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June 2015

News, Uncategorized

June 2015 E-News: A Big Win for Council District 3; A Historic Month for our Country; July Events Calendar

June 30, 2015

Dear Friends,

We are living in historic times. Marriage equality is law in all fifty states and the Affordable Care Act has been upheld.

Here in New York City, the City Council passed a $78.5 billion budget that will greatly benefit our community. Additionally, several of my bills were signed into law by Mayor de Blasio.

Please click here to read details on this and more, along with a listing of July events in and around the district.

As always, I am here to help. You can contact my District Office at (212) 564-7757 between 10 am and 6 pm on Mondays to Fridays, or email me at district3@council.nyc.gov.

In service,

Corey Johnson
Council Member, 3rd Council District

 

News

The Gothamist: “Cuomo Betrayed Us,” But Tenants Get First Rent Freeze In 46 Years

June 30, 2015

By Steven Wishnia

For the first time since rent stabilization began 46 years ago, the New York City Rent Guidelines Board voted to freeze rents.

By a 7-2 margin, with the landlord representatives the only dissenters, the board voted last night to prohibit rent increases for rent stabilized tenants renewing their leases for one year, beginning October 1st. Tenants renewing their leases for two years will face 2 percent increases.

“It’s a huge victory for tenants,” Harvey Epstein, one of the RGB’s two tenant representatives, said after the meeting. “It’s at least a statement that tenants have power and were able to speak up to real estate interests.” The combination of “getting the data out before the board” and the personal stories told at public hearings in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn earlier this month, he added, made the five public members “understand the plight of tenants who are struggling to pay their bills.”

The vote was the first time in at least 20 years that the RGB has approved guidelines proposed by the tenant representatives. It was also the first time in at least 20 years that tenant protesters in the crowd chanted a pro-RGB slogan: “Cuomo betrayed us, the RGB can save us.”

RGB chair Rachel L. Godsil said the main change since last year, when the board nixed a widely expected rent freeze, was a 21 percent drop in owners’ fuel costs. The board allowed the increase on two-year leases, she said, to avoid locking owners into this year’s rents if costs rise in the next year.

In front of more than 400 people in the Great Hall at Cooper Union—many of whom chanted loudly for a rent rollback for almost half an hour before the meeting officially started—the tenant representatives opted for pragmatism. “The data supports a rent rollback,” Sheila Garcia said while proposing the one-year freeze, “but we don’t have the votes to make that happen tonight.”

Owner representative Sara Williams Willard called the freeze “myopic and biased.” But the landlord presence in the crowd was minimal; about 20 people in a far corner of the auditorium, one holding a sign that read “Free Market” and another “Bills Too High, Rents Too Low.”

Godsil gave a three-page spiel before she cast her vote for the freeze, rattling off statistics to explain her position. The board’s data, she said, indicated that landlords’ operating costs rose by only 0.5 percent last year, the lowest increase since 2002, and their net operating income before debt payments went up by 3.4 percent, the ninth year in a row it has increased. The board’s “commensurate” estimates indicated that owners could sustain that net operating income even with a rent reduction of 2 percent for a one-year lease and 1 percent for two years, at least with an increase of 0.75 percent for one year and 2 percent for two.

Landlords’ net operating income has increased by 34.4 percent since 1990 after adjusting for inflation, while homelessness rose by almost 10 percent in 2014. And over the last three years, rents have gone up almost five times as much as tenants’ incomes: With a median income of $41,500 a year and a median rent of $1,300 a month, half of the city’s 1 million rent-stabilized tenants now spend more than 36.4 percent of their income on rent.

“Ensuring that rents provide owners with sufficient revenue to meet operating expenses and receive a fair rate of return is critical to maintaining the rent-stabilized housing stock,” Godsil concluded. “However, in light of this year’s current data, a guideline which grants a 0 percent increase for one-year leases is appropriate.”

