Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics



City Threatens to Exacerbate Affordable Housing Crisis for New York Seniors

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Mayor de Blasio talks with seniors (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)

For far too long, older adults in New York City have been struggling to find a safe and affordable place to call home. The pandemic has exacerbated these challenges and exacerbated an affordable housing emergency that’s especially dangerous for populations including New York’s low-income seniors. As we look to recover, we need to prioritize the sustained production of affordable housing, particularly as a way to stabilize and support our older residents now and in the future.

Older New Yorkers were struggling to make rent even before the pandemic hit. More than one-quarter (27 percent) of New York’s renters are 60 or older, the highest share in the country. Nearly one in seven seniors in the city live in poverty, according to a report from the Center for an Urban Future, and more than 200,000 seniors are on a waiting list for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Section 202 program, according to LiveOn NY.

In fact, demographic data suggests that the senior population in the five boroughs will increase 50 percent by 2040. The need for quality, safe, and affordable housing for seniors will become more vital as our city continues to age.

Unfortunately, the latest capital budget proposed by the de Blasio administration misses the mark in this regard. The budget would cut funding to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) by 40 percent, resulting in a loss of up to 21,000 of affordable units over the next two years, according to a recent study from the New York Housing Conference. 

There is a shadow of doubt over the entire pipeline and it is older New Yorkers that will be left behind. It is vital that the city fund, develop, and finish projects designed specifically to address seniors. For example, a project in the proposal stage in Astoria that would provide deeply affordable homes to New Yorkers over the age of 62 but may now be significantly delayed or even halted entirely. 

This is just one example of many projects designed to address this growing need and the loss is incalculable for New Yorkers that need these homes now. New York City’s aging population is depending on our elected officials to make smart policy decisions that will protect them, especially during these unprecedented times. City Hall must reverse the budget cut and commit to provide critical funding for lifelong New Yorkers in their most vulnerable years.

In fact, prioritizing affordable housing development will help pave the way toward economic recovery. A NYSAFAH study found that a 100-unit affordable housing development in New York typically generates nearly 200 construction jobs and 20 permanent jobs. Additionally, the development would result in an average of nearly $30 million in economic spending during construction and over $3.5 million in sustained local economic activity.

In other words, investment in affordable housing not only addresses critical needs, it generates critical economic activity. It’s win-win every time.

Fully funding HPD’s capital budget is the sort of low-risk policy proposal that will pay dividends in both the short- and long-term. It is exactly what we need right now – and it will remind elderly New Yorkers that their elected officials have their best interests at heart. 

Jolie Milstein is the president and CEO of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing. Allison Nickerson is the Executive Director of LiveOn NY. Karen Haycox is CEO of Habitat for Humanity NYC and President of the Habitat NYC Community Loan Fund. On Twitter @NYSAFAH & @liveonny & @HabitatNYC.

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Defund the DOC, Invest in Supportive Housing

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Mayor de Blasio discussing jails (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Michael Tyson, Raymond Rivera, Layleen Polanco, Wayne Henderson, Kalief Browder, Jerome Murdough, Bradley Ballard, Carlos Mercado, Ronald Spear. Just some of the Black and brown people who have died in recent years from neglect or abuse at Rikers Island. As our city and country demand justice for racial inequities in policing and beyond, the budget for New York City’s brutally violent, racially unjust, fiscally unjustifiable Department of Correction must be cut. The savings should be redirected to programs proven to keep people out of jail and advance safety, through a combination of housing and wrap-around services. 

Imagine that you are locked up, punished without having been convicted, in a sweltering cage in one of the nine jails on Rikers Island. Imagine that your economic security has been destroyed and your family relationships ripped apart based on an accusation. This disproportionately happens to Black and Latino people, who are not afforded the same opportunities of innocence until proven guilty.

We make up 88 percent of the people incarcerated in New York City jails. We experience the extreme violence of Rikers, which is at an all-time high. We are isolated at Rikers from families, attorneys, and service providers. We fail to receive mental health care and other needed services.

Even if you believe in incarceration as punishment and incapacitation, Rikers is much more than that: it is unequitable, unconstitutional, and unfathomably expensive.

This year, New York City is spending $2.5 billion to jail people, amounting to more than $400,000 per person per year. 

With the city’s jail population at a low unseen since World War II, we can save hundreds of millions from the DOC budget by continuing a hiring freeze, cutting jail riot squads that a federal court’s monitor found exacerbate violence, greatly reducing overtime, and continuing to close sparsely-populated jails. Then we can multiply those savings by broadening the scope of and resolutely funding far cheaper alternatives to Rikers that we know work better.   

A key element: provide housing when needed. Since 2017, the Women’s Community Justice Project has provided housing and services to homeless women jailed at Rikers pending trial for a wide range of alleged crimes. Of over 200 women served—the majority of whom are mothers and caregivers, often battling mental illness and substance use—98 percent made all court appearances and only two were charged with new crimes. The average cost: $30,000 per person per year, 1/13 the cost of Rikers.

In March 2020, to alleviate the close confinement that was causing coronavirus to spread in New York City jails at nine times the rate of the rest of the city, the DOC released 312 people who had been sentenced to less than a year in jail. Many had long histories of homelessness, serious mental illness, and substance use. Some were effectively doing life sentences one misdemeanor conviction at a time, demonstrating that repeatedly jailing them had failed them – and us.

For a fraction of the cost of Rikers, the city traded the brutality and degradation of Rikers for emergency housing and wrap-around services offered by Exodus Transitional Community and other non-profits. People have been connected to social services, treatment, jobs, and long-term housing at rates previously unseen. Only one program participant has been re-arrested for a serious violent offense. These results speak for themselves. 

The remaining savings should be a down-payment on community-led investments in Black and brown neighborhoods ravaged by COVID-19 and long harmed by Rikers. 

