Monthly Archives

December 2015

News

WNET Metrofocus Interview with Council Member Corey Johnson

December 16, 2015

This past year, New York City’s homeless rate went against the national trend. A federal report released last month found the country’s homeless population slightly declined while the city’s went up. This translates to more than 75,000 New Yorkers either living on the streets or in a city shelter.

New York City Councilman Corey Johnson says this is a crisis.

“We have seen or are seeing the highest number of homeless individuals in New York City since about the Great Depression,” he told MetroFocus Host Jack Ford.

Johnson says although officials are struggling to find them affordable housing (the city’s Homeless Services commissioner just announced his resignation), the other challenge is keeping New Yorkers in the homes they already have.

In his Mid-Manhattan district, affordable units are actually declining, he says.

“…[W]e are seeing a loss of rent-regulated and rent-stabilized units that have been really the mainstay for working class people, senior citizens, teachers, firefighters — folks that really make up New York City,” the first-term councilman said. “We’re losing those units. And you can’t build enough units to make up for the loss.”

The issue is particularly evident in Chelsea, where public housing facilities sit right on one of the greatest income gaps in the city.

Part of the problem, says Johnson, is gentrification; the wealthy move in to the latest up-and-coming neighborhood, which drives up housing costs and subsequently drives out the area’s lower-income residents.

The district 3 councilman claims this is further exacerbated by stagnant or declining wagesamong the middle class.

Johnson admits that gentrification can bring some positive changes to the area, such as safer streets, better schools and “greater investment from the private sector.” But even if residents manage to hold on to their homes, they can still be pushed out as swankier businesses set up shop, Johnson said.

“… and it just becomes harder for working-class people to not just live in the neighborhood, but also afford to actually afford to buy things in the neighborhood,” he said.

Johnson says the solution requires both preserving and building new affordable units to keep residents in the neighborhoods they’ve helped define for decades.

“Otherwise you are going to see people flee neighborhoods in Manhattan or priced out simply because they can’t exist in neighborhoods they raised their kids in, they lived in for 25, 30, 35 years,” he said. “Long before Chelsea was hot, these folks lived in these neighborhoods and made them beautiful, exactly what they are today.”

News

STATEMENT BY COUNCIL MEMBER COREY JOHNSON ON ANTI-MUSLIM HATE CRIME

December 11, 2015

I am disgusted to learn of an anti-Muslim hate crime in my district. This kind of hatred and discrimination is contrary to everything our City stands for. New York City is known around the world for its diversity, acceptance and freedom of religion, and we must hold firm to these principals despite hateful rhetoric that is spewed from the national stage from irresponsible hatemongers. I commend the New York Police Department and the Hate Crimes Task Force for its swift response to this crime. Anyone who may consider acting upon hateful impulses against Muslim New Yorkers should know that they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

News

New York Times: Council Bills Seek to Make Construction Less Perilous in New York City

December 11, 2015

Alarmed by a surge in recent deaths and injuries in construction accidents, members of the New York City Council on Thursday urged swift passage of legislation intended to penalize contractors who break the rules.

At the same time, hundreds of yards away, thousands of union workers, who were flanked by more than a dozen city and state officials, gathered near City Hall to push for stronger safety standards. To honor the 16 workers who have died this year — most of them immigrants who worked on nonunion projects — the marchers bore witness to a symbolic memorial procession featuring 16 wood coffins, as bagpipers played “Amazing Grace.”

The events came two weeks after The New York Times published an investigation into construction fatalities in the last two years, based on thousands of pages of safety reports and handwritten notes, as well as interviews with the deceased workers’ relatives and friends.

The investigation found that the rise in deaths and injuries has far exceeded the rate of new construction over the same period. It also found in the cases in which workers died, basic steps had not been taken to prevent them from falling and supervision was lacking. The investigation also found that because of the urgency to finish these projects as quickly as possible, the workers were forced to take dangerous shortcuts or lacked adequate training.

As a result, most of the deaths were “completely avoidable,” federal safety investigators concluded.

