2017: A Year of Challenges for New Yorkers

The planned New York Wheel on Staten Island. (Courtesy of design firm Perkins Eastman)

The planned New York Wheel on Staten Island. (Courtesy of design firm Perkins Eastman)

The year 2017 brings a number of challenges for New Yorkers, amid the fear and uncertainty generated by President-elect Donald Trump’s government. As the leader has announced that he wants to deport between 3 and 4 million undocumented people, elected officials in the Big Apple are already gearing up to face the mogul’s threats.

Still, beyond the issue of immigration, New York expects to tackle other problems such as the housing crisis, the increase in homeless people and hate crimes, which have skyrocketed in recent months. Criminal justice reform, new programs improving access to health care and education and the promotion of laws such as the state Dream Act and assistance for the growing mental health problem will take center stage locally. The 2017 bittersweet cocktail can be summed up in the news about transportation: as the long-awaited Second Avenue subway opens, a new MetroCard fare hike looms.

The Second Avenue Subway

Even though New Yorkers hoped the new subway line would open in March of 2015, the delays were quite evident. However, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo himself said that it would become a reality on the first day of 2017. “The wait is over and the subway will open on Dec. 31,” said the state leader, confirming that the inaugural ride for the anticipated service would happen on New Year’s Eve and that it would officially open to the public on Jan. 1. In its first phase, it will benefit nearly 200,000 commuters every day riding between the 96th Street and the 63rd Street stations.

A resident complains in Spanish about high MetroCard fares during a #FairFares campaign. (Photo via El Diario)

A resident complains in Spanish about high MetroCard fares during the #FairFares campaign. (Photo via El Diario)

MetroCard fare hike in March 

New York subway riders are not looking forward to 2017 after the MTA announced that there will be a 4 percent increase in MetroCard fares as well as in individual rides. The first proposal is to raise the base fare from $2.75 to $3 while giving users a 16 percent bonus for every $6 they add to their card. The other option is to keep the current $2.75 fare but adding only a 5 percent bonus for every $5.50 [roundtrip] spent. Even though the increase is sure to happen, the MTA will only announce the final fees in January, and they will begin affecting the consumers’ pockets on March 19. In the case of unlimited rides, the monthly card will now cost $121 and the weekly, $32.

The new East River ferry service 

New York City is preparing for summer 2017 to be full of surprises regarding transportation:

A 19-ferry flotilla will operate on the East River. The new system, called Citywide Ferry, seeks to connect every borough with Manhattan from areas such as Rockaway and Astoria in Queens, South Brooklyn, Soundview in the Bronx and the Lower East Side. The ferries will have capacity for 149 commuters and room for bicycles, baby strollers and wheelchairs, as well as Wi-Fi and heating for the winter months.

Shelter for over 60,000 homeless

While in 2016 the city stated that it had tackled the homelessness problem with effective solutions, arguing that the crisis would be much worse had they not done so, figures revealed record numbers of more than 60,000 people in shelters throughout the Big Apple, including 25,000 children. Although nearly 50,000 homeless people have been granted housing of their own since 2014 thanks to the mayor’s work, the goal is that most of the 60,000 New Yorkers without a home will have a roof over their heads in 2017.

The State Dream Act 

The Dream Act, a state project aiming to offer financial assistance to undocumented immigrants to gain access to college, stalled in 2016 in the New York Legislature amid a wave of criticism. Still, a number of legislators have promised to push for it to finally see the light in 2017. State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie gave his word that he will promote the law, as well as other projects helping the neediest. “The Dream Act will also be on my agenda, as it has been in previous sessions. My colleagues in the Assembly and I will continue to look for ways to improve the lives of working families,” he told us.

Frozen rents and the fight for rent reduction

Since October 2015, more than 2.5 million New Yorkers have benefited from the “rent freeze,” which will be valid until October 2017. Still, the goal of organizations advocating for tenants is that the rent regulation board will obtain reductions.

Although their fight has the support of several elected officials and politicians in the city, it looks rather steep, particularly because of the opposition of landlords, who filed a lawsuit in court which could be decided this year.

