NY Daily News: How Congress could bring back HIV/AIDS

March 23, 2017

March 23, 2017

When the HIV/AIDS epidemic raged across the United States in the 1980s, the federal government looked the other way. The result was unimaginable suffering and the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. If you think our federal government learned the lessons of that moral outrage, think again.

Thursday, the House votes on a GOP plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that would effectively gut access to lifesaving HIV prevention and care for thousands of low-income Americans. That plan, if enacted, would reverse years of hard-earned progress and sabotage realistic plans for the United States to become the first country to end AIDS as an epidemic.

Recent studies have proven that people with HIV who get early and consistent anti-retroviral treatment will maintain good health and cannot transmit the virus to others. We also have the most promising drug yet for protecting against HIV/AIDS: Truvada, a preexposure prophylaxis (“PrEP”) pill that reduces the risk of contracting HIV by close to 99% when taken daily.

With these advances, we finally have the tools to end AIDS, even without a cure.

Through the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and other programs, hundreds of thousands of people have been able to get consistent HIV care or access PrEP and stay HIV-negative.

The American Health Care Act would drastically decrease health coverage options, increase costs and make it harder, if not impossible, for many people to get lifesaving HIV prevention and treatment services.

Rolling back Medicaid expansion and reducing federal Medicaid contributions with per capita caps would be especially harmful, and could return us to a time when people with HIV had to become so ill they were disabled before qualifying for Medicaid.

Let’s build on our progress, not undo it. Uninsured rates were halved for people with HIV in states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, compared with no change in states that haven’t expanded. The act also created opportunities for many of our at-risk citizens to obtain PrEP and protect themselves from the virus.

And we see the results. New HIV infections in New York State are down over 40% from 10 years ago, compared with increasing rates of infection in other parts of the country.

Experts agree that current anti-retroviral therapy, taken as treatment or prevention, holds the key to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic altogether. In fact, retaining people with HIV in consistent care and increasing the availability of PrEP are key planks in Gov. Cuomo’s plan to end the epidemic in New York State by 2020.

If the federal government impedes access to this cutting-edge medicine, it is virtually guaranteeing that these positive trends will be reversed.

To keep moving forward, we need a health plan to stabilize and build on what’s working. We must maintain the current Medicaid structure, including expansion in all parts of the country.

We must guarantee access to an affordable, essential benefits package that includes preventive services, prescription drugs and behavioral health care . Nondiscrimination protections and upfront premium and cost-sharing assistance are critical for thousands of low-income people with HIV and other chronic conditions. And we must commit to not defunding or cutting the Prevention and Public Health Fund or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We were diagnosed with HIV in 2002 and 2004, respectively. We are both alive today because activists organized, pleaded, protested and put their bodies on the line, demanding that the federal government take action.

We cannot turn back. We cannot allow President Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take us back. We have made too much progress and we have come too close to victory to let this happen. Lawmakers must come together and oppose this plan. Lives are literally depending on it.

King is the president and CEO of Housing Works. Johnson is a member of the New York City Council and chairman of the Council’s Health Committee.



March 23, 2017

I’m appalled and sickened by the cowardly murder of Timothy Caughman in Hell’s Kitchen. This was a hate crime. Timothy Caughman was killed for one reason: because he was black. Hate crimes are the most pernicious of crimes because they’re intended to strike fear into entire communities. We will not be cowed. Our greatest strength as New Yorkers is our diversity. We reject hate in all its forms and stand united against bigotry and racism. My heart goes out to the family and friends of Timothy Caughman, and I hope they may find at least some solace in knowing that his killer will face swift justice.



Chelsea Now: Mayoral Q&A: A Tale of Two Hours at a Town Hall

March 22, 2017

March 22, 2017

Mayor Bill de Blasio answered dozens of questions from New Yorkers during a March 15 town hall co-sponsored by Community Boards 2, 4, 5 and 7, and moderated by City Councilmember Corey Johnson. Held at the NYC Lab High School for Collaborative Studies on W. 17th St., the nearly three-hour event (two of them dedicated to Q&A) saw its capacity crowd press their mayor on topics as local as excessive horn honking (on the corner of W. 23rd St. & Eighth Ave.) and as national as the need to confront President Trump on his immigration policy.

De Blasio brought along commissioners and deputy commissioners from city agencies, and often deferred to them when answering questions. At one point, the mayor gave a quick nod to the attending former State Senator Tom Duane, a man he called a “legend” in Albany and the local community. Duane’s successor, Brad Hoylman, was among the group of electeds credited with presenting the event (including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who was in attendance).

Miguel Acevedo, president of the Fulton Houses Tenants’ Association, kicked off the town hall with a question about a city-community agreement to help minority and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBE) open in Hudson Yards. Acevedo said the city has failed to do so.