That data, particularly the generation-long increase in landlords’ net operating income and the fact that most rent-stabilized tenants spend more than one-third of their incomes on rent, could also be used to argue for a rent rollback. Tenant groups contend that the RGB under mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg allowed rent increases far above the rise in landlords’ costs, and it’s time to compensate for that.

“The landlords have gotten more increases than their costs have justified,” Alan Podhaizer, 69, of Coney Island, said before the meeting. “They’ve never opened their books.”

“We understand that argument,” Godsil responded, but said a rent reduction would be “potentially really harmful to small owners.”

“It’s a historic day,” said Manhattan Councilmember Corey Johnson. “Finally the RGB is accurately looking at the numbers and coming down on the side of tenants.”

“They actually asked the question of whether there should be an increase, instead of how much of an increase should there be,” said Brooklyn Councilmember Jumaane Williams.

“This is a big deal in a time when Albany didn’t do anything for us,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. The rent freeze won’t stop harassment of tenants, she said, but it shows that “people understand the threats tenants are under.”

With the state government’s refusal to repeal vacancy decontrol last week preserving the prime incentive for landlords to force tenants out, harassment was on the minds of many in the audience. Ruth Riddick of Midwood said his Brooklyn neighborhood has seen landlords “harassing tenants out of their buildings, making shoddy improvements, and raising the rent up high.” Rents for new residents are getting close to the $2,700 deregulation threshold, while for longtime tenants—she’s lived in her apartment for 35 years—“the landlords are not making repairs. That’s part of the harassment.”

“The landlord is trying to kick us all out,” said Jenny, a 16-year-old girl who lives with her parents and grandparents in Chinatown. Several tenants in the building have taken buyouts, she added, and the new residents are paying between $2,000 and $3,000.

Still, the mood before the meeting was festively angry, with the Rude Mechanical Orchestra marching band playing in the courtyard of the luxury high-rise across the street, as protesters streamed in from Flatbush, Sunset Park, West Harlem, the Bronx, and the Lower East Side. “La renta sube, sube/ El pueblo sufre, sufre,” they chanted as the drummer pounded a four-on-the-floor tom-tom beat. (“The rent goes up, up/The people suffer, suffer.”)

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Wasim Lone of Good Old Lower East Side. “A rollback would have been justice, but getting a rent freeze for the first time in the history of the Rent Gouging Board is a victory. We’ll take zero percent, and keep on organizing.”

News

Daily News: City Council reaches $21 million deal to keep community-based nonprofits in business

June 28, 2015

By Jennifer Fermino

t’s a happy ending for dozens of small, community-based nonprofits that were facing dire cuts in the city’s budget.

The de Blasio administration and the City Council reached an agreement for more than $21 million that is expected to keep the groups — including Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens and the NYU Dental Van — in business.

“I’m ecstatic,” said City Councilman Corey Johnson, (D-Manhattan), who along with Councilman Andrew Cohen (D-Bronx) fought to keep the groups in the money.

News

STATEMENT FROM THE NYC COUNCIL LGBT CAUCUS

June 26, 2015

“We are moved beyond words. Today the United States Supreme Court has upheld the principals of equality and liberty upon which our country was founded. Our highest court has recognized what we have always known: our relationships are no less valid, no less meaningful and no less deserving of recognition than others. In our lives we have witnessed tremendous progress. As we celebrate this victory during LGBT Pride week, we look forward to the work ahead. We must press forward until we achieve full equality under the law, including in employment, housing and public accommodation. We thank the countless people who worked tirelessly, for so many years, to make this day a reality.”

News

NY1: City Hall Puts Pride on Display

June 26, 2015

The steps of City Hall usually feature protests and press conferences. Friday, it was transformed into a wedding venue as the mayor officiated two same-sex weddings.

“Do you, Katrina, solemnly declare that you take Sarah to be your spouse?” de Blasio asked. “ Yes,” she answered.

Two of the new brides are city employees. The mayor also presided as a third same-sex couple – one of them an old college roommate – renewed their vows.

