June is a busy month at City Hall as the City Council and the Administration negotiate the details of the budget. I'm relieved to report that the negotiations are concluded and we've returned our focus to legislation and the district. Hope you enjoy reading about the details here.
BUDGET – Our Neighborhood
Each year Council Members citywide allocate funds to infrastructure projects and programs in their district, and I'm excited to share with you the newly funded projects and programs for our neighborhood.
Infrastructure (capital) funding will reach our schools, parks, and local cultural institutions. You can find the full list here but just to name a few: school projects include a yard upgrade at the Brandeis High School complex, renovation of the auditorium at P.S. 166, a renovation of the Kindergarten yard at PS 75, and – voted on by Upper West Side residents during the Participatory Budget (PB) process – the creation of library space at P.S. 191. Riverside Park will get a plow and pick up for trash collection, which can serve as a snow plow for our local school yards in the winter; an upgrade to Joan of Arc island; reconstruction of the 101st street basketball court and the stairs leading to the soccer field; and picnic tables, another PB project voted on by you. Wise Towers public housing will receive funding to renovate their basketball courts, which are currently in such disrepair as to be useless, and some public housing buildings will receive security cameras as well.
Programming (expense) funds include monies for after-school programs, senior centers, public school enrichment programs, affordable housing clinics, free legal services for residents, support for our community gardens, and free concerts in the neighborhood. You can see the full list of funded projects for our district here, and you can learn more about the City's budget process here.
BUDGET – Citywide
Left: The window of Council Member Helen Rosenthal's District Office. Right: A message of support from a client of the food pantry at the West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH).
The $82.1 billion NYC budget approved by the City Council this week is one that is fiscally responsible and provides needed services for all New Yorkers. The budget provides funding for some programs that I and advocates throughout the City have supported for years, including: annual funding for 6-day service at all local public libraries, an increase in the Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP), and an increase in the number of Summer Youth Jobs. For those who have passed by my office and seen all the paper plates that lined the windows, you have seen our efforts as part of a citywide campaign to focus attention on the hungry. One of our local food pantries, The Westside Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH), participated in the campaign, and those plates represented the pleas of people who rely on our food pantries to feed their families. EFAP funding was increased by $4 million to a total of $16 million for next year. After adding 1,300 new police officers in last year's budget, it was critical that we secured funding for youth community services. Providing job opportunities for our youth is one of the most effective ways to combat crime, so the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) will receive additional funds to provide 10,000 more summer jobs, 1,000 more year-around jobs, and a study to thoroughly assess the best programs to engage our youth and proactively address crime prevention.
Helen and human service workers at a rally calling for more funding for nonprofits that provide social services through contracts with the City (May 26, 2016).
I am disappointed that this budget did not address the need to fully fund providers of essential social services. Programs that deliver critical services like early childhood education, after school programs, senior services, homeless services, and mental healthcare for New Yorkers are dangerously underfunded. While Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration is the first to take steps to improve the situation by increasing the minimum wage for contracted workers to $15 an hour and adding a managerial Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) of 2.5%, these programs need additional funding to cover increased costs of rent, health insurance, and IT upgrades – which are key to administering any program. Learn more about the issue from a conversation I had with Allison Sesso, Executive Director of the Human Services Council, and Fred Shack, CEO of Urban Pathways, on an episode of Represent NYC on Manhattan Neighborhood Network; coverage in Gotham Gazette, Manhattan Express, and City & State; and the press release from our rally on the steps of City Hall.
The Fresh Food for Seniors program is back! Seniors can order a bag of fresh produce, locally grown in New York and Pennsylvania, for $8 a bag. The program makes it easy for seniors to access fresh, healthy fruits and veggies, and it supports local farmers in the process. See the flyer for information on how to place an order.
The housing advocacy group PA'LANTE is hosting the Demystifying Housing Conference, a free, three-day conference on housing issues, with round-table talks, housing clinics, and the opportunity to meet with housing, labor, state planning, and immigration attorneys. Topics include eviction prevention, how to identify if your landlord is overcharging you, how to find an affordable apartment, and much more. The conference starts Thursday, June 16, and if you attend on Friday, I'll be on the panel discussing tax benefits for HDFCs and Co-ops – stop by and say hello!
Save the date: my office is hosting a Small Business Clinic on Monday, July 18 from 3pm-7pm at Redeemer Presbyterian Church at 150 West 83rd Street (between Columbus and Amsterdam). Small Business Services will hold workshops on lease negotiations, neighborhood best practices, and business violations. The Departments of Health, Environmental Protection, and Sanitation as well as pro bono business attorneys will be on hand to answer your questions. Look for our flyer soon.
