Posts by Author: Aline Reynolds

Oakland Land Trust Finds More Ways to Preserve Affordable Housing

Oakland Community Land Trust purchased this property at 812 East 24th Street to preserve the affordability of several artists' live-work spaces. (Credit: Oakland Community Land Trust)

In 2014, as she approached four decades of being a landlord, then 70-year-old east Oakland resident Dixi Carrillo decided to sell her rental property next to her home. Carillo, a retired landscape photographer, was devoted to maintaining the 8,000-square-foot building where 10 musicians, painters and other artists have live-work space, but she wanted more time to pursue her own art.

Carrillo had always charged her tenants low rents, and she didn’t want to see them evicted by a profit-seeking landlord. “When my husband and I bought the property in the first place, it wasn’t really about making an investment. It had to do with wanting a community of like-minded people,” Carillo says.

When a developer with a subpar reputation as a property manager offered her $1.4 million in 2015 for the seven-unit parcel at 812 East 24th Street, she refused.

“He was going to tear out the walls of the individual units and make it his office,” says Carrillo of the prospective buyer. “It really would have displaced everybody. I’m still living here, so I care about what and who I live next door to.”

Carrillo eventually found a solution: This year, she sold the building to the Oakland Community Land Trust (OakCLT). The sale marks yet another coup for the nonprofit land holder, whose work protects some of the city’s lowest-income tenants from probable displacement by purchasing properties that are under threat of becoming market-rate rentals. (OakCLT estimates the median market rent of apartments in 5-plus-unit buildings in Oakland to be $2,731 a month.)

The $1.1 million acquisition of 812 East 24th Street is just one of a dozen purchases OakCLT has made so far this year.

“As people move out and units turn over, the vacant units must be made available to low-income households,” says Steve King, OakCLT’s executive director. “It is certainly a victory for preserving community-serving space in Oakland.”

OakCLT has acquired eight vacant lots to be converted into urban gardens and permanently affordable homes, and 18 single-family houses that were rehabilitated and sold to low-income households. The land trust also helped worker-owner collective Hasta Muerte Coffee, a community hub, stay in its two-story building, and bought a mixed-use building housing low-budget social justice organizations in east Oakland. Over the years, it has partnered with local organizations including the Youth Employment Partnership and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Action to offer job training, food education, and other programs, and to keep homes affordable.

In response to mounting single-family house vacancies early in the Great Recession, frustrated local social justice advocates formed OakCLT in 2009.

“It was really just this recognition that there were thousands of foreclosed homes, and a sense that this land trust could be a vehicle for bringing them back into community control,” says King. “The alternative would be just this incredible loss of community wealth, particularly among communities of color in the city.”

For its first eight years, OakCLT had only one staffer, which, according to King, is fairly common for community land trusts across the United States.

“Despite all this resurgent interest in the operating model, there has really never been a concerted effort to help scale [up] community land trusts,” he says. “So they have really struggled on their own around the country to do the work with very limited resources.”

Yet since January, OakCLT has made notable strides toward expansion. It has increased its full-time staff from one to three people, who have helped build up the trust’s portfolio of properties from 21 to 32, and it now boasts an annual operating budget of $400,000.

A $2 million anonymous donation in 2015 was a big boost. The land trust typically finances 10 to 20 percent of the acquisition costs for each new property. Funds for OakCLT’s projects come from smaller individual donations, city loans and foundation grants too.

All OakCLT-owned properties are preserved in perpetuity for community-centered uses. The land trust’s goal is to transfer ownership of buildings, including the one at 812 East 24th Street, to residential and commercial tenants. This would be done through the creation of a nonprofit entity called a Limited Equity Housing Cooperative, with each occupant having a share in the cooperative and being guaranteed the right to stay there, notes King.

“In every project, it has been an emerging feature that tenants and residents would like to share in the ownership of the property,” says King. “In that instance, the land would be owned by the land trust, the co-op would own the building, and each household would be a member of the co-op.”

While OakCLT has scored some notable victories in affordable housing and land preservation in Oakland, the community land trust has “barely scratched the surface” in combating tenant displacement throughout the city, King says.

“Certainly we have had a significant impact for the folks we’ve already worked with, but in terms of us [broadly] impacting the ownership and control of land in Oakland,” he says, “we have a long way to go.”


Here’s One Superlative New Yorkers Might Not Mind Losing

Recycling trucks drop off items on the "tipping floor" of the Sims Municipal Recycling facility in Brooklyn. (Photo by Aline Reynolds)

New York City produces more trash than any other city on the planet by a wide margin — an estimated 33 million tons per year. The vast majority of all that waste gets sent to landfills.

While its position atop the global garbage mountain isn’t expected to change any time soon, some big changes are coming to NYC’s waste management system, one intended to reduce how much waste gets sent to landfills, and another other to address the disproportionate toll on historically marginalized communities all that trash takes on along the way. A third change in the works could further both of those goals at once.

While NYC is home to one of the largest recycling plants of its kind in the nation, it is one of the only major cities in the U.S. that doesn’t have single-stream recycling— a citywide system that allows recyclables to be collected into single containers at homes and businesses. Currently, NYC residents and businesses are still required to sort metal, glass, and plastic recyclables into one container, and paper and cardboard into another.

As it approaches its 30th anniversary of recycling, NYC is now finalizing plans to convert its waste diversion services to a single-stream system. The end goal of the initiative, slated to take effect in 2020, is to increase the city’s recycling rates by between 20 and 25 percent.

The NYC Department of Sanitation believes having just one recycling bin at home instead of two will result in less space and make it easier to remember and easier to participate, meaning potential for more efficient collection routes and improved recycling collection productivity. The capture rate of the city’s recyclables — or the amount of recyclable materials that end up at the recycling plants — now hovers around 50 percent.

“Right now, half of what is recyclable [in NYC] does not go in the right bin or does not get collected properly,” said Sam Silver, an education and outreach coordinator for Sims Municipal Recycling, a private company that processes the majority of the city’s curbside recyclables, during an August tour of company’s main recycling plant, situated on a pier in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood.

“How many of you set out recycling this week, out on the curb?” Silver asked about 15 tour-goers, including urban designers and recycling enthusiasts. Silver says he gives around 300 tours each year of the Brooklyn facility, which opened in late 2013.

A few people eagerly raised their hands.

