IN STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS, SPEAKER QUINN OUTLINES PLAN TO STRENGTHEN NEW YORK CITY’S COMMUNITY
In her 6th annual State of the City address, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn outlined plans to make New York City an even stronger place to work and to live. Quinn’s proposals effectively seek ways to help New Yorkers across the board – from securing homes for families to providing a quality education for children to providing job opportunities for the unemployed to bolstering the five boroughs’ economic potential.
Quinn highlighted the power of individual communities to create lasting impacts on the entire city: “Now more than ever, we need to tap into the power of our communities. We need to restore the promise that everyone can succeed in New York, no matter how humble their origins, with a bit of help and a lot of hard work.”
NEW INITIATIVES TO SPUR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND JOB GROWTH
Speaker Quinn proposed tackling the need for job growth in three ways:
• Harnessing the potential of some of New York’s strongest industries – Two new programs will strengthen the design and manufacturing industries. New York City Design Week will be a global event to highlight New York City designers and a new state-of-the-art shared manufacturing center will provide shared space and equipment for professionals and students.
• Creating job opportunities in neighborhoods with high unemployment – Speaker Quinn announced plans to create a $10 million small business loan fund exclusively for businesses in low-income neighborhoods. Additionally, a new program will be formed together with the organization Kickstarter to help turn ideas into reality by helping raise needed funding for projects that will spur development in communities that need it most.
• Removing the barriers that keep many from accessing good jobs – The City will launch a new program called “New Skills, New Jobs” that will help the long-term unemployed gain skills and a pathway to full-time permanent employment. The program will be an 8-week, paid training program leading to a full-time permanent position. The Speaker also announced new legislation making it unlawful for employers to request or use an applicant’s unemployment status for hiring purposes.
STRENGTHENING THE CITY’S COMMITMENT TO CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
Mandatory Kindergarten – Speaker Quinn proposed making kindergarten mandatory for all New York City five-year-olds. Currently, kindergarten is not required and nearly 3,000 children are not attending kindergarten and receiving critical early education. High-need communities are the most severely impacted by a lack of early education. Some of the City’s most vulnerable children – including English language learners, children with special needs, and foster children – are turned away when they attempt to enroll in kindergarten in overcrowded districts.
Speaker Quinn stated, “Every year nearly 3,000 5-year-olds in New York City don’t enroll in kindergarten. That means thousands of kids enter first grade every year having never set foot in a classroom. Many of them are kids who need kindergarten the most. We’re working with the State Legislature to introduce a bill allowing New York City to make kindergarten mandatory.”
Affordable childcare for middle class families – Speaker Quinn also highlighted a new program for providing high quality childcare for working families that will affect tens of thousands of New York City children.
Daycare provides early childhood education experiences that are critical to children’s success throughout life – early childhood education reduced dropout rates, raises graduation rates, and has been calculated to have a 7 to 1 return on investment. Access to quality child care is critical for working families, both because of the proven benefits for children and in that it allows parents to enter or remain in the work force.
There are currently no financial programs or services available for families making more than 275% of the Federal Poverty Level. While the City should continue efforts to increase access to high-quality childcare for low-income families, more should be done to support middle-income families as well.
Speaker Quinn proposed that the City create a new low-cost loan program that would provide a loan to families that would cover up to 50% of the cost of high quality childcare.
“This program is the first of its kind in the nation – and could become a model that provides financial stability and quality care for families across the country. Because it’s not just about helping people get jobs today. It’s about keeping them secure far into the future, and making sure that the next generation has the opportunity for success,” stated Quinn.
Student Empowerment Partnership – New York City currently lacks a comprehensive strategy for turning around struggling schools and improving the quality of choice of schools across the system. To address this, Speaker Quinn called for a data-driven cradle-to-career approach to education that will work with community-based organizations and government agencies to raise academic achievement among students of all ages.
Speaker Quinn and the City Council will partner with the Department of Education and Zone126 in Community School District 30 (CSD 30) in Queens to create a Student Empowerment Partnership (StEP) and will seek partners interested in moving this initiative into other neighborhoods that have struggling schools.
