City Presents First-of-its-Kind Environmental Inequality Study at Variety Boys & Girls Club

By Charlie Finnerty 

Peggy Shepard speaks at the Variety Boys and Girls Club. Credit: Celia Bernhardt

The Mayor’s Office of Climate & Environmental Justice (MOCEJ) released their Environmental Justice NYC (EJNYC) report Friday, April 5. In an event at the Variety Boys and Girls Club, MOCEJ Executive Director Elijah Hutchinson presented the findings of the report and demonstrated mapping tools available for the public to explore the data available, emphasizing that the report is the first of its kind in the city.

“With this information in hand, New Yorkers can now advance better policy and work together to achieve better health outcomes, reimagine polluting infrastructure, and increase tree canopy for all,” Hutchinson said.

The report examines flood and heat vulnerability, exposure to air and hazardous materials pollution, transit access, availability of safe and healthy housing, finding that low-income communities and communities of color in New York City are the most vulnerable to environmental inequities.

The Astoria neighborhood surrounding the Variety Boys and Girls Club has long been cited by environmental justice activists as one of the city’s most vulnerable communities, dubbed ‘Asthma Alley’ due to the air pollution from fossil fuel burning power plant smoke stacks which dominate the Astoria-Ditmars landscape. During the presentation, CEO of Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens Costa Constantinides asked students in the audience if they or someone they know has asthma or breathing problems. At least half the kids raised their hands.

“The wrongs that have happened to communities didn’t happen overnight. It happened over periods of time,” Constantinides said. “Here in this neighborhood, Robert Moses redlined west of 21st Street. And you have public housing built, in 1939 Queensbridge, in 1949 Ravenswood and Astoria houses. And in 1963, they put the big power plant. You guys all know the big power plant there on Vernon Boulevard, you see the big stacks and all the smoke? Well, in this neighborhood, west of 21st Street, the rates of asthma are higher than in the rest of the borough of Queens. What do you think contributes to that?”

Children raise their hands during Constantinides’ speech. Credit: Celia Bernhardt

Peggy Shepard, environmental activist and co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, said the report is a crucial milestone in undoing the harms of environmental inequality.

“I’ve been working on these issues for a very long time, and really just waiting for the city to understand its responsibility to address this,” Shepard said. “The whole point of this is not just to get the report. We needed to have the basic facts and now we do. Now it’s about developing a plan to fix these problems.”

Children learn to use EJNYC mapping tools at the Variety Boys and Girls Club. Credit: Celia Bernhardt

Pol Position: Trolling & Adams/Heastie

After we posted about our Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights walk with Assembly candidate Hiram Monserrate last week, we got some sparking comments on social media about why we would give this guy any press at all. 

When we sat down with Hiram, he wanted to clear the air about his reputation and questioned a recent article from the Ledger which referred to his past legal troubles. After explaining that our readers are savvy and leaving it out could signify that we were trying to hide his past, he talked about his new life with a wife and young child. He also showed us that the part of his past life that has not changed is his love and fighting spirit for his community. And we will tell you something that is only talked about in the highest of Queens political circles: Monserrate is ‘relevant’ and he has a following which many in the democratic clubs fear fractures Queens democratic politics. He is running for Jeff Aubry’s seat. Larinda Hooks, who is well known at Elmcore, is the choice of county — and Aubry. Stay tuned for that race.

Internet trollers who minimize the message from our reporting about the sex workers and child labor tragedy going on in his neighborhood should focus on the message: that area needs attention. It doesn’t need a sweep once every six months. The illegal activity is rampant and for those living near Roosevelt Avenue, to have a reasonable quality of life shouldn’t be asking too much.

By the way another nugget he suggested is that the MTA should be an agency, not an authority, which doesn’t have the oversight and agency, would. Not a bad thought.