“If you’re in Brooklyn, and your recycling went out last night, your stuff is guaranteed to be out there right now,” he continued, gesturing at an approximately 30-foot-high pile of discards on what is known as the tipping floor, where the diverted waste is initially gathered at the plant.

The Sims facility claims to be the largest plant for mixed recyclables in North America. Under a 20-year contract as part of a public-private partnership with the NYC Department of Sanitation, Sims processes about 800 tons of material per day and prepares metal, aluminum, and rigid plastics for sale to manufacturing companies.

Each day of operation, the Sims facility receives about 100 collections of metal, glass, and plastics from most of the city by truck or barge (recyclables from Staten Island and Lower Manhattan are sent to a Sims plant in New Jersey). Next, human-operated cranes assemble the objects into enormous piles and feed them into two-and-a-half miles’ worth of conveyor belts that, with the help of optical cameras and infrared light, speedily sort the items by size, material, and even chemical makeup as needed. The flattened objects are then compressed into 1,200-plus pounds of bales that are sold to manufacturing firms across the northeast and Canada. Paper and cardboard are sent to nearby processors and paper mills.

While single-stream recycling has proven successful in other U.S. cities, the system poses certain drawbacks, like the mixing of food particles or liquids and paper that can reduce the quality of recycled materials. More significantly, changes to New York’s recycling system — even positive ones — have historically caused residential recycling rates to drop, at least initially, as households adjust to new habits.

Even after recycling rates pick back up, there’s still a risk of residents putting non-recyclable materials in the recycling bin. At present, about 85 percent of the materials Sims’ Brooklyn facility receives is recyclable. The remaining 15 percent consists of non-recyclables ranging from plastic bags and Styrofoam to miscellaneous belongings like bowling balls, shoes, trombones, and kids’ toys — all of which is sent to landfills. (The city is hoping to end the use of Styrofoam altogether by enacting a ban of it at the beginning of 2019, meaning restaurants, stores, and other businesses will be prohibited from using or selling single-use Styrofoam containers to customers.)

The Sims Municipal Recycling facility in Brooklyn's Sunset Park, including New York City’s first commercial-scale wind turbine. (Credit: Sims Municipal Recycling)

Meanwhile, the city is taking more immediate steps toward what advocates have termed “waste equity” by limiting the amount of waste collection at transfer stations in four predominantly minority communities of Brooklyn, Queens, and The Bronx. Haulers picking up trash from residences and businesses drop off waste at transfer stations, where it is held for loading onto larger trucks or barges for transit outside the city. The concentration of trash truck traffic makes reduces air quality as well as street safety on those neigborhoods. The city recently suspended a politically-connected hauler company’s license after a series of trash truck-related deaths.

On Aug. 16, Mayor de Blasio signed a bill aimed at more evenly distributing the locations of garbage and recyclables drop-off sites. The law, to take effect in Oct. 2019, mandates a reduction in the amount of waste dropped off at key transfer stations in northern Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx, where currently three-quarters of all waste transfer drop-offs take place. Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods alone are burdened with at least 40 percent of the city’s entire daily waste, according to City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, the bill’s co-sponsor.

The flawed distribution system, says Reynoso, is an unintended consequence of the city’s closure of the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island, in 2001. The city now ships trash by truck or barge to landfills in nine different states, at an estimated annual cost of $300 million.

“When [the Fresh Kills Landfill] was shut down, these transfer stations started opening up,” Reynoso explains. “So, we ended up creating unintentional environmental racism — and we haven’t reacted to it until now.”

“With the legislation,” he adds, “we’re seeking to start bringing about equity to those communities related to trash.”

That legislation also seeks to lay a foundation for another key change that would establish a system of commercial waste zones meant to reduce the number of trash trucks along city streets and better regulate the private hauler industry. The change would reduce the environmental impact of so much, perhaps too much trash truck traffic, as well as provide a regulatory framework to push through further waste-reduction strategies.

Currently, about 90 hauler companies operate across the city based on a free-market system. “These haulers often have long, overlapping routes that create unnecessary truck traffic, promote unsafe work practices, and discourage proper recycling practices,” according to a statement from the city’s OneNYC website.

Under the new system, the city would be carved up into geographic zones, and there would be a cap on the number of hauler companies that could serve restaurants, other businesses, and office buildings in each zone. Haulers would compete for contracts with more stringent safety requirements in order to be able to collect waste from each designated zone.

While improving safety for sanitation workers, the new system will allow for much-improved efficiency in truck route mileage while still allowing for customer choice, says Belinda Mager, a spokesperson for the NYC Department of Sanitation.

A 2016 study undertaken by the sanitation department and the Business Integrity Commission, which oversees trash hauler licensing for the city, found that a zone-based system has the potential for reducing waste-related truck traffic by up to 68 percent and lessening associated greenhouse gas emissions by up to 64 percent.

Zone-based systems are a topic of much debate in the waste management industry. Los Angeles made the switch to a zone-based system for commercial waste collection last year.

As was the case for Los Angeles, proponents of a zone-based system for NYC expect the new contracts will also provide a regulatory framework to get the city’s commercial sector closer to achieving “zero-waste” goals. Reynoso anticipates a bill to be passed sometime in 2019 instituting the change.

In terms of residential recycling, the city has already made strides towards zero-waste goals by collecting the highest tonnage of metal, glass and plastic recyclables in 2017 in nearly 15 years, according to its 2017 Waste Characterization Study. According to that study, New Yorkers are throwing away less than ever before.

Still, an estimated 80 percent of New York residents’ trash and recyclables end up in landfills — making the city’s goal of achieving a 100 percent recycling rate by 2030 seem like a stretch.

“People are doing a little bit better [in recycling] year by year, but not quite at the rate in which we would hit our zero-waste goals in 12 years,” said Silver, during the August tour of the Sims recycling facility. “We’ve still got a long way to go.”


Making Progress on Baltimore’s Bumpy Road to Bike Safety

Baltimore's Maryland Avenue bike lane. (Photo by Brian O'Doherty)

On a warm, sunny afternoon in mid-June, longtime bike advocate Liz Cornish was returning home from a Baltimore City Council hearing when she noticed a large tiller fire truck — the kind with a secondary steering wheel for its tail end — parked in front of her house on Maryland Avenue in central Baltimore. Five higher-ranking Fire Department officials were also there, not responding to an emergency, but participating in the filming of a video intended to highlight the obstacles that bike lanes pose to emergency vehicle access.

