Tag Archives: City Council

Advocates Approve of Proposals to Reduce City Homelessness

Published in City & State

The Department of Homeless Services is making some changes in their strategy to reduce homelessness in New York City, and homeless advocates approve. DHS presented their 2015 budget to City Hall last Monday, and outlined new focuses and funding, including prioritizing specific groups to help move out of the shelter system, capping payments to cluster sites at $1500 a month, and using NYCHA as a low-cost solution to homeless family placement.

The groups being prioritized by the DHS are “vulnerable populations,” which include homeless families who have been to a shelter more than once, and “working families” that live in a shelter and work full time.

In the 2015 budget, $60.1 million will be directed specifically to vulnerable populations by reducing reimbursement rates for landlords of cluster sites and hotels, capping those reimbursement rates at $1500 per unit per month.  Cluster-sites are units for the homeless in otherwise market-rate apartment buildings, effectively acting as a satellite shelter. They are similar to former “scatter-sites,” which were widely criticized and all but disappeared under Bloomberg, only to reemerge with a new name, and enhanced social services.

The $1500 cap is a major break from the recent history of homeless policy; several homeless advocates interviewed say the average amount received by a cluster-site unit is roughly $3,000 a month. Many of the cluster sites are located in neighborhoods where a unit’s market rate would be far below that number. At the hearing last week, newly appointed DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor noted that the vast majority of DHS shelters are contracted out to private providers.

Patrick Markee, a senior policy analyst for the Coalition for the Homeless, applauded the price cap.

“The city actually pays $3,000 a month to use apartments as temporary shelter, a complete waste of money and totally misguided, that the Bloomberg administration expanded to record levels,” Markee said. “If what they can do [is] reduce the payments to cluster-site landlords and reinvest that money into rent subsidy, that’s one step towards moving in the right direction.”

The Working Families Rental Assistance Program will provide 801 families annually with a 3-year housing subsidy, with an option to renew after 5 years.  The program will receive $80 million over four years, with the City and State each contributing 50% of the funding. 2015 gives the program $6 million, with planned increases the following 3 years. At the City Council hearing, Taylor acknowledged that 801 was a small number, but by focusing on a group disposed to better support themselves, DHS might show the State a high success rate to expand the program in the future.

“Targeting working families is a great idea,” said Ralph Da Costa Nunez, president and CEO of the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness. “The problem with the Bloomberg administration is that they just threw vouchers out there and created chaos…targeting working families is the way to go. … You’re going to shoot for your best opportunity to move families out that will stay out.”

City Council members were particularly interested in the use of NYCHA housing to help stem the rising tide of homelessness, describing it as not only the cheapest solution to New York City homelessness, but one that wouldn’t require State funding and approval.

Under the current plan, homeless families that are already on the waiting list for public housing with be prioritized.  Those families will then get follow-up services from DHS. Representatives from the DHS and NYCHA would not say how many homeless families would be moved to the top of the list.

Advocates note that NYCHA was a major hallmark of the homeless policy in New York City under the four Mayors before Bloomberg, and hope it will be used more rigorously under de Blasio.

As of March 2014, there are 247,262 families on the waiting list for NYCHA’s Conventional Public Housing program. As of January 2014, the vacancy rate of NYCHA apartments available for occupancy was 0.95 percent.

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Filed under City Council, Homelessness, NYCHA

City Council Hears Concerns on Municipal IDs, Implementation

Published in City & State

The New York City Council Committee on Immigration, led by Councilman Carlos Menchaca, held a hearing Wednesday on the proposal to create a municipal identification card program for New York City residents. The proposal has the strong support of the Mayor’s office, and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito was highly confident the bill would pass the Council.

“This hearing is the first step towards achieving that ultimate goal of the largest municipal ID program in this country … Let it be clear that this is a priority for this City Council, and we will have municipal IDs in this city,” Mark-Viverito said.

The ID program is aimed at benefiting vulnerable populations, including immigrants, the transgendered and the homeless. There was widespread agreement, however, that the card must be widely adopted by all New Yorkers in order to avoid stigmatizing users who otherwise would not qualify for more traditional forms of ID, particularly when those users might be from populations that already suffer social scrutiny.

Testimony from City Council members and representatives of non-profit groups like the Immigration Coalition and the New Economy Project offered a range of ideas about how to make the card appealing to everyone. These ideas included store discounts and affiliations with banking institutions. Councilman Antonio Reynoso even proposed that children as young as twelve should be eligible to receive an ID.

Bryan Ellicott, a transgendered man, talked about the importance of male and female designation on the cards. He suggested in his testimony that rather than requiring proof of sex reassignment surgery, transgendered people could instead provide a letter from a therapist or doctor prescribing hormone replacements. He said the only way to change one’s designation with the state currently is to spend upward of $30,000 on surgeries.

