about workforce development, Bowles said the mayor’s plan would need to incorporate jobs training and skill building to create a “talent pipeline” across diverse sectors. And he said that it was impossible to tell which job sector would grow the fastest. “We do know that New York has this amazing opportunity to scale up our small businesses,” he said, emphasizing that that could create more middle-wage jobs with benefits.

Pinsky agreed that certain sectors were ripe for growth, but he said it was a mistake for the city to focus too heavily on them. “People in government often think that they’re chasing the next big thing when, in fact, what they’re chasing is the last big thing,” he said. “We’re much better off trying to create the conditions for all sectors to thrive and then to let the marketplace sort through which are the ones that actually should be here and which are the ones that have a less logical connection to a specific place like New York.”

Reiterating that point, Garodnick said, “The plan makes only passing reference to those general conditions which are necessary for businesses to be successful in New York.” He said the city needed to account for the “fundamentals” that affect economic activity, be it the ongoing subway crisis or traffic congestion. “Until we’re adequately dealing with those, we’re gonna have challenges,” he said. He did praise the administration for including land use policy in the jobs plan, but was disappointed with inadequate steps taken to relieve burdens on small businesses. In particular, he called for reforming the commercial rent tax that is levied on businesses below 96th Street in Manhattan. “We can’t ignore some of these other issues that the city can actually act on right now,” he said.

Bowles agreed that the city should foster an “ecosystem” to strengthen small businesses and put resources into modernizing infrastructure, which would naturally create jobs as well.

The de Blasio administration is well aware that achieving its goals will require an organic approach that meets the needs of the economy as it develops and changes. Deputy Mayor Glen noted as much on Wednesday. “This is a ten-year plan,” she said. “I can’t say in year eight or nine where every single job is going to be. That would be an unrealistic expectation. So we have to be nimble, we have to be thoughtful. We have to adapt in real-time to changes in technology, to changes in capital markets, to changes in political and regional realities.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Experts Analyze Mayor De Blasio's Jobs Plan Wed, 20 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Time to Let New York Dance choreographer

(photo: choreographer Blacka Di Danca)

New York City is experiencing a sonic boom. From electronic cumbia in the Bronx to thumping techno in an East Williamsburg warehouse to experimental sounds in a former Greenpoint luncheonette, the energy of the city’s diverse music cultures is at a creative and popular peak. At the grassroots level, a diffuse network of DIY arts spaces cultivates the next generation of musicians. These fiercely independent venues exist to create opportunities for emerging artists and new voices, offering a first show, a supportive crowd, and a sense of community.

But not everyone is feeling the good vibrations: archaic laws and a punitive bureaucratic mindset are stifling small, local venues that are already struggling to cope with skyrocketing rents. Given a severely lacking support structure for the city’s DIY music and art spaces, a single misstep can prove disastrous. In this environment, the selective enforcement of current rules and regulations serves to criminalize nightlife—dampening economic opportunity and making New York less safe.

One particularly draconian example, the Cabaret Law, was passed at the height of the Harlem Renaissance in a bid to curb the rise of jazz clubs in the prohibition era. In the words of the Committee on Local Laws, the aim was to rein in “the ‘wild’ stranger and the foolish native” by prohibiting restaurants and bars from allowing more than three patrons to dance without receiving a separate cabaret license. For more than 60 years, the law specifically banned the principal instruments used in jazz, until a 1986 ruling found that provision unconstitutional. Despite this overtly discriminatory origin, the law has remained in force to this day.

In addition to its redundancy—strict rules already govern noise, alcohol, crowds, and other late-night nuisances—the Cabaret Law continues to have a chilling effect on specific styles of music, encouraging local music and art spaces to book rock bands or folk performers instead of hip-hop artists or salsa musicians that might inspire the crowd to dance. Applying for a license involves a gauntlet of additional regulations and costs, including additional security, surveillance, operational, and recordkeeping requirements. The cost and complexity help explain why just 94 of the city’s 25,000-plus food service establishments currently hold a cabaret license.