“I recognized it immediately as a [fire] truck I had never seen in my neighborhood before,” Cornish recalls. “I was taken aback and I was angry because it really looked like clear intimidation.”

The incident became linked to a few verbal and physical bouts of fighting over the past year between Baltimore fire authorities, local residents, and cyclist advocates over a bike lane along Potomac Street in southeastern Baltimore. Shortly after its construction began in spring 2017, the bike lane became the center of controversy when area residents and members of the city’s Fire Department alleged that it would take up precious street space from emergency vehicles.

The firestorm caused Baltimore legislators to introduce a bill that would loosen urban design guidelines of the city’s fire code with the goal of lessening the regulatory hurdles to new bike lanes and private development projects. They approved the bill this month.

The fire code amendment bill, which will likely become law in late October, revokes a section of Baltimore’s fire code that requires at least 20-26 feet of clear street width for large fire apparatus during an emergency response. The clearance regulations would be supplanted by more flexible street design guidelines, from the National Association of City Transportation Officials, in order to facilitate approval of public infrastructure and private development projects.

Opponents of the Potomac Street bike lane viewed the lane as a safety hazard because, according to them, it would impede access to fires. Within a month of the start of construction, they petitioned the city’s Department of Transportation to cease completion of the two-way buffered lane. In June 2017, the city took heed and made plans remove the infrastructure it had only begun building two months prior.

“Initially, the department of transportation worked with the firehouse to make some minor adjustments [to the bike lane design],” says Cornish, executive director of Bikemore, a local cyclist advocacy organization. “Since that didn’t satisfy the opposition, the issue was brought to the [Baltimore County] fire marshal’s office, international fire code was invoked, and the city was going to stop work.”

Bikemore sued the city in an attempt to prevent the bike lane’s demolition, claiming that the application of the fire code’s clearance rule was “arbitrary and capricious.”

“Other projects [that entailed] changing parking configurations had been approved that didn’t meet the requirements of the fire code,” says Cornish. “As we continued to raise this issue for many months, the Fire Department’s response was not to work on a case-by-case basis to ensure public safety, but to become more strict about how they approved projects. And, it was clear that the city’s inaction had emboldened the firefighters.”

City Council Member Ryan Dorsey, vice chair of the council’s public safety committee and a member of the council’s land use and transportation committee, says the Fire Department’s public safety concerns were short-sighted — particularly since some 80 percent of emergency calls the department receives are about non-fire-related incidents. “The Fire Department has exhibited a narrow definition of public safety, one that looks essentially only at fire access,” says the council member.

Dorsey also notes that the Potomac Street controversy set a bad precedent for other public and private development projects around Baltimore.

“It impacted literally every other [development] project in the city for a year,” he says. “Other cycling infrastructure was not allowed to move forward, and some private development projects ended up having to modify their design to be substandard and, in some cases, less safe, in order to appease the Fire Department.”

Bikemore won a temporary restraining order that halted the bike lane’s demolition and proceeded to drop its lawsuit once the city agreed to keep the Potomac Street bike lane, which was finally completed last December. The bike organization and its supporters may have scored an even larger with the fire code amendment bill. City legislators expect the bill to go into effect on October 29.

The law is deemed a necessary legislative solution to the recurring dilemma of the city’s strict fire code standards impeding individual development and infrastructure projects, according to city councilman Eric Costello.

“This problem we’ve identified is extremely prevalent throughout the entire city,” says Costello, who chairs the council’s judiciary and legislative investigations committee. “We gave the Fire Department multiple options for ways to work with us, and they essentially said, ‘we’re still opposed to this bill’ — so, we moved forward with the bill.”

While Cornish believes the law is a result of a lack of effective leadership by the city and the Fire Department, she has hopes that it will lessen or eliminate the “competition” between fire safety and cyclist safety. “If we can design city streets that calm traffic and reduce the speed of cars,” she says, “we can reduce the number of times our emergency responders need to respond to [incidents].”

Bikemore’s rise to the forefront of Baltimore’s bike advocacy world was prompted by tragedy in late 2014, when Baltimore bike frame builder Thomas Palermo was struck and killed by a drunk driver. At the time, Baltimore’s streets had no protected lanes exclusively for bicycles, and politicians were virtually stagnant on taking steps to actively promote safe bike travel, according to Cornish.

While the road ahead looked steep, the need for change was perhaps more apparent than ever. “All of a sudden, there were all these people were so moved and were asking, ‘What can we do so this never happens again?’” Cornish says of Palermo’s death. “That began the advocacy movement.”

Bikemore first emerged in 2012 from an Alliance for Biking and Walking initiative and an Open Society Foundations grant, hiring an interim leader while launching a national search for an executive director. They found Cornish, a bike aficionado originally from Tulsa, Okla., who at the time managed the women bike division for the League of American Bicyclists in Washington, D.C.

“When I was hired in spring of 2015, it was just me, a little bit of money in a bank account, and a young, small board,” Cornish notes. “We had to grow very quickly as an organization and solidify its position as the authority and the voice of biking advocacy in the city.”

Bikemore’s chief goal quickly became to advocate for the realization of the Downtown Bike Network, a Baltimore Department of Transportation initiative that envisions a connected system of bike lanes in neighborhoods across the city. While the city had most of the necessary funds for the network’s construction, the political will to get the project going was virtually non-existent, says Cornish.

So she worked “aggressively” to cultivate relationships with representatives of state and city agencies in order to influence projects in the early stages of their development. “We just needed to get people in the same room so they could stop pointing fingers at each other about who would start the process,” she says. Later that year, Bikemore also launched its “IWalk, IRide Transit, IBike, IVote” campaign to mobilize the city’s bike advocates to cast votes for prospective city council members who support transportation equity.

Thanks to these types of advocacy efforts, and with the support of the Roland Park Civic League, the Baltimore Department of Transportation decided to include a two-way buffered bike lane along Roland Avenue as part of its resurfacing and traffic-calming project for the corridor. That bike lane was completed in December of 2015.

In late 2016, the Maryland Avenue bike lane also opened, and it earned a spot in PeopleforBikes’ top-ten best new bike lanes of the year. Cornish, who deems it the “crown jewel” of Baltimore’s bicycle infrastructure, witnesses local families with children using the bike lane to get to nearby Wyman Park. “I see firsthand how ridership volumes and diversity has changed,” she says. “You even see my elderly neighbors pushing their shopping carts down it.”

