Cities have always been the world’s nerve centers of commerce, culture, and communication. And New York is Exhibit A. We’re also a city whose people have a long and proud tradition of striving to create what Robert Kennedy once called “communities of security, achievement, and dignity.”
That’s precisely the goal of the Center for New York City Affairs: Improving the way government works with low-income communities by identifying fixable problems and practicable solutions, in areas ranging from education to immigration to child welfare.
Urban Matters is our newest outlet for ideas and insights on such issues – derived from work on the streets of New York, and from cities around the world.
By Susan J. Popkin
For more than 40 years, Chicago’s enormous public housing high-rises dominated the city’s poorest African-American neighborhoods, bringing crime and drug trafficking and blighting the lives of the families that lived in them. But 15 years ago, the City of Chicago began a remarkable odyssey that would help the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) evolve from the most dysfunctional public landlord in America to the ordinary city bureaucracy it is today.
By Flávia Leite
The New York City Council recently approved by a vote of 43-0 the de Blasio Administration’s East
Midtown rezoning plan. It marked the final step in a torturous journey begun when, in the waning days
of his mayoralty four years ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg put forward, then withdrew for lack of
political support, an earlier rezoning plan intended to modernize a 73-block business district anchored
by Grand Central Station.
By Dr. Gerald Benjamin and Karen Scharff
The New York State Constitution requires that every 20 years the people decide if a constitutional convention should be held to consider amendments to the Constitution. That decision will be made by a statewide ballot question on Election Day, Nov. 7th. If a majority votes “no,” there will be no convention; if a majority votes “yes,” three delegates from each State Senatorial district and 15 at-large statewide delegates will be elected in November 2018, and convene at the State Capitol in April 2019. Amendments adopted by a majority of the delegates will be submitted to the voters via a statewide referendum and, if approved, go into effect on the following Jan. 1st.
Life Lessons: The Difference Credible Messengers Make
By Elizabeth Walker
Mentoring programs rely on Credible Messengers to build trusting and transformative relationships with at-risk young people have proliferated, largely funded by City agencies like Department Of Probation and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The resulting mentor-mentee relationships have, in many cases, changed the trajectory of young lives.
In 2016, a group of dedicated providers linked up with a progressive funder (the Pinkerton Foundation) and The New School to develop a college-accredited training program for Credible Messengers working in youth development. Called the Institute for Transformative Mentoring (ITM).
By Sean Thomas-Breitfeld and Frances Kunreuther
The nonprofit sector is experiencing a racial leadership gap. Studies show the percentage of people of color in the executive director/CEO role has remained under 20% for the last 15 years, even as the country becomes more diverse.
By James Parrott, Ph.D.
Now that Senator Chuck Schumer helped the White House engineer legislation to lift the federal debt ceiling and fund the federal government until December, the focus in Washington shifts to tax reform. In New York City, unfortunately, no one expects much to happen soon on local tax reform – a pity, given how a highly regressive property tax system imposes a deeply unfair tax burden on low-income households.
By Juan González
In his new book, Reclaiming Gotham: Bill de Blasio and the Movement to End America's Tale of Two Cities, longtime New York journalist Juan González poses the question: Was the 2013 mayoral election “just a curious digression in the convoluted history of New York City politics, a transitory attempt to resurrect past liberal policies? Or was it something more?” Here’s his answer, excerpted with his permission from the book’s introduction.
‘It’s a Pivotal Time in Child Welfare’: A Q&A with Parent Advocate Joyce McMillan
The Center for New York City Affairs spotlighted recent dramatic surges in reports concerning child safety – which has led to more investigations of child safety, more families with child welfare cases, and more child removals to foster care.
For perspective, Kendra Hurley, a senior editor at the Center for New York City Affairs, turned to Joyce McMillan, director of programming and a parent advocate at the Child Welfare Organizing Project, which for years has spoken out about what they see as the inherent racism and destructiveness in child welfare systems.
More Jobs, Rising Wages, Broader Advances: Seven Indicators of New York’s Economic Health
By James A. Parrott, Ph.D.
New York City is in the eighth year of recovery from the 2008-09 Great Recession. This period has been one of historically strong job growth, declining unemployment, and rising minimum wages that are starting to translate into real wage and income gains.
Here are seven views of New York City’s economic health in mid-2017.
Summer Books for Serious Readers
We asked our colleagues at The New School for summer book ideas for Urban Matters readers.
Here are some suggestions.
