Category Archives: News Brew

7 Paths to Development That Bring Neighborhoods Wealth, Not Gentrification

Featured art via Sarah Oberlin/ Yes Magazine

The plan to build better, more connected, flourishing communities is here—and it won’t require putting a Starbucks on every block.


In cities across the nation, a few enjoy rising affluence while many struggle to get by.

An August 2015 study by The Century Foundation reported that—after a dramatic decline in concentrated poverty between 1990 and 2000—poverty has since reconcentrated. Nationwide, the number of people  living in high-poverty ghettos and slums has nearly doubled since 2000. This situation is created in part by the practices of traditional economic development, which prioritize corporate subsidy after corporate subsidy over the needs of the local economy. Current trends threaten to worsen, unless we can answer the design challenge before us.

Can we create an economic system—beginning at the local level—that builds the wealth and prosperity of everyone?

Economic development professionals and mayors are working in partnership with foundations, anchor institutions, unions, community organizations, progressive business networks, workers, and community residents. What’s emerging is a systems approach to creating an inclusive, sustainable economy where all can thrive. The work is place-based, fed by the power of anchor institutions, and built on locally rooted and broadly held ownership. It’s about building community wealth across the United States—in more places than most would imagine, a new kind of economy is beginning to appear. It’s an economy that, because of its fundamental design, tends naturally to create inclusion and prosperity for many, not simply for the few.

If globalization is the hallmark of today’s mainstream economy, relocalization is the hallmark of the alternative.

The answers are beginning to appear in cities nationwide—in the tools and approaches of community wealth building, as they are wielded by cutting edge city economic development professionals. This work is only beginning to be widely recognized as a  cohesive field. Yet as this report shows, it is in fact a coherent, systemic approach to economic development—one that embodies a powerful set of common drivers, and offers a broad set of powerful strategies.

Building a place-based economy

Traditional economic development is too often captured by the demands of major corporations and site development consultants. The place that drives such players is in reality no place at all, for they embody a worldview of a generic, commodified economy, where firms are objects to be lured from place to place by the $80 billion in incentives given annually by cities, states, and counties.

The system that is supported in this way is one of wealth inequality, where most assets are owned by the few. The ownership driver is absentee ownership, with most incentives flowing to corporations owned outside the community. Inclusion is lacking, with benefits flowing to a financial elite—since ownership of publicly traded firms is overwhelmingly concentrated among those in the top 10 percent of society.

A real place is more than a free market of footloose players...

Inadvertently, but pervasively, incentives tend to neglect local firms, which can too often be driven out of business. Thus traditional approaches operate the multiplier effect in reverse: Taxes are extracted from local firms and residents and given to corporations whose ownership is not local, even as local schools and parks suffer cuts in funding. Missing throughout is the driver of collaboration, with little transparency or democratic public input into development decisions.

In its workforce drivers, traditional economic development focuses on counting the number of jobs created, but too rarely tallies whether these are living-wage jobs, or whether they go to those with barriers to employment. Traditional approaches also fail to subtract jobs destroyed when Main Street retailers quietly close their doors—or when firms outsource manufacturing and other work abroad, or move operations out of the community.

The mindset missing in traditional approaches is commitment to place, and a recognition that economic entities can be designed to benefit community.

More than a label, community wealth building is also a framework. It has multiple drivers that work together to create a system that delivers the outcome sought: an inclusive, sustainable community economy where all can  prosper—particularly those normally excluded. This system can be defined as having seven key drivers.

1. Place

Community wealth building begins with loyalty to geographic place. If globalization is the hallmark of today’s mainstream economy, relocalization is the hallmark of the alternative. Globalization works well for capital, which can move across borders with a computer keystroke. But the real economy of jobs and families and the land always lives someplace real. The real economy is place-based. And a real place is more than a free market of footloose players, where firms are like objects that can be moved anywhere.

In contrast to luring companies from elsewhere, building community wealth is about developing underutilized local assets of many kinds—social networks, the built environment, cultural riches, local ecology, anchor institutions—and doing so in a way that the wealth stays local and is broadly shared. When families possess assets—skills, social networks, a home, savings, an ownership stake in a business—they are better able to withstand shocks like unemployment or illness. They can plan for their future, send a child to college, and feel secure in retirement. A job may start or stop. Assets yield greater stability and security. As Boston’s John Barros told us, “It takes a job to get out of poverty, but it takes assets to keep you out of poverty.”

What’s true for families is true for communities. Jobs may be drawn into a community but leave without warning. “There’s nothing worse than a company that you‘ve worked with for ten years just leaving because the incentives wore off,” said Tracey Nichols of Cleveland. “But having the community own the enterprise, it will always be there.”

2. Ownership

Ownership of assets is the foundation of every economy, for it determines who has control and who receives the lion’s share of benefits. Community wealth building deploys a whole spectrum of inclusive ownership models. At the non-inclusive end of the spectrum we see absentee-owned firms. Corporations with shares trading on public stock markets are inherently absentee-owned.

Inclusiveness has more of a chance with locally owned firms. When money is spent at locally owned firms, studies show that revenue recirculates locally at least three times as much. Local ownership is vital. But local ownership by a few wealthy families only gets us part of the way toward broad prosperity. More inclusive are firms owned by women and people of color, who have traditionally been excluded from asset ownership. Still another consideration is a longer time horizon. When local owners retire or sell, how do those firms stay local?

