Opinion: Fair housing in an unfair world

Ashley Skaria
Baruch College 2019, Macaulay Honors College 2019

Every news cycle contains a headline documenting another case of widespread discrimination.  Whether it be President Trump’s executive order, coined the “Muslim ban”, which barred immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries to the alarming rise in anti-Semitic incidents, it appears that there is an increase in intolerant and prejudicial behavior. Despite this changing culture, it is important to stay vigilant and protect people’s basic rights. The rising discriminatory culture in America can have serious effects on many policy issues, one of them being fair housing.

Fair housing was established by the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and is essentially the right to choose housing free from discrimination. The Act was passed in the aftermath of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and was a key issue for the Civil Rights Movement.

The history of fair housing has been contentious and it remains so. The Fair Housing Act attempts to reverse decades of discriminatory federal housing policy, such as redlining and blockbusting, to create fully integrated communities.

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East River flood protection plan extended to 25th St.

Meeting attendees in 2015 look at a model of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village with a planned elevated park at the waterfront. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Meeting attendees in 2015 look at a model of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village with a planned elevated park at the waterfront. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The plan to provide flood protection to the community along the East River has shifted design elements from East 23rd Street to 25th Street due to complications with the intersection in the original plan. The Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency announced the changes to the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) plan in a task force meeting with Community Boards 3 and 6 on Tuesday night.

Representatives from the Office of Recovery and Resiliency as well as the urban design team working on the project have spoken at community meetings previously about the plan, the goal of which is to provide flood protection from Montgomery Street to East 23rd Street, incorporating floodwalls and an elevated park.

Carrie Grassi, Deputy Director for Planning at the Office of Recovery and Resiliency, said that the “tieback” was moved to East 25th Street because East 23rd Street is a technically difficult area.

“We’re trying to come up with an alternative that doesn’t make that intersection worse,” she said.

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Week In Review, Jan. 21

State Senator Brad Hoylman called on telecommunications giant Time Warner Cable on Monday to improve access for blind and visually impaired customers by voluntarily instituting basic product standards, including television guides and documents written in Braille, font size options for on-screen menus, as well as “talking menus” and “talking guides.” In a letter to Chairman and CEO Robert Marcus, Hoylman noted that while “Comcast has already set an example with its simple to use and accessible technology,” Time Warner has yet to implement similar programs for its share of New York’s 400,000 visually impaired residents.
Hoylman learned of the issue from a constituent while visiting VISIONS, a nonprofit that offers rehabilitation and social services to the visually impaired, in his senate district with NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Council Member Robert Cornegy (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Council Member Robert Cornegy (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The City Council voted unanimously in support of legislation to change the way that the city communicates with New Yorkers who qualify for the city’s Rent Freeze Program on Tuesday.
The legislation, sponsored by Council Member Robert Cornegy, requires the Department of Finance to include a notice regarding legal and preferential rents on certain documents related to the NYC Rent Freeze Program.
Specifically, the notice must include the rent amount on which the benefit calculation was based, an explanation of why that amount was used in the calculation, an explanation that the tenant may continue to pay a preferential rent even once enrolled in the program, A statement that the tenant can obtain a rent registration history and file a complaint with the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal and a telephone number and email address for that agency. In addition, by 2018, the legislation would require the Department of Finance to include both the preferential and legal regulated rents of applicants to the NYC Rent Freeze Program in its database and include the preferential rent amount in the notice described above.

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City hears community input for East Side Coastal Resiliency Plan

Some of the crowd at a workshop held at Washington Irving High School on Monday to gather information on how community residents want to interact with the waterfront (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Some of the crowd at a workshop held at Washington Irving High School on Monday to gather information on how community residents want to interact with the waterfront (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Since wreaking havoc on the city almost two and a half years ago, Hurricane Sandy has prompted the formation of various programs and projects throughout New York, with efforts being made to prevent such a catastrophe from repeating. One such effort driven by the city is the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, which is in the early planning stages and this past week held workshops looking for input from community residents on how they want to interact with the waterfront.