We also urge City Hall to press forward with the much smaller borough jails needed to end Rikers. Every month of delay condemns thousands of Black and brown people to continued abuse and mistreatment at Rikers. Construction will also generate thousands of critically-needed, good-paying jobs. To keep on schedule, we need to spend only enough this year to allow the planning process to proceed and begin to demolish the decrepit jail in downtown Brooklyn.

We can work together to end the glaring racial inequities and inequalities in our city’s criminal justice system, embodied in the Department of Correction and Rikers Island. These institutions have inexcusably harmed Black and brown people for decades. By cutting DOC’s budget and investing in housing and services, we can advance racial justice, economic sense, and safer streets. This is a no-brainer. 

Dr. Alethea Taylor is the former Executive Director of Greenhope Services for Women, Inc.  Julio Medina is founder, executive director, and CEO of Exodus Transitional Community.

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How We Must Reinvent New York City Education After Coronavirus

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(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)

It’s 8:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. My youngest, now 13, needs help setting up for the Zoom meeting I wrangled with his math teacher so they can address how his dyscalculia is making fractions difficult. My middle child has just roused, a mark of my hard-earned success in resetting her circadian rhythm disrupted by these strange times. My eldest wants to discuss whether she should take “no-grade” on one of her courses during her second semester in college—the transition to remote learning at home has been too rocky for her to maintain focus on each course.

My home is a microcosm for how COVID-19 has turned education upside down. This disruption hits even harder for single-parent homes, families with students who have learning disorders or disabilities, and multi-generational families like mine. Like tens of thousands of other parents, I’m focused on how we can make things better for us and our kids.

I know these things from a professional perspective, too. For over a decade I have fought for equitable school funding, increased capacity for quality child care, for better access to dyslexia diagnostic services and support especially in low-income communities, and against the emphasis on testing in public education. 

We need a systematic reimagining of public education, and what better time than now. But that phrase has been bandied about a lot recently by some people with pretty different ideas than mine. I’m never going to go along with billionaires “redesigning” public schools—that experiment over the past 20 years did more harm than good. When I say reimagine, here’s what I mean.

We need to focus our school communities on healing from the traumas of COVID-19 and racism. Schools in working-class neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color were already at a disadvantage before the crisis in terms of funding and access to resources. These neighborhoods also have been some of the hardest hit by the virus.

This is a pivotal moment in our history. If we believe Black lives matter, how do we turn that philosophy into reality for today’s students? Now is the time to rethink our approach to school culture—get rid of the metal detectors, train school communities in restorative justice, and institute a comprehensive social-emotional learning curriculum developed with high-trauma populations in mind.

Much of this work starts before children even enter a classroom. Our interventions must start with universal child care—including subsidies for families, increased capacity for infant and toddler care, and pay parity for child-care providers and early childhood teachers. The cost of child care for more than one child can rival the cost of paying rent. This is especially crippling for single mothers. When it comes to 3K, pre-K, and kindergarten, we should listen to the experts who highlight the importance of play-centered education.  

Throughout our children’s education, we also must commit to curricular best practices that move us away from high-stakes testing. The state tests were canceled for COVID-19 this year, as were the Regents Exams, and no student will be the worse for it.

We need to adopt holistic evaluation methods like portfolio reviews that meet the needs and measure the growth of all students where they are. These changes are especially important for multilingual learners and students with learning disorders or disabilities, whom high-stakes testing harms the most.

Such curricular best practices include culturally-responsive education that builds on students’ experiences in the world. Likewise, the power of movement must be recognized in providing physical education as already mandated by the state but too often not provided. Expression through the arts cannot be just a luxury afforded to the wealthiest schools, not when we know how transformative and healing these practices can be for our kids.

Spending less time on testing will make it possible to offer courses our students will need for life outside high school like civics and financial literacy. It will also help us shift the focus to emphasize the interpersonal skills that will prepare our students to thrive in careers of social work, health care, education, and other low-carbon work we will need more of as we face the defining challenge we are passing on to the next generations, the climate crisis.

We will also need to reduce class sizes. The kind of attention our students need coming out of this crisis necessitates a lower student-to-teacher ratio. The current average class size of 24 for K–3 classrooms and almost 27 for grades 4–8 are far too high, and unconscionable in the wake of COVID-19. For our students to re-engage with learning when they go back to school buildings, we need to have smaller class sizes. Teachers are the primary support for our students, and they must be given the time to focus on the individual growth areas of each student.

As those of us working from home have seen in our own remote work, technology can indeed be a powerful tool for connection. But the flip side is privacy, especially when it comes to our children. As privatizing forces move in post-coronavirus to “reimagine” education through technological solutions, we need to draw hard and fast lines to protect the privacy of each member of our school communities. Data privacy can’t be an afterthought; it has to be baked in at the outset. It’s another reason to keep billionaires and giant tech companies out of our schools.

All of these policy ideas already exist in well-researched, ready-to-execute forms. What we have lacked is the political will to make them happen at scale.

Now is our chance. In this upcoming New York City budget, due in just a few days, we have to reject austerity. We must surgically defund the NYPD budget not just to preserve but to grow our spending on these crucial policy initiatives like smaller class sizes and retooling school culture. At the same time, we need to consolidate administrative sprawl within the Department of Education so our response to the traumas of COVID-19 can be swift and more effective for our students.

The City Council has an opportunity to step up to the plate for our children, and with 41 of them term-limited out at the end of 2021, it’s their chance to leave an impressive legacy of support for our students when they need it the most.

Johanna Garcia is a chief of staff in the New York State Senate, a former president of Community Education Council District 6, and a candidate for City Council in Manhattan’s 10th District. On Twitter @JohannaG_NYC.

