We all acknowledge the importance of preserving the character of our communities by fighting development that threatens to overbuild them and take away our air and light. But one other element essential to maintaining the character of our neighborhoods is too often overlooked- that is, the mixture of people and commercial establishments that give each neighborhood its unique character and flavor.
In order to maintain this mix, the neighborhood must remain economically accessible to individuals and business owners from a range of backgrounds. Unfortunately, we face a crisis of affordability in several sectors of our economy and the ramifications for all of us are quite profound. Even if you are personally able to absorb the ballooning gas prices and have a stable living situation, you are going to feel the impact of people being priced out of our neighborhoods. When affordable housing units are lost, our community loses the teachers, emergency service personnel and artists who depend on this housing and are committed and active members of the neighborhood.
It is also essential to our community to have people of varied backgrounds capable of opening businesses that meet the diverse needs of a vital community. Whether it is the neighborhood pharmacy, the dry cleaner or the deli that is open all night, they provide services that are essential in residential neighborhoods. Yet, due to the increasing popularity of the neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan and the resulting spike in commercial rents, too many of our streets are being homogenized with chain stores and high-end shops. But men and women cannot live by couture alone. It is in all of our best interests to maintain the mom and pop shops that meet the everyday needs of New York City residents.
While those who favor smaller government are seeking less oversight and freedom from regulation, not all regulation is inappropriate. The increased power problems and decreased accountability that has resulted from deregulation exemplifies this point. There has been and will always be a role for government and the community to speak up for the common good and protect the public from the consequences of rapacious greed. Indeed, the robber barons of the early 20th Century developed essential industries, but this service could not excuse the abuse of their power to control and manipulate markets. Likewise, the most recent corporate escapades of Enron or WorldCom have shown that the need for vigilance remains.
In New York, many developers obtain various tax incentives or abatements which are applied to the creation of housing that is far beyond the means of average New Yorkers. There is something dreadfully perverse about providing incentives and supports for major development while small businesses that are so important to our neighborhoods continue to struggle and average New Yorkers are left by the wayside. We must not stand idly by as low-wage earners work 40 hours a week yet are still eligible for food stamps and remain just a paycheck away from homelessness. We also must not allow masses of people to be left in the dark for days without adequate or honest information to allow them to make reasonable plans for their safety and comfort.
To be sure, government can and must continue to ensure that both public and private interests be accountable, but this is a shared responsibility. I am fortunate to represent people who were informed and engaged in the world around them. Our collaborative efforts will be needed to preserve our community.
PRESERVING AFFORDABLE HOUSING
I am very concerned about the continued loss of affordable housing in New York City. In addition to working with individual constituents to resolve their housing issues, testifying at hearings to encourage limited rent increases for rent-controlled and rent-stabilized tenants, and communicating with the Mayor regarding the need to preserve existing affordable housing units in addition to building new ones, I have been working to end what I consider to be a tremendous threat to affordable housing citywide.
An increasing number of ill-intentioned landlords have sought to evict their rent-stabilized tenants by applying to the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) to “demolish” a residential building. In reality, the owners plan only to renovate the buildings so they can use the premises for market rate housing, extended-stay hotels or other high-profit ventures that are not financially accessible to the majority of New Yorkers. The Legislature never intended that the demolition provision in the Rent Stabilization Law, which permits the eviction of rent-regulated tenants, be used in this way. Demolition was intended only to allow owners to replace dilapidated and dangerous housing with new, safe housing.
To combat these “phony demolitions,” I have been working with Councilmember Rosie Mendez and a coalition of elected officials and community groups from throughout the city. In addition to helping the coalition organize a press conference to bring attention to the issue, I introduced legislation that would clarify the meaning and intent of demolition within the Rent Stabilization Law and require that there be a public hearing held by DHCR before approving demolition applications. I am hopeful that this important legislation will become law next year.
The lack of affordable housing in New York City is a growing problem that is forcing people to move out of the city. The Mayor, Governor and the housing agencies they control must take real actions to preserve the city’s current stock of affordable housing. I will continue to do all I can to ensure that they do so.
Once again, the Assembly and Senate proved they could work well together to address budgetary and programmatic issues by passing another on-time budget. Both houses also overrode a number of the Governor’s vetoes on important budgetary and legislative issues. Unfortunately, as of the writing of this update, it is unclear whether the Governor will in fact implement these overrides.
There are a couple of bright lights in this year’s budget that the Legislature fought for and which escaped vetoes. I am particularly pleased that we were able to include $631 million more in education funding than the Governor’s proposed budget. In the end, we are providing a record increase of $1.36 billion in funding for New York’s school children, including a nearly 7 percent increase in formula-based school aid. In addition, the budget addresses the Campaign for Fiscal Equity’s lawsuit, which ordered the state to provide more financial support for New York City Schools. Through the Assembly’s Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning (EXCEL) program, we met the capital funding requirements of the CFE decision by providing $2.6 billion for capital construction. This means that every school district in the state will receive more funding.
