By: Karen Loew
One year ago, America was still amazed it had elected its first black President and was preparing for the inauguration. Several New York City leaders began heading south to serve in the Administration. The country and city were reeling from September’s intensification of the ongoing recession, with employment falling and economic insecurity rising. The New York City Council recently had voted to extend term limits, but the actual mayoral race still felt distant. For the city – and City Limits – 2009 unfolded amid hope and need. Over the months that followed, many New Yorkers struggled to keep their jobs and homes. City Limits reported on their efforts, as well as those of the public and private actors intending to help. It was a hard year all around, but spiked with the usual innovation and grassroots creativity that residents – and readers – know to look for in these five boroughs. From our digital “pages,” here’s a look back at our coverage over the months.
In January, a classful of first-generation Americans watched the inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama together on television. In Young Emigres Question What Obama Means For Them, students at Brooklyn International High School were curious and excited on January 20, 2009, but also had a less romantic view than native-born teenagers might about the real prospects for Obama’s term. “The economy is so bad because we are paying for the wars,” said a boy from Panama. Responded a girl from Haiti: “The whole nation is in debt. War is money.”
The recent rejection of proposed supportive housing developments, along with a new report on the positive effect such developments can have on their neighborhoods, led City Limits to survey this kind of housing in February. In Supportive Housing Faces Down Routine Opposition, proponents of the model – which houses and provides services to groups of people at risk of homelessness, such as substance abusers or the mentally ill – discuss their ongoing struggle against NIMBYism.
As for homeless people who continue to go without shelter, the city announced in March that its annual count of the street homeless showed a decrease by nearly 50 percent in five years. Many advocates and others promptly declared that the numbers “defy credibility,” attacking the Department of Homeless Services’ counting methodology, among other things. In A Winter's Tale: What The Homeless Tally Means, DHS defends its approach, while officials from two other homelessness-fighting cities, Portland and Denver, explain their differing takes on how to survey the size of the population sleeping on the streets – and what kind of meaning to glean from the yearly exercise (which is mandated by HUD).
The urban populations that suffer from joblessness, crime and poverty often also suffer from living in a degraded environment. In April we reported on local green-collar job-training programs that link solutions to all these problems. Seeing Green: New Jobs Lead to New Visions describes some of the current opportunities, which can lead not only to participants obtaining gainful employment, but to obtaining a new consciousness about the future for themselves and their communities.
Over the months, many wondered how the city’s welfare rolls could remain historically low even as the economy continued to flag. In May, the article Looking For A Safety Net And Finding ‘Initiatives’ provided one explanation: That in fact the number of applications for welfare was way up; it was city denials that kept the rolls low. The nonprofit Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies supplied that data, as part of its analysis of access to benefits, while the city’s Center on Economic Opportunity looked in a different direction, with a report on its own new poverty-fighting projects.
The school year had not yet ended in June when the story The Education Business: Teachers Missing At The Top provided confirmation and documentation for a trend that sharp public education observers may have noticed: Under the leadership of Chancellor Joel I. Klein, the Department of Education’s highest ranks had become nearly devoid of teachers. While some say the more businesslike orientation is what’s needed to get better results from the sprawling school system, others believe the downgrade of “teaching and learning” is also seen in current results.
July saw the continuing maturation of Community Partnership Initiatives, an approach by the Administration for Children’s Services to network the resources in a given neighborhood that can help foster children and their families. A Nurturing Network Grows In Bushwick looked at the partnership in Bushwick, Brooklyn to illuminate the effect the CPI can have on participants and communities.
The dog days of summer coalesced at August’s end with a report taking the temperature of the city’s human services nonprofit chiefs. Nonprofits’ Outlook After A Year Of Living Dangerously put in one place their many expressions of dismay about two conflicting outcomes of the poor economy: increased human need on one hand, and smaller nonprofit budgets available to meet the need on the other. “Is this the way we want to provide the safety net and essential community services?” one nonprofit expert asked.
September showed it’s not just major corporations like NBC and Comcast that tangle with the Federal Communications Commission. The article In Flatbush, Pirate Radio Tunes In To Trouble reveals the passionate producers behind the Caribbean neighborhood’s small, locally flavored stations, who feel they’re providing a needed and wanted service – and will continue to until and if authorities force them to stop broadcasting.
Even as the race for mayor between Mike Bloomberg and Bill Thompson cranked into its highest gear in October, the problem of foreclosures never became a key debate point. In Mortgages And The Mayor: Candidates On Foreclosure, City Limits focused attention back onto the reality that thousands of city homeowners are losing their homes – and the mayor will face the associated outcomes, from blighted neighborhoods to increased homelessness.
No matter the year, babies will be born and women will need a place to deliver them. By November, advocates and mothers were up in arms over the closure of the Birth Center at Bellevue Hospital, the only place in Manhattan offering a natural birth focus and affordable for women on Medicaid. Fewer Options For Moms Seeking Natural Births says only two such places are left in the entire city – the Brooklyn Birth Center near Coney Island, and the Morris Heights Birth Center in the Bronx.
The year is drawing to a close in December with a cold snap, historically high numbers of New Yorkers without homes, and a Department of Homeless Services that emphasizes its achievements even as advocacy groups prepare to sue. In Lawyer: Homeless Families Still Getting Runaround, Legal Aid Society Attorney-in-Chief Steven Banks told City Limits he’s concerned about the city’s apparent noncompliance with a 2008 agreement about the treatment of homeless families. Banks then went ahead and sued the city over a separate matter: Whether it has adequate shelter available for individuals.
Karen Loew is the editor of CityLimits.org.