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Eviction: The Harsh Reality of Living in Syracuse

In this multi-part series, CNYVitals will take an in-depth look at evictions and how they contribute to the health of Central New York, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a financial crisis for many families. Read more to see how both renters and landlords can avoid evictions and create a better region with higher property values, safer housing and more economic opportunities.

Sixty percent of Syracuse residents are renters. According to the 2017 American Community Survey, about 20% of those renters move at least once per year, sometimes more. This is due to a combination of risk factors, such as low wages, inadequate public assistance, code enforcement violations and overpriced housing which have led to dire situations for both tenants and landlords. According to a 2017 study from the Maxwell Community Benchmarks Program, “Syracuse is severely residentially unstable.”

How can tenants live in safe housing that they can afford? And, how can landlords save themselves time and money by avoiding evictions? It’s a complicated problem but the answer may be that Syracuse-area residents can benefit the most if a solution is crafted with both renters and landowners in mind.

When a family is considering renting a home, they ideally would first sit down to decide what they can afford. But this isn’t always the case if they are in a desperate situation, such as fleeing abuse or high levels of lead. When a renter is anxious to put a roof over their heads, it changes the playing field for both tenants and landlords.

Several lending agencies recommend that the cost of an individual’s housing come in at around 30% of their gross income. According to Palmer Harvey, founder of the Syracuse Tenants’ Union, the average individual living in the city of Syracuse makes just over $20,000 per year, which means that if they are living on a single income, they should live in an apartment that costs about $480 per month. A two-bedroom apartment in Syracuse costs around $850 per month. Already, the issue is clear. A single-income family may need to spend upwards of 50% of their wages on housing, meaning less money is available to put food on the table. Since unplanned financial events could always be around the corner, it’s easy to see how a family in this scenario could get behind on their rent.

Public assistance is available to help people get into housing that they can’t quite afford, however it presents some challenges. According to deputy commissioner of the Department of Social Services – Economic Security and Temporary Assistance, Jennifer Robinson, the shelter allowance provided by New York State hasn’t been re-configured to accommodate the rising cost of living since 2012. For instance, a family with three children would receive $303 in housing assistance. This inadequate amount increases the risk of tenants entering housing with low maintenance or housing violations. Section 8 Housing can also be helpful by providing vouchers that cover the balance, but there is a long waiting list due to high demand for a limited number of housing vouchers, making them hard to utilize in an urgent situation.

Before a tenant moves into a residence, they can check the Syracuse city website to see exactly what the code violations are for the rental unit or landlord with whom they hope to work. But families in a desperate situation, or without easy access to the internet, may not be able to utilize this resource, leading them to enter unsafe housing. In any case, only about 40% of rental units are registered with the City – meaning many landlords are out of legal compliance and their code violations not necessarily tracked. “Syracuse is the dollar store of real estate,” said Harvey. “People can come here and buy a home for next to nothing, put in $1,000 and start to rent.”

This creates a problem for code enforcement divisions of Syracuse because there can be several “quick fixes” that can be done on a property to help it pass inspection. Landlords may fix a leak, snake a drain or patch a hole, but when the underlying causes aren’t addressed, it leaves the tenant with the same problem month after month.  Harvey says that usually, by the time a tenant has called code enforcement, they have likely been dealing with an issue for months without a fix from the landowner. Calling in problems and reporting landlords could magnify the chances that the tenant will face eviction, so it is often viewed by residents as a last resort.

According to the City of Syracuse study “Below the Line”, there are approximately 11,000 people displaced in Syracuse each year, which can result in over 6,000 children being evicted from their homes.

Evictions, according to Sally Curran, executive director of Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP), can cause a long list of trickle-down problems for evicted families including job loss, depression, health issues and negative educational implications. Evictions affect a person’s ability to build intergenerational wealth by putting a negative mark on their record, which may change their ability to rent a more desirable apartment or buy a house in the future. This scenario can directly perpetuate a cycle of poverty.

What causes an eviction? Laura Rolnick, director of eviction & reentry programs for VLP, stated that 85-90% of evicted tenants simply cannot pay their rent. A much smaller percentage is due to a “hold-over” in which tenants were told to leave but didn’t, or a “claimed lease violation” in which the landlord has claimed that there was a violation of the lease.

The ideal approach is to avoid eviction altogether, but most tenants don’t know what their rights are when facing eviction. Many tenants are also not aware of the terms of their lease or agreement. A rental “lease” fixes the rental cost for the year and makes it harder for landlords to start eviction proceedings. A month-to-month agreement doesn’t provide as much protection to the renter, however notices from landlords are still required. Additionally, on September 14, 2020, Syracuse passed an additional renter protection: Now, landlords who have failed to register their one-and-two-family rental homes will be barred from evicting tenants if they do not participate in in the City’s rental registry. Palmer tells each of her clients: “If you don’t know your rights, you don’t have any.”

In part two of this story, we will look at the Eviction Moratorium, the CARES Act and the Tenant Safe Harbor Act. Check back soon for the next part of this series on evictions in Syracuse.

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What are Redlining and Urban Renewal? Inequality and Resistance in Mid-Century Syracuse

AN ANTI-POVERTY PROJECT: This is the first of many essays to be released by PEACE, Inc. and Ocesa B. Keaton LMSW, executive director of Greater Syracuse H.O.P.E.

Each month, they will explore different dimensions of an issue that affects all Central New Yorkers – poverty. They will unpack topics that are frequently discussed but perhaps not well understood. Additionally, they will present accessible tools to engage/inform people, to build coalitions and to advance policies for change. 