In response, the City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings held a hearing on Thursday to fast-track several bills and to ask questions, some of them pointed, of the city’s buildings commissioner. Several members of the Council also said that they were busy drafting additional bills that would soon be introduced.

“Saving New Yorkers’ lives is the reason that I called this hearing today,” said Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, the committee’s chairman. “To the families of those that we have lost, and to those who have been injured, let me say loudly and clearly: We hear you, and we are here because of you.”

Mr. Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat, then read out loud the names of some of the workers who have died in the last two years, including several whose stories were described in detail in the Times article.

Two of the new bills would double the penalties assessed to contractors for working without a permit and for violating a stop-work order. Another bill would establish a task force of mayoral agencies, to be led by the Department of Buildings, that would convene regularly to assess the safety risks posed to workers, pedestrians and motorists near construction sites.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration opposes the bills, said Rick D. Chandler, the city’s buildings commissioner. “If we set penalties too high, we also risk driving work underground, without the benefit of department regulation, which may in turn result in more unsafe construction,” he told the committee.

Mr. Chandler said that the department was already doing “proactive enhanced disciplinary work” with additional staffing and had established, for the first time, a Risk Management Office that would use data analysis to better identify problems.

He also said the administration would focus more attention on buildings up to nine stories high, “where a disproportionate number of accidents occur.” Mr. Chandler added that the administration was considering requiring that construction superintendents be on site on all midsize alteration projects.

At a rally in City Hall Park that lasted more than two hours, Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, and nearly three dozen speakers exhorted workers to say, “Enough is enough,” when it comes to lax standards.

Councilman Rory I. Lancman, a Queens Democrat, who spoke at the rally, has introduced a bill to compel the Buildings Department to report safety violations to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

And Councilman Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, announced an upcoming bill, co-sponsored with Gale A. Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, that would require all developers who build over 10 stories to have their workers go through an apprenticeship training program, approved by the State Department of Labor. The announcement of the proposal brought raucous cheers, as chants of “Union! Union!” ricocheted throughout the canyons of lower Broadway.

Some speakers criticized Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, for not doing enough on construction safety and for siding too often with real estate developers, as part of his agenda to add housing that is affordable to middle-class New Yorkers.

Others said that, for far too long, officials had ignored the plight of the construction workers who do not have union protections. Often they do not speak English, lack official documents and are especially vulnerable to exploitation, speakers said.

Steve McInnis, president of the New York City District Council of Carpenters, noted that his union had made the coffins on display at the rally. They had actually made 17, not 16, he added.

“One coffin is for the next worker,” he said.

News

The Real Deal: Construction workers rally for tougher safety standards

December 11, 2015
Officials pushing for mandatory union apprentice training

December 11, 2015 10:02AM

Thousands of union construction workers gathered at City Hall Thursday to demand tougher safety rules in the face of a recent steep increase in construction accidents. They rallied in support of legislation backed by Council Members Gale Brewer and Corey Johnson, that would require workers at buildings taller than 10 stories to pass mandatory apprentice training, overseen by unions. Developers and other critics have accused backers of the new rules of using them as a pretext to increase union membership, Politico reported.

Gary LaBarbera, head of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, speaking at the meeting, cited federal data showing that 14 of the 16 construction deaths this calendar year were at non-union projects, though buildings commissioner Rick Chandler said he doesn’t have “reliable data” on the subject. Deaths and injuries have spiked markedly, outpacing the rate of growth in new construction. [Politico] — Ariel Stulberg

News

Politico: A grilling and a show of force at City Hall for construction safety

December 11, 2015

By SALLY GOLDENBERG 5:26 a.m. | Dec. 11, 2015

Thousands of laborers held a multi-hour demonstration at City Hall yesterday to draw attention to a recent increase in construction-site accidents and demand legal changes, after the City Council grilled the mayor’s buildings commissioner about the trend.

“We have to raise safety standards,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer shouted into a microphone on a makeshift stage along Broadway, outside City Hall. As she spoke, thousands of workers in hard hats and T-shirts emblazoned with union logos cheered her on or talked among themselves.

“We have to set the bar higher for site safety,” Brewer added. “We have to get the [Department of Buildings] inspectors to respond faster to issues that you point out as the workers.”