Social enterprises are likely rooted in community over the long term, for they have a primary mission of providing social benefit, and many are owned by nonprofits and unlikely to be sold. Also inclusive are firms with employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), which allow founders to exit their ownership by selling to employees—who are likely to remain loyal to place over the long term, since employee-owned companies are typically locally owned. Still more inclusive are cooperatives, where all members have one share and one vote. Particularly valuable for job creation are worker-owned cooperatives, where workers are the ones who control the company and elect the board.

When employees not only have a job but an ownership stake, they enjoy greater control of their economic fate.

3. Multipliers

While ownership shapes the skeleton of enterprise, demand is its lifeblood. Community wealth building asks: Where is the large-scale demand that can drive the growth of local, inclusive enterprise? What kind of demand cares about place?

A critical force generating momentum for local enterprises is the purchasing power of anchor institutions, like nonprofit and public hospitals and universities, which are rooted locally and have missions of service. Other types of anchor institutions include museums, community foundations, and local government. When anchors deploy their economic power to strengthen local enterprises, especially inclusive enterprises, they are engaging in what The Democracy Collaborative has termed an “anchor mission.” An anchor mission consciously links the well-being of an institution and its community.

Support for an anchor mission has grown over the last decade among nonprofit hospitals and universities, which together represent well over $1 trillion in economic activity, about 7 percent of GDP.

The procurement, hiring, and investment practices of anchor institutions represent a potentially enormous source of economic development support, which cities like Cleveland, Chicago, Baltimore, and New Orleans are beginning to tap. For instance, when anchor procurement supports locally owned businesses, cities enjoy a powerful multiplier effect, keeping money circulating locally. Over the past decade, more than two dozen studies have shown that local businesses generate two to four times the multiplier benefit, compared to non-locally owned firms. As author Michael Shuman observes, that means that every dollar shifted to a locally owned business generates more income, more jobs, higher local tax revenues, and greater charitable contributions.

4. Collaboration

In traditional economic development, collaboration involves the two traditional players of city government and the private sector. Community wealth building is more broadly collaborative—involving nonprofits, philanthropy, anchor institutions, community residents, local businesses, and workers.

“What’s happening in New York City is fascinating, and I think it’s the way things might happen in the future,” Melissa Hoover, executive director of the Democracy at Work Institute, said. “What it looks like from the outside is that the City authorized $1.2 million for cooperative development [for 2015, increased to $2.1 million for 2016]. What really happened is that grassroots organizations had been working toward this for a long time.” The City’s allocation was encouraged by these nonprofits, and went to fund their work. The process, in short, was highly collaborative.

Among cities taking seriously the power of collaboration is Philadelphia. When the mayor in 2013 created a new anti-poverty office, the Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO), the initiative embraced the philosophy of “collective impact,” said CEO Executive Director Eva Gladstein. In creating and implementing its action plan, CEO involved close to 200 stakeholders in meetings, focus groups, and interviews.

5. Inclusion

Inclusion lies at the heart of community wealth building, adding a driver lacking in much of economic development. Economic inclusion is the opening up of economic opportunities to previously underserved social groups. It requires creating targets and indicators—as well as participative processes—to ensure that disadvantaged individuals and communities can participate in a meaningful way in the economy.

Consider the seeming success of the innovation economy in Pittsburgh, a former Rust Belt city which in recent decades has enjoyed a resurgence in health care, education, and technology. The City now offers good white-collar jobs and cultural amenities. It’s seen as a “turnaround city,” William Generett, CEO of Urban Innovation21, told us. “But it’s been a very uneven transformation.” The poverty rate among working-age African-Americans remains the highest among the nation’s 40 largest metropolitan areas. “This population has not connected to the new economic drivers,” he said.

To spread the wealth of the technology sector to disadvantaged communities, in 2007 Generett created Urban Innovation21, a consortium of 20 businesses, nonprofits, and government organizations, using business incentives, grants, internships, and training programs. It’s the kind of experiment in inclusion that deserves emulation.

Urban Innovation21 has worked with unions and others to launch an employee-owned commercial laundry, still in development. It’s a wealth-building strategy that takes inclusion into the realm of asset ownership; as Generett said, it goes “beyond the traditional activities that have been used in low- and moderate-income communities,” such as low-income housing and social services.

Inclusion is both a moral imperative and an economic one. Research shows that areas extending greater economic opportunity to people of color enjoy longer periods of growth and shorter downturns. Inclusion is particularly powerful when combined with anchor strategies.

6. Workforce

If worker ownership is a key long-term goal of community wealth building, workforce participation is often a more immediate step toward prosperity. Economic development professionals serving an entire city do not have the luxury of focusing solely on ideal models. They face the tough job of helping those with barriers to employment find good work, and helping low-income workers move up.

Bringing a community wealth frame to workforce development means two things. First, adding a systems approach means linking training to the needs of employers and anchor institutions, and creating support services. Second, it means being intentionally inclusive—deliberately reaching out to communities of color and those with employment barriers.

University Hospitals (UH) in Cleveland, developed the Step Up to UH program to create a pipeline for hiring residents of neighboring low-income African-American communities. The program includes training and wraparound support services to ensure long-term success. A different systems approach to workforce development deploys anchor support for social enterprise. For example, the nonprofit Momentum in Minneapolis operates three social enterprise businesses that provide transitional employment and job training for those facing barriers to employment, such as felony convictions or substance abuse history.

7. System

Beyond time-limited programs, the aim of community wealth building is creating a new system. It does this by building institutions that stand over the long term, creating an ecosystem of support for a thriving local economy. This includes examples like New York City funding the ecosystem supporting cooperative development, Richmond creating a new Office of Community Wealth Building in city government, Cleveland launching a network of worker-owned companies, or North Dakota creating the state-owned Bank of North Dakota (BND). With the support of BND, locally owned banks of small and medium size have been able to extend their lending capacity; 83 percent of all deposits in the state, compared to 29 percent nationwide, are managed by community banks. Community banks, in turn, support local business—lending four times as much to small business as the national average.

