Inauguration (photo: John McCarten/City Council)
A month before COVID-19 sweeps through the five boroughs, headlines about New York City historic economic growth abounded. Yet even as the city’s economy grew to historic highs, a crisis of inequality persisted in black and brown communities, which faced higher unemployment rates, less investment and growth, poorer health outcomes and limited access to a pool of fewer resources. A global pandemic has only exacerbated these inequalities and forced communities of color to bear the disproportionate impact of public health and economic crises.
Two years later, this crisis of inequity persists, despite countless community development organizations, including the one I lead, offering thoughtful solutions to help these communities become more resilient. Now, with new administrations at the helm of New York State and city governments, it is essential that the wait-and-see approach end and that government, public institutions and the private sector come together to move policy forward. and the public programs that once-and-for-all are forging a recovery and an equitable future for our city.
Solving the Affordability Crisis
With over 70% and 80%respectively, of black and Hispanic households in New York being tenants, it is essential that the soaring cost of living for tenants is addressed immediately, particularly with the end of the moratorium on evictions.
It requires some things that we claim. First and foremost, the government must renew the emergency housing assistance program to support the thousands of people waiting for help.
Second, state and city governments must shift our shaky project-by-project approach to affordable housing finance to reduce our dependence on government subsidies, and instead rely on creative financial tools – including revolving loan funds and equity products – which aim to preserve affordability.
Finally, home ownership is the primary route to generational wealth creation, and it is an opportunity that has been out of reach for far too many New Yorkers of color. To ultimately solve the affordability crisis, we need programs that help and encourage people, especially people of color, to become homeowners.
Investment in minority-owned businesses
From the most financially devastated businesses during the pandemic were minority-owned businesses, facing the twin threats of systemic inequity and pandemic-induced challenges.
That’s why, as state and city governments finalize their upcoming budgets, we’re asking that funding be specifically targeted to minority-owned businesses that are once vibrant trade corridors in communities of color.
Without this focused approach, we run the risk of countless minority-owned businesses closing, the blight gripping commercial corridors, and underserved neighborhoods failing to rise to the challenge of a full recovery and allow outside companies to take over closed moms and dads. businesses – driving up prices and forcing longtime members of the community to leave.
To address this risk, we developed innovative relief programs that not only provided immediate financial support to minority-owned businesses in desperate need, but also the tools they have long been overlooked, including l access to institutional financial resources and networks, training and mentoring opportunities. . This is an opportune time for government and private institutions to structure their relief programs alike.
Bridging the digital divide
While countless businesses have gone online to continue their operations during the pandemic, minority-owned businesses have found themselves in neighborhoods without broadband or the ability to bring their businesses online.
Pandemic or not, harnessing digital networks is the way of the future for businesses but also for access to medical services, education and global communications. To enable black and brown communities to keep pace in this ever-digitized environment, we call on government and private institutions to support major investments in internet infrastructure, improvements in technology assistance and cybersecurity, and legislation that would require the Federal Communications Commission to increase broadband access in communities of color.
Restoring trust in underserved neighborhoods
Finally, systemic inequalities, lack of opportunity, and feelings of disenfranchisement have led to an understandable loss of trust in our institutions in communities of color. These upstream doubts have downstream consequences.
It is paramount that all levels of government devote their attention and resources to ensuring that trust can be restored in communities of color through action. These communities need to see that investments are being made in their schools, businesses, infrastructure and people; they need to see that our elected leaders and public servants care.
Government, community development financial institutions, nonprofits, and institutions must work together to develop thoughtful economic development programs that improve underserved neighborhoods and show them the way forward. And, to ensure that these community and nonprofit organizations can maintain their operations, we must redouble our efforts to give them the resources and financial support needed to improve long-term outcomes in our disinvested neighborhoods.
The past two years have certainly laid bare the inequalities and disproportionate burden that black and brown communities are forced to bear. But that’s enough. Let’s get to work, learn from the pandemic and commit to making these neighborhoods more resilient.
Valerie White is the executive director of LISC NYC, a nonprofit economic development organization. On Twitter @LISC_NYC.