Brewer and City Councilman Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, are backing legislation that would require construction work at buildings 10 stories or higher in New York City be performed by laborers who have completed mandatory apprentice training — programs that are run by unions.

“We are going to suggest legislation to make sure that no matter the height of the building, low or high, the workers have the right training so that the families of these hard-working men and women do not have to wonder if their loved ones will come home at the end of the day,” she added. “That should not be something somebody has to worry about.”

The bill has the backing of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, which coordinated the rally. The union argues that accidents are more common at buildings higher than 10 stories.

Union president Gary LaBarbera said he invited Mayor Bill de Blasio to the rally, but the mayor did not attend. Before gathering around City Hall, the workers marched from a non-union site on Nassau Street carrying caskets and wearing black hardhats to symbolize the increase in site fatalities this year.

In arguing for the training measure, LaBarbera has pointed to statistics from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration that show 14 of the 16 fatalities this year were on non-union projects.

The New York Times recently published an in-depth article about the increase, focusing on the frequency with which undocumented immigrants are put in harm’s way.

The proposed legislation is being met with resistance among some developers, who privately argued it is just an attempt by LaBarbera to increase his union membership.

LaBarbera has said it’s necessary in the face of the spike in construction accidents.

“Tragedies at construction sites have become all too common,” he said. “We are outraged and all of New York should be outraged that irresponsible developers and contractors increasingly are putting their bottom lines ahead of the workers who are the lifeblood of this business.”

The debate is unfolding as the union leader is locked in tense negotiations with the Real Estate Board of New York over the future of a popular development tax break known as 421-a, and whether the abatement should be tied to a mandated prevailing wage for construction workers. The talks are reportedly not going well and sources have indicated they anticipate they will not get to an agreement when the current 421-a law lapses on Dec. 31.

“REBNY members are responsible for billions of dollars in construction in New York City each year,” John Banks, president of the board, said in a prepared statement. “They do an exemplary job protecting workers and the public on some of the most complex and sophisticated construction sites. We are committed to working with government and other stakeholders to put in place real, meaningful reforms that actually address safety, permit development to continue and that can be adopted by construction sites throughout the city.”

Meanwhile REBNY’s spokesman, Jamie McShane, tweeted an article by the Daily News that featured several deadly or serious accidents on sites shorter than 10 stories.

Earlier in the day, city buildings commissioner Rick Chandler told a Council committee he does not have “reliable data” to draw a conclusion between the rate of fatalities and whether or not the sites where they take place employ union workers.

Nevertheless, he said, the agency has made safety its priority.

“Everything we do is conducted through the lens of safety—safety on construction sites and safety for all who traverse in and around buildings,” Chandler said.

He referenced 439 site injures this year, a 78 percent increase from 2014, before listing ways the agency is seeking to reduce safety risks. For instance, the department has hired 100 new inspectors Chandler said are better equipped to review sites faster.

The Council hearing focused on three legislative proposals: One to create a task force to assess safety risks at construction sites and two others that would raise fines for work conducted without a permit or in violation of a stop-work order.

“I think it’s clear that we have a lot more work to do. I think the commissioner in his two years is actually trying to move forward some things that have stalled for a while in terms of using all the tools that we have,” Councilman Jumaane Williams, who chaired the hearing, said after it concluded.

He said he still has questions regarding the frequency and length of general contractor suspensions.

During the hearing Chandler told members, “If there’s a death on one site and they apply for a permit on another site … I don’t have a right to withhold that permit.”

Williams also said that “anecdotally and from the numbers that I’ve seen, it seems to me that union sites are safer. … But I am interested in looking at the numbers that the other side is trying to present.”

News

NY1: Thousands of Construction Workers Rally for Safety Protections Downtown

December 11, 2015

By Courtney Gross
Thursday, December 10, 2015

Injuries at construction sites are up 78% this year, with 16 workers dying. Those numbers sparked a massive protest outside of City Hall Thursday with the city’s major construction union calling for action, as NY1’s Courtney Gross reports.