In just three years under Cornish’s leadership, Bikemore’s membership count has grown fivefold to more than 5,000 supporters, its operating budget has tripled in size to $90,000, and the organization now has three full-time staff members.

As a woman in a male-dominated world of city politics, Cornish vows to continue fighting for more equitable, bike-oriented communities in Baltimore.

“I have a very, very tiny piece of the pie in the government that I’m responsible for advocating for,” she says, “but I have an opportunity to show that it’s possible to win.”


Raising the Bar for Local Economic Impact of Affordable Housing

CAMBA Gardens II. (Photo by Aline Reynolds)

Joseph Williams gleams with pride anytime he drives by the new CAMBA Gardens II development in Brooklyn with a friend or family member.

“I say to them, ‘My company did the electrical work [for that complex],’” he says. “A lot of people look at me twice when I say it.”

With its office about two and a half miles away in another part of Brooklyn, Williams’ JW Electric Corp. is a certified minority-owned subcontractor hired to set up the building’s electricity. The firm got $5.1 million in subcontracts for CAMBA Gardens II, its largest contract since Williams founded the business in 2002. The project employed up to 25 of his workers — most of them Brooklyn residents.

“It has helped [the neighborhood’s] economy because these guys were well-paid,” says Williams, who moved to the U.S. from Grenada nearly 35 years ago and has worked as an electrician for close to three decades.

After 27 months of construction, CAMBA Gardens II celebrated its grand opening earlier this year. The 100-percent below-market rate housing project includes nearly 300 studio, one, two, and three-bedroom affordable apartments, all designated for households making between about $30,000 and $59,000 a year. The LEED-Gold certified property includes over 60,000 square feet of open space, including a nicely manicured front lawn, and a “butterfly garden” that also nurtures bees.

CAMBA Housing Ventures, the local nonprofit developer that built the CAMBA Gardens II, partners with the Horticultural Society of New York to offer guided planting activities as well as cooking and nutrition classes to its residents. Sculptures, imported from artists in Zimbabwe, accent the public spaces in and around the central Brooklyn housing complex.

From both inside and outside, the development is a vast transformation for a site that, up until 2009, housed the neighboring Kings County Hospital’s former psychiatric center (made obsolete by the hospital’s new behavioral health center).

“Some folks have said they felt like they could see a museum, every day when the walked into the lobby — which is exactly [the feeling] we want to provide,” says Margaret Taddy, vice president at CAMBA Housing Ventures.

Besides the impact of the final product’s new housing and programming, the project also put some 160 Brooklynites to work — at least two dozen of them from minority or women-owned businesses.

“Affordable and supportive housing is a big job creator in these communities,” says Taddy.

In compliance with the mandates of state- and city-sponsored financial assistance programs, CAMBA Housing Ventures utilized minority or women-owned enterprises, certified as such by the city or the state, and it paid all the project’s laborers prevailing wages.

The project’s general contractor, Bruno Frustaci Contracting, found his subcontractors through previous development projects and the use of online business directories of city and state governments. Consequently, CAMBA Housing Ventures ended up surpassing the minority or women-owned business goals of New York State’s Homeless Housing and Assistance Program and its Homes and Community Renewal program — which provided loans for the project — by more than $4 million.

Hiring minority- or women-owned businesses is important to CAMBA Housing Ventures when undertaking its development projects, according to Taddy.

“It’s something we work with the general contractor to ensure that it’s their priority,” she says. “When they are awarded the contract, we make it clear that the project’s financing requires a certain percentage of the [government] agencies’ money to be awarded to [minority- and women-owned] firms.”

Joseph Williams, founder and CEO of JW Electric Corp., which got $5.1 million on subcontracts for electrical work on CAMBA Gardens II. (Photo by Aline Reynolds)

All told, about a third of the $100 million CAMBA Gardens II was awarded to Brooklyn-based subcontractors, and an additional $1.3 million was spent on Brooklyn-sourced materials and equipment. That includes $8.6 million in subcontracts for certified minority- or women-owned subcontractors, including Williams.

In addition, More than 50 of the 160 local laborers lived within approximately two miles of CAMBA Gardens II.

Alex Vigario was another local subcontractor who worked on CAMBA Gardens II. Vigaro’s Double A Concrete Corp. was awarded over $1 million for building the foundation of CAMBA Gardens II. Vigario, who founded his company in 2000, has been in the business for nearly four decades. Traveling back-and-forth 11 miles to the Brooklyn project from the company’s yard in Jamaica, Queens, with his 20 or so workers was easy, Vigario says. “Sometimes you need to pick up some other material,” he says, “and it’s good when we’re close by and can just go back to our yard and come back.”

CAMBA Housing Ventures assembled state, city, and private financing for the project, and it was completed in partnership with New York City Health + Hospitals, the city’s public hospital system, which still owns the property. According to Taddy, the public-private partnership facilitated CAMBA Housing Ventures’ access to the necessary loans from both state and city housing agencies to make the project work. The developer and the city both sought to convert what was vacant hospital land into low-income “supportive” housing, or housing that streamlines residents’ access to primary health care. Together with CAMBA Gardens I, the projects are a model for co-locating housing and health care services.

“There was a shared goal and understanding of the importance of reutilizing this public land to contribute to the [city’s] overall goal of affordable housing,” Taddy says.


Movement to Get Public Money Out of Wall Street Comes to Wall Street

Winsome Pindergrass addresses the crowd at a June 5 rally on Wall Street. (Photo by Aline Reynolds)

Winsome Pindergrass wants a better chance at securing financing to buy a home. At a June 5 rally in front of the New York Stock Exchange, the 59-year-old Brooklyn resident talked about how three-quarters of her monthly income goes to her $2,200-a-month rent, which has nearly doubled since 2010. She’s watched her neighbors get pushed out by rising rents.

“We don’t even recognize our neighborhoods anymore,” she said. “The affordable apartments are all gone, or they are disappearing fast.”

Pindergrass was one of dozens of residents and community organizers who were gathered in front of the stock exchange, on Wall Street, to launch the Public Bank NYC Coalition. Made up of more than two-dozen groups, the coalition is calling for the creation of a city-owned bank that would serve as the repository of all local taxes, fees, fines and other municipal revenue — in contrast with the current system in which around 20 banks are currently authorized to provide bank accounts for New York City government as well as its various agencies and affiliated entities.

“We need a public bank…here to serve and to answer to us…to keep the wealth in our communities, invest in real, long-term affordable housing, and [get taxpayer money] out of the hands of Wall Street vultures,” Pindergrass said.

