The Board of Alders’ Black and Hispanic Caucus used its annual State of the City address Monday evening to highlight three critical issues facing the city: jobs, housing and youth services.
Much progress has been made since the caucus’ last State of the City address, in which Hill Alder Dolores Colon ’91 and Newhallville Alder Delphine Clyburn demanded that Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital hire more New Haveners to solve the city’s “jobs crisis.” In December, Colon noted Monday, Yale has pledged to hire 1,000 more New Haven residents over the next three years, with 500 coming from “neighborhoods of need.” Still, Colon said, more work remains to be done, and she called for Yale-New Haven Hospital to contribute to the battle against joblessness.
“The caucus will be in constant communication with Yale University … as they take actions to meet their hiring goals,” she said. “We thank Yale for stepping up to the plate on this issue. Now, Yale-New Haven Hospital, you need to step up to the plate and make a commitment to put New Haven residents back to work.”
Jose Soto, a New Haven resident who joined Colon and Clyburn last year to describe his plight after being laid off from his pharmaceutical job in 2009, joined the alders again this year to attest to the benefits of permanent employment. Since he last spoke, he said, New Haven Works — an agency designed to connect residents with jobs in the city — found him on-the-job training and a position at Yale.
Now, Soto said, he has secured full-time employment with the city of New Haven, and his family has begun to repair their lives.
Alders also addressed the status of low-income housing in the city, as well as the availability of youth services.
Amity Alder Richard Furlow spoke at length about the need for all New Haven residents to have access to safe, affordable housing — an issue that has come to the fore after the discovery of hazardous chemicals and unsafe conditions at Church Street South, a housing project south of Downtown.
“Good quality housing is a key foundation for ensuring a healthy community and vibrant city,” Furlow said. “Adequate housing must be a part of healthy and inclusive neighborhoods where people feel a sense of community and belonging.”
To that end, he praised Mayor Toni Harp for her anti-blight efforts, conducted through the Livable City Initiative. Furlow said alders are working with the agency to identify blighted houses in their neighborhoods.
Furlow noted the acute effect of foreclosures in the city — 200 foreclosures were completed in New Haven last year, and another 700 were initiated, more than in any other city in Connecticut. Though he commended Rep. Rosa DeLauro for introducing federal bills to curb abuse by mortgage-service companies, he said the problem warrants more work.
Furlow introduced Gloria Council, a Westville resident who has experienced difficulty with her mortgage company ever since a workplace accident left her unable to work. As a result of bureaucratic red tape surrounding disability payments, she fell behind on her mortgage payments and her mortgage company forced her to sign an unfavorable restructuring plan.
Now, Council said, she is calling on the Board of Alders and the city administration to help her fight the mortgage companies.
“I am not asking for a handout,” she said. “I only want my mortgage company to treat me fairly and not use my personal misfortune as an excuse to seize my house and drain my savings. I do not want this company to steal my hopes and dreams from me and my children.”
The availability of youth services was the third priority Colon named; the Board of Alders has put youth issues at the forefront of its legislative agenda in recent years. Just over a week earlier, Colon noted, the Board of Education held its second election for student representatives, a cause championed by Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12 throughout the 2013 charter revision process and over the last two years.
Now, Colon said, the Black and Hispanic Caucus is focusing on providing free meals for the city’s youth. The city began efforts to offer free lunches to young people last summer, and Colon said the project impressed the state and federal governments so much that they have offered the city funds to also provide free dinners this year.
“Children and families are hungry in this city, and will resort to any means just to nourish their homes,” Colon said. “The five dinner sites need to be open to stop our children looking for food in places where it’s not safe.”
So far, four sites that offer free dinners have opened, and a fifth is due to begin operations in a few weeks. Other centers that provide youth services are The Escape, a teen homeless center, and the Q House, for which the city recently received a $14.5 million state grant to begin construction.