City Honors College – Speaker Quinn called for the creation of a tuition-free CUNY Honors College for the city’s top students. The proposed college will have a campus, facilities and programs that will allow it to compete with the nation’s top institutions.
“Let’s give our brightest students an incentive to really work hard in school with the promise of a free education and a degree that can open any door.”
PROTECTING AND EXPANDING AFFORDABLE HOUSING OPPORTUNITIES
Today’s speech built on Speaker Quinn’s years of work on affordable housing with a number of new proposals. Speaker Quinn proposed ways to strengthen affordability, protect renters from negligent landlords and create a path to permanent housing for homeless New Yorkers.
Speaker Quinn announced an agreement with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to double the standard term of affordability required in many new projects from 30 to 60 years, and an agreement to work together towards a plan for permanent affordability.
“Our goal will be a new kind of deal with developers – as long as the City keeps renewing your benefits, you have to keep your housing truly affordable,” said Speaker Quinn. “With permanent affordability, we’ll make sure the people who built a community get to stay in that community.”
The Speaker also announced new legislation that would give HPD the power to require landlords to fix underlying conditions that lead to poor housing conditions.
A new initiative presented in today’s speech will address the need for repairs in NYCHA housing, while creating training and job opportunities for NYCHA residents. NYCHA facilities house over 400,000 New Yorkers in units across the City, and many of these units are in need of repair, often due to funding cuts that have delayed maintenance. Speaker Quinn announced that the Council will provide NYCHA with $10 million which will allow it to hire 176 residents for union jobs and complete 100,000 outstanding repair requests.
Speaker Quinn also addressed the needs of those that do not have housing at all—the homeless. She said that the current shelter system has become a dead end for many, and called for the city to create a new rental assistance program, and to allocate a portion of NYCHA apartments and Section 8 vouchers that become available each year to homeless families and individuals.
SECURING HEALTH CARE FOR NEW YORKERS
Speaker Quinn proposed a groundbreaking initiative to improve worker health and reduce health care costs. The City Council will provide $100,000 in funding to launch the Freelancers Union’s flagship Brooklyn health clinic. Through this partnership, the Council will support innovative health delivery for a vulnerable class of New York worker. At the same time, the Council will work with the Freelancers as it expands its model, to study the possibility of opening the clinics up to city employees.
“This kind of creative health care model has the power to connect more New Yorkers to primary care, take some of the burden off of struggling hospitals, and strengthen our non-profit healthcare system,” said Speaker Quinn.
Speaker Quinn’s proposals included numerous innovative and clear ideas for strengthening New York City and presented a commitment to helping support communities across the five boroughs.
“That’s how we make good on the promise of New York. – By ensuring that every generation has greater opportunity than the ones that came before.”
City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn
Thursday, February 9, 2012
State of the City Address
Remarks as prepared
The story my father just told, like many of his stories, takes place on East 96th Street where he grew up. My father left Yorkville at 17 years old, when Uncle Sam called. But some 70 years later, listening to him talk about the old neighborhood, you can close your eyes and picture it. Women hanging laundry out the windows. Children playing kick the can in the street. The smell of cabbage cooking down the hall.
People who have never visited New York often see it as an intimidating metropolis, cold and impersonal. But New Yorkers know the truth. We are not a big city. We’re a patchwork of small towns woven into neighborhoods, stitched together to form boroughs, creating the fabric of what we call the City of New York.
And for many New Yorkers, our neighborhoods are shaped not by city blocks, but by the people in our lives. Parents at your child’s school. The grocer who knows you by name. The faces you see at church or shul or the mosque. The friends and relatives you lean on for support.
And new communities are being built every day. A few months ago, Council Member Sara Gonzalez and I met with a group of women from Sunset Park. They had come together to form a worker owned business cooperative providing cleaning services for homes and offices in Brooklyn. They call their business “Si Se Puede” – Yes We Can. These women are first generation immigrants. Some don’t speak much English. And for years they worked on their own, barely making enough to support their families. Now these amazing women are doing more than just surviving – they’re thriving beyond what they ever imagined.