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Defund the NYPD and Save Black and Brown Lives by Reforming Mental Health Crisis Response

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Questioning one role of the NYPD (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

The protests that have erupted across American cities in response to the murder of George Floyd, together with the larger movement for Black lives, have amplified advocates’ calls to defund the police and reallocate resources toward services that would better meet the needs of Black Americans and over-policed communities nationwide. 

New York City’s police budget alone surpasses its spending on housing, hospitals, youth services, and homeless services combined. In response to public outcry, the City Council finally appears ready for a historic reckoning as it now pushes to cut $1 billion from the New York Police Department

The coalition we help lead, Correct Crisis Intervention Today - NYC: Fighting to Transform Responses to Mental Health Crises (CCIT-NYC), has proposed one such defunding measure, which would remove mental health crisis responses from the NYPD’s portfolio entirely.

CCIT-NYC urges the City Council to redirect $16.5 million of NYPD funding to a five-year pilot project in two of the city’s most impacted precincts, Brooklyn’s 75th and Midtown South. 

At the cost of $3.3 million per year, our proposed pilot would pair Emergency Medical Technicians with trained “peers” (people with lived experience of mental health crises). These teams, in place of law enforcement, would serve as first responders for people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Unlike the city’s current Health Engagement and Assessment Teams, which are only available for part of the day and cannot be dispatched directly to the general public, the teams proposed by CCIT-NYC would be available 24/7 and accessible to the public.

This is a proven model. It is similar to the hugely successful CAHOOTS program used in Eugene, Oregon, for over 30 years without any serious injuries to the health-care workers. It is easily adaptable to neighborhoods here.

Critically, this approach enjoys wide public support. A national survey conducted in early June found that nearly 70% of likely voters support “creating a new agency of first-responders, like emergency medical services or firefighters, to deal with issues related to addiction or mental illness that need to be remedied but do not need police.” A majority of those surveyed also agree that police frequently use unnecessary violence; in our city, we know this to be all too true. 

Over the last five years, 14 New Yorkers experiencing a mental health crisis were killed by police responders, a 15th died by a self-inflicted gunshot during a police engagement, and another three were shot by police and left critically wounded. Just this week, one more New Yorker with mental health concerns died at the hands of NYPD after being repeatedly tasered at his home, having threatened no one.

What’s more, that number killed between 2015 and 2020 is double the number killed during the preceding years spanning 2007 to 2014. Notably, these shootings increased despite the fact that, during the same five-year period, 15,000 officers received Crisis Intervention Training to use de-escalation techniques under these very circumstances.

Having worked in the fields of mental health, human services, and criminal justice for decades, we are well aware of the racial disparities in accessing care, and of the wrongful criminalization of Black and brown individuals. As documented by the U.S. Surgeon General, people of color have less access to mental health services than white people, are less likely to receive needed care, and are more likely to receive poor-quality care when they are treated. Of the 18 individuals shot in police encounters in New York City, 16 were Black or other persons of color. 

Of particular note during these precarious financial times is the fact that instituting mental health response teams would pay for itself in savings. Each year, New York City spends approximately $250 million on cases involving police misconduct by the NYPD, and we estimate that roughly one-third of those cases involve people undergoing a mental health crisis. 

The time is right to pilot a culturally competent and compassionate, peer-driven model for responding to mental health crises that avoids inflicting further harm by eliminating the unnecessary use of police, emergency rooms, and psychiatric hospitals. Our proposed pilot’s use of non-police responders trained in engagement and de-escalation techniques would spare the city expensive lawsuits and save lives – particularly those of Black and brown New Yorkers. 

Let’s restore faith that when people call for help in times of crisis, they receive actual help and health care, not the law enforcement response they have come to fear. 

by Cal Hedigan of Community Access; Jim Mutton of Concern for Independent Living, Inc.; Matt Kudish of National Alliance on Mental Health Illness NYC; and Ruth Lowenkron, Esq., of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

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2020 Primaries: Winds of Change Shifting Latino Politics in New York City

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Ritchie Torres (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)

As this month’s primary election results seem to be proving, the winds of change are blowing and are shifting the direction of Latino politics in New York City. Has a new era of leadership in Latino political representation arrived?

In the Bronx, Ritchie Torres seems to be ahead with a comfortable margin, defeating Michael Blake, long-time politico Ruben Diaz, Sr., and many others in the 15th Congressional District. In these pages I predicted that Torres was one to take very seriously. The future has arrived. When all ballots are counted, I expect Torres to pull off the victory.

Torres now joins Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), Nydia Velazquez, and Adriano Espaillat as the Latino congressional representatives in New York City. Torres and AOC, though, represent a new and perhaps more progressive voice, one that is representative of the younger Latino generation. Surveys indicate that members of this younger generation tend to be more progressive than their parents and grandparents. Three years ago (when AOC was still bartending) I wrote: “Torres is charismatic, well-liked by his peers, and whip-smart. He has the uncanny ability to probe and articulate complex policy matters. At 29 years of age, Torres will surely be one to watch for years to come.”

Now with a bigger platform, I anticipate that Torres will be a formidable force on behalf of the Latino community for years to come.

Perhaps the strongest wind of change in Latino politics is blowing from Queens. Jessica González-Rojas appears to be defeating incumbent Assemblymember Michael DenDekker. González-Rojas, who was endorsed by Tiffany Cabán but interestingly enough not AOC, is now the fourth Latina to be elected in Queens, following the elections of AOC, Jessica Ramos, and Catalina Cruz two years ago.

Two things are important about these successes: First, that we are seeing the rise of female representation among Latino political representatives. Latinas have rightly felt emboldened by the lack of progress that was evident in our communities and have responded by elbowing their way to the table, knowing that they have something to offer and contribute to Latino communities. And the communities are responding by electing them.