I am also pleased that we were able to make permanent the elimination of sales tax on clothing and footwear under $110. This is a win for both consumers and retailers. Struggling working families will be able to see their dollars go further and retailers will be able to attract additional shoppers because, unlike businesses in other states, they will charge no sales tax.
In another victory, despite the Governor’s attempts to once again utilize assistance for the neediest New Yorkers as a bargaining chip for his priorities, the Assembly was able to secure $101 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds desperately needed for homeless prevention, supportive housing, education and training and English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. The Assembly refused to allow the Governor to tie the allocation of this funding to his completely unrelated desire to raise the cap on charter schools, which are unproven by almost all measures and take funding from the larger public school system. In the end, the Assembly’s firm stand resulted in the release of the TANF funds, a major victory for low-income working families.
On another positive note, the budget included an increase in Environmental Protection Fund monies from $150 million to $225 million. These funds are used to acquire new land for parks and conserve existing land. I am thrilled that $5 million of these funds has been earmarked for the continued construction of the Hudson River Park.
Social Services Committee Update
As Chair of the Assembly Social Services Committee, I have focused on evaluating the impact of welfare reform on New York’s low-income population. While there has been a significant 61 percent decline in the state’s welfare caseload between 1994 and 2004, this figure does not tell the whole story. The success of welfare reform cannot be measured simply by considering the number of people moved off of the welfare rolls. The real goal of welfare reform should be to reduce poverty and promote long-term self-sufficiency for the most vulnerable populations, and welfare reform’s success must be measured against this goal.
In assessing how far New York State has advanced toward this goal, I held public hearings and focus groups of experts on this issue. This information, together with information from research studies, formed the background for a 2006 Social Services Committee report, “An Evaluation of Welfare Reform Policy in New York State.” Our pivotal conclusion was that low-income families cannot work their way out of poverty and achieve self-sufficiency through low-wage employment. The difficulties in making ends meet on income earned through minimum- or low-wage work are overwhelming and sometimes impossible, even for the most diligent workers. Especially for workers who do not receive benefits such as health care or sick leave, just one medical or other emergency can cause major hardship, leading to extraordinary debt, the loss of their job or homelessness.
In order to rise above poverty and achieve long-term independence, individuals require significant opportunities to achieve career advancement and higher earnings. Greater access to private sector jobs that pay a living wage with benefits, along with enhanced vocational training and academic programs, are critical to advancement. To this end, I have fought for and achieved a number of successes, including the continuation of TANF block grant-funded programs for low-income families and those in receipt of public assistance, such as basic education, English as a Second Language (ESL) and emergency homeless services. I have also advanced legislation to expand access to basic education and literacy programs and to enable public assistance recipients to earn their way out of poverty. Furthermore, since such a large portion of the population in need of public benefits has a mental or physical disability, I have advanced measures to ensure that disabled individuals are protected from potentially harmful work placements and to maximize their opportunity to obtain federal disability benefits. As a result of my report, legislation is currently in development to require local social services districts to tailor career plans to the unique needs and abilities of each public assistance recipient and focus on improving the recipient’s ability to obtain employment in a position that pays a sustainable living wage. Unfortunately, as detailed in the Budget Roundup in this newsletter, many of these key programs are at risk because of the Governor’s misguided and short-sighted budget actions.
ENSURING ACCOUNTABILITY AT THE SLA
While a majority of establishments with licenses to serve alcohol and beer operate as good neighbors, there are some establishments which have caused numerous problems for their neighbors. In some instance, licensees have allowed their patrons to become disorderly and repeatedly disturb the neighborhoods in which they are located. In others, loud music emanating from the establishments prevents residents from getting a good night’s sleep. When making licensing decisions, the SLA must provide neighborhood residents an adequate opportunity to comment on establishments and ultimately take into account whether owners have been good neighbors. This year, I introduced a number of pieces of legislation to this end.
I am proud that the State Legislature made my Problem Bar Task Force bill into law by overriding Governor Pataki’s veto of the bill. This measure will make the SLA more responsive to the views of the community by creating a task force within the SLA to fully investigate community complaints about specific establishments. In New York City, the bill mandates that the task force conduct a prompt investigation of any establishment that a community board reports as a significant threat to the public safety. Through this process, the community will be able to point the SLA to problematic establishments, even though they may not be up for a liquor license renewal. Unfortunately, the Governor has indicated that he may not implement this and other laws that the Legislature passed over his veto, but I will do all that is within my power to ensure implementation of this important measure.
I also introduced two measures to improve notice to the community of liquor license applications or renewals and to provide community members with an adequate opportunity to comment on them. A.10050 would mandate that community boards be provided direct notice from the SLA of applications for liquor license renewals. In addition, the measure would require the SLA to create a form upon which community boards can record their comments and requires that the form become part of the official records and be considered by the SLA in its deliberations. A second measure, A.10049, would improve public notice of liquor license applications and renewals, especially to an establishment’s immediate neighbors, by requiring owners to post notice at the establishment’s entrance that they have applied for a new or renewal liquor license for the location. The notice must include details such as the use and capacity of the establishment, details of the hearing and how individuals can submit comments on the application to the SLA.