These institutions are designed to support communities, not to extract profits from them. They show how—from enterprise ownership up to the banking system—we can design for the outcomes we desire.

The seven drivers of community wealth building work together. Starting with a devotion to a place, this approach builds on local assets of many kinds. At the heart of it all is an inclusive focus on the needs of low-income families, people of color, and those with barriers to employment. The end goal is a new system that helps broadly held community wealth to flourish.

This article was originally featured at Yes! Magazine. All art, including featured image, via Sarah Oberlin/YM.


Some NYC Landlords Flout Rent Limits — Still Get Tax Breaks

Are you being overcharged for rent? Some new york city landlords are charging scandalously high rents--but cashing in on "affordability" tax credits

N.Y.C. Landlords Flout Rent Limits But Still Rake In Lucrative Tax Breaks

As gleaming new housing towers spring up around New York City, thousands of new rent-stabilized apartments are coming onto the market. And in return for following rent limits, developers get a share of $1 billion in property tax breaks handed out by the city.

But while developers bank the tax savings, an examination by ProPublica found that some renters are getting overcharged as government officials fail to enforce rent limits and tenants fail to grasp whether they apply to newer apartments.

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers are moving into newer rent-stabilized apartments. Many are paying 'preferential' rents that tenant advocates say invite abuse by landlords. Read the F.A.Q.

Help Us Investigate New York City Rents

Is your rent legal? It might not be. Your landlord might be charging you too much, and we want your help figuring that out.

Julie Renwick recently learned she's among the tenants who should be paying significantly less rent.

In February 2012, Renwick viewed a one-bedroom apartment at The Driggs, a sparkling new luxury building in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood with a doorman, gym, rooftop deck and more. The owners of the building, The Rabsky Group, benefitted from a 93 percent reduction in property taxes this year, owing only $47,000 of what would otherwise be a $678,000 tax bill.

When Renwick visited the apartment, she was quoted a rent of $2,875 a month. She figured she could afford it and applied to become the first tenant.

That $2,875 should have been a crucial benchmark. Under the rent stabilization law that covers New York City, all subsequent increases must be calculated against that initial number. But when Renwick sat down to review the lease, she noticed something strange: The rent listed was $3,400 per month.

"What is the actual rent?" she asked.

Her broker said there was "nothing unusual" about the arrangement. He said the $3,400 was just a "legal" rent and meant the landlord could charge no more than that. The $2,875 -- known as a "preferential" rent -- would be the amount she paid.

It looked like a good deal -- but not for long. The next year, when the city capped annual rent increases at 4 percent, The Driggs boosted Renwick's rent 9 percent. More recently, the landlord raised her rent 7 percent even as the city held increases in stabilized units like hers to 1 percent.

Today, Renwick pays $3,350 per month, or nearly 17 percent more than when she moved in three years ago. That's more than triple what the city allowed.

Renwick had no idea that high-end apartments like hers were subject to New York's rent-stabilization laws -- a common misconception. So far, she has paid almost $6,000 more in rent than she legally should have, according to ProPublica's estimate.

"I'm a smart, educated person, and to feel swindled by these people -- it's embarrassing as well as maddening," said Renwick.

The Rabsky Group -- which owns many other buildings in its home borough of Brooklyn -- did not respond to calls, emails and a hand-delivered letter. Rachel Munoz-Shivers, a lawyer for the group, declined to answer questions about leases at The Driggs.

There is little doubt that The Rabsky Group broke the law.

"It is unfortunate that in the case of The Driggs, the landlord has been able to get away with registering illegal rents," New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said in response to a request by ProPublica to examine the building's initial rent schedule and other records. "It is clear that this unscrupulous landlord is violating rent-stabilization laws."

Just how many people have been overcharged like Renwick? No one can say for sure. That's why ProPublica and WNYC are inviting New York City tenants to share their stories and help us find out what's really happening under what has grown to become the city's single-largest program to subsidize housing.

Abuse of preferential rents is "a huge issue," said Sheila Garcia, a tenant representative on the city's Rent Guidelines Board, which sets annual rent limits. "I can imagine that this is happening across the board, no matter what income you have."

The tax-break program, known as 421-a, was set to expire in June, but lawmakers extended it for six months after a heated debate. Over the last decade, more than 2,600 apartment buildings with 39,000 rental units have received the exemption, according to city Department of Finance data.

Much of the criticism of the 421-a program focused on provisions requiring developers to set aside 20 percent of new units for affordable housing in certain high-priced parts of the city. Critics, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, argued that this was far too little when compared to the size of the tax break.

Little attention was paid to whether landlords have been meeting the law's requirement to limit rent increases in buildings receiving 421-a tax benefits.

The rent-stabilization rules are clear on how Renwick's increases should have been calculated. Because she was the first tenant, The Rabsky Group was required to apply the city's annual caps to the rent "charged and paid."

Once the original tenant moves out, however, the law allows landlords to raise the rent by as much as 20 percent -- and to set that as the new "legal" rent for stabilization. If it's too high to attract renters, they may charge a lower "preferential" rent. But at that point the city's limits apply to the higher "legal" rent -- not to a preferential rent, if one is offered.

The upshot: The protection afforded tenants from rent limits quickly fades, while the property owners can collect both higher rents and the lucrative tax breaks. Over time, the gap between legal and preferential rents can grow wide, allowing for big rent increases.

