Working Together, We Can Harness the Power of Our Communities

Guest Commentary

Volume 112, No. 3March, 2012

NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn

March is Women’s History Month, and as the first woman speaker of the New York City Council, I was delighted to be asked by Local 802 to contribute a guest column to Allegro. I’d like to write about some current projects that I’m very excited about.

New York is not a big city. We’re a patchwork of small towns woven into neighborhoods, stitched together to form boroughs, creating the fabric of what we call the city of New York.

This month the City Council put forth a series of proposals that will tap into the power of those neighborhoods and create greater opportunity for every New Yorker.

We focused on some of the city’s biggest challenges – like chronic unemployment. Many New Yorkers have discovered that the longer you’re out of work, the harder it gets to find a job. So we’re going to launch a brand new pilot program called New Skills, New Jobs. Participants will spend up to eight weeks in a paid training program at a company that has a full time job opening, and on completion of the program they’ll be hired on a permanent basis.

We also hear stories from people who’ve been turned down for a job just because they’ve been unemployed for too long. Some companies say it’s their policy. We say it’s discrimination. And just like we’ve done with other kinds of discrimination, we’re going to make it illegal.

At the same time, we’re going to empower people to invest in neighborhoods with high unemployment. There’s a Lower East Side tech startup called Kickstarter that helps people raise money for community projects or business ventures. We’re going to work with Kickstarter to help raise funds for projects in neighborhoods with high unemployment.

We’ll also create a $10 million dollar small business loan fund exclusively for businesses in high unemployment neighborhoods. And we’ll pay for it with federal tax credits, so it won’t cost the city a dime.

Now it’s impossible to talk about the challenges facing New Yorkers without talking about the rising costs of housing.

One of the problems is that when the city negotiates affordable housing deals with developers, that affordability has a built-in expiration date – usually 30 years.

So working with the Council, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development is going to start requiring sixty year affordability in many of our biggest developments.

And we won’t stop there. Our goal will be permanent affordability, which means a new kind of deal with developers – as long as the city keeps renewing your benefits, you have to keep your housing truly affordable. We’ll make sure the people who built a community get to stay in that community.

Finally, the Council focused on ways to improve education around the city.

Every year nearly 3,000 five-year-olds in New York City don’t enroll in kindergarten, and many of them have a hard time catching up with their classmates when they get to first grade.

You may be as surprised as we were to learn that kindergarten isn’t required in New York.

What kind of message do we send to parents when we as a city tell them it’s not necessary to enroll their kids in kindergarten? We’re working with the state to pass a bill allowing New York City to make kindergarten mandatory, so all our kids have the best possible start.

We’re also rolling out a program called the Student Empowerment Partnership – or STEP.

Here’s how it works. First we look at all the specific challenges facing students and their families in a particular community, at every stage of their development. Then bring together community groups, city agencies, parents, teachers, CUNY and the DOE and we see what everyone can contribute to help these kids succeed.

We’ll work together to strengthen every aspect of a child’s life – all with a focus on improving academic results, and their long term success.

To learn more about these and other initiatives, visit our Web site at Working together, we can harness the strength of our communities to build an even better city.

Christine Quinn is speaker of the New York City Council.