An Open Letter From State Senator John Sampson —
Canarsie, our beloved home. Home also to blockbusting, redlining, gerrymandering, and now home to a Neighborhood Development Area (NDA). A designation artfully dubbed to disguise a property devaluing, community reputation reducing - "poverty zone."
Unfortunately, there exist alarmists who would have you believe such tall tales. However, if you are still reading this, it is because, for the moment at least, the attraction of the information age sound bite has been forsaken for an old fashioned detailed analysis of the realities surrounding NDA’s, and the factual nonexistence of the community debilitating force too often alluded to in recent weeks.
I speak to you now not as your elected representative in the NY State Senate, but rather, as a Canarsie resident.
Initially, upon learning our community was to be designated as a specifically targeted neighborhood, which was eligible for enhanced government assistance triggered by census tracked household income levels, I, too was skeptical. I look at Canarsie and see a flourishing neighborhood. I see tree-lined blocks abutting ever-expanding homes. I see yacht clubs and little leagues, festivals and carnivals, certainly not the typical indicators of a financially distressed neighborhood.
My instincts soured at the thought of having Canarsie listed anywhere that would speak to the contrary of Canarsie’s serene waterfront lifestyles, and continual growth into one of our city’s most desirable neighborhoods.
History books taught us about President Johnson’s programs to combat poverty under the auspices of the Great Society initiatives. What they failed to mention was the massive alterations those measures experienced towards ensuring the long-term protection of those communities they set out to help. I learned that one element of change instituted long ago was to strike the term "poverty zone," and all of its misdirected goodwill from our bureaucratic vocabulary.
So what then exactly is an NDA? Why did we receive such a designation? Can we rid ourselves of it? How does it affect Canarsie?
Each year the federal government appropriates a $30 million Community Service Block Grant to assist local community-based organizations in New York State. Based upon a legally set formula, the New York City Department of Youth and Commu-nity Services is mandated to distribute New York City’s portion of the funds. The formula, although statistically initiated with poverty line considerations, is in actuality calculated to be 125% above that federally determined level.
Throughout New York City, all neighborhoods, now including areas ranging from Riverdale to Carroll Gardens, and now Canarsie, which encompass over 4,000 individuals who minimally represent 30% of the local population, whose income is below the aforementioned level, become entitled to receive a financial share in the overall moneys allocated to their local community not-for-profit organizations. Areas that fit this description are referred to internally by DYCD as Neighborhood Develop-ment Areas (NDA’s).
Canarsie has been blessed with a plethora of civic and communal organizations which do extraordinary work for local residents. Whether it is after school programs that keep youth off the streets, or senior programs that give parents the happiness they deserve in their golden years, Canarsie proudly supports its own. However, let us not forget that such programs require funds to subsist, and an annual grant of approximately $100,000 over a ten year period can go a long way towards ensuring their ability to successfully operate.
So then, who decides how these newfound funds are spent. We do. A diverse committee of twelve will be assembled to produce a needs assessment, and make recommendations to distribute the funds in accordance with their findings. Of this committee each of the elected officials, whose districts are represented in NDA, will be asked to appoint one (1) individual to this board, while DYCD accepts ap-plications to make the remaining appointments themselves. In order to be eligible for appointment an individual needs to have resided within the confines of the NDA for a minimum of six months and be at least eighteen years of age.
So how does the NDA affect the value of our homes? As a practicing attorney who does his fair share of real estate law, I had reservations and therefore investigated the trend of property values in both our local neighborhood as well as others affected by the other forty-two, yes forty-two NDA’s across New York City. At the same time I personally had conversations with some of our local banks, such as GreenPoint Savings Bank on Rockaway Parkway and Fillmore Realty, to discuss their perception of NDA’s and how it would affect mortgage rates and loaning practices. To date, I have yet to discover a trend or instance where an NDA single-handedly produced the decline, which is currently feared.
We, in Canarsie, need to recognize that the debate being heard in community civic meetings and coffee shops, restaurants and kitchens does not focus on whether or not we want this designation, simply because the opportunity to decline it does not exist. Rather, we need to focus on how we can maximize the positive effects brought on by the funds, which ordinarily are so difficult to come by.
If we are concerned about our property values, we need to continue taking pride in Canarsie and build on its growing reputation as a desirable place to live. Property values in Canarsie are on the rise, which instills in me the confidence that our neighborhood’s reputation is not only intact but growingg, that people are not only staying in Canarsie but expanding.
If we continue our current efforts and activities, if we continue not only to voice pride in where we live but to financially demonstrate our commitment, no designation, an NDA or otherwise, can become an obstacle to our success.
The NDA, if properly utilized, can help us achieve community goals, so let us take the government money with open arms and use it to help seniors, youth, health services, employment services, immigration services, and education services. Let us take their money not with fear and hesitation, but with the pride and confidence that we will use those funds to improve the quality of life quality of life in our beloved Canarsie.
I want to forever vacate Canarsie from the list of communities labeled an NDA. Let us work together toward the betterment of Canarsie by not being negligent in completing our census questionnaires the next time they come around. We need to realize the importance not only of improving the quality of life in Canarsie, but to do our part in working on its perception as well.
I look forward to us, as Canarsiens, working together at the next census and declaring that we are not financially handicapped, we are not poverty stricken and we certainly should not continue to be designated and NDA.