REDLINING. URBAN RENEWAL. Each are terms that many are recently hearing for the first time. The former sounds negative. The latter – on the surface – sounds positive. Yet what are they? Why have these terms emerged as ways for understanding American cities – including Syracuse – and the racial inequalities that plague them? How have these policies helped to concentrate power in the hands of a few and to create poverty among communities of color? How have the vulnerable challenged the inequality introduced by REDLINING, URBAN RENEWAL, and more? In response, we look to answer these questions and begin our broader paper series by contending that the past can shed light on our city’s current plights and inspire the many community reform movements seen at present.

Like other American cities in 1937, Syracuse and its neighborhoods were assigned 4 categories or “colors” by the Homeowners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), a newly created federal agency. The categories were mapped to guide investment and mortgage lending during the Great Depression. Still, the promise of economic recovery for all fell short, as categories were based upon the neighborhood’s housing conditions and racial demographics in particular. The “riskiest” neighborhoods -rated “Hazardous” and colored “Red-” were African-American communities who were denied home loans. In locations deemed “Definitely Declining” or “Yellow,” only 15% of the residents could access loans. Reversed by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, REDLINING nonetheless prevented Black homeownership and deepened disinvestment in communities of color.

A 1937 Map of “Redlined” Syracuse by the Homeowners’ Loan Corporation (University of Richmond)

 

African-American neighborhoods in Syracuse were not immune to this policy. Near the city’s downtown, the 15th Ward provided a space for African-Americans escaping the racial violence of the American South and the broader discrimination of Central New York. A former resident perhaps described it best when he described the 15th Ward, “Back then, all the blacks lived near each other… That’s how everybody knew each other. And blacks could only rent in certain parts of the city, so that’s why they ended up in the 15th Ward, because whites wouldn’t rent to them on the East Side, on the North Side, on the West Side or the South Side.” (The Stand) Landmarks such as SUNY Upstate medical complex, the Jefferson and Madison Tower Apartments, and I-81 now stand where the 15th Ward once stood. More on this in a minute.

The earlier description of the 15th Ward reflected the effects of non-governmental practices such as Article 34 of the National Association of Real Estate Boards (see below). But such discrimination was also a product of the law, and it wasn’t only Redlining. For example, the Housing Act of 1937 held a provision that, among other policies, allowed for what was described as “slum clearance.” In Syracuse, this led to the creation of Pioneer Homes, one of the nation’s first public housing initiatives. Interestingly, Pioneer Homes was originally intended for whites only. Through the actions of African-American organizations such as the Dunbar Community Center, some degree of integration became possible. (Stamps, 56) Herein lies an important point. As new systems of racial inequality were created, Syracuse’s small but growing Black community challenged them.

Founded by a former slave, the PEOPLE’S AME ZION CHURCH is the oldest Black congregation in Syracuse. It was located at the above site, 711 E. Fayette Street, from 1910 to 1975. The church served as a cultural center for the 15th Ward’s Black community and a site for civil rights activities. There are continued attempts to refurbish the church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. (PACNY)

 

Later amendments, specifically the Housing Acts of 1949 and 1954, provided additional resources for public housing, slum clearance, and private development. (Rothstein) Such acts of URBAN RENEWAL were accompanied by laws such as the Federal Highway Act of 1956, which looked to interconnect the economies of American cities through 41,000 miles of Interstate. As wealth moved to the suburbs, restrictive covenants –or legal requirements written about a property included in the deed– continued to prevent African-Americans from purchasing homes and ensured “white-flight” was indeed white. In the name of economic “progress,” Urban Renewal cleared blighted properties and relegated African-Americans to declining neighborhoods, leading author James Baldwin and others to describe it as “Negro Removal.”

Such processes affected Syracuse and its downtown as well. For example, the first of the two AXA Towers that currently define the city’s skyline was originally built as the MONY Building in 1966 and was one of the larger accomplishments of the initial “Downtown-I” urban renewal project. (Knight, 17) Most notorious however was the construction of the I81 Viaduct. It physically destroyed the 15th Ward and caused the removal of an estimated 900 African-American families from their homes, and affected more than 80% of the city’s black population at the time. (Stamps, 81; Knight, 10) Here the literature is increasingly extensive; references to a few of the studies can be found at the end of this document.

Less discussed are the forms of African-American resistance against government-sanctioned removal. Mirroring national developments, Syracuse residents also used advocacy to advance social justice, which helped enact policy and create reform with the aim to improve the conditions of African-Americans. For example, the passing of the aforementioned Fair Housing Act of 1968, which outlawed much of the housing discrimination outlined in this text, came during a time of unrest, specifically the national civil rights movement and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Previous attempts to pass such a bill had failed due to a lack of Congressional support. In Syracuse, the destruction of the 15th Ward and the racial discrimination which prevented its residents from securing quality housing were catalysts for protest. Impacted residents formed groups to present their demands to elected officials. Two of them—the Southside Home Owners Association and the Eastside Cooperative Council– delayed construction of I-81 by two years due to demands of fair pay for the sale of their home. Formed by Dunbar, the Eastside Cooperative Council consisted of human agency groups that served the Eastside of Syracuse. (Stamps, 83) The Council was able to serve as a conduit for information between the community and representatives of the Urban Renewal Program. The council actively worked to create a relocation plan and helped lay the groundwork for the creation of the Relocation Office in 1959. (Stamps, 83)

Later in 1963, The Congress of Racial Equity (CORE) organized protests against the urban renewal in Syracuse. The protest included directly confronting city officials, blocking construction sites, and sitting on cranes to stop demolition work. CORE remained a prominent fixture in the Syracuse community and helped to organize other protests with the goals of creating a more inclusive city for African-Americans.