Speaking to a crowd, the mayor chanted, “Say it again with me loud and proud; Today! Love! Wins!”

In addition to the vows, the event doubled as a rally for gay marriage supporters. Rainbow flags were hung across the City Hall balcony, and the mayor said New Yorkers felt a singular pride – thanks to the legacy of the Stonewall uprising.

“That ignited a movement. That movement swept across this nation and fueled today’s triumph,” de Blasio said.

While the celebration drew a joyous crowd of several hundred to the City Hall steps, not everyone at City Hall Friday was cheering the Supreme Court’s decision.

In the morning, the mayor met with his clergy advisory council, and afterwards, avoided mention of gay marriage – which some religious leaders oppose.

“I stand for what the Bible stands for, and stand opposed to what it’s opposed to. So I’m really not in support,” said Rev. Cheryl Anthony of Judah International Christian Center.

Still, that sentiment was clearly the exception Friday. City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer married his longtime partner in 2012.

“When the country takes a stand, and says we are not going to treat one group of citizens better than another group of citizens, that we are not going to ostracize and oppress and discriminate, all of us are uplifted,” he said.

“Today is a day about love. Love won out. And five Supreme Court justices came down on the right side of history,” said City Councilman Corey Johnson.

News

New York Times: New York City Makes Stonewall Inn a Landmark

June 23, 2015

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Stonewall Inn, the Greenwich Village bar where resistance to a police raid touched off the modern gay rights movement, was made a New York City landmark on Tuesday, the first time a site has been named primarily because of its significance in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history.

“New York City’s greatness lies in its inclusivity and diversity,” Meenakshi Srinivasan, chairwoman of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, said before the unanimous vote. “The events at Stonewall were a turning point in the L.G.B.T. rights movement and in the history of our nation.”

Patrons fought back against a police raid on the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, and the street protests that followed for several days are credited with galvanizing gay activism in New York and globally. The rebellion is commemorated with annual gay pride parades in hundreds of cities.

“Few sites anywhere in New York have the international resonance of Stonewall,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

The vote came after a public hearing in which every speaker supported the landmark designation.

“There are few locations that can be cited as the birthplace of a global movement,” said Councilman Corey Johnson, a Democrat whose district includes the Stonewall. “One such location is the Stonewall Inn.”

The building’s owners, Duell L.L.C., did not speak at the hearing. Officials with the company did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The Real Estate Board of New York said it supported the landmark designation because the Stonewall “is clearly recognized in New York City and around the world as the birthplace of the L.G.B.T. rights movement.”

The designation covers two adjoining two-story buildings that together housed a gay bar starting in 1967.

One of the buildings, at 51 Christopher Street, is home to the current Stonewall Inn, which remains a gathering place for gay New Yorkers. The brick and stucco facades of the two structures, originally built as stables in the 1840s, have essentially been unchanged since 1969.

The Stonewall is not architecturally distinguished and would not earn landmark status on aesthetic grounds, several speakers noted.

The Stonewall was already part of the city-designated Greenwich Village Historic District, and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. But speakers at the hearing said the individual city landmark designation was necessary to preserve the Stonewall and recognize its historic importance.

“It must be protected against rapacious developers who would destroy the history of this sacred place and all it represents,” Letitia James, the city’s public advocate, said.

News

The Guardian: Stonewall Inn, gay rights icon, gets official New York landmark status

June 23, 2015

By Mahita Gajanan

The Stonewall Inn, the bar in New York’s Greenwich Village widely considered to be the birthplace of the gay rights movement, was designated as a city landmark on Tuesday.

Following a public hearing on Tuesday morning, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to designate the bar an individual landmark. Under this designation, the Stonewall Inn is guaranteed preservation and protection as a site of historical significance.

“It’s great to know this iconic site is recognized and protected,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which has worked since 2014 to have the Stonewall Inn designated.

