Gotham Gazette

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Government

Two New Reps Join the City Council


borelli grodenchik council

CMs Borelli, right, & Grodenchik are sworn in next to the Speaker (photo by William Alatriste) 


The New York City Council has two new members, each with prior experience in elected office and bringing to the 51-member body the perspective of New Yorkers living in the city's outer-reaches. Both districts being represented by new members are populated by many car- and single-family-home-owners.

One new representative - Barry Grodenchik of Queens - brings a fairly moderate Democratic viewpoint to the Council's majority, while the other new Council member - Joseph Borelli of Staten Island - brings an outspoken style to the Republican minority. Both Grodenchik and Borelli were sworn in on Tuesday, November 24, and participated in their first official Council business at that afternoon's "Stated Meeting."

Earlier this month, the two former Assembly members were chosen through special elections to fill Council vacancies created by members who resigned to take other jobs: Mark Weprin left to work for Governor Andrew Cuomo and Vincent Ignizio to lead Staten Island Catholic Charities.

The New York City Board of Elections counted all absentee and military ballots and officially certified the elections, and the two members took office. They were given a standing round of applause by their colleagues when they were announced into Council Chambers at City Hall.

Grodenchik, most recently a deputy Queens borough president after his time in the Assembly, prevailed in a crowded Democratic primary and went on to defeat his Republican opponent, retired police captain Joseph Concannon. Grodenchik will now serve the remainder of Weprin's term through 2017.

No stranger to elected office and political work, Grodenchik says he's ready to hit the ground running: "My learning curve is much shorter than a new Council member's would usually be," he said. "I bring experience in government. This is what we campaigned on and obviously people responded to that."

While Grodenchik says he's excited to work with his new colleagues, many of whom he knows well, and about the progressive direction of the Council, he also represents a district that largely differs on some of the policies of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, many Council members, and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Borelli, meanwhile, represents a district whose residents have even less affinity for the progressive direction the city is heading and the people leading that charge, starting with the mayor. Borelli is expected to bring a strong dissenting voice to the Council as he joins what will be a three-member Republican minority led by his Staten Island neighbor Steven Matteo and also includes Queens Council Member Eric Ulrich.

Coming from the Assembly minority, though, Borelli may actually have more opportunity to influence the policy discussions in the Council.

"I think it's a great time to be a member of the City Council because the spectrum of opinion is so wide," Borelli told Gotham Gazette. "I'm excited from a policy advocacy standpoint just to be able to present my opinion."

Besides their obvious disadvantage, he said the Republican minority is "a small but stalwart band."

Both Borelli and Grodenchik plan to make an impact over the next two years, as they described to Gotham Gazette in recent interviews, and will then be up for reelection in 2017, when the entire Council is on the ballot, including 11 seats where the current members are term-limited - chief among those being the speaker.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Mark-Viverito said, "Council Members-elect Barry Grodenchik and Joseph Borelli staunchly represented Queens and Staten Island in the New York State Assembly and now bring their strong records of public service to the City Council. I look forward to working with our incoming members to deliver results for New Yorkers across the five boroughs."

Gotham Gazette spoke at some length with both incoming Council members, Grodenchik and Borelli, about their experience and their priorities:

Barry Grodenchik, Queens Democrat, District 23
"I knocked on close to 5,000 doors in the course of the campaign. The two complaints that I heard over and over was water and sewer rates and property taxes going up each year," Grodenchik told Gotham Gazette. "Taxes on condos and co-ops are unfair. There's no question about it. That's something I'm going to gauge my colleagues on," he added.

Along with these issues of home ownership and affordability, Grodenchik cited transportation as a key concern. Situated on the edge of Queens, District 23 lacks much of the mass transit infrastructure in other parts of the city. There are no subway or Long Island Rail Road stops. "We live in what has been rightly called a mass transit desert," he said. "It can take an awfully long time to get from my district to the downtown business district," he said.

While he did not say he has any specific legislation in mind, Grodenchik is gathering a policy agenda and continuing to talk with constituents. He's been attending community and private meetings across the district, which covers Queens Village, Bayside, Douglaston, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, New Hyde Park and Little Neck. One week this month he had more than a dozen meetings with representatives from community boards, civic, and cultural organizations, he said.

Grodenchik also has plans to visit every public school in his district over the next few months to familiarize himself with school officials and parent-teacher associations to "make sure they're getting what they need to be the best schools in the city," he said.

As a "good Democrat," Grodenchik has a strong contingent of progressive colleagues, some of whom he has known for years. He admires the progressive direction that the Council has taken in the last two years and says he will likely see eye-to-eye with them on most issues, but not all. "I think people can disagree without being disagreeable," he said, stating his ardent opposition to congestion pricing proposals as an example. "I see it as a tax, particularly for people in Queens. It's a non-starter as far as I'm concerned," he said.

But he looks forward to being a part of a Council that has become more equitable, he said, under current Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, with resources allotted to members and districts in a clear, fair fashion.

Grodenchik has a long history of serving Queens. He worked under Queens Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn; he was Chief Administrative Officer for Borough President Claire Shulman for more than ten years. He was also a deputy borough president under Helen Marshall. In 2002, he was elected to the New York State Assembly where he served till 2014 (Grodenchik ran an abbreviated campaign for Queens BP in 2013 before dropping out of the race during the primary - he went on to become eventual winner Melinda Katz's director of community boards.)

Government, at any level, is complicated, Grodenchik says, but "You have to be able to come to the table with people you like and people you don't like to craft a solution that works for both community and the city...to move the city forward in the best possible way."

Joseph Borelli, Staten Island Republican, District 51
Borelli, a state Assembly member, ran unopposed for District 51 on Staten Island, winning the seat formerly held by Vincent Ignizio. The district covers the southern end of the borough including neighborhoods such as Arden Heights, Bay Terrace, Oakwood, Great Kills, Richmond Valley, Huguenot and Princes Bay. Like Grodenchik's, it is also seen as a transportation desert.

For Borelli, the transition to the City Council is relatively easy. "The district is pretty much the same so I'm just sort of moving my bullseye over a bit," he said. With a strong idea of the work ahead, Borelli is making the rounds of the district. He has spent time during the last two weeks in meetings with his predecessor about issues to pursue and with city agencies to discuss capital projects in the district.

In setting his agenda, Borelli already has a few concrete priorities. "There are some major land use issues here that are especially important to us," he said of the construction of an outlet mall in Rossville at a massive liquefied natural gas storage site.

"These are big projects in this, some would say, backwater of New York City that require the same attention from the city planning and building department as some of the higher-profile projects in Brooklyn or Manhattan," he said.

He also hopes to improve the city's solid waste plan for e-waste which, he said, seems to work better in areas with high-rise buildings than it does in his community. "Why should it be more difficult for my community to get rid of a TV?"

A Republican, Borelli is not particularly on board with the Council's liberal bent, expressing his concern for many of the proposals recently put forward such as those to reform the NYPD and Riker's Island, and the decriminalization of minor offenses like public urination and open container violations.

"Some of the new proposals don't jive well with a bedroom community like Staten Island," he said, citing a bill recently introduced by Council Member Mark Levine which would prohibit credit checks for renters.

Borelli believes that "progressivism" doesn't speak to many people who live in the outer boroughs, who aren't represented by "these squeaky-wheel groups" who lobby the Council on issues and who feel the movement has lost touch with middle class New Yorkers.

"What group out there hopes for more public urination?" he asked rhetorically. "I'm against progressivism and in favor of restoring some rational thought to policies like that."

In doing so, he firmly believes he has his community's support. "My constituents really have my back," he said, "and it's very empowering when you feel like that."

***
by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

This article has been updated to reflect the two new members officially taking office - it had originally been published in the lead up to their formally joining the Council.

Stringer Joins Calls to Shut Down Rikers


rikers stringer new school

Stringer at The New School (photo via @scottmstringer)


Giving keynote remarks at an event focused on Rikers Island jails, city Comptroller Scott Stringer added his voice to calls for shutting down the troubled complex.

“Right now, Rikers Island is a case study in poor outcomes,” Stringer said, presenting data analysis by his office on large screens behind him. Stringer went on to point to court-mandated and other reforms being implemented at Rikers, but added that while changes are made, he believes the city must “plan for the day when Rikers Island can be safely and responsibly closed. Because part of the problem at Rikers is Rikers itself,” Stringer said to a crowd and panel of experts who appeared largely in agreement.

At the New School's Center for New York City Affairs on Wednesday, criminal justice experts and stakeholders discussed Rikers Island, home of the city's massive jail complex, where about 11,000 inmates, many of whom are awaiting trial, are held. Introductory remarks were made by Glenn Martin, founder of JustLeadershipUSA, who said that he had made a personal plea for shutting down Rikers to Mayor de Blasio on the mayor’s inauguration day. After Stringer spoke, a panel discussion ensued, with the organizing question of whether Rikers should be reformed or shut down.

Overwhelmingly, panelists favored the latter.

“You can’t reform something that’s that sick, that has that much inequity, that’s that bigoted as a system,” Khary Lazarre-White, executive director of Harlem youth organization Brotherhood/Sister Sol, said. To applause, he continued: “It has to be almost, like, crushed to the ground and reimagined.”