Insertion of Steel Placements, April 1967 (DOT)

 

IN CONCLUSION, one might ask, why focus on the past? What does history have to do with nation-leading rates of poverty among Black and Brown peoples in Central New York? Why start here? For us, understanding the policies that produced an unequal past -such as REDLINING and URBAN RENEWAL– helps us better understand the conditions that shape our unequal present. Within the past decade, national and local research has shown how the highest rates of concentrated poverty, lead, obesity, gun violence, COVID-19 hospitalizations, and more exist within Syracuse’s previously red– and yellow–lined neighborhoods. In other words, the legacies of REDLINING and URBAN RENEWAL are still seen and negatively felt every day. They are legacies that have established a STRUCTURAL INEQUALITY wherein persons of color in particular have lacked equal access to resources, decision-making, opportunity, and the law. As noted, research has exposed these negative legacies. Yet so too has a mobilized local community that -in this moment of the Black Lives Matter movement, the George Floyd killing, and debates about police reform– once again draws inspiration from national developments. And therein lies a final critical point for looking at the past. One that is perhaps more positive and hopeful. It is to see how those most affected by structural inequality have always combated and challenged it. That they have not been silent in the face of repression.

Next month, we will continue the series. We will discuss HOUSING and poverty to further explore this concept of STRUCTURAL INEQUALITY. Until then.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES 1) Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America: The University of Richmond’s interactive website that includes original HOLC maps of American cities and descriptions of graded neighborhoods (including Syracuse). 2) In 2019, The ROOT published a YouTube video, How Redlining Shaped Black America, that effectively outlines the racist legacies of redlining on American cities today (Warning: Strong Language is used). 3) NewsChannel 9 with its “Hidden History: The End of the 15th Ward,” WAER’s “City Limits: A Poverty Project,” and the Onondaga County Historical Association with a special exhibition each released reports about the 15th Ward of Syracuse in 2019.

FOOTNOTES AND SOURCES

Bridge Street. “Remembering the 1963 CORE Protests.” WSYR, February 22, 2018. https://www.localsyr.com/bridge-street/asseen-on/remembering-the-1963-core-protests/. Knight, Aaron C., “Urban Renewal, the 15th Ward, the Empire Stateway and the City of Syracuse, New York.” Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects, 590, 2007. https://surface.syr.edu/honors_capstone/590. New York State Department of Transportation. “History of Transportation in the City of Syracuse.” I-81 Viaduct.

New York State Department of Transportation (DOT), 2020. https://www.dot.ny.gov/i81opportunities/history.

“Mapping Inequality, Redlining in New Deal America: Syracuse.” Digital Scholarship Lab, 2020. https://dsl.richmond.edu/ panorama/redlining/.

“1924 Code of Ethics.” National Association of Realtors (NAR), 2020. https://www.nar.realtor/about-nar/history/1924-code-ofethics.

“PACNY Celebrates Black History Month.” Preservation Association of Central New York (PACNY), 2013. http://pacny.net/ home/.

Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law: a Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. New York, NY: Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Stamps, Spurgeon Martin David, and Miriam Burney Stamps. Salt City and Its Black Community: a Sociological Study of Syracuse, New York. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2008.

“Vision.” Greater Syracuse H.O.P.E., 2019. https://www.greatersyracusehope.org/.

About the Authors: Todd Goehle is Planning/Community Engagement Manager at PEACE, Inc. and previously a SUNYAward Winning Lecturer of History and Humanities. Ocesa B. Keaton is Executive Director of Greater Syracuse H.O.P.E. and a Licensed Social Worker. To learn more about the project, reach out to Community.Engagement@peace-caa.org.

 

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COVID-19 Community Needs Chronicle and Assessment Calls for Systematic Change

Written by Todd Goehle

On 4 June 2020, 26.5% of those hospitalized from COVID-19 in Onondaga County were Black. And yet, only 11.4% of the county’s total population is Black. As outlined within PEACE, Inc.’s COVID-19 Community Needs Chronicle and Assessment, the inequalities of our past continue to haunt our pandemic present. For the full assessment, visit the agency’s website. In the article below, Todd Goehle walks us through some of the major findings.

Overview

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of Central New York residents. But what does this mean? Who is struggling? And in what ways? How can different forms of data be used to mobilize resources? To adjust antipoverty services effectively? To help those who are most vulnerable? In May, PEACE, Inc.’s Community Engagement Team began to research these questions. Our efforts became the COVID-19 Community Needs Chronicle and Assessment.

The team analyzed data from national, state, and local foundations, governments, and sources. We met with community leaders, staff members, and agency clients. Client case notes were collected as well. The team also used the Central New York Community Foundation’s Life Needs Assessment Survey, receiving 230 responses over the course of 11 days in May. Through our research, the assessment comprehensively explores the pandemic’s effects on Physical and Mental Health; Youth, Family, and Senior Supports; Food and Nutrition; Employment; Education; Childcare; Housing; Access to Capital; Technology; Access to Information through informal networks and media; gender; and race and ethnicity.

Findings

Two findings are noteworthy. First, the majority of the problems seen during the pandemic are not new per se. Rather, COVID-19 has intensified long-standing structural insecurities and inequalities.