Why Mayor de Blasio’s Homeless Plan Won’t ‘Turn the Tide’
By Ellen L. Bassuk, MD
Family homelessness in New York City has reached staggering proportions, with the average length of stay in family shelters exceeding 400 days. Given this context, we have concluded that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new plan, “Turning the Tide on Homelessness in New York City,” will not succeed.
New York City’s Flawed School Diversity Plan
By Nicole Mader and Ana Carla Sant'Anna Costa
Earlier this month, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) released a long-awaited plan designed to increase diversity in the city's public schools. The Center for New York City Affairs has crunched the numbers on these goals and found that they would not reflect meaningful, systemic change.
‘Sunset Park Connect’: A Design Strategy to Reduce School Overcrowding
By Lyric Kelkar, Eduarda Aun, and Zara Farooq
While many elementary schools in New York City face overcrowding, Sunset Park is home to some of the worst instances. Eight of 10 schools in Sunset Park are overcrowded, and some classes are held in hallways and in rooms with no windows. Sunset Park is also a diverse community of immigrants; nearly 50% of its residents are foreign-born from a multitude of countries. The languages and cultures in this neighborhood act as unifiers but also dividers. There are visible divides in Sunset Park where each ethnic group lives.
Satellite Data, Street-Level Realities:
Using ‘Stories on Air’ to Create Environmental Justice
By Lauren Atkins, Noa Bartfeld, and Haijing Zhang
The effects of air pollution have become increasingly apparent and have raised intense public concern both locally and globally. Air pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide exacerbate serious respiratory and heart diseases – the kind of chronic conditions that are the leading causes of death and disability in New York and around the world. Greenhouse gas pollutants, including carbon dioxide, contribute to global climate change.
A Healthier Brooklyn Means Better Preventive Care – and Better Lifestyle Choices
By Eric L. Adams
There are many issues facing the residents of Brooklyn – with some 2.6 million people, New York City’s most populous borough. While affordable housing and employment remain my top priorities as borough president, there is another challenge that does not get as much attention or debate that also needs greater scrutiny: public health.
The Troubling Geography of Homelessness: Shelter Locations and Family Stability
By Kendra Hurley and Kobi Loehr
Not so long ago, families who became homeless could expect to be placed in shelters in or near the neighborhoods they’d already been living in. That meant that children could easily continue to go to the schools they’d attended, and that support systems built around family, friends, neighbors, houses of worship, doctors and other community members remained intact. For many families, those days are long gone.
Homeless Kids, Damaged Lives:
Why Keeping Distressed Families Together Matters
By Bruce Cory and Kendra Hurley
Most media coverage of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recently launched effort to “turn the tide on homelessness” in New York City has focused on the heavy political lift inherent in his Administration’s plan to open 90 new homeless shelters across the city over the next five years. We also want to spotlight and encourage another new direction the Administration is taking in addressing homelessness: Efforts to end policies and practices that inadvertently weaken already fragile family structures, and instead combat the powerful disintegrative forces that homelessness often creates.
In Jail – and in Peril:
The Unfixable Environmental Hazards and Dangerous Design Flaws of Rikers Island
By The #CLOSErikers Campaign
In addition to the violence and deprivation of the jails, Rikers Island poses an unacceptable environmental risk to the individuals spending time on “Torture Island.” This risk not only impacts those being detained, but also correction staff, maintenance staff, and healthcare providers.
Greasing the City's Green Economy with Clean - Burning Biodiesel Fuel
By Marriele E. Robinson
New York City has committed to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Hitting that goal means diversifying and making more efficient the way we heat and cool the city’s nearly one million buildings, which account for some 70% of the greenhouse gases we emit. The heating fuels we use also have big impacts on our air quality and public health. And for those reasons we need to make more robust use of biodiesel heating fuel.
Will Programs That Help Vulnerable Teens Survive the Trump Administration?
By Virginia Vitzthum
Eight and a half years ago, I started work at Youth Communication, publisher of teen-written materials including Represent, a magazine by and for teens in foster care. At its most basic, Represent is a place where foster kids can go after school. On writers’ first day, I ask, “What do you want to write about?” They allude to abandonment, neglect, fights, rape, abuse, suicide attempts.
We Are Transilient
By Basil Soper and Johanna Case
In a galaxy not so far away, or more commonly known as the media, trans people are visible quite often. Their lives and too frequently their deaths, that were usually rooted in murder or suicide, are given press. On a lighter note trans people are regularly being praised for comparatively conventional things, like becoming a homecoming queen, being granted the ability to play high school sports alongside other folks of your gender, finding true love, landing an acting gig, or writing a book.