It was an unorthodox funeral procession, there were coffins parading past City Hall, a tribute to the construction workers who have died on the job this year.

“Most of the accidents that are happening out here is all non-union work,” said one protester. “People are dying.”

Thousands of people lined Broadway demanding safer work sites.

Led by the city’s biggest construction union — it wants the city to require workers take part in a new apprenticeship program before working at construction sites for large buildings.

“I think it’s important that the administration as well as the city council take this legislation very seriously and do what’s right to protect non-union workers and workers at construction sites that are dying at an epidemic rate,” said Gary LaBarbera, of the Building and Construction Trades Council.

This rally was the latest spotlight on an industry some say has become more dangerous.

They point to a construction boom, where critics say builders are cutting corners to finish the job more quickly. Injuries at construction sites are up 78% this year.

Elected officials were lining up on Thursday saying something needs to be done.

“We just want safety, safety, safety at these sites,” said City Councilman Corey Johnson.

Despite this strong showing of construction workers, so far the de Blasio administration has had other solutions.

“We are noticing people that are doing the wrong thing and picking those folks and being aggressive,” said Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler.

Testifying to the City Council before the rally, the buildings commissioner said his agency is hiring nearly 100 new inspectors and is considering requiring more safety personnel at construction sites for smaller buildings.

They have also created a risk management office to identify sites that pose a threat to public safety —but it appears, at least right now, that office is thinly staffed.

“Currently there is three people,” the commissioner said. ” But I am in the process of evaluating how we might consolidate other analysts within our agency and I am asking for some additional lines to bring in data scientists.”

As for the union’s proposal, City Hall says that is under review.

News

GOTHAMIST: Officials Implore State Liquor Authority To Take Action On SantaCon

December 7, 2015

BY JOHN DEL SIGNORE
DEC 7, 2015 4:10 PM

SantaCon 2015 is fast approaching (Saturday! Saturday! Saturday!) in NYC, and once again elected officials are speaking out in opposition of the annual debauched bar crawl. This time State Senator Brad Hoylman is leading the charge, with an open letter calling upon the event’s anonymous organizers to announce their route in advance and do a better job coordinating with officials. It seems unlikely that the organizers of SantaCon, which is inherently anarchic, will comply, but here’s Hoylman’s letter in full:

To Whom It May Concern:

For a third year, we write to express our concerns regarding the annual SantaCon bar crawl and the negative impact it has on the residential communities where it takes place. Each holiday season, local elected officials, community boards and local precincts face a wave of complaints as the SantaCon bar crawl passes through their neighborhoods. This year, we are again hoping to take preemptive action.

We appreciate that the SantaCon bar crawl can provide additional short-term sales to a small group of local business establishments. However, we also recognize that the event’s many adverse effects significantly disrupt the quality of life of entire communities. While the SantaCon bar crawl has pledged to take proactive steps in the past, the organization’s efforts have not mitigated the bulk of the event’s deleterious impact. There is still more that can and must be done to ensure that the event is positive and safe.

Previously, we requested that the SantaCon bar crawl adhere to a set of common-sense principles. We urge you to agree to a similar set of guidelines this year in anticipation of the event’s 2015 iteration. The three principles are as follows:

Share defined routes with the community – The SantaCon bar crawl’s path often comes as an unwelcome and last minute surprise to community members, the NYPD, and local businesses.

We ask that the SantaCon bar crawl make its routes and timetable publicly available far in advance in order to give all of these stakeholders time to adequately plan for the arrival of SantaCon bar crawl participants.

Ensure responsible participant behavior – While the police can certainly play a role in ensuring SantaCon bar crawl participants abide by laws regarding public intoxication and urination and overly aggressive behavior, the NYPD is responsible for serving the public at large rather than providing security for a private event.

The SantaCon bar crawl’s organizers must make a concerted effort to self-police at establishments along the route and should expel overly intoxicated and badly-behaving participants.

Mitigate pedestrian safety risks – The Santacon bar crawl’s participants often overwhelm sidewalks that were designed to accommodate smaller crowds, posing serious safety concerns for participants and other pedestrians. The SantaCon bar crawl should identify opportunities to reduce these risks. For example, staff members or trained volunteers can be present along the route to ensure the free-flow of pedestrian travel and to prevent individuals from walking into busy vehicular traffic.