So what do these complicated ideas mean? It starts with this map of Syracuse:[1]

 

The map was produced in 1937 by the Homeowners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), a federal agency that assigned neighborhoods 4 investment “ratings” and thus guided mortgage lending. The “riskiest,” rated “Hazardous” and colored “Red,” were based upon building conditions and racial demographics. Here, residents of color were unable to access federal loans. In “Definitely Declining” or “Yellow” neighborhoods, only 15% of residents could receive backing. Banned in 1968, “redlining” created obstacles for Black homeownership, a means for growing personal wealth historically. Redlining furthered financial disinvestment. And it deepened chronic poverty in communities of color.

Redlining, poverty, and issues of race, employment, and health have been well-documented in Syracuse.[2] More recent research by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) found that 3 of the 4 ZIP codes with the highest COVID-19 case rates had large portions of yellow or redlined neighborhoods.[3] Past and present disparities are linked. County health statistics also confirm how people of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in Onondaga County.

Onondaga County COVID-19 Cases by Race and Race as Percent of Population (4 June 2020)[4]

 

Race Percent Hospitalized by Race Race as Percent of Population
Black or African American 26.5% 11.4%
White 59.8% 79.9%
Other 9.2% 8.7%
Unknown 4.5% 0.0%

 

During the pandemic, cities across the country have declared racism as public health crisis.[5] With the legacies of redlining clear, the research of NYCLU and now PEACE, Inc. supports this claim for Syracuse.

A second key finding from the assessment: those most vulnerable in the COVID-19 pandemic lack multiple basic needs. Social Determinants of Health interact and reinforce one another to impact a person’s ability to remain healthy. Let’s address food and poverty.

Throughout the pandemic, the community has worked hard to provide nutrition for those in poverty. At PEACE, Inc., only 9.7% of nearly 230 Life Needs Assessment Survey respondents answered that they lacked food.[6] Still, as NYCLU noted, significant portions of those Syracuse ZIP Codes most impacted by COVID-19 are both “redlined” and classified as food deserts.[7] Poverty is layered. For example, nearly 40% of survey respondents “spend time alone more often than they would like.”[8] More than a third lack the technology to “meet needs for work, school, or other responsibilities.”[9] How might matters of socialization connect with hunger? The closing of Senior lunches and congregate meal sites has left low-income seniors both food insecure AND isolated.[10] Senior “Meals-to-Go” services have provided nutrition and smiles for those forced to remain at home. Yet the data reveals the smiles might only be temporary. The African proverb rings true, “One who eats alone cannot discuss the taste of the food with others.”

Other examples from the assessment are telling. An elderly woman raising 2 of her grandchildren can pay for groceries but lacks a car and has health conditions that make her nervous to ride the bus. A single mother struggles to cook -let alone to shop- due to a lack of home supports for her disabled child. A recently unemployed man who went to a food pantry for the first time now feels shame that he could not provide for his family. Food must be placed within wider contexts of poverty

For Action Steps, 3 policy suggestions can be recommended:

1) Services must be multifaceted, meet immediate need, and foster systematic change. The research reveals how trauma-informed services, local interventions where poverty is highest, and affordable Internet for impoverished families are just 3 examples that address long-standing inequalities and meet multiple needs.

2) Nonprofits must have difficult, inclusive conversations. By connecting the COVID-19 pandemic with longstanding inequalities, the assessment questions the effectiveness of our community’s antipoverty initiatives. It provides starting topics to advance conversation and change. And it supports the need for a) the rising community advocacy of recent months, b) more inclusive public forums, and c) equitable reform.

3) Building a Culture wherein Data is accessible to all. Like CNYVitals, the assessment provides public research and data. More transparency is needed, however. We hope critical assessments will spur partnerships and help local agencies value sharing data publicly. Defining the terms that we use to measure poverty can also challenge our underlining assumptions about it. Most think “Redlining” is bad. But can we explain it? Or connect it with the lived experiences of its victims? Trainings for staff, “lunch and learns” with the community, as well as monthly 1 to 2-page overviews are just some ways in which data can become more inclusive and equitable.

About PEACE, Inc.

Incorporated in 1968, People’s Equal Action and Community Effort, Inc. (PEACE, Inc.) is the federal designated Community Action Agency (CAA) for Syracuse, Onondaga County, and portions of Oswego County. The agency’s mission, “to help people in the community realize their potential for becoming self-sufficient,” defines its 9 antipoverty initiatives: Head Start, Family Services, Department of Energy and Housing, Senior Nutrition, Foster Grandparents, Senior Support Services, Eastwood Community Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Free Tax Preparation.


[1] Map retrieved from Central New York Community Foundation. (18 May 2018). “How the History of Redlining and I-81 Contributed to Syracuse Poverty.” CNY Vitals. Retrieved from  https://cnyvitals.org/how-the-history-of-redlining-and-i-81-contributed-to-syracuse-poverty/.

[2] See Ibid.; Onondaga County Health Department. (June 29, 2017). “Mapping the Food Environment in Syracuse, New York 2017.” Retrieved from http://www.ongov.net/health/documents/FoodEnvironment.pdf; and Urban Jobs Task Force (UJTF) and Legal Services of CNY. (2019) “Building Equity in the Trades: A Racial Equity Impact Statement.” Retrieved from https://www.ujtf.org/reis.

[3] NYCLU. (May 18, 2020). “Testimony of the New York Civil Liberties Union before the New York State Senate and the New York State Assembly regarding the Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Minority Communities.” Retrieved from https://www.nyclu.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/20200518-testimony-coronavirusracialdisparities.pdf.