They worked together with a community organization called the “Center for Family Life” to design a business plan, and market their services around the borough. Some have tripled their yearly income but that’s not the most important thing they’ve done.
One woman came to the meeting with her daughter, who was about to become the first member of their family to go to college.
She said that seeing her mother become a small business owner had changed her, inspired her, made her believe she had the potential to get an education. The women of Si Se Puede have built something – a community that extends well beyond the lives of its members. It’s already inspired their children. It’s led other women in Brooklyn to start cooperative businesses of their own.
See, that’s the incredible thing about communities. Whether it’s a group of women in Sunset Park, or a bunch of Irish and German and Italian immigrants packed into 96th Street. There’s an energy created when New Yorkers are brought together, like a chemical reaction. That energy is contagious, it lifts you up and carries you to greater heights, it makes everything bigger than just the sum of its parts.
Now more than ever, we need to tap into the power of our communities. We need to restore the promise that everyone can succeed in New York, no matter how humble their origins, with a bit of help and a lot of hard work.
So today let’s talk about ways we can use the strength of our communities to create opportunity for every New Yorker. To protect our neighbors in greatest need, and help more of them achieve the dream of the middle class.
To overcome the biggest challenges facing every community: chronic unemployment, the high cost of housing and health care, and lack of access to quality education.
New York City was built by generation after generation of immigrants who came here to pursue the American Dream. Like the women of Si Se Puede, they started their own businesses, and set to work shaping our communities – from Arthur Avenue to Richmond Hill. Many arrived on our shores unable to read or write. But they dreamt that one day their children could grow up to be doctors or lawyers or engineers, and New York City helped make those dreams come true.
We have to keep that dream alive for future generations. That’s why we’ll be working with Council Member Melissa Mark Viverito and our colleagues in Albany to pass the DREAM Act. Because every child in New York State should have the ability to go to college.
But we can’t stop there. Right now more than 600,000 New Yorkers are dying to become American citizens and have a legal path to get there, but the high cost of immigration services holds them back.
We need to help these New Yorkers get on the road to citizenship. Unfortunately, my grandmother Nellie is no longer around to serve as a de facto immigration lawyer. But the good news is we’ve found an even better solution using real immigration lawyers. Working with Council Member Danny Dromm we’re going to dramatically increase the amount of free immigration services in the five boroughs.
Mayor Bloomberg deserves a lot of credit for his work to make New York City an even more welcoming and supportive place for immigrants from around the world. We’ll build on his and the Council’s current efforts, by adding weekly legal clinics in 30 immigrant neighborhoods.
Just think about the difference that citizenship will make in the lives of thousands of our neighbors. They’ll be able to tap into all the promise of New York City. And we’ll be able to tap into their energy and passion and ideas, to make our city even stronger.
Now let’s talk about one of the greatest challenges facing New Yorkers in every neighborhood – unemployment. A few months ago, I laid out the Council’s vision for strengthening our economy and getting New Yorkers back to work. I focused on two areas: harnessing the potential of the tech industry, and restoring the jobs that serve as a gateway to the middle class.
I’m proud to say we’ve already made progress on many of the ideas we proposed. We talked about linking DUMBO, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Downtown Brooklyn into a thriving tech triangle. In the last few months, industry leaders in all three corners have launched a formal partnership.
And the first ever venture capital fund in the borough has formed to support new tech companies in these neighborhoods. This fall, we’re going to launch our new software language certificate program at CUNY. This is a booming field – tech companies literally can’t fill these jobs fast enough. We’re going to give New Yorkers the skills they need to get them.
These initiatives will help get New Yorkers back to work but there’s plenty more that needs to be done. So today I want to focus on three strategies that build on these efforts. First, we’ll harness the potential of some of New York’s strongest industries. Second, we’ll create job opportunities in neighborhoods with high unemployment.
And finally, we’ll remove the barriers that keep many New Yorkers from accessing good jobs. Sometimes we hear people talk about job creation as though we’re starting from scratch. We don’t need to create brand new industries. We just need to take the strengths we already have – what New Yorkers have created – and make them go even farther.
