PHOTO: Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito delivered her second State of the City Address last Thursday at the Samuel Gompers Campus in the South Bronx. Photo Courtesy of William Alatriste/NYC Council
By Michael V. Cusenza
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito last Thursday focused her agenda on making “New York a more fair and equal city for all,” as she delivered her State of the City Address at Samuel Gompers Campus in the South Bronx.
Mark Viverito’s admittedly ambitious plan outlines what she characterized as “a bold new vision,” that seeks to, in part, reform the criminal justice system, end the homelessness crisis, increase civic engagement and support young women and girls.
“When we commit to improving how communities and the criminal justice system interact; when we lay out ambitious plans to help the homeless or to engage our youth – or when we stand up for our neighborhoods, immigrants, caregivers, new mothers, and young women – the world takes notice,” Mark-Viverito said.
While the Speaker noted that the Council “is proud to play a key role in the fight to end homelessness,” it cannot do it alone. Mark-Viverito highlighted some strategies that call for representatives from the City, State, and Federal levels to work together to help rein in this pressing Big Apple issue:
Raise the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour for all workers.
Accelerate the commitment to develop thousands of units of supportive housing: The city and state’s commitment to create permanent supportive housing needs to be implemented immediately, Mark-Viverito said.
Expand a permanent rental subsidy program, which would help establish stability by preventing families from cycling in and out of shelters, she added. Furthermore, both recipients and property owners would benefit from knowing there was a consistent support system in place that wouldn’t cease after a few years. Such a program could be modeled on the federal Section 8 voucher program, and would require the State to provide appropriate funding, Mark-Viverito said.
Increase the allocation of more public housing units each year for homeless families, including survivors of domestic violence who are homeless: the New York City Housing Authority can and should accommodate more homeless families until the crisis has ended, Mark-Viverito said.
“It is time to take our criminal justice system out of the shadows – and finally address the institutional racism which has plagued it for far too long,” the Speaker said last Thursday.
To address this, Mark-Viverito has proposed the creation of an independent Criminal Justice Commission. The new, independent commission, led by former State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, will recommend ways to continue to reduce pre-trial incarceration rates and explore a community-based justice model for the City, Mark-Viverito said. The commission will examine, among other things, accelerating and expanding on reforms related to diversion, alternatives to incarceration, supervised release, the bail system and the Constitutional right to a speedy trial; moving youth and those with serious mental health problems off Rikers Island in the short term; increasing the number of community courts; and expanding the use of borough-based jail facilities. The Commission will work closely with Elizabeth Glazer, Mark-Viverito said, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. Its work will complement current reform efforts and create a blueprint for justice for the city.
Additionally, the Speaker’s plan includes raising the age of criminal responsibility; creating a municipal division of transition services; establishing a video visitation program at Rikers Island and creating an Inspector General for the Department of Correction.
Mark-Viverito also pledged that the Council will take a “proactive approach” to criminal justice reform by passing legislation to focus resources on neighborhoods with high crime rates and low quality of life. The Council will ensure there is a multi-agency plan to provide social services to certain high-crime areas that addresses underlying factors, such as unemployment, inadequate education or substance abuse – problems that often cause or correlate to increased crime rates. The Council will also pass legislation that will improve the quality of life through the creation of targeted Neighborhood Support Teams. These neighborhood support teams will replicate the successful work the Council has conducted in East Harlem, where we have seen improvements in street cleanliness, built a new pedestrian plaza, and addressed the K2 epidemic head on through legislation, enforcement and the delivery of health services. This coordinated approach will address the varied and often unique quality of life concerns experienced by other communities throughout the City, Mark-Viverito said.
“Young women are the very foundation, the core of our City’s hope for the future. So we don’t need cracks in the glass ceiling – we need to shatter it once and for all,” the Speaker noted.
The Council and philanthropy, Mark-Viverito announced last week, will invest $20 million over two years on programs and services recommended through the Young Women’s Initiative.
Additionally, the Council will be releasing a set of recommendations that emerged from the YWI this spring. Recommendations expected to be discussed include proposals the Speaker highlighted during her address last Thursday:
Supporting programs designed to end sexual exploitation and connecting survivors to safety, justice and opportunity;
Ensuring schools provide meaningful access to guidance and career counseling, and promoting leadership development opportunities for young people; expanding the Summer Youth Employment Program to a comprehensive, year-round program that provides real job skills and offers a pathway to career readiness; improving transgender health care services; and creating a fund for access to contraceptives.