URBAN BLIGHT & HOUSING
As a longtime homeless advocate, defense attorney, and former United Tenants of Albany board member, Jeff will draw upon his experience in order to strengthen code enforcement and improve the quality of Albany’s housing stock. The urban blight that plagues Albany, including portions of the 6th Ward, is of significant concern to Jeff. As your councilmember, Jeff will work to provide the Division of Buildings & Regulatory Compliance with the tools and resources it needs to combat absentee slumlords, vacant housing, illegal evictions, and substandard buildings, all of which negatively affect the safety and stability of our historic neighborhoods. He believes that building a robust, professional codes department is key to stopping the spread of blight, protecting tenants from harm, and holding slumlords accountable through the enforcement of penalties and fines.
Furthermore, a report from Citizen Action found that approximately half of Albany’s tenants are rent-burdened, meaning that they pay more than 30% of their income on rent. Jeff believes that any meaningful poverty alleviation and housing reform will require federal intervention, but also recognizes that there are steps we can take on a local level to lessen the suffering of our city’s renters. Following New York State’s passage of the Emergency Tenant Protection Act (“ETPA”) in 2019, the Albany Common Council voted to commission a housing vacancy study to determine if Albany tenants will qualify for certain rent stabilization protections. To the detriment of Albany’s renters, the City of Albany’s study has become bogged down in bureaucratic red tape. As your councilmember, Jeff will advocate for the expeditious completion of this study to determine if Albany’s rent-burdened tenants have the opportunity for relief. Jeff will also sponsor legislation requiring housing developers to set aside a percentage of their units as affordable rental housing for low and moderate-income tenants.
Jeff spent five years as a street outreach worker with the Homeless Action Committee and has worked as an attorney for people with mental disabilities for the past six years. As a result, he understands that a disproportionate amount of police calls involve homeless, mentally ill, and substance-abusing individuals. Jeff knows that responders other than armed police officers should be dispatched in situations involving these populations. As your councilmember, Jeff will work to implement in Albany a program like Eugene, Oregon’s “CAHOOTS” program, which dispatches mental health first responders instead of police to non-violent calls.
The City of Albany’s 2020 budget allocates over $54 million to the Albany Police Department. This represents a gargantuan 30% of our cash-strapped city’s municipal budget. In contrast, the City of Albany allocates a meager 2.7% of its budget to housing and community development.
This needs to change. Jeff supports reallocating funding from the police department to other government initiatives not to vilify the APD or police in general, but because doing so would be a fiscally and socially responsible policy decision. Recent research shows that increasing police funding and employing more police do not result in safer communities. Jeff believes that we need to reallocate funds from the APD budget to services and programs that would benefit our city, including stabilizing and rehabilitating vacant buildings, expanding mental health services, providing COVID-related relief to our small businesses, and funding youth programs.
Painting a mural and removing a statue do not constitute systemic change. These are symbolic, "feel good" measures that fail to address the systemic racism that plagues our city and society. A recent study from the Urban Institute named Albany as one of the worst cities in the nation for racial residential segregation and racial economic inequality. This is unacceptable and embarrassing. As your councilmember, Jeff will ensure that the City of Albany is committed to implementing systemic reforms that will benefit people of color, and by extension, all residents of our city.
Jeff will work to implement Albany’s Equity Agenda, which aims to end injustices caused by institutional and systemic racism in our city. Ensuring proper implementation of the Equity Agenda will require the city to expend its resources where they are needed most, rather than where the city residents with the greatest political clout reside. He will provide the Albany Community Police Review Board with the resources and enforcement power necessary to disrupt systemic racism in policing, including the ability to issue subpoenas and conduct substantive investigations.
Finally, Jeff will introduce legislation to revive Albany’s dormant Fair Housing Office. An empowered Fair Housing Office will permit complaints of discrimination in housing to be investigated and prosecuted and will help to counter the Trump administration’s racist repeal of the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (“AFFH”) rule. Having a robust Fair Housing Office in Albany will be a tool to reduce Albany's stark racial residential segregation and to counter the legacy of "redlining," the practice of racial discrimination in mortgage lending.
AGING IN PLACE
As a civil rights attorney, Jeff regularly represents aging individuals and people with disabilities who face obstacles to residing in the community. These obstacles can include discrimination and cost, but most frequently involve houses or apartments which cannot easily accommodate a person’s disability or physical limitations.