So what’s one of the industries that New York is known for? Design. We have more designers than any city in the United States, with nearly 40,000 New Yorkers working in everything from graphics to movie sets, architecture to interior decorating. We’ll grow our design sector by stealing an idea from the fashion industry.
Fashion Week, which starts today, brings 300,000 visitors and nearly $800 million into our city every year. Working with Council Member Karen Koslowitz, we’re going to give that same kind of boost to our design industry by creating and hosting a New York City Design Week.
It will be a global event, attracting visitors from around the world, and putting our designers right in the spotlight. And we’ll work with community groups who are already hosting design events, like a group on Staten Island that already holds a digital design event on the North Shore. People will head to Bushwick to watch local artisans create custom furniture. Astoria can feature its film and television studios, while Cooper Union highlights the next generation of design genius. The more we market our design industry, the more job opportunities there’ll be for New Yorkers.
These are good, middle class jobs, ranging from marketing to manufacturing. And speaking of manufacturing, our city is primed to become a center of next generation manufacturing.
Nowadays, this industry requires high tech equipment, which can be too expensive for small manufacturing firms to afford on their own. So working with Council Member Letitia James, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and a local company called Macro Sea, we’re going to build a state-of-the-art shared manufacturing center. It’ll provide equipment, studios and office space for 200 professionals and students.
Creative New Yorkers designing engine parts for motorcycles, or building custom chairs. Our center will be a hub for industry training and innovation, and help dozens of new businesses get off the ground.
Our second strategy will empower people to invest in neighborhoods with high unemployment. These days communities don’t just exist in a physical place – they also exist online.
There’s a Lower East Side tech startup called Kickstarter that uses the energy and potential of online communities to bring investment to real-world neighborhoods. Here’s how it works: someone with an idea for a community project or a business venture posts a proposal on the Kickstarter website. People pledge money, and in return they get a reward. We’re going to work with Kickstarter and Council Member Al Vann to help people raise money for creative businesses and projects in neighborhoods with high unemployment. Every month the City Council will highlight a new set of people working to transform their communities.
Like a group in Brownsville that wanted to start an urban farm on an abandoned lot, and teach kids about healthy food. Kickstarter helped them raise $25,000, and investors got invited to harvest some veggies, or name one of the chickens. And who wouldn’t love to name a chicken? A couple of entrepreneurs are looking to start a new restaurant in Clinton Hill. They’ve already raised $1,400, and if they hit $10,000 by the end of the month, they’ll be creating dozens of jobs.
Local residents will have the chance to contribute to projects they want to see in their neighborhood. And people all over the city – and all over the world – will be able to support New Yorkers who are making a difference and giving our economy a boost.
Another way we can target community investment is by helping small businesses expand so they can hire more workers. There’s a federal program called the New Markets Tax Credit. Every year New York City uses New Markets credits for construction. But we’ve never used them for small businesses to help a moving company buy more vans and hire more movers, or a local restaurant open a second location and create new jobs.
So this year I’m announcing that we’ll be partnering with Council Member Inez Dickens, Economic Development Corporation President Seth Pinsky, and Small Business Commissioner Rob Walsh. We’ll create a $10 million dollar small business loan fund exclusively for businesses in high unemployment neighborhoods. And the best part is, it won’t cost the city a dime.
All these initiatives I’ve mentioned will help us create more job opportunities. But for some New Yorkers, the barriers to employment extend way beyond just a shortage of jobs. The average length of unemployment stands at 41 weeks – the highest it’s been since World War Two.
And the longer you’re out of work, the harder it gets to find a job. New Yorkers’ unemployment benefits are running out and many have had to dip into their retirement savings to get by. But they aren’t giving up.
Many are looking to get an internship and learn new skills but they just can’t afford to work for free. So working with Council Member Diana Reyna and SBS, we’re going to launch a brand new pilot program called New Skills, New Jobs. Participants will spend up to eight weeks in a paid training program at a company that has a full time job opening.
They’ll get a new set of skills, and on completion of the program they’ll be hired on a permanent basis. With New Skills, New Jobs, we’ll get hundreds of New Yorkers on the path to a new career.