Other panelists included Neil Barsky, founder and chairman of The Marshall Project; Martin Horn, of John Jay College and formerly commissioner of the city’s correction department; Ann-Marie Louison, a co-director at CASES; Charles Nunez, a community advocate at Youth Represent; and Carmen Perez, a co-founder of Justice League NYC. It was moderated by NY1’s Errol Louis.

The discussion took place following the presentation of striking data from Stringer: Riker’s cost per inmate (now $112,000 annually) has risen by 67 percent since 2007. And while the inmate population is historically low, use-of-force incidents by uniformed Rikers employees increased by 27 percent and the number of assaults on guards by inmates by 46 percent in fiscal year 2015.

Reforms are currently being implemented by the Department of Correction under Commissioner Joseph Ponte and Mayor de Blasio. They are, in part, the result of a settlement between the city and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who had joined a class-action lawsuit about Rikers, Nunez v. City of New York.

“As we implement the consent decree, I believe we must also plan for the day when Rikers Island can be safely and responsibly closed,” Stringer said of the settlement. Calling for a shutdown of the complex, Stringer noted that one of the settlement details - the appointment of a federal monitor - has happened at Rikers before.

“By the late 1990s, a federal monitor had been appointed to supervise solitary units and staffing decisions,” the comptroller said. “There were significant reductions in violence but the improvements were just short-lived.”

Shutting the ten-jail complex down, Stringer added, would take “years of planning.” The mayor's office did not indicate there is any current consideratoin to begin that process in response to the Daily News.

In his remarks, Horn said that finding space to replace Rikers would be difficult, but that it was truly a matter of political will.

“The impediment is simply politics,” Horn said. “The way it works in New York City is if the City Council person whose district the facility is located in objects, then the City Council will not approve it,” Horn said. “And that’s the final step of the city’s land-use review process.”

Horn outlined a plan for how to replace Rikers, but noted that any such planning would be at the mercy of about three Council members as it calls for modifying detention centers in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens.

But such solutions are not often politically popular. As he mentioned at the panel, Horn met resistance when, as DOC commissioner, he tried to reopen the Brooklyn Detention House to some inmates from Rikers. Former City Comptroller Bill Thompson successfully blocked the plan in court.

In addition to New Yorkers preferring correctional facilities isolated, the political value of being seen as “tough on crime” could also impede a Rikers closing.

“I think ultimately closing Rikers is about two things. It is about the politics, and it’s about the politics of fear,” panelist Neil Barsky, of the Marshall Project, said. “It’s all about the demagoguery that exists around this issue.”

Barsky said that the killing of police officer Randolph Holder (posthumously promoted to detective) made the progressive mayor “go to war” with a judge who followed what Barsky called a proper legal process. The politicized reaction to Holder’s death, according to Barsky, is a “horrible thing, in my opinion, for what lies ahead because this is not gonna be easy politically.”

In addition to that, Barsky said, the support of the major New York newspapers would be crucial to shutting down Rikers. Occasionally, local press has been highly critical of Rikers; 129 incidents of severe injuries to inmates were reported in a New York Times Rikers investigation last year.

The New Yorker was highly praised for a piece on Kalief Browder, the teenager who killed himself after languishing for years on Rikers on charges of stealing a backpack that were later dropped.

Rikers’ culture of brutality is viewed as central to Browder’s tragic tale. He is not alone in terms of inmates, as well as corrections officers, who are severely damaged by time on Rikers.

“When you’re there, you’re not considered a person,” said Charles Nuñez, a community advocate who said he spent six months on Rikers himself. “You’re more acknowledged from your bed number or from your cell number,” he said.

“I had to put on this face everyday and make sure that I wasn’t approachable because I knew that every situation was able to lead to a confrontation of violence,” Nunez said, his voice trembling. “And I was under that once you encounter those things, you have to be able to talk to someone about it.”

Mental health treatment on Rikers, the city’s bail system, and the age of criminal responsibility being 16 in New York State were also discussed as major problems at the panel.

Even for those visiting Rikers, it can be a nightmare. “Just the way in which you’re treated, regardless of your title, right?” Carmen Perez of Justice League NYC said.

“You’re really stripped down of your humanity,” Perez said, discussing protocols for making female visitors change their clothes.

In some quarters, the idea of closing Rikers has gained traction: City Council Member Daniel Dromm, of Queens, has said that closing Rikers should be a goal. Demonstrators voiced the demand last month, and it has become a popular hashtag.

But no hope for its closure in the immediate future was expressed at the panel.

“Can we envision Bill de Blasio running for office and saying ‘We’re going to close down these big out-of-date, poorly designed, dehumanizing factories of despair in Rikers Island and we’re going to build smaller jails for fewer people in Kew Gardens and Brooklyn Heights?’” Horn asked.

Many in the audience laughed. Even if the mayor did, there would almost certainly be significant resistance in the neighborhoods targeted for new facilities: as Horn mentioned, there was an outcry among parents at St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn Heights when a federal pretrial services building moved near it.

“I mean, society doesn’t want this to happen,” Horn said. “And I’m just not very optimistic that any serious politician is going to do what needs to be done.”

***
by Ryan Brady, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette 

Boards to Offer Peek Into New Ways to Access Campaign Finance Data


cfb screenshot site page

(photo via @NYCCFB)


On Friday morning representatives from both the New York State Board of Elections and the New York City Campaign Finance Board will come together to outline updates to their reporting systems and take questions from candidates, journalists, watchdogs, and others.

John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, the good government group hosting the event along with Civic Hall, where it will take place, said he is most excited to have representatives of the State BOE in the New York City and ready to take questions and walk users through their new system that is expected to be ready sometime in 2017.

"They aren't known for doing this kind of thing--speaking directly to the public," said Kaehny of BOE reps. "This kind of dialogue with the public is really important for transparency." The event is free and open to the public, but RSVPs have been requested.

Technically, the "State Board of Elections" won't be at the event as Republican members of the Board decided not to take part. Instead, Democratic members will be representing themselves as employees of the agency (but not speaking for the BOE as a whole). Douglas Kellner, Democratic co-chair of the BOE, told Gotham Gazette that he hoped to have the full agency cosponsor the event but that idea was discarded by Republican chairs.

The absence of the full BOE is just another reminder of how differently the two agencies - the state BOE and the city CFB - are constituted and operate.

"The CFB are state of the art nationally; the two really come from completely different universes," said Kaehny, referring to the fact that the state BOE is not regarded as cutting edge or particularly effective. "The CFB have infinitely greater resources, they hold candidate forums, their compliance is higher - they are the model, people from across the country look to them. They aren't bipartisan, they are nonpartisan, and they get a lot done."

New York City's Campaign Finance Board is indeed seen as a national model for transparency, efficiency, and accountability. It is well funded, nonpartisan, focused, and maintains a fairly constant public relations effort. The same can't be said for the New York State Board of Elections, whose members have long complained of being underfunded. The BOE oversees data from state and local elections, as well as polling places and voting machines. It is a bipartisan organization and as such is hampered by political infighting and often deadlocks on major issues. The BOE is well known for a lack of enforcement, a lack of transparency, and using cantankerous campaign finance reporting software that is decades out of date.

Kellner, of the BOE, said he is excited to talk about the board's new software, which it is currently testing in working groups with journalists and other interested parties. Users of the BOE's current software are accustomed to botched searches, missing pages, and problems with data.

Kellner thinks that is going to change. "I am very hopeful for our new campaign finance system," he told Gotham Gazette. "Our current system was set up 20 years ago and was very much out of date. It was a credit to our staff that they've kept it functional." Kellner noted that California's system was neglected for years and finally went down, leaving the agency to record votes on paper for a year while a new system was developed.

"We had been sending out alarm signals that this could happen here. We had been asking the state for funding to update for years and thankfully Governor Cuomo agreed and we got the funding," said Kellner.

Kaehny said he is also hopeful for the new system but a bit disappointed it couldn't have been prepared in time to test during this year's relatively quiet election cycle and then given a full rollout during the 2016 cycle, when all of the state legislative seats are up for election.

Kellner said that the BOE gets a bad rap, that the agency has put a great deal of effort into reaching out to interested users for input on its new software ,and that the newly created enforcement arm of the BOE, through its compliance unit, has been auditing filings for data inconsistencies and filing errors and has either rejected filings or offered help to treasurers to ensure accuracy and consistency.

While the state BOE is set to show off some of its new tools, the CFB is also expected to outline coming changes at Friday's event, which is called "Following the Money: Opening NY Campaign Finance Data." The event listing says the two agencies will "preview new campaign finance reporting systems and discuss how to make state and city campaign finance data easier to use." The CFB is eyeing the next round of city elections in 2017, but its representatives are also aware that the board's data is always of interest to many.

Kaehny, despite his praise of the CFB, said he has a frustration with both agencies he hopes will be alleviated on Friday. He says that he and other campaign finance aficionados are in the dark about how to report data errors to the agencies and whether they actually get fixed once they are reported. "If we get anything out of it," Kaehny said of Friday's event, "it's to get both agencies to tell us how to report data problems and who is going to fix it."

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

As Homelessness Crisis Continues, Shelter Siting Questions Intensify


miller constituent

Council Member Miller & a constituent (photo: @IDaneekMiller)


When the city’s Department of Homeless Services was quickly and quietly moving homeless families into the former Pan American Hotel in Elmhurst, Queens last June, the response from locals was swift and sharp. A group of Chinese immigrants and a local Republican club organized a protest against the new facility, saying city officials had unfairly targeted the neighborhood. Things got ugly. Shouts of “Get a job!” by protesters were responded to with shouts of “Go back to China!” by shelter residents, the New York Times reported.