"This is really stabilized in name only," Tom Waters, a housing policy analyst with the Community Service Society, said when ProPublica showed him a renewal lease with a $2,099 difference between the legal and preferential rents.

The enforcement of the rent laws is a bureaucratic tangle of state and city agencies that seldom coordinate efforts.

The state collects rent registrations from landlords, who are supposed to report both the legal and preferential rents for each apartment. Tenants and landlords can access their data, but the information is otherwise exempt from disclosure under New York's Freedom of Information Law.

ProPublica's requests for registration data were denied. Questionable rents at The Driggs came to light only because reporters found the building's initial rent roll in court papers.

Tenants who've paid too much can get relief, although it may take a lawsuit.

In a recent case in the Bronx, a landlord reduced rents because of faulty registrations almost 25 years ago involving preferential rents. The move came after tenants sued. Had the landlord not acted, state law potentially entitled tenants to triple the overcharges.

As with The Driggs, the landlord was receiving annual 421-a property tax exemptions.

"The benefit they're getting is because of the tenants," said Emmanuel Yusuf, a longtime resident who helped organize the lawsuit, "and if they are not fulfilling that promise they made to the government, that's totally unacceptable."

These days, 421-a buildings aren't hard to spot. Virtually every tall, shiny, glass-covered doorman building in Manhattan receives tax reductions under 421-a, and it has spawned big, luxury apartment complexes in Long Island City in Queens and downtown Brooklyn.

In theory, landlords who fail to comply with rent stabilization rules can lose their tax benefits. But revocations are rare -- they have happened only twice in the last three years, city officials said.

The city's Department of Finance gives landlords their property tax breaks but lacks the authority to take them away. That power rests with the city's Housing Preservation and Development Department (HPD), which has no jurisdiction over rent stabilization.

Primary oversight of rent stabilization rests with a state agency, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR). The agency handles tenant complaints and collects data on rents that landlords must report each year, but it doesn't check them for accuracy.

These rent histories, which list legal and preferential rents, come with a disclaimer: "DHCR does not attest to the truthfulness of the owner's statements or the legality of the rents." (Renters can get their apartment's rent history. Click here to find out how).

"No one is really enforcing what's happening," said state Sen. Jesse Hamilton, a Brooklyn Democrat who says his district is rapidly losing rent-stabilized apartments because landlords are flouting the law in a variety of ways.

With no referee in the game, tenant groups are left to fill the gap.

"So much of what we deal with is simply enforcement of existing housing law," said Daniel Moraff, an organizer at the Metropolitan Council on Housing, a tenants' rights group. "The lives of tenants would improve immensely if the state would only do its job."

The state's DHCR did not respond to repeated emails, voicemails and phone calls about the agency's enforcement of rent stabilization in buildings receiving 421-a tax breaks. A spokeswoman, Catie Marshall, would only say: "Talk to HPD. It's their program."

Had regulators been curious, rents at The Driggs might have raised concern from the start.

In housing court files, ProPublica found a schedule filed with DHCR listing initial rents for 112 apartments in The Driggs. Preferential rents were universal; the average discount from the stated legal rent was $686, a gap that created the potential for hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent overcharges building-wide.

The seven-story complex sits on a quiet corner in a neighborhood known for its mix of hipsters and wealthy professionals. Some residents told reporters their rents topped $6,000 a month.

Half a dozen initial tenants contacted by ProPublica were charged increases that exceeded the caps imposed by the Rent Guidelines Board, according to leases they provided or, in two cases, court records. Most asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation.

Leases provided by a second-floor tenant showed that he paid an 11 percent increase on his first renewal. The tenant said it would cost him more to take a week off to find a new apartment than to pay the $225-a-month increase -- five times what the law allowed.

Earlier this year, though, he moved out rather than accept another increase that would have set his rent at 25 percent above the initial preferential rent.

"I definitely wondered," he said about the increases. "But I lived in New York now for just about 16 years and have seen all kinds of weird, shady kind of things, and so I didn't really know exactly how it worked."

Another tenant -- a real estate broker -- moved out after a cumulative 14 percent rent hike over three years, more than double the applicable Rent Guidelines Board caps.

The woman said building employees told her when she moved in that The Driggs was a market-rate building not subject to rent limits. So she was surprised when her renewal lease said the apartment was rent-stabilized. "This landlord was being totally sketchy and trying to skirt the stabilization that they were given, in my opinion," she said.

Renwick compared preferential rent to "a fake sale price. It's like, 'We're going to mark it up and then give you a sale price that is wrong.'"

Renwick sensed something wasn't quite right when she moved in. The Driggs asked her for six months' rent upfront, comprised of four months' security deposit and first and last months' rent, totaling $17,250, she said. Landlords can't charge more than one month's security deposit in rent-stabilized apartments, nor can they charge the last month's rent in advance. But Renwick didn't know and paid up.

One day, an upstairs neighbor, Mark Burstiner, slipped a piece of paper underneath her door. Burstiner was in a dispute with the landlord over his lease and the fact that he had paid four months of rent upfront before moving in. He hoped to organize tenants around the issue of rent stabilization.

The Driggs sued Burstiner for withholding rent in the dispute. In late April 2013, Burstiner met with a senior executive from Rabsky Group to talk things over. Burstiner attempted to lay out his complaints, including that he wasn't given a rent-stabilized lease.

"I'm standing up for my rights as a tenant in New York state," Burstiner exclaimed in the session, which he recorded and posted later on YouTube.