The bar was the site of the Stonewall riots, a series of demonstrations by members of the LGBT community against a police raid that took place on the establishment in June 1969. The uprising inspired a new phase in the gay liberation movement, and several organizations formed nationally and internationally to promote and support LGBT civil rights – including the British gay rights lobby group Stonewall.

Martin Boyce, a “Stonewall veteran”, spoke before the commission and more than 50 supporters who attended the hearing about the importance of preserving the bar as a landmark for future generations. Boyce said when he was younger resources for LGBT history and literature were scarce.

“We were sneaking around for information,” he told the Guardian. He found a community within the Stonewall Inn, and participated in the riots, he said.

To Boyce, now 67, the Stonewall Inn is a monument, and he said the LGBT community had few official historical monuments. “Let’s give our youths something,” he said to the commission. “We have nothing.”

When asked about the riots, Boyce said: “It was brutal, but necessary. I’m glad I lived to see this. This is what we fought for, and we won our battle.”

Boyce and Berman were two of more than 20 representatives, activists and community leaders who spoke in support of designating the Stonewall Inn a landmark. Many referenced Barack Obama’s second inaugural address, in which the president mentioned the Stonewall riots and placed gay rights within the context of the wider civil rights movement.

Several also called upon the commission to recognize numerous other sites in New York connected to LGBT civil rights. These sites have been submitted to the commission for consideration, and include Julius Bar, the LGBT community center and the former Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse.

Recounting the bar’s significant history, city council member Corey Johnson said: “History has also shown a lot happened outside the Stonewall … I think it’s important for us to give recognition to that as well, not just the inside of the bar. There are other sites that we need you as a commission to landmark.”

Meenakshi Srinivasan, commission chair, said the other sites submitted for consideration are “on our radar”, and that the commission is considering them for designation.

“It was very moving,” Srinivasan said of the wave of people who spoke at the hearing. “I’m pleased with the support.”

The Stonewall Inn and Christopher Park, a small park in front of the bar, might also be included as a unit of the National Park Service.

The National Park Conservation Association, an advocacy group that works on behalf of the National Park Service, is hosting a meeting on Tuesday night at the LGBT Community Center to discuss the possible inclusion.

News

Drug Policy Alliance: NYC Council Holds Hearing on Bill to Reorient Drug Policy Toward Health and Safety

June 23, 2015

By Jeremy Saunders and Gabriel Sayegh

New York, NY – As the New York City Council prepared to hold a hearing on legislation to reshape how the city deals with illegal drug use, advocates packed the steps of City Hall in support.

The bill would create an Office of Drug Strategy charged with coordinating policy and programmatic priorities across dozens of city agencies and collaborating with community organizations. While similar approaches exist in scores of Canadian and European cities, the New York City office would be the first of its kind in the U.S.

“I know firsthand why we need an Office of Drug Strategy, dedicated to creating alternatives to our city’s failed drug policies,” said Shantae Owens, a member of VOCAL New York. “When I was arrested for possessing a small amount of drugs, I was homeless and drug addicted, selling drugs just to support a habit. I was offered a prison sentence instead of treatment, which was a waste of my life and our tax dollars. New York City can and should be a national role model for how we can end drug war policies and replace them with policies of justice and equity, and politics of compassion and love.”

Under current policies, city agencies often work at cross-purposes, with conflicts arising between public health and law enforcement policies, and missed opportunities to provide support to people who use drugs in housing programs, the welfare system, family and homeless services, and the courts. Partly as a result, drugs are cheaper, more pure, and easier to obtain than ever, resulting in growing problems like the 100% increase in NYC heroin overdose deaths in recent years.

“I see a drug strategy office as creating a path toward solving some of the thorniest problems in health and public safety in New York City,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, chair of the Committee on Health and a lead sponsor of the bill. “The war on drugs has produced a legacy of misery, corruption, and waste. This bill is a small step toward changing course and building a city where people get the help they need to be healthy, where drug-related violence no longer exists, and where poor communities and people of color are not arrested and incarcerated at exponentially higher rates than the wealthy and white.”

