Housing trouble + community boards

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Local News

  • The City’s Department of Investigations wants NYCHA to be stricter about evicting the family members of suspected criminals, but a coalition of public housing advocates objected to the DOI report, calling the plan a “misguided and irresponsible approach to safety.”
  • A lawsuit claiming that the City’s property tax system is racially and economically biased was filed by Tax Equity Now NY, a coalition that includes the NAACP and the Black Institute. The suit alleges that properties in predominantly minority communities are overassessed by $1.7 billion.
  • The Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness (ICPH) released a report on recent trends in homelessness and poverty rates in NYC, broken down by City Council District. The report notes that since 2005 NYC has lost 13,000 affordable housing units and could lose over 100,000 more in the next five years.
  • City Council heard a package of proposed bills on Wednesday intended to curb tenant harassment, many of which were opposed by the department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and, unsurprisingly, the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY).
  • The Rent Guidelines Board will hold their preliminary vote on April 25th; this group will eventually decide on the rent increase cap that will apply to all rent-stabilized apartments in NY State. The Rent Stabilization Association (a landlord group) is already asking for a 4-8% rent hike.
  • At a town hall in the Upper West Side, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10) admitted he believes that Governor Cuomo has “no interest” in helping resist the IDC’s obstruction of Democratic policies and that the only way to fight the IDC is by voting them out of office.
  • After months of pressure from the Independent Drivers Guild, the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission is proposing to require Uber and other ridesharing apps to offer a tipping option to their customers.
  • In an op-ed for the NY Daily News, CM Antonio Reynoso argues that NYPD’s enforcement of Vision Zero (an initiative to lower traffic related fatalities) unfairly targets delivery cyclists, who are largely working-class immigrants, rather than reckless car drivers. Reynoso’s piece comes days after the NYPD blamed a biker for her death.


In-Depth: Community Boards

What are Community Boards and why do they exist?

Serving as NYC’s most local form of government, Community Boards (CBs) were created in the 1950s to decentralize control of neighborhoods and give ordinary citizens a louder voice, and the 1975 NYC Charter revision turned them into what they are today. There are 59 CBs throughout the City, each made up of 50 members who are appointed by the borough president. All CBs have an elected Chairperson who also sits on the Borough Board and gets to appoint a District Manager, a paid city employee tasked with responding to community concerns. CBs issue permits for neighborhood events, organize local cleanup programs, make formal recommendations for the city budget, and hold monthly meetings and public hearings for community complaints.

Although CBs are advisory bodies without formal decisionmaking power, many city agencies defer to them. A representative example would be CB9 in Crown Heights, which scuttled a bike lane planned by the Department of Transportation in favor of more parking. Boards can also submit recommendations for Land Use and Rezoning but these votes are non-binding, so they can be ignored without consequence by politicians.

Who are these people?

Anyone can apply to serve on their CB, but many members are connected to entrenched powers in a community, as half of each board’s members are nominated by their City Council Member and the Borough President makes final appointments. The positions are time-consuming and unpaid, so retirees are often overrepresented. And although members are reappointed every other year, in practice there is very little turnover. As a result, community boards often reflect what a neighborhood was like 30 years ago more than its current demographics.

Progressive members of City Council have been trying to increase the diversity and transparency of the CB system for years, with little traction. CM Ritchie Torres introduced a bill last year that would require the City to collect and publish demographic information about CB members, to assess whether CBs are representative of their communities. In 2014, a group of Council Members introduced legislation that would have imposed term limits in an attempt to ensure that CBs keep up with their neighborhood’s changing demographics. In response to the Mayor’s recent rezoning plan, some anti-gentrification activists have called for more drastic reforms such as giving CBs veto power over land use decisions, having members be elected instead of appointed, and paying members for their time.

Getting Involved.

Everyone can join their CB as a “public” or “non-Board” member, which allows you to serve on committees covering specific issues but not to vote on official recommendations. Being on a committee can grant you some influence and open the door to being appointed to your CB. If you’re looking for a way to learn about neighborhood-level issues and have a high tolerance for long meetings, your CB is a good place to start.

30% of City Council Members served on a CB before running for Council, proving that being involved in a CB can be an effective way to launch a political career. Even if CBs aren’t the most efficient way to implement progressive or socialist policies, their ability to make noise can make them helpful in the fight for more affordable housing, for example, and a DSA presence at their meetings could influence local politicians to take socialism more seriously.

Apply to be on your Community Board here: http://www.brooklyn-usa.org/community-board-membership-application/

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