"You may have rights and you have everything," the executive shot back, "but the one thing you should know is I have more time and deeper pockets."

When Burstiner said his steep security deposit broke the law, the executive said: "You know, a lot of people think they studied the law. They go online, they print it out. That's bullshit. There's a way to get through that. All you got to do is stay focused to the end -- where I win and you lose."

A housing court judge initially sided with Burstiner. But the landlord persuaded a second judge to reverse that decision. Burstiner settled, agreeing to pay $32,650 in back rent.

Burstiner has since moved out of the building and left New York. He hopes to move back someday but dreads that future landlords might consider the dispute a mark against him.

"How can we be expected to protect our rights if exercising our rights gets us banned from living in New York?" he said.

Tenants aren't necessarily doomed to lose. Take the case of 1111 Gerard Avenue, an unassuming beige building just north of Yankee Stadium, with a sign out front that says, "Stop Illegal Rent Increase."

The building's initial owners were granted a 25-year property tax break under the 421-a program around 1991. Just like The Driggs, the landlord registered higher "legal" rents than the amounts actually charged and paid by the first tenants.

In interviews, several tenants shared rent histories listing initial legal rents of $703 per month versus the $407 in preferential rent they actually paid, a gap in today's dollars of $517.

Diana Caudle has lived in the building since it opened. A single mother of three, she earns $1,600 a month at a day care center. Her last pay raise was three years ago, so Caudle was glad when the Rent Guidelines Board ordered a rent freeze for leases after Oct. 1. It was the first time in the board's 46-year history that it ordered an increase of zero percent.

But not long after that decision last summer, Caudle said her landlord proposed raising her "preferential" rent by 10 percent, to $1,087 a month. She panicked. "My fear is becoming homeless," Caudle said. "This is my fear every day."

Then, in late September, Caudle got a surprising letter from her landlord: Her rent had been "recalculated based on the initial rent charged for your apartment back in 1991u201392."

Her new legal rent is $827 per month -- $161 less than the preferential rent Caudle had been paying since November 2014.

Lawyers for the Legal Aid Society and Legal Services NYC had filed a lawsuit on the tenants' behalf in August, prompting the landlord's action. Edmund Witter, a lawyer for the tenants, said the case is in settlement talks and the landlord has begun refunding overcharges.

A lawyer for the landlord, Shree Ganesh Bronx LLC, owned by a Long Island doctor, declined to comment. The property's 421-a tax break was worth $58,350 this year.

Caudle said she had no idea what a 421-a property tax break was. But if it means not being priced out of her apartment, she approves.

"Nobody should have to worry about something like that," she said.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter. Featured photo via flickr/hearingppocket/cc/

Wed., Nov. 4: Major School Funding Hearing and Street Theatre Performance

NYSER New Yorkers for Students' Educational Rights
Contact: Michael A. Rebell.
Counsel for Plaintiffs

On Wednesday, November 4, at 2:30 p.m., New York State Supreme Court Justice Manuel Mendez will hear the plaintiffs' and defendant's arguments for summary judgment in the case of New Yorkers for Students' Educational Rights (NYSER) v. State of New York.

Location: NYS Supreme Court Annex Building, 71 Thomas Street (between West Broadway and Church Streets), downtown New York City.

The NYSER plaintiffs--public school parents from New York City and around the state, major statewide organizations, and education advocacy groups—will argue that, for the past five years, the state has failed to implement the funding increases and education-finance reforms that it passed into law in 2007, following the court's 2006 ruling in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. v. State of New York (CFE) lawsuit.

 The plaintiffs are asking the court to order the state no later than the 2016-17 school year either to (a) provide an additional $4.8 billion, the current shortfall in the amount required by the foundation funding formula that the legislature adopted in 2007 to comply with the CFE ruling or (b) develop and implement an alternative education-finance system that meets constitutional requirements.
Both sides have agreed that there are no material facts regarding these issues that require a trial and are asking the Court to issue a prompt ruling on these major issues.

At 1:30 p.m., on the sidewalk outside the courthouse, New York City high school students will perform an educational-equity play that they recently wrote after learning about their educational rights.

The students, participants in the Educational Equity ACTion! project—a collaboration between the Campaign for Educational Equity and the Epic Theatre Ensemble's Epic NEXT program— will perform a 20-minute version of 10467, their new play that asks audiences, "Why do we stand down when we should stand up in the battle against educational injustice?

Full details about the NYSER lawsuit and copies of court papers:

Analysis: Cuomo’s Trojan Horse attack on Fight for 15

cuomo property of wall street

Governor Andrew Cuomo's much-overhyped wage-board is set to meet on July 22nd to recommend a gradual increase in the minimum wage paid to fast food workers.

cuomo property of wall streetRather than a gift to labor, the scheme may be among the governor's most underhanded, and ruthless, pro-business moves--a scam-politics scheme of the most corrupt order, perhaps someday being ranked alongside his most devious achievements like trampling the WFP and  cutting real estate tax revenue "out of fiscal concern" (only to force the gutting of local school budgets when they wouldn't accept the state's own gutting).

The pro-business governor is doing nothing more than attempting to deflate the Fight for 15 movement--whose aims have always extended beyond just Fast Food Labor into an overall raise in minimum wage, a right to organize, a right to a sane schedule and a right to dignity and safety on the job for all workers.

With low-wage work being the primary source of income for an ever-increasing number of New Yorkers, Cuomo's disturbing, two-faced and manipulative play at bribing away a piece of the movement should illustrate for New York's non-billionaire class just how far the corporate-coddling governor will go to attack independently organized middle and working class movements.