As a symbolic gesture, the coalition announced the start of its citywide campaign the same day that the New York City Council was slated to adopt its $89 billion budget for 2019. The public bank coalition’s launch timing also hearkens to the city’s announcement last June that it was joining other U.S. cities in breaking ties with Wells Fargo due to the bank’s failing grade on its most recent Community Reinvestment Act examination.

Public bank advocates argued that the status quo — private banks’ storing and managing of public funds — results in taxpayer money being directed to harmful purposes such as fracking, gun manufacturing and sales, and, particularly in NYC, developers who take out bank loans to acquire rent-stabilized buildings and flip them into market-rate apartments or condos.

“We want New York City to take our public dollars out of those banks—all of it,” said Deyanira Del Rio, co-director of New Economy Project, at the June 5 rally. “And we want New York City to put that money in a public bank that is owned and controlled by the people through our government, and that is held accountable to New Yorkers and our communities.”

The coalition envisions a New York City public bank that would, “make equitable investments that support low- and extremely low-income housing, union and living wage jobs for New York City residents, democratically-controlled clean energy, public infrastructure, cooperative ownership, and small businesses, prioritizing minority and women-owned businesses and locally-based enterprises.”

Linda Diaz also spoke at the June 5 rally. She recently co-founded the worker cooperative Brooklyn Stone & Tile with five other former employees of a stone and tile firm that recently closed. The new cooperative received $700,000 in startup capital from The Working World, a community development financial institution dedicated to nurturing employee-owned businesses in low-income areas.

“It is with extreme pride that I report to you that we launched [Brooklyn Stone & Tile] in April and secured our first countertop sales in May,” said Diaz. “A great public bank in New York City should provide fair and accessible financing, the way The Working World does for workers just like us.”

A city-run bank could trigger the creation of hundreds of community-friendly financial institutions around the city that would direct funds to working-class communities, Working World Founder and Executive Director Brendan Martin told Next City in an interview.

“A public bank is like a reservoir—you’re going to need more plumbing on a smaller scale to get the water to those places,” says Martin, explaining how the Working World would be like one of many smaller water tanks that would draw from the public bank “reservoir.”

There are few precedents for a municipal public bank in the U.S. San Francisco, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and other U.S. cities are considering setting up government-owned banks, as are the states of New Jersey and Michigan. Until recently, the only public bank in the U.S. was the 99-year-old Bank of North Dakota, serving as the repository of that state’s public revenues. In April, American Samoa received approval for a public bank serving the U.S. Territory, after a two-year wait.

“We have to figure out a tremendous amount of the logistics and details,” says Sarah Ludwig, co-director of the New Economy Project, in an interview with Next City. “But we have a lot of sharp, super-dedicated minds that are on this.”


The Search For Enough Green to Go Green

(Credit: Brooklyn SolarWorks)

Upwards of 6,400 rebates, tax credits, and other incentives are available to U.S. entities and households that undertake eco-friendly projects like solar panel installations or LED lighting upgrades. While the sheer breadth of options seems to be a promising sign of a greener future, navigating that labyrinth can be daunting.

As a result, some 40 to 50 percent of available funding for eco-friendly development in the U.S. is going unused, according to Texas-based sustainability entrepreneur Natalie Campos Goodman.

“That’s buckets of money sitting out there, waiting to be utilized,” she says.

The need to streamline the quest for such funding is what inspired Campos Goodman to co-found IncentiFind, which operates a publicly-available database of green incentives covering federal, state and local incentives.

In addition to its database, IncentiFind is building out a model in which anyone from individual homeowners to entire municipal governments or entire hospital systems can go to one place to find out which incentives they’re eligible to receive, to apply for those incentives, and get connected to local contractors qualified to do the work of making energy efficiency or other sustainability upgrades.

After spending over a year in heavily-polluted Shanghai, Campos Goodman — who herself suffers from asthma — wanted to make a rapid impact on the often sluggish sector of sustainability back at home.

So far, IncentiFind’s services have led to the completion of 26 projects nationwide, such as LED lighting systems, energy efficient HVAC systems, and other energy-efficient initiatives for offices and commercial uses. Together, these projects have been connected to approximately $4.5 million in incentives, many of them rebate programs, in which the businesses are reimbursed for eco-friendly investments.

Using the IncentiFind database, a care facility in Austin identified approximately $185,000 in incentives, including a $30,000 federal solar tax credit, that could help finance its new cool roof and solar panels. Meanwhile, a 100,000-square-foot commercial establishment in Dallas was determined eligible for about $180,000 in funding, between local utility incentives, a state tax exemption, and other subsidies, for planned upgrades to its HVAC and lighting systems.

So far, it’s not been uncommon for a business with a specific project to be eligible for five or six different incentives at various levels of government. In Houston, six incentives, including a monthly electric bill credit and a state property tax deduction, funded nearly the entire $126,000 cost of a hotel’s purchase and installation of solar panels. The firm that did that hotel’s installation has three or four other similar Texas-based projects in the pipeline.

Campos Goodman says about half of initial IncentiFind searches are made by small businesses, which she attributes to “a huge push in reducing the cost of doing business by going green.”

After searching the database, not all users move to the second step of verifying eligibility, for which the firm currently charges businesses a flat fee of $1,200 for muddling through the necessary information, providing an estimate of how much in incentives are available to a business, and filling out applications on behalf of a business. IncentiFind plans to charge individual homeowners $150 for a similar level of service, though that option isn’t planned for launch till later this year.

“Our goal is to not lose out on a huge, hard-to-reach, marginalized group of people,” Campos Goodman says of sustainability-minded homeowners living on modest incomes.

Additionally, municipalities and private entities can complete IncentiFind’s intake survey to provide information about benefits they offer to eligible businesses and residents that are in their catchment areas. IncentiFind can then verify and add those incentives to its database. “[Municipalities] really don’t have anywhere [else] to go to promote these incentives,” says Campos Goodman.

With a backlog of at least 100 projects seeking help with their incentive searches and applications, following a peak in the use of IncentiFind’s free search tool in January, Campos Goodman and her colleagues aim to leverage technology in order to further automate the system. “It’s not to take the human element out of it, but to expedite the process and maintain affordability,” she says.