Contributing to the controversy was that the city had not notified local leaders until the day before moving families into the former hotel. The next month, DHS pledged to set up a seven-day timeline to notify communities before opening new shelters.

But that timeline is not a hard requirement, but more of a promised courtesy. And with the city’s homeless population near 60,000 (the shelter census was at 57,390 individuals as of November 10, and there are hundreds who live on the street) and DHS legally mandated to provide housing for all in need, the city frequently finds its options limited when deciding where and when to open new shelters. There are also incentives to not giving a lot of public notice before opening a new shelter, as that notice is often met with significant backlash.

Twenty-eight shelters have opened so far during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration—25 in 2014 and three this year. DHS receives proposals from contractors to open shelters through an open-ended Request for Proposals—although an agency spokesperson said that they do not track what proportion of proposals are accepted. Whether for historic or economic reasons, the current situation leaves some boroughs and neighborhoods with far more shelters than others. This fact leaves some local elected officials, community activists, residents, and advocates up in arms.

Communication and transparency
“We work diligently to ensure borough equity in shelter siting and collaborate closely with surrounding communities to ease the transition and ensure safety,” a DHS spokesperson said. “Though DHS weighs multiple factors including proximity to public transportation and existing shelters in the area when choosing sites, we are also limited in options due to low building vacancy rates in New York City.”

City Council members have long been calling on DHS to distribute shelters among boroughs and neighborhoods more equally, and to provide greater transparency when siting them. Queens Council Member I. Daneek Miller, whose district includes Jamaica, introduced a bill in September that would require social-services agencies like DHS to publically disclose the owners, developers, and service providers of sites 30 days before a contract starts. The goal of Intro. 906, he said, is to make it easier to find out which organizations are operating which shelters - an important step in holding contractors with often-questionable records accountable.

“What we’re trying to accomplish here is developing the tools to address specific issues,” Miller told Gotham Gazette. “These supportive services, they’re not well-managed, there’s no oversight.”

Manhattan Council Member Margaret Chin, whose district includes Chinatown and the Lower East Side, said she supports the bill because open communication is necessary for engaging the local community. “When the city didn’t inform us what was going on” with changes at a local shelter, she said, “there were rumors flying around.”

Bronx Council Member Annabel Palma, who was previously chair of the Council’s General Welfare committee, which has oversight of DHS, said that “there’s a lot more work that needs to be done” in terms of improving communication between city and local officials. But setting a 30-day deadline could be unrealistic for an agency like DHS, she added, especially with the current homelessness crisis. 

“Homelessness doesn’t have a timeline. You can’t say, ‘In 30 days you will be homeless,’” she said. “We see people become homeless on a daily basis, and the city has to help them…In the case of an emergency, it becomes difficult to say, ‘We need X amount of time.’”

A fair share?
One thing Council members Gotham Gazette spoke with (and many others) agree on is the idea that shelters should be more equally distributed throughout the city—though no one is speaking explicitly in “not-in-my-backyard” terms.

“Having people on the streets is not the solution. So we try to provide them with temporary housing,” said Manhattan Council Member Rosie Mendez, whose district includes the Lower East Side. “The issue is where there is more than a fair share—there’s a shelter in Community Board 6 that has more than 800 beds.”

“It’s important for us to provide shelter to the homeless,” Chin said. “All of us need to pitch in and help…Which is why [DHS] interacting and communicating with the community is very important.”

Miller, who represents parts of Southeast Queens, compared homeless shelters to other necessary, but often undesirable services like waste transfer sites, which have been the source of major “fair share” battles. “We have an opinion, and we certainly don’t mind doing our fair share,” he said. “Obviously we need these services, but we don’t want to be disproportionate in delivering these services or being impacted by them."

In response to complaints of unfairly burdening specific areas with more shelters, DHS has said it is making efforts to ensure “borough equity” by opening new shelters in Queens (the de Blasio administration has opened more shelters in the Bronx and Brooklyn). But a similar policy on the neighborhood or community-board level does not exist.

ny1-map [screenshot of NY1, from a recent story on shelters]

Palma said that “we have to create a system where we don’t oversaturate a community over another. So I think every community should be doing their fair share to help each other out.” She added, however, that homeless individuals are often coming from the same or similar neighborhoods as where there are high concentrations of shelters. Palma’s Bronx district is one of the poorest in the city. “They’re our family, they’re our neighbors,” she said.

The need for permanent housing
For Llima Berkley, who has been homeless since March 2014 and works with the service and advocacy group Picture the Homeless, the questions of fair share and transparency are irrelevant. The focus, she said, should be on providing permanent affordable housing to end homelessness. “New York City has to build housing, renovate housing that’s vacant—and then these conversations would cease,” Berkley said.

In the meantime, she said that those living in shelters should also be making efforts to become more active members of their new community. “You just happen to be homeless. Just because you’re homeless doesn’t mean you don’t have integrity or decency,” she said. “This is not a shelter. This is a home. This is where you live.”

Indeed, as the city’s affordable housing crisis has worsened and homelessness has swelled, there is an increasing number of working homeless people.

Part of de Blasio’s affordable housing plan involves reallocating funds from shelters to permanent housing and providing more supportive housing for individuals with mental health or substance abuse issues. More than 19,000 of the 52,000 people who have exited the shelter system since July 2014 have moved into permanent housing through the new Rental Assistance Programs and Exit Pathways, the administration announced earlier this month.

Even still, homelessness remains much higher than past years. DHS’ daily shelter population count is near 58,000 —close to double the population at the start of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, when there were 33,194 individuals in shelters on January 1, 2002.

“We don’t want to be doing this all the time,” Council Member Miller said. “We want to make sure we are providing permanent homes for folk wherever possible, and I think we have an opportunity to do that.”

On Wednesday, November 18, Mayor de Blasio is set to announce he is putting $3 billion toward 15,000 new units of supportive housing, another major investment by the administration toward reducing homelessness.

“No one wants to wake up one day and tell their children or child, ‘We have no where to live today,’” Council Member Palma said. “No one wants to be homeless, no one plans to be homeless. Individuals want to be part of a community, they want to be productive. And communities need to understand where these families are coming from.”

***
by Christian Zhang, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

All Aboard the BRT Express?


bus mta photo m86

(photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)


Google Maps estimated an hour-and-a-half for a trip from near City Hall to a location in Southeast Queens, leaving at 5:30 p.m. on a recent Tuesday. On the E train to its final stop and a bus crawling along jam-packed Merrick Boulevard, the trip took about an hour longer, two-and-a-half hours from door to door.

“Now you know what we go through every day,“ City Council Member I. Daneek Miller told Gotham Gazette following that night’s event, which he co-hosted with Council Member Donovan Richards and focused on, what else, transportation.

The commute to and from downtown Manhattan that the Council members and some of their constituents face was part of the motivation behind the town hall, set in the outer reaches of the city and called to examine the challenging state of public transit in St. Albans, Laurelton, and surrounding neighborhoods - often referred to as a “transportation desert.”

In a recent op-ed for Crain’s New York Business, Miller laid out the extent of the problem: people from Southeast Queens spend roughly 15 hours a week commuting, 238 percent more time than the average New Yorker.

The residents of the area share this plight with several other neighborhoods considered transportation deserts because of their lack of public transit options - places including the Rockaways, the North Bronx, and the South Shore of Staten Island.

With the subway map sure to stay mostly as it is, communities in greatest need of good transportation options that can get residents to the city’s main jobs centers are reliant on a bus system lacking in capacity and dependability. Even though 97 percent of the city‘s population lives within a quarter mile of a bus stop, the collective problems with the service--it is one of the slowest systems in the nation and the slowest among big cities--render residents far removed from subway lines and feeling helpless.

With increased scrutiny of transportation deserts and lengthy New York City commutes come increasing calls for creative bus solutions: with more selective bus service (SBS) and bus rapid transit (BRT) at the forefront.

transpo deserts[NYC "subway deserts" - map by Chris Whong)

According to an audit released by Comptroller Scott Stringer in April, buses are not just slow, they are also often late: Stringer‘s study revealed that more than 30 percent of the city’s express buses do not run on schedule. Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island are hit the hardest, the comptroller said. The report also found that the MTA had inconsistent inspection standards for wheelchair lifts across their bus fleet, which, in addition to failing disabled riders, also slows bus time.

“This is more than just a statistic,“ Stringer said at the press conference unveiling his audit, “a late bus could mean a missed job opportunity, missed wages, or missed time with children.“

One possible antidote for lagging buses and transit hungry commuters is Bus Rapid Transit, and the idea is gaining momentum, as the Miller-Richards town hall showed. The questions ahead are about political will and community buy-in toward expanding BRT in New York City. BRT was a piece of a recent City Council hearing on transportation deserts, but the city’s Department of Transportation has already been made to study BRT through a law passed in the Council and signed by Mayor de Blasio that will lead to a report on areas where BRT should be implemented.

