2018 Public Hearing of The New York City Charter Revision Commission: Co-Founders of Women of Color for Progress Testifying in Support of Revisions to the New York City Charter

Mayor Bill de Blasio took a step forward by creating a commission that would propose changes to the New York City Charter. Conducting a top-to-bottom review of the charter is critical in addressing the many issues and inequalities that many New Yorkers face everyday. The last time the New York City Charter was revised was in 2004, nearly 14 years ago, but we have not had a comprehensive review since 1989. The NYC Charter is, in layman’s terms, the city government's bylaws, and goes over the different functions of the city government and its different entities. These revisions could potentially take up issues such as whether to increase public participation in land-use decisions, alter the way budget decisions are made and question the checks and balances between the mayor and the Council.  

Women of Color for Progress (WCP) is a is a multi-strategy political organization founded by women of color for women of color. Through a racial equity and intersectional lens, WCP empowers women of color to excel, lead, represent and be heard. WCP aims to create an inclusive and transparent political system that focuses on progressive human rights legislation. A revision to the New York City Charter will not only benefit communities throughout our five boroughs, but can deeply impact people of color, women and women of color, low income and impoverished communities. Ultimately, a revision of the city charter that takes into account the lived experiences of the many disenfranchised peoples of New York City has the ability to foment greater equality in our city.

Women of Color for Progress supports the following revisions to the NYC Charter regarding Land Use and the equitable implementation by our city to its communities:

  1. Add the disposition of Public Housing Authority Land to those actions that cannot be done without public review, following the City's Uniform Land Use Procedure (ULURP)

  2. In regards to public land, priority shall be given to Community Land Trusts (CLTs), who will retain control of, and have oversight over, any houses or rental buildings that are located on that land. CLTs will have the opportunity to apply for grants that will permit them the authority for this oversight over available land. The disbursement of these grants will be overseen by the Housing Preservation Authority (HPD).  CLTs have the ability maintain the affordability of housing or rental buildings over the long term, giving power back to the members of that community, and stemming the adverse effects of gentrification.

  3. Following the collection of data on vacant public and private lots and buildings that shall be revised every five years by HPD (law 1036-A), we propose the City shall have the option to purchase lots and buildings that have remained vacant for at least five years for the use of affordable housing and commercial space, depending on the zoning of said lot or building. If the private owner does not wish to turn over the lot or building to eminent domain, a fine shall be imposed for every additional month past the five years that lot or building remains vacant.

  4. Prohibition selling tax liens on vacant buildings and lots; instead, require a rapid timeline for transferring these properties to non profit developers and community land trusts

  5. Add commercial rent stabilization to City law, which would prevent the closing of storefronts, and maintain the vitality of local businesses.

Women of Color for Progress supports the following revisions to the NYC Charter regarding Housing and people’s equitable stake within their own communities:

  1. Require Fair Share distribution of all new facilities and housing

  2. Ensure New Yorkers a Right to Housing, not just a right to shelter (which is State law)

  3. Unify the process of public land disposition through a single agency, that would work with communities to advance equitable development, leading to accountability and transparency. The NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), who as current managers of City-owned property can leverage this expertise to better manage and report on public land, as well as best assist communities in unlocking economic opportunities within their neighborhoods(in..e business development, co-working spaces, etc.), and prohibit other agencies (for example NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD)) from holding land they are not using in an inventory separate from the general City inventory. This will ensure uniform treatment across public land dispositions.