As we look to help people get back into the workforce, the most infuriating stories we hear are from people who’ve been turned down for a job just because they’ve been unemployed for too long.
Imagine you’ve spent every day for months looking for work. Now they tell you the reason you can’t have a job is because you don’t have a job. Some companies say it’s their policy. I say it’s discrimination, plain and simple. And just like we’ve done with other kinds of discrimination, we’re going to make it illegal.
I want to thank Borough President Scott Stringer for calling on the State and City to take action. I want to thank Senators Liz Krueger and Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assembly Member Keith Wright for introducing bills to ban this discrimination statewide. But we won’t wait for Albany.
We’ll pass legislation sponsored by Council Members Leroy Comrie and Vincent Gentile, prohibiting employers from refusing to hire someone just because they’re unemployed. We won’t let discrimination prevent New Yorkers from getting back to work.
Another major obstacle for many New Yorkers is balancing the demands of a job with the demands of a family. We’re grateful to Governor Cuomo for restoring cuts that would have cost thousands of local families their child care.
There’s a lot more work to be done, and we’re committed to working with community advocates to protect and expand child care for low income parents. But there’s a group that’s been left out of the conversation altogether: middle income families who can’t afford to pay for child care out of pocket, but make too much to qualify for subsidized programs.
Child care can be a daunting expense for new parents. It’s much easier for them to spread out the costs over a few years. So working with
Council Member Jessica Lappin and Senator Daniel Squadron, we’re going to launch a pilot program, where the City covers half the upfront costs of child care, allowing families to pay it back over time through a low cost loan.
This program is the first of its kind in the nation and could become a model that provides financial stability and quality care for families across the country. Because it’s not just about helping people get jobs today. It’s about keeping them secure far into the future, and making sure that the next generation has the opportunity for success.
Another growing cost for New York families is health care. Premiums are up more than 50% in the last ten years, and many employers have responded by asking their workers to contribute even more. But some employers have found innovative ways to provide top quality health care while reducing everyone’s costs.
The Hotel Workers Union, under the leadership of Peter Ward, has created a network of one-stop clinics where union members can receive any care they need, free of charge. By building a medical community, and providing their own insurance, the union has developed a system so efficient they can offer free coverage at 1/3 the cost of the average HMO.
You may think that sounds crazy. I think it’s crazy we’ve waited so long to try and replicate their success. So this year we’ll bring the Hotel Trades model to a group of New Yorkers that has a hard time affording health care – freelancers.
Independent workers like temps or copy editors now account for 30% of the workforce, and one in four make less than $25,000 a year. Through the leadership of Sara Horowitz, the Freelancers Union has created a growing community of over 93,000 members in the five boroughs. Working with Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo, we’re going to help the Freelancers launch a flagship clinic, to provide low cost care to any member who needs it. This kind of creative health care model has the power to connect more New Yorkers to primary care, take some of the burden off of struggling hospitals, and strengthen our non-profit healthcare system.
It’s impossible to talk about rising costs without talking about housing. How many of you can remember the first time you laid eyes on your home? Not just your house or apartment, but your home in the truest sense of the word.
You could imagine the pencil marks on the door frame as you watched your kids grow. You knew exactly where you’d hang that big screen TV once you saved up the money, picked out a spot for the recliner when you retired.
For far too many New Yorkers that dream gets cut short. They moved into affordable housing hoping they’d be there for the rest of their lives. Then they discovered that affordable now doesn’t mean affordable forever.
Right now, when the City negotiates deals with developers, we provide incentives in exchange for affordability. The problem is that affordability has a built in expiration date, usually thirty years. So homes we built three decades ago are now in danger of losing their affordability. Which means families get pushed right out of their homes, and the working class gets pushed out of entire neighborhoods. Sometimes – working with community members – we are able to find ways to keep buildings affordable beyond the expiration date. Like when Council Member Helen Diane Foster helped protect more than a hundred homes at the birthplace of hip hop – 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx. But other times, we’re not so lucky. We need to create housing that’s not just affordable for a few years, but for generations.
So let’s talk about an idea that’s long overdue in New York City – permanent affordability. For years it’s been thought of as a pipe dream. But the City Council has a plan to make it happen. I’m happy to announce that HPD is going to start requiring sixty year affordability in many of our biggest developments.
