Author: Central New York Community Foundation

CNY Vitals is an initiative of the Central New York Community Foundation. The Central New York Community Foundation is a tax-exempt public charity. Its mission is to foster a thriving Central New York community, inspire greater giving, celebrate legacy and steward charitable resources for today and tomorrow.

Children Learn to Make Healthy Eating Decisions

Each week during the school year, children aged 10 to 14 gather at Syracuse Academy of Science High School to take part in Saturday Academy, an innovative program run by the 100 Black Men of Syracuse. The students receive lessons and take part in fun activities designed to help them do better in school, learn leadership skills and feel empowered.  Now, the students are also learning healthy food and nutrition habits and developing a love of cooking through a new health and wellness initiative.

The lessons can vary, but all are designed to address the health needs of local residents, especially those that disproportionately affect minorities. One recent class focused on healthy drink alternatives such as switching out Gatorade and soda for healthier options. The lesson then turned to safe cooking. As a finale, the students prepared a meal for everyone at the Academy.

“We work on educating young people, from learning how to read food labels to going on bus trips to farms and the regional market,” said Ryan Beauford, 100 Black Men’s vice president of operations. “There they can see that milk doesn’t just show up in the refrigerator at the supermarket; there’s a supply chain.”

100 Black Men chose to implement the new lessons into its Saturday Academy because physical and mental health can significantly impact a child’s education. When children grow up with a lack of available healthy food, high rates of obesity tend to follow, which can lead to diseases like diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular disease.  According to the Association of Black Foundation Executives’ health and wellness report, black children have absenteeism rates three times higher than the rate of their peers, thus greatly affecting their learning and potential achievement.

According to CNY Vitals, over 16 percent of children and adolescents in Onondaga County were obese in 2012. In the Syracuse City School District specifically, 23.7 percent of students were obese, higher than the 17.3 percent New York State average.

100 Black of Men received a grant from the Central New York Community Foundation to implement its new health and wellness program. Since its launch, it has surpassed its targeted attendance numbers. To deliver the comprehensive lessons, the organization partners with the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s SNAP-Ed program, which is one of the nutrition education and events administers of the Eat Smart New York campaign.

Since 2006, 100 Black Men of Syracuse has focused on mentorship and empowerment in the Syracuse community. In addition to its health and wellness program, 100 Black Men also offers SAT prep classes, historically black college and university tours, economic empowerment workshops and an annual walk for wellness and stroke prevention.

Charles Anderson, chairman of 100 Black Men’s Health and Wellness Committee, stressed the importance of talking about both physical and mental health issues: “When people know about the resources available to them, they can be healthier and feel a better sense of community.”

He says that if children are more aware of what’s healthy, they can have a positive impact on their parents. “We are reaching out to the community as a whole so that children and adults can get the information and pass it on to others, be it family or otherwise.”

To learn more about 100 Black Men of Syracuse, visit 100blackmensyr.org.

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How the History of Redlining and I-81 Contributed to Syracuse Poverty

Syracuse is no exception to the consequences of the past. The city ranks number one in the nation for concentrated poverty among Blacks and Latinos; and Onondaga County is the ninth most segregated county in America. 41,000 people in the city of Syracuse lived below the poverty line in 2016. The neighborhoods where this poverty is most prevalent can be directly linked back to the city’s history.

City Limits: A Poverty Project is a year-long podcast produced by WAER. Recently, City Limits examined how the construction of Interstate-81 affected the region.

In the late 1930s, policy makers were determined to not repeat the Great Depression. One effort concentrated on increasing homeownership in America. The concept was to provide federal-backed mortgage loans to those residents who they determined were most likely to maintain their payments.

Two criteria were set for federal mortgage qualifications: the condition of buildings and the racial makeup of an area in which someone lived. The racial makeup criterion discriminated against Black, Jewish and foreign-born people.