This regulatory relic is just one example of the adversarial relationship that characterizes the city’s interactions with independent nightlife and local arts communities. Many DIY spaces never recover after accruing multiple violations and thousands of dollars in fines. Even modest fixes can be out of reach, especially for smaller spaces: changing a certificate of occupancy, applying for a public assembly permit, or undertaking renovations to comply with byzantine building codes all pose significant hurdles. The lost revenue from just a few days spent closed for repairs can mean the difference between making rent and risking eviction.

In a city where one experienced entrepreneur cites costs upward of $1 million to open a 100-capacity venue, it’s no surprise that artist- and youth-run spaces end up mired in a constant struggle to operate legally. The result is that the city’s small, local arts venues—which account for more than 12,000 jobs and $800 million in annual economic output—struggle to make ends meet.

Rising rents are a major contributing factor, but the city government presents obstacles of its own. In order to prepare for the onslaught of city agencies, DIY spaces are not only paying artists and staff, but also attorneys, expeditors, compliance consultants, and contractors to satisfy health, building, fire, water, gas, and electrical regulations. Faced with escalating costs, zoning pressures, and an enforcement-focused system of regulatory agencies, New York City’s status as an incubator of arts and culture is under threat.

The Center for an Urban Future’s Creative New York report found that at least 24 music venues closed between 2011 and 2015, with more DIY spaces, such as Palisades and Shea Stadium, shuttering in the past few months (although the latter is poised to return). A recent report from the Mayor’s Office of Entertainment and Media confirmed these findings, announcing that more than 20 percent of the city’s smaller music venues have closed over the past 15 years.

Sustaining independent music and nightlife means supporting efforts to create safer physical spaces. It is essential that all spaces comply with common sense safety rules, such as clear paths of egress and working fire extinguishers. But the existing financial and regulatory burden creates a two-tiered ecosystem, with fully licensed, for-profit venues operating aboveground while many artist-run or not-for-profit spaces are forced into the shadows. This has the paradoxical effect of pushing vital arts spaces further underground, making artists and patrons less safe, not better protected.  

New York needs a strong base of local arts venues to create opportunities for emerging artists and sustain the next generation of musicians, organizers, and cultural producers. The city should take steps to cultivate its grassroots music and nightlife venues, or risk undermining the foundation of its creative growth. The creative sector now employs roughly 300,000 New Yorkers, or 7 percent of all jobs in the city. And small clubs, bars, and music venues account for thousands of additional jobs, fueled by live performances every night of the week.

A strategy to support these entrepreneurial endeavors could include free or subsidized legal advice and architectural services for artists and venues; a grantmaking or matching-funds program for urgent safety improvements and public assembly permits; a program to provide mock inspections to local music and art venues; and a nightlife liaison inside City Hall—an approach successfully undertaken by some of New York’s cultural rivals, including San Francisco and Berlin.

Perhaps the simplest step in the right direction is to repeal the Cabaret Law. After nine decades of antagonism toward nightlife, the time has come to let New York dance.

Eli Dvorkin is managing editor of the Center for an Urban Future and a founding member of the Silent Barn. On Twitter @nycfuture.

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Time to Let New York Dance Sun, 23 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
The City's Next Steps to Ensure Vibrant, Creative Communities nyc culture

photo via @NYCulture

Earlier this month, the city's Department of Cultural Affairs announced a promising new program aimed at strengthening cultural organizations in targeted neighborhoods. The initiative, known as Building Community Capacity, was introduced in conjunction with Mayor de Blasio's rezoning proposal in East New York, where the program will be launched.

The new initiative is consistent with several of the recommendations from Creative New York, the Center for an Urban Future's recent report on the city's arts economy. The report found that a number of small and mid-size arts organizations in low- and middle-income neighborhoods are financially strained. To address this issue, it encouraged the de Blasio administration to integrate the arts into its rezoning proposals, ensuring that existing artists and arts organizations are supported, preserved, and fortified.

In recent years, government support for New York City cultural organizations has declined significantly. Adjusted for inflation, programmatic and operating grants from the National Endowment for the Arts fell by 15 percent, from the New York State Council on the Arts by 37 percent, and from the city's Department of Cultural Affairs by 16 percent. As a result, cultural organizations have become increasingly dependent on private philanthropy. Many mid-size and small organizations have struggled with this adjustment. In 2012, for instance, we identified 14 "mid-sized" performing arts venues whose revenue did not cover expenses.