Sixty years isn’t permanent, but it’s a critical first step. I want to thank Council Members Erik Martin Dilan and Joel Rivera for their leadership on this issue. I want to thank Senator Adriano Espaillat and Assembly Member Vito Lopez, for agreeing to sponsor the necessary legislation.
But we won’t stop there. Our goal will be a new kind of deal with developers as long as the City keeps renewing your benefits, you have to keep your housing truly affordable. I’m very grateful to HPD for agreeing to work with us to develop a strategy for permanent affordability. This work will continue until we get there. With permanent affordability, we’ll make sure the people who built a community get to stay in that community.
Now there’s another group of New Yorkers whose homes are getting less affordable: our city’s veterans. New York State has a homeowner’s tax exemption for veterans. But through a strange quirk in the law, the value of their tax exemption rises and falls not with the value of their home but with how much the City spends on public schools. The more we spend on schools, the less veterans get. Is that a classic government kick in the pants, or what? I could tell you how this problem came about, but like any other part of our property tax code it would take an hour to explain. I’m happy to stick around afterwards, if anyone wants to chat. But I think we can all agree that we shouldn’t be punishing veterans every time we help students. We’re going to stop this – by introducing legislation sponsored by Assembly Member Michael Cusick and Senator Andrew Lanza that will fix the problem. It’s the least we can do to thank the men and women who have done and do so much for our country.
And I want to recognize Council Members Vincent Ignizio, James Oddo, Mathieu Eugene, and Lew Fidler for all their work on this issue.
As we work to provide all our neighbors with an affordable place to live, we can’t ignore the growing number of homeless New Yorkers. There are currently 10,000 families living in homeless shelters in New York City, some with children just a few months old. If these kids are going to have a fighting chance, we need to get their families back on the path to stable housing. But for many, our shelter system has become a dead end. Without a rental assistance program for the homeless, most families have no way to access long term housing.
They either end up back on the street, or return to crowded shelters night after night. That’s not the New York City we know. This is a city that catches you when you fall, and helps set you back on your feet. That’s why Council Member Annabel Palma and I are calling on the City to create a new program to get homeless families off the streets, out of the shelters, and into their own homes.
Working together we can create a brand new rental assistance program to help families cover rent in private buildings. And we need to prioritize homeless New Yorkers for NYCHA apartments and Section 8 vouchers, so we can get even more families into long term stable housing. By the way, this isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do. The average cost of a rental subsidy for a family of four is $800 a month. To house that same family in a shelter? $3,000.
Now it’s not enough to just make sure New Yorkers have a place to live. We need to make sure those homes aren’t falling apart. One of my first jobs in New York City was as a local housing organizer. I remember the frustration we felt watching bad landlords let a building deteriorate so they could push out tenants and sell their building for more money.
I’ve made it my mission to tackle these problems head on. This year we’ll expand on the success of our Safe Housing Act, a law we passed in 2007. It’s already made top to bottom renovations in hundreds of the city’s worst buildings.
Now we’ll pass legislation, sponsored by Council Member Gale Brewer, that allows the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to target the root cause of a housing problem. I want to thank Commissioner Mathew Wambua for working with us on this initiative.
Instead of just fixing water damage, landlords will have to repair the hole in the roof that’s causing it. Slumlords will have to spend real money and fix the real problem or we’ll haul them into housing court.
As we crack down on these bad landlords, we need to keep in mind that the City hasn’t exactly been a model landlord either. Ask any tenant at NYCHA. They’ll tell you stories about waiting years for repairs that take less than an hour to make.
NYCHA is supposed to be the cornerstone of working class affordability in our city. We can’t allow it to be another form of sub-standard housing. We have to find a way to get these repairs done in a responsible amount of time. Part of the problem is NYCHA just doesn’t have enough funding to make all the needed repairs. So this year, the Council is stepping up our commitment to NYCHA. Working with Council Member Rosie Mendez and NYCHA Chair John Rhea, we’re going to add money to their budget so they can make more than 100,000 additional repairs in the next year.