“Drug use, addiction, mental health, and public safety are problems that are too complicated for any one city agency to solve,” said Council Member Andrew Cohen, chair of the Committee on Mental Health and a lead sponsor of the bill. “Creating an Office of Drug Strategy gives New York City an opportunity to make sure that every part of the system – from the health department, to homeless services, to the NYPD – is doing what it can to support people struggling with addiction.”

“For decades, New York has been a national leader in innovative, effective drug treatment, but for many in need we are failing to make sure the door to care is open,” said John Coppola, Executive Director of the Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers of New York State, which represents over 200 drug treatment, prevention, and recovery programs. “A mayor’s office of drug strategy could help ensure that wherever people with substance use disorders encounter city government, the first priority is their health and well-being.”

The idea is not new to New York, having been initially raised through a year-long exercise that consulted hundreds of experts across the state, and published jointly by The New York Academy of Medicine and the Drug Policy Alliance.

“Historically, the New York Academy of Medicine has supported a coordinated public health approach to drug policy,” said Angel Mendoza, MD, Director of Health Police with the New York Academy of Medicine. “Our Blueprint for a Public Health and Safety Approach to Drug Policy demonstrates how a 4-pillar model of prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and public safety can help communities to realize better health and public safety outcomes. Our support for Intro 748 is in line with this coordinated and evidence-based approach to drug policy.”

Bronx Council Member and chair of the Committee on Public Safety Vanessa L. Gibson said that, “Through the creation of an Office of Drug Strategy, we will develop a unified drug strategy that provides New York with a coordinated effort to develop best practices for those who cycle in and out of prison on drug charges. By drawing on the expertise of diverse city agencies and community groups, we will build safer, healthier communities and allow the police the opportunity to focus on violence and other major crimes. I look forward to the innovation this office will bring to New York and the good it will do for our citizens.”

“A drug arrest leads not only to prosecution and incarceration, which is a horrendous, dehumanizing process in and of itself, but also to a multitude of devastating consequences for that individual and his entire family,” said Runa Rajagopal, Supervising Attorney for the Bronx Defenders. “There is a better way. The Bronx Defenders supports Intro 748 because it will address and reconcile our contradictory, punitive approach to what is actually a public health problem.”

“After nearly 45 years of a failed war on drugs, it’s time for a new approach, one grounded in health and safety instead of criminalization and racism,” said gabriel sayegh, Managing Director of Policy and Campaigns at the Drug Policy Alliance. “It’s not just New Yorkers who are ready for change – across the nation and across the political spectrum, there is a growing call to end the war on drugs and end mass incarceration. Intro 748 would fill a gap in New York’s existing innovative programs and practices related to drug policy. With some focused leadership and cross-sector collaboration, New York City can lead the country in developing drug policies grounded in science, health, compassion and human rights.”

News

Metro: City mulling office to streamline drug policy and focus on public health

June 23, 2015

By Wendy Joan Biddlecombe

Shantae Owens says he could have used a little more help getting on the straight and narrow during the 24 years he was addicted to heroin.

“I think if I would have gotten into treatment in my teens, early adulthood, it wouldn’t have led to me having to deal with homelessness and all the other stuff that comes with it,” said Owens, 41 who is a member of VOCAL New York, a grassroots community organization. “They look at drug addiction as someone who is evil, a criminal, all the stigma comes up, so they don’t gravitate toward you, they push back from you.”

As heroin deaths continue to rise in New York City, City Council is considering establishing a Office of Drug Strategy, which would unite multiple city agencies to combat drug abuse from a public health standpoint, and shift the focus away from criminalization to rehabilitation.

Council Member Corey Johnson, who introduced the bill in May, said Canada and European countries already have drug strategy offices, and New York could be the first place in the U.S. to do so if City Council passes the legislation.

Johnson, who chairs the health committee, said creating an Office of Drug Strategy would put the city on the right path toward “solving some of the thorniest problems in health and public safety.”