NYC Has a Plan to Push the Pedal on Buses

As part of an overhaul of its bus system, NYC plans to add double-decker buses along express routes. (Credit: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit)

Bronx resident John Sattaur relies on city buses to go practically everywhere, including work. He takes three different buses to get to his job at the New York Public Library, which is less thanfour miles away from his apartment. On a bad day, his roundabout commute takes him an hour and fifteen minutes each way—not surprising, given that New York City buses are the slowest in the country.

“It’s a crapshoot. I don’t know what the day is going to hold,” Sattaur says of his unpredictable bus commutes.

New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has unveiled a plan for a complete overhaul of NYC’s ailing bus system — including a redesign of its approximately 300 routes — that promises to improve straphangers’ estimated two million rides each weekday. The multi-year bus plan features a wide-ranging set of initiatives intended to modernize the city’s bus fleet and ameliorate service across the five boroughs.

Among the plan’s commitments: increase inter-neighborhood connectivity by modifying bus routes; give buses more priority on city streets with dedicated bus lanes; accelerate passenger boarding; step up traffic enforcement; and provide more real-time information about bus service. Zero-emissions vehicles and double-decker buses will be introduced to the existing fleet. The MTA’s NYC Transit subsidiary — led by President Andy Byford, who took the helm in January — plans to roll out these new initiatives by 2021 or sooner.

“We’re extremely happy. It’s an ambitious plan that is looking to change the way things are operating,” says Stephanie Burgos-Veras, senior organizer at the Riders Alliance, a local membership-based organization with a network of about 50,000 transit advocates. “The key component for this redesign to go well is to make sure there is a huge community engagement component, so that [bus riders] share their experiences and what it is they need their buses to do for them.”

Services that don’t require city approval or coordination will be the most feasible to implement, Burgos-Veras says. For example, the MTA can ensure that the buses’ arrivals at each stop are more evenly spaced apart by having them depart from bus depots on schedule.

Frequent bus delays have caused Eastern Queens resident Natasha Saunders, who runs a cleaning business, to utilize a ride-sharing app for getting to and from the Long Island Railroad, where she catches the train to Manhattan. She is not alone in abandoning the buses: citywide ridership has declined by 14 percent over the last decade.

“I don’t take the bus anymore, ‘cause I actually need to get to where I’m going on time,” she says.

By late 2020, the plan also promises to establish all-door boarding and to install a new fare payment system on its entire bus fleet that will allow riders to “tap and pay” using their Metro Cards or smartphones. And, over the course of this year, all new city buses and 1,000 existing buses will be equipped with digital screens that notify riders about next stops and service changes, according to the plan — something Riders Alliance has been asking to improve.

With respect to new services that require collaboration with the city’s Department of Transportation, such as expanding exclusive bus lanes around the city, Burgos-Veras worries that political hurdles could get in the way of timely delivery. Bus-only lanes could prove controversial, since private car drivers are loathe to lose their share of road space. “It is very easy for things like this to get very difficult if the mayor doesn’t stand behind it,” she says. “We just want to make sure that the city isn’t refusing to collaborate or decide to work at a slower pace than the MTA.”

Other aspects of the plan that involve the city — such as expanding transit signal priority for buses — could also take time to implement. Transit signal priority could involve using sensors to detect when a bus is approaching, causing the traffic signal for the bus to extend its green or change earlier to green; or it could involve entirely seperate traffic signals for buses in exclusive bus lanes.

When asked whether the Department of Transportation will support the bus plan’s implementation, assistant press secretary Lolita Avila says, “[The department] sees the all-door boarding, redesigning of the bus network, and tap reader components as positive steps forward, and we look to our continued partnership with the MTA on improving bus service citywide.”

To expedite additional transit signal priority, an improvement that could significantly shorten bus trips, NYC Council Member Mark Levine has introduced a bill that would require the Department of Transportation to modernize traffic lights along ten routes per year over the next four years. Modernization would include capacity for transit signal priority, shortening the wait time buses have at red lights, where they now spend an average of 21 percent of their time on congested routes, according to Levine.

Levine expects his proposed law to get a hearing later this year. “There is a huge coalition behind this,” he says, noting that the bill already has 30 co-sponsors. “We’re really optimistic that the bill will move soon, and that it will be a huge win for bus riders.”

Levine refers to the city’s current state of transportation as a “death spiral,” with the demand for public transit rising even as bus ridership drops because commuters like Saunders are choosing private cars over buses. This trend causes more congestion, which further slows down the buses.

“It’s really a parallel crisis that is no less serious than the subway crisis, but the bus crisis hasn’t been in the headlines as much as the train crisis has been,” says Levine. “[Transit signal] technology offers us an opportunity to … get into a virtuous cycle in which we reduce wait times at [traffic] lights and get people back on buses.”

The promised upgrades to the bus system can’t come soon enough for Saunders and others. “I want to see it all happen, and I want to see it happen as quickly as possible,” she says. “New York is considered the capital of the world. For us to travel like this is a disgrace. It’s embarrassing, and it has to stop.”


Charleston Park and Ride Lets Workers Save Big

Signage for the new park and ride shuttle service in Charleston. (Photo by John Keener)

Charleston resident Chaz Wendel, general manager of the Charleston Crab House, lives just a 5-minute drive away from work. He commutes by car because it is the most direct mode of travel. But metered parking near his eatery costs him a whopping $300 a month.

“Parking and driving around downtown has become quite a pain,” he says.

Charleston’s rapid growth spurt is proving to be a mixed blessing for Wendel and his fellow city residents. On the one hand, the city is raking in enormous revenues from its thriving tourism industry, which increases funding for local services and yields profits for area businesses. At the same time, the five square miles that make up Charleston’s downtown peninsula — which sees an estimated 15,000 visitors daily — is grappling with severe traffic congestion and parking challenges that cost local commuters precious time and hard-earned money.

Now, thanks to a new park-and-ride program, the “Hospitality On Peninsula Park and Ride Lot,” Wendel can commute to work free of charge. The pilot transportation service, launched this April, offers Charleston commuters daylong parking for a flat $5 at a city-owned lot in northern part of the peninsula, and a free connecting shuttle bus to and from six central-city stops. For commuters like Wendel, who live on the peninsula, the shuttle service alone is free. Users of the shuttle, which runs every 15 minutes, 21 hours a day, can track the buses in real-time on their smartphones. In addition to 170 parking spaces, the Hospitality on Peninsula Lot contains bike racks as well as a dock operated by the city’s bike rental program, Holy Spokes.