Small organizations are also under pressure, particularly those located outside of Manhattan and those serving communities of color. Among New York organizations that explicitly listed their constituents as non-white, earned revenue—primarily attendance fees—covered 32 percent of their expenses, compared to 55 percent for those with a general audience. Likewise, individual and board donations covered only 11 percent of expenses for these organizations, but a much higher 21 percent for those serving a general audience.

Given the extensive challenges facing small and midsized art organizations—particularly those in communities outside of Manhattan—it's encouraging to see the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) focus on fortifying these groups.

While the specifics of the DCLA program will be developed in partnership with local community members and organizations, Building Community Capacity has several worthwhile objectives. They include: helping organizations with board development and fundraising capacity, equipping arts leaders with essential management skills, activating underused spaces for cultural activities, and streamlining the permitting process.

To address these challenges and achieve these goals, DCLA and community-based cultural organizations should look to nonprofits and other city agencies for inspiration. To assist with board development and fundraising capacity, for instance, DCLA could replicate the Robin Hood Foundation's Board Placement Program. Robin Hood helps connect talented, committed and wealthy individuals with social service nonprofits throughout the city. The DCLA could provide a similar matchmaker role for small cultural nonprofits.

Likewise, to help arts administrators develop their management skills, DCLA should look to the New York City Economic Development Corporation's Fashion Fellows, a yearlong training and networking program for rising stars in fashion management. The DCLA could introduce a similar platform for administrators at cultural nonprofits in low-income neighborhoods.

As East New York artists and arts organizations search for affordable and underutilized performance and rehearsal facilities, they should partner with the Department of Education. Schools in East New York (District 19) contain 46 "primary" and "non-primary" dance rooms, 64 music rooms, 50 theater classrooms, and 61 auditoriums. After school hours, most are left unoccupied. Opening these facilities in the evenings and on weekends could provide stable, affordable space to hundreds of local artists, helping them remain in the neighborhoods where they live and work.

Finally, to streamline the permitting process and enliven vacant retail spaces in the target neighborhoods, DCLA should look to the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting (MOFTB) or the Street Activity Permit Office (SAPO) for assistance. The current permitting process is extremely cumbersome and expensive, requiring individual approval from several agencies, including the police and fire departments.

For film and street fairs, on the other hand, the MOFTB and SAPO have established a one-stop-shop, helping to simplify this bureaucratic tangle. Given their resources and expertise, the MOFTB or SAPO could assume permitting duties for all East New York performances and exhibitions, on a pilot-basis. If it runs smoothly, the city should consider delegating all performing and visual arts related permitting to one of these two agencies.

With the Building Community Capacity program, the de Blasio administration is redoubling its efforts to strengthen local organizations and improve access to the arts in all of the city's neighborhoods. From permitting to management training, board development to activating underused spaces, the Mayor's initiative can help build more vibrant, resilient and creative neighborhoods.

Adam Forman is a Senior Researcher at the Center for an Urban Future.

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The City's Next Steps to Ensure Vibrant, Creative Communities Wed, 03 Feb 2016 00:18:43 +0000
As City Eases Burdens, Access to Capital, Rising Rents Remain Issues for Small Businesses torres-springer sbs

SBS Commissioner Torres-Springer (photo: @NYCBusSolutions)

Small business assistance is a perennial political promise. Few can argue with the goal of stimulating the city's economy and almost everyone has some connection to the issue.

After all, the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) reports that 98 percent of the city's 220,000 businesses are considered small (fewer than 100 employees). The number has increased in recent years due to an entrepreneurial boom in the city. According to the Center for an Urban Future, nearly twice as many businesses were incorporated in the city in 2011 than in 1991. Every day, many New Yorkers go to work or shop at these businesses, often doing both.

Mayor Bill de Blasio sees owners and employees of these businesses as squarely in the crosshairs of his mission to reduce inequality and create opportunity. The needs of individual business owners vary some because the category is so large, but, there are many commonalities among those looking to start, maintain, or grow a small business.

After a first year in which the de Blasio administration drastically reduced fines levied on small business, the City has just launched a new, multifaceted approach to reduce regulatory burdens. While these moves are certainly welcome, many in the small business community say that access to capital and ever-rising rents remain their largest challenges.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's 2014 Small Business Credit Survey, 40 percent of local business owners say they're struggling with common problems of finding customers and managing cash flow. Many businesses also said that securing loans was a major issue.