Big Storm, Small Businesses, Lost Jobs: Superstorm Sandy’s Lessons for Local Resiliency Planning
By Rachel Meltzer
In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy hit the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, devastating parts of New York City. More than 50 New Yorkers perished; many others not only lost their homes, but the services and businesses that keep their communities running.
Bike-Sharing in Bed-Stuy:
How We Helped It Get in Gear
By Tracey Capers
Five years ago, officials from New York City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) came to the community-based organization I’m part of, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (Restoration), to describe the planned rollout of a new bike share program in neighborhoods that would include Bed Stuy.
Restoring Parent Trust in Harlem’s Beleaguered Public Schools
By Clara Hemphill and Ana Carla Sant’anna Costa
Stand on the corner of 116th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem early on a school day morning, and you’ll see a steady stream of children leaving the neighborhood by bus and subway. Some parents call this daily exodus the “Harlem diaspora.” They may live in the neighborhood, but they don’t necessarily send their children to their zoned neighborhood schools.
Human Services, Poverty Wages: Ending New York State's Neglect of Its Nonprofits
By Dr. James Parrott
The substantial growth in New York’s nonprofit human services sector has come in response to a host of social, demographic, and economic changes. The State and its local governments have turned to nonprofit organizations to provide critical services for many populations, including children and those with low incomes striving to enter the middle class. These essential human services, however, come at a cost, and they should be paid for—in their entirety—by government.
The Unbanking of America – And What to Do About It: A Conversation with Lisa Servon
High monthly fees; hefty overdraft charges; other consumer-unfriendly practices: They’re ways traditional banks hurt low- and middle-income customers. And they’re why millions of Americans instead organize their financial lives around check-cashing stores and the payday lenders who make short-term, unsecured, high-interest loans.
Why Urban Resistance to the Trump Agenda Is Here to Stay
By Peter Eisinger
During the Obama years cities articulated or actively pursued policy initiatives at the vanguard of progressivism. Sometimes this was entirely consistent with Obama’s agenda (green cities, gun control) and sometimes it went beyond (the $15 minimum wage, sanctuary cities). But in general the cities were partners with Washington in the progressive project.
A ‘Student Plan’ Will Make New York Colleges Affordable
By Kevin Stump
When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed the Excelsior Scholarship plan a few weeks ago, standing alongside former Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, it demonstrated that making college affordable is good politics. The announcement also triggered a healthy and long-overdue debate on the best way to tackle the affordability crisis that either restricts access to college for those most at need or drives up student loan debt for poor and middle-class New Yorkers.
To Keep Manhattan Amazing - And Affordable - Community Buy-in on Development is Key
By Gale Brewer
Manhattan is an amazing place – a global capital of arts, culture, media, finance, and diplomacy but it also means nothing if, over time, Manhattan is only a playground for the ultra-rich. We’re starting to grow accustomed to the sight of towers full of huge ultra-luxury apartments that aren’t even lived in year-round.
How Children Pay the Price for Over-incarceration
By Leila Morsy and Richard Rothstein
As many as one in 10 African American students has an incarcerated parent. One in four has a parent who is or has been incarcerated. The discriminatory incarceration of African American parents is an important cause of their children’s lowered performance, especially in schools where the trauma of parental incarceration is concentrated.
Are Sanctuary Cities in Danger?
A Feet in 2 Worlds Podcast
“Sanctuary” communities are under attack from the White House. Under an executive order issued on January 25th, the Federal government declares that it will “to the extent consistent with law” and public safety withhold Federal grants to cities, towns, counties and states that protect undocumented immigrants from being detained and deported.
Blue Cities, Red States:
Was Trump’s Victory the Revenge of the Rural Voters?
By Bruce Cory
Donald Trump’s election as President rested on a narrow margin of fewer than 100,000 total votes in three states – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania – each containing a broad mix of big-city, small-city, suburban, and rural voters. A post-election analysis by POLITICO proclaimed “the revenge of the rural voters” in these suddenly up-for-grabs states.
'These Are People’s Lives and It Scares Me Every Day’
A Child Protective Caseworker Talks about Her Work
Recent deaths of children in families investigated by New York City child welfare services have put frontline child protective workers under intense scrutiny; last week, the City’s Department of Investigation released a report calling for improved protective services training and staffing at ACS.
