FY22 District Needs and Budget Priorities
At the regularly scheduled monthly Community Board Five meeting on Thursday, November 12, 2020, the following resolution passed with a vote of 47 in favor; 0 opposed; 1 abstaining:
Manhattan Community Board Five (CB5) beats with the pulse of the City in the heart of Manhattan. Our boundaries extend from Lexington to 8th Avenues and 14th to 59th Streets, but the scope of life in our District is a microcosm of New York City (the “City”). All of the ethnic, cultural, economic and social diversity and disparity found across our city is displayed vividly in CB5. We are the City’s midtown central business District as well as the first and last impression of New York City for millions of commuters and tourists who pass through Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal, or who visit Times Square, Herald Square, Union Square, and Greeley Square every day.
Our District connects every borough to each other and to the world. All but three subway lines traverse CB5, and with the Port Authority just outside our western border the District is at the core of the City’s substantial pedestrian and vehicular traffic. We are the destination for millions of tourists who come here to experience New York City’s greatest business, tourist, entertainment and industrial landmarks, all located in CB5. The Broadway Theater District, the Museum of Modern Art, Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, Rockefeller Center, and the Flatiron Building are all here, along with world class shopping destinations such as Macy’s, Saks, Tiffany’s, Cartier and Nordstrom (to name but a few).
In the recent past, our District experienced a boom in hotel construction, particularly in the Flower District and the Broadway corridor. Before the downturn caused by the recent pandemic, new bars and restaurants regularly opened throughout the District to service the increasing number of visitors, generating substantial sales tax and other revenues for the City. Office and residential density expanded given the proximity to the transportation hubs in our District resulting in an appreciation of public and pedestrian spaces by residents and workers alike. Three of the City’s most intensely utilized parks -- Bryant, Madison Square, and Union Square -- are located within the District, as well as Herald and Greeley Squares. Our residents and visitors cherish pedestrian friendly amenities such as pedestrian paths of travel, shared urban pathways, and expanded bicycle lanes. The extraordinary growth and popularity of CB5, combined with our proximity to transportation hubs, commercial centers, and tourist attractions, create unique and substantial budgetary needs and corresponding opportunities.
The pandemic year of 2020 has brought fundamental challenges to the district. Homelessness, sanitation, congestion and noise have always been an issue, but these conditions have worsened substantially, bringing with them concerns about public safety. For FY2022, the three most pressing issues facing CB5 are homelessness, quality of life issues (noise, graffiti, petty crime, street conditions), and economic development and recovery. We see these conditions as closely related because they threaten both the reality and perception of the City’s resiliency, commitment to justice and fairness, and ultimate survival.
Homelessness: The pandemic and the City’s decision to utilize hotels in the District to house homeless individuals has highlighted the stunning deficiencies in the City’s network of social services for those experiencing homelessness or threatened with it. The homeless, and indeed all New Yorkers, deserve better. Fundamentally, our city needs more affordable housing – in our District and elsewhere. However, we also need high-quality temporary shelters and housing programs now to serve the homeless. That includes comprehensive programming with wrap-around services such as mental health and substance abuse treatment as well as facility improvements to provide for that and enrichment programming on site. CB5 encourages the City and shelter providers to craft solutions that meet the homeless where they are and to address their concerns regarding safety, possessions, pets, significant others and recreation and social space as a means of creating a more comfortable, welcoming and productive environment for those experiencing homelessness.
Quality of Life Issues: The pandemic has moved Quality of Life issues front and center in our district. The symptoms are as clear as the causes are myriad. Street and sidewalk noise, increasing graffiti, unauthorized street vendors, petty crime, panhandling, loitering and street encampments all detract from the quality of life in the District and feed the perception that the City is not safe. While CB5 believes addressing the underlying issues of education, economic opportunity and homelessness will strike at the roots of these societal issues, consistent enforcement of existing regulations will also help. The goal of enforcement being not to criminalize any social condition but to create an environment where the rights of all are respected and the public space remains dedicated to the public. Visitors and residents alike should expect that existing regulations --for example, prohibiting cars and delivery trucks from double parking or “blocking the box”, prohibiting cyclists from riding on the sidewalk or in the opposite direction of traffic, discouraging pedestrians who walk in the bike lane, cracking down on illegal food carts and un-permitted street vendors – will be enforced to help protect the quality of life of all residents and workers in the district. CB5 also continues to seek the removal of old phone booths, street encampments, and Link kiosks where they are redundant, unnecessary or an attractive nuisance. In addition, CB5 believes our air and light are public assets that should not be privatized or monopolized by private developers. Light and air must be approached as any other budget assets and they must be treated and protected as such.
