State Sen. Daniel Squadron and State Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou visited a Lower East Side senior center yesterday as part of a campaign to restore funding for NYC senior programs.
They made a stop at the Good Companions Senior Center, located at 334 Madison St. It’s a facility within the Vladeck Houses run by Henry Street Settlement. Also yesterday, Squadron stopped by a center on Bayard Street run by the Chinese American Planning Council.
In Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal, he calls for shifting federal funds from the city’s Department of Aging to child care services. In the past, the city had flexibility in how it allocated those funds. City officials have estimated that the shift could result in a $17 million shortfall in the Department of Aging and force the closure of 65 senior facilities.
On the Lower East Side, 13 centers could be impacted. They include facilities such as the BRC Neighborhood Senior Center at 30 Delancey St., the Grand Street Settlement Senior Center at 80 Pitt St. and the Weinberg Center for Balanced Living at the Educational Alliance.
In a statement, Squadron said, “New York’s senior centers do more than provide food and resources — they create community. Forcing centers to close or cut services would essentially leave seniors out in the cold, plain and simple… I urge Senate Leadership and my Assembly colleagues to ensure funding is protected.”
Squadron, who’s in the middle of a district-wide tour of senior centers, has started an online petition in support of his campaign.
Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Niou is taking up the fight to restore state funding to Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs). The governor is proposing a cut of $700,000 in the the program, which offers services to people who wish to stay in their communities as they grow older. Several NORCs are located on the Lower East Side. She’s also calling on the state to add $5 million to the budget for the expansion of the program across the state.
Finally, Niou is asking legislative leaders to fund settlement houses, which are currently not included in the budget. She wants $4 million to support community-based social services offered by the not-for-profit organizations. There are six major settlement houses on the Lower East Side.
During a budget hearing in Albany yesterday, State Sen. Daniel Squadron questioned Mayor de Blasio about the Rivington House fiasco. Specifically, the senator wanted to know why no one on the mayor’s team had responded to a letter he sent in December calling on the city to sue Rivington House’s former owner.
The mayor has personally blamed the real estate developers at the center of the scandal — accusing them of hoodwinking the city administration into dropping deed restrictions on the former nursing home. Based on the mayor’s public statements, Squadron said the former owner, the Allure Group, should be sued under the False Claims Act.
Mayor de Blasio was asked about the senator’s letter during a news conference in late December. He shrugged off the request from the local lawmaker, saying, “It’s easy to put out a press release.” The jab did not sit well with Sen. Squadron.
“Unfortunately, since I’ve sent the letter on the False Claims Act,” said Squadron, “the only comment and response from the administration, and this is unfortunately sometimes a pattern, was at a press conference where you dismissed the entire thing out of hand as a simple press release.” He went on to ask why the city isn’t pursuing legal action.
Referring to his dismissive remarks on Dec. 29, de Blasio told the senator, “I may have been speaking out of frustration. I didn’t mean to make it too personal. I apologize for that.”
As for the mayor’s many public statements assigning blame to the developers, he said they were, “based on a very heartfelt anger at what the developer did and a sense that the people were cheated.”
“I would love nothing more than to find a way to recoup what has been done to the community,” added the mayor. “But respectfully, long before your letter, I had asked this question probably two dozen times of my corporation counsel (and they could not find a legal avenue to pursue). “We’re not going to bring an action that we believe is susceptible to immediate defeat. So if you know something we don’t know (and)… you’ve found a path we haven’t, I will thank you publicly and we will implement it.”
In response, Squadron said, “Frankly it leads to questions when (officials) at the highest levels of the administration (are) accusing (the developers) of misleading (the city). “To just be told, ‘we agree but we can’t,’ is not sufficient for a community that is still smarting from the loss of a healthcare facility.”
The mayor agreed to set up a meeting between the city’s top lawyers and Squadron. He also pointed to new city laws, sponsored by local City Council member Margaret Chin, meant to prevent future Rivington House-like fiascos. And he said, “We committed to a nursing facility as part of our Health & Hospitals system that will help low-income seniors in your community as one way to give back some of what was lost. That is a good faith effort.”
Squadron said of the new project, located at 30 Pike St., “We appreciate the moderate investment to replace what happened at Rivington House from the city, but it is moderate. It does not replace Rivington House.”
You can see the full exchange from yesterday’s hearing below. The section having to do with Rivington House starts after about one minute.
On Friday, State Sen. Daniel Squadron went to Grand Street Settlement to help the 100-year-old social service agency celebrate the installation of a new security system.