De Blasio spoke broadly about the M/WBE program. “We are constantly pushing the private sector to commit resources to women- and minority-owned businesses,” he said, then deferred to Department of Small Business Services commissioner Gregg Bishop, who said that his agency was working to organize job fairs for jobs at Hudson Yards, and is making sure that Related Companies, which developed Hudson Yards, is “aware of the companies certified with us for future opportunities” there.

Both de Blasio and Johnson frequently asked people to do more to help flip the state Senate Democratic, citing the Republican-controlled body as a major roadblock for many of the policies the Democratic-controlled City Council wants to make law.

Answering a question about “underfunding” at public schools, de Blasio said “we need to fight harder” for state funding, and as long as current funding remains steady “we will hit 100 percent fair funding for every school by 2021.” Johnson followed him and said that “we have to turn the state Senate Democratic” if the city wants to better secure school funding, among other things.

Some may be dismayed to learn Mayor de Blasio “is not there yet” on congestion pricing, a scheme in which drivers are charged more money for being in a certain area, such as on the island of Manhattan. He’s not convinced it’s the way to approach traffic issues and is convinced it wouldn’t pass through the Albany legislatures.

When asked broadly about the city “getting out from under the yoke of Albany,” de Blasio said the first thing he would do is “strengthen rent regulation.”

A woman later on asked the mayor about helping small businesses stay in operation in the face of skyrocketing rents. Johnson said commercial rent regulation, which has been proposed in the city for years via the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), can’t happen without Albany’s support.

“It’s never going to happen, because of Albany. Let’s turn the state Senate Democratic and then talk about all the wonderful things we want to do in the world,” he said.

Some parents asked the mayor about the fate of commercial space at Pier 40. They wanted him to ensure that the public space wouldn't be overrun with businesses. Photo by Dennis Lynch.

At the beginning of the town hall, the mayor plugged his plan to consolidate homeless shelter beds from hundreds of hotels and apartments into 90 city-designated shelters, but no one asked him about the plan. Councilmember Johnson is a co-sponsor on legislation that seems at odds with that plan, which seeks to site shelters in communities from which people enter the shelter system. The Council legislation looks to spread them more “equitably” around the city.

De Blasio announced that the much-maligned Aladdin Hotel shelter at 317 W. 45th St. (btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.), in operation since 2002, would be closed as a part of his five-year plan. The mayor said he was “adamant” about closing the shelter, but said it would “take time” to do so.

“From time to time, we still may need to go into some new hotels when there is a particular need or crisis, but the goal is to get out of hotels, to get out of cluster apartments, which have not been a decent standard of living for people,” de Blasio said.

Education issues came up a few times. A public school teacher asked de Blasio about ensuring immigrant children feel safe in school. The mayor said that he and Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña have told parents and students “that they are respected and protected regardless of their origins, regardless of their immigration status, and that when they come to their school they are in someplace safe and that no information will ever be shared with the federal authorities.”

A parent asked de Blasio if he was doing anything to decrease school size and to counter the policies that may hurt public schools that many expect out of President Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s department.

“We’re never going to go to vouchers,” de Blasio said, speaking of publicly funded grants for students to attend private schools.

De Blasio said that budget issues, a growing population, and severe overcrowding elsewhere in the city “does not allow us to do as much as we want to on class size.” School Construction Authority CEO Lorraine Grillo listed some local projects including the new middle school at 75 Morton St. in the West Village, and two sites “near New York University” and Hudson Square they are “debating.”

A West Village Houses co-op owner asked the mayor to help work out a better deal than the city first gave owners to keep the cooperative affordable. The mayor said “I tend to think we can find our way to something good,” and a Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) representative said that her department “would very much like” to work something out. Johnson said that he was willing to broker a meeting and reiterated to the HPD rep that the folks at West Village Houses “were not happy with the HPD offer.”

The mayor also answered some questions regarding public housing. Elliott-Chelsea Houses tenants heard that the city was pushing a new preventative program to exterminate rats at the complex. More broadly, de Blasio said he would fight federal cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to hopefully maintain some funding for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

Answering a broader question about the city’s sanctuary policies, de Blasio said that the city would provide legal assistance to individuals the city sees as wrongly threatened with deportation.

Mayor de Blasio gave former State Senator Tom Duane (seated in front of the American flag) a nod at the beginning of the town hall. Photo by Dennis Lynch.

Trump’s proposed budget came up again later in the town hall, although city administrators stressed that the budget was far from final and didn’t get into many specifics. A woman asked how the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would step up to fill the role of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Trump wants to slash the EPA’s funding by $2.4 billion, or more than a quarter of its current $8.1 billion budget.