Started in Curitiba, Brazil in 1974, BRT was originally formulated as a cheaper alternative for a city that didn‘t have the money to build a subway. In its fullest form BRT combines a variety of features to make it operate at a speed comparable to light rail (an option also talked about for Queens and Staten Island). Long accordion style buses--in Curitiba they hold up to 250 people--shoot up and down bus-only lanes of large streets, stopping at intervals akin to a subway line (rather than the shorter ones of typical bus service).

Traffic signals have sensors in order to hold green lights for buses approaching intersections. People pay their fare before they board the bus and stations often feature elevated platforms or curbsides that coincide with the floor of the bus, making it quick and easy for elderly or disabled people to board. All this amounts to more on time, reliable, and efficient bus service.

Since the turn of the century cities across the globe including Paris, Istanbul, Bogata, and Los Angeles have all adopted BRT to curb car use and improve public transit overall.

Now, Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to bring BRT to New York as part of his efforts to help the city’s lower and middle classes. The argument also goes, of course, that if workers have shorter and easier commutes they are more productive when they’re at work.

”Bus riders are the most neglected part of our transportation system,” de Blasio’s policy book from his 2013 mayoral campaign reads. “Bus Rapid Transit has the potential to save outer-borough commuters hours off their commute times every week and stimulate economic activity in neighborhoods the subway system doesn’t reach.”

While it’s been somewhat slow to materialize, de Blasio’s pledge to bring New York City a “world-class bus rapid transit system” has been gaining steam. When signing the BRT study bill in May, de Blasio reminded that, “We all know that mass transit is particularly critical for those New Yorkers for whom resources are very tight, whose incomes are very tight - mass transit is their lifeline. It connects them to jobs, schools, everything.”

In March the state-run MTA and the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) announced the official plan for the city‘s first full-scale BRT route on Woodhaven Boulevard, in Queens. The project will stretch 14.4 miles, cost around $200 million, and be fully operational by 2017. (By contrast, the Second Avenue subway is supposed to cover 8.5 miles, cost upwards of $17 billion, and be done at a to-be-determined date.)

Previously the two organizations’ efforts to speed up bus time came in the form of Select Bus Service, a paired down version of BRT that also utilizes off-board fare collection, along with traffic signal priority, semi-exclusive bus lanes, and longer distances between stations. The first SBS route was launched in 2008 on the Bx12 on Fordham Road in the Bronx, and has enjoyed relative success. According to statistics collected by the MTA one year after the launch, running times increased up to 19 percent, ridership by 8 percent.

Over the past seven years the MTA and the DOT have added seven other SBS routes, including ones going up First Avenue and down Second Avenue in Manhattan. All routes have enjoyed faster service and a 2013 DOT report claimed that SBS had saved eight million hours of travel time.

Still, SBS is not BRT. The former appears more suited for the busier sections for the city, the latter for moving people from the city’s outer reaches to its transit and business hubs.

With the Woodhaven route, which will have exclusive lanes and robust, fully-outfitted stations with shelters, seats, and real-time information on bus arrivals (along with off-board fare collection and transit signal priority) the city is setting a new standard for its above-ground transportation. The fully exclusive bus lanes, which will also allow traffic signal priority to be more effective, are particularly exciting given that Kevin Ortiz, spokesperson for the MTA, told Gotham Gazette that traffic congestion and red lights are the top two causes for bus delays.

woodhaven2 int[Woodhaven BRT rendering, via NYC DOT]

The line, which will run north-south, perpendicular to the A, E, F, J, M, R, and 7 trains, is indicative of the type of improvements BRT could offer in the so-called “outer boroughs.” Joan Byron, Director of Policy at the Pratt Center for Community Development and a member of the advocacy group BRT for NYC, sees this improvement as imperative to the economic empowerment of New York’s outer-borough residents.

“We have a problem right now of people not being able to get to their jobs and employers not being able to get to their workforce. Work locations are shifting. Job growth is much faster in the boroughs than it is in Manhattan…and the subway system isn‘t set up to serve them. You can do things with BRT that would take decades to do with rail,“ Byron told Gotham Gazette.

As it stands, she explains, “if you live some place like Far Rockaway…the number of jobs that are within a reasonable commute range for you are much smaller than if you live someplace like Park Slope.”

The Woodhaven line plans to change that for its service area. BRT lines along the North Shore of Staten Island (something City Council Member Debbie Rose called “a necessity, not an amenity”) and Southern Brooklyn—two possible routes the MTA and DOT are investigating—would also serve similar purposes.

Council Member Donovan Richards, who represents part of the area the new BRT route will serve, sees this project as only the beginning. Ultimately, he wants a full-scale BRT network throughout the city, viewing the issue as one that is also key to environmental justice.

“[BRT] needs to become as natural as breathing air,“ he said to Gotham Gazette after the town hall. “We have got to remember that if we don’t get cars off the road, climate change is going to wipe out communities in New York City. Overall the city needs to adopt it,” he said, referring to BRT.

Car Ownership blog[Rates of car ownership, via NYC EDC]

Richards, along with city DOT officials, recently had lunch with and gave a tour of the planned Woodhaven route to a federal transportation secretary. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer has promised to push for federal funding.

The excitement continued into May when the mayor signed into law the new BRT-related bill.

According to the City Council website, “Under the bill, DOT would work with the MTA and gather input with the public to develop a citywide BRT plan, due to the Council no later than September 1, 2017. The plan would consider areas of the City in need of additional rapid transit options, strategies for serving growing neighborhoods, potential intra-borough and inter-borough BRT corridors DOT plans to establish by 2027, strategies for integrating BRT with other transit routes, and the anticipated operating costs of additional BRT lines.”

SBS may continue to expand, and many note that it is a version of BRT, but the extent to which a strong BRT system will be implemented is unclear. In several other cities where the system has achieved success, says Joan Byron of Pratt, the build of these cities naturally accommodated the necessary BRT infrastructure.

“The places where that has been done, places like Bogota, Columbia, that model was implemented exactly in the parts of the city that have kind of a post-World War II physical fabric and development pattern. The street there for the main bus line, the Transmillenial, is twelve lanes wide. Pedestrians cross that street on over-passes. It wasn’t a big jump to put dedicated lanes in the center region and to have physical stations that are actually enclosed.”

Woodhaven Boulevard, eight lanes wide and notoriously hazardous for pedestrians (the station islands to be installed in the middle of the avenue also act as a safety measure), is at least somewhat similar.

Council Member Brad Lander, the lead sponsor of the BRT bill, sees Manhattan’s First and Second Avenues as streets also appropriate for the full BRT service, especially given the MTA‘s recent announcement to forgo $1 billion in funding for the Second Avenue Subway project.

Most buses, though, don‘t operate on streets the width of a small highway (even dedicating a full lane of First or Second Avenue could prove quite contentious). For these routes Lander and Byron see smaller BRT-like features being incorporated into bus operation citywide on a case-by-case basis.

“The simple idea of off-board fare payment, that’s something we want to get to on every city bus,” Lander told Gotham Gazette. After that, he said, what is doable will depend on infrastructure features and funding.

Lander cited the SBS M86 route, the MTA‘s latest SBS addition, as a prime example. Even though there is not enough room for a dedicated bus lane (the bus runs crosstown on 86th Street in Manhattan), the MTA has already installed off-board fare collection and plans to add bus bulbs - protruding, bulges of sidewalk in front of bus stops, constructed so that the bus doesn‘t have to pull over when it picks up passengers. Stations are also equipped with real-time bus arrival information. A similar approach could be effective on smaller streets in the outer boroughs as well.

imgres[A bus bulb, via Streetsblog.org]

Council Member Daneek Miller is impatient, saying that his transit-starved constituents can’t wait a decade for BRT lines.

“There are 300,000 people in Southeast Queens who it’s talking an hour-and-a-half, an hour-and-forty-five minutes to get to their job in the city, who can’t wait 20 years for a change,” Miller said after his town hall.

Miller, who ran a transportation workers union before joining the Council, takes a slightly more cynical view of SBS. He says the recent buzz around BRT has led the city to overlook basic adaptations that could yield considerable results, like those he outlined in his op-ed, such as fare reform on the LIRR. For his constituents, Miller said, “BRT might be the second best answer. I can get to City Hall in 50 [minutes] on the LIRR; it takes me an hour-and-40-minutes using public transportation.”

Still, Miller certainly wants to see extended express bus service to Downtown Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn. He acknowledges infrastructure challenges of implementing BRT in some places, saying “We don‘t want to put square pegs in a round hole,” and that it is essential to have all the components, otherwise it won’t be BRT, but a “glorified express bus service.”

With an eye toward communities like those represented by his colleagues Miller and Richards, Lander points to the need for more options for commuters. Citing “low-income New Yorkers and communities of color” that “have disproportionately long commute times,” Lander said at the May bill-signing that “New Yorkers across the city – especially in transit-starved, outer-borough neighborhoods – need more mass-transit options. This law, and subsequent exploration of a Bus Rapid Transit network, will significantly improve public transportation access in the parts of NYC that need it most, at a cost we can afford, and help insure a more sustainable future.”

BRT and SBS advocates, like Lander, stand confident that their plan will deliver, and sooner than projected.

“I think it’s going to accelerate,“ said Byron. “For every elected official that will stand up and say ‘I want BRT in my district now,’ which all the Council members along the Q52, Q53 routes have said, you’ll get others that say, ‘Forget it, my constituents ride the bus,‘” Byron said, referring to hesitant Council members who she thinks will acquiesce.