The workshops were held last Thursday and this past Monday, with the first being held on East Houston Street and the second at Washington Irving High School on Irving Place. A representative for Rebuild by Design, which was launched by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and which ran the competition to come up with solutions for preserving the coastline, said at the event on Monday that the locations were intentional; each workshop covered the same material but was held in different parts of the project area to give residents an option that was in their neighborhood.

Maps were stationed at the back of the auditorium for attendees to provide input on how they interact with the waterfront throughout the project area, which spans from Montgomery Street north to East 23rd Street. Dan Zarrilli, director of the Office of Recovery and Resiliency, said that one of the major aspects of the process for the project is community engagement and gathering input from activities like this.

“We’re here to listen and we want to make sure that we incorporate the insight of the community,” he said. “We’ve set up a task force with community boards 3 and 6 to be a continuing source of insight. The city came up with this program to recommend things to do. It’s not just about the past, it’s about a range of shocks we endured and looking beyond the coast to build up and reinforce the infrastructure. It’s about interacting with the neighborhood.”

Zarrilli said that much of what the project is focusing on through the end of this year is getting this feedback from the community to create a more complete picture for the design plan and another workshop soliciting input is planned for the end of May.

The project is part of a bigger initiative to protect Lower Manhattan known as the Big U, which was the winning design in the Rebuild by Design competition in 2013. Jeremy Siegel, a project designer with the consultant team of Big U and director of Rebuild by Design, explained at the workshop what the designers are looking at for this phase of the project.

“We’ve been working since December on some of the engineering aspects, like investigating below grade and checking drainage, checking how much water the existing infrastructure can accommodate, surveying the land and inspecting waterfront structures,” he said. “We have divers out in the East River examining the flood risk and checking how high the flood wall would need to go.”

Zarrilli added that community involvement is an important component to add to all the information from the engineers.

“We’ll be taking the site surveys and all of the engineering things with the overlay of the community process so we can understand everything in context,” he said. “Community engagement is key.”

Siegel noted that within the space from Montgomery to East 23rd, the project is split into two project areas: Montgomery to East 14th Streets and East 14th to 23rd Streets. All of the neighborhoods in these areas had different challenges during Hurricane Sandy and Siegel said that part of the design plans will be the considerations for different aspects of the area, such as the substation at Con Edison that flooded and caused power outages throughout Lower Manhattan, as well as the NYCHA properties and hospitals that are nearby that also suffered flood damage. The three different options for mitigating flooding in the future that Siegel outlined include some kind of berm or levee, a permanent floodwall or some kind of deployable floodwall.

“(The deployable wall) would only be put in place in a storm event,” Siegel said. “These carry risks because human operation is involved, so we’re looking at more passive and permanent measures, so resiliency is there in a robust way.”

One resident asked at the workshop why the project area didn’t extend past East 23rd Street since the hospitals in that area had been badly damaged by flooding as well. Zarrilli explained that billions of dollars are already being invested in that area through different projects.

“The city just announced more funding for Bellevue and NYU is receiving FEMA money, so this project is focusing south,” he said.

Peter Cooper Resident Anne Greenberg had a related question about one such project that the VA Hospital on East 23rd Street has proposed, which includes a floodwall to protect the facility from water damage in the future. She noted that in the event of flooding like that in the future, the water could be redirected right into Peter Cooper Village. Zarrilli noted that they are looking at flood modeling to make sure that doesn’t happen and added that they do intend to talk to STPCV management to work with them, but he couldn’t confirm that they have yet.

Following the workshops, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney emphasized the importance of the project and praised the mayor’s office for the initiative.

“We need to immediately address the City’s vulnerability to extreme storms, which are only increasing in frequency and severity as a result of climate change,” Maloney said. “Lower Manhattan was particularly hard hit, and I am pleased to have worked to obtain federal funding to improve the resiliency of the area. I applaud Mayor de Blasio and the Office of Recovery and Resiliency for coordinating the city-wide efforts to protect our residents and infrastructure and for including the public in the planning. The East Side Coastal Resiliency Project is an important first step in preparing Manhattan’s East Side for future storms and will offer new open space and amenities that will benefit our community for generations to come.”