The park-and-ride service is intended to save considerable garage and on-street parking expenses for hospitality and food-and-beverage workers, Charleston’s largest workforce. In a 2017 College of Charleston parking survey, 40 percent of the 500 hospitality workers reported that they live in West Ashley, which is about ten miles from the city center. Approximately 80 percent of respondents reported that they drive alone to and from work, and nearly 30 percent of them spent more than $100 on parking costs each month. Garages in downtown Charleston charge an average parking rate of $8-$16 per day.

“I think [the park and ride] is a really good idea,” says Ben D’Allesandro, who owns and runs a local pizza shop with his brother in downtown Charleston. “Economically, workers could save a whole day’s worth of parking, and the headache from using the meters and dodging meter maids.”

Wendel plans to use the service on a regular basis. “Just being able to go to the [bus] stop, jump on, and not have to deal with the stress of traffic or parking is pretty amazing,” he says.

Finding a free spot among the mere 400 or so coveted parking spaces in the city center is like winning the lottery, according to Charleston City Council Member Mike Seekings, a main player in spearheading the park-and-ride program. Seekings also chairs the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA), the government entity that operates the new service and is currently covering its $75,000 monthly operating cost.

“It is a wrestling match every day to get in and out of the [area],” he says. “The whole idea of [the park and ride lot] is to get a safe, efficient, convenient way to move people on and off the peninsula with a system they can rely on and can afford.”

John Keener, owner of three downtown Charleston restaurants (including the Crab House) and president of the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association, thinks that the new program will increase work opportunities for Greater Charleston residents who would otherwise find it a hardship to access the peninsula daily. Roughly one-third of Keener’s 250 employees drive to and from their jobs—and, of these 75 workers, Keener hopes that at least half of them will use the park & ride service.

“That would be a major win,” he said.

Keener, who lives about ten miles away on Johns Island, plans to make use of the park-and-ride service himself from time to time. “It was very comfortable and relaxing when I rode [the shuttle] yesterday,” he says. “I parked my car and was driven almost to the front door of my restaurant.”

It will remain an uphill battle for the peninsula’s car-commuting workers to change their travel habits. Nearly half of the 2017 parking survey’s respondents said that a park-and-ride service would not be a transportation option for them, and one-fifth of respondents said they would not use public transportation. The negative response is likely due to the fact that mass transit is not a travel mode that Charleston residents are generally accustomed to, according to Doug Warner, media relations director of Explore Charleston, a nonprofit that promotes Charleston tourism, which partnered with the city and CARTA to launch the park and ride.

“Like many southern cities that traditionally have not had adequate public transportation, there isn’t a developed mindset of people using public transportation because it has not been available,” Warner says.

Despite this potential hurdle, Seeking says, “From watching [the park and ride shuttle] in the first four days, I have no doubt that it’s going to succeed.”

Greater incentive for the park and ride is already in place. The city recently doubled the hourly fare of metered parking spaces, from $1 to $2, as well extended its meter-monitoring hours from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays. “It really makes metered spaces more for what they’re originally designed to do—they’re not supposed to serve as a permanent parking solution for someone working a shift,” Warner says.

If the park-and-ride program is a success, CARTA and the city aim to roll out the park-and-ride service to other Greater Charleston communities, including West Ashley and Mount Pleasant. Expanding and sustaining the program to include other areas around Greater Charleston, however, will surely require private-sector support, according to Seekings.

“That will have to be part of the long-term solution,” he says.


A View of Inclusionary Housing From Down Under

A recently-built affordable housing development in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Ryan van den Nouwelant)

In Australia, less than four percent of households live in public housing — much higher than the U.S., where fewer than one percent of households live in public housing. Still, alarmed by the Australia figure, a team of Australian (and a few Scottish) housing experts set out to investigate inclusionary housing programs. Their new report, commissioned by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, details inclusionary housing programs used around the U.S. and the U.K.

The U.S. is home to more than 1,379 inclusionary housing programs, according to a different working paper from last year. Those programs were collectively responsible for the creation of 173,707 units of affordable housing. Meanwhile, the Australian researchers found, England’s inclusionary scheme has generated approximately 83,800 new affordable units between 2005 and 2016.

Australia’s use of inclusionary regulations, by comparison, has so far been limited—partly due to constraints in the country’s regional planning laws.

“We really do draw on American experience when we look at what we might do in Australia in terms of planning affordable housing,” says Nicole Gurran, the report’s lead author and a planning and housing professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Architecture, Design, and Planning.

Inclusionary housing programs, typically region- or city-specific, do not follow a “one-size-fits-all” strategy, says Gurran. They’re generally tailored to local planning systems and housing markets; mandatory programs are especially encouraged for residential areas that are undergoing rezoning or that are experiencing substantial infrastructure investment, since, in both cases, land values increase enough to offset the cost of producing affordable housing.

The researchers considered the dozens of cities in California that have instituted local ordinances that require developers to provide affordable housing as part of their development projects. California obliges its municipalities to offer density bonuses, which allow additional building height or floor space to developers who provide affordable housing units. They also looked at New York City, where an inclusionary housing program shifted from voluntary to mandatory in 2016.

Typically, voluntary inclusionary programs that are incentive-based yield significantly smaller numbers of new affordable housing units than do mandatory programs. In Oakland, for instance, incentive-based programs that aren’t supplemented by inclusionary requirements have proven ineffective, the study notes.

“Even in a booming market,” Gurran said, “voluntary incentives [are worth] virtually nothing.”

Two regions of Australia — South Australia and New South Wales — have begun to implement inclusionary housing programs, but they haven’t had nearly the kind of success, in numbers, as the U.S. and U.K. programs. Mandatory inclusionary zoning in South Australia, with a 15 percent target rate of affordable housing units in new residential areas, has triggered the creation of approximately 5,500 low-cost dwellings. That amount is equivalent to roughly 17 percent of the region’s overall housing supply. In New South Wales, an incentive-based housing program generated an estimated 2,000 affordable rental units in Sydney, which makes up around one percent of the city’s overall housing stock.

Unlike the U.S., Australia’s national government provides few subsidies such as federal tax credits that financially assist developers in producing affordable housing, Gurran explains. “The nonprofit- or government-funded proportion of housing development is…less than two percent of new supply,” she says. From Australian developers’ perspective, therefore, building dwelling units that are affordable for low-to-moderate-income earners can often seem cost-prohibitive.