"Twenty percent [of businesses] cited credit availability as a top concern. Most small firms reported needing micro loans of $100,000 or less," said Claire Kramer Mills, an assistant vice president in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Community Affairs Office.

The survey was conducted over a two-month period during the fall of 2014. More than 2,000 businesses with fewer than 500 employees were surveyed from 10 states. Responses were weighted to reflect the full population of small businesses in each state. Specific New York City figures were then highlighted for Gotham Gazette.

Most businesses need some kind of loan in order to launch or stay alive, especially in New York City. "Very small" businesses with fewer than 20 employees make up the majority of the city's small businesses and are growing at the fastest rate. These are local restaurants, tech start-ups, boutique retail stores, neighborhood coffee shops, and more.

Many of these business owners have little or no additional support outside of family or friends, and navigating the banking system can be difficult. According to the Federal Reserve survey, more than 20 percent of local business owners applied for funding from online lenders last year despite often higher interest rates.

Aissatou Bah, a loan officer at the Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union, cautioned against using online lenders for their expediency, because interest rates can be double or triple the standard.

The Brooklyn Cooperative's mission is to help community businesses, but that doesn't mean it can give money to just anyone. Bah said that a strong business plan and a little patience is essential.

"Every lender wants to lend money, that's what business owners tend to forget sometimes," said Bah.

She said that the average loan decision can take two weeks. In cases where people aren't fully prepared, she'll refer them to SBS or local business development centers for more guidance before giving them financing.

The Brooklyn Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is one of those places where owners can get advice at any stage of a very complicated process. Operated by the State University of New York and funded by federal money, the Brooklyn SBDC helps people with business plans, networking, research, and other services from the start-up phase onward.

"It's a very daunting situation to open a business," said Director Robert Piechota. "You better make sure you know what the heck you're doing."

The Brooklyn SBDC also helps people, particularly those who don't speak English, understand the City's complex bureaucracy, "It's not very easy to open a business or maintain it given the constantly changing landscape of regulations," said Piechota.

The city offers similar services as well. The Department of Consumer Affairs, which investigates many businesses, not only scaled back the fines it levies, but launched expansive new initiatives in order to communicate with businesses in a variety of languages. SBS operates seven "NYC Business Solutions" centers where people can get pro-bono legal services, help reviewing leases, business courses, and access to capital. According to an SBS spokesperson, the department helped connect businesses with approximately $58.5 million in capital last year through various methods.

The City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) also helps small business get lines of credit and loans of up to $250,000 through its Capital Access Loan Guaranty Program. The EDC helps facilitate financing through various lenders and provides up to a 40 percent guarantee for qualified applicants.

Many of these systems were already in place under the Bloomberg administration. As a council member and the public advocate during that time, Mayor de Blasio often talked about the need to reduce the regulatory burden on small businesses. Since taking office he's made efforts to reach that goal.

Last year, he lowered revenue targets for fines given out by the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Keeping with this tack, his administration recently announced its Small Business First program to further improve the climate for small businesses.

Led by SBS, the $27 million initiative seeks to streamline the regulatory process across more than 15 different city agencies over the next four years. Opening any business - particularly one involving food - requires permits and inspections from more agencies than many people may realize. While the initiative won't change that, it includes 30 ways in which the City is making the process easier - including an online portal to find and file forms, translating materials into multiple languages, and more.

Local business groups have reacted positively to the plan, but say that regulations will still pose a challenge for owners.

"Small Business First won't eliminate all of the regulatory barriers small business owners face, but anything the City does to make it easier for small business owners to understand and comply with local regulations is a step in the right direction," said Victor Wong, director of business outreach and GoBizNYC at the Partnership for New York City.

SBS will be creating a Small Business Advisory Board - made up of city personnel, elected officials, and small business owners - to monitor the program's success and offer future recommendations.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer has also announced a "Red Tape Commission," made up of various business and community leaders, that will spend a year producing recommendations for streamlining the regulatory process. How this will differ from Small Business First remains to be seen, but representatives from SBS and the comptroller's office both said they plan to work together on the issue.