From Mean Streets to Meaningful Mentoring: Becoming a Credible Messenger
By Brandon Overby
As a young boy, I was a good kid. I got good grades and was always in the top classes in school. On the other hand, things were not so good at home. The only place I felt in charge was in the streets. The streets were not kind either. In 2008, I had just turned 15 years old and my best friend was murdered right in front of his door. Soon after, I began getting involved in the justice system.
Unpaid Bills, Unmet Needs: Why Workers Need Fair Work Schedules
By Harold Stolper
Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers work in stores and restaurants across the five boroughs. Not only do these jobs typically pay low wages; many workers also don’t know from week to week—or even from day to day—when and for how many hours they’re expected to be on the job. The resulting unpredictability in incomes and schedules can make it difficult to arrange child care, create stable household budgets, and pay bills on time.
Reform or Relapse? Kids’ Medicaid Mental Health Services Hang in the Balance
By Abigail Kramer
After five years of planning and negotiation, the State’s departments of health, mental health, and substance abuse had come up with a plan to overhaul their outdated, overburdened system of mental health services for low-income kids.
It’s No Holiday for Hotel Workers When Bad Design Burdens Them
By David Brody
The hotel industry does everything in its power to make certain that guests do not have to think about the hard work involved in cleaning guest rooms. The connection between design and the concealment of housekeepers’ work is particularly significant, since it is design that manipulates our perceptions about what does or does not occur at a hotel.
Making a List, Checking It Twice: Recent Books from The New School Community
We share a far-from-exhaustive collection of intriguing works published during the past 12 months by members of the New School community. They caught our attention, and might merit yours, too.
The Fierce Urgency of Now: Five Steps to Integrate New York City Elementary Schools
By Clara Hemphill, Lydie Raschka, and Nicole Mader
In the past year, New York City officials have taken small steps to ease racial and economic integration of enrollment in several dozen of the city’s 955 public elementary schools. In August, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised a “bigger vision” focused on such efforts. To date, however, his administration has yet to come up with a plan for larger-scale efforts to diversify enrollment among the city’s notoriously segregated schools.
Why Child Protective Investigations Can Make Parents Fearful and Put Kids at Risk
By Jeanette Vega
In many big cities the number of children entering foster care has dropped dramatically while the number of families receiving support services has grown. But across the country, just as many families continue to be the subject of child protective investigations; across the country, more than three million children are the subjects of such investigations each year.
How 'Growing Up NYC' Aims to Improve the Lives of Children
By Richard Buery
New York City is home to almost three million children, youth, and young adults under the age of 24. The City is committed to helping each of those young people thrive at each stage of their childhood and grow up to become healthy and happy adults. To help us get there, the City’s Children’s Cabinet has launched Growing Up NYC: a unified vision for promoting the well-being of children and young adults.
We Don’t Know What’s Coming; We Do Know Who We Are
A Post-Election Statement from the Center for New York City Affairs
Distress; frustration; apprehension; anger: Those were among the intense post-election post-mortem emotions unpacked during a staff meeting in the offices of the Center for New York City Affairs this morning.
West Side Story: How City Leaders Can Back a Brave School Zoning Plan
By Clara Hemphill
After two years of contentious public meetings, the Community Education Council, an elected panel of parents, has come up with a courageous and long overdue plan to ease overcrowding and foster racial and economic integration of three elementary schools in District 3 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It is a bold attempt to balance competing interests and to resolve one of the city’s most intractable social problems.
Dollars and Sense: Greater Economic Security for Family Caregivers
By The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
At least 17.7 million Americans are family caregivers of someone age 65 or older – unpaid work that, with the rapid “graying of America,” has become increasingly commonplace. While many caregivers find deep personal satisfaction in such work, they also experience higher levels of anxiety and stress, resulting from the physical, emotional, and economic burdens caregiving puts on their own lives.
Getting New Yorkers Back on the Bus
By Tabitha Decker
New Yorkers take 2.5 million daily rides on MTA New York City Transit buses, but the busiest bus system in the country is not delivering the service New Yorkers need. Reliability and speed have been in decline for years, and congestion in many parts of the city means it’s often faster to walk than to take a chance on a bus.
Not Just Justice: Creating Intentionally Restorative Schools
By Jared Roebuck
The subject of school discipline offers fertile territory – and an opportunity to get beyond the reductive charter-vs-district-school conflicts of recent years. Specifically, it’s a chance for some district schools to learn from the charter experience about the importance of purposefully executing a vision for school culture.
