Posted on November 7, 2013 · Posted in Frank Friday, P-cubed News

New York City voted for a new Mayor this week bringing to an end the Bloomberg era that has come to be associated with the unfortunate stop-and-frisk tactics used by the police that targeted young men of color in particular, the increasing lack of affordable housing for middle-class and low-income families as neighborhoods across the city rapidly gentrified, and widening income gaps. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s victory was described in a New York Times article as a “forceful rejection of the hard-nosed, business-minded style of governance that reigned at City Hall for the past two decades…” Mr. de Blasio’s campaign phrase, “the tale of two cities,” that captured the disparities in opportunities and discrimination of large numbers of New Yorkers, seemed to have had resonance with voters. Mr. de Blasio won a landslide victory with 74 percent of the vote citywide.

The new mayor has many urgent issues to consider. The problem of income inequality looms large. The latest Census numbers, released a few weeks ago, show that poverty remains a critical issue and the gap between the rich and the poor in this city continues to widen. The mean income of the top 5 percent was $436,931 — about 49 times as much as those with the lowest income. The current poverty rate of 21.2 percent means that 1.7 million New Yorkers fall below the official poverty threshold. Of children 17 and younger, 31 percent live in poverty while 32 percent of households headed by single women live below the poverty line. Poverty rates for African-American and Latino New Yorkers remain stubbornly higher than for whites. Some food stamps benefits that had been expanded during the recession recently expired affecting nearly 2 million New Yorkers and worsening their already precarious lives of.

Nowhere does income inequality manifest more profoundly than in housing affordability in the city. Hunter College’s Professor Ida Susser’s recently updated work, Norman Street: Poverty and Politics in an Urban Neighborhood, shows how the current administration in New York has focused on the economic elite by subsidizing luxury condominium projects; over the past decade, tax subsidies for new high rise apartments have been approximately $1 billion a year. New York City has had a housing shortage for many decades: in the 1960s vacancy rate never rose above 3 percent; in 2011, vacancy rates for $1000 per month apartments were about 1 percent. Housing insecurity among middle and working-class families continues to grow as 10,000 rent-regulated apartments are lost in our city each year.  According to estimates by the Coalition for the Homeless, there are about 52,351 people living in municipal shelters, and as the cold weather approaches, those numbers will grow.

Another area for deep divisions is in education achievement in the city’s public schools. In the NYS 2013 tests, two-thirds of city students failed. About 30 percent of New York City students met state math standards while 26 percent passed the reading exams. Schools with the most English-language learners dropped scores by approximately 70 percent in both reading and math. Black and Latino students had a 56 percent decrease in reading scores and more than a 60 percent decrease in math scores. District 7 in the South Bronx, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the entire city with a heavily Hispanic and African American population, had the biggest drop in scores citywide, with a 64 percent decrease in reading scores, and a 75 percent drop in math scores from 2012.

Mr. de Blasio has his work cut out in front of him. Creating livable wage jobs, negotiating union contracts, keeping our streets safe, and making higher education affordable are just a few more agenda items that will need urgent attention by the new mayor. Our collective hope is to see real, tangible policies for change from City Hall that will help to make this one city for all its residents.

Tell us what you think should be Bill de Blasio’s agenda for the first 100 days of his leadership as Mayor of New York City. Where should his priorities lie? Who are the people most likely to be affected by his policies? Share your thoughts and join the debate.

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Be well.