[4] PEACE, Inc. (2020). COVID-19 Community Needs Chronicle and Assessment. Retrieved from https://www.peace-caa.org/about-us/covid-19-community-chronicle-and-needs-assessment/.

[5] Vestal, Christine. (15 June 2020). “Racism is a Public Health Crisis, says Cities and Counties.” PEW Charitable Trusts. Retrieved from https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2020/06/15/racism-is-a-public-health-crisis-say-cities-and-counties.

[6] PEACE, Inc.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid.

[10] Eisenstadt, M. (May 1, 2020). “Crews bring lasagna and connection to the locked-in elderly starved for a friendly face (video).” Syracuse.com. Retrieved from https://www.syracuse.com/coronavirus/2020/05/crews-bring-lasagna-and-connection-to-the-locked-in-elderly-starved-for-a-friendly-face-video.html

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COVID-19 Expected to Cause $15 Million in Lost Arts Revenue

When New York went on pause in mid-March to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), arts, culture and heritage venues were among the groups to close their doors. Now, they will be one of the last groups eligible to reopen.

CNY Arts, a regional council that promotes, supports and celebrates arts and culture in Central New York, convened remotely with arts agencies across its seven-county service area from Central New York to the Mohawk Valley. The groups asked that we conduct a survey to understand and quantify the impact of the pandemic on local arts and entertainment organizations and artists. The Central New York Community Foundation, which expressed interest in understanding this impact as well, responded with a grant for us to engage Research Marketing Strategies, Inc. (RMS) to conduct a field survey.

The Results

With more than 265 artists and nonprofit arts organizations responses, the resulting data is humbling but not surprising. Collectively, more than 75% of the artists and cultural organizations surveyed stated the pandemic was having a severe to extremely severe impact on their livelihood or agency.

By the end of September, the loss of individual artist income is projected to be $2 million and agency income $13 million, for a total combined loss of $15 million. This data is being further explored to determine a nuanced industry-wide response to these figures.

On average, by late April to mid-May, agencies had only enough cash reserves to operate for another 23 weeks (this includes those who filed for CARES Act assistance such as the Paycheck Protection Program, aka PPP). The survey revealed that without a significant infusion of relief funding, starting as early as this summer through early November, many agencies may need to entirely suspend operations or permanently close their doors. The study also revealed that, on average, four full-time equivalents had already been let go from each cultural organization at the time of the survey.

Individual artists are expected to lose $17,000 of income by September 30 and since most artists responding earned between $5,000 and $24,999 this will be a loss of 98% (this accounts for 60% of the respondents) of their annual artistic income before the last three months of the year. Many individual artists expect that the recent losses could equate to almost ALL their prior year’s reported income. It’s important to note that many of these artists also work in other industries that are also imperiled by closures and a diminished economy.

The average agency loss by September 30 of this year is expected to be $122,000, a somewhat deceptive figure because of the range of agency budget sizes. Some agencies projected that their institutions would experience losses upwards of a half-million dollars or more by the end of the summer.

The Needs

The primary requests from artists and cultural agencies are emergency relief grants. While the Paycheck Protection Program loans and the extension of the loaning period has been helpful in retaining staff through this time, the field is preparing for further reductions in earned income, government grants, corporate giving and individual contributions. This scenario has put the future of these agencies at severe risk. We believe it is crucial that a fund be created to distribute relief and sustainability grants to agencies and individual artists.

The second most sought after help is no-interest loans. Currently, many government agencies have slowed or stopped payments for reimbursement and are not moving forward with new contracts. No interest loans would somewhat remedy this issue which is especially significant for the larger institutions. Providing even a percentage of funding assistance through no-interest loans could keep agencies in continuous operation and staffers employed.

Why Help the Arts Sector

Research conducted by the Americans for the Arts, the national arts agency, demonstrates that the arts have tremendous value in sustaining communities. Americans believe “the arts unify our communities regardless of age, race, and ethnicity (72%); they understand that we turn to the arts in times of trouble (81%); and that the arts help us understand other cultures better (73%). Arts promote healthy communities 73% of the population feels the arts give them “pure pleasure to experience and participate in.”

Arts build social cohesion. University of Pennsylvania research demonstrates that residents’ robust participation in arts and cultural activities leads to higher civic engagement in cities, more social cohesion, increased child wellness, and lower poverty rates. This is no less true in Central New York and surrounding counties; our own research has verified many of these national indicators.

Equally important, but perhaps the most overlooked, is the arts’ stellar performance as an economic driver. The arts sector creates jobs, supports local business activity, increases tourism, and pulls in peripheral dollars through audience spending, in addition to their ticket purchase or admission fee. The arts generate needed tax revenue for local governments and the state. In fact, all of New York State’s arts and cultural industries generate $114.1 billion to the state economy, employ 462,584 people, and provide $46.7 billion in compensation, according to new data released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Next Steps & How You Can Help

In response to the current and critical need in the arts industry, we established the CNY Arts COVID-19 Impact Fund to provide emergency assistance for artists and cultural groups across seven counties in Central New York. Donate online now.

In addition, we are offering and curating statewide, regional and local COVID-19 related resources to local arts organizations such as webinars on how to produce virtual and online events, guidance on CARES, HEROES, and agency mergers, and continuing to offer technical assistance and arts promotional services to the public.