To visualize the criteria, the federal government created confidential residential security maps. Green colored areas meant residents could receive 100 percent backing and blue meant 85 percent. By contrast, yellow signified only 15 percent backing and red zero percent. This is how the term ‘redlining’ came to be.

The 1950s introduced more institutional discrimination. The 1956 Federal Highway Act was a major infrastructure bill meant to connect American cities through a network of highways. While the highways helped make traveling and commuting more efficient and convenient, it also divided American cities on a micro level. Highways were built only within yellow and redlined areas. This was the case in Syracuse upon the construction of Interstate-81 (I-81).

Richard Breeland, a Syracuse resident since he was two years old, lived in the 15th ward of Syracuse. The 15th ward was a hub of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. As a redlined neighborhood, it was demolished to construct I-81. Breeland told Kijin Higashibaba of WAER that the 15th ward was a homey, quiet and thriving neighborhood. City officials saw it differently.

“It was called Jew town, it was called the slum area, and it was called the ghetto. Those were the three names that were associated with our community,” Breeland said.

Redlining was banned in 1968 through the Fair Housing Act, but its ripple effects are still seen today. Comparing the 1937 residential security map of Syracuse against the 2012 maps of poverty and median household income, it is clear that yesteryear’s redlined neighborhoods are still rampant with hardship; the yellow and red designations match up congruently with the city’s highest rates of poverty and lowest median incomes.

Cities grow and thrive through investment and development, and some critics argue I-81 makes progress extremely difficult for Syracuse.

I-81 was declared to have outlived its useful life as of late 2017. Many people in the city of Syracuse see tearing down the portion of I-81 that runs through the city as an opportunity. Their solution entails replacing the 1.4 mile stretch of the highway that runs through the middle of the city with a street level community grid.  Community grid advocates argue that getting rid of the viaduct will offer new opportunities for taxable land, affordable housing, economic development, and environmental health. Opponents of the community grid argue that I-81 is a vital part of the economy and quick commutes are a major asset to the city.

Beyond justice and poverty, the I-81 viaduct decision may impact the entire region’s ability to prosper. Residents far and wide, businesses wishing to thrive, and even entire neighborhoods could be impacted by the decision.

Listen to the entire City Limits segments about I-81:

http://citylimitsproject.org/episodes/not-just-highway-how-interstate-81-contributed-poverty-syracuse
http://citylimitsproject.org/episodes/building-future-i-81-and-poverty-syracuse

Learn more about the I-81 viaduct and get involved:

https://www.dot.ny.gov/i81opportunities/getinvolved

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Evictions and Housing Instability in Syracuse

Housing evictions are not just products, but catalysts of poverty, according to the Community Benchmarks report, “Final Notice: An Analysis of Evictions and Housing Instability in Syracuse, New York.” The city of Syracuse faces high rates of evictions. Estimates from demographically similar cities, court data, and the Onondaga Volunteer Lawyers Project (OnVLP) find that approximately 13,000-15,000 people, including many children, face eviction each year in Syracuse. This highlights the importance of an intersectional approach to understanding the gravity of the consequences evictions can have on citizens, especially children.

The report, produced by students of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in partnership with OnVLP and the Syracuse Department of Neighborhood and Business Development, focuses on target census tracts in the City of Syracuse facing high levels of poverty, including the Near Westside, Southwest, Brighton, Near Eastside, Near Northeast and Washington Square neighborhoods. OnVLP eviction cases are concentrated in census tracts with high poverty rates in the city.  Almost 67 percent of the population in census tract 42 (Southwest) and 64 percent in tract 32 (Near Westside) are below the federal poverty threshold.

There are more renters than homeowners in Syracuse. Over 61 percent of Syracuse residents are renters. Over half of renters in Syracuse spend at least 50 percent of their monthly income on rent, qualifying them as extremely cost-burdened. OnVLP eviction cases occur most often in highly segregated census tracts where the predominant race is black. Lastly, there is a significant correlation between educational attainment and eviction rates. In the targeted census tracts, the English Language Arts third grade pass rates are between six and 13 percent.