When asked about the twelve year timeline in his BRT bill, a charged Lander replied, “the city - the DOT with the MTA - is already rolling out BRT at a pretty rapid rate...we are not waiting.“

****
by Colin O’Connor
@GothamGazette
@colinqoconnor93

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 16


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

While former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's corruption trial continues this week, former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos' gets started. Albany ethics and pay-to-play culture will continue to loom over and be laced throughout the day-to-day news out of the two trials. Just last week, leading good government groups seized on the timing of the two trials and news that New York received a "D-" on a national scorecard of states' efforts to create government transparency and prevent corruption to call for sweeping ethics reforms in Albany.

Meanwhile, people in New York City and elsewhere are on high alert and in mourning after the attacks that occurred in Paris on Friday. Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo, and other elected officials responded over the weekend with shows of solidarity and by taking measures to enhance law enforcement presence.

After participating in a Paris vigil in Manhattan Saturday, on Sunday de Blasio spoke at a ceremony commemorating World Day of Rememberance for Road Traffic Victims at City Hall. De Blasio has a busy Monday:

  • In the morning, he delivers remarks at the Ford Foundation's ConnectHome Broadband Initiative Roundtable.
  • At 11:30 a.m. at the Queens Museum, de Blasio and Council Member Julissa Ferraras-Copeland will host a press conference to make an announcement at
  • At 2 p.m. on Randall's Island, the mayor and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton will host a press conference to announce the first deployment of the NYPD's new Critical Response Command of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau.
  • Later, the Mayor will deliver remarks at the 20th Annual Met Museum Real Estate Council Benefit Dinner.

We're watching this week for any news about a NY/NY IV deal between the city and the state. NY/NY deals have created thousands of units of supportive housing, a homelessness prevention and reduction tool that provides housing and support services for people battling substance abuse, mental illness, and other problems. A City Council hearing had been scheduled for Monday in order to check the status of those negotiations and to pass a resolution calling on the city and state to come to a new agreement to provide new supportive housing units. But, the hearing was canceled on Friday - not long after Gotham Gazette had published a preview, which is still relevant and can be read here.

We're also looking for the launch of First Lady Chirlane McCray's "mental health roadmap." The roadmap, which has been delayed and the administration prefaced by releasing last week new data on mental illness and mental health challenges faced by New Yorkers. McCray is set to make one related announcement on Tuesday. Read our extensive preview of the mental health roadmap here.

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At the New York State Legislature on Monday: at 10:30 a.m. at 250 Broadway, the Assembly Standing Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development will meet for oversight on the 2015-2016 budget.

On Monday, at 8:30 a.m.: “K2 in NYC: Promoting Public Health and Safety,” a summit co-hosted by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, the NYPD, and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, to discuss the best ways to address the K2 synthetic drug crisis in New York City. Participants will include City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; Council Member Vanessa Gibson; DCA Commissioner Julie Menin; DOHMH Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett; State Senator Jeff Klein; Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams; and individuals who have used and been impacted by K2.

On Monday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will deliver morning remarks at the Hispanic Federation's Annual Hispanic Education Summit; 9:30 a.m. at the CUNY Grad Center. In the evening, Fariña will deliver remarks at an event celebrating LiteracyINC's parent volunteers; 6:15 p.m. in Manhattan.

At 10 a.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Executive Economic Summit, in Manhattan.

At 10 a.m. at her office, Public Advocate Letitia James will host a meeting of the Public Advocate's LGBTQ Task Force.

At 11 a.m. The Internet Association, consisting of a large number of internet based companies, will launch the “New Yorkers for Ride Sharing” coalition in an attempt to motivate legislators to bring back app-based ridesharing services - like Uber and Lyft - in upstate New York.

At 5:30 p.m. the Queens Borough Board, led by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, will vote on the “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” and “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing” proposals by the de Blasio administration.

At 6 p.m. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will hold a public hearing regarding those “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing” and “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” proposals made by the Department of City Planning (Clinton School, 10 East 15th Street). [Read our look at the de Blasio administration's defense of their proposals and some of the pushback]

At 6 p.m. Monday, the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) will hold a discussion in Harlem on police quotas: “NYPD Quotas: The Damage Done to our Cops, to Our Communities, to Our Cities.”

At 6 p.m. as well, the New York League of Conservation Voters will host an event to honor the Food Bank of New York City and celebrate the momentum gained by greener buildings, renewable energy, well-funded neighborhood parks, and cleaner waterways initiatives. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is expected to make remarks at the event.

Another event at 6 p.m., at Baruch College, “The Counterattack: The Media, The War on Women and How to Fight Back” is hosted by state Senator Liz Krueger and will focus on anti-women statements and positions taken by presidential candidates and other prominent politicians. The event is co-sponsored by a wide variety of women’s rights groups and city-based elected officials at all levels.

At 6:30 p.m. the Civilian Complaint Board will hold a public meeting at the City College of New York.

Tuesday
At the New York State Legislature on Tuesday, at 11 a.m. in Albany, the Assembly Standing Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, the Assembly Standing Committee on Health, and the Assembly Standing Committee on Codes will meet to address the “Heroin and Synthetic Drug Crisis.”

At the City Council on Tuesday: 9:30 a.m. the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet to discuss a land use application and at 10 a.m. the Committee on Juvenile Justice will meet for a tour of the Crossroads Juvenile Center.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton will discuss his priorities and challenges facing the police at the Citizens Budget Commission breakfast meeting. [Read our recent look at Bratton’s commitment to his “peace dividend” approach to policing New York City.]

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, a public forum “Paid Family Leave for the Health of Working Families” will host several speakers including state Senator Joseph Addabbo and a slew of medical professionals, scholars, and insurers supporting Addabbo’s push for paid family leave in New York. The event is sponsored by the Community Service Society, Scholars Strategy Network-NYC Chapter, The Murphy Institute at CUNY, and the New York Paid Family Leave Insurance Campaign.

At 9 a.m. the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College will continue with its Food Policy for Breakfast Seminar Series with “Zoning and the City’s Food System: Opportunities to Shape Healthier Food Environments in NYC.” The panelists will be Daniel Hernandez, Deputy Commissioner for Neighborhood Strategies of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development; Shai Lauros, Director of Community Development for Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation; Javier Lopez, Deputy Director of the Center for Health Equity, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

At 9:30 a.m. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a Queens Borough Cabinet meeting.

On Tuesday at 10 a.m. at his Harlem office, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, along with various elected officials, NYPD representatives, Hon. Tamiko A. Amaker, and Irwin Shaw, Attorney-in-Charge of the Legal Aid Society's Manhattan Office, will announce the "Clean Slate" warrant forgiveness program, which is scheduled for Saturday.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, there will be a press conference on preventing wage theft, at Tweed Courthouse, at which Comptroller Scott Stringer will speak. 

Cornell Tech will offer its first official tour of the Roosevelt Island campus construction on Tuesday. “Development of the first phase of the campus is currently underway and due to open in 2017. Cornell Tech is opening the construction site to press to see the visible transformation of the site,” at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

At 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, "First Lady Chirlane McCray will lead an announcement about a new initiative related to mothers and mental health in the upcoming mental health roadmap, ThriveNYC."

At 2 p.m. state Assembly Democrats will meet in Albany for an off-session meeting, according to Politico New York. This is happening right after Senate Republicans met on November 10.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Contracts Committee of the Panel for Educational Policy will meet. The full PEP meets Wednesday evening.

On Tuesday evening, state Senator Adriano Espaillat hosts an Inwood housing forum at Washington Heights Academy; MBP Gale Brewer will be among the other elected officials to speak.

At 6:30 p.m. Senator Daniel Squadron will host an MTA Bus Town Hall, looking at issues raised by constituents at his Community Convention. Representatives from the MTA will hear suggestions on how to improve services. The event is co-sponsored by a variety of other elected officials from Manhattan, local community boards, and Riders Alliance.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will host a public forum on Verizon FiOS in Brooklyn, allowing residents and businesses to comment on the service.

Wednesday
At the New York State Legislature on Wednesday: a 10 a.m. hearing on “Examining Issues Relating to Poverty among our Senior Citizens” by several committees, and, at 10:30 a.m., a hearing of the Assembly Standing Committee on elections to discuss “enhancing voter accessibility.” Both hearings are in Albany.

At the City Council on Wednesday: at 10 a.m. the Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections will meet to listen to the Mayor’s Message as delivered by Janet Alvarez of the New York City Tax Commission; and at 1 p.m. the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will convene to discuss a number of land use applications.

On Wednesday, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance will host the 6th annual Financial Crimes and CyberSecurity Symposium, at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Along with Vance, the conference will be headlined by FBI Director James Comey; Federal Reserve Bank of N.Y. General Counsel and Executive V.P. Thomas Baxter; and City of London Police Commissioner Adrian Leppard.

At 11 a.m. Wednesday at City Hall, The rally will be led by "New York City Coalition for Adult Literacy (NYCCAL), a citywide coalition of leading community based organizations, CUNY programs, libraries and union training programs. In addition to affected students, teachers and other allies, City Council Immigration Chair Carlos Menchaca will speak out in support of adult literacy programs...Nearly 100 adult learners, educators and their supporters will rally...to call attention to an action taken by the City in the most recent budget they believe has been swept under the rug: the elimination of adult literacy classes for over 6,000 individuals. The coalition will call on the Mayor and City Council to restore the classes and expand the City's limited adult literacy infrastructure."