A consistent enemy to low-wage workers across the state, not only has Cuomo sold out low-income New Yorkers at every possible turn (from rent laws to labor), Cuomo even made it impossible for New York City to set its own minimum wage according to local prices.

So what's with Cuomo's sudden pretense that fast food workers are a priority for him?

Cuomo is on the wrong side of some half-dozen scandals these days, and has little, if any, support among the politically active groups and organizers of the working class.

In fact, it's a safe bet that between his Big Developer-friendly performance in the last round of rent law negotiations and his disturbingly close relationship to the worst of the Great Recession Wall Street criminals, Cuomo is among the least liked New York politicians at the activist-community level.

Furthermore, even traditionally centrist working-class groups, like the building trades unions, have shown signs of breaking away from the Cuomo "insiders."

In fact,  the "insiders versus outsiders" game is a bit of a Cuomo specialty, one that often serves as an element in his divide-and-conquer strategy for breaking worker and community strength.

Cuomo's Rove-sque level of maneuvering is little surprise to those who watch Albany. An operative of the most sophisticated order, when Andrew Cuomo plots on his political enemies (like, these days, independently-organized labor and tenant groups), there's always something more sinister and corporate at play than an ostensibly occupied mind with a half-plan.

For clarity, let's explicitly understand what the wage board will say absolutely nothing about

  • raising the overall minimum wage for the millions of other low-wage workers
  • collective bargaining and union rights for all low-wage workers
  • allowing new york city and/or other municipalities to set their own higher-than-state-level minimum wage
  • job-protection and job-safety measures for low-wage workers
  • scheduling guarantees and scheduling regulations for low-wage "flex-economy" workers

Seen through Cuomo's history of divide-defuse-and-conquer towards community power, it's only too blatant that wall street's favorite governor is once more scheming to buy one side of the working class into a complacent tolerance when the rest of working class is eviscerated (Giuliani had a similar relationship with certain building trades and law enforcement unions, as did Pataki).

EDITOR's NOTE: Low-wage worker movements have been self-organizing for years. Check out some of our earliest coverage from years ago:

November 2011: New York's Fast Food Labor Rumble Takes Center Stage, a short compilation from our staff

February 2012: NY Fast Food Workers Serve Up a Fight for Economic Justice, Sarah L. Jaffe

February 2012: Low Wage Workers Resuscitate NY's Organized Labor, Ava M. Capote

May 2013: Time for a Raise?: Inside the Fight for 15, Sarah L. Jaffe


421-a Program’s Unaffordable “Affordability”


Over $1.1 billion is lost each year in the 421a mania of tax-freebies to developers (and their financiers).


When Taxpayers Have to Guarantee Tycoons' Profits

New York City's notorious housing costs are no accident or historical anachronism. They are the specific product of historical factors and corporate-pushed mechanisms whereby taxpayer funds and "the state" are wrangled to ensure profits for a consistently underperforming (and necessarily under-serving) for-profit sector.

Some economists call this model of taxpayers-guaranteeing-private-profit "neo-liberalism" (with neo-conservatism as a related, occasionally synonymous and ever-reproducing correspondent). New York renters just call that sort of corrupt profit-getting the stuff of every day reality.

That reality is composed of folks like Marvin Markus, who served on the Rent Guidelines Board for 13 years and even served as its chairman, ... and now serves as a managing director at financial giant Goldman Sachs.

Or, it means Wall Street's favorite Governor, Andrew Cuomo picking a manager from financial mega-giant Blackrock (comprised of the worst players of the Financial Crisis, the firm serves to repurchase devalued properties through a proxy, and has becomine the nation's biggest landlord) as his Secretary, the top aide to the governor. It's hard for tenant's to see getting a fair shake from a governor who picks his lead advisor from the nation's biggest housing profiteers.

On the larger level, it means a series of corrupt mechanisms: like big-pocketed venture capitalists spending over $1 million, sometimes through the LLC loophole, convincing upstate politicians (who determine New York City's housing laws, but do not live in New York City) to keep New York City laws exactly as maximally-favorable to quick-bucks and taxpayer-guaranteed profits.

Alongside vacancy decontrol and the majestically corrupt "LLC" loophole, 421-a tax-giveaways are part of the inter-corrupting, and self-reproducing, networks of mechanisms through which near-criminal housing profits are leeched out of the New York City population by Wall Street and syndicated wealth.

In the aftermath of the Silver and Skellos indictments, and with the current rent laws due to expire on June 14, New Yorkers (from tenants to small business owners) are demanding an end to the giveaway. Over $1.1 billion is lost each year in the 421a mania of tax-freebies to developers and their financiers.

The 421a tax-giveawy is a remnant of Lindsay era programs to bolster housing construction in New York City.

The sanity and morality of such a program during New York City's current housing boom, is at best questionable, at worst, criminal.

These days, 421-a giveaways are seen as an odious and obvious burden-shifting of tax-costs from big-developers (and their financiers) to working class New Yorkers (whether tenants, small businesses or small scale landlords).

Much like Big Finance flushed capital into the suburbs for taxpayer-guaranteed profits during yesteryear's suburbinization bubble (that left many urban regions severely underserved), Big Finance is now inverting the flow --- flushing its money into urban centers for taxpayer-guaranteed profits during an urbanization bubble (leaving many suburban regions severely underserved).

But what do New Yorkers get in exchange for sponsoring the free rides and easy profits of the city's wealthiest corporations, trust funds and families through 421-a tax breaks?

Are 421-a deals worth it for non-millionaire New Yorkers?