Currently, there are 31 Latino elected officials in the city, including the addition of González-Rojas. Women now represent 42% of all Latino elected officials in the city—from Congress to the City Council. (Here, I am not including the numerous women that hold party positions.) While there is much more to do to make that figure more representative of the Latina presence within the electorate and society at large, the trend is encouraging.

With the re-election of the women mentioned above, and the election of González-Rojas, the 2020 primary election cycle may come to be known as the year of the Latina. It’s about time! I am certain that the late Olga Mendez, the first Latina in the country to be elected to the state Legislature (representing East Harlem for many years) is smiling from above.

Additionally, the addition of González-Rojas to Queens’ representation also marks a shift in the center of Latino voter participation and presence. Whereas formerly the Bronx was almost exclusively where Latino elected officials resided, we are now seeing the results of what has been a steady increase in the Latino population in Queens. As we’ve seen with AOC, Ramos, Cruz, and now González-Rojas, more Latino candidates are being elected in the borough of Queens. The Archie Bunker days seem to be over. A new era is being ushered in.

In the future, I will take a deeper dive into the significance of the Latino vote in this primary cycle. For now, as results continue to trickle in and as we await the Board of Elections’ counting of absentee ballots and certification of outcomes, the Latino community should be proud of its seeming awakening.

Eli Valentin is a political analyst and author of the forthcoming book, Reinhold Niebuhr: A Political Life. On Twitter @EliValentinNY.

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Reimagine Education in New York – Without Segregation

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(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Governor Andrew Cuomo has called rightly on New Yorkers, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, to reimagine education. We should reimagine it without racial segregation. 

The novel coronavirus’ path of destruction has starkly illuminated the structural racism that underpins so much inequality in America. That inequality includes educational segregation in New York. 

Structural racism, which is the historical and ongoing racial discrimination and segregation of Black people in particular, is typically instigated or sanctioned by government. It has created the unequal foundation for so many aspects of life, including widely documented, underlying health disparities for Black and Latino individuals. It has played a fundamental role in where we live (through federal redlining and other discriminatory practices) and, therefore, where our children attend school.

As a result of structural racism, New York is the most segregated state for African-American students, with 65 percent of African-American students in intensely segregated schools. That designation is heavily influenced by the New York City public school system, but the segregation is statewide. That segregation is often formally structured through the fragmentation of school districts.

Long Island’s two counties, for instance, have 125 school districts. Not surprisingly, Long Island is one of the 10 most segregated metro regions in the nation, and segregation is on the rise. According to ERASE Racism, in 2017, dramatically more Black and Latino students on Long Island attended segregated schools than 12 years earlier. New York City is also among the 10 most segregated metro regions, and its public schools are similarly highly segregated.

Yet distance learning, now a sudden reality, may have a valuable role to play in undermining segregation. It offers a vehicle for creating digital course offerings and other convenings that could free students from the entrenched landscape of racial isolation and inequity. 

Through distance learning, students from multiple school districts could come together to learn and share experiences without being constrained by the geographic limitations imposed on them by previous generations and their prejudices. They might come together, for instance, for Advanced Placement courses or International Baccalaureate classes and broaden their understandings by sharing insights with students from other backgrounds.

They might also convene digitally for extracurricular activities. A model for that already exists with ERASE Racism’s Student Task Force, which consists of 23 high school students from 17 schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island. While the Task Force previously met in person for most of its activities, we began meeting exclusively remotely in response to the pandemic. The Task Force and its thoughtful discussions, plans, and programs demonstrate the extraordinary benefits of students convening across school districts and even counties to learn together and from each other. 

Implementing distance learning across school districts at a significant scale would require a more aggressive role by the State Education Department. The implementation of initial distance-learning initiatives amid the pandemic – with each school district acting in isolation, regardless of existing resources and capacity – merely reinforced the educational disparities already in place, as wealthier, whiter school districts were inevitably better able to implement those initiatives than poorer districts with more Black and Latino students. 

Regardless of whether the decision to leave districts on their own was made deliberately or by default in the face of the looming pandemic, now is the time to prepare for enhanced educational outcomes in the new school year. Now is the time to think more creatively about options. That is where the opportunity for innovation emerges – both in how education can be advanced through distance learning, which is presumably here to stay to a degree still to be determined, and in diversifying educational instruction and environments in the process.

Three steps are key: First, the state should provide the needed funding to ensure that poor school districts can take advantage of online instruction, with enhanced tools and training to enable all teachers to deliver optimum instruction on distance-learning platforms. Second, the state should work with Internet providers to ensure that students in poor communities have Internet access affordably – even free. Third, the Board of Regents should ensure that every child has access to the equipment, connectivity, and instruction needed for effective utilization of distance learning. 

In that context, New York should ensure that curricula are culturally responsive, reflecting the diversity of race, ethnicities, and cultures represented in our country and in New York state, even though they are not represented in all districts. Fortunately, the State Education Department has already developed a “Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework,” on which ERASE Racism provided feedback as it evolved. 

The Framework helps educators create student-centered learning environments that affirm diverse identities, while preparing students for rigor and independent learning and elevating historically marginalized voices, among other goals. It addresses the reality that, in order to tackle racial disparities across the nation, it is necessary to have conversations in classrooms about the truth of structural racism throughout history and in the present day.

In reimagining education in New York, those same historically marginalized voices are stakeholders that need to be engaged: students, educators, parents, and community members. Those whose work and passion have focused on identifying and addressing the structural racism that has kept segregation in place must be fully involved, as their insights are vital to dismantling that persistent scourge. ERASE Racism stands ready to help in that endeavor.

Governor Cuomo has called on New Yorkers to reimagine education in the face of COVID-19. Now is the time to convert this public health and economic tragedy into a catalyst to destroy the perpetual plague of racial segregation and inequity.