“We cannot do everything the EPA does; I think that’s the sad truth. We can use all our powers and work with the state… if we see there is some gap we can legally act on,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio also advocated for his “mansion tax” — a 2.5 percent tax on the sale of homes $2 million or higher. The city’s Office of Management and Budget estimates it could net $336 million in the fiscal years 2018, according to the New York Post. That tax would come on top of a 1 percent tax levied by the state since the late 1980s on home sales of $1 million or more.

Many locals pushed de Blasio about land use.

Community Board 4 (CB4) Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Land Use committee Chairperson Jean-Daniel Noland asked the mayor personally for help bringing affordable housing to the district, and got some good news about two sites in the district. The city has worked out “very close” to 100 percent affordable or completely affordable housing at the Slaughterhouse Site on 11th Ave. (btw. W. 39th & 40th Sts.) and will soon designate a developer for the site. HPD Deputy Commissioner Molly Park also announced that her department would issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for two affordable sites at Hudson Yards in the late spring or early summer.

Fern Luskin asked de Blasio to create a liaison between the Department of Buildings (DOB) and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) in order to prevent historic buildings from being “defaced.” Luskin and others have spent years determined to halt further alterations (and reverse a fifth floor addition) to the Hopper-Gibbons House, a 339 W. 29th St. structure with well-documented links to the Underground Railroad and the 1863 Draft Riots.

“Yes, look, I appreciate the question exactly,” de Blasio said. “When we have come to the determination that something deserves landmark status we have to make sure actions are not taken to undermine that landmark.”

There seemed to be a misunderstanding with a DOB Commissioner, Rick Chandler, during the discussion — and Councilmember Johnson had to clear up that the Hopper-Gibbons House was indeed a landmarked building and was illegally altered.

De Blasio asked Chandler if there were any enforcement options still available with which to go after the owner, and Chandler said he would have an answer to Johnson by Thursday.

Chandler was put back in the hot seat later in the town hall when asked about bad actor landlords who misrepresent the status of their buildings to obtain demolition permits to scare off rent-regulated tenants, which in some cases can be a felony. Many people in Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen believe the DOB has failed to properly enforce its rules in the neighborhood.

Chandler said he would “love nothing more than to get an owner on a felony if I could,” and that he was working to remedy loopholes in DOB permit applications that could allow landlords to misrepresent their buildings. De Blasio added that his administration was hiring more inspectors to help enforce rules.

Mayor Bill de Blasio answered dozens of questions during a March 15 town hall. Photo by Ed Reed, Mayoral Photo Office.

Bad actors came up again at the end of the town hall, in reference to a number of addresses CB4 shared with the city that concern them. Chandler mentioned some Stop Work Orders, although de Blasio pushed for a more straightforward answer.

“Let’s be tight — it [work] stays frozen until there is a resolution that we believe is the proper resolution,” de Blasio told Chandler.


Chelsea Now: Fifteen Vie for Funding in Participatory Budgeting Process

March 22, 2017

March 22, 2017

On Tues., March 23, District 3 residents milled about the Participatory Budgeting (PB) Project Expo at W. 17th St.’s Sixth Avenue Elementary School, taking in facts, snacks, and observing the handiwork of their neighbors. The evening served as prelude to the official voting period for the PB process — a program in which community residents propose, and then vote on, capital improvement projects. Funding comes from $1 million set aside by City Councilmember Corey Johnson. With voting happening now through April 2 at six brick physical locations (see the full list at the end of this article) and online, here. Chelsea Now took stock of the expo’s 15 presentations — five of which you can vote for, so long as you are 14 years of age or older, and live in NYC Council District 3.

School improvements were one of the most popular types of project on the PB ballot. “We’re in an old building, we have very limited outlet usage,” explained Nicole Barth, a PS 3 parent. “We’re scared of overloading the electrical system,” she said — fears that would be curtailed by the new, upgraded electrical panel and quad outlets the project seeks.

On the other end of the spectrum, parent Alice Ho was concerned with unsafe drinking water at the Lab and Museum Schools, where some water outlets have tested positive for lead. “We basically weren’t feeling warm and fuzzy when the numbers of parts per million kept going up with each test,” she said, and noted that the 12 water fountains would ensure safe drinking water for staff and students.

Peter Marino, Alice Ho, and Savannah Jerome-Solbakken to pushed for new water fountains for the Lab and Museum Schools. Photo by Sean Egan.

Peter Marino, Alice Ho, and Savannah Jerome-Solbakken pushed for new water fountains for the Lab and Museum Schools. Photo by Sean Egan.