Women of Color for Progress supports the following revisions to the NYC Charter regarding Transparency and the political and civic process:

  1. We recommend that community board application and selection process have a standardized procedure across boroughs. Community board applications shall all ask the same questions, and adopt the same format, regardless of the borough for which you are applying. All community board applications shall be made available to fill out and submit online or in person, and any person who cannot themselves fill out the form, shall be given the opportunity to have a preparer fill out the form on their behalf. The current structure for the selection process allows the Borough President to appoint half of the community board positions, and allows the city council members of that borough to nominate the other half. The process as it is currently structured leaves open the opportunity for these community board positions to be handed to members of the community who have curried favor with the elected officials of that community, and allows elected leaders to enact punitive measures against members of the community who wish to serve on their community board but have spoken or acted out against the elected official. We recommend that the structure for the appointment of the community board be reconsidered to allow for a more independent process that would allow for more demographic diversity, and diversity of thought. We propose the appointment to a community board be as follows: one third nominated by the borough president, one third nominated by city council members, and one third be nominated by an independent convening of community leaders. We also recommend setting term limits on appointments and banning the process of automatic appointments, to further fuel inclusivity in the most local form of government. In addition, we also believe that all Community Boards should establish youth committees, allowing and encouraging the participation of young adults between the ages of 16-18. By allowing younger constituents to participate civically, and have input on issues that affect their communities, they will not only have the opportunity to engage in the intricacies of city government, but studies have been shown that if parents have children at home who participate civically, they are more likely to engage as well.

  2. Require consistent neighborhood profile data collection. Require that the information that is collected by any given neighborhood be made readily available to the public.

  3. Any disciplinary records and charges of misconduct by officers of the NYPD must be made available to the public, including what punishment, if any, they received, any disciplinary recommendations made by the CCRB, and if those recommendations were taken or rejected by the Police Commissioner. As taxpayers, the public has a right to know what our public officials are doing, especially in the event that there is an abuse of power. Additionally, if different police officers are charged with similar acts of misconduct, it benefits them to have that transparency to be able to compare how their punishment measures up to that of another police officer in a similar situation.

Women of Color for Progress supports the following revisions to the NYC Charter regarding Paid Leave and the expansion of services to women and families:

  1. Expand paid parental leave to all city employees, which is currently only available to certain managerial city employees, which amounts to roughly 20,000 people, of which only 436 redeemed that benefit between 2015 and 2017. With nearly 250,000 full-time employees currently working for the city of New York, the current parental leave law exempts hundreds of thousands of employees including teachers, police officers, librarians, park rangers, and many others who are represented by unions. For these employees their parental leave is left up to collective bargaining, and whether or not their labor leader views parental leave as a priority. In some cases, unionized employees who advocate for parental leave receive the benefit, but a truncated version of it. By covering these employees under an expanded parental leave stipulation, you are guaranteeing that they are all able to receive the full benefits afforded to non-unionized employees, and ensuring New York City’s educators, police officers, librarians, and others aren’t forced to accrue their sick days and vacation days to be able to afford time to be with their newborn in these crucial first months of life. In some cases, union members have had to use disability insurance for their maternity leave, continuing the association of pregnancy with illness and otherness.  

  2. Expand bereavement and create a baseline by which all agencies have to abide. Currently, it is up to each city agency to decide who constitutes as "family". While each city agency is meant to abide by the Federal standards at minimum, not all of them do, leaving employees with the option to either use their vacation time in the event of a death in the family, or report their agency to Department of Consumer Affairs for not abiding by the baseline requirements as set by the Federal Government, which can lead to retaliation against said employee. Our recommendation is that “family” be defined as: spouse; parents; parents-in-law; children; brothers; sisters; grandparents; grandchildren; step parents; stepchildren; foster parents; foster children; guardianship relationships; same sex and opposite sex domestic partners; and spouses or domestic partners of the aforementioned. The same definition of “family” shall apply to paid sick leave in the event that an employee of the city need to utilize their paid sick leave to take care of a family member.

As an organization we hope these revisions will be taken into consideration by the NYC City Charter Revision Commission. Furthermore, we hope the City continues to provide more opportunities for the public, particularly girls and women of color, to weigh in throughout the duration of this process. As the majority in this City, it’s critical that the voices of girls and women of color are reflected in the future of our City’s charter.

Thank you,

Statement and Testimony given by Co-Founders Cristina Gonzalez, Amanda Farias, Aliya Allen, Jasmine Fernandez, Haili Copas-Starke, and Princess Manuel