On Wednesday at 2 p.m., the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School will hold “Rikers Island: Reform it - or Shut It Down?” The event will feature an extensive panel of experts and stakeholders moderated by Errol Louis of NY1. Speakers will include, among others, Elizabeth Glazer, director, Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice; Martin Horn, executive director, NYS Sentencing Commission; Glenn E. Martin, founder and president, JustLeadershipUSA; Carmen Perez, executive director, The Gathering for Justice and co-founder of Justice League NYC; Jeff Smith, assistant professor of politics and advocacy, Milano School; and Scott Stringer, city comptroller.

At 6 p.m. state Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins will give keynote remarks at “Who Represents Us? The Status of Black Women in Elected Office,” hosted by The Brennan Center for Justice.

Also at 6 p.m. Wednesday, The Murphy Institute will host a discussion about the role of participatory budgeting in the democratization of urban planning and asses the merits of the practice so far. Speakers include, among others: Celina Su, Political Science, CUNY; City Council Member Jumaane Williams, District 45; and Josh Lerner, Director Participatory Budgeting Project. [Read our recent look at the topic: Participatory Budgeting Grows in NYC: Why Isn’t Every Council Member Doing It?]

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, City & State NY will hold its Staten Island Special Issue Launch Reception at the Staten Island Museum. The event will feature Staten Island Borough President James Oddo.

Thursday
At the New York State Legislature on Thursday: at 11 a.m. the Assembly Standing Committee on Education and the Assembly Subcommittee on Students with Special Needs will hold a hearing in White Plains to discuss New York schools for deaf and blind students.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet for oversight on private sector workers and problems with worker rights, organizing and unionization.
  • At 11 a.m. the Committee on Land Use will meet.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Governmental Operation and the Committee on Finance will meet to discuss a number of bills related to the Environmental Control Board. The bills seek to clarify and reform procedures that occur among city agencies, businesses, and the Environmental Control Board (ECB) in the event of an ECB violation.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Higher Education will meet for oversight of student unions and non-academic spaces in CUNY universities, discussing whether they are a luxury or a necessity.

At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, MBP Gale Brewer hosts a Borough Board meeting.

On Thursday at noon, the Manhattan Institute’s “The Beat MI” program will host a discussion,  “NYC Quality Of Life Issues: Are We Thriving Or Just Surviving?” featuring NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton; Phil Walzak, senior advisor to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Manhattan Institute Senior Fellows Jason L. Riley and Fred Siegel.

At 5:30 p.m. Mayor de Blasio, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Council Members Maria Del Carmen Arroyo, Fernando Cabrera, Rosie Mendez, I. Daneek Miller, Annabel Palma, and Richie Torres will host a Puerto Rican Heritage celebration at the Council Chambers in City Hall.

At 6 p.m. Thursday the Panel for Educational Policy will meet in Manhattan.

At 6:30 p.m. the New School, in preparation of the United Nations Conference of the Parties, will host a seminar to examine the role of young people in affecting environmental policy and promoting sustainable urban environments: “Climate Change, Cities and Youth Engagement.”

At 7 p.m. Thursday, “The NYC Young Republican Monthly Meetup,” with guest speakers TBA as of Sunday.

The Daily News is reporting that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will introduce Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton Thursday evening "when she receives a "leadership" award named after his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, at a Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence dinner at Cipriani on Broadway."

Friday and the weekend
At the New York State Legislature on Friday: at 10:30 a.m. the Assembly Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, the Assembly Standing Committee on Energy, and the Assembly Subcommittee on Infrastructure will meet to evaluate “Natural Gas Safety Efforts by Utilities.”

On Friday at 10 a.m. at Civic Hall, the state Board of Elections and the New York City Campaign Finance Board will host a session to preview new state campaign finance data reporting and to discuss how campaign finance data can be made more useful for the general public.

On Friday evening at the LGBT Center in Manhattan, "Advocates, allies, and researchers will gather to release and discuss "Transgender Health and Economic Insecurity: A report from the 2015 NYS LGBT Health and Human Services Needs Assessment." The event is being co-sponsored by the Empire State Pride Agenda, The LGBT Community Center, and Strength in Numbers Consulting Group, with research funding provided by the AIDS Institute of the NYS Department of Health."

On Saturday beginning at 9 a.m., Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance will offer New York citizens with outstanding summons warrants a chance for a “Clean Slate” by resolving their minor offenses on site, without the threat of arrest.

On Saturday at 10 a.m., the first of many LGBTQ Youth Summits in New York City will be taking place in Brooklyn. The Hetrick-Martin Institute in collaboration with New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito, Council Member Carlos Menchaca, the New York City Council LGBTQ Caucus, and community partners will conduct an LGBTQ Youth Summit in each of New York City’s five boroughs in order to empower LGBTQ youth in NYC.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Colin O'Connor, Konstantine Beridze, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

De Blasio Housing Chief Looks to Allay Fears, Build Support for Rezonings


Been NY Law School

New York Law School's Ross Sandler & HPD's Vicki Been (Phoebe Rosen for NYLS)


Vicki Been, commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said that the city’s affordable housing plan is on track and responded to critics on Friday, emphasizing that the plan is less about simply building units and more about “making neighborhoods better.”

Speaking at a breakfast hosted by the CityLand publication of New York Law School, Been gave a balanced, thorough review of the concerns people have expressed about the city’s rezoning plans, but said that the city, through HPD, is implementing policies that will prevent displacement and ensure existing residents are included as neighborhoods change.

Nearly two years into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s term, his ten-year Housing New York plan to preserve or build 200,000 units of affordable housing is on target, Been declared, with the city having closed on more than 30,000 affordable homes. But two key elements of the plan, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability, have run into community opposition in recent months as the city begins the public review process that is likely to lead to their passage through the City Council, potentially with a few tweaks.

At a community meeting last month in East New York, Assembly Member Charles Barron and City Council Member Inez Barron urged residents to vote against a proposal to rezone the neighborhood, according to DNAinfo. The two said that while the new units built may be designated “affordable,” they may not actually be affordable to existing residents. This concern, among several specific problems that critics point to with the plans, has been voiced in other neighborhoods as well. An extensive borough- and community-based review of the proposals is underway, with varying results thus far as local community boards vote in non-determinative polls.

Community boards have thus far had mixed responses to the proposed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability plans. While Brooklyn’s CB6 approved the proposals this week, Brooklyn’s CB3 and Queens’ CB2 rejected the same proposals earlier this month. Residents in Brooklyn’s CB3, which includes Bedford-Stuyvesant, said they were concerned about the plan allowing taller buildings to be built, changing the neighborhood’s character, and eventually forcing them to move out of the area.

More borough- and community-based hearings are upcoming, including one being held by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer on Monday evening, and City Council hearings are not far off.

The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing plan would require 25 to 30 percent of new units built in a rezoned area to be “permanently affordable,” while the Zoning for Quality and Affordability plan would change existing zoning laws to promote the construction of more affordable and higher quality buildings.

During an appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday, Mayor de Blasio said his zoning plans are informed by what he saw as a lack of city regulation and planning in places like Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Been said that all such plans are controversial because current residents fear they could be displaced - that gentrification is scary to many in and near neighborhoods that have been changing over the years. But Been also said the East New York plan, which aims to provide more than 3,000 units of affordable housing and improve transport and business corridors, was something the city should be doing more of. She also said that rezonings don’t actually lead to more flight from neighborhoods by low-income tenants than is a typical amount of transience.

Speaking to Gotham Gazette after the event, Been said that while she would like the rezoning plans to be more widely accepted, “we would like to get it passed, and we’re very optimistic.”

She had a similarly optimistic response to a question from the audience about the future of the 421-a tax abatement, which will expire in December if it is not renewed given a deal between labor and real estate. “Life will go on,” Been said to chuckles from the crowd. “There was life before 421-a, and there will be life if 421-a fails. We will survive and still deliver our 200,000 units.”

Still, Been indicated she would like to see 421-a survive and that it, in a newly strengthened form, will be helpful in achieving the administration’s goals.

Either way, the administration’s rezoning plans are moving along. East New York is among the first neighborhoods the city plans to rezone, along with East Harlem and Flushing, among others. Some East Harlem tenants recently announced their own opposition to the plans. During her speech Friday, Been showed a presentation that included current photos of streets in East New York and future renderings that showed new, six-story apartment buildings with street-level retail space.

Been said that while change is inevitable when investments are made in a neighborhood, the city’s approach will address concerns about displacement and gentrification while she also highlighted the positives that come with community development.

“If we’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a neighborhood, we’re doing it to make the neighborhood a bit better. We want it to be a more vibrant place…So as it gets better, it will become more desirable,” Been said. While low-income people face a lot of housing insecurity across the board, she said that recent research shows that renters are not moving out of gentrifying neighborhoods at higher rates. Still, she acknowledged that “whatever the research shows, people fear displacement and they fear displacement for perfectly legitimate reasons.”

Been pointed to a variety of policies included in the Housing New York plan that are aimed at preventing displacement. Most importantly, she said that the city will “double down” on efforts and take a data-driven approach to preserve existing affordable units. “We can’t let any unit of housing that is already affordable become market rate,” she said, noting that de Blasio’s plan promises to preserve at least 120,000 homes that would otherwise become market rate.

Been also mentioned efforts in reaching out to owners of small buildings to preserve or establish affordability, providing legal assistance to protect tenants from harassment, changing vacancy decontrol laws, and establishing community preferences for distributing the new housing stock.

“We’re really working hard to make sure that people in the neighborhoods and the lowest income people do get into the housing we’re building,” she said.

Been also noted that Housing New York plans include families earning as little as 30 percent of area median income (AMI)—or $15,000 for single households. “We are stretching our housing boat down and a little up, so that we provide economically diverse neighborhoods and do not concentrate poverty,” she said. While some new buildings will be 100 percent affordable, many others will be mixed levels of affordability, with some units renting at market rate.

Providing housing for those earning below 30 percent of AMI would be too expensive using the same approach, Been said, noting that the city has historically relied on the federal Department of Housing Urban Development’s Section 8 voucher program, funding for which has been cut in recent years. “That’s why we’re struggling so hard to provide housing below the 30 percent level,” she said in response to a question from an audience member.

The affordable housing plan is “formed with the basic belief that we have to shape development instead of react to it,” she said. “Too much of the discourse is about stopping development. You don’t stop development in a city like New York…Let’s shape it to serve the interests of the neighborhoods across the city.”

***
by Christian Zhang, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

The Week That Was in New York Politics, November 9-13


week in review bus readers

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


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday November 13

PHOTOS OF THE WEEK: NYPD Commissioner Bratton addresses the media after a shooting Monday morning near Penn Station, via @NYPD1Pct; City Council Members-elect Barry Grodenchik (left) and Joe Borelli (right) with CM Jumaane Williams, via @JumaaneWilliams; Veteran and veterans advocate Joe Bello at City Hall for a celebration of the newly approved Department of Veterans Services, via William Alatriste; Gov. Cuomo announces plan for eventual $15/hour minimum wage for state employees, via @NYGovCuomo

bratton press shooting penn st

Grodenchik Williams Borelli

Joe Bello via William Alatriste

Cuomo 15 min wage rally foley sq

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. Veterans: Wednesday was Veterans Day, and in New York City, the week was full of parades, resource fairs, and events to honor and aid veterans. Mayor Bill de Blasio held a breakfast reception to honor military veterans Wednesday morning, and on Thursday, the City Council held a hearing on veteran homelessness - all after the mayor and the City Council agreed last week to create a new Department of Veterans Services, which was celebrated Tuesday at City Hall. [Read: First Report Under New Law Will Give Key Data to Coming Veterans Department]

2. Bratton, De Blasio Defend NYPD Approach: On Monday, three people were shot near Penn Station. At a news conference shortly after the shooting, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton reiterated, “The city is very safe and getting safer all the time,” pointing to data that shows such crimes have gone down this year. This decrease in total arrests, as well as in other "negative interactions" between police and civilians, is symbolic of what Bratton calls a "peace dividend," an approach the commissioner said will continue, as it allows the NYPD to "move resources where the need is greatest," Mayor de Blasio said. [Read: 'Peace Dividend’ Approach Continues, Bratton and De Blasio Say]

3. Spotlight on Corruption: Amid corruption trials of two legislative leaders and the release of two reports highlighting the inefficiency of New York’s public ethics laws, good government groups gathered on Wednesday to call on the New York State legislature and the governor to take immediate action to reform public ethics laws. [Read: Good Government Groups Point to New Evidence of Need for Major Ethics Reform]

4. Fight for $15: On Tuesday, amid nationwide ‘Fight for $15’ rallies to raise the minimum wage, Governor Cuomo announced that he would use his executive authority to raise the minimum wage for all state employees to $15 an hour over the next several years (with a faster timeline in NYC than elsewhere). After initially referring to a $13 minimum wage as a "nonstarter" this past spring, Governor Cuomo has been pushing for a $15 minimum wage across the board in the state. [Read: Progressive Critics Largely Convinced by Cuomo’s Wage Push]

5. Mayor’s Media Approach: After a lengthy question-and-answer session with members of the press last week, Mayor de Blasio has continued his efforts to make himself more available, but in slightly different fashion, including holding an education town hall in Queens on Thursday. At the town hall, the mayor fielded questions often asked through a critical frame on school overcrowding, a major issue in Queens, as well as charter schools, parent engagement, and school safety policies. Mayor de Blasio also made an appearance on WNYC on Friday, during which time he answered questions from listeners on a variety of topics. [Read: The Mayor’s Media Blitz and De Blasio Attempts to Undo Negative First Impressions]

THIS WEEK'S NUMBERS:

  • 35% of New York public high school students were considered college-ready when they graduated in 2015, up from 33% in 2014, according to the Department of Education.
  • About 10,000 state workers will be affected by Governor Cuomo’s promise to impose an eventual $15 minimum wage, Crain’s New York Business reports.
  • $808 million from penalties will be donated to criminal justice projects in New York City and across the country by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, the New York Times reports.
  • $16,250 is the average annual cost of daycare in New York City, with the cost of childcare overall increasing by $1,612 each year, according to a new report by Public Advocate Letitia James.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

It was a good week for medical marijuana advocates, as Governor Cuomo signed two bills on Wednesday that will provide expedited access to medical marijuana for qualified patients.

It was a bad week for the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which "lost" on its gamble, led by President Pat Lynch, to get a larger-than-pattern raise for rank-and-file NYPD officers through abiration, which the PBA chose rather than negotiation with City Hall.

THE FLASH:

  • Around this time 97 years ago, on November 11, 1918, New Yorkers celebrated the end of World War I, parading from City Hall to Columbus Circle. Three  years later, November 11th was declared Armistice Day, a national holiday, now called Veterans Day. 
  • Around this time 61 years ago, on November 12, 1954, no longer needed as the nation’s primary immigration station, Ellis Island closed after processing more than 20 million new Americans since opening in New York Harbor in 1892.
  • Around this time 20 years ago, on November 12, 1995, New York City commuters deal with the first day of a mass transit fare hike, which raised the single-ride fare from 25 cents to $1.50. In return, the MTA promised no more increases for the rest of the century.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

Warnings Cuomo Must Not Declare Premature Victory on Women's Equality, by David Howard King

Council Hearing Will Amplify Calls for More Supportive Housing, by Meg O’Connor

'Peace Dividend' Approach Continues, Bratton and De Blasio Say, by Ben Max

First Report Under New Law Will Give Key Data to Coming Veterans Department, by Samar Khurshid

Labor Leaders Declare State of Unions Strong, At Least in New York, by Ben Max

Good Government Groups Point to New Evidence of Need for Major Ethics Reform, by Meg O’Connor

City Set to Hit Functional Zero Veteran Homelessness, Though Challenges Remain, by Ryan Brady

Game Changers for JFK International, by Nicholas D. Bloom and Philip M. Plotch (opinion)

Reality TV Has No Place in Emergency Rooms, by Council Member Dan Garodnick (opinion)

Sheldon Silver Trial Recalls Earlier Legislative Leaders Accused of Corruption, by Bruce W Deartsyne (opinion)

Creating the Department of Veterans Services, by Joe Bello (opinion)

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

Mayor de Blasio appeard on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday morning

In New York Magazine, Chris Smith looks at how Governor Cuomo's push to clean up Albany 'backfired.'

Politico New York's Azi Paybarah recaps his interview with Congressional Rep. Hakeem Jeffries discussing Jeffries' take on city, state, and federal issues as well as his political future.

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

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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

***
by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

City Set to Hit Functional Zero Veteran Homelessness, Though Challenges Remain


bdb veteran parade

Mayor de Blasio at the Veterans Day parade (photo via the mayor's office)


City officials said Thursday that New York is on course to house all of its homeless veterans by the end of this year. At a City Council hearing held by the general welfare and veterans committees, de Blasio administration representatives said they would meet a previous promise to find housing for all military veterans without.

"When Mayor de Blasio first took office in January 2014, there were over 1,600 homeless men and women who served our country in our shelters or in our city streets," said Loree Sutton, the commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs and a former Brigadier General. Adding that the administration has drastically reduced that number, Sutton said that "our street homeless count today is only eight veterans."

Ninety-three percent of New York City's homeless or recently homeless veterans, Sutton added, currently have a rental subsidy or are in the process of getting one, and more than 300 are currently in the process of moving from shelter into a new apartment.

The hearing and its positive news followed Tuesday's victory for New York City veterans: the announcement that the city would create a new Department of Veterans Services to replace the the understaffed, underfunded, and under-performing Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs. City leaders, veterans, and veteran advocates celebrated Tuesday and Wednesday, which was Veterans Day.

"This is good news, indeed," Sutton said Thursday.

The story is not quite simple, of course.

"Obviously, the number that jumps out to me is eight street-homeless veterans in New York City by your count," said Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the general welfare committee, in Q&A with Sutton after her initial testimony. "How do you determine that count? Are those people that you have an open case for? Are those people that you've identified as a veteran? Do you think that there are other homeless veterans living out in the street that you might not know of?"

According to Sutton, "multiple vectors" are used to count veterans, such as counts from peer-to-peer coordinators and MOVA's housing outreach team.