San Francisco, a city that has already created its own municipal ID program, has done away with gender identifiers on its IDs altogether. Ellicott, who represented only himself at the hearing, not any particular LGBTQ organization, disagreed with this approach.

“I don’t support that at all. New York State has me walking around with a female gender marker on my ID. I would like a male one,” Ellicott said.

Mindy Tarlow, director of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, and Nisha Agarwal from the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, testified about the implementation of the proposed legislation, which designates the Mayor’s Office of Operations as the administering agency for the ID program.

“The process for applying for a municipal ID card will be similar to the DMV model. Individuals will be required to show evidence of their identify and residency by providing acceptable documents,” said Tarlow.

The cards would cost a “reasonable fee” and financial assistance would be provided for those who cannot afford the expense. Among the forms of identification that could be used to qualify are foreign passports, consular ID cards, and a copy of a foreign birth certificate.

To accommodate the homeless, the Office of Operations would be required to create alternative methods of establishing residency for people without a fixed address. The city would not be allowed to retain originals or copies of records, and all information collected would be treated as confidential.

This point was of particular concern to privacy watchdogs like the New York Civil Liberties Union.  In New Haven, the first city to create a municipal ID program, tensions arose when information about applicants was requested by anti-immigrant activists who said they would turn it over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As to how the city would go about promoting the card, Agarwal cited “social media, community and educational institutions, famous New Yorkers, foreign consulates, faith-based institutions and beyond.”

Eric Mar, of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, also testified via telephone. He explained how his city rolled out its municipal ID program in 2009.

San Francisco’s ID cards cost $15 and individuals can quality for discounts. Mar said that the San Francisco program cost roughly $828,000 to set up, and now costs around $200,000 a year to maintain, which is “roughly paid for” by the $15 fee.

New York City, of course, with a population of nearly 8.5 million people, is much bigger than San Francisco, which has around 1 million people.

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Filed under City Council, Immigration, Mayor's Office of Operatinos, Mindy Tarlow, Municipal IDs, Nisha Agarwal

City Council Speaker Announces Rules Reform, Changes to Discretionary Item Funding

On Tuesday afternoon, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced a sweeping rules reform package that included changes to member discretionary allocation for over $50 million given to the City Council to spend annually. In the proposed reforms, all discretionary spending given to City Council members will be allocated based on a “fair, objective formula that is publicly disclosed.”  That formula will include a base amount given to every City Council member, and an increase based on the number of people living in poverty in their district. The Speaker’s own discretionary funding will be limited to 50% of total discretionary member expense allocations.

Beyond the money, there will be new open data requirements for discretionary spending, the creation of a dedicated legislative drafting unit to draft legislation requested by members, a plain-language summary of bills, a written attendance policy, and a “supermajority bill sponsorship” that would require bills with 34 co-sponsors to have a Committee decide whether or not to hold a hearing.

These are major changes, and what some see as a response to the politically-motivated allocation practices of former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

The mood in the City Council’s Red Room was celebratory, with many Council Members thanking Speaker Mark-Viverito for making good on her election promises, and seemingly acting against her own self-interest allocate the money.  “This process began last fall when 34 new and returning members signed onto a platform calling for significant reforms to the Council’s rules,” said Mark-Viverito.  “What followed was an exhaustive and comprehensive top to bottom look on the Councils’ existing rules…we engaged with members so the public, good government groups… and we did a public hearing where we took hours of testimony on best practices.”

“We will take the politics out of member items,“ she said.

Councilman Brad Lander, Chair of the Rules Committee that helped develop the reforms,  (and who later in the day turned his blazer inside-out in support of Clippers players) was ebullient.  “I challenge the press and the historian here to find any set of reforms that’s more bold and comprehensive and moves the Council forward towards good government in any point in it’s history.”

Inez Barron, for her part, spoke about the Fresh Democracy Council in 2002 that tried to introduce rule reforms.  “The problem was that those that were pushed through and accepted were not embraced and not implemented, because the Speaker at that time did not embrace it. “  After the press conference, Barron was very forthcoming with her opinions about former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who removed former Councilman Charles Barron (Inez’s husband) from the Committee on Higher Education.

“Personally, the prior speaker was very vindictive, punitive, and denied the constituents of a district their fare share, so if you did not take the same position as the Speaker, you were punished…  money went to persons who lived in those districts who had residents in their district who gave graciously and abundantly to the Speaker. So it was a reflection more of a political debt in terms of financial support …My predecessor Councilmember Charles Barron [Councilwoman Barron’s husband] didn’t get as much from the speaker, but he was resourceful enough and persistent enough to reach out to other agencies to get them to buy into projects that he wanted to have in his district.”

Councilmember Fernando Cabrera, whose district is in the Bronx, agreed with that assessment, and emphasized the socioeconomic implications of these reforms.  “I represent the 5th poorest district in the entire city and if you look at the allocations… [the] cost of speaking up on certain issues that differed with the previously speaker was penalized, and actually it wasn’t me who got penalized, it was the constituents.”