“The war on drugs have left a legacy of misery, corruption and waste and this bill is a small step toward changing course and building a city where people get the help they need to be healthy,” Johnson said, adding he’s celebrating his sixth year of sobriety in a few weeks and that he considers himself lucky “all the stupid stuff I did before I was sober didn’t land me in very hot water.”

“But today we’re here because New Yorkers are tired of discoordination in this city … New York City has some of the best resources and we can’t get to them because of this red tape, and there’s no one we can go to to ask for accountability,” said Kassandra Frederique, a policy manager with Drug Policy Alliance.

At a hearing that discussed the bill later Tuesday morning, Johnson said the city provides a “patchwork of mental health services that don’t always treat people the way they need.”

One New Yorker dies every other day from painkiller overdoses, according to Gary Belkin, executive deputy commissioner of the city health department’s division of mental hygiene.

Drug deaths increased 41 percent in New York City from 2010-2013, according to city health department figures released last year, with 77 percent of those from heroin, painkillers or other opioids.

NYPD Assistant Chief Brian McCarthy said the department has seized 716 pounds of heroin so far this year, compared to 353 pounds during the same period in 2014.

Many NYPD officers now carry naloxone kits that can reverse a heroin overdose. During the hearing Council member Paul Vallone expressed some concern of police officers toeing the line with public health.

“The NYPD  shouldn’t have to be a social worker on the scene,” Vallone said.

News

Queens Chronicle: City Council passes the Fair Chance Act

June 18, 2015

By Christine Spagnuolo

The Fair Chance Act was passed by the City Council on June 10, making it a violation of the city’s Human Rights Law for most employers to make any inquiry about a job applicant’s criminal background prior to receiving a conditional offer of employment.

The policy is extended to all employers, public and private. Nothing in the bill would require an employer to hire anyone despite his or her criminal history. Employers could make a determination that an applicant’s criminal history poses a potential risk based on the nature of the person’s criminal history and the type of employment position.

“Once enacted, this law will ensure that all New Yorkers, including those with convictions for previous mistakes, will have an equal opportunity to compete for jobs that they qualify for,” said Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn), who sponsored the bill. “I am proud New York City will now join the ranks of more than 17 states and 100 cities to give all applicants a fair chance.”

The bill does not apply to employers hiring for positions where any federal, state or local law requires criminal background checks or where criminal backgrounds serve as a bar to employment. The bill also exempts law enforcement positions, such as members of the Police Department and Department of Investigation, in addition to a limited number of positions of public trust wherein the hiring process is affected by the state’s Civil Service Law.

The vote was 45-5. Councilmen Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), Steven Matteo (R-Staten Island), James Vacca (D-Bronx), Vincent Ignizio (R-Staten Island) and Andrew Cohen (D-Bronx) voted no. Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Brooklyn) abstained.

“The Council should be more focused on legislative ways to help small businesses create jobs, not on adding more red-tape and regulations,” Ulrich said in a prepared statement. “This bill will only increase the cost of doing business in our city and that is why I opposed it.”

Ronald Day is the associate vice president of The Fortune Society, a nonprofit community-based organization dedicated to helping the formerly incarcerated to becoming contributing members of society. He believes preparedness is not enough, and that this bill was necessary.

“The Fortune Society serves hundreds of clients in our employment services unit, who show up to training on time, create marketable resumes, enhance their interviewing and interpersonal skills, secure interview attire and are thoroughly prepared for employment opportunities,” he said. “Fortune Society applauds the City Council for passing one of the strongest ‘ban the box’ provisions in the country.”

The Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, the Queens Chamber of Commerce, the Bayside Village BID, and Sunnyside Shines all declined to comment on the subject matter.

In a report by the Daily News in 2014, mayor’s counsel Maya Wiley told the City Council, “We want New Yorkers back to work. We want New Yorkers able to support their families.”

Reports say that the bill is expected to be signed into law by Mayor de Blasio in the coming weeks. When asked repeatedly for confirmation, his press office did not respond.