We are also currently offering mini COVID-19 Arts Relief Grants in the amount of $500 to small organizations and artists to help mitigate the financial losses they’re experiencing. We established a small GoFundMe campaign to allow individuals to support this cause. We also established an additional GoFundMe campaign for an arts education fund, which  connects students to teaching artists and provides both much-needed art lessons for gifted students and income for artists.

We will continue our work to advocate for the arts, culture and heritage sector by sharing our survey data with all levels of government, funders and other stakeholders across our region. We encourage those moved by the arts to consider taking action to support our sector, either through our current GoFundMe links or directly to your favorite arts provider.

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”, said Pablo Picasso, who lived through the 1918 Pandemic. This is no less true today than it was a century ago and art in our lives is more needed than ever as we come together to grapple with this century’s pandemic.

Our thanks to the Central New York Community Foundation and The Gifford Foundation for their generous support to make this study possible.

CNY Arts provides support and assistance to individual artists and arts and cultural organizations through access to grants, capacity-building assistance, education and training, and promotional services. It serves the counties of Cortland, Herkimer, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga and Oswego. The organization’s primary goal is to enhance a greater appreciation for the arts and cultural vibrancy of the region. Learn more at http://cnyarts.org.

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Parenting Challenges Among New Americans

A new study conducted by local service providers and academic researchers examined the unique parenting challenges that Syracuse-based Somali, Bhutanese and Congolese refugees face while assimilating to a new culture. A summary of their findings and recommendations can be read below. To read the full whitepaper, click here

Recently, focus group discussions were held with Syracuse-based Somali, Bhutanese, and Congolese community members to learn from their unique experiences. Researchers sought to better understand the challenges of newly resettled refugee parents in hopes of developing intervention programs that will support their transition as New Americans. Of particular interest were the ways in which these refugee families experience parenting as they encounter and try to adapt to a new culture.

Each of the groups spoken with expressed similar parenting challenges. Language barriers, lack of community resources, and few vocational opportunities were identified as having a detrimental effect on their ability to provide for their families. Language barriers play a role in New Americans entering the job market in low paying positions such as housekeeping and janitorial services, and they struggle to make ends meet. They look to refugee community centers for support in the form of education and training to improve their social standing, but many of these centers have lost financial support.

Parents also expressed frustration with their lack of knowledge when trying to navigate the healthcare and public-school system, leaving some of them with feelings of powerlessness and mistrust. Others described how their children, who pick up language and cultural cues more quickly, sometimes intentionally manipulate information when they are asked to interpret information or concerns from the school system. As a result of inaccurate information and a lack of cultural knowledge, some refugee parents expressed great fear that their children would be taken away from them by child protective services (CPS).

Ammar with his daughter Ritaj at Sunnycrest Park.

 

While the challenges to refugees are many, the focus groups also identified ways to enhance local resources that might improve parenting among New Americans. All three groups expressed a need for culturally compatible parenting classes aimed at maintaining communication with children, negotiating expectations, communicating with medical and school systems, adapting parenting skills, and exploring alternative ways to discipline children.

Additionally, the groups stressed the need to focus on English language and literacy education for adults to achieve better paying jobs and economic self-sufficiency. Acknowledging cuts in funding to refugee service agencies, it was suggested that volunteer tutors and role models be recruited from settled families who would be willing to help teach English and share experiences.

All of the groups expressed a strong desire to maintain and share their language and unique cultural values with their children and saw opportunities to achieve these goals through developing and partnering with positive support networks in their refugee communities, incorporating afterschool culture and religious classes for their children, and providing regular opportunities for community members to engage with their children by coming together to celebrate their culture. They also saw a need to provide community education to institutions such as public schools and healthcare settings to enhance cultural competence and respect among service providers.

To read the full whitepaper, click here

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Brady Faith Center: Identifying a Pathway Out of Poverty

In 2017, the poverty rate on the Southwest side of Syracuse, which includes Census Tracts 42 and 53, averaged a startling 62.42 percent. The Brady Faith Center (Brady Faith), which is located within this region, has committed to serving neighborhood residents by identifying ways to collaborate and create plans to lead them out of poverty.

Walking the streets of the Southwest side of Syracuse every day is an ordinary practice for Kevin Frank, executive director of Brady Faith. He stands for the values of building kinship among himself, Brady Faith and the community. The organization emphasizes that to build trust with the community, you must be within it.

“It’s not doing for, it is being with,” said Frank. “We look at relationship building as our core outreach and meeting people where they are at.”

Kevin Frank, Executive Director, of The Brady Faith Center

From listening to residents, Brady Faith identified a need to create equitable change for women, men, and their families. To help, organization representatives set out to learn from Homeboy Industries, a Los-Angeles based organization that provides training and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated individuals, allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of their community, often through entrepreneurship.

Every year the organization hosts the Annual Global Homeboy Network Conference to educate other charitable groups about what has worked most effectively.

“It is just an amazing conference that communicates best practices from around the world for working with marginalized groups through entrepreneurship, healing, and support,” said Frank. “That really makes an impact in the lives of families, communities, and neighborhoods.”

The Central New York Community Foundation awarded a grant for nine Brady Faith team members to attend the conference. Frank says the funding not only supported the trip, but showed its dedication to improving the Southwest neighborhood for the better.

“We are really thankful for the Community Foundation for believing in us and supporting us on this journey,” he said. “The conference provided us with the building blocks to build a similar program locally and further our impact in the Syracuse community.”

Brady Faith intends to take what it learned and introduce entrepreneurial opportunities to community members with a criminal history or of limited resources. Frank explained that many of those individuals that face this prejudice are being denied employment, housing, and even education.