'We Moved So Many Times I Didn't Think It Was Strange'
By Hoa K. Vu
Roughly one out of eight New York City public school students has been homeless sometime during the past five years, according to a recent estimate by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness. With family homelessness remaining at record levels, tens of thousands of children are growing up in shelters. In her own words, one tells her story.
℞ for the New York Region: How We Can Create a 'Culture of Health'
By Mandu Sen
When we talk about the wellbeing of a city or region, all too often we use economic data, such as income or employment statistics. Only rarely do we also take stock of our collective health. But there are many appropriate reasons why we ought to.
Can 'Learning as Play' Make a Kindergarten Comeback?
By Lydie Raschka
In a number of New York City elementary school kindergarten classes, [choice time] revives, in modified fashion, the once-common play-as-learning “free time” that’s been driven almost to extinction in favor of whole-class instruction, textbooks, worksheets, and other elements of more rigorous education in the Common Core era.
Commit - And Also Verify: Putting Reality Checks into the World's 'New Urban Agenda'
By Michael Cohen, Bart Orr, and Lena Simet
Given the economic growth of the past two decades, how well have countries used their resources to meet the commitments of the Habitat II agenda? To answer this question, the Global Urban Futures Project has developed the Habitat Commitment Index (HCI)—a way of measuring country performance on a set of indicators taking per capita income levels into account to gauge progress over time.
To Improve Family Child Care Offer More Coaching
By Kendra Hurley
The Center for New York City Affairs recently investigated New York City’s nearly four-year-old “EarlyLearnNYC” reforms of city-contracted home-based programs. We found those programs encumbered by well-intentioned but misguided requirements
Seven 'Raise the Age' Work-Arounds: Doing the Right Thing When Albany Won't
By Kate Rubin
Another legislative session has ended in Albany, and a 16-year-old who jumps a turnstile or smokes marijuana in public will still be arrested and prosecuted as an adult. Efforts to raise the age of criminal responsibility once again foundered in the Legislature. Other policymakers have a moral obligation to act where legislators have failed. Here are seven steps City and State agencies can take—right now—to protect children from an outdated, abusive criminal justice system.
Cutting Rents Without Bleeding Landlords
By Flavia Leite, Courtney Loiacono, Grant Nagaki, and Dan Wooldridge
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 10-year affordable housing plan paints a stark picture of nearly one million low-income households competing for fewer than half that number of affordable housing units. That’s why we propose decreasing, not just freezing, what the hardest-pressed tenants pay – without penalizing their landlords.
A Long, Hungry Summer? Filling the Nutrition Gap for New York City Kids
By Karra Puccia
During 10 months of the year, hundreds of thousands of New York City kids eat free school breakfasts and lunches. These meals constitute a vital lifeline for families with already-stretched food budgets. So for many such families, the June 28th last day of public school classes may be less about planning summer fun for the kids and more about facing a serious months-long gap in their nutrition.
Diversity in New York’s Specialized Schools: A Deeper Data Dive
By Nicole Mader, Bruce Cory, and Celeste Royo
The most recent Urban Matters reported on patterns of racial and ethnic admission to some of the city’s most prestigious secondary schools and how admissions might more closely mirror the overall composition of the city’s public schools. This week we’re following up on comments and questions we received from you.
Tough Test Ahead: Bringing Racial Diversity To New York’s Specialized High Schools
By Bruce Cory and Nicole Mader
There’s a longstanding debate about why so few Black and Hispanic students are admitted to New York City’s specialized high schools, including Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech. They accounted for fewer than 9% of students offered admissions at eight specialized schools for the current school year; that’s down from 9.6% the year before.
Summertime, and the Reading Is Meaty
One of the traditional joys of summer is the extra, welcome free time it opens up for the pleasures of reading. And for many of us, a good book in the shade isn't necessarily a mystery or romance. With that in mind, we asked colleagues at The New School for summer book ideas for readers of Urban Matters. Here are their suggestions.
'Rikers is Horrible': Venida Browder Recalls Her Son's Ordeal - And Her Own
In 2010, 16-year-old Kalief Browder of the Bronx was arrested for stealing a backpack – a crime he insisted he never committed. Nevertheless, he then spent some three years jailed on New York City’s Rikers Island, including roughly two years in solitary confinement. Urban Matters presents this video excerpt of Venida Browder's recent powerful description of what she typically endured in visiting her son in Rikers’ bleak, remote lock-up.
The Limits of ‘Self-Help’ in Fighting Poverty: A Conversation with Erica Kohl-Arenas
Erica Kohl-Arenas is an Assistant Professor at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy and author of The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty (University of California Press, 2016). Her book focuses on how private philanthropic initiatives often focus on the behaviors of poor people while ignoring the structural inequities that produce poverty.