And most of those repairs will get done as soon as a problem is identified. Not in a year. Not in a month. Today.
Best of all, we’ll create 175 new jobs. And better than best of all, we’ll offer those jobs to NYCHA residents who can get trained in new skills and on track to a union career.
We have a responsibility to make communities livable for all New Yorkers. We have just as big a responsibility to make sure every community is safe. Commissioner Kelly has made great progress reducing crime in the five boroughs, and Mayor Bloomberg has been a national leader in the fight against illegal guns. But there’s always more work that needs to be done.
After a series of tragic shootings last summer, the Council convened a Task Force to Combat Gun Violence chaired by Council Members Jumaane Williams and Fernando Cabrera. The task force is made up of community leaders and anti-gun violence advocates from all across the five boroughs.
They’re looking at the many factors that contribute to this problem, and they’ll be releasing a set of full recommendations later this year. But we can’t wait another minute to take action against gun violence.
So we’ve developed an initiative we can put into action right away. Members of the task force spoke about places in their neighborhoods that seem to invite criminal activity. Abandoned lots and overgrown parks. Blocks where streetlights are missing or burned out.
We’ve learned from experience that taking a ground level approach to fix these problems produces real results in decreasing crime. So starting this spring, we’re joining forces with community leaders and Criminal Justice Coordinator John Feinblatt. We’re going to launch a program in five neighborhoods that have more than twice the citywide average of gun violence. We call it Youth SHIELD which stands for Safe Havens, Improved Environments, Local Development. Working with community leaders and local youth, we’ll survey these neighborhoods and find every spot that invites crime, or gives criminals a place to hide. Then we’ll work with city agencies and residents to make repairs. By harnessing the power of communities, we can – and will – make our neighborhoods safer for all New Yorkers.
The last point I want to discuss today might be the most critical for the future of our communities and the future of our city – education.
Imagine for a moment that you had the opportunity to rebuild New York City’s education system from scratch. What would you do?
Would you create a dozen separate agencies to oversee different parts of a child’s life? Would you have government officials working in a vacuum? Would you focus on children only between the hours of 8 and 3 and only between the ages of 4 and 17? Or would you build a system that recognizes and respects the role the whole community plays in educating our kids? One that views education as a continuous journey from cradle to career. What if I told you we could build that system without starting from scratch?
Cities like Houston and San Francisco have found ways to layer this community education model right on top of their existing schools. Cincinnati started doing it in 2003 and graduation rates have already gone up by double digits. Cincinnati did this under the leadership of a woman named Nancy Zimpher, who now just so happens to be the Chancellor of SUNY. That’s the great thing about New York – we can steal the best talent from everywhere else in the world.
Well Cincinnati’s loss is New York’s gain, because Chancellor Zimpher has agreed to help us apply what she learned in Cincinnati right here. We’re calling our program the Student Empowerment Partnership – or STEP for short. Working with Council Members Robert Jackson, Jimmy Van Bramer, and Peter Vallone Jr., we’re going to roll out STEP starting in District 30 in Queens.
We’ll do it in partnership with a community group called Zone 126, a grassroots organization that’s already started recruiting the partners and collecting the data we need to make this innovative vision a reality.
So here’s how it works: first we look at all the specific challenges facing students and their families, at every stage of their development. Then bring together community groups, city agencies, parents, teachers, CUNY, and Chancellor Walcott and the DOE and we see what everyone can contribute to help these kids succeed.
Educators will coordinate at every level, even if they aren’t in the same schools. So the preschool is teaching vocabulary that will get kids reading at grade level when they reach elementary school.
And high school students are learning key study skills so they can manage their time in college. We’ll make sure teenagers have something productive to do after school, whether that’s an art program or a part time job. NYCHA housing can host adult education classes, so parents will feel more confident helping kids with their homework.
In short, we’ll work together to strengthen every aspect of a child’s life – all with a focus on improving academic results, and their long term success. Once we figure out how to make STEP work in Queens, we’ll expand the model to schools in all five boroughs. Our ultimate goal is to have high quality schools in every community. Because parents shouldn’t have to send their child halfway across the city just to get a decent education. Having choice is a very good thing. But our city will never have real school choice until every family has a good choice right in their own neighborhood.