What do the rest of us get in exchange for $1.1 billion a year subtraction away from the public coffers?

To hear the mythology, the 421-a "tax-breaks" (burden-shifting) were created to encourage developers to build New York City's housing (given certain, rather corporate-convenient, conditions).

In exchange for $1.1 billion dollars a year in tax breaks, developers "promise" to build a certain amount of affordable units.

Does it pay for New Yorkers to be sponsoring the easy profits of big developers and their wall street cronies?

The results, year in and year out, have been horrible for working-class New Yorkers.

One could easily look at the overall housing-cost to income ratio on face value and understand the immiserating realities these obscene housing profits externalize into the lives of ordinary new yorkers (e.g. Brooklyn rents have reached a record high,.. in a time when long-term incomes for most of the borough's middle and working classes has plummeted).

One could also look directly at the program's promises as compared to the realities of what it delivers.

All in all, New Yorkers spend $1 million in tax breaks to developers for each and every "affordable" unit created through the 421-a program, according to a recent report by the Community Service Society. At that price tag, why shouldn't the city just develop and grow its own housing projects (a non-rhetorical question who's immediate empirical answers lie in history and profit, not in any logic or human decency)?

Are these apartments even affordable for most regular New Yorkers?

"Affordable" according to the corporate-rigged standards now means affordable for a family of four earning over $100,000 a year. This means paying up to $2800 a month for rent for an "affordable" apartment, in a time when two-thirds of New York City's job growth has occurred specifically in low-wage industries.

In Ridgewood, Queens (currently being targeted by Big Finance-backed developers through a board-or-hoard-then-up-price strategy), household median incomes have dropped from approximately $56,000 a year to $53,000 a year in just a few years. Meanwhile, rents have skyrocketed in the community, enraging, impoverishing and eventually displacing local tenants, owners and businesses. Residents are fighting mad, and they're getting organized (in Ridgewood and throughout the city).

One look at the local economics explains everything about the cruelty and stupidity of the "affordability" scale Wall Street (along with its allies in city and state government) would push on working class New Yorkers.

A family of four living on the median Ridgewood income would have to spend over 62% of that pre-tax income on an "affordable" apartment.

Is that really affordable? What's left to live on?

Can New Yorkers really afford to spend another billion dollars a year guaranteeing easy, tax-light profits for Wall Street?

Doesn't Wall Street already have enough of our money?

Who, precisely, is being helped and hurt by assigning such absurdly high prices as "affordable?"



Why is rent in NYC so expensive? (BQ Brew) What is rent Control? (BQ Brew)

Why Billionaires Don't Pay Property Taxes in New York | City Lab

de Blasio's 421-a proposal would extend tax breaks in exchange for a little bump in affordable housing (Progress Queens)

Albany Should Scrap Giveaway to Developers | Community Service Society of New York

NYC buildings show Albany corruption, real estate connection -- NY Daily News

REBNY members gave a tenth of all N.Y. campaign money -- Capital NY

The Rent is Too Damn Nigh! When, Where and How to Testify to the City’s Rent Board

 (feature photo via 401k2012/flickr/cc)

What’s Brewing? This Week’s Must Read Link Roundup

what's brewing

Via City Limits, New York City Housing tenants continue to lack a voice to speak up for their needs. One of the many issues is lack of support for existing Tenant Associations.


Mayor De Blasio is making a $70M commitment toward universal broadband in New York City. According to TechCrunch, part of that money will be used to provide free or low-cost internet access to 20,000 low-income households.


The Mayor also announced a $100 Million effort to alleviate New York City's homelessness crisis. You can read more about it at WNYC.


At The New York Times, "The Price of Nice Nails" is an in-depth look into the terrible labor abuses some nail salons inflict on their workers. has a list of the 5 worst revelations.


Henry Stewart at HeyRidge takes a look at the gerrymandering behind Bay Ridge Brooklyn being lumped together with Staten Island in a congressional district.


Louis Flores at Progress Queens explains how New York's corporate governor will continue to accept money from Glenwood Management, which has long-exploited the LLC Loophole to extend its powerful voice with state lawmakers.


On Thursday, May 14 at 5pm affordable housing advocates and tenants will be rallying to save NYC. The purpose is to raise awareness and support for stronger rent laws in June, and to save #1MillionHomes. You can learn more at the event page on Facebook.


On Saturday, May 16, residents of Greenpoint and Williamsburg will once again be rallying to ask, "Where's our park?"


BONUS LINK: Democracy Now! talks with executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy Lisa Graves about their new report on how taxpayer money is wasted by charter schools. You can watch or read that interview at and you can read the Center for Media and Democracy's report in pdf format here.

NYC Mayor Aims for 90% Reduction in Trash by 2030

de blasion anounced his OneNYC plan to increase NYC's resiliency and reduce inequality.

Earlier today Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled the Zero Waste Plan, which aims to cut New York City's trash by 90% within 15 years.

The ambitious goal was announced on Earth Day, as part of de Blasio's OneNYC.

"Environmental and economic sustainability must go hand in hand – and OneNYC is the blueprint to ensure they do,” said Mayor de Blasio in an official statement.

While the plan looks to contiue some of the Bloomberg's administration's environmental goals (encapsulated by PlaNYC), it comes with a stronger focus on tackling inequality, including a goal of lifting 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty by 2025.

Part of the goal also includes zero trash to landfills by 2030 and an 80% reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Featured Photo via Jason Lawrence/CC?Flickr.