Repping the efforts to get air conditioning for PS 111 was PTA Co-president Trevor Richardson. Explaining that almost all the school’s AC units are broken, Richardson said, “The library is a key spot in our school that’ll help a lot of people,” noting that public places like this would be targeted in order to help provide relief to students, and the community at large during the summer months. Repairs to the bathrooms at the Humanities Educational Complex (home to six schools) — described by student Nicole Bernardo as being “a mess,” with broken stalls, tiles, and missing sinks — will also be featured on the ballot, as will a technology upgrade to the High School of Fashion Industries.

Another major variety of project involved the improvement and upkeep of public spaces like parks and gardens. “The block has been fighting for over 20 years,” said Community Board 4 (CB4) member JD Noland of the efforts to get a new Hell’s Kitchen park off the ground. Now, with the Parks Department approving the use of a location on 10th Ave. (btw. W. 48th & 49th Sts.), Noland sees PB funds as a way of officially getting the ball rolling. “We need it for the children of Hell’s Kitchen,” Noland said. Also from CB4 was Liam Buckley, advocating for general repairs for the Penn South playground. “It’s become outdated,” he noted. “Things are breaking, things are dirty.”

CB4’s Liam Buckley spearheaded efforts to upgrade Penn South’s playground. Photo by Sean Egan.

CB4’s Liam Buckley spearheaded efforts to upgrade Penn South’s playground. Photo by Sean Egan.

“We’ve been getting a lot of complaints from parents about how open the yards are,” explained Elliott-Chelsea Houses resident Darlene Waters, whose project proposed improvements to the Houses’ garden area, including fencing that would prevent kids from easily running out into nearby streets. Protective fencing was also on the mind of historian Jack Intrator, a volunteer with Jefferson Market Garden stumping for funds to replace the garden’s northern chain-link fence that is a “security issue,” as well as “a toolshed that’s past its longevity.”

Darlene Waters is concerned about the safety of the kids of Elliott-Chelsea Houses. Photo by Sean Egan.

Darlene Waters is concerned about the safety of the kids of Elliott-Chelsea Houses. Photo by Sean Egan.

Other ballot items include historic street lighting on Seventh Ave. South, and real-time rider information at bus stops throughout the district.

“I think really now, more than ever, given the trauma that we face every day reading the news, how important it is for everyone to be engaged locally,” said Councilmember Johnson, commending the PB volunteers and residents assembled, and encouraging them to vote. “It really is like watching democracy in action.”


Vote for up to 5 projects.

Item #1: Hudson Park Library Accessible Bathrooms | Provide ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility to toilet facilities in the Hudson Park Library (66 Leroy St.). Cost: $300,000.

Item #2: PS 111 Air Conditioning for the Library | Provide air conditioning for the library, which is used as a summer school site (440 W. 53rd St.) for hundreds of students. Cost: $150,000.

Item #3: Filtered Water Fountains at Lab & Museum Schools | 12 new water fountains with water filtration systems and environmentally friendly bottle filling stations at these 333 W. 17th St. schools. Cost: $144,000.

Nicole Barth stumped for funds to update the electric system at PS 3. Photo by Sean Egan.

Nicole Barth stumped for funds to update the electric system at PS 3. Photo by Sean Egan.

Item #4: New Electrical Outlets at PS 3 | Upgrade electrical panels and add two new quad outlets for 40 rooms in PS 3 (490 Hudson St.), which would minimize overloading the current outlets. Cost: $150,000.

Item #5: Tech Upgrade at High School of Fashion Industries | Purchase additional computers and printers to support student learning at this school (225 W. 24th St.). Cost: $60,000.

High School of Fashion Industries librarian Judith Dahill advocated for funds for a technology upgrade for the school — “So grades can soar.” Photo by Sean Egan.

High School of Fashion Industries librarian Judith Dahill advocated for funds for a technology upgrade for the school — “So grades can soar.” Photo by Sean Egan.

Item #6: Grounds Renovation at NYCHA Elliott-Chelsea Houses | Provide new playground fencing, renovate walkways, and revitalize garden areas designed with residents of Elliott-Chelsea Houses (btw. W. 25th & 27th Sts. and Ninth & 10th Aves.). Cost: $500,000.

Item #7: Renovation of Penn South Playground | Renovation/revisioning of Penn South Playground (W. 26th St., btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.), designed with residents of Penn South. Cost: $300,000.

Item #8: Jefferson Market Garden Upgrades | Replace the northern chain-link fence to match existing iron fence surrounding the garden (Greenwich Ave. & W. 10th St.), and add new shed to house tools. Cost: $175,000.

Item #9: New Park in Hell’s Kitchen | Transform an empty lot (10th Ave., btw. W. 48th & 49th Sts.) into a new public park for the people of Hell’s Kitchen. Cost: $200,000.

JD Noland of CB4 believes that securing a park for the children of Hell’s Kitchen is crucial. Photo by Sean Egan.