Carl Heastie, the leader of the NY State Assembly is doubling down on his notion on not recognizing that people who loot and harm retail workers should not be considered felons. Mayor Adams disagrees. But the power the Assembly Speaker wields means it goes nowhere. The missing piece in Heastie’s stance is that cops continue to lose the ability to perform their job. It means workers at these retail stores don’t pursue shoplifters. It means that what we continue to witness in drug stores all over the city the lawlessness of looting will not change. Don’t wonder why we will see store after store have simple everyday items behind locked glass shelves. It takes ten minutes to track down a store worker to open the glass showcase to get a bottle of aspirin… if you can even find a drug store within walking distance from your home anymore.

We don’t think reformers of criminal justice had this in mind. If criminal justice is truly to be reformed, laws and procedures like this have to be rolled back. The ‘new common sense’ goes too far when real criminality is not dealt with in a true ‘common sense’ manner.

Editorial: Willets Point Casino Poll …. Really?

Let’s do a neighborhood poll to see if people want legal cannabis shops on their main street. How about a community poll to see if residents agree to a homeless shelter in their neighborhood? We’ll bet the results wildly surpass the ‘75% against’ results of the State Senator Jessica Ramos’ Willets Point Casino poll for Corona. In fact we might see both our polls show 95% or-more against legal cannabis and homeless shelter. To base your decision to support a project on a neighborhood poll is careless. 

Jessica happens to be a solid representative for the district. As chair of the Senate labor committee she has been a champion for the rights of workers, fair pay and equality. Her district is in the transit hub of New York. Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst bustle with trains and busses 24/7. As a member of the Senate transportation committee it’s quite important that Jessica represent us. 

But right under her nose, sex workers, illegal food vendors and cannabis shops are so rampant, it’s impossible to walk Roosevelt Avenue (like we did last week) without gasping in fright for the ‘neighbors’ who live within blocks of the avenue from 82nd to104th.  We have multiple brothels, dozens of ‘street meat’ vendors and dozens of little kids hawking everything from candy to eggs to iphone chargers. Where’s the interest in labor there?

We’re not calling her out. We know the police are present on Roosevelt. We know that she spends time in the district and it’s an enforcement problem, but it seems we all turn a blind eye and blame someone else for the problem. We talked to cops on patrol that night. We talked to Sanitation enforcement. They admit there is little they have the power to do. “These people doing illegal business don’t carry ID, so how are we going to summons them?” one official told us. Police and sanitation have to be given the tools to work together and do consistent sweeps. The neighbors deserve it.

We got the invitation from Hiram Monserrate to walk Roosevelt with him. We took it. Jessica, we would love to walk Roosevelt with you in the coming weeks. See what’s there. Polls and Town Halls are great, but decisions about the future of the neighborhood are never made by polls. People don’t want change. Many of us don’t understand change. Yet the City and the State, regardless of polls institute congestion pricing, open homeless shelters and license cannabis shops.

It happens to be true that people and organizations who have come out in favor of the casino there have either been given money or promised money from the Steve Cohen treasure chest. Well we haven’t been promised anything, nor have we gotten any money and we can safely say that a casino and all the entertainment and food amenities that come with it will make Queens better.  Having a developer with deep pockets, who has shown that he gives back, is key. Signing a deal which will enhance the Willets Point transit hub, provide jobs, provide real shows and a deal that awards money for community improvement near the casino is a winner.

HANAC’s Multi-Faceted Approach to Social Services and Affordable Housing


Courtesy of HANAC. HANAC, a citywide social service and affordable housing nonprofit, has been a steadfast support for New York City residents since 1972, annually aiding over 30,000 individuals, particularly focusing on low-income seniors.

HANAC, a citywide social service and affordable housing nonprofit, has been a pillar of support for New York City residents since its establishment. Serving over 30,000 individuals annually, HANAC remains dedicated to uplifting vulnerable populations, with a particular focus on low-income seniors.

Founded in 1972 in Queens, NY, HANAC initially aimed to support the Greek community immigrating to the United States, addressing their social service needs and aiding in their acclimatization to American life. Originating from the initiative of a reporter for the Long Island Press, who recognized the challenges faced by Greek immigrants, HANAC secured a planning grant of $75,000 from Mayor John Lindsay to establish its operations. 