With the date of the event rapidly approaching, we urge the SantaCon bar crawl to act swiftly to adopt these guidelines and make its programmatic and safety plans public.

The letter was co-signed by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senators Adriano Espaillat, Liz Krueger and Daniel Squadron, Assembly Members Deborah Glick, Richard Gottfried and Linda Rosenthal, and Council Members Daniel Garodnick, Corey Johnson and Rosie Mendez.

In a separate letter, the same coaltion of officials urged the SLA to remind local bar owners that state law prohibits them from serving alcohol to visibly intoxicated patrons. They also asked the SLA to assign additional inspectors on the day of SantaCon in order to monitor bars that participate in the event.

“When left unregulated, the bar crawl has widespread negative effects on the local community, with complaints including but not limited to public consumption of alcohol, public intoxication, public urination, and disorderly and aggressive behavior,” the letter to the SLA concludes.

Last year, as backlash to the event intensified, SantaCon organizers hired famed civil rights attorney Norman Siegel to serve as their liaison to the press and NYPD. They also changed the pub crawl’s format in an attempt to scale back SantaCon’s impact, in part because it fell on the same day as a large march protesting police brutality. Nevertheless, some sparks flew between SantaCon participants and protesters.

News

StreetsBlog NYC: 6 Manhattan Electeds Ask DOT for Complete Streets on Fifth and Sixth Ave

December 4, 2015

by David Meyer

DOT has put out a plan to add a protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue from 14th Street to 33rd Street [PDF], and Manhattan electeds want more. A letter from State Senator Brad Hoylman and five other representatives calls for a more thorough complete street redesign along all of Sixth Avenue and Fifth Avenue from Greenwich Village to Central Park.

In addition to Hoylman, Assembly members Deborah Glick and Richard Gottfried, City Council members Dan Garodnick and Corey Johnson, and Borough President Gale Brewer signed on to the letter to DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione, calling on the department “to take necessary steps to study and implement Complete Streets infrastructure on Fifth and Sixth Avenues as swiftly as possible.”

Members of both Community Board 4 and Community Board 5 have asked DOT for a bolder design in its Sixth Avenue plan. Since green lights were lengthened on Sixth Avenue in Midtown in conjunction with the pedestrianization of several blocks of Broadway a few years ago (signal time was basically reallocated from Broadway to Sixth, increasing average vehicle speeds [PDF]), it should be possible to repurpose a full traffic lane relatively painlessly. But the current plan does not include raised concrete pedestrian refuges, wider sidewalks, or bus lanes, and the bike lane is not as spacious as it should be.

DOT also has yet to commit to redesigning Fifth Avenue. So far the agency’s timetable calls for a second phase protected bike lane segment on Sixth between Canal Street and 14th Street in 2017, but only a study of Fifth Avenue and the rest of Sixth Avenue up to Central Park. The elected officials want a commitment to redesign more of the avenues.

“Redesigning the entire Fifth and Sixth Avenue corridors — south of Central Park down to the Village — as Complete Streets will improve safety for all road users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorized vehicles,” the letter says.

Update: A DOT spokesperson says that the department is listening to the concerns of elected officials and will take the letter into account when considering next steps: “We thank the elected officials for their correspondence and continued support on the project that DOT is currently developing on 6th Avenue, between 14th Street and 33rd Street. We are aware of the current petition and campaign for 5th and 6th Avenues and will review the next steps for both corridors.”

News

Statement by Council Member Corey Johnson on Airbnb New York City Home-Sharing Data

December 2, 2015

“Independent and reliable sources have shown that Airbnb is not what it claims to be, a service to help the middle class. Instead it has been shown to be a way for illegal hotel operators to generate significant profit. While New York City continues to struggle through an affordable housing crisis, by their own analysis Airbnb admits that they are taking important housing stock offline through facilitating illegal hotel operations. Now that they’ve publicly recognized that fact, they should do the right thing and remove known lawbreakers from using their service.”