JD Noland of CB4 believes that securing a park for the children of Hell’s Kitchen is crucial. Photo by Sean Egan.

Item #10: Bleecker Street Playground Renovation | Repair/replace all safety surface, roofs on play equipment, new trees, replant green space, and more at this playground (Hudson St., Bleecker St., & W. 11th St.). Cost: $450,000.

Item #11: Real Time Rider Information at Bus Stops | Fund electronic boards to display real-time bus arrival information at five key bus stops through Council District 3. Cost: $125,000.

Item #12: Historic Street Lighting for Greenwich Village | Replace the old street lighting with historic lamp posts on Seventh Ave South (btw. Christopher & Bleecker Sts.) in the Greenwich Village Historic District. Cost: $176,000.

Item #13: Basketball Court Renovations at Chelsea Park | Repave/repaint the court and install new hoops at W. 27th St., at 10th Ave. Cost: $575,000.

Item #14: Humanities Educational Complex Bathroom Renovation | Repair a fifth grade bathroom and a library bathroom that serves the six schools in the building (351 W. 18th St.). Cost: $300,000.

Item #15: Toddler Sprinkler Resurface at Fulton Houses | Excavate/resurface Fulton Houses’ (btw. W. 16th & 19th Sts. and Ninth & 10th Aves.) existing playground surface (which is crumbling and has holes in it) so children can safely play. Cost: $500,000.


Councilmember Corey Johnson’s District Office | 224 W. 30th St. (btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.) Suite #1206 | March 27-31; 10am-6pm.

Fountain House | 425 W. 47th St. (btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.) | March 25-26 & April 1-2; 11am-6pm.

Fulton Houses Tenants Association Office | 419A W. 17th St. (btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.) | March 25-26 & April 1-2; 11am-6pm.

Hudson Guild Elliott Center | 441 W. 26th St. (at 10th Ave.) | March 25-26 & April 1-2; 11am-6pm.

Greenwich House | 27 Barrow St. (btw. W. Fourth & Bleecker Sts.) | March 25-26 & April 1-2; 11am-6pm.

The LGBT Center | 208 W. 13th St. (btw. Seventh & Greenwich Aves.) | March 25-26 & April 1-2; 11am-6pm.

Voting is also possible online, by clicking on this. For more info, visit


DNA Info: Decide How to Spend $1M To Improve Sites on Manhattan’s West Side

March 21, 2017

March 21, 2017

CHELSEA — The Penn South Playground, the Hudson Park Library and the Humanities Educational Complex are a few of the sites that could secure funding for upgrades this year.

Residents who live in City Council District 3 — which includes Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, the West Village and parts of the Upper West Side, SoHo and Flatiron — will have a little over a week to cast their votes for 15 projects they think should receive part of at least $1 million in funding.

Councilman Corey Johnson’s office allocates money to the West Side projects that receive the most votes each year as part of the city’s participatory budgeting process.

Last year, residents voted to spend more than $1 million on projects including planting new trees throughout the district and replacing the Muhlenberg Library’s HVAC cooling unit.

Here are the 15 projects on District 3’s ballot this year:

► $300,000 to make the bathroom facilities in the Hudson Park Library, at 66 Leroy St. near Seventh Avenue South, ADA accessible.

► $150,000 to provide air conditioning for the library at P.S. 111, at 440 W. 53rd St., between Ninth and 10th avenues.

► $144,000 for 12 new water fountains with water filtration systems and environmentally-friendly bottle filling stations at the Lab & Museum schools at 333 W. 17th St., between Eighth and Ninth avenues.

► $150,000 to upgrade electrical panels and install two new quad outlets in 40 rooms at P.S. 3, at 490 Hudson St., at Grove Street.

► $60,000 to buy additional computers and printers for the High School of Fashion Industries at 225 W. 24th St., between Seventh and Eighth avenues.

► $500,000 for new playground fencing, renovated walkways and revitalized garden areas at the Elliott-Chelsea Houses, between West 25th and West 27th streets and Ninth and 10th avenues.

► $300,000 to renovate and re-vision the Penn South Playground on West 26th Street.

► $175,000 to replace the northern chain-link fence at the Jefferson Market Garden, on Greenwich Avenue between Christopher and West 10th streets, and construct a new shed to house tools.

► $200,000 to build a new park on an empty lot in Hell’s Kitchen on 10th Avenue between West 48th and West 49th streets.

► $450,000 to repair and replace the safety surfacing and play equipment roofs at the Bleecker Street Playground, at the intersection of Hudson, Bleecker and West 11th streets. The funding will also go toward planting new trees and replanting green space.

► $125,000 to install electronic boards that display real-time bus arrival information at five “key bus stops” throughout the district.