The question of the real number of street-homeless veterans was raised later at the hearing by Coco Culhane, director and founder of the Urban Justice Center's Veterans Advocacy Group.

"I just want to say that I know that our client database has the names of men and women who are homeless and DHS [Department of Homeless Services] doesn't have those names," Culhane said. "And I think it's ludicrous to say that 'we know every single homeless veteran out there.'"

In her testimony before the Council members, Culhane said that there are "at least twenty" homeless veterans not accounted for by the Department of Homeless Services, which collaborates with MOVA on veterans and housing.

And, she added, only 20 percent of homeless rent vouchers issued by the DHS Living in Communities Program (LINC) - a component of the city's plan to house all veterans - are being used. Landlords often don't accept them - an issue for veterans and non-veterans that the city must combat.

"I think that we need to absolutely celebrate the success of how much progress has been made," Culhane said of reducing homelessness among military veterans. "But keep in mind that 'functional zero' is a dangerous term, I think, and it signals to the public that we accomplished something and we're set and tax dollars solved it and we can move on, which is not true at all."

Maintaining functional zero and being in compliance with the Mayor's Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, the plan for mayors nationwide created by the Obama administration, will require that the city house all homeless veterans within 90 days of their loss of housing. In his February State of the City address, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to house all veterans by the end of the year - de Blasio signed onto the challenge when it was created in June 2014.

Though the mayor has been unpopular with veteran advocacy groups, his support for the creation of the new department for veterans services may signal a turning point. Announcing an "end" to veteran homelessness in the city could help too.

"I think [the mayor's effort to end veteran homelessness] is a great idea," Dwight Curry, a Gulf War veteran and member of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told Gotham Gazette on Tuesday at a rally to celebrate the new department. "I think it's a beautiful idea because there's too many of us that are homeless. There's a lot of guys who've got a lot of psychological problems who can't really deal with society as we know it."

Veteran advocates, who spoke at Thursday's hearing, were cautiously pleased about the city getting to functional zero. In her remarks, NYC Veterans Alliance Director Kristen Rouse echoed Culhane's concerns about the grasp the city has on the actual number of homeless veterans.

"When the city talks about functional zero, we must take into account the many veterans who still remain invisible to the system," Rouse said. "And that younger veterans in particular, who are contending with New York City's stark economic realities, may be at risk for homelessness in the near or long-term."

Part of what veterans and advocates want to see from MOVA and then the department that replaces it is a focus on helping veterans access physical and mental health care, jobs, housing, and, for those who own businesses, city contracting opportunities. The city will also be expected to better help veterans returning home to find quickly find affordable housing.

Even when veterans successfully find housing, the expensive market creates difficulties for sustaining their apartments, Rouse pointed out.

"Veterans must be included in any city effort to provide affordable housing, not just for the recently homeless, but to prevent veteran homelessness in the future."

***
by Ryan Brady, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Council Hearing Will Amplify Calls for More Supportive Housing


bdb groundbreaking

A ground-breaking (photo via the mayor's office) 


With nearly 60,000 homeless people sleeping in New York City shelters each night, roughly 24,000 of them children, a City Council hearing Monday will examine one of the essential elements in reducing homelessness.

At Monday’s oversight hearing, advocates and Council members intend to once again call on the mayor and the governor to come together to approve a fourth NY/NY agreement to create more permanent supportive housing for New York’s most vulnerable.

Supportive housing, a combination of affordable housing and support services, such as case management and job training, is viewed by many to be both the most cost-effective and successful way to help the homeless, particularly those who are chronically homeless due to mental illness, substance abuse problems, or other health issues.

“There’s a lot of good data to support that this stabilizes individuals,” Nicole Bramstedt, policy analyst at Urban Pathways, a non-profit social service and supportive housing organization serving homeless adults, told Gotham Gazette. “Over 80 percent of individuals who have been in supportive housing for one year remain in supportive housing.”

“This is the solution to chronic homelessness,” Laura Mascuch, executive director of the Supportive Housing Network of New York, a nonprofit membership organization that represents over 220 nonprofits that develop and operate permanent supportive housing apartments across New York State, told Gotham Gazette. “It really is the answer for moving people out of this shelter system.”

Each tenant in supportive housing saves taxpayers $10,100 annually by helping to stop chronically homeless individuals from cycling in and out of emergency rooms, jail cells, and shelters, thus reducing public spending on expensive emergency interventions, according to a 2013 report by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

At the hearing on Monday, held by the Committee on General Welfare and the Committee on Housing and Buildings, advocates and Council members will again call attention to the urgent need for the mayor and the governor to reach an agreement to create more permanent supportive housing. Currently, over 20,000 homeless individuals and families qualify for supportive housing each year, yet only one unit is available for every six qualified applicants.

The General Welfare committee is expected to pass a resolution Monday, “calling upon the Governor and Mayor to approve a fourth "New York/New York Agreement" to create permanent supportive housing.”

Mayor de Blasio has agreed to support the creation of 12,000 units in New York City over the next ten years, while Governor Cuomo proposed a plan to create 5,000 units statewide over the next seven years. The latter would be 4,000 fewer units than created by the previous NY/NY agreement - which began in 2005 and is set to end next year - despite the fact that the number of homeless people in New York City shelters each night has nearly doubled since ‘05.

Additionally, in the three previous NY/NY agreements, the state agreed to pay for 80 percent of the new units. This time around, Governor Cuomo has proposed that the city and the state evenly split the cost of all supportive housing units built under a fourth NY/NY agreement.

Neither the mayor’s nor the governor’s proposal is anywhere close to the 32,000 supportive housing units that need to be created in order to meet the needs of New York’s homeless adults and families, according to a recent report released by the Corporation for Supportive Housing. Advocates and state Assembly members alike are calling for a similar number of units to be built.

In July, 133 members of the New York State Assembly signed a letter sent to Governor Cuomo calling for the development of 35,000 new units of supportive housing by 2025 to address the state's growing homelessness crisis.

"Supportive housing is vital for combating chronic homelessness and the factors that keep thousands of New Yorkers without a home," wrote Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi, chair of the Social Services Committee. "It is the logical solution to homelessness. It will save taxpayer dollars as it is more cost-effective than relying on homeless shelters and, most importantly, it works."

At the hearing on Monday, Bramstedt told Gotham Gazette she will testify about "the need for these 35,000 units, our experiences providing supportive housing, and the barriers we encounter in terms of operating supportive housing - we still encounter resistance from communities."

"There is a lot of misinformation about supportive housing," Bramstedt continued, saying that advocates plan to "tell the Council about the need to have more education for members of the community about what supportive housing is - it is difficult to get the funding for these facilities, but once we get that funding, we encounter a lot of pushback from the community about where we will build the housing."

A 2008 study by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy actually shows that supportive housing has helped increase property values and encourage growth in neighborhoods after opening.

With the third NY/NY housing agreement set to expire in 2016, it seems the mayor and the governor are content to wait till the eleventh hour before working together to approve a fourth NY/NY Agreement.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo were said to be negotiating a new program to provide more housing and support services for homeless individuals in the city, though such a deal has yet to be announced.

“We are not privy to where the negotiations are at,” said Mascuch, who will also be testifying at Monday’s hearing, “but we have not heard that [the city and state] are talking on a regular basis at this point. It is very concerning that we don’t have an agreement - every day that goes by more and more individuals are staying in homeless shelters.”

Whenever a deal is reached, and it is very likely it is a matter of when, not if, there will be a process before new supportive housing units are available to tenants. The sooner a deal is reached, logic says, the sooner those units will be available.

“We need the mayor and the governor to come together on this. It needs to be done now,” Bramstedt said. “The third NY/NY agreement has basically expired, and these units take time to develop.”

“The longer we delay reaching an agreement,” Bramstedt continued, “the longer we are denying homeless individuals long term placement options that succeed, and the more money you and I are spending and the government is spending.”

It is unclear who from the de Blasio administration may be testifying on Monday - inquiries to the Department of Homeless Services were not returned. Council Members Stephen Levin and Jumaane Williams, who chair the two committees holding the hearing, were not made available for interviews by their respective press people, despite numerous attempts by Gotham Gazette.

Monday’s hearing may put pressure on Mayor de Blasio to commit to funding supportive housing units on his own, either forcing the governor’s hand or truly moving forward without him. The city has unleashed a variety of homelessness fighting measures over the past year or so under de Blasio, and has moved over 50,000 individuals out of shelter, the administration says. But, many of those people cycle back into shelter, and just as fast as some move out, others move in, as the city’s challenges with affordability, mental health, and substance abuse continue.

“We are confident Mayor de Blasio will soon come forward with the city’s share,” Assembly Member Hevesi and Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director for policy with the Coalition for the Homeless, wrote in a recent op-ed for the Daily News. “Now the burden is on Cuomo to do his part. Experienced organizations stand ready to build thousands more permanent homes for our homeless veterans and their families, women and children overcoming domestic violence and abuse, people recovering from addictions, and men and women struggling with debilitating mental illnesses.”

If the governor really wants to “save New York City,” as he reportedly said during a private event for his fund-raising committee several weeks ago while speaking about city issues, including the homelessness crisis, many say he should heed calls to finalize a new agreement to fund and develop the number of supportive housing units that New York actually needs.

That’s one message very likely to be made clear yet again on Monday at the City Council.

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
@MegOConnor13
@GothamGazette



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