Elaine Gross is president of the regional civil rights organization ERASE Racism. On Twitter @EraseRacism.

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NYCHA Tenant Leaders: Where Amazon Never Arrived, New Opportunity Arises

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(photo: Your LIC)

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has not been equitable across New York City. While some New Yorkers have been able to work from home, or leave the city temporarily to wait the pandemic out, our NYCHA family has been devastated with the astounding loss of life and by an economic collapse at a scale we have never experienced before. 

We have seen many people speak out about how to help NYCHA recover from this pandemic. On behalf of the nearly 17,000 residents of four Western Queens public housing developments, the virus has been catastrophic for our neighbors and the number one thing we will need coming out of this unprecedented time is jobs.

Thousands of our neighbors have lost their jobs and income, and we are ready to help New York City get back to work. NYCHA is the bedrock of Long Island City and the permanency of our homes provides an opportunity to access our residents for job opportunities. But we need the access, and we need to kickstart the creation of new opportunities to make up for the jobs that have been lost and may never return

We recently sat down with local Queens and citywide leaders in the workforce development community, convened by four developers (MAG Partners, Plaxall, Simon Baron Development, and TF Cornerstone) pursuing the Your LIC process to create a comprehensive plan for the Long Island City waterfront that is anchored with a strong jobs and commercial district.

We talked about an integrated, place-based workforce development plan that benefits the existing local workforce, including a community center that can connect all of Long Island City, flexible job training, pathways for high school students to find internships, services including childcare for families, and opportunities to strengthen soft skills.

It was uplifting to hear from our neighbors – non-profits, real estate stakeholders, workforce training experts, and residents – who have come together to begin to figure out real solutions to bounce back from this crisis and to build a future of opportunity.

Of course, we’re no stranger to fighting for the future of our community. Leading up to Amazon’s decision to pull their plans for ‘HQ2,’ we were making progress to ensure that the deal would work for all of us. This neighborhood was prepared to receive a job-training center, the launch of a workforce development program with LaGuardia Community College, modern after-school programs, and internships for our children.

For months following Amazon’s decision to pull out, we felt forgotten and it appeared that our goal of creating a Long Island City waterfront that would empower our community and create a significant number of jobs was lost. 

Then last year, a new process emerged. The proponents of this new project began organizing a series of public engagements to hear firsthand what Long Island City residents want to see along the waterfront. Since the very beginning of the process, NYCHA residents have had a seat at the table, with hundreds from the community participating in the public workshops and online discussions. Our voices are finally being heard and we are continuing to meet with members of the Your LIC team to make sure that the proposal is one that works for all of us.

Since the first workshop in November of last year, we have discussed the importance of economic empowerment in workforce development, resiliency, and creating connected public open space, and schools, places for the arts, and other community spaces. 

We know that the buildings proposed on the waterfront may be tall and dense, and some people will have concerns about that, but we’ve been seeing towers rise in Long Island City for a long time. In those developments, residents come and go, but the residents in NYCHA developments in Western Queens are permanent, and it’s time for a proposal that benefits and draws from the human capital in our communities.

The need to deliver jobs – here in Western Queens – and community benefits are more critical than ever for the future of this place. These are the types of tools and investments that make a real difference in people’s lives and will do so for our children, too. 

As we look forward to planning for the future of the Long Island City waterfront – and toward the future of our city as a whole – we can’t afford to squander yet another opportunity to create jobs and to deliver progress right here in a community that both needs it and deserves it.

When crises hit New York City, so many turn to NYCHA to lament how public housing residents are disproportionately impacted, but when given the opportunity too little action is taken. This is our community. Please don’t forget us once again. Support us as we build a strong future for NYCHA and our neighbors.

Carol Wilkins is the president of the Ravenswood tenants association; April Simpson-Taylor is the president of the Queensbridge tenants association; Claudia Coger is president of the Astoria Houses tenants association; and Annie Cotton-Morris is the president of the Woodside Houses tenants association.

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City Budget Crisis Threatens Lifeline for Day Laborers and Immigrant Workers

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NICE staff and volunteers deliver groceries to workers impacted by COVID-19

“The rags were so filthy, and we had no soap and little water to clean them, so we felt like we were spreading the virus in the subway car by our cleaning…We started on Monday, but they did not give us masks ‘til Wednesday…The gloves they gave us were for making sandwiches, not for cleaning! They would break, and there were no more, so we brought our own…I worry: How many people will get sick because these cars were “cleaned” this way?”
-Susanna, a New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) respondent reporting unsafe working conditions and fearing other New Yorkers would get sick in ineffectively-cleaned subways cars. 

Susanna worked cleaning subway cars to keep essential workers and all New Yorkers safe during the near-lockdown and as the city “reopens,” but the contractor was cutting corners and putting profit over the health of workers and the public. With NICE’s support, Susanna protested her sub-prevailing wage pay, and what she saw as unsafe working conditions that ineffectively cleaned subways and posed risks to all New Yorkers. 

Susanna’s voice is one the New York City Council should hear as Council members decide how to distribute discretionary funding. Many immigrant-led/serving nonprofits that have been critical lifelines for immigrant workers are at risk of losing their funding due to the city budget crisis. This would be tragic for the organizations, immigrant workers and families they serve.

Thankfully, the City Council can make these New Yorkers a priority as negotiations proceed leading up to a new budget by July 1.

Research by New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) -- a nonprofit that supports day laborers and other low-wage immigrant workers and their families through its Worker Centers in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx -- shows how these communities are extremely hard hit by the pandemic. Survey data are grim: the pandemic sharply increases NICE families’ risk of poverty and homelessness.