► $176,000 to replace the old street lighting on Seventh Avenue South, between Christopher and Bleecker streets, with historic lampposts.

► $575,000 to repave and repaint the basketball court at Chelsea Park, on West 27th Street at 10th Avenue, and install new hoops.

► $300,000 to repair a fifth grade bathroom and a library bathroom at the Humanities Educational Complex at 351 W. 18th St., near Ninth Avenue.

► $500,000 to resurface the toddler sprinkler area at the Fulton Houses, between West 16th and 19th streets and Ninth and 10th avenues.

Voting will kick off on March 25 and end on April 2. A full list of voting locations and the times at which they’ll be open can be found on the councilman’s website.

Residents can learn more about the projects — and vote early — at a participatory budgeting expo taking place at P.S. 340 at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 21.


NY Daily News: The tyranny of a fast-food schedule

March 3, 2017

March 3, 2017

When I came to the United States 18 years ago, my American Dream was to get a good job and give my kids opportunities that I never had.

I started working in McDonald’s in Manhattan in 2013. I enjoyed my job and I felt so American — after all, McDonald’s is one of the best-known American brands in the world.

I liked the cooking, the interaction with customers and the bustling atmosphere. The hard part was dealing with my schedule. When I started, my schedule would change constantly and with little notice. It was hard to take care of my family, have enough time to work my second job and find time to sleep.

My schedule has become more regular, but I still have a problem with my hours being cut. Now I’m on the schedule for three days a week even though I want more hours.

I’m the sole support for myself and my husband, who has health problems and can’t work. I also help support my daughter and grandchildren. My McDonald’s paycheck is so small that even with my second job, I struggle to make ends meet and I can’t put aside any money to send my daughters to college.

Many of my co-workers are sent home early from their shifts. Sometimes they pay a baby-sitter and a MetroCard fare to get to work, only to be told when they arrive that they’ve been cut from the day’s schedule. Like many of my co-workers, my manager won’t give me more hours when I ask for them.

I’m not sure if it’s to avoid paying for health care or to ensure I never get overtime or if it’s just to retaliate after we won a higher minimum wage. But what I do know is that it’s not enough to survive on.

That’s why it’s so important to thousands of us that the City Council has introduced legislation that will give us a fair work week.

One bill that Council member Brad Lander has introduced says that if our schedules are changed with less than two weeks’ notice, our employer has to pay us a penalty for that change. That would help so many people who struggle to find child care, juggle other jobs and otherwise manage their lives.

Another bill says that fast-food employers have to offer shifts that become available in their stores to existing part-time workers before hiring new part-time workers to fill them.

A third bill, introduced by Council member Corey Johnson, would put a penalty on employers who schedule workers to close their stores and then come back less than 11 hours later to open, depriving them of enough time to go home and rest in between.

The fast-food industry is booming. McDonald’s is part of a $200 billion industry. They should pay their employees enough to cover the necessities and support their families and not force taxpayers to shoulder the burden.

We work hard. We are New Yorkers. We deserve the same respect from the fast-food industry that it gives to its customers. We just want a steady 40-hour-a-week job. We want some time for our families and time for ourselves. Everyone deserves that.

With proper planning, the changes being required in the legislation wouldn’t have to cost employers more money. But they would give us more stable lives and more hours of work if we want them. This would make us more stable employees, which can make our restaurants more efficient and more profitable.

We’ve come a long way in the fight for good fast-food jobs in this city since the first strike four years ago. I have been part of the Fight for $15 and I am proud of what my brothers and sisters and I have achieved in New York: putting all workers in the state on the path to $15 an hour.

We’re also calling on the Council to pass a bill introduced by Council member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland that would enable us to make small contributions directly from our paycheck to a nonprofit organization that would help us educate our co-workers about their rights on the job and fight for affordable housing, immigration reform and other issues that would help our families and our communities.

We won $15, but now we’re still fighting to ensure we can plan our lives, support our families and get a step closer to achieving the American Dream. We all deserve that fair chance.

Cabral lives in the Bronx and works at McDonald’s in Manhattan.


Amsterdam News: New York City’s other major housing crisis

March 2, 2017

March 2, 2017

New York City is currently in an affordable housing crisis, but there is another housing crisis that does not regularly make headlines. Asthma affects more than 1 million New Yorkers, and poor housing exacerbates the problem. And like the affordability crisis, the crisis of poorly maintained housing also includes a metaphorical tale of two cities.

The good news is that there is a bill in the City Council, the Asthma Free Homes Bill (Intro 385-A), that would allow Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the other members of the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio to protect 1 million vulnerable New Yorkers from housing filled with mold and other triggers for respiratory illnesses. The bad news is that the bill was introduced in 2014 and has not moved since its introduction.