It’ll take time to implement STEP citywide. But that doesn’t mean we have to wait to give kids around the city a better education. We can start with something that’s proven critical for every student – early childhood education. Every year nearly 3,000 5-year-olds in New York City don’t enroll in kindergarten. Not pre-K – kindergarten. You may be as surprised as I was to learn that kindergarten isn’t mandatory. That means thousands of kids enter first grade every year having never set foot in a classroom. Many of them are kids who need kindergarten the most.
Children of immigrants who are still learning English. Kids with special needs. Foster kids, or children in transitional housing. What kind of message do we send to parents when we as a city tell them it’s not necessary to enroll their kids in kindergarten? We’re going to make sure we never send that message again and that all our kids have the best possible start.
We’re working with the State to pass a bill allowing New York City to make kindergarten mandatory. I want to thank Council Member Steve Levin for his work on this important issue. And I want to thank the DOE and Chancellor Walcott for joining with us in the movement towards mandatory kindergarten.
And by the way, if we’re really going to embrace a cradle to career philosophy, we need to stop treating our public colleges like second class citizens. CUNY used to be the model of a public university system. But for decades we’ve been cutting back on their funding. Chancellor Goldstein and everyone at CUNY deserve tremendous credit for what they do every day with such limited resources. Imagine what they could do if we actually gave CUNY the funding they deserve.
But believe it or not, we left $71 million dollars in State funding on the table last year, because the City didn’t pony up its share. In this year’s budget, under the leadership of Council Member Domenic M. Recchia, Jr., the Council will be pushing for a full $71 million in additional capital funds to CUNY.
That means a total of $140 million that CUNY can use for renovations and upgrades. This funding will help CUNY fulfill its original mission: providing an affordable education that rivals the best private schools in the nation. There was a time not so long ago when City College was known as Harvard on the Hudson. It counts among its graduates Colin Powell, Upton Sinclair, and our own Ed Koch.
And most importantly, City College was free which meant the best and the brightest our city produced could get a world renowned education without a nickel in their pocket. We need to provide that same top quality education to the brightest students in New York City again. Chancellor Goldstein and Dean Kirshner have taken a great first step with the Macaulay program. It provides honors classes for a group of our best students, free of charge.
But if we really want to have an institution that can compete with the nation’s top schools, we need to build an honors college, complete with its own campus, and the best faculty in the world.
I want to thank CUNY for agreeing to work with us and with Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, to explore models for making this honors college a reality. Just imagine future generations of Nobel laureates, discussing philosophy or technology while walking through their quad, or having spirited political debates in their cafeteria. Let’s give our brightest students an incentive to really work hard in school – the promise of a free education, and a degree that can open any door.
That’s how we make good on the promise of New York. By ensuring that every generation has greater opportunity than the ones that came before.
That’s why the people of East 96th Street helped each other through the daily trials of life in the Great Depression. It’s why the women of Si Se Puede are working so hard to make a better life for their children. And that’s what people who have never been to New York don’t understand. They look at our city, and they can’t see the people for the crowds. But we see New Yorkers, the teacher, the firefighter, the furniture maker. New Yorkers coming together, creating the energy that fuels our city, building products that people around the world clamor for. Living and learning secure in the promise that we can shelter and educate our kids, care for the least fortunate among us, and dream attainable dreams about how much we can do for ourselves and each other. Working hard because New York is a ladder that always leads us to greater opportunity.
The poet Muriel Rukuyser said that our reach must always exceed our grasp. Some of our challenges may seem at first beyond our grasp. But we have the responsibility and opportunity to reach farther. Street by street, school by school, neighborhood by neighborhood, reaching together to become a city even greater than the sum of its parts. We began with a story my father told. Let me end with a truth all our fathers and mothers knew instinctively and believed whole-heartedly. That the dream of every New Yorker is always within our grasp. That opportunity is not a privilege but a promise. And that there is no greater power in the world than the power of our people – the people who inhabit the small towns that make up the great City of New York.