Only 20.5% had worked at all during the pandemic; 90% had not worked in over four weeks. As a result, 41% of respondents reported being at risk of losing their housing, and 32% feared they could be at risk. Those at risk lived with an average of 2.2 children, nearly all U.S. citizens. Research shows homeless children face a “cascade” of preventable harms making it harder to learn and thrive as adults. NICE’s data point to a developing crisis we can still act to prevent.

Moreover, of those surveyed, 36% reported COVID-19 symptoms (loss of taste/smell, cough, difficulty breathing). Actual infection rates could be higher, because infection precedes symptoms. Equally worrisome: 41% reported underlying conditions (eg asthma) that can worsen covid’s morbidity. Finally, 15% reported “acute anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts as a consequence of Covid19.” 

NICE’s strategic thinking is to respond over what the Centers for Disease Control call the “lifecycle” of the pandemic, which will likely include the immediate crisis; phased reopening by work sector, including construction work; possible COVID-19 case upticks, and re-shutdowns; development and broad use of better treatments and a vaccine; and transition out of the pandemic.

Efforts like these will be essential in each pandemic lifecycle stage. First, NICE members work mostly in construction, one of the first large industries in New York City’s phase 1 "reopening." The research NICE has done (and seeks to continue) could offer real-time data on upticks – the canary in the coalmine – for policy-makers. Faster response can save thousands of New Yorkers’ lives. Second, NICE and similarly-situated organizations are directly linked to the most vulnerable New Yorkers who are unlikely to be contacted by or respond to most polling or online surveys on the coronavirus (including the CUNY School of Public Health’s well-designed weekly 1,000-person survey on COVID-19 impacts). Third, immigrants’ deep trust in their organizations makes them essential partners as we move through the pandemic lifecycle. These organizations can help ensure all New Yorkers have fair access to a vaccine, once we have one. But they must survive financially to do this work, which City Council funding can help ensure.  

Finally, including funding in the New York City budget for organizations that support immigrant workers will keep all New Yorkers safe now and in the long-run. Consider Singapore, which nearly quashed the pandemic, but neglected its immigrant workers, causing COVID-19 cases to rebound. Just as Susanna worried about people who could get sick from a badly-cleaned subway car, all New Yorkers should want Susanna to have proper gloves and masks, and want the construction workers, nannies, and deli workers who are part of the fabric of New York life to be as protected as most everyone else. New York is a resilient place, but must also be a just and smart place, where it protects all New Yorkers equally, so we can all live safely and well. 

Manuel Castro is the Executive Director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE). On Twitter @NICE4Workers. Robert C. Smith is a Professor in the Marxe School at Baruch College and the Sociology Department, Graduate Center, CUNY, and co-author of Immigration and Strategic Public Health Communication (2019, Routledge).

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Why New York City Must Put Educators and Counselors, Not Cops, in Charge of School Discipline

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Mayor de Blasio gives remarks on school safety (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)

Amid protests spurred by the police killing of George Floyd, activists from Minneapolis to Chicago to New York City are pushing to reduce the presence of police in schools, and a number of school districts are heeding their call. Most recently, New York City Council Members Mark Treyger and Donovan Richards are proposing to end the ties between the New York Police Department and Department of Education. 

They have a point. Reducing the number of cops in schools need not diminish safety. However, with 25 of the nation’s largest school districts now outsourcing at least some school safety to police departments, severing those ties will require the development of new methods for de-escalating conflict. Districts will need to learn from successful experiments that engage students, teachers, and administrators in improving school culture in ways that promote both safety and learning.

The call to reduce police presence in schools follows a decades-long escalation. In the 1990s an increase in gun violence in schools led President Bill Clinton to sign The Gun Free Schools Act, which made zero-tolerance school discipline a national movement. The law initially mandated punishments for firearms possession—mandates that were later expanded to include a range of crimes and infractions. 

By 1998, in the first takeover of its kind, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani arranged for the New York police department to take command of the education department’s Division of School Safety; he did so over the objections of at least two schools chancellors. New York City has had more than 5,000 police personnel assigned to schools in recent years, equivalent to one of the largest police forces in the country; by contrast, the combined number of school counselors and social workers was less than 4,300 in 2019.

Following the shooting at Columbine High School, in Colorado in 1999, the police presence on school campuses nationwide grew steadily with so-called School Resource Officers typically hired, and paid, by local police departments. 

Violent crime and thefts in schools declined 70 percent between 1992 and 2013 even as some high schools reported an increase in discipline problems after police appeared on campus. Indeed, schools with officers reported five times the number of arrests for "disorderly conduct" as schools without them. A lack of training in “positive behavioral interventions” has led many schools to become “overly reliant” on harsh discipline and to criminalize infractions that, in the past, might have merited a scolding from the principal, according to a recent Clemson University study.

The increased police presence and zero-tolerance policies have had a particularly adverse impact on students of color. Despite efforts under the Obama administration to limit the role of police in school disciplinary matters, students of color have been targeted for suspension and arrest in large numbers nationwide. Although suspensions have declined in recent years, overall arrests have increased; Black students, who make up just 15.5 percent of all public school students, accounted for over one-third of all school arrests, according to a 2018 government study, which found that “implicit bias” was partly to blame for the increase. Black boys are arrested three times more often, and Black girls 1.5 times more often, than white boys. 

In New York City, overall suspension rates declined by 39.4 percent in the decade leading up to the 2016-17 school year. While the suspension rate of Black middle- and high-school students also declined during that period, it remained 2.8 times higher than that of white students. 

At the same time, the presence of metal detectors, security cameras, and security guards makes kids of color feel less safe in school “physically and psychologically,” according to the National Association of School Psychologists, which can, in turn, have a detrimental impact on students’ ability to learn. (Nor is there clear evidence that the use of such restrictive security equipment is “effective in preventing school violence,” according to the study.)