Economic Development and Recovery CB5 is a district heavily dependent upon commuters, business and tourists, which have been virtually non-existent during the pandemic. As the City begins to reopen, it is estimated that about one-third of small businesses may not survive and that over 520,000 jobs will be lost, many of them located in CB5. Businesses in the District will require commercial tenant programs, better business programs as well grants and loans in order to recover from the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic. CB5 encourages public / private collaboration to address the challenges faced by businesses small and large. In particular, CB5 recognizes the important economic role that Broadway Theatre plays in the District and in New York City overall. Theatrical Art organizations require grants, loans and increased marketing supports as well as support for the safety of all theatergoers, residents and tourists.
Sanitation: Overflowing garbage cans and debris on the streets around them has always been an issue in CB5. However, it has become much worse after the City’s disastrous cut in services (now partially restored) in early 2020. Large institutions, BIDs, resident associations and individual citizens have all called for additional sanitation services to ensure the removal of street litter and the timely collection of full litter bins. The increasing number of homeless individuals has also triggered the need for corresponding additional public sanitation services including a significant increase in the frequency of corner trash pick-up. Our District needs many additional litter baskets, recycling and composting bins. This responsibility is uniquely a City responsibility. It cannot be delegated or ignored and, when paired with our other priorities this year – quality of life and actions to address homelessness on our streets – offers a dramatic opportunity for visible and lasting improvement in the district. Electronic waste and composting services have also been reduced or eliminated during budget cuts and desperately need to be restored.
Healthcare and Human Services: The most pressing healthcare and human service issue within the District is the provision of services to reduce or prevent homelessness. CB5 has seen a great increase in the number of homeless people throughout the district. Access to health care and mental health, substance abuse treatment and prevention programs are important to assist in alleviating the plight of those on the streets. CB5 has, for many years, directed many of its budget requests to these issues and has done so again this year as we request new affordable housing, supportive housing, as well as mental health and addiction recovery beds and services.
Youth Education and Child Welfare: Access to remote learning and technology, specifically access to wifi, computers and ipads are the most important elements of Youth, Education and Child Welfare within the CB5. District schools have requested additional resources in this area as students study remotely and it is vitally important that they have the tools to participate and communicate with their teachers and other students.
Additionally, CB5 believes that schools within and just outside the District are underfunded in respect to after school programming, internet connectivity, ADA accessibility and mental health care for students, all things that stakeholders within the District have found to be of critical importance.
Public Safety and Emergency Services: Enforcement of violations is the number one public safety issue within CB5. Stakeholders have repeatedly noted that enforcement of violations are critically important and that increased and timely enforcement of existing rules and legislation would help to address myriad stakeholder concerns. CB5 supports the transition of some routine public safety enforcement roles -- such as traffic and parking enforcement priorities -- from the NYPD control and placed within other Agencies such as DOT.
Core Infrastructure and City Services: Water runoff and trash collection in the 29th Street bike lane has been identified as requiring attention, while trash collection, and particularly in the West 50’s and West 20’s is also of concern. In addition, CB5 requests the restoration of composting and electronic recycling along with additional sanitation baskets.
Land Use, Housing and Economic Development: Affordable housing is one of the single most important issues identified by stakeholders within the District. Not only low and moderate-income families, but increasingly also the middle class is in dire need of affordable housing. The enormous amount of construction within the District and the loss of small buildings owned by individual landlords, the cost of housing vis-a-vis income and income inequality have all stoked great interest in preserving and creating affordable housing programs. Additional supportive housing is also a critical need, as these developments enable a steady progression of homeless individuals and families from the streets, to shelters, and finally to permanent homes with the services they need to live healthful and independent lives. Without sufficient supportive housing, this population can become trapped in cycles of homelessness, mental illness, and/or antisocial behavior that devastates individual and collective quality of life.
The COVID-19 pandemic and related economic shutdowns and shifts in business and consumer behavior have also devastated small businesses, restaurants, bars, theaters, and other cultural institutions in CB5 more than any other part of the city. Travel restrictions, work-from-home policies, and health and safety regulations in the pandemic era have spurred mass business closures, economic losses, and high unemployment that threaten to irrevocably harm CB5. The announced theatre, cultural and performance space closures through much of 2021 and the ancillary loss of business and economic activity that these sectors generate for both local and citywide revenue is of particular consequence for CB5. Significant policy and legislative action - backed by substantial funding - is needed to support our neighborhood’s businesses, employees, and institutions.
Transportation and Mobility: Our District has immense transportation needs given the dense concentration of businesses and the presence of Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and many subway stations within or just outside our borders. Commercial and office spaces make up roughly 65% of the district, bringing hundreds of thousands of commuters into the District and leading to severe congestion. Many stakeholders in CB5, along with advocates, have stated their wish for a comprehensive congestion plan to address congestion concerns. Accessible and safe public transportation is also extremely important given the large numbers of commuters, residents, and visitors in the district. MTA funding disputes between state and city officials continuously affect CB5, which is home to nine of the ten busiest subway stations (MTA Annual Ridership by Station Report). Furthermore, several highly frequented subway stations in CB5, such as the 4/5/6 at Union Square and S at Times Square, are not ADA compliant, limiting accessibility for residents and visitors alike.
In addition, our District has a high traffic flow with several complex intersections, which are in need of improved traffic safety as evidenced by high annual collision rates, poor pedestrian safety, and several conflicting traffic patterns. The District welcomes the newly created bike routes, but the safety of bikers, pedestrians, and drivers depends on active enforcement of regulations. Assigning the role of bike lane and traffic enforcement to agencies outside of the NYPD is supported by CB5. The disruption of normal commuting patterns caused by the pandemic has only increased the prevalence of biking citywide, and CB5 feels strongly that the City must capitalize on these changes in behavior to dramatically increase protected bike lanes and emphasize enforcement of safe driving, cycling, and pedestrian behavior as this transition away from cars continues.
Parks, Cultural and other Community Facilities: The participation of ordinary individuals in the processes that determine how we live in the city is vital, particularly in a time where increasingly such participation is being chipped away. CB5 fully supports the creation of the office of Public Realm and the appointment of a Director of the Public Realm. The Director of the Public Realm role is one which is desperately needed to take on the complexity to holistically manage the streets, sidewalks and plazas in a data driven manner. CB5 believes that this office will rectify the current lack of cohesion in city planning and allow stakeholders to have a voice on issues affecting the public sphere.
Most pressing issue overall:
The pandemic has wreaked devastating health and economic turmoil on the District. Thousands of small businesses are struggling or have ceased operations altogether. Theaters, cultural institutions, hotels and commercial businesses are either closed or are scaling down operations to reduce the spread of COVID. Restaurants and businesses that depend upon tourism and commercial visitors have been severely impacted. Economic development and support is necessary in order to begin recovery in the District and throughout the City. Every potential avenue to spur the return of workers, tourists and residents should be pursued. Rent relief, loans, grant forgiveness and other small business programs along with public/private collaborations will be crucial to re-establishing the arts, cultural institutions, restaurants, and businesses both large and small that are such an important part of CB5.
Since the pandemic, the District has seen an influx in its homeless population, particularly new street homeless, along with the addition of over 2,000 homeless individuals that have been removed from congregate shelters for their safety and placed in hotels within CB5. When tenant protections and moratoriums on residential and commercial evictions are lifted the expectation is that the District will see more of its residents facing eviction and homelessness. For this reason, homelessness is one of our top issues and needs to desperately be addressed through the provision of housing, supportive housing and supportive services.
Noise is the biggest complaint within our district and the number of complaints have only continued to rise. In addition, we are seeing increased quality of life complaints including harassment, and petty crime, all of which needs to be addressed in order to maintain the quality of life necessary for the recovery of the district.
Health Care and Human Services: CB5 has become host to over 2,000 homeless men and women who are currently housed in hotels within the district. Additionally, CB5 has seen a marked uptick in the number of street homeless within the district. To-date, there is no clear plan on how to address the needs of these individuals and we need high quality temporary shelters with wrap around services and programming now to serve the homeless. CB5 is seeking additional resources including the development of housing, supportive services, mental health services and addiction services.
With the removal of tenant protections and commercial and tenant moratoriums on evictions, there is an expectation that more people will lose their homes and need housing. Year upon year, CB5 has sought affordable housing within the district and elsewhere and it is needed now more than ever before.
Youth Education and Child Welfare: Due to COVID, some, if not all, curriculum will be delivered to students remotely. With many children within the district attending school on-line at least some of the time, it is imperative that the technology is in place to ensure that students have a seamless way to participate, communicate and be educated remotely.
Whether a student pursues synchronous or non-synchronous learning, curriculum should be developed to ensure that the students are engaged and able to easily access their work from home. Teachers need to be provided with the tools to teach effectively in this new remote / hybrid environment and students need to be provided with the laptops, iPads and Wi-Fi that enable them to connect to their classrooms and teachers.
Public Safety and Emergency Services: CB5 has seen an increase in noise complaints and other quality of life complaints such as unauthorized street vendors, petty crime, panhandling, loitering and street encampments, all of which detract from the quality of life in the District. Residents report that they do not feel safe in public spaces and, whether perception or reality, addressing these complaints will help to attract the residents and tourists back to the district. This should, in turn, spur the economic activity necessary for CB5’s and the City’s recovery.
And while CB5 needs enforcement of quality of life violations it does not believe that such enforcement lies solely with the NYPD. Instead, CB5 would like to see other agencies handle minor infractions. For example, DOT could handle traffic and bicycle violations and DOB could become responsible for noise violations. CB5 further hopes the City will explore other programs such as Cahoots, which would require mental health professionals, rather than the NYPD, to respond to complaints involving individuals with mental health issues.
Core Infrastructure and City Services: Year upon year, noise has consistently been the number one complaint within the district and so it remains for this year. CB5 would like to see the enforcement of noise complaints transitioned to a specific enforcement unit outside of the NYPD. CB5 also requests that any unit responding to complaints be provided with the necessary noise measuring equipment. Having this equipment at hand will allow any enforcement action to be addressed immediately and will help protect the quality of life of all residents and workers in the district.
Housing Economic Development and Land Use: More than any other community, CB5 relies upon its small businesses, commercial concerns, landmarks and cultural institutions for its vibrancy. Small businesses are an essential piece of the CB5 community and a powerful engine for its economic growth and employment. CB5 encourages every initiative — from commercial tenant rent solutions to public/private collaborations such as the NYC small business network — to help small businesses address the current challenges and navigate the way forward. It is only through the renewal and creation of small businesses that CB5 can begin the rebuilding which is critical to economic recovery of the district and the City.
Broadway Theatre brings over 100,000 jobs to the District and plays an especially important role here, as well as for all of NYC. All of the theatrical arts organizations within the District require assistance to bring back the tourists, theatre audiences and museum goers that help support all of New York City. These organizations need grants and funding to address their physical plants, but also supports for advertising and a plan to ensure that patrons feel safe when attending any art or theatrical events throughout the District.
Transportation and Mobility: The inadequacy of current traffic and parking enforcement is an extremely common issue attached to almost every street reconfiguration and transportation issue at CB5. We suggest a budget allocation to DOT to provide resources that would allow the city to return parking and traffic enforcement, including enforcement of activities that threaten pedestrians and cyclists, to DOT control instead of NYPD. This would address the NYPD’s current non-responses to traffic and parking enforcement priorities as well as the widespread desire not to overburden the NYPD with routine issues that should be devolved to other departments. This was actually the state of affairs before the mid-90’s and it has been publicly endorsed by traffic experts such as Sam Schwartz.
Bicycle and pedestrian safety is paramount and any enforcement efforts should also be focused on Vision Zero policies and those activities that keep cyclists and pedestrians safe.
Parks, Cultural and Other Community Facilities: CB5 has seen the expansion of residential and commercial buildings which has heightened the awareness and need for public spaces and how these are managed. Unfortunately, there is no one Agency that has a handle on the overall planning of the City when taking into account issues such as shadows, access to green space, public toilets and other factors affecting public spaces.
The Director of the Public Realm role is one which is desperately needed to take on this complexity to holistically manage the streets, sidewalks and plazas in a data driven way. CB5 believes that this office will rectify the current lack of cohesion in city planning and allow stakeholders to have a direct way to voice their views. CB5 appreciates that this role will highlight the importance of light and air as a public commodity that should be considered as any other commodity when making decisions concerning the public realm.
CB5 FY2022 Capital Requests
Expense Requests FY2022