Studies conducted by researchers at Columbia University, Mt. Sinai and other leading public health institutions dating back almost two decades established that poor housing conditions are associated with a wide range of health conditions, including respiratory infections, asthma, lead poisoning and poor mental health. However, many New Yorkers don’t need these studies as proof that the conditions they live in are not healthy. They can describe the mold and other triggers in their apartments that are making them sick, or the countless times they have rushed to an emergency room with a breathless child, or the many times they have had to reach for an inhaler or pump while in their homes. These New Yorkers are suffering in silence with asthma, other respiratory illnesses and various health issues that are exacerbated by mold, leaks and rodent infestation, while the Asthma Free Homes Bill (Intro 385-A) sits in committee and gets hacked apart by the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Just ask WE ACT for Environmental Justice member Michelle Holmes, who lives in Central Harlem and was diagnosed with neuropathy after 18 years of living in a mold-infested apartment.

The Asthma Free Homes Bill (Intro 385-A) was introduced by Councilmember Rosie Mendez, Richie Torres and Corey Johnson, and supported by the citywide Coalition for Asthma Free Housing. The bill is meant to establish a consistent protocol for addressing indoor allergen hazards (mold, pest infestation, etc.) in rental units and demands accountability from landlords by establishing clear timelines for eliminating the hazards. Additionally, it calls for technical education for landlords and creates a public awareness campaign. If passed, this bill would place the burden of responsibility on a landlord to determine which units in his/her building have tenants with diagnosed respiratory illnesses and investigate any complaints of mold and other allergens, and seek resolution of those hazards by a certain date. The bill would also require the landlord to provide a notice to all tenants who sign a lease that informs them of their rights, as well as a pamphlet developed by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene explaining how to identify indoor allergen hazards and the proper protocols to follow for their correction.

The health of all New Yorkers should be a top priority of the City Council and the mayor, especially given the threats to the Affordable Care Act posed by our new president and the Republican-controlled U.S Congress. Neighborhoods such as East Harlem, Flatbush, the Lower East Side, Bushwick and the South Bronx—already burdened with greater rates of disease, limited access to health care and other health disparities—are also the places with the worst housing conditions. These neighborhoods, and many more, need Intro 385-A passed and signed into law so the tale of two cities ends. Currently, 45 members of the City Council have signed on to support the Asthma Free Homes Bill. Surely getting this bill passed and signed cannot be too difficult for the most progressive speaker, City Council and mayor in the country, especially in an election year.


Chelsea Now: Rent Tax Reform Would Exempt Affordable Supermarkets

March 1, 2017

March 1, 2017

City Councilmembers across Manhattan are calling for reform of a decades-old commercial rent tax they say is burdening many local businesses into extinction.

The commercial rent tax (CRT) was created in 1963 as a revenue generator that charges businesses paying more than $250,000 in annual rent a 3.9 percent levy. In the ’90s, the CRT was restricted to Manhattan businesses below 96th St., followed by another amendment that exempted part of Lower Manhattan after 9/11.

Calling the tax “out of whack and antiquated,” East Side Councilmember Dan Garodnick held a rally on Mon., Feb. 13 to build support for a package of bills that were introduced to reform the CRT. The councilmember, who chairs the Council’s Economic Development Committee, said that the tax currently penalizes many small businesses, including restaurants, hardware stores, and boutiques.

“You ever wonder why we’re being overrun by banks and chain drug stores in Manhattan?” Garodnick asked. “Well, this tax on commercial rent is one of your prime culprits.”

The first bill, sponsored by Garodnick and Upper West Side Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, would increase the threshold to pay the CRT to $500,000 from its current $250,000. Garodnick said they looked at a variety of possible minimum rent levels before settling on $500,000 — a figure that would exempt up to 4,000 local businesses currently hit with the levy.

The CRT, Garodnick said, currently generates around $780 million and earlier estimates from the Council showed the proposed change would cost the city $55 million a year.

Two others in the series of bills, sponsored by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmember Corey Johnson, would provide exemptions from the CRT for billboards that advertise theatrical works and for affordable supermarkets, regardless of the rent they pay.

Rosenthal is joined by Lower Manhattan Councilmember Margaret Chin in another bill that would require the Department of Finance to conduct annual reports on what businesses are paying the CRT.

Rosenthal said she is acutely aware of the CRT’s impact on businesses in her

Upper West Side district and emphasized that those small enterprises provide job to workers who come from all over the city.

The tax hardship hits business spanning the Upper East and West Sides, as well as certain areas in Lower Manhattan and neighborhoods in Johnson’s district including Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, and Times Square.

