New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson Completes Tenure as Acting Public Advocate

New York, NY – On January 1st, 2019, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson assumed the duties of the Office of the Public Advocate in accordance with the New York City Charter. In his time as Acting Public Advocate, Speaker Johnson focused on issues constituents brought to his attention, including monitoring the operation of city public information and service complaint programs, reviewing complaints of systemic problems with city services and programs, making proposals to improve the city’s response to such complaints, and attempting to resolve complaints from individuals concerning city services and other administrative actions.

In addition to these core functions, Acting Public Advocate and Speaker Johnson undertook a number of policy initiatives that embody the office’s mission to help New Yorkers navigate city government services and address concerns across an array of public health, educational, and transit issues. 

Subway and Bus Rider Surveys

In January and February, City Council Speaker and Acting Public Advocate Corey Johnson initiated a unique exercise to hear from transit riders about their commutes by conducting two citywide transit surveys. The first focused on subways and the second on buses. These surveys, which were available in six different languages, were conducted throughout the City’s train stations and bus stops, with the Speaker and Acting Public Advocate and his staff focusing on a different borough each day.

Over 10,000 people responded to the subway survey and over 6,000 responded to the bus survey.

The mass transit system has been a growing source of frustration for New Yorkers, many of whom rely on subways and buses as their primary means of transportation. 

Interesting takeaways included:

  • 55% of subway survey respondents saying they experience subway delays a few times a week and 27% saying they experience delays every day;
  • The delays are lasting significant amounts of time, with 47% of subway survey respondents saying the delays they experience are approximately 10-20 minutes long and 11% saying their delays are approximately 20-45 minutes long;
  • The greatest concerns for bus riders were infrequent service, lack of reliability, and multiple buses arriving at once (bunching);
  • Only 6% of bus riders are very satisfied.

The full results of both surveys can be found online here.

School Explorer

On Thursday, January 10th, City Council Speaker and Acting Public Advocate Corey Johnson launched a one-of-a-kind tool aimed at helping families choose the right kindergarten for their children. The new tool, called School Explorer, provides a wealth of information about potential schools – from the schools’ total budget and the amount spent per student to admissions rates for pre-K and kindergarten seats and whether or not the school has a gymnasium. The tool is presented as a clickable online map, which allows parents to compare kindergartens before the kindergarten application deadline, which fell on January 22nd this year.

“It’s a lot of work being a parent, and navigating the city school system can feel like a second or third job,” Speaker and Acting Public Advocate Johnson said. “Of course you want to get it right, which means a ton of research. We put a lot of information all in one place here to make it easier for families.”

While the current version provides information on schools with kindergartens, Speaker Johnson plans to expand the School Explorer to include more grade levels and data sources and looks forward to incorporating feedback from parents to make this tool as helpful as possible. Users with feedback, comments, and questions are encouraged to email data@council.nyc.gov

Visualizing Data and Conducting Oversight Hearings on the City’s 311 System

In January and February, the City Council held two oversight hearings on the City’s 311 system. Speaker and Acting Public Advocate Johnson created data visualizations broken down by City agency on 311 performance and response time to inform the issues raised at the hearings.

311 has become a staple for many New Yorkers, but concerns have been raised about its outdated technology and the quality of the data that it collects, particularly in regard to the handling of complaints and service requests by city agencies.

The first hearing, which took place on January 17th, focused on the functions and management of 311, with representatives from the NYC Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) and the 311 Customer Service Center responding to questions about how the system is currently operating and their plans to improve it.

The Council also heard the following two bills related to the Customer Service Center:

  • Int. 188-2018, in relation to procedures to be adopted by the 311 call center for responding to certain repeat anonymous complaints against the same property, and
  • Int. 1328-2019, in relation to the identification of languages spoken by callers to the 311 customer service center.

The second hearing, which took place on February 4th, focused on city agencies’ responses to 311 complaints and service requests, with representatives from the 311 Customer Services Center and various city agencies responding to questions about the way in which complaints are being handled and reported.

The Council also heard the following bill related to the Customer Service Center: ‎

  • Int. 1002-2018, in relation to requiring the 311 customer service center to indicate that an agency is unable to respond to a service request or complaint.

Speaker Johnson looks forward to continuing to work with DoITT, the 311 Customer Services Center and advocates to help ensure that the city’s 311 system is as robust and useful as possible. For a closer look at Acting Public Advocate and Speaker Johnson’s evaluation of 311 service requests from 2018, click here.

Mapping Evictions Citywide

On Monday, February 4th, Acting Public Advocate andNew York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson launched an interactive map tracking evictions throughout the City, presenting an unprecedented amount of data in one detailed visualization that sheds light on a critical housing issue. Acting Public Advocate and Speaker Johnson hopes that the map and the information it provides will help policymakers and advocates in the fight for tenant rights and protections. The map can be found on the Acting Public Advocate’s website.