By contrast, research has shown a strong positive connection between nurturing school environments and learning. A recent study of high-poverty New York City schools, which looked at the impact of neighborhood violence on standardized test scores, found that the performance of students exposed to violence suffered if they attend schools with weak climates; by contrast students who attend schools perceived as both safe and “having the strongest sense of community,” suffered no reduction in test scores even if they were exposed to violence. 

Creating the kinds of nurturing environments associated with both safe schools and better education outcomes requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. Schools need to foster new methods, such as peer-mediation and behavior-management strategies that deescalate conflict and put educators—not police officers—in charge of the vast majority of discipline infractions.

Take the case of the Bayard Rustin complex of six small schools in New York City, which, in 2017, began petitioning both the education and police departments to suspend unannounced metal-detector screenings at the school building, where 96 percent of students are people of color. The screenings were conducted by the NYPD even though discipline problems in the building “are rare” and the school principals opposed them—more than 80 percent of students said they felt safe in the school building, according to education department surveys. The New York Civil Liberties Union was brought in to mediate a discussion among the schools and the education and police departments. In 2019, when the NYPD was expected to install permanent metal detectors, the students finally won a partial victory; while Bayard Rustin remained a random-screening site, permanent metal detectors were never installed. 

The battle at Bayard Rustin—and the students’ modest success in keeping out permanent metal detectors—was a school culture and curriculum that encouraged students to grapple with real-world problems. The Bayard Rustin complex is run collaboratively with educators at all six schools jointly determining the use of common spaces and policies. Three schools are members of the highly-regarded New York State Performance Standards Consortium, which allows students to complete in-depth, long-term projects, often tailored around student interests, in lieu of most standardized tests.  

The fight against metal detectors was led by Bayard Rustin students with the support of educators. Brady Smith, principal of James Baldwin, a “transfer” high school for over-age, under-credited students who struggled at previous schools, and a member of both the performance standards consortium and the progressive NYC Outward Bound network, persuaded his fellow principals to appoint a student advisory council to address the metal-detector problem. He also insisted that the student council include some “marginalized students,” noting: “A lot of schools create pathways for student leadership that appeal to a particular type of student—the extrovert, charismatic student.” For this committee, he wanted the kind of students who would focus on “issues,” rather than having “good events.” 

Similar efforts to engage students in critical problem-solving have borne fruit elsewhere. In Leander, TX, a large district outside Austin, a years-long, student-led anti-bullying campaign has not only mitigated a major problem at district schools, but created leadership opportunities for teens. The effort, fostered by teachers and administrators, grew out of a nearly four-decade commitment to a school-improvement philosophy that encourages problem-solving at all levels of the school—from students to administrators. 

Despite a growing movement to cut police budgets, too many officials still view the police as a school safety panacea. Although crime in New York City schools is at record lows, Mayor Bill de Blasio has increased the school-safety budget by 25 percent since taking office in 2014. He has also called for a 1.36 percent increase, to $427332 million, in spending on school safety officers next fiscal year, even as he plans to cut $827 million from the education department and prepares to borrow $7 billion to make up for shortfalls in the city’s operating budget. 

Getting cops out of schools will present both opportunities and challenges, especially in mitigating the kind of childhood trauma that often leads to school violence and discipline problems. As of 2017, nearly 29 percent of the school incidents in New York City involving police or safety agents involved a “child in crisis,” and resulted in the child being taken to a hospital for a psychological evaluation; by contrast, only 12 percent of the incidents resulted in an arrest. 

For the transition to be successful, the education department will need to retrain school safety officers, especially in so-called restorative justice practices that include addressing sources of friction before they escalate, and working with both victims and the accused to develop long-term solutions, and to “foster understanding”  and “impose fair punishment.” And as principals take charge of supervising school safety, the department may also need to reduce some administrative burdens now shouldered by school administrators. 

In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, students who have spent months under lockdown have suffered increased depression and anxiety that can impede learning—the kind of trauma that most benefits from mediation by educators and counselors, and not police.

Andrea Gabor is Bloomberg Chair of Business Journalism at Baruch College/CUNY and author of After the Education Wars (The New Press, June 2018). On Twitter @aagabor.

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Pride and Ending the HIV Epidemic in New York This Year

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June is Pride month (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Octavia Leona Kohner is a former sex worker and a survivor of sexual assault. As a woman of transgender experience, she’s 49 times more likely than the general population to be HIV positive. But Octavia is HIV negative. She’s an example of the tremendous progress we’ve made in our effort to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York State -- an epidemic that has disproportionately impacted the LGBTQ community and communities of color.

Six years ago, New York set out to end HIV by 2020, and thanks to Governor Cuomo’s leadership, we are on the verge of becoming the first state in the country to do so, 10 years before the national goal of ending the epidemic by 2030. The most recent data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows that in the first half of 2019, 876 New Yorkers were newly diagnosed with HIV, down from 984 for the same time period the previous year. That’s progress we can be proud of, and Pride month is a time to celebrate our successes. But there is still more work to do.

As with COVID-19, communities of color are the hardest hit by HIV. Institutional racism and social, economic, and educational inequities lead to stark health disparities. In the first half of 2019, Black (45.8%) and Latino (37.4%) people still represent a disproportionate share of new diagnoses in New York City. And transgender people were one of the only groups to see a slight increase in new HIV diagnoses in New York City from 2017 to 2018. Most new diagnoses come from zip codes with above average levels of poverty.

The HIV and COVID-19 crises reaffirm the vital importance of fighting for health-care access,  racial justice, and health equity. For example, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication that is 99% effective in preventing HIV transmission, yet it isn’t reaching many who need it most. Medicaid Special Needs Health Plans are specifically designed to provide care to people who live with or are placed at elevated risk for HIV. Octavia is a member of Amida Care, New York’s largest Special Needs Health Plan, which connects HIV-negative members like Octavia to PrEP.