Over time, the organization expanded its scope beyond the Greek community to serve a broader demographic in New York City. Today, HANAC has evolved into a citywide nonprofit, annually assisting 30,000 residents across NYC with funding from various governmental sources. Notably, HANAC manages a portfolio of 650 affordable housing units for seniors in Queens, NY, demonstrating its enduring commitment to addressing the diverse needs of the city’s vulnerable populations.

The multifaceted approach of HANAC encompasses three primary categories within its social service arm. Firstly, the organization provides comprehensive older adult programming, including senior centers, transportation services, and various other initiatives tailored to meet the needs of the senior community. 

Courtesy of HANAC. Evolving from its roots in Queens’ Greek community, HANAC now serves a diverse demographic, providing comprehensive social services, including elder care, family support, and youth empowerment programs, while also actively addressing the city’s affordable housing crisis.

Secondly, HANAC offers adult and family programs, such as high school equivalency assistance, weatherization support, and substance abuse programs.

 Lastly, youth programming, primarily situated in public schools and after-school programs, aims to empower young adults through initiatives like the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), which facilitates their entry into the workforce.

In addition to its robust social service endeavors, HANAC is also deeply committed to addressing the pressing issue of affordable housing in New York City. As owners of 650 units of senior affordable housing, the organization strives to ensure that low-income seniors have access to safe and stable living environments where they can age with dignity and respect.

Stacy Bliagos, Executive Director of HANAC, emphasizes the significance of their housing initiatives.

 “One of the key issues that low-income seniors face is housing instability,” Bliagos said. “We saw all these seniors struggling and we wanted to help them as valued members of our community, supporting their ability to age in place within the community that they actually helped build.”

However, despite their impactful efforts, HANAC faces significant challenges in their mission to increase and enhance access to affordable housing. Bliagos highlights the barriers faced by seniors in navigating the system, such as the requirement for online accounts to apply for housing, which poses challenges for those lacking digital literacy or access to technology.

“In order for anybody to apply for affordable housing, they need to have an online account, so if they don’t have a computer or don’t have Wi Fi,  that basically prevents them from doing that,” Bliagos said. “Think about any other older adult that maybe they don’t know how to use a computer. So that’s the first roadblock, another is older adults not knowing where to go to find the services so that they can get help.”

Furthermore, with the ongoing affordable housing crisis in New York City, there is a pressing need for increased services and resources to support vulnerable populations. Bliagos emphasizes the importance of community collaboration and governmental partnerships in addressing these issues effectively.

Regarding the city’s initiatives to tackle the affordable housing crisis, Bliagos acknowledges the gradual nature of such endeavors, emphasizing the need for sustained efforts across multiple neighborhoods. 

Antiquated, confining, and convoluted zoning regulations curtail the potential for new housing developments and drive up the costs of existing ones. The Housing Opportunity Initiative, part of the City of Yes initiative advocates for zoning reforms that would alleviate the housing crisis by permitting increased housing construction across all neighborhoods. While the City of Yes initiative signifies a step in the right direction, Bliagos emphasizes the importance of continuous expansion and improvement in affordable housing initiatives to meet the evolving needs of New York City’s diverse communities.

Bliagos underscores the importance of raising awareness and advocating for vulnerable populations. She emphasizes the need for kindness and empathy, urging individuals to volunteer, be advocates, and support initiatives aimed at alleviating housing insecurity.

“I think volunteering is helpful but also just being more mindful that other people are facing something that they may not be facing and being an advocate for the vulnerable populations,” Bliagos said. “Really, as humans, we really need to be kinder to each other and, and just be more aware that individuals struggle in very different ways. And we should advocate for them, especially when they can’t advocate for themselves.”

As summer approaches, concerns about the well-being of older adults come to the forefront, particularly regarding access to air conditioning amidst rising temperatures. While many may take cooling systems for granted, the reality for some seniors is grappling with the financial strain of soaring electric bills. This poignant observation underscores the broader issue of housing insecurity among older adults, where basic necessities like shelter and comfort are often compromised by financial constraints. 