“We are facing an affordability crisis and the only way we will be able to fix it is to truly understand the scope of the problem and provide tenants with tools and resources to stay in their homes,” said Acting Public Advocate and Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “The Council took a big step forward in this battle with the Universal Access Law in 2017, but this map shows how much more work we have left to do to as a city and state. As the movement to protect tenants gathers momentum, it is my hope that this map will be an invaluable tool in the arsenal used by policymakers, tenants, and advocates.”

The Residential Evictions map uses data from the Department of Investigation to pinpoint the dates and locations of residential evictions that have occurred in New York City since January 2017.

The map can be studied by zip code, community district, or council district, allowing users to see patterns of evictions across the five boroughs.  The tool also shows a multitude of details on NYC buildings, including which buildings are rent-subsidized or -stabilized, where Housing Preservation and Development violations were reported, and where 311 complaints regarding heat and hot water were made.

The map is part of a more comprehensive web page on the Council’s website that includes:

  • information on tenant protection and harassment;
  • links to information on free legal services for residents facing eviction and other housing/tenant support; and
  • an overview of the Council’s long and proud history of fighting for tenants’ rights, including passage of the Tenant Protection Actand Universal Access Law

#BreakThePatent – Making PrEP HIV Prevention Accessible for All

On Monday, February 18th, Acting Public Advocate and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Council Member Carlina Rivera, Assembly Member Dick Gottfried, former State Senator Tom Duane, founders of the PrEP4All Collaboration (and organizers of the #BreakThePatent campaign), and advocates held a rally to call on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to exercise its march-in rights and break Gilead’s patent of Truvada, the brand name medication for pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PrEP. March-in rights, as granted by the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, allow the federal government to break patents in certain cases involving patents that resulted from publicly funded research. Breaking the patent in this case would make PrEP more affordable and accessible by allowing generic versions to enter the market.

“As an HIV+ elected official, I have a responsibility to the activists who came before me who I believe literally saved my life, to those we have lost to the AIDS crisis, and to those who come after me to do everything in my power to end this epidemic once and for all,” said Acting Public Advocate and Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “The cost of PrEP in our country reveals something deeply rotten about our healthcare system, and the NIH needs to march in and break the patent immediately. This is life or death and there is no time to waste.”

PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are high risk by up to 99 percent, but access is limited due to its exorbitant cost. Among the estimated 1.1 million people nationwide who are potential candidates for PrEP, only 8 percent are receiving it, and access has been largely limited to white gay or bisexual men, meaning that many groups with the highest risk of infection are not benefitting from this life-saving drug.

Currently, Truvada is the only brand of PrEP medication available until at least 2021 when the first generic version of the medication becomes available, and 2024 when all generic versions will be available for sale. The drug, which was developed through research funded almost entirely by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and rakes in billions of dollars in annual global revenue for Gilead Sciences, carries a list price of close to $2,000 for a 30-day supply, compared with an average monthly cost of as little as $6 to produce.

The #BreakThePatent campaign urges the NIH to use its ability, through the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, to march-in and break Truvada’s patent. #BreakThePatent argues that the NIH would be well within its rights to do so in this case since the patent holder, Truvada, is failing to acknowledge health or safety needs of consumers by making the drug so expensive that access to it is limited. Acting Public Advocate and Speaker Johnson and those at the rally joined the #BreakThePatent campaign in urging the NIH to exercise its march-in rights to break Gilead’s patent on Truvada and allow generic versions of PrEP onto the market, making the drug available and affordable to all.

Farm-to-City Food Map

On Thursday, February 21st, Acting Public Advocate and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson debuted an interactive Farm-To-City Food map of the five boroughs, highlighting the importance of access to fresh and healthy food for all New Yorkers.

“Access to fresh, healthy food should be a human right for everyone living in New York City,” said Acting Public Advocate and Council Speaker Johnson. “Many New Yorkers don’t know where to find fresh food options even if they are nearby, but the good news is that there are several community-based programs that make fresh food affordable. With this map, we are highlighting the work of amazing organizations like GrowNYC, Just Food, and Harvest Home, promoting healthy lifestyles for all New Yorkers, and highlighting the need to continue fighting until fresh, healthy food is affordable and accessible for everyone.”

Many New Yorkers might be unaware that there are actually 307 locations throughout the City where you can find fresh, healthy, and affordable food through four different types of programs, including farmer’s markets, food boxes, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), and fresh pantries.

The new interactive map allows viewers to find and learn more about all 307 locations, including payment programs that help make fruits and vegetables and other healthy options more affordable, making it a valuable resource for anyone in search of fresh, healthy food in New York City. The map is available on the Acting Public Advocate’s website.

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