Monthly Archives

November 2015

News

Gay City News: Council Details $6.6 Million Funding for Plan to End AIDS

November 24, 2015

BY DUNCAN OSBORNE
November 23, 2015

BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | Moving on the Plan to End AIDS, the City Council will spend $6.6 million to fund pre-exposure and post-exposure prophylaxis programs and efforts to aid people with HIV in staying on anti-HIV drugs so they remain non-infectious.

“This initiative will help continue to provide programs and education to raise awareness of this devastating epidemic,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said in a joint November 23 statement with Corey Johnson, the openly gay and HIV-positive Council member who represents Chelsea. “It is critically important that all New Yorkers do their part to fight the spread of HIV/ AIDS. The more we take advantage of these resources, the closer we’ll get to ending the epidemic.”

The plan, which was first proposed by leading AIDS groups in 2014, relies largely on using anti-HIV drugs in HIV-positive and HIV-negative people to reduce the number of new HIV infections in New York State from the current roughly 3,000 a year to 750 annually by 2020.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) uses anti-HIV drugs in HIV-negative people to keep them uninfected. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) uses the same drugs in someone with a recent exposure to HIV to keep them uninfected. So-called treatment as prevention (TasP) uses anti-HIV drugs in HIV-positive people to keep them healthy and reduce the amount of virus in their bodies so they are no longer infectious. All three drug regimens are highly effective when used correctly

“New York has a plan to end the HIV/ AIDS epidemic and now we’ve got to fund it,” said Johnson, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Health, in the statement. “Every dollar of the Council’s $6.6 million contribution will bring us closer to achieving this goal.”

More than 90 percent of new HIV infections in New York State are in the city, so the plan will only succeed with the city’s funding and participation.

The Council money funds citywide PrEP programs run by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center and ACRIA, an AIDS group, and TasP efforts at Housing Works, which has been very successful in getting its clients into treatment and virally suppressed, and at Amida Care, a special needs health plan.

The Council dollars will also fund PEP education and training. While little known, PEP is more than 20 years old and is currently used primarily by healthcare professionals who have an exposure to HIV, typically through an accidental needle stick. The money also funds HIV testing and efforts to link those who test positive to care so they can begin treatment.

The $6.6 million comes from $2.7 million in City Council HIV dollars that have been repurposed and $3.9 million that was in the budget for the current fiscal year. The de Blasio administration contributed an additional $1.9 million in the current fiscal year.

The Cuomo administration spent $10 million for the plan, an amount that was well below what advocates were seeking. The budget for the state fiscal year, which began on April 1, spent $5 million for a program to help PrEP users pay for the drug regimen and another $5 million to fund various other components of the program.

According to a June email sent from David Lara, a deputy director in the state Division of the Budget, to Alphonso David, a senior member of the Cuomo administration, $7.5 million of the $10 million was funded by Medicaid and $2.5 million was new spending from the general fund. The email was among 127 pages of records that Gay City News obtained from the City Council in response to an open records request.

Among the roughly two dozen community groups funded by the Council are GMHC, Harlem United, the Ali Forney Center, the Hetrick-Martin Institute, the Latino Commission on AIDS, the Apicha Community Health Center, the AIDS Center of Queens County, and BOOM!Health in the Bronx. The money also pays for programs at major city hospitals, including a PrEP pilot program for adolescents at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

“I am thrilled by the leadership shown by the New York City Council, creating a new initiative to fund Ending the AIDS Epidemic efforts in New York City,” Charles King, the chief executive at Housing Works, said in the statement. “Both Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Health Committee Chair Corey Johnson deserve credit for not only carefully tracking the recommendations made by the Ending the Epidemic Taskforce in its Blue Print, but also funding the priorities developed by the community.”

King is credited, along with Mark Harrington, the head of the Treatment Action Group, with developing the Plan to End AIDS. King has negotiated much of the funding and details of the plan with the city and state.

The statement also included laudatory quotes from another seven groups.

Events

Villager: Pols put on a push to cap number of tour buses at 225 licenses

November 20, 2015

November 19, 2015

BY AMY RUSSO  |  The state Department of Transportation reports that the number of double-decker tour buses in New York City more than tripled, from 57 to 194, from 2003 to 2013.

Today, there are at least eight sightseeing bus companies that operate a total of 229 buses — with nine license plates pending. The number of buses was, even higher, 299 in September 2014.

Endangerment of pedestrians, pollution, crowded streets and excessive noise are just some of the complaints being raised by Manhattan politicians and locals against sightseeing tour buses throughout the city.