He allocated $40,000 in state funding for 25 cameras, an upgraded monitoring system and new lighting. The installation was handled by the New York City Housing Authority, which oversees the settlement house’s building at 80 Pitt St.
Grand Street Settlement just kicked off a capital campaign, which will support a full renovation of its Lower East Side headquarters.
State Sen. Daniel Squadron is taking another run at improving service on the 14a and 14d bus routes.
In response to persistent complaints from constituents, he has written a letter to the MTA asking for a “full line review” of the routes and ridership information. In the past, Squadron has requested full reviews of subway lines as a way of focusing the transit authority on critical service issues.
In the letter to Veronique Hakim, president of New York City Transit, he explained, “M14A and M14D bus service is critical to the Lower East Side community. These lines provide much needed public transportation to a transit-starved area. My office receives complaints about long wait times for buses, bus bunching, and unexpected scheduling of the two lines.”
In 2014, the MTA rejected pleas from residents for more frequent 14A service. A transit official said that regular ridership surveys are conducted and schedules adjusted as needed.
The seniors at the Baruch Addition public housing complex bundled up this afternoon and joined State Sen. Daniel Squadron to celebrate a victory years in the making. A long-delayed security door has finally been installed at the NYCHA development.
Back in May of 2015, Squadron came to the building at 72 Columbia St. to announce he’d allocated $240,000 for the project. It included a new automatic front door, intercom system and keyless fob entry. The installation was supposed to be complete this past September. But this is NYCHA, meaning almost nothing happens when it’s promised. After a ribbon-cutting ceremony today, the residents went inside for a training session on using the new security system.
Squadron said security issues are the number one concern he hears across the community, so he was happy to fund the project. But he added, “The job isn’t done.” While NYCHA is getting better at handling maintenance issues, the senator said, public housing residents still must wait too long for critical repairs and upgrades. Squadron called on the state to devote more money for public housing in the budget.
State elected officials are hoping some good can come from the death of 25-year-old Stephen Hewett-Brown, who was crushed New Year’s Eve in an elevator accident on the Lower East Side.
State Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblyman Keith Wright renewed a push earlier today for passage of elevator safety legislation. The bill, which would mandate proper training for elevator repairman and require licensing, has been passed by the Assembly four times. Even though it has 40 sponsors, the Senate Majority Leader has blocked a vote.
Last Thursday night’s accident happened at 131 Broome St., part of the Grand Street Guild apartment complex. Brown had just pushed a resident of the building to safety on the third floor when the cab slammed down and trapped the aspiring musician from the Bronx. Residents of the complex have been complaining for years about safety problems with the elevators.
Squadron, who represents, the Lower East Side, and Wright were joined by members of the tenant association, community leaders, representatives of the International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 1 and other labor groups.
In the wake of the recent tragedy, said Squadron, there’s an urgent need for action on the legislation. “The death of Stephen Hewett-Brown is a reminder of the need for common-sense standards for elevator work,” he added. Wright (a Harlem Democrat) sponsored the Elevator safety Act with Republican Sen. John Bonacic. Squadron is a co-sponsor. “It is shocking and unthinkable that New York State doesn’t do everything possible to protect the safety of its residents,” said Wright. “To think that the tragic death of Mr. Hewitt-Brown could have been avoided with proper elevator upkeep by licensed professionals is more than enough reason to take action today and pass (the legislation).”
In November, the Post reported that the de Blasio administration opposes the state bill:
Administration officials said a state law is unnecessary because the city’s Buildings Department already has strong elevator- licensing regulations and oversight, and data show elevator use has become safer. There were 50 mostly minor elevator accidents last year, down from 105 accidents in 2007 — a 52 percent reduction, city officials said. Under city rules, building owners are required to hire a Buildings Department-licensed “elevator agency director” with 10 years of experience handling elevators. Elevator inspectors working under the director are also licensed. “Creating another layer of regulation through a state license issued by an agency [the state Labor Department] with no experience regulating the elevator industry is duplicative, serves only to confuse, and does not constitute sound public policy,” said the mayor’s Albany legislative director, Sherif Soliman.
Earlier this week, Grand Street Guild Management told The Lo-Down that a 2012 modernization of the elevators was “overseen by an independent elevator consultant and licensed architectural firm.” Jay Yablonsky of Wavecrest Management added that the work was “signed off by both HUD (which funded building renovations) and the New York City Department of Buildings.” Alexander Schnell, Buildings Department spokesperson, told us, “Accidents like this are extremely rare. The city’s elevators make billions of passenger trips every year without incident.”
An investigation into what caused the accident is ongoing.