Looking ahead, Bliagos envisions a future where housing insecurity is eradicated, and all individuals, especially older adults, can age gracefully without the burden of housing-related stressors. She emphasizes the importance of empathy and understanding, urging individuals to consider the challenges faced by vulnerable populations and work collectively towards creating a more inclusive and supportive society.

“The dream is that everybody does not have to deal with housing insecurity,” Bliagos said. “The dream is so that each and every older adults can age gracefully, and that they don’t have to pick between paying rent or buying groceries.” 

For those interested in supporting HANAC’s cause, visit for volunteering opportunities as well as advocacy efforts being encouraged, alongside fostering a greater awareness of the challenges faced by marginalized communities in New York City.

Legislators and Advocates Rally for MENA Bill, Calling for Accurate Representation


Credit: Mohamed Farghaly. Rana Abdelhamid of Malikah delivers a powerful address, emphasizing the importance of accurate representation and access to resources for the Middle Eastern and North African community during the rally.

A diverse coalition of legislators and advocates gathered at the Al-Iman Mosque in Astoria on April 1 to rally in support of passing crucial legislation aimed at recognizing Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) individuals in New York State’s demographic data.

The MENA bill Seeks to rectify a long standing issue where MENA communities have been incorrectly categorized as white in government documents. This misclassification has led to inadequate representation and resource allocation for these communities.

The conference, led by Rana Abdelhamid of Malikah and the NY MENA Coalition, commenced with motivating remarks from the representative of the Middle Eastern and North African community.

“For decades, our community has been completely erased, we have not been seen in data and that has had dire devastating consequences for health care outcomes, for education outcomes in the community and for access to language translation in this community,” Abdelhamid said. “For so long, we have been designated as white as our designation and our community has been completely erased. Honestly, it’s offensive and it is not accurate. We need representatives that advocate for us, we need support across the board and in order for us to be able to have that kind of support, we need data that actually reflect and tell some story about what our team is.”

Credit: Mohamed Farghaly. Community leaders gather outside Al-Iman Mosque in Astoria, Queens, to advocate for the recognition of Middle Eastern and North African individuals in New York State’s demographic data.

Senator Michael Gianaris was one of the first legislators to speak on the topic in support of the bill. 

“Let’s begin with a very simple proposition, Middle Easterners and North Africans are not white. That’s something we should all be able to agree on,” Gianaris said. “And yet, New York State and even the federal government recognize them as white. That means a couple of things. First of all, it’s offensive, because you’re telling an entire community that they are not what they think they are. And they know best. But it also means that the government doesn’t see that community. The state doesn’t know where they are, what their needs are. And that means that the real consequences in terms of government services and communities are underserved because of it, and often aren’t able to avail themselves of like government programs and services that are specific to certain communities. And so, we are aiming to change that.”

According to the U.S. Census, there are at least 280,000 MENA individuals residing in New York State, though studies suggest the actual number could exceed 500,000. The MENA Bill aims to disaggregate MENA populations from the white demographic category or collect separate data on each major MENA group.

Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas emphasized the importance of this legislation, stating, “Viscerally that middle eastern North African communities have not been treated as white have not benefited from white privilege. I continue to face many harms that many other communities of color face. And it’s critical that we have the data and the information to uplift this reality.”

Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani then took to the podium to share his sentiments as a member of the community he is trying to represent. “It baffles the mind that when the NYPD created demographics and units under the leadership of Mayor Mike Bloomberg, they understood that North Africans and Middle Easterners are not white. But when it comes to any aspect of state support, when it comes to any aspect of recording statistics that tell the stories of this community, this entire community has been absorbed into the idea of whiteness. We have to turn a new page and ensure that now we see state support for this community. Because if you’re not recorded in these statistics, your story is not told. And if your story is not told, then your life is not supported.”

The rally garnered significant support from a diverse array of community leaders, each representing various organizations dedicated to advocacy and empowerment. These leaders brought with them a wealth of experience and expertise from their respective fields, highlighting the widespread coalition formed in support of the MENA Bill.