Repeated cases of tour buses injuring and even killing pedestrians have moved politicians to action. These included one accident last July when a bus struck a man at the intersection of West Fourth St. and Sixth Ave., pinning him under the vehicle and dragging him down the street for some distance.

In October, legislation was announced by Councilmember Margaret Chin and Borough President Gale Brewer to cap the number of tour bus licenses issued at 225. There are currently no laws regulating the number of tour bus licenses in Manhattan.

“Multiple tour buses piled up at curbs and near-empty tour buses cruising the streets have made it clear — we need to set ground rules for this industry,” Brewer said.

If it becomes law, the bill would prevent the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs from issuing new license plates to sightseeing buses unless the number of active plates is under 225. The bill would not prohibit existing licenses from being renewed or replaced. Any vehicle capable of seating at least eight passengers that hires and sells trips to tourist destinations is required to have a sightseeing bus license.

The proposal comes a few months after a bill was introduced last May, under the prime sponsorship of Councilmember Corey Johnson, mandating that tour bus operators submit their operating plans to D.C.A. when applying for a bus license, facilitating D.C.A.’s monitoring of tour bus traffic at any given time.

Johnson also supports the cap on tour buses.

“This bill will improve the quality of life for so many New Yorkers who are affected every day by the constant flow of tour buses through our streets,” Johnson said. “When we have too many of these buses in operation, residents are faced with excessive noise, air pollution, traffic congestion and serious pedestrian safety issues.”

Paul Leonard, a spokesperson for Chin, said, “We feel that there is a momentum behind this effort to propose a very reasonable cap. We are very confident this will become law.”

The bill is currently in the Council’s Committee on Consumer Affairs.

Meanwhile, local residents and politicians claim that the buses are often partially or completely empty, functioning more as mobile advertisements than tourist transportation. 

“Often nearly empty of tourists, these tour buses serve as rolling billboards for a captive audience of New Yorkers who are negatively affected by the noise, negative air quality and congestion the buses create,” said Chin. “Our legislation seeks to institute a better balance between accommodating tourism and ensuring the safety and well-being of residents in neighborhoods throughout our city.”

Opponents also claim the vehicles’ noise levels are not being effectively regulated.

“These buses not only cause traffic problems, but many of them fail to comply with the law requiring them to have sound-limiting devices,” said Leigh Behnke of the Broadway Residents Coalition.

Leonard echoed the same concerns, stating, “Despite legislation that was actually signed into law limiting use of loudspeakers…we are still getting complaints about noise coming from sightseeing tour buses.”

Regarding the instances of pedestrians being injured or worse by the lumbering buses, Leonard said, “Unfortunately, these tragedies occur and it just makes us more resolute in our efforts.”

News

Chelsea Now: Tenants Fight Back in State Supreme Court

November 11, 2015

BY EILEEN STUKANE
November 11, 2015

The tenant harassment at 264 and 266 W. 25th St. continues unabated, as a gas leak caused the NYC Fire Department and Con Edison to shut and seal gas pipes at 264 on Nov. 7. Also this month, a tenant’s intercom and phone lines were severed. As reported in Chelsea Now (Oct. 21, 2015), The Sabet Group, which owns the buildings, did not institute a Tenant Protection Plan as it went about demolishing 10 apartments in the five-story building of 17 apartments at 264 W. 25th St., and also began working on several of the 15 apartments in the five-story building next door at 266. Since demolition began, a worker fell through the bedroom ceiling of a tenant who was continuing to live in her home. Other tenants had to confront infestations of insects that included bedbugs, and leaks that led to flooding.

Last month, the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) issued a partial Stop Work Order due to plumbing issues which remains active, and the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (HMH) issued a full Stop Work Order due to serious exposure of lead dust to the tenants. The landlord reportedly complied with HMH requirements, thereby lifting the Stop Work Order. 

Since our Oct. 21 article, Steven Cincotta, a tenant at 266 W. 25th St., reports that there have been more DOB inspections — but the underlying construction has never stopped. He wrote in an email to Chelsea Now: “Unless DOB is willing to enter the apartments it claims it cannot get access to, things will never be better for the citizens.”

Residents have filed over 30 complaints to the DOB. When inspectors arrive, however, they are unable to gain access to apartments under construction.

As tenants have told us, an alleged lookout stationed in front of the buildings alerts workers inside to halt construction, lock doors, and prevent inspections.

Tenants have made DOB inspectors aware of a back way into the buildings to avoid notice. From the Jeanne D’Arc Residence at 253 W. 24th St., inspectors can walk through a fire exit door that opens into the backyard of 264 W. 25th, and enter the building. However, The Sabet Group recently blockaded the fire door with a door-sized sheet of plywood to prevent inspectors from gaining access. This barricade also blocks the fire exit for the women residents, which is a NYC Fire Department violation, although one has yet to be issued.