Edgy Explorations: The Transformative Effects of ‘Parks Without Borders’
By Mitchell J. Silver
In our densely populated city, people look to parks to serve many purposes. New Yorkers use parks as backyards and living rooms, public squares and nature preserves. However, New York’s public sphere has not always been designed for this multitude of uses, especially not around park edges.
Next Stop, Fairness in Fares: Why New York Needs Low-Income Transit Discounts
By Harold Stolper
Most affluent New Yorkers don’t think twice before ponying up $2.75 to ride the subway or bus. But for the working poor, it’s another story. In the Community Service Society of New York’s most recent “Unheard Third”—an annual survey of the daily experiences of low-income New Yorkers—more than one out of four such New Yorkers reported that they were often unable to afford subway and bus fares.
Seoul-Searching: A U.S. Teacher’s Quest For the Secret of Korean Student Success
By Clara Hemphill
As a biology teacher at a high-poverty high school in Los Angeles, Taylor Wichmanowski was impressed that his Korean-speaking students—including those newly arrived in the United States—seemed to do so much better academically than most of their classmates. He knew that South Korea not only had the world’s highest student scores on international tests; it also had the lowest proportion of low-performing kids anywhere. Even poor Korean children did well.
Ending Family Homeless Shelters
As We Know Them
By Ralph Nunez, PhD
Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered a restructuring of how the nation’s largest city serves its most impoverished citizens: the homeless. With the city’s homeless population at a near-record high of almost 58,000 people – including, distressingly, almost 23,000 children – the mayor is absolutely right about the need for fresh thinking in meeting this challenge. Such reforms must go beyond this latest administrative reorganization. And the first thing that must change is the concept of the homeless shelter itself.
Designed to Work: A Neighborhood-Based Strategy to Connect People to Jobs
By Rosanne Haggerty and Katie Gordon
In New York City, unemployment has fallen well below the 10%-plus peak it reached after the global financial meltdown and recession of 2008. While that’s hopeful news, it obscures a glaring divide: This recovery hasn’t benefitted the city’s neighborhoods equally.
Environmental Justice Takes Center
Stage On Earth Day
By Molly Johnson
Reports of water contaminated by lead, copper, and E. coli in Flint, Michigan dominated national headlines early this year, and became a focal point for outrage around the issue of environmental racism. Then in March, closer to home, reports surfaced of elevated levels of lead in the drinking water at public schools in Newark, New Jersey. These stories are frightening and frustrating. Worse, they are not unique.
Can 'Controlled Choice' Help
Integrate NYC Schools?
By Clara Hemphill
“Controlled choice” as a way to ease racial and economic segregation in elementary schools is a current hot topic on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The idea, proposed by a group called District 3 Task Force for Education Equity and now up for consideration by education decision-makers, is to get rid of school attendance zones and assign children to schools according to a formula that takes into account parent preferences as well as family income.
No Food, No Phone, No Subway Fare:
Daily Hardships of the ‘Unheard Third’
By Apurva Mehrotra and Nancy Rankin
"In New York City, the idea that hard work and perseverance can lead to a better life is losing ground.” That bleak assessment begins "Getting Ahead: An Upward Mobility Agenda for New Yorkers in 2016," a report based on the most recent (July-August 2015) annual survey of the city’s “Unheard Third” by the Community Service Society of New York – what CSS calls “the only public opinion poll in the nation to regularly chronicle issues facing low-income individuals and families.”
Human Services, Human Costs
While fast food workers have commanded most of the attention in the “Fight for $15” both nationally and in New York, proposals to raise the minimum wage affect other major segments of the workforce, too. By some estimates, more than 400,000 workers in the human services in New York State currently earn less than the $15 per hour that Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed be the new State minimum wage, to be phased in by 2019 in New York City and mid-2021 in the rest of the state.
Our Trump: Made in New York
By Peter Eisenstadt and Robert W. Snyder
Despite Donald Trump’s unpopularity with New York State voters—71% hold unfavorable views of him, more than any other candidate—it helps to remember that he is the product of New York City and its political culture. His career tells us a lot about changes in a supposedly liberal city and state—especially when it comes to media manipulation, the politics of resentment, and the blurring of public and private interests.