Finally, without being a resident of New York City, it is difficult to fully appreciate the issues caused by problem establishments in our densely-developed, mixed-use neighborhoods. For this reason and also because a substantial portion of all liquor license applications and renewals are for New York City establishments, I have advocated that one of the SLA’s three Commissioners be a resident of New York City and introduced legislation making this a requirement. I am pleased that these actions, along with intense pressure from residents throughout my district, finally resulted in the appointment of an SLA Commissioner from New York City. I am hopeful that this appointment, along with other recent SLA actions, is an indication that the SLA is finally becoming more responsive to the needs of New York City residents.
CONTINUING THE PUSH FOR MARRIAGE EQUALITY
I was extremely disappointed by the New York State Court of Appeals’ decision regarding marriage for same-sex couples. The plurality opinion was poorly reasoned and incredibly misinformed. While it was indeed a setback for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and everyone who is committed to civil rights for all, I am confident that this decision will ultimately serve to make the LGBT community and its allies even more determined than before to make marriage equality a reality.
The plurality opinion was flawed on the most basic level. For example, their deliberate choice to utilize the term “sexual preference” rather than sexual orientation signals their failure to understand the widely-accepted reality that homosexuality is an immutable characteristic, not a choice. For years, the State Legislature has passed measures, such as the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, signaling its appreciation of this fact. Unfortunately, the court chose to disregard that basic legislative history.
In the end, because of the language and justification the Court used, the decision may very well have negative ramifications in areas beyond marriage equality, jeopardizing important principles of New York law concerning free speech, freedom of the press, and other civil liberties. Therefore, in addition to continuing to impress upon my colleagues the importance of marriage for same-sex couples and the need to publicly support this basic civil right, I will be vigilant during the next legislative session for actions that seek to infringe on our civil rights as a result of this decision.
The LGBT community and its allies have much work to do in securing passage of legislation permitting marriage of same-sex couples. I have no doubt that I, along with other members of the LGBT community and our supporters, will eventually be successful in convincing a majority of Assemblymembers and Senators to publicly support marriage equality. I am also certain that one day in the not-too-distant future, all individuals will be able to marry the person they love.
|HEALTH CARE UPDATES|
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
As with any illness, when breast cancer is caught early, treatment is most successful. For this reason, clinical breast exams and mammograms are important tools in the early detection and treatment of breast cancer. While all women should get a clinical breast exam every one to three years, women age 40 and older should also get a mammogram every one to two years.
Fortunately, Medicare and many private insurance companies cover the cost of both clinical exams and mammograms. But if you do not have insurance or your insurance does not cover mammograms, there are facilities and organizations which offer free or low-cost mammograms. Among these:
In addition, numerous organizations and facilities offer free mammograms during the month of October. Please contact my office for a list of these screenings.
Hospital Quality Measures Now Online
As a result of legislation spearheaded by the Assembly, there is a new resource available to help individuals make better informed choices about their medical care. A New York State Department of Health website, http://hospitals.nyhealth.gov, launched in January provides quality-of-care measures for hospitals throughout the state. The website is still in development but currently allows consumers to review and compare data for individual hospitals by health condition, surgical procedure or specialty designations, such as a stroke or burn center. In the future, the website will include additional features, such as summaries of hospital complaint and citation data and results from patient satisfaction surveys.
State Hospital Complaint Line Launched
Unfortunately, even in the best healthcare facilities, patients may have complaints about the care that they or a family member received. While the patient is still in the hospital, you should ask to speak to either a hospital administrator or the hospital’s ombudsman, a hospital employee whose duty it is to assist patients and their caretakers in resolving care issues. If you were not able to satisfactorily resolve your issue with the administration or ombudsman while in the hospital, you can call the Department of Heath’s new hospital complaint line to make a formal complaint. The hotline, (800) 804-5447, is available from Monday through Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Each complaint that is made is documented by the Department of Health and assigned to department inspectors who undertake on-site investigations of the most serious allegations.
NEIGHBORHOOD PRESERVATION VICTORIES
The architecture of the Far West Village is a reminder that the story of New York City cannot be told only through its skyscrapers and mansions but must include the docks, factories and historic residences located in neighborhoods like the Far West Village. As a longtime advocate for the preservation of the Village and other historic neighborhoods of Lower Manhattan, I am thrilled to report significant victories in the campaign to save the Far West Village. The City, in response to intense community pressure, has downzoned and landmarked much of this beautiful and unique neighborhood.
Specifically, a new historic district has been created on Weehawken Street and the existing Greenwich Village Historic district has been extended eastward three blocks between Christopher Street and Perry Street. Furthermore, much of the neighborhood has been rezoned with more sensible height limits. While I am disappointed that an even greater portion of the Far West Village was not protected, I believe that, together, these actions will help protect the low-rise historic character of the neighborhood.
There will always be aggressive developers looking to build bigger and bigger, so we must always remain vigilant about protecting our neighborhoods. The Far West Village victories are testament to what can happen when residents, block associations, community groups and elected officials all work aggressively together to protect their neighborhood. I am hopeful that my current work with the residents of the East Village and Tribeca to protect their neighborhoods will end in similar victories.