A new team of government officials and experienced volunteers will try their hand at convincing Yale to support New Haven through the city’s $13 million projected deficit.
Mayor Justin Elicker — who campaigned on a promise to increase Yale’s voluntary contribution to $50 million — has tasked a new delegation with convincing the University to invest more in its host city after Yale reported an operating surplus of more than $200 million this fiscal year. The task force constitutes a formal attempt by the city to rectify what residents and officials have long seen as Yale’s failure to fulfill its moral and financial obligations to New Haven. For its part, Yale has defended its monetary contribution, which currently stands at $13 million — a $1 million increase from last year’s figure.
Henry Fernandez LAW ’93, who ran for mayor in 2013 — when Elicker made his first, unsuccessful bid for the city’s top office — volunteered to lead the team of current and former economic and legislative officials. While the outcome of the discussions is still unclear, the team has already met with University representatives several times. Elicker told the News he is “optimistic” about results.
Elicker said conversations with university representatives — including Associate Vice President for New Haven Affairs and University Properties Lauren Zucker and Senior Vice President for Operations Jack Callahan Jr. ’80 — so far have been “productive.” The mayor declined to comment on the specifics of the discussions, because they are still ongoing, but expressed his confidence in the new team.
“They’re people who have a lot of experience [and] expertise and people that I trust to have the conversation [with Yale],” said Elicker. “[Fernandez] has a strong demonstrated commitment to the city of New Haven and is someone that I trust to have productive conversations with the best interests of the city in mind.”
Fernandez has connections to both the city and Yale as a Law School graduate and the founder of LEAP, a New Haven-based educational enrichment program. As first reported by the New Haven Independent, Fernandez said he volunteered to lead the negotiating team because he hopes to support the city’s needs during a difficult time.
In a statement to the News on Nov. 10, University spokeswoman Karen Peart called Yale’s $12 million voluntary payment to the city in the fiscal year of 2019-2020 “the highest from a university to a host city anywhere in the United States.” In an interview with the News on Wednesday, Elicker called the figure a “drop in the bucket” when compared to the university’s operating revenues, which totaled $4.2 billion according to the University’s 2019-2020 financial report.
“It costs 4.2 billion dollars to educate 12,000 students, most of whom are not from New Haven.” said Elicker. “What kind of public good is that? The university’s nonprofit status is based on it creating public good.”
The city, by contrast, has a yearly budget of roughly $600 million to support a population of 130,000.
Elicker also criticized the University for taking more properties off of the tax roll through recent purchases, which he said have exacerbated the city’s inability to raise revenue through property taxes and therefore inhibited broader efforts to address systemic inequity and racism. The University does not pay taxes on its academic or administrative properties in accordance with federal law.
In response, University spokesperson Karen Peart referred the News to her Nov. 10 email, in which she said that Yale continues to be among the top three real estate taxpayers in New Haven due to its Community Investment Program.
Reiterating his campaign promise, Elicker said he hopes the University will increase its payment to $50 million, from the $13 million it plans to pay in the fiscal year ending Jun. 30, 2021. Meanwhile, local unions and New Haven Rising have called on the university to contribute $150 million, a figure roughly equivalent to the amount Yale would pay if not for its tax-exempt status.
The University declined to comment on Fernandez’s appointment or the creation of the negotiating team.
“Yale University values its relationship and partnership with the city of New Haven,” Associate Vice President for New Haven Affairs and University Properties Lauren Zucker said in a statement. “We continue to support our community and we actively engage in discussions with the city on a regular basis.”
Since Yale reported this year’s surplus, New Haven residents and local labor organizations like UNITE HERE have reiterated long-standing calls for the University to “pay its fair share.” From Nov. 21 to Nov. 23, local union members, students and other volunteers canvassed across New Haven, as first reported by Independent. Volunteers delivered more than 26,000 door-knocker messages that contained the title “Yale: Respect New Haven.” The messages urged Yale to share more of its wealth and invest more in its home city.
“People in New Haven are waking up to the fact that we can no longer accept a tax break for wealthy institutions like Yale University and Yale New Haven Hospital while our families are struggling to eat and our schools are underfunded,” New Haven Rising leader Scott Marks told a crowd of canvassers on Nov. 21, as reported by the New Haven Independent. “We’ve got to do a lot of work.”
Along with calls for Yale to invest more in the local city, demands also centered around pressuring Yale to hire more local residents seeking employment after the university failed to fulfill its hiring agreement from 2015.
As reported by the Independent, Beaver Hills resident, longtime Local 34 member, and New Haven Rising Organizer Jess Corbett spoke at the canvassing event about how his family’s quality of life changed once his single mother got a union job at Yale in Local 34 as it provided him with a job of his own, along with stable employment, paid time off and health insurance.
“That was a huge turning point for our family,” he said at the event.
Those at the event said they hope to pressure Yale into using its surplus funds towards supporting jobs, affordable housing, food and public education for a struggling city, as reported by the Independent.
Other members of the negotiating team include city budget director Michael Gormany, economic development administrator Michael Piscitelli, legislative affairs director Kevin Alvarez and former deputy state budget director Susan Weisselberg.
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