Various policy recommendations were made by the Maxwell students to help alleviate the number of evictions and their subsequent effects. First, they recommend establishing the Bridge Subsidy Demonstration Program; the program covers a percentage of rent so that a qualifying family isn’t extremely cost-burdened. Second, they recommend starting a Tenant Landlord Connection that would help improve the tenant-landlord relationship, leading to fewer evictions.

The Maxwell students also recommend local improvements to the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program, which provides assistance to homeless students in public education to limit the effects of evictions and housing instability on their educational outcomes. Lastly, they suggest using behavioral science to improve tenant-landlord correspondence and eviction notices. For example, text messaging reminders of bills is a more effective and less intrusive way to reach tenants. Also, small changes to make the appearance of mailed letters demanding late payments or court appearance notices seem more urgent could lower the rate of evictions as tenants would be more likely to comply.

Click here to view the full Community Benchmarks Report.

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See Real-Time City of Syracuse Info on DataCuse

Joining many municipalities across the country, the City of Syracuse recently launched DataCuse, an open data portal. DataCuse takes a proactive approach to keeping constituents informed by presenting important and unique information for the city’s constituents. The site hosts information about housing, lead risks and neighborhoods; it also shows street closings in real time by neighborhood in the city limits of Syracuse.  

The Community Foundation supports efforts to disseminate data to the community and consulted with the City of Syracuse’s Innovation Team in 2017 as they developed the site. It also provided grant funding for its build-out. Open data helps identify trends, measure progress, and educates decision makers in our community. Data provided by a municipality allows for collective impact and other citizen efforts like neighborhood development. Inspiring a culture of data to keep constituents informed is an important step in making smart and impactful decisions.

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New Housing Violations Bureau Will Help Local Residents

A new municipal violations bureau was signed into law in July 2017 by Governor Andrew Cuomo to help address a large backlog of housing code violations. According to Syracuse.com, the bureau will free up the city’s legal resources to focus on major violations instead of minor violations like trash in a yard. Former Mayor Stephanie Miner said the bureau would allow the city to be more productive with landlords and use court resources and city attorneys more effectively, giving the city the opportunity to fight back against delinquent property owners. Buffalo, Rochester and Yonkers have created similar, successful bureaus.

The Green and Healthy Homes Initiative Greater Syracuse (GHHIGS) is the local chapter of a national initiative that focuses on making homes safer, more efficient and rid of toxic lead. The new municipal violations bureau will be helpful to GHHIGS, as the initiative’s coordination was previously focused entirely on owned properties. By expanding to rentals, GHHIGS can now impact more homes, as 61 percent of Syracuse residents are renters.

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Welcome to CNYVitals: A Snapshot of Central New York

Central New York offers low housing costs, convenient commute times and plenty of attractions within driving distance. It is also plagued with higher than average unemployment and a record poverty rate that threatens the region’s health. These are just some of the findings of recent national reports done by outside groups that use data to capture the essence of the region. While national rankings often provide interesting insights, they are not all that helpful for local organizations and policymakers. Enter CNY Vitals, your resource for long-term regional data on various critical issues.

CNY Vitals is an initiative of the Central New York Community Foundation. This ‘state of the community’ website provides a common source of data and interactive visualizations on critical topics that affect the health and progress of our region in order to inform community members, spur discussion, identify emerging issues and plan community investments. CNY Vitals analyzes and tracks data points on the local economy, housing, health, demographics, poverty and education in Onondaga, Madison, Cayuga, Cortland and Oswego counties — the five counties in which the Community Foundation and its donors support communities and initiatives.

CNY Vitals aggregates and monitors local information that tells the story of Central New York. By analyzing and then planning action from a common set of data, we can work together to measure our progress and transform our region for the better.

Click here to learn more about CNY Vitals and how you can use the site.

We invite you to explore our site, learn more about our region, and use the information you find here to drive conversation and action toward an even better, brighter tomorrow for Central New York.

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