“To get new houses up, we need that private development sector to build them,” she says. “If you require developers to build too much, they won’t build at all; and if you don’t have enough new supply, that pushes up prices across the market.”

What Gurran and her study’s co-authors hope to convey to Australian policymakers, planners, and developers is that affordable housing isn’t as financially infeasible as they may think. To the contrary, mixed-income housing development can provide developers economic stability in otherwise-volatile housing markets. “Affordable housing obligations aren’t making overall housing development unviable,” Gurran said, “as long as the requirements are predictable, known in advance, and consistently applied.”

That said, government subsidies are imperative for encouraging the creation of affordable housing, particularly for extremely low-income citizens in areas of high residential need, Gurran notes. “Inclusionary planning is not a substitute for government funding. You’ll still need some other source of grant to subsidize people’s rents or the capital costs of providing the dwelling, or both.”

Above all, the study underscores the vital role of development rules in the production of affordable housing, since market-driven housing projects alone don’t yield sufficient supplies of low-cost dwelling units.

“The idea that just increasing housing production overall will make it affordable for people of low and moderate incomes, isn’t borne out by the evidence,” said Gurran. “We do need specific policy interventions.”


NYC Looks Beyond the Classroom to Improve School Performance

Discussing public benefits enrollment with school parents onsite as part of a pilot program under the NYC Community Schools Initiative. (Credit: Public Policy Lab)

At the Academy of Environmental Leadership, in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, 100 percent of the high school’s 300 or so students live below the poverty line, and 97 percent are students of color. It was at schools like this where, in 2017, the NYC Department of Education began exploring the question, “What if, alongside after-school programs, tutoring and vision clinics, schools could improve student outcomes by offering public benefits enrollment on site?”

Enrolling in public benefits might seem an obvious choice, yet in the day-to-day grind of life at the lower end of the economic spectrum, it can get lost in the shuffle of working multiple part-time jobs or having to move multiple times a year, sometimes into and out of homeless shelters. Many struggling families end up slipping through the cracks, missing out on benefits for which they are eligible — benefits that might help mitigate some of that turmoil. Academic performance suffers as a result.

“We have very consistent issues addressing hunger, homelessness, lack of access to health care, and need for immigration support and workforce development assistance,” explains Michael Hickey, director of strategy and partnerships at the NYC Department of Education’s Community Schools Initative.

The Academy of Environmental Leadership was one of five NYC public schools where the Community Schools Initiative last year piloted a public benefits enrollment program aimed to facilitate low-income students’ access to stable housing as well as to food, health care, and other essential services. Later this year, the city is rolling out that program to a wider set of schools, with the goal of eventually scaling it up to all schools under the Community Schools Initiative’s umbrella, if not beyond.

The Community Schools Initiative began back in 2014, intending to address the notable inequality between advantaged and disadvantaged students in NYC public schools. Targeting schools in neighborhoods with high poverty rates as well as schools with low rates of academic achievement, the initiative pairs each school with a nearby community-based organization that connects families with affordable housing, after-school support, healthcare, workforce development and other services. There are currently 227 schools around the city that are part of the Community Schools Initiative.

To design and scale up a new public benefits enrollment pilot program that would complement its existing model, the Community Schools Initiative brought in Public Policy Lab, a nonprofit that advances and practices public service design, applying the tools and methods of designers to solve pressing public policy challenges.

The five schools in the public benefits enrollment pilot had especially high populations of students who live in temporary housing, notes Chelsea Mauldin, executive director of the Public Policy Lab.

The five schools that hosted the onsite public benefits enrollment pilot program. (Credit: Public Policy Lab)

“The end hypothesis [of the pilot],” Mauldin says, “is that increasing families’ household incomes creates a better home environment for students, which allows them to show up to school more frequently and more ready to learn.”

The NYC Department of Education has recently been called out for an inadequate response to absenteeism among students. In an audit report released this March by NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, city auditors found evidence that schools reached out to missing youths and their families on the first day of their absences in only eight percent of a sample population.

A big disconnect is that school administrators often don’t know what benefits might be out there — or even if they do, they don’t notify families in need about them.

To remedy the issue, the benefits enrollment pilot is training school staff to better identify students and families in need, while also placing local case workers who can assist these households in applying for benefits onsite at schools. The intervention tactics, implemented over a three-week period in the spring of 2017 as the first phase of the pilot program, generated a 17 percent referral rate among 90 eligible, non-enrolled households across three of the five participating schools. “What we found was, lots of parents responded,” said Mauldin.

While the remaining 83 percent of families did not complete a pre-screening process in order to be matched with a local case worker, “the results were strong enough that, if we really drill down on the strategies that seemed to be most effective, and give it a little bit more time,” says Hickey, “we can continue to build fast, [cost-effective], and [decentralized] solutions.”

The Community Schools Initiative’s goal is to eventually implement a customized version of the public benefits enrollment program in all its community schools. It is important that the services are individually tailored to each school, says Hickey, since “each community school will have a different constellation of people with different skills and relationships with local providers.”

The overall Community Schools Initiative is already showing some promise addressing chronic absenteeism, which the NYC Department of Education defines as missing more than 10 percent of school days in a given academic year. In the 2013-14 school year, students across 110 schools in the initiative were chronically absent from school approximately 47 percent of the time, according to the NYC Community Schools Initiative — a problem that he attributes to the students’ lack of adequate sustenance, housing, and other basic needs. Other potential causes are deficiencies in schools’ monitoring of attendance of chronically absent homeless students, as revealed the Comptroller’s audit report. Within the same 110 schools from 2013-2014 data, chronic absenteeism declined by 9.5 percent in the 2016-17 school year, according to the NYC Community Schools Initiative.

In the second phase of the public benefits enrollment program, which will be carried out in the 2018-19 academic year, school attendance staff will be trained to inform families of chronically absent students about public benefits for which they may be eligible.

“One of the hopes would be that getting people access to benefits programs they’re eligible for, but are not currently using, would support them in their goal of having a secure place to live,” said Mauldin. It’s believed that stable housing can, in turn, lead to better school attendance — which supports the Community Schools Initiative’s holistic approach of addressing students’ needs both inside and outside the classroom.

“You can’t expect a child who is hungry, who has vision impairment, or who doesn’t feel safe, to succeed in school,” says Chris Caruso, executive director of the NYC Community Schools Initiative. “In order for a kid to succeed, you need to address the needs of the whole child.”


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