Racist Posts on NY Cop Blog Raise Ire at Time of Tension

Photo via See-ming Lee/cc/Flickr

Week after week, racist posts appear on Thee Rant, a blog for current or former New York City police officers: African Americans are called “apes;” a retired officer says one of the blessings of retirement is not having to work the Puerto Rican Day parade, with its “old obese tatted up women stuffed into outfits that they purchased or shoplifted at the local Kmart store; a Middle Eastern cab driver berated by an officer is termed a “third worlder” who should have his “head split open.”

And week after week, the department’s top officials are, at once, embarrassed and powerless.

“It’s very disturbing stuff. Outrageous stuff,” said Stephen Davis, the chief spokesman for the NYPD. “We see it. It’s a problem.”

At the heart of the problem are the limits the department faces in what it can do.

“Monitoring these things is challenging,” Davis said. “There are privacy issues involved. We can’t go and peel back email names and tags and try to find out who these people are.”

The issue of the blog, started by former NYPD officer Ed Polstein in 1999, has gained notoriety most recently after a white South Carolina police officer shot a black man to death. Shortly after a video of the officer appearing to shoot the fleeing man in the back went viral on the Internet, Thee Rant blew up with comments.

“Cop looked good in his stance,” read one post.

Polstein, who did not respond to requests for an interview, has said previously that anyone wishing to post on the blog has to provide proof that they are a current or former member of the NYPD. But whether they are, and how many have signed up, are among the many mysteries surrounding Thee Rant. The blog says it garners 120,000 page views daily.

Leonard Levitt, a respected former Newsday reporter who runs the website NYPD Confidential, said he has stopped assigning much significance to Thee Rant.

“To be honest, I don’t read it,” Levitt said. “I’d say these guys represent the worst elements of the department. I don’t think they speak for the average cop. I have a feeling it’s four or five guys doing most of the yowling.”

Incidents of officers being investigated or punished for their behavior online, in social media or on personal cell phones, have cropped up in Illinois, Missouri and Florida in recent weeks and months.

In a St. Louis suburb, for instance, an officer was fired after posting racist remarks about the protests in Ferguson. In San Francisco, eight officers were fired for exchanging racist and homophobic text messages.

Relations between the police and minorities have been fraught in New York for decades. The assault on Abner Louima and the killing of Amadou Diallo during Rudy Giuliani’s administration sparked a rise in tension. The aggressive stop-and-frisk tactics during Michael Bloomberg’s mayoralty deepened the mistrust and anger. And the choking death of Eric Garner on Staten Island last year provoked protests and slogans.

William Bratton, Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s police commissioner, has acknowledged the poor relations and vowed to improve them.

The existence of Thee Rant, and the occasional, perhaps outsize attention it gets, has not made Bratton’s efforts easier.

Garner’s death prompted some of the more extensive back and forth on the blog. Garner was killed when an officer sought to subdue him during a stop for illegally selling loose cigarettes. Bratton initially said it appeared the officer had used an improper chokehold. But a grand jury on Staten Island declined to indict the officer.

On Thee Rant, support for the officer was substantial. And occasionally ugly.

“A more accurate headline would be "Non Compliant Fat Bastard Gets Just Due In Resisting Law Enforcement Officers,” read a post in reaction to headlines in the city’s papers.

“Yes, they’ll pay off the 'family,'” started another. “It’s a lot cheaper than a riot…And therein lies the problem...The cities of America are held hostage by the strong-arm tactics of the savages.”

Davis, the NYPD spokesman, said department policy is that officers should not be on social media, as well as blogs, except for official business. The department has shown it is willing to act against problem officers when it can. In 2012, New York City police officers were disciplined over racist and violent comments made on Facebook, many of which targeted the annual Labor Day West Indian Parade, describing the event as a “scheduled riot” and comparing it to working at a zoo.

“We don’t know how many active police officers are on it,” Davis said of Thee Rant. “If we did identify active officers speaking on the site in that capacity they would be disciplined for violating policy.”

“Unfortunately,” he added, “it’s one of these things that we don’t have ownership of. We don’t have any control over it. Some say that’s good, others maybe say it’s bad.”

Davis said he did not know of any active effort to determine whether current officers are commenting on the site or who they are. He said the department would investigate any specific allegation that a particular officer was behind objectionable comments.

“It’s, in a sense, unfortunate that a lot of it is done under the banner of freedom of expression now,” Davis said.

Polstein, who joined the department in 1988, told the New York Daily News in 2005 that he’d started the blog as his personal diary. “It was how I felt at the moment,” he told the News. “It is my constitutional right to vent.”

Over the years, the local media has occasionally reported on Thee Rant. In one recent instance, the blog decided to go after a reporter who had done a story about the South Carolina shooting comments. One contributor to the blog found a video of the reporter at a conference, posted it, and then encouraged others to mock the reporter’s looks.

The coverage prompted objections from at least one current or former officer, who suggested Polstein should take a more active role in moderating the blog.

“There hasn’t been a moderator on here in days," the officer wrote. “If Ed had any loyalty to active duty cops, he’d remove the law enforcement angle of the board and let er rip. As it is, anytime a lazy reporter wants to smear the NYPD, all he has to do is come here and read the ravings of some diaper wearing geriatric that fell hard off the Aricept train and say that it was an active NYPD cop saying it.”

The NYPD’s Davis said he hoped the police union might step in to rein in the blog.

“A lot of retired people are still active in the union and it doesn’t do anybody any good to have these remarks out there,” he said. “They really don’t help. But that’s the nature of the social media beast right now.”

Al O’Leary, spokesman for the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, declined to comment for this story.

This article is published through a CC license, via ProPublica. Photo via See-ming Lee/cc/Flickr.

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