Help Wanted: Nonprofits Hiring Young Adults with Criminal Histories in Supportive Work Environments
By Julie Peterson
Many social service programs aim to get young people ready for work. Not enough hire them. As important as education and training are, they often fall by the wayside for young people living in poverty, lost in the unending immediate need for funds to survive and support a family. Without a job to provide those funds, inevitably, many young people turn to a shadow economy – and that often leads to a criminal record.
When the Face of Homelessness is a Baby's Face
By Kendra Hurley
When we talk about homelessness, the conversation typically—and understandably—focuses on families’ most pressing needs: affordable housing; jobs that pay a living wage; and subsidized child care so that parents can work and families can find a way out of the shelters and into permanent homes.
The Privilege of Investing in our Kids and the Racial Wealth Gap
America’s racial disparities in wealth are enormous. The white-to-black disparity in median net worth – the value of what a family owns over and above what it owes is 19 to 1. This vast wealth divide has deep, long-term implications.
Close Rikers Island?
A Former Correction Commissioner Offers a Five-Minute How-To Guide
Recently, key City and State elected leaders have made public pronouncements warming to the once seemingly unthinkable goal of closing New York City’s violence- and scandal-scarred jail complex on Rikers Island. Former New York City Correction Commissioner Martin Horn, now a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, offered this succinct, step-by-step plan for decreasing the inmate population on Rikers Island by more than 90%.
Misery, and Hope, In a Poor People’s Court: ProPublica Talks With Abigail Kramer
A bleak portrait of a reception area in the Bronx Family Court opens the Center for New York City Affairs’ vivid new report “Is Reform Finally Coming to New York City Family Court?” Last week, reporter Joaquin Sapien of ProPublica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning independent, non-profit investigative news organization, asked the report’s author, Abigail Kramer, about her work, including her views on the latest push to speed the notoriously glacial pace of child protective cases in Family Court.
NYC Gets an 'Incomplete' Grade In Early Childhood Education
By Stephanie Gendell
Over the past two years, New York City has made good on an historic commitment to early childhood education by instituting free full-day pre-kindergarten for more than 65,000 4-year-olds. In the broader realm of early childhood education, however, NYC’s work is still far from complete. Tens of thousands of children are still out in the cold when it comes to high-quality early childhood education programs.
A Conversation About America's Retirement Crisis
A professor of economic policy analysis at The New School, Dr. Teresa Ghilarducci is a nationally recognized expert on retirement policy and is the author of a number of books on the issue, including When I’m Sixty-Four: The Plot Against Pensions and the Plan to Save Them. She recently talked with Urban Matters about the proposal by her and others to close retirement savings shortfalls by creating guaranteed retirement accounts.
The Latino Vote and the Race for President: Five Factors to Watch
By John Rudolph
Latinos are the epicenter of the swirling, unpredictable 2016 Presidential election campaign – now entering its crucial primary and caucus phase. From Donald Trump’s polarizing comments about Mexican immigrants to Hillary Clinton’s somewhat clumsy attempts to identify with Latino grandmothers, Latinos are either being blamed for ruining the country, or their votes are being courted as never before.
The Pitfalls in de Blasio's Affordable Housing Plan and How to Avoid Them
By Ronald Shiffman
In creating affordable housing, New York City government is dependent on its own revenues, its ability to leverage private financial resources, and the limited powers that State government grants it. Zoning is one of those powers. That’s why the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio is pursuing a policy of “mandatory inclusionary zoning.”
Are Schools Segregated Because
Housing Is? It Ain’t Necessarily So
By Clara Hemphill and Nicole Mader
In multi-ethnic New York City, why are so many elementary schools segregated by race and class? For years, school officials and researchers have assumed that school segregation merely reflects segregated housing patterns—because most children attend their zoned neighborhood schools. However, new research by The New School’s Center for New York City Affairs demonstrates that school segregation is not always the result of housing patterns.
Scars that Remain a Lifetime:
Why Rikers Island Must Be Closed
By Glenn E. Martin
Less than 300 feet from the runways at LaGuardia Airport lies a longstanding and notorious stain on our city’s integrity: Rikers Island. On any given day, approximately 9,600 New Yorkers languish in its 10 jail complexes where they are exposed to a “deep-seated culture of violence,” in the words of a report issued last year by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Brutality pervades the island, inflicting irreparable physical and emotional trauma on the men, women, and adolescents housed there.
South Africans Trek a Long, Winding Road In Battling for Toilets – and Justice
By Charlotte Scott
Khayelitsha is a South African township of more than 400,000 people living on the periphery of Cape Town, geographically and economically isolated from the city’s central business districts. Its residents still contend with the bitter legacy of apartheid – including inadequate municipal services in the township.