Somia Elrowmeim of the Women’s Empowerment Coalition shared her sentiments. “I always have asked myself why I have to choose white, I’m not white and I do not have the privilege of being white and that would really bother me. Allah. We have been advocating and educating our community because we want to be recognized. And we want to get the support that we need as people of color as Middle Eastern or North Africas, that’s important to us, because we always have been underserved.”

Youssef Mubarez, representing YAMA Action, emphasized the importance of passing the MENA Bill. He highlighted the challenges faced by Middle Eastern owned small businesses in New York, which were initially considered essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic but have since been overlooked. 

“We were the first to give support, but the last to get support, all because of the simple checkbox that says that we are white, and our families are white,” Mubarez said. “Passing this bill means that when we apply for business loans and grants that are supposed to support minority communities on a level playing field, we urge state legislators to pass this bill, so that we are no longer essentially forgotten.”

The MENA coalition sought guidance from the Asian American community and collaborated with the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF) to advance their cause. Recognizing CACF’s successful advocacy efforts in the past, which led to tangible results for their own community, MENA reached out for advice and support. 

Jeemin Cha, representing CACF, expressed solidarity with the MENA New York Coalition and emphasized the importance of passing the data disaggregation bill.  

“CCAF stands with the MENA New York Coalition to urge New York state legislators to pass the needed data disaggregation bill. The MENA community has been made invisible by being lumped into the White category, obscuring their unique struggles in health, education, housing and political representation. This injustice ends now. Passing this bill marks a historic step towards the true representation they deserve in New York.”

With broad bipartisan support and a unified coalition of advocates, the MENA Bill represents a crucial step towards rectifying long standing disparities in data representation and ensuring equitable access to resources for MENA communities across New York State.

“The MENA community has been invisible for too long,” stated Abdelhamid. “This legislation is a crucial step towards proper representation and access to resources.”

Credit: Mohamed Farghaly. Gathered outside the culturally significant Al-Iman Mosque in Astoria during the holy month of Ramadan, a diverse coalition of legislators and advocates rallied in support of the MENA bill.

New York City Prepares for Largest-Ever Open Streets: Car-Free Earth Day Celebration


Courtesy of Department of Transportation. NYC DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez announces the largest-ever Open Streets: Car-Free Earth Day event, emphasizing the importance of sustainable transportation and environmental activism in New York City.

New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez announced the largest Open Streets: Car-Free Earth Day event yet, with a number of car-free streets and extended operating hours taking place on the 54th anniversary of Earth Day on Saturday, April 20. 

The annual affair, spearheaded by NYC DOT, transforms select city streets into car-free zones, amplifying activism and education on climate change, environmentalism, and sustainable transportation. This event also heralds the commencement of the city’s Open Streets and Public Space Programming season.

“Open Streets: Car-Free Earth Day encourages New Yorkers to leave their vehicles at home and appreciate our streets as shared open spaces for all,”  NYC DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez said. “As part of the city’s largest-ever Car-Free Earth Day celebration, will be hosting programming, music, and other activities at dozens of car-free streets around New York City. And new, temporary public art will help us remember: We only have one planet — and we must all do our part to reduce our carbon footprint and respect our environment.”

This year’s Open Streets: Car-Free Earth Day, sponsored by WABC, boasts 53 car-free streets and plazas across the five boroughs, featuring public art or community programming—an expansion from the 30 locations in 2023. NYC DOT will extend car-free operations by one hour, with streets closed from 10 am to 4 pm.

Through support from Lyft, Citi Bike will offer unlimited 30-minute rides on classic bikes for 24 hours with the promo code CARFREE24 in the Citi Bike app.

Among the highlights, four artists have been chosen to create temporary, environmentally themed works along designated routes. Natalie Wood presents EcoHarmony, transforming repurposed furniture into organic sculptures adorned with live plants, while giving away 1,000 plants to promote environmental awareness. Kelp Parade, by Amanda Thackray and Wendel Jeffrey, brings a dynamic kelp forest to life through 24 flags made from upcycled plastic bags, activated by movement and sound. Lyubava Kroll designs Keep NYC Green graphics envisioning a greener future for the city, to be installed on streetlight poles.