“If you live in a neighborhood and the locksmith closes, or the affordable supermarket closes, or the shoe repair store closes, or the bodega closes, or the local pharmacy… closes, that affects your quality of life in your neighborhood,” Johnson said. “It just doesn’t make any sense that for a small portion of the city we have this tax.”

Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, whose members include restaurants, bars, lounges, and hotels, said the package of bills doesn’t completely fix the problem, but is a step in the right direction.

“It is very depressing when every day it seems like you open a newspaper, listen to the radio, and one of our beloved local businesses has shut down,” Rigie said. “We have this incredible bill that will help 4,000 businesses right here in Manhattan get some desperate financial relief.”

Rigie urged Mayor Bill de Blasio to support their efforts and for other councilmembers to join on to the efforts Garodnick is leading.

When asked about the mayor’s and his fellow councilmembers’ views on the proposed measures, Garodnick said there was some openness and that he believes that support for reforming the CRT will build.

“We should do away with it entirely,” Garodnick said of the CRT. “We’re taking steps today to start that process, trying to deliver some level of immediate fairness to these small businesses for the sake of the businesses themselves, the communities they’re serving, and the people from all around the city who work in them.”


Chelsea Now: NCO Program Rolled Out at 10th Precinct

March 1, 2017

March 1, 2017

There was once a time when community members would know their neighborhood beat cop by name — and that’s the era the NYPD is looking to harken back to with their Neighborhood Coordinating Officer (NCO) Program. Now arriving at the 10th Precinct (NYC’s 39th command to adopt this protocol), the NCO program assigns specific officers exclusively to certain areas, in order to build up community relations and directly address an area’s unique issues. To mark the occasion, the 10th Precinct held an NCO Rollout event at the Fashion Institute of Technology (227 W. 27th St., at Seventh Ave.) on Tues., Feb 28, where enthusiasm and hopes for the program ran high.

“I’m excited that the NCO program is coming to the 10th Precinct,” City Councilmember Corey Johnson told Chelsea Now prior to the evening’s presentation, at a cocktail hour where neighborhood stakeholders hobnobbed. “It’s what residents have asked for, for a long time,” he said, noting that interacting with residents and businesses individually has proven to be “an effective policing method.”

That sentiment was reiterated (and backed up by stats) once the presentation began in earnest, led by NYPD Chief of Patrol Terence Monahan.

“As the city has changed, so have we as a police department,” Monahan said, noting that, while the crime rates are lower than ever, in recent years relations with and perceptions of police have been quite negative. “We had to come up with a new way of policing,” he asserted, “to repair some of the disconnect.” The NCO Program was the result. “This is a major philosophical change for us as a department,” he noted.

Monahan explained that each participating precinct is divided into smaller areas (the 10th is split into three, in addition to Elliot-Chelsea and Fulton Houses), and assigned two officers whose sole job is to get to know and serve residents personally — including giving out their cellphone numbers and email. These officers are allowed to use initiative to make decisions, and reach out to people and neighborhood needs based on what they observe and the connections they make. The hope is that their efforts will lead to people trusting their local officers as a first-line resource for conflict resolution — “humanizing the uniform” as Monahan put it.

Other components of the program include the construction of Neighborhood Work Groups (consisting of NCOs and community stakeholders) to regularly discuss issues, the addition of new POs to the precinct, and specialized training courses for NCOs to help optimize their work.

“They are your cops,” Monahan said emphatically, noting that participating precincts have already seen notable reductions in crime and positive feedback from locals. “I challenge you today — get to know your NCO. Invite them to your block, invite them to your building… We need to get input from everyone.”

To help facilitate this, after a brief Q&A and featured speakers’ comments (including Johnson and 10th Precinct CO Captain Paul Lanot), the NCO officers were brought up to introduce themselves to the crowd. First were the officers serving the Elliot-Chelsea and Fulton Houses: Officers Julio Jimenez, Kimberly Peralta, Marissa Pineiro, and Mauritius Vogel, who had already been active in the complexes prior to the rollout.

Next came the officers from Sector A (btw. W. 21st & 14th Sts., west of Seventh Ave.): Officer Robert Karl, who’s been with the force 19 years in various roles, and Officer Matt Maddox, a seven year NYPD vet and former New York Giant. “It wasn’t very long — about as long as we’ve been here tonight,” Maddox laughed. The Sector B (btw. W. 29th St. & 21st Sts., west of Seventh Ave.) officers — George Ricker (whose grandparents hailed from Chelsea, giving him a personal connection to the area) and Tamarah Pickney — followed. Sector C (btw. W. 43rd & 29th Sts., west of Ninth Ave.) was handled by Detective Anthony Marion and Officer Lisa Mitchell.

As the meeting came to a close, those assembled were encouraged to mingle with the NCOs and take down their cell numbers and email — as well as connect to them via the newly launched 10th Precinct Facebook page: