NYC ‘Neighborhood Support Teams’ – Soon to Come to the Bronx?

(Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

One day last February, a “brilliant idea” resounded across a meeting of Community Board 11 in Manhattan’s East Harlem. The members told board chair Nilsa Orama that some of the problems plaguing the residents could be solved through a city program called Neighborhood Support Teams (NST). (…) Among these issues, they named a feeling of insecurity, lack of lighting in some parks, an increase in prostitution and the proliferation of rodents in the area.

The board did not think twice and decided to take part in the program, which had been launched in August 2016 by Mayor Bill de Blasio after signing Local Law 102. The rule requires that the city create a list of at least three geographic areas that would benefit from collaborating with agencies to address such issues as sanitation and transport services, the need for social services, public health problems or safety concerns.

“As a community board and as a neighborhood, there are always many concerns affecting our daily lives. One of our members organized and described them in a plan so we could apply for this city program,” said Orama (…)

Nilsa Orama, chair of Community Board 11 in East Harlem. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

The plan, to which boards can apply by filing a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI), has an online form in which community members can express the ways in which specific quality of life problems are affecting their lives.

“Basically, this was the best thing that could happen to us because we were immediately chosen and met with a number of city agencies, including the Community Affairs Unit, the Department of Sanitation, etc.” said Orama. “Since then, we have started to see an improvement in the patrolling of the area, more outreach from the agencies to deal with homeless people, and also more NYPD presence in the parks.”

(…) Dustin Ridener, who manages the NSTs at the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit, said that the idea grew out of a recent effort to tackle quality of life problems on 125th Street in East Harlem, where support groups joined efforts with a number of city agencies and interested parties from the local community.

“This project came out of that initiative because then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito was very happy at that moment with the results of the interaction between these agencies, particularly on issues such as the fight against K2 – synthetic marijuana – and other problems that were affecting the quality of life of the residents of the area,” said Ridener.

The government official added that the project, which is accepting new applications for 2019, works with funding granted on a yearly basis by the city. (…)

“The purpose is that, with the help of the agencies, communities will be able to have long-term strategies to help them continue minimizing the problems that affect them the most,” said Ridener, adding that “after a year, the team will determine the next relevant steps (…).”

In Manhattan’s District 11, where Orama lives and works, there is still much work to be done. Still, she believes that the experience of working together with the city “was worthwhile and extremely enriching.” (…)

“I think that it has given us plenty of tools to continue our work with more strength,” said the leader. “My message to other communities is to come together and get involved with this initiative because it truly changes our ideas about how to deal with these political roadblocks, particularly when we do not know who to turn to for one situation or the other.”

(…) The project does not only include community boards, but also allows council members and BID (business improvement district) offices to apply. In 2018 alone, 16 organizations took part in it, six of them in Manhattan, five in Brooklyn, three in Queens and one on Staten Island.

What about the Bronx?

Although the Bronx is the poorest borough in the Big Apple, it is the only one that has never been part of the program. Residents of this important and diverse area think it is necessary to do so because “it is good for us to have access to the Mayor’s Office.”

Bronx resident Carlos Rivera. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Carlos Rivera, a Puerto Rico native who left the island when he was 7 years old and made the Bronx his home, said he was glad to have the chance to communicate everyday problems to city agencies, adding that he is sure that his neighborhood will be part of the program in 2019.

“There are many community organizations here that can help solve issues that have been stalled for years,” said the 60-year-old. “Just here in the 149th Street and Grand Concourse station they have been trying to resume the construction of the elevator for years.”

He is not the only one waiting for more action on the part of these organizations. Gery Ayala, who was born in the Bronx and has always lived there, said that the area’s quality of life problems should be evaluated by city agencies.

“This needs to happen so […] we can speak up about some of the things we are going through every day. It is not just the subway, although it sometimes looks like the only problem. There is also a lot of crime, filth, rats everywhere…” said the 27-year-old.


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