State of the NeighborhoodBy Jose B. Rivera
Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito’s first State of the Neighborhood report to the community as originally reported on the Gotham Gazette. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s State of the City speech focused on many of the issues that I seek to address and make a priority during my term in office. Chief among them are housing and health.
The neighborhoods in my district include El Barrio/East Harlem, part of the Upper West Side and part of the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx. In East Harlem alone we have 10 housing projects, including the large Wagner Houses complex. One section of the district reportedly contains the lowest-income census tract in the city.
Bloomberg talked about reducing poverty in his State of the City address. “This year, we’ll launch a public-private task force modeled on our task force to end chronic homelessness that will attack chronic unemployment and poverty in the homes and neighborhoods where the need is greatest,” he said. “We’ll launch our first pilot programs in three communities where the problems have long been entrenched, Bushwick, Melrose, and Bedford-Stuyvesant. I welcome creative approaches to tackling our pressing issues. As legislators it is our responsibility to ensure that the public policies that guide this city address the systemic problems that contribute to such inequities.” The Mayor has committed himself to seriously tackling these concerns in a non-partisan manner and I welcome that approach. I look forward to the work of this public-private task force as it seeks to determine the underlying causes of chronic unemployment and poverty and will join the dialogue as it progresses.
Affordable Housing, Public Housing
Despite the income disparity of many of my constituents with other parts of the city, we’re seeing property values rise as the area begins to gentrify. That creates an urgent need to maintain the affordable housing stock that already exists, as well as develop new units. I seek to address our affordable housing crisis by looking at innovative ways that we can safeguard Mitchell Lama housing units as well as looking at public policy and legislation that will facilitate the creation of new affordable units.
The mayor noted in his address that he would build or preserve 165,000 new units in the next seven years as part of his $7.5 billion housing plan. I welcome the challenge, but we must first address how we define affordability if we seek to tackle the issue effectively.
We’ve also got to address problems residents are facing in our public housing. After serving as council member for only several weeks, I am finding that the vast majority of constituent requests are related to public housing concerns. My district is home to ten percent of New York City’s public housing stock—one of the highest concentrations in the city. The challenges that confront New York City’s public housing system will be a priority during my tenure and I will work alongside tenant leaders and New York City Housing Authority to ensure that we improve existing conditions.
Diabetes, Asthma, AIDS
On the health front, a recent New York Times article highlighted East Harlem as an epicenter of the diabetes epidemic in the city. The article pointed out that residents of this part of my district “die of diabetes at twice the rate of people in the city as a whole.” Bloomberg also recognized this crisis in his address, saying the city’s goal is now to “reduce the number of New Yorkers at the highest risk for diabetes complications by 20 percent by the end of 2008.” The first step will be reporting blood sugar test results to the Department of Health. I will seek to work with my district’s health facilities to raise greater awareness among all constituents and will work alongside the Department of Health to ensure that we are aggressive about reducing the number of individuals at high risk.
What’s more, district 8 also has one of the highest rates of asthma in the city, and the second highest HIV infection rate. We have to address these issues by allocating greater funds to prevention and engaging our communities in visible public educational campaigns as a means of raising awareness.
Between health and housing, my district desperately needs big-picture problem solving as well as help with every-day troubles.
Service Provider Summit
Currently, we are still assessing how we will structure the constituent services division of our office. I see myself, and the work that I will engage in, as one that will facilitate change within the district. My office will work in partnership with the local stakeholders to fulfill our greater vision of community empowerment. There are many agencies providing great services to this district. It is my aim to build a strong, cohesive partnership with them that I believe can work in tandem with this office.
I will hold a series of service provider summits in order to develop a better sense of the work they are engaged in and to outline the ways we best can work together. It’s a critical role: working in partnership with the service organizations and also being able to hold them accountable for the work they’re directed to do. I will be looking at how to serve as that nexus for my constituents.
I have had instances where people have walked into our office seeking help filling out paperwork for a myriad of benefits. Ideally, my office would link that constituent up with a local service provider better suited to assist them. For example, we have constituents walking in with concerns about enrolling in Medicare’s Part D drug benefit. A senior center here already does exactly that kind of work. So from this office, we can call and make an appointment for the constituent and follow up afterwards, making sure he or she went to the senior center and that the visit ran smoothly. This kind of relationship will enable us as an office, and me as a city council member, to help my constituents while maximizing our time to tackle large-scale issues like public housing or the affordable housing crisis. It is my hope to serve as a strong voice for a community that has been greatly disenfranchised.
Melissa Mark-Viverito represents district 8 in the New York City Council