On the Menu This Thanksgiving:
Mixing Traditions & Inventing New Ones
By John Rudolph
Turkey brined or basted? Stuffing with mushrooms or cornbread? And that perennial Thanksgiving dessert puzzler, pumpkin or minced meat pie? Actually, the choices for Thanksgiving dinner in our nation of immigrants are gloriously far broader than that. That means that this Thursday, feasts that fuse what’s considered familiar Americana with the flavors of distant homelands will come steaming out of millions of kitchens from coast to coast.
Words Are More Powerful Than Munitions:
A Timely, Timeless Dispatch from Paris
By Albert Camus
In November 1946, the novelist Albert Camus published a series of eight essays in the Parisian newspaper Combat, to which he had begun contributing, anonymously, during the resistance to the Nazi occupation of France. The essays represented Camus’s attempt to define a political morality responsive to what he called, in the first of those essays, “The Century of Fear.” Recent terrorist violence in cities around the globe, culminating in last week’s suicide bombings in Beirut and murderous attacks in Paris, have prompted Urban Matters to present some excerpts.
Safe Havens, Not Mean Streets:
Respite Centers for Troubled Youth
By Amy Albert
One of the greatest crises facing youth charged with or convicted of juvenile offender crimes is homelessness. When the young person returns home after a period of incarceration, the trauma that he experienced may create tension leading to intra-family disputes. According to the crisis intervention center Covenant House, 50 percent of adolescents aging out of foster care and the juvenile and criminal justice systems will be homeless within six months. When youth are kicked out of the home they have very few options because many are unprepared to live independently.
Giving Low-Income Parents
A Better Alternative to Family Court
By Jane C. Murphy
By all accounts, the New York City Family Court is in a state of crisis – one felt most crushingly by the people who appear before it. Often described as “the poor people’s court,” it hears, among other issues, child paternity, support, custody, and visitation cases typically, but not exclusively, involving non-marital parents. (Divorces, often involving parties having both more resources and property disputes, are heard in the less crowded and better-funded State Supreme Court.)
The Hurricane Next Time:
Sandy and Its Aftermath
By Bruce Cory and Alexander Bryden
Sandy was the worst natural disaster in New York City’s recorded history. It killed 44 people; flooded more than 15 per cent of the city’s land mass, an area with more than 90,000 buildings; left nearly two million people without power; and massively disrupted such essential services as education, transportation, and health care.
How Not to Turn Schools into Gentrification Battlefields
By Clara Hemphill
Everyone knows gentrification causes friction. But there’s another side to the story. Gentrification also occasionally leads to better schools for everyone in the neighborhood, rich and poor. The city should follow the example of these success stories as it crafts solutions for other schools in changing neighborhoods.
'Backwards on Purpose':
The Wrong-Way World of Jobs and Prisons
By Jeff Smith
“You’ll be back, sh*tbird.” It’s what correctional officers (COs) told prisoners nearing their release date, especially those who had “slick mouths” or who otherwise created problems. “Jackasses like you are how I know I’ll always have a job,” one officer frequently said – his way of reminding us that not only did he expect us to return, but his livelihood depended on it.
The Stark Black and White of America's Wealth Divide
By Darrick Hamilton and William Darity, Jr.
Wealth – the value of what you and your family own minus what you owe – matters. A lot. Wealth generates opportunity, fosters well-being, offers children the advantages of debt-free higher education and parent-provided home down-payments, provides capital for business formation and investment, and deflects the slings and arrows of outrageous economic fortune. Wealth is, in short, the paramount indicator of future economic success.
Another Reason to Make Rents More Affordable: It Could Be Good for Your Health
By Rachel Meltzer and Alex Schwartz
Researchers and reformers have long raised alarms about the serious health hazards associated with substandard or badly maintained housing. Now our newly published research suggests that another factor – the high cost of housing – may be just as bad for many New Yorkers’ health as these physical perils. In some cases, unsustainable rent burdens may in fact be even more detrimental.
‘I Was in Prison And You Came to Me’:
Pope Francis’s Challenge to America
By Rev. Rubén Austria
During Pope Francis’s visit to the United States this week many are eager to hear what Pope Francis will say about criminal justice reform. The U.S. leads the world in imprisoning people; we detain a quarter of the world’s prisoners though we account for only five percent of the world’s population. Along with other advocates for reform, I am hoping that Pope Francis calls us to repent of our national addiction to incarceration.