We are three New Haven citizens from very different places. We live in Westville, the Hill and Yale housing. We came together because of a group called CORD, Communities Organized for Responsible Development, to fight for a voice for all New Haven citizens in the developments that will shape New Haven’s future. Almost a year ago, we proposed a community benefits agreement for the new Yale-New Haven Hospital Cancer Center that reflects the needs of the Hill neighborhood, from environmental protection to stemming the residential traffic problem to ensuring workers’ rights and good jobs with health care. Our proposal is reasonable and necessary, but we still wait for YNHH to sit down with us and negotiate a compromise.
We are disturbed by some of the conversation about CORD on Yale’s campus. Rather than reaching out to CORD and asking why so many people from across New Haven want a say in the developments that affect our neighborhoods, some students and members of Yale’s administration have alleged that we are against the cancer center and only interested in union issues. This could not be further from the truth. Many of our friends, neighbors and family members have, fight and die from cancer. Unfortunately only some of us have access to treatment and the possibility of survival. For the most part, these are the ones with employee health care or the wealth to buy independent health coverage. For the rest, cancer treatment can be completely inaccessible or mean incurring life-long debt. That is why the quality of jobs at YNHH concerns us so much — the hundreds of us who will work to treat cancer victims deserve the right to access that treatment ourselves.
Jobs with health care and living wages vastly improve the quality of life in New Haven. To achieve and preserve these quality jobs, workers need a voice. We are asking that YNHH agree not to intimidate workers who try to form a union as they have done in the past, forcing workers to attend anti-union meetings and firing active organizers. Forming a union should be the workers’ choice; employer intimidation takes that option away. The Hill’s residents also want access to more than just entry-level jobs at the hospital, so we want a commitment to job training for workers and students who one day could works as nurses and doctors.
While writing this piece, we are sitting on a stoop in the Hill, a couple blocks from YNHH. Dozens of kids are playing on the sidewalk of this narrow street as many cars fly by. Suddenly, we hear a scream and a crunch. Thankfully, it is only a skateboard that was run over, with no child on it, but this is a jolting reminder of another issue we’ve asked YNHH to resolve: for a residential neighborhood, the Hill has a traffic problem. Because YNHH does not offer its employees affordable parking, hundreds of its employees’ cars move through and park on the Hill’s narrow streets. Besides the risk of accidents, the large volume of cars fuels an alarming asthma rate among children in the Hill. A hospital should never put children’s health at risk.
One in ten people in the Hill has been displaced in the last 20 years. Developments, especially those of YNHH, have transformed the neighborhood. Until now, the decisions that drive this transformation have been made by very few people, none of whom live in the Hill. Yet instead of welcoming our voices, YNHH has tried to get around working with us. This summer, YNHH asked the Board of Aldermen to create a new “business medical zone” in a large part of the Hill. As the hospital continues to expand, this new type of zone would give the hospital the ability to claim a type of “eminent domain” power to uproot residents within that zone. But the hospital is a private entity, not a government, and such a zone could set into motion an untold number of private developers looking for ways to build without the democratic restrictions of traditional zoning laws. We came out in force this summer to oppose this zone, and since then the Board of Aldermen has been waiting for a less radical proposal from YNHH. The ball is in the hospital’s court to negotiate with us and present a reasonable zoning proposal that incorporates our concerns.
Yale students and faculty have been a crucial part of CORD since its beginning. Students and faculty have a strong voice in shaping Yale and the hospital. We hope the Yale community will continue to push these institutions to expand in a responsible and democratic way, beginning with a cancer center that benefits all of New Haven.
Noah Dobin-Bernstein is a junior in Branford College. Tony Butler, Blest Hue and Dobin-Bernstein are members of CORD.