"I am confident that the Red Tape Commission's work will provide valuable new insight, reform proposals, and audit topics that will help make city government more responsive to the needs of the small business community," Stringer said in a statement.

City Council members have been getting in on the action as well. Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito proposed the idea of a "small business advocate" position in her February State of the City address and other ideas have been floated by various members.

Robert Cornegy, Jr., chair of the Council's Committee on Small Business, said that he supports increasing access to capital and finding ways to reduce regulatory burdens by providing industry-specific advice. Cornegy told Gotham Gazette that one of the most pressing issues is the ability for businesses to afford space.

"So many small businesses have been devastated by enormous and unmanageable rent increases and it's heartbreaking. Too often, businesses that have been part of a neighborhood's renaissance are unable to remain and reap the rewards of the changes they have helped to create," Cornegy said by email.

Cornegy said he often hears stories of commercial tenants being harassed by landlords in his Brooklyn district, but they have less protection than residential tenants.

The council member has introduced a resolution calling on the State to pass legislation that would establish a property tax credit for commercial landlords who limit rent increases to small business owner tenants upon lease renewal. Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, of Queens, has introduced a similar resolution, focusing on small businesses that own property.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal said that she's also seen this happening in her district on the Upper West Side, particularly when landlords get an opportunity to bring in larger corporate tenants for more money. She hopes to change this when designing new construction.

"In new buildings I'd love to have an opportunity to negotiate for physical spaces that would imply a small business," Rosenthal told Gotham Gazette.

Some advocates worry that rent increases will have an irrevocable effect on the small business community. Steven Barrison, executive vice president of the Small Business Congress, estimates that thousands of "mom and pop" businesses are closing shop every year.

"Businesses are in a crisis, they're on life support now," he said.

City and state officials are often wary, of course, of alienating the real estate industry - and there is a limit to what the City can do without receiving more support from Albany for commercial rent regulations.

Good news includes that as the economy continues to grow, small businesses are seeing better success rates. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 80.7 percent of the establishments that opened in New York State during 2013 survived through 2014, and bankruptcies have declined since 2010.

Despite positive trends, entrepreneurs still face tough odds when running one of the city's many thousands of small businesses. Even with the possibility of additional federal and state funding, and the city's efforts to reduce regulatory hurdles, starting a business in New York will always be a risky proposition.

"Just having an idea is not enough in this country to have a sustainable business," said Cornegy. "You can open one, but sustainability is based on a good solid plan."

by Cole Rosengren, Gotham Gazette

As City Eases Burdens, Access to Capital, Rising Rents Remain Issues for Small Businesses Thu, 12 Mar 2015 05:00:00 +0000
Paying Attention to Cities ggcommentary
For More on Helping New York's Economy

An $825 Billion First Step By James Parrott
The stimulus package proposed by Congress is key to halting the economy's downward spiral but it will not solve all our problems. Economist James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute looks at what the package would do -- and what more needs to be done.

Using the Crisis to Prevent the Next One By J. Mijin Cha
The current turmoil can help us reduce our dependence n Wall Street and create good "green collar" jobs that help fuel a resurgence of the middle class. The director of campaign research at the Urban Agenda explains how.

Infrastructure Investments that Make Sense By Carter Craft
As big as the stimulus package may be, the country has to invest the money wisely. An urban planner offers some novel ideas for New York projects -- from recycling grease to ferries for freight.

From Gas-Guzzling Cars to Clean Buses By Charles Stone
Simply lending funds to struggling auto companies won't spur economic growth. Instead, an economist suggests, the government should create a voucher program to deploy the resources of the auto companies, spur investment -- and help the environment.

Previous Articles
A Federal Stimulus for City Parks By Anne Schwartz
Advocates hope that President Obama and Congress will recognize that funding parks would not only improve the quality of life and the environment but also spur investment and raise real estate values.

Stimulus Money: The Downturn's Silver Lining? By Graham Beck
The stimulus package could offer more federal funds for transportation projects. The MTA is making its list, but there are sure to be lots of restrictions -- and competition.

Barack Obama's early pronouncements, from creating a White House Office of Urban Policy to promising bold new investments in infrastructure, education and alternative energy, suggest that the new president understands something that many of his recent predecessors clearly did not: what's good for cities is good for America.