When Octavia started on PrEP, she spoke with an Amida Care pharmacist who helped dispel misinformation about the treatment and answer her questions. Some trans people fear that PrEP may interfere with or interact poorly with their hormone therapy, so having a trusted, readily available resource for accurate information is critical. Amida Care’s pharmacy team follows up regularly with Octavia to make sure she’s adhering to her treatment and responding well. She has also accessed mental health services through Amida Care.

Amida Care works closely with members to create personalized care plans based on each individual’s unique needs, connect them with culturally competent providers, and support them to stay in care and take their medications. Amida Care’s Live Your Life wellness program gives members access to free events to feel good in their own body.

Thanks to medical advancements, HIV can now be treated with just one pill a day, but many people living with HIV today are taking additional medication to manage other chronic conditions including hypertension, diabetes, depression, and addiction. Special Needs Health Plans like Amida Care provide wraparound care to ensure members get the medications they are prescribed and adhere to their personalized care plan. Amida Care also checks that there are no adverse side effects or potentially bad interactions of multiple prescribed medications, and helps to streamline administrative processes for providers.

Pharmacy care management is critical to improving health outcomes, avoiding costly hospitalizations and reducing the number of new HIV diagnoses. As a result, many people living with HIV have become healthier and virally suppressed, which means they are unable to sexually transmit HIV to others. The viral load suppression rate among Amida Care members in 2005 was 60% -- today it’s 80%.

Octavia has not only remained HIV negative, but she works to encourage others to consider PrEP and take control of their sexual health. She’s found a community that supports her in living her most authentic life, and she works to support others as a gender and sexuality consultant. 

We have made great progress toward reaching our goal of ending the HIV epidemic in New York. Special Needs Health Plans will continue to do our part - through the end of 2020 and beyond - by working in the hardest hit communities and improving health outcomes for all. 

Doug Wirth is the President and CEO of Amida Care. On Twitter @AmidaCareNY.

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Ensuring the COVID-19 Response Prioritizes the Needs of Vulnerable New Yorkers

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Front-line workers (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the fragility of our region. It has compromised our physical and mental health, caused unprecedented disruption to our economy, and created a deep uncertainty about our future.

Across the state, the pandemic has revealed how inequitably our communities are prepared to cope with an emergency of this magnitude. The Department of Health in New York City released data reflecting an alarming nationwide trend: vulnerable groups such as low-income individuals, senior citizens, and people of color are suffering from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates.

This is due not only to unequal access to health care, but also to an intersecting web of social disadvantages that form the most pervasive preconditions for any disease. Food insecurity, poverty, and housing instability are felt most acutely in the communities where the COVID-19 outbreak has struck the hardest.

As we consider the long road to recovery from this crisis, one thing is certain: we have an obligation to close the health-care gap in our state and create the conditions for a system that works better for all New Yorkers. 

Preventing this kind of pandemic in the future will require a response beyond a vaccine. We must make holistic investments to address the full spectrum of health care and health-related requirements facing our most vulnerable.

What can be done?

The good news is that this crisis has revealed our capacity to help those in need.

Hundreds of organizations across our state are dedicated to serving the diverse, health, and health-related essentials of vulnerable New Yorkers. These health-care providers, nonprofits, and community groups represent a broad coalition addressing the full scope of the need throughout our state. They require our support now more than ever.

As New York's largest health-care foundation, we at the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation are in a unique position to provide ongoing support to community-based initiatives that keep people safe and fed, help them return to work, and support healthy lifestyles.

On March 31, 131 years to the day Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini arrived in New York City and rolled up her sleeves to care for the poorest New Yorkers, we announced $50 million in emergency grants to address the many health-related needs of New Yorkers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In early May we issued our first round of emergency funding, nearly half of the $50 million allocation. We supported programs and workers at more than 100 organizations who, like our namesake, have rolled up their sleeves to provide immediate, essential services: personal protective equipment for health-care and social-service workers, emergency supplies at food banks and pantries, and hazard and/or overtime pay to frontline, direct-service health-care workers.

These organizations include the Food Bank of Central New York, Home Care Association of New York State, Catholic Charities Brooklyn Queens, JASA, Citymeals on Wheels, Iroquois Healthcare Association Inc., Circulo de la Hispanidad, Mental Health Associates of Franklin County, and the Greater New York Hospital Foundation.

Their efforts are saving lives.

As we begin the long recovery from COVID-19, we can also help save lives by supporting policies and programs across New York State that address the broader factors that exacerbated this public health crisis, especially among lower-income communities, communities of color, and elderly populations.

Looking to our soon-to-be-announced second round of emergency funding, the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation knows that health care is the sum of many factors. Our mandate has never been more urgent.

Moments of crisis don’t only beget immediate danger; they also offer long-term opportunity.

Ours now is to take decisive action to create a more equitable healthcare landscape. We must ensure that the most vulnerable and fragile among us aren’t forced to bear the brunt of the next crisis, and that all New Yorkers can enjoy healthier, more prosperous lives.

A small nun, Mother Cabrini left a large legacy. She and her sisters addressed immediate needs by standing in the backs of churches to hand out food, clothing, and supplies to families living in poverty. Beyond this, she had an expansive vision that included the founding of schools and orphanages to prepare the vulnerable to survive in a system that would not always catch them were they to fall.

We honor Mother Cabrini's legacy when we put into practice what she has taught by supporting both immediate and broader health needs through nutrition, housing, education, and employment programs that will outlive this deadly virus for generations to come.

Msgr. Gregory Mustaciuolo is Chief Executive Officer of the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, a private, nonprofit organization based in New York City and supporting programs throughout New York State. On Twitter @cabrinihealthNY.

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