Dick Dadey, the Executive Director of the non-profit citizen’s Union, was positive about the proposed reforms. “Today’s proposed rules reform will do much to change the way in which the council operates.  It will be a much more democratically run…and allow members to be able to represent better their constituents, and result in more equitable distribution of funds for al the neighborhoods of the city as well as allow members to advocate and push for legislation that serves the needs of their districts.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio is known to be against discretionary item funding.  City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito disagrees.  “I’ve been a very, very strong a defender…of the discretionary allocations.  We see it as a reinvestment of taxpayer’s dollars in our districts.  These go to organizations that employ locally, that provide very grassroots community based services…so we’re going to continue to make that case, and that’s what’s going to be part of our conversation with the Mayor.”

Another public hearing about the rules reforms will be held on May 7th.






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Filed under City Council, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Money

City Council Proposes More Disclosure on Independent Expenditure

On Friday afternoon, the Government Operations Subcommittee of the City Council met to discuss the issue of the moment – money in politics. Yesterday, a federal judge struck down New York State’s limit on contributions to independent groups that support political candidates. Previously, New York put a $150,000 limit on such contributions. The tone in City Council was somber about the decision as Council Members considered several bills to make campaign disclosures more transparent. “Transparency may be the only safeguard that we have against the potentially corrupting influence of money,” said Councilmember Ritchie Torres. Representatives from the Campaign Finance Board testified, as well as the League of Women Voters, and Common Cause. Amy Loprest from CFB spoke about Proposition 148-A, a bill that would increase independent expenditure disclosure requirements. “During the 2013 elections, ‘Jobs for New York’ spent more than 4.9 million…for the average voter looking at a mailing for the group…nothing about it’s name would indicate that it was backed by contributions for the real estate industry,” she said. “The goal here is to provide disclosure, not to discourage independent expenditures” said Councilmember Brad Lander, a sponsor of 148-A. “I wouldn’t mind if we had some other way to discourage independent expenditures, but the goal of this legislation is to encourage disclosure.”

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Filed under Campaign Finance Board, City Council, Elections, Money

Domino Moves forward with 70% AMI, 24% Affordable Housing

On Thursday afternoon, a City Council subcommittee voted on the proposed Domino Sugar Refinery redevelopment.  17 members voted yes, with 1, Councilwoman Inez Barron, abstaining.  According to Councilmember Stephen Levin, negotiations between the City Council and the Mayor’s office went late into the night, and the vote that was supposed to take place this morning did not happen until after 2 pm in the afternoon.

City Councilmember David Greenfield explained the changes that have taken place to the Domino development between the April 1st hearing, and the subcommittee vote on Thursday.

The main changes are that we now have guaranteed levels of affordability that we did not have before, and we have guarantees from the administration that all of the affordable housing will on average be below 70% of the AMI, which is reflective of the affordability and the means of that particular community.  But for that, it could have been much higher. It could have been as much as 125%. …the community [also] now has guaranteed input through the modifications that we made…those are really the two most significant changes….there  will also be larger mix of larger units.  There will be more two and three bedroom affordable units.”

Greenfield estimates that a 70% AMI will be roughly $60,000.  Councilmember Stephen Levin who was active in the Domino negotiations and played a starring role in the April 1st hearing, sees Domino as a precedent for future major developers in the City.

“I think that one thing that the City Planning Commission and the de Blasio administration have made clear is that more is going to be expected of developers…This is in a lot of ways a groundbreaking development because of what the de Blasio administration did at the City Planning Commission… 24% of the floor area has to be affordable.  Normally that’s 20%…really upping the ante in terms of affordable housing.


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Filed under Affordable Housing, Mayor Bill de Blasio

Heard Around Town: Letitia James talks about de Blasio, Cuomo

Published in City and State

On Wednesday, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James sat down with a small group of reporters to discuss her first 100 days on the job and her vision for the office going forward. But first James is hoping that the additional funding Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed in his preliminary budget for her office remains in the final agreement. “It’s difficult to continue to operate with twenty staff members,” she said. James also emphasized she wanted to have more of a role in her old stomping ground at the City Council, hoping to “remove the divide” and play a more active role in policy. “Operating in silos will no longer continue,” James said. As for her evaluation of the mayor’s first 100 days, James was mostly complimentary, giving him a B+ grade, citing paid sick leave, stop-and-frisk reform, and universal pre-K as big wins. “Were there some missteps in Albany? Yeah. But Albany is a strange place, and they live by a different set of rules, and it’s really hard to get accustomed to those rules in your first 100 days.” Her evaluation of Governor Andrew Cuomo was considerably more brief; James noted that his polling numbers were up, and declined to comment further. 

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Filed under Budget, City Council, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio