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Budget, Education & City Services

CB5 FY24 District Needs and Budget Priorities

At the regularly scheduled monthly Community Board Five meeting on Thursday, Thursday, October 13, 2022, the following resolution passed with a vote of 29 in favor; 0 opposed; 1 abstaining:

District Overview

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. 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. Prior to the 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.  

District Needs 

The pandemic of 2020 brought fundamental challenges to the district that continue to this day. Homelessness, mental health needs, sanitation, congestion and noise have always been issues, but these conditions have worsened substantially, bringing with them concerns about public safety. For FY2024, the three most  pressing issues facing CB5 are : (1) affordable housing which includes the homeless crisis that has permeated every block within the District, (2) quality of life issues including noise, graffiti, petty crime, street conditions as well as an increase in major crime, and (3) economic development and recovery as businesses within CB5 continue to struggle post pandemic; the return to offices in the midtown area has been uneven at best and the number of tourists visiting Manhattan has still not reached its pre-pandemic level.  

Affordable Housing: The City’s decision to utilize hotels in the District to house homeless individuals during the pandemic and again due to a recent increase in asylum seekers has highlighted the stunning deficiencies in the City’s network of social services for those experiencing homelessness or those with limited resources. 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 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 need.  In addition, our District requires real affordable housing for middle income earners. Rents continue to rise in the district as demand continues to outstrip supply and even market rate housing is out of reach for many.  

Quality of Life Issues: Quality of Life issues are top of mind for many who work, live or visit the district.  Serious crime has risen significantly within the district over the last two years. 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, health care, 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 is 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, visitors  and workers in the district. CB5 believes that public bathrooms are necessary and that the City should look at and and every opportunity including  partnering with private industry to make bathrooms accessible, working with the MTA to open all of the subway  bathrooms, working developers to ensure new POPS include bathroom facilities or finding locations to site warehoused APTS.  Further, 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, businesses and tourists, which were virtually non-existent during the past several years and have still not returned to pre-pandemic levels.  Restaurants, retail, arts, entertainment venues have all been affected. Many small businesses have closed and continue to close and the District requires commercial tenant programs, better business programs as well grants and loans in order to continue its recovery from the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic. CB5 encourages public / private collaboration to address the challenges faced by businesses small and large as well as educational programs that will allow people to retool their careers.  CB5 also encourages the City to consider innovative programs to protect its small businesses and foster new enterprises.

Sanitation: Overflowing garbage cans and debris on the streets around them has always been an issue in CB 5. 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 are also services that would enhance the District as well as consideration of on-street bins versus unsightly garbage bags.

Open Restaurants Program and our District: As the City considers the Open Restaurants Program, just how this new program will be regulated and enforced will have a major impact on the quality of life and the sanitation in CB5.  CB5 has every type of restaurant and bar imaginable within its boundaries; everything from fine dining establishments to dive bars. Over the last three years, owners and operators have taken full advantage of the covid-era regulations that provided relaxed rules and standards  in order to build- outdoor dining structures of varying quality and appropriateness for the District’s neighborhood’s sidewalks and streets.  These structures are exponentially greater than any that existed pre-pandemic.  The continued use of these structures as the pandemic has waned, has engendered robust debate on issues of sound, sanitation, appropriateness, competition for valuable street space and sidewalks, and design aesthetics of the many structures (“sheds”).  Many question the level of resources necessary for the newly designated steward, the Department of Transportation, to regulate and manage this new era of outdoor dining.  CB5 believes that in order to successfully implement this program, The Mayor, the City Council, and the Department of Transportation must allocate sufficient continuing financial resources to fund a new generation of inspectors and staff to manage and enforce the proposed regulatory regime.  More importantly, they must conduct the necessary environmental review in order to carry out this wisely and successfully.  Our District, more than any other District in the City, will be impacted by this program and therefore we insist our public officials ensure the appropriate funding and enforcement.  CB5’s report on the Open Restaurant Program can be reviewed for an overview of all aspects of this important subject.

Healthcare and Human Services: CB5 has seen an increase in the number of homeless within the District as well as an increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving without housing and one of the most pressing healthcare and human service issues within the District is the provision of services to reduce or prevent homelessness. 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.  We ask that the City specifically expand the Mental Health Team Pilot Program to provide citywide emergency mental health responses as well as providing other mental health supports.  In addition, we specifically require –both within the District and throughout the City – additional housing units that are affordable.  We encourage the City to fund additional units as a matter of urgency and to consider innovative solutions like the HONDA Act in order to accelerate the creation of new residential units.  

Youth Education and Child Welfare: Although it is recognized that children have experienced a loss of learning during the pandemic, it is unclear what the impact of this loss has been.  It is important that educators understand where children are now failing in order to appropriately direct resources as it is imperative that all students in the district have access to quality high school programs that meet their needs.  The City must provide appropriate support for the children of the refugees who are coming to schools in CEC 2 (and neighboring CECs) with very little language skills, unknown academic skills and social/emotional needs. These children have needs beyond education and funding should be provided for the children during this transition.  There is also a disconnect between where children are applying to attend high school and where they are placed. 12% of the students of CEC 2 (which we overlap) were not placed in ANY of their 12 choices for high school.  This is an issue that must be addressed.  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. In particular, CB5 hopes that each school will be provided with one full time nurse.  

Public Safety and Emergency Services: Serious crime within the District has significantly increased over the past year and continues to rise.   The Midtown business recovery unit created to ensure the safety of the core business district and CB5 would like to see this detail made permanent.  Additionally, CB5 encourages the expansion of the NCO program beyond daytime shifts.  CB5 believes this program improves the collaboration and strengthens trust between the community and the local police department. Leading to increased crime fighting capabilities.  CB5 is aware that the headcount of the NYPD has been significantly reduced through attrition and retirement and believes it is important to replace this headcount to ensure that the force can remain responsive to the needs of the City.  Enforcement, whether of traffic regulations or criminal laws are very important to those within the District. 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: The city's infrastructure, like those across the nation and world, are increasingly vulnerable to the risks posed by the climate crisis and the ever-increasing frequency of high-rainfall and flood events. While our district is landlocked, the numerous severe rainfalls and resulting impact on city infrastructure, services, and cascading impact on the populace's quality of life and productivity make it clear that Midtown will not be spared. NYC must dramatically improve our planning and mitigation efforts to prepare for future flood events that damage our infrastructure and impair the lives of New Yorkers. We lack comprehensive water management & flood preparation planning. Beyond examining and improving drainage capacity, we must continue to invest in green infrastructure projects that can absorb and redirect stormwater in an economical manner. These interventions include rain gardens, rain barrels, permeable playgrounds and green roofs — generally, practices that decrease impervious surfaces or divert stormwater from even entering the drainage system. Beyond flood management, we must continue to explore ways to expand the production and use of clean energy and renewable sources and related infrastructure (e.g., electric car chargers).

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 permanently 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.  Given the high land cost (among the highest in the country) and highly speculative nature of housing construction and overall market, a deep policy change is needed to maintain and aggressively create additional affordable housing units without destabilizing existing housing stock. Programs such as Community Land Trusts must be considered and encouraged to fulfill housing equity and stability.

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 CB 5. 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, which is why CB5 fully supports, as our number one budget priority, the creation of the office of Public Realm and the appointment of 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 way. 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. 

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