Signature event locations include Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, featuring a car-free route from 40th to 45th Street, and Woodside Avenue in Queens, spanning from 75th to 78th Street.

“I’m thrilled to celebrate Open Streets: Car-Free Earth Day in Queens and across the city again this year.” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr said. “This event is a great way to encourage city residents to reduce our reliance on cars and to take other steps that will reduce our city’s carbon footprint and help limit the negative impacts of climate change, which we have already started to feel.  I look forward to the Car Free Earth Day festivities that will take place on Woodside Avenue in Elmhurst, which will be a great launching point for DOT’s highly anticipated Open Streets and Public Space Programming season.”

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso emphasized the importance of sustainable transportation, envisioning safer, cleaner streets and more livable neighborhoods through investments in public transit.

“Car-free streets are more than a celebration of Earth Day, they’re a chance for New Yorkers to see the sustainable, green, healthy city of the future that’s within reach,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso. “By investing in public transit and encouraging a shift away from private vehicles, we can achieve a future where our streets are safer, air is cleaner, and neighborhoods are more livable. I’m so excited that NYC DOT will be not only upping the number of car-free streets but increasing the hours of operations as well, and I hope to see all of New York enjoying the great outdoors in honor of Earth Day.”

Courtesy Department of Transportation. During Earth Day this year, the Department of Transportation plans to transform select city streets into car-free zones for residents’ enjoyment.

9 New Schools Headed to NYC Include Sunnyside Film School

Chancellor David Banks at Tweed Courthouse. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

by Charlie Finnerty

In an event at Tweed Courthouse Thursday, schools Chancellor David Banks announced that nine new schools will open across the city this fall, including elementary, middle, high school and trade school programs. Seven will come to Brooklyn, including three middle schools, three public schools and a new Bard Early College High School campus. Queens will see a brand new technical high school specializing in motion picture production open in Sunnyside. The announcement shows a major investment in education from the city as the school system recovers from pandemic-era drops in enrollment.

“Whether as a teacher in the Bronx, a principal in Queens, I know what it feels like when we get it right for kids and this is truly exciting for me,” DOE Executive Director of the Office of School Design and Charter Partnerships Shawn Rux said in a speech to the press.

Shawn Rux at Tweed Courthouse. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

The Motion Picture Technical High School in Sunnyside will teach students how to navigate the film industry with an emphasis on highlighting diverse storytelling. Principal Kevin Lopez said classes will focus on “below-the-line” production roles, such as camera operators, set designers, editors and sound engineers, which often go unseen by audiences but are the foundation of any successful film project.

Several of the new schools will open in Bay Ridge, where educators say there is a high level of need, particularly for English as a second language (ESL) classes for the area’s immigrant communities. Saher Said, who will serve as principal of P.S. 413 at 6740 3rd Ave., said his school will offer ESL classes for both children and adults. M.S. 428 in Brooklyn will offer dual-language classes for Spanish and Chinese-speaking students.

P.S. 331 will open at 6312 13th Ave. with an emphasis on entrepreneurship and advocacy. At the event, Principal Lisa C. Lin passed out shark keychains to promote the school’s Shark-Tank-inspired entrepreneurship competition for students.

M.S. 407 will open at 650 86th St. and will focus on sciences and research curriculum. Principal Stephen Lombardo said M.S. 407 graduates will have the skills and tools necessary to navigate the ever-changing worlds of technology and sciences.

Motion Picture Technical High School Principal Kevin Lopez. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

A highly-anticipated new Bard Early College campus in East New York will join the network of existing Bard campuses in Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx, offering students the opportunity to take college-level courses and an intensive seminar-based writing curriculum.

P.S. 482 Albee Square Montessori Public School in Downtown Brooklyn will offer a Montessori curriculum for the first time in the city’s public school system.

“These nine schools really push the boundaries of traditional education models,” Rux said. “They are cutting edge. They are unique. And they are directly responsive to what we know and continue to hear from our students and communities about what they need.”

The principals of the new schools with Shawn Rux. Credit Charlie Finnerty

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