Crime continues to decline on the Upper West Side and throughout New York City. While the few incidents that do occur tend to attract attention, the trends could not be clearer: crime and especially violent crime remain exceedingly rare on the Upper West Side. Overall levels are at historic lows – between our neighborhood's two precincts (the 20th and the 24th), overall crime has fallen again so far this year, marking a significant improvement over even five years ago. Property crimes, like the theft of unattended items or the theft of credit card information, remain the most common challenge, although even these crimes are low compared to historic standards. Citywide, murders are down more than 10%, and shootings have fallen by more than 18%, even as some other cities across the country have seen an uptick. I want to thank our local police officers for the tremendous work they do keeping us safe. Be sure to check out the Twitter pages for the 20th and 24th for the latest updates and crime prevention tips.
If you're looking for an affordable apartment to rent, apply for the affordable housing lottery for 555 Tenth Avenue (at 41st Street). The building has two pools (!), a bowling alley, and many other amenities, and it's only available to residents who fall within these income requirements. Applications must be postmarked or submitted online no later than July 6, so don't delay! Apply here.
Thanks to her tireless and innovative work, PS 9 Principal Kate Witzke is a finalist for the $25,000 Elizabeth Rohatyn Prize for Schools Where Teaching Matters grant. The grant supports schools that develop unique programming for teachers to help their students thrive. PS 9 earned its spot as a finalist for its Peer Collaboration Initiative, where teachers learn from each other to learn, improve, and apply best practices in a variety of areas. Voting is open until 5pm Friday, June 17th. Show your support and vote!
As of June 1, U.S. veterans and people with disabilities are eligible to receive a yearlong membership at Parks Department Recreation Centers for only $25 a year. (Youth under 18 have access for free!) The Rec Center in our neighborhood is on 60th between Amsterdam and West End Avenue, is accessible, and has a pool and accessible fitness equipment among other amenities. Learn more.
Rent-stabilization is a critical tool for those who need affordable housing. Be sure to testify at the Rent Guidelines Board hearings on Monday, June 20th and Tuesday, June 21st. The Board will consider public testimony as it determines the rent increase for one- and two-year leases for rent-stabilized tenants. Learn more here.
Earlier this week the Department of Transportation presented a proposal for a street redesign for the West 60s to Community Board 7. If you missed it, you can see the plan online here.
Helen and the 24th Precinct NYPD Explorers at Love Your Tree Day 2015 (May 2, 2015)
The 24th Precinct’s NYPD Explorers program is looking for support as they plan their trip to the National Conference in Arizona next month. The mission of the NYPD Explorers is to connect young adults with their local police precinct through community service and outreach. The NYPD coordinating officers help the teens develop interpersonal and career skills. My office partners with our local Explorers whenever possible – they've spruced up the front of my office and helped distribute holiday gifts to those in need. The National Conference is an extraordinary opportunity for the Explorers to showcase their skills, interact with peers from across the nation, and learn more about potential career paths. If you’re interested in becoming a supporter, contact the 24th Precinct at (212) 678-1811 for more information.
This week the Mayor signed into law the Criminal Justice Reform Act, a package of bills that will open the door for some low level, non-violent offenses to be written up as civil offenses instead of criminal offenses. They include open containers of alcohol; parks rules like being in a park after hours, walking on newly-seeded grass, and feeding animals; public urination; littering; and unreasonable noise. These offenses will still be illegal, and the police will still enforce them. With this legislation, offenders won't have to show up for court; they can pay their fine online or "appear" in court by phone. A missed court date no longer results in an arrest warrant. Most importantly, these low level, non-violent offenses don't result in a permanent record and won't impact someone's ability to get a job, apply to college, or apply for financial aid.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton supports these changes because they give officers additional tools to respond to each situation appropriately. Rather than limiting officers to issuing criminal violations for an "open container," for example, the police will have the latitude to issue a criminal or civil violation. Over the coming months, the NYPD will devise guidelines about when officers should issue a civil or criminal summons for these offenses, and the guidelines will be made public. Most of the bills won't go into effect for another year. When they do, it is likely that over 100,000 cases a year will go to civil court instead of criminal court, almost 10,000 people a year won't have a permanent criminal record, and over 50,000 warrants a year won't be issued. You can learn more about the reforms in The New York Times and in my op-ed in the West Side Spirit.
The New York Times is running its Seventh Annual Summer Reading Contest for 13-19 year-olds. With so much going on in the world, it's a great way for teens to stay engaged. I'm looking forward to reading what they find interesting!