Emmanuel Flowers, Youth and Teen Co-Coordinator for The Brady Faith Center

 

In 2014, 20,675 males and 25,385 females were living in poverty in Syracuse, while the numbers dropped to 19,642 males and 20,032 females in 2017. This data shows that there has been a decrease in people living in poverty over the past three years – from 35 percent to 32.6 percent. Frank hopes that Brady Faith’s work will help progressively lower those numbers even further.

“People who are in this category are often people of tremendous faith, courage, and tenacity,” said Frank. “Some of them are the most spiritual and empathetic people I’ve ever met and have so much talent and many gifts to offer.”

By investing in these individuals, Frank believes that together they can create a pathway out of poverty where people can thrive, grow, and transform. The Homeboy models have proven to be successful and Frank strongly believes that they will do the same for the Syracuse community.

Brady Faith works to support the needs of Syracuse’s Southwest neighborhood by providing human development, educational and religious programs to residents. The center relies on a small staff and various community volunteers to fuel its mission of outreach. To learn more about Brady Faith Center, please visit bradyfaithcenter.org. To learn more about Homeboy Industries, visit homeboyindustries.org.

 

 

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Paper Released: The Critical Next Step to Address Lead Poisoning in Syracuse

The topic of lead poisoning has recently burst back into the scene in Central New York due to high-profile publicity and community action; however, it has been an ongoing issue in this region, and across New York State, for decades. Recently, we have seen a steady march forward toward progress, both in terms of increased resources devoted to the issue and new collaboration among local policy makers, residents and organizations. Syracuse has taken bold steps, but more are needed.

The following policy paper outlines the Central New York Community Foundation’s review of what has been accomplished so far and what still needs to be done to close a critical gap in legislation. Based on our analysis, we conclude that the most important next step is to advocate for the passage of a new lead ordinance, soon to be put forth by the City of Syracuse, which would make the presence of lead a housing code violation.

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New Committee Working to Ensure we are ALL Counted

Written by Tory Russo

Tory Russo, The City of Syracuse’s Census Coordinator for the United States Census Bureau 2020 Census count, shares the importance of every resident being counted.

In 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau will conduct the nation’s next census. It happens every 10 years and aims to count every person living in the United States. A complete and accurate count of communities is critical. In addition to providing basic population characteristics of U.S. residents, census data is used to reapportion congressional seats allocated to each state in the House of Representatives, redraw legislative boundaries, and distribute more than $675 billion federal dollars to states each year.

After the 2010 Census, New York State has lost two representatives and more than $1.5 billion of federal funds to our state each year since then. Even a 0.6 percent undercount in 2020 will result in the loss of two additional representatives and could affect federal funding that supports hundreds of vital community programs and services like Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP, WIC, Head Start, school lunches, highway planning and construction, and business and industry loans.

One of those programs is the Community Block Grant Development program. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) determines the amount of each grant with a formula that considers population and a number of other factors. In the most recent fully-funded year, May 2018 to April 2019, the City of Syracuse received almost five million dollars. This was reallocated to fund programs at organizations including ARISE, Catholic Charities, Dunbar Center, Home HeadQuarters, InterFaith Works, Jubilee Homes, NEHDA, and the YWCA.

The impact of the census on communities is significant – and so is the challenge of counting everyone.

More than 30 of the 55 census tracts in the City of Syracuse had self-response rates below 73 percent in the 2010 Census. This means more than one-quarter of households in these tracts did not complete their census and required follow-up by Census Bureau enumerators, which increased the risk that people were missed. These response rates caused these tracts to be ranked among the “hardest-to-count” tracts in the country.

In an effort to help communities identify hard-to-count (HTC) areas and support the development of communications and outreach about the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau launched its Response Outreach Area Mapper (ROAM) tool. This map uses data to predict the percentage of households that will not respond to the 2020 Census. Again, more than half of the tracts in Syracuse are expected to have below a 73 percent self-response rate in 2020.

So, what’s being done?

Communities across the country, including Syracuse and Onondaga County, have assembled Complete Count Committees (CCC) to inform residents about why the census is important, how they can make sure they’re counted, and what temporary job opportunities are available through the Census Bureau.

These multi-sector coalitions have been developing outreach plans, focused on reaching people who have been traditionally and historically undercounted, including: immigrants and mixed-status households, migrant workers; refugees; young children, people of color; people in rural areas and people lacking internet access.

The Syracuse-Onondaga County Complete Count Committee (SOC-CCC) consists of more than 20 subcommittees categorized as engagement, government, community, education, or business. These subcommittees have been meeting regularly since August 2019 to form and implement action plans for census outreach in local HTC neighborhoods and communities.

The City is supporting the SOC-CCC by providing trainings and updates, developing communications campaigns and materials, and coordinating activities with community stakeholders. The County is focusing on outreach and education in Onondaga County’s hardest-to-count rural communities, by coordinating with libraries across the county and supporting the formation of Complete Count Committees in towns and villages.

In addition, the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County have been applying for grants to fund a Census Ambassador Program and an outdoor advertising campaign, respectively, and coordinating with state and federal government representatives to better align local efforts.

But all of these efforts require participation and support from organizations and individuals who can work to ensure that residents of every city, town, and village in Central New York know our communities count.

So, what can you do?