More funding for criminal and immigration lawyers

With the threat represented by Donald Trump’s presidency, many of the 500,000 undocumented people estimated to be living in New York will not be left to fend for themselves, as the City Council has promised to invest more than $12 million in legal assistance programs, although some leaders are advocating for more money. The chair of the council’s Committee on Immigration, Carlos Menchaca, said that he will request more resources in 2017 to specifically help the 60,000 undocumented people currently in the middle of a deportation process in the city. The state legislature will also fight to have Gov. Andrew Cuomo authorize more funding for low-income people who are unable to afford representation in court. “We are still waiting for the governor to sign legislation approved by both chambers to ensure that all New Yorkers have equal access to the quality legal services needed. This legislation is crucial to obtain fair representation for the needy defendants, as stated by the 1963 in the Gideon v. Wainwright Supreme Court decision,” said Heastie.

Mayor de Blasio’s reelection

The mayor of New York will have to face the ballot in November to see if the electorate supports his plan to continue leading the fate of the Big Apple for another term. While the Democrat has the support of several sectors, he is also the target of harsh criticism and a list of potential opponents still to be officially determined, including state Sen. Tony Avella [the Democratic official announced on Dec. 18 he will run for mayor], Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. and even multimillionaire John Catsimatidis. De Blasio has already started campaigning, but the bumps on the road seem numerous, coming particularly from accusations of corruption in City Hall and of a lack of effectiveness in dealing with city issues such as homelessness and lack of housing. Many city council members will also be up for reelection at that time.

Criminal justice system reform 

The city’s elected officials, under the leadership of City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, fought a bitter battle in 2016 to promote reforms to the New York criminal justice system, and new laws are expected to be passed in 2017. The effects of the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA), a legislative package seeking to reduce penalties for low-level, non-violent offenses to prevent nearly 10,000 people from having a criminal background every year and create some 50,000 fewer arrest warrants, will be seen this year. “As this council reaffirms reforms to the criminal justice system, we are implementing gradual reforms which, combined, will create a significant change that motivates our commitment to see a fair and equitable criminal justice system,” said the council’s speaker.

A Latino family was the victim of hate crimes. (Photo via El Diario)

A Latino family was the victim of hate crimes. (Photo via El Diario)

The fight against hate crimes after Trump’s victory

New York kicks off 2017 faced by the worrisome reality of a 32 percent rise in hate crimes, as other crimes seem to be decreasing. Although the outlook for this type of behavior seems unfavorable, largely thanks to the hate rhetoric promoted by Donald Trump during his presidential campaign, the city has created a task force to prevent racially-motivated attacks, as well as attacks against immigrants and members of the LGBT community, from becoming commonplace. Mayor de Blasio has called on anyone who is a victim of aggressions, even simply verbal ones, to denounce them, as these are considered law-infringing behaviors that must be prosecuted.

A tough road ahead to combat mental illness

The Department of Health will launch Neighborhood Health Action Centers to revitalize underutilized buildings in neglected communities, providing spaces to local organizations to carry out programs promoting public health. The city will also prioritize investing in the ThriveNYC mental health and substance abuse program in light of the upward trend in mental disorders and suicides among teens. Immigrant advocates foresee that, given the emotional stress many people have been enduring because of Trump’s incoming government, this year will bring a spike in such cases, a possibility for which the city is gearing up.

The New York Wheel on Staten Island

In 2017, the so-called New York Wheel, the highest Ferris wheel in the world and which will offer a spectacular view of New York, will be under construction in order to meet its 2018 deadline. The wheel, built in Italy, will be 18 feet wide and 275 feet tall, and located on the North Shore area of Staten Island, and will become a new Big Apple attraction for tourists and New Yorkers.

College for all and physical education promotion

In 2017, the New York City Department of Education is betting on two large-scale programs to improve the quality of life of students by giving them access to higher education and by focusing on physical education. The College Access for All initiative aims to have all high school graduates leave school with a college plan and resources to propel them toward pursuing a career. For this reason, the program will be implemented in 160 junior high schools in 2017.

Additionally, the P.E. Works program seeks to encourage quality physical education through an investment of $100 million in four years, hiring 500 certified teachers. The intention is to have teachers offer additional support to schools by teaching the importance of physical fitness and healthy habits.

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