FIGHTING BACK IN SUPREME COURT

At the end of last month, Cincotta filed an injunction in the NY State Supreme Court, asking for a “Temporary Restraining Order forthwith enjoining any construction work from being performed at 264 West Twenty-Fifth Street, New York, NY.” Named in the injunction were The Sabet Group, Signature Bank, and the NYC DOB. The date for the defending parties to return to court is Nov. 18.

Cincotta has been helped by the offices of NY State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, Councilmember Corey Johnson, and most recently, NY State Senator Brad Hoylman, who is planning to introduce legislation in Albany that would codify a tenant’s clear right to bring suit in State Supreme Court to 1) compel a building owner to grant unfettered access to the building to DOB, and 2) direct the Department to inspect alleged violations at the premises.

As Hoylman says: “Tenants like Steven Cincotta may not have standing to compel DOB to do its job. Our legislation would give them that standing and mandate that DOB pursue and expect access.” He continues, “If DOB is not going to do its job, we should allow tenants to have access to court standing and compel DOB to do its job.” This legislation is in the early stages of development, and will be introduced in the NY State Legislature in January 2016.

“We need this to correct in Supreme Court, not Housing Court,” says Hoylman, “Also keeping it in Supreme Court has a side benefit of keeping tenants off the so-called blacklist.”

HOUSING COURT’S TENANT BLACKLIST

Legitimate issues can bring a landlord to seek justice in regard to nonpaying or disruptive tenants in Housing Court. Until 2012, the names of tenants that are specified by landlords appeared in the Housing Court’s database. On the flip side, tenants who sought justice in Housing Court due to landlord harassment were also listed on the database, even if they were victorious in their cases.

Hundreds of Tenant Screening Bureaus (TSB) collect and sell consumer rental histories — from the Housing Court’s (HC) database — to landlords. No matter whether a tenant was justified or not in bringing a case to HC, once a name is in the HC database, a person can have a great deal of difficulty being approved for a new apartment. Landlords shun those on the list.

Under political pressure, in March 2012 the NY State Office of Court Administration (OCA), which was providing names and addresses to TSBs, announced that to prevent blacklisting, names and addresses would no longer appear. OCA, however, continues to feed TSBs with index numbers of new cases, and tenants’ names — unless tenants have filed under “John Doe” or initials — can be acquired through a public access computer.

In January 2015 Councilmember Benjamin Kallos spearheaded the “Anti Tenant-Blacklist” bill, which he introduced to the City Council. This bill would allow a tenant who felt discriminated against to file a complaint with the NYC Commission on Human Rights. Violations would be issued to landlords if complaints were justified.

This bill was approved by the Council in March 2015, but there is no word on whether or not it will become law. As Hoylman says, “It’s a distressing fact of daily life for a lot of tenants that their landlords want to force them out, so they can then rent to the luxury market. It’s a factor of market economics, and the market, as has been said, has no morals. What has been happening to tenants across Chelsea and the entire West Side is immoral.”

News

COUNCIL MEMBER COREY JOHNSON, NYC PARKS & ELECTED OFFICIALS ANNOUNCE NEW PARK FOR CHELSEA

November 8, 2015

10,000 Square Foot Lot on West 20th Street to be Developed into New Public Park

 Additionally, Hundreds of Units of Affordable Housing to be Created at Hudson Yards, a ‘Win-Win’ for the Community

A New Park

After years of effort, NYC Council Member Corey Johnson and NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver today announced fully funded plans for the creation of a new park at 140 West 20th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.  The 10,000-square foot lot, which currently houses a two-story Department of Sanitation building and parking lot, will provide much needed green space for the Chelsea neighborhood.

Beginning in 2010, Chelsea residents began a grass-roots effort to compel the City to turn the vacant sanitation lot into a public park that all New Yorkers can enjoy. Meanwhile, a search for City-owned land to accommodate new affordable housing was underway.

New Affordable Housing

In addition to a new park, the community will be getting a new, permanently affordable mixed-use building at another City-owned site: 495 Eleventh Avenue in the heart of Hudson Yards. The future building will provide hundreds of units with a goal of 100% affordability. This 24,687 square foot lot, currently used as NYPD parking, was identified for the City by Council Member Johnson, Community Board 4 and elected officials.