  1. Learn more by following the Census Bureau @uscensusbureau and skimming these suggested resources:
  1. Inform and encourage your network by participating in our #Take20 for #Census2020 campaign:
  • Take 20 seconds to record a video explaining why you plan to complete the census and share it on your social media accounts.
  • Take 20 minutes to talk with your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues about the importance of the census.
  • Take 20 minutes to complete your census in 2020 and encourage your employer to designate a day and time in April 2020 for staff to complete it.
  • Participate in local “Calls to Action” on the 20th of each month. Contact 2020Census@syrgov.net to be added to the listserv.
  1. Apply or help others apply for a temporary, part-time job with the Census Bureau
  • Local census takers will be paid $17 per hour
  • Income won’t affect eligibility or benefit amounts for most assistance programs
  • Certain noncitizens are eligible to be hired
  1. Volunteer with a Complete Count Committee
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Community Needs Assessment Enhanced with ‘Data Dating’; Nearly $120,000 in New Grants Will Help Nonprofits Measure

Enhancements to a community assessment tool, designed by the Central New York Community Foundation, are making it easier for area nonprofits to analyze their programming in real-time, ‘match’ with partner organizations, and evaluate the greatest concerns of those they serve.

Community assessment is a major focus of the Community Foundation’s Performance Management Learning Community (PMLC), now entering its eighth year. PMLC uses grant dollars and peer learning to help nonprofits measure their effectiveness.

PEACE, Inc., a federally-designated Community Action Agency that works to help people become more self-sufficient, joined PMLC last year to continue becoming data-structured from within. The organization’s goal was to help staff effectively track and measure the effectiveness of its food pantries, family resource centers, and programming for youth and seniors.

“The first objective within our organization’s strategic plan is to develop a data-driven culture,” said Todd Goehle, development coordinator at PEACE, Inc. “So we identified emerging leaders across our organization who could take what they’ve learned from PMLC and make it a part of our daily philosophy.”

After a year in PMLC, PEACE, Inc. consolidated database systems, which now allows staff members to collaborate across teams and with external organizations. In addition, the agency benefited greatly from the findings of PMLC’s community needs assessment, a measurement of which life needs—such as affordable long-term housing, addiction counseling, lead poisoning support, job readiness and economic independence—are not being adequately met for those living in poverty. PMLC participants can study responses to the needs assessment by neighborhood or census tract to complete pre-and post-program evaluation.

“When we evaluated the data that we and our PMLC partners gathered, it became clear to us that we needed to double down on our food pantries,” said Goehle. “We found that there is a real need for food and personal items within some neighborhoods of the city, and we need to increase our efforts to get funding that will allow us to increase our supplies.”

This fall, the Community Foundation released a whitepaper that examined the impact that can be made if social programs addressed the nuances within the areas where they work, as PEACE is doing.

Recently, the Community Foundation introduced new online enhancements to the assessment tool, which include access to interactive, real-time results. This allows nonprofits to take their analyses one step further. Nicknamed ‘data dating,’ organizations can quickly identify other participating organizations they ‘match’ with for collaboration, such as to fulfill a client need that they do not offer. The tool also makes information about program measurement accessible by all members within an organization, from front-line staff to executive directors, without the need for extensive training.

Goehle reports that he hopes to use the new interactive features to partner with organizations that have clients reporting needs that PEACE, Inc. can help provide.

“The data that we’re accumulating doesn’t necessarily reflect the community at large,” he said. “This tool gives us opportunities, especially with live mapping, to identify locations where interventions can be made.”

This year, seven organizations received a total of $118,756 in grants to join the next PMLC class: ACR Health ($20,000); Everson Museum ($15,000); Hiscock Legal Aid Society ($20,000); Mercy Works ($20,000); Madison County Health Department ($15,200); Northside Learning Center ($14,956); and Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York ($13,600).

The Community Foundation awards PMLC grants toward data measuring efforts, which include such things as database management and statistical analysis, to help nonprofits track their efforts and look for trends. This in turn assists the organizations in identifying what is working and what’s not, leading to the development of more effective programming and funding competitiveness. Applicants agreed to participate in a year-long learning community in order to qualify for a grant.

Another six organizations are joining PMLC Prep and PMLC Pro groups to learn how to collect community assessment responses and use the new interactive tool in new and innovative ways with $5,000 grants each: Huntington Family Center; On Point for College; PEACE, Inc.; Refugee & Immigrant Self-Empowerment; Southwest Community Center; Westcott Community Center; and Women’s Opportunity Center.

For organizations like PEACE, Inc., the PMLC collaboration is helping form new connections that will benefit the community as a whole.

“Sometimes in Syracuse, organizations tend to work in silos and there are not always a lot of opportunities to meet and exchange ideas,” Goehle said. “This provides us with an opportunity to all get to the table and examine through data how we can work through problems collectively.”

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Paper Just Released: Local Poverty Problems Need Holistic, Data-Driven Neighborhood Solutions

Studies based on federal census data have helped shine a light in recent years on Syracuse’s high poverty rates, however these explorations only tell part of the story. Concentrated poverty is associated with neighborhood crime, wage disparity, lack of reliable transportation, academic resources, fewer recreation venues and more. This leads to a vicious cycle in which each challenge reinforces and magnifies others.

One may think that the characteristics of poverty within Syracuse span all regions of the city. In reality, when you look deeper you can see that the challenges and opportunities experienced by residents vary based on neighborhood. It can be difficult for social programs to succeed in their efforts to decrease poverty if they are not addressing the nuances within the areas where they work.

A recent paper released by the Central New York Community Foundation examines how the use of precise measurements within a poverty index, which compares each tract along multiple dimensions that reinforce one another, can drive meaningful change through holistic yet customized neighborhood solutions.

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