New York, the nation's biggest city by population and economic activity, could greatly benefit from a president who is committed to ending years, if not decades, when the federal government all but turned its back on the needs of urban communities. Even before the current economic downturn, the city lacked the resources to adequately address mounting problems of aging public infrastructure, housing shortages, traffic congestion, environmental pollution and growing economic inequality. While these problems can't all be placed at the feet of officials in Washington, the federal government has long underfunded programs that primarily benefit city dwellers. In the last eight years, things got even worse for New York.

Federal support for mass transit stayed roughly flat since the start of the decade, even as ridership in numerous cities - including New York - surged to record levels. The Bush administration drastically reduced funding for public housing, contributing to rent hikes, service cutbacks and a nearly $6 billion backlog in capital work at the New York City Housing Authority, whose buildings are home to more than 400,000 low-income New Yorkers. The administration also underfunded the project-based Section 8 program by nearly $3 billion, dealing a profound blow to one of the nation's most critical affordable housing programs at a time when demand for low-income housing in New York far outstrips supply. And it cut funding for the nation's workforce development system by roughly $2 billion, with New York City's job training and youth employment services taking a disproportionately large hit. Perhaps most galling, New York was consistently shortchanged in homeland security funding.

Washington's disdain for the priorities of cities like New York was not limited to traditional areas of concern to urban advocates. The absence of federal leadership on issues such as immigration, health care, energy policy, scientific research and access to higher education also adversely affected the five boroughs in countless ways.

Reciprocal Relations

New York could use a helping hand from Washington, especially in these tough economic times. While the Bloomberg administration has made progress in several areas, only the federal government can provide the resources and leadership needed to help the city accomplish its housing development goals, expand the transit system or make the city more energy efficient.

But, more than ever, the country also needs New York. In today's global economy, the nation's singular international city is inextricably linked to that of the country.

Obama, himself a lifelong resident of cities, has sent some encouraging signals that he understands this dynamic and plans to free up more resources to strengthen urban areas. But just what should he do to help New York?

A Plan for the City

Last week, the Center for an Urban Future published a report that laid out 51 specific recommendations for what the Obama administration and the 111th Congress could do to help New York.

Our recommendations started with the premise that one of the most critical jobs of the federal government today is keeping New York safe. This means allocating anti-terror funds to localities based on risktheyface rather than politics, moving aggressively to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, passing legislation to get illegal guns off the street and enacting bills already proposed in Congress that would pay for thousands of additional cops in New York and other cities.

Another critical priority is helping New York and other cities maintain and upgrade their existing transportation infrastructure. Specifically, the Obama administration should dramatically increase the share of federal transportation funding that goes to mass transit, fund Amtrak at a level that enables vast improvement to intercity rail service, accelerate plans to develop and implement a more technologically advanced air traffic control system that would reduce flight delays and include more ferry projects in federal transportation infrastructure packages.

On economic development, Obama could help New York by increasing federal investment in microlending programs as a way to support the smallest entrepreneurs. A renewed federal commitment to scientific research would also go a long way given that New York is home to one of the world's largest concentrations of academic research institutions.

On housing, the president should restore funding for public housing, meet federal commitments to the project-based Section 8 program and help spur the creation of new supportive housing for the mentally ill.

There are many other things the new president could do, from taking immediate steps to ensure that the 2010 Census does not undercount New York and creating a large-scale nationwide effort to retrofit buildings to be more energy efficient, to expanding the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and streamlining the visa process to make it easier for artists to enter the country.

Others will undoubtedly have different ideas. The important thing is for New Yorkers to realize that having a friendlier audience in Washington is only the first step. Rather than simply waiting for Obama-or Adolfo Carrion, the Bronx borough president, who will reportedly head the new Office of Urban Policy-to set an agenda, New York's policymakers and champions should be helping to frame the national debate about what a more enlightened urban policy should look like and crafting a set of policy recommendations that federal officials could run with from the get-go.

Jonathan Bowles is director of the Center for an Urban Future

Paying Attention to Cities Tue, 20 Jan 2009 05:00:00 +0000
Center for an Urban Future Articles ]]> Center for an Urban Future Tue, 10 Apr 2001 19:19:51 +0000