“This is a win-win for the community,” said Council Member Corey Johnson. “The community is getting both new parkland and affordable housing – two pressing needs for the West Side.. In terms of open space, Community Board 4 ranks last in Manhattan and 58th out of 59 community boards citywide. Great cities provide their residents with access to green space. I want to thank the people of my district who have been organizing for years for a new park at this location. I also want to express my gratitude to Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver and Community Board 4 for their support of this endeavor. It is incredibly inspiring to know that future generations of New Yorkers will benefit from.”

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“When communities and government collaborate, amazing things can happen – and that’s what we’re celebrating today,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP.  “This new park is testament to New Yorkers’ deep understanding of the health, economics and cultural benefits of public space. I’m looking forward to seeing this energy and ingenuity continue as this project moves forward.”

“I am thrilled that elected officials, community groups, and Chelsea residents have come together to plan for an oasis in a neighborhood that has few parks,” said Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12). “Currently, 2,000 Chelsea children live at least half a mile from the nearest playground. Now, with this newly added vital green space a great playground will be within reach. Thank you to Mayor de Blasio and Council Member Johnson for making this park a reality.”

“While construction projects loom ever larger and supertowers are beginning to crowd the sky, seizing the opportunity to preserve and create open space in our neighborhoods has never been more important,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “I’m pleased that the Parks Department is moving this project forward, and I’m excited to see what we can build together for the Chelsea community.”

Senator Brad Hoylman said: “It’s not every day you transform a parking lot into a park, so today’s announcement on the creation of the new 20th Street Park is welcome news for an area that is sorely lacking in public open space. The effort to create a 20th Street Park has been quite literally a grassroots effort for years on the part of Chelsea residents and I congratulate Matt Weiss and the Friends of 20th Street Park for their persistence and determination. I’m also extremely grateful to Council Member Johnson and the de Blasio Administration for making this new park possible, along with Borough President Brewer, Assembly Member Gottfried and Community Board 4 for their support.”

“This park would never have happened without the initiative and determination of the local community, Councilmember Corey Johnson, the NYC Parks Department. and the support of Mayor de Blasio, said Assembly Member Richard Gottfried.  “The creation of this park is a great example of what can happen when a group of people come up with a great idea and have the persistence to keep working on it – even if it takes years, like this did – to see it through.”

“All New York City neighborhoods aren’t equal when it comes to parks–some have far less than their fair share of green space.  For too long that has been the case in Chelsea, where a growing population desperately needs more parkland.  I am thrilled that CM Johnson and the Parks Department have secured funding to make this wonderful project a reality,” said Council Member and Parks Committee Chair Mark Levine.

“We thank the de Blasio administration, Council Member Johnson, and the community’s advocacy for the extraordinary feat of providing both parks and affordable housing to our community,” said Christine Berthet, Chair of Community Board 4. “The new mid- block park – in a section of our district that needs it the most – will bring greenery and play space to the economically diverse population of East Chelsea including 25% of lower income residents. At the same time a large number of affordable housing units will be built on 7th Avenue and in Hudson Yards.”

“We are thrilled that this much-needed green space is being built in Chelsea, and we are grateful to the NYC Parks Department and our elected officials, especially Council Member Corey Johnson whose leadership helped to make this possible,” said Matt Weiss & Sally Greenspan, on behalf of Friends of 20th Street Park. “We also want to acknowledge the thousands of downtown residents who have passionately supported this grassroots effort for years. This park will be a testament to what can be achieved when community groups work together with local government to create something special.”

A Parks Desert

The new park, which is estimated at approximately $5.8 million, is supported by $1 million in funding from Council Member Johnson, $4.3 million from Mayor de Blasio, and $500,000 from private contributions.  NYC Parks is currently at work on an environmental assessment of the site.  In 2016, the project will officially kick off with a scoping meeting to gather ideas for the park’s design from the community.  Thanks to Commissioner Silver’s continued streamlining of the NYC Parks’ capital process, capital projects take between 29 and 48 months to complete, an overall improvement of six to eight months.

NYC Parks uses several metrics to assess how New Yorkers are served by our city parks, including walking proximity to a park as well as Open Space Ratio (the ratio of open space land area to developed land area in a given neighborhood). 140 West 20th Street is in a Community District with a low Open Space Ratio, and few parks within walking proximity. NYC Parks is working to fulfill a target metric of the OneNYC: having 85 percent of New Yorkers live within walking distance of a park by 2030. Building the new West 20th Street Park will help ensure that more New Yorkers have access to thriving parks and public spaces.

In April, with 1,342 votes, a new park on 20th Street was Council District 3’s top vote-getter in Participatory Budgeting, a democratic process in which community members directly decided how to spend City Council capital discretionary funds.

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