Older individuals and individuals with disabilities face enormous challenges in trying to find housing in the 6th Ward. Our neighborhood is home to many beautiful, nineteenth-century homes which are not easily modified to accommodate aging populations or people with physical disabilities. As our neighbors age or develop physical disabilities, many are forced to choose between either leaving their homes or continuing to reside in physically inaccessible, often unsafe spaces.
It is extremely important to Jeff that our longtime neighborhood residents be able to age in place in the houses they’ve called home for decades. As your councilmember, Jeff will introduce legislation to study whether any parts of the 6th Ward qualify as a neighborhood Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (“NORC”) by New York State. A “NORC” designation would allow for cost-effective and community-based provisions of needed services to our seniors, which would result in our neighbors being able to remain in their homes indefinitely, live more independently, and maintain longstanding ties to the community. Jeff will keep our senior neighbors apprised of resources that could allow them to age in place, including Medicare and Medicaid programs, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development loans, nonprofit and foundation assistance, local contractors who perform physical modifications to historic properties, and city permits needed for home modifications.
ENVIRONMENT & INFRASTRUCTURE
Jeff is an environmentalist who tries to put his values to work in his everyday life. He drives a used Toyota Prius C, zealously recycles, and doesn’t eat meat. He believes that climate change is one of the most pressing moral, political, and environmental issues of our time and recognizes that action at the federal level is necessary to adequately address our climate crisis.
As your councilmember, Jeff will work at the local level to ensure that the City of Albany does everything it can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, incentivize energy-efficient and renewable energy sources, and promote dense but sustainable urbanism. Jeff will work to make our city more environmentally-friendly, safer for pedestrians, more accessible for people with disabilities, and more accommodating of walking, bicycling, and public transportation.
PRIORITIZING SEX CRIMES INVESTIGATIONS
Our current system of policing forces officers to spend too much time and energy dealing with nonviolent, low-level criminal offenses. Allowing police to focus on serious crimes, such as sexual assaults, will result in a more efficient police force, lead to greater convictions of offenders, and will tangibly benefit public safety. Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults in the US, only 9 end up being referred to prosecutors, and only 5 result in prison sentences. That’s right: only 0.5 % of sexual assaults result in a perpetrator’s incarceration. With those odds, who could fault sexual assault victims for not going to the police?
Jeff agrees with sexual violence experts who suggest we reallocate police funds to programs such as rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, mental health counseling, and anti-sexual violence education. Jeff will advocate for the reallocation of funding within the APD to improve the outcomes of sex crime investigations, including providing increased training for detectives, having social workers accompany police to sex crime scenes, and establishing a unit within the APD Detective Division dedicated solely to sexual violence investigations.
Jeff loves history. American History was his college major, and he has a deep appreciation for local history. The historic character of the 6th Ward is a significant part of what makes our neighborhoods special. Albany’s rich history is often woefully overlooked and underappreciated. Jeff believes the city can do more to promote its history and that by promoting its history, the city could increase tourism and revenue for city coffers.
The City of Albany must do a better job of protecting endangered historic properties, especially from emergency demolitions. Jeff believes that municipal funds for demolitions would be better put towards stabilization of historic properties. He would like the City of Albany to take a more proactive, rather than reactive, approach to dealing with endangered historic properties. Additionally, as your councilmember, Jeff will work with local organizations like the Historic Albany Foundation (of which Jeff is a member) to increase awareness among 6th Ward homeowners regarding local tax incentives, grants, and other funding sources for restorative work on historic properties.
PEDESTRIAN-FRIENDLY WASHINGTON PARK
Washington Park is the crown jewel not only of the 6th Ward, but of the entire City of Albany. The majesty of Washington Park and its surrounding brownstone and tree-lined blocks instilled awe in Jeff when he was growing up, and they continue to awe him to this day.
As your councilmember, Jeff will be committed to the City of Albany’s responsible stewardship of the park. He will ensure open communication among city officials, the Washington Park Conservancy, and his constituents, all of whom are neighbors of Washington Park.
In 2021, the City of Albany will initiate the “Washington Park Area Traffic Study” to assess ways to improve pedestrian safety and walkability in Washington Park. As your councilmember, Jeff will work closely with the City to ensure that the traffic study adequately provides for traffic calming measures and increased pedestrian safeguards in the park. Although the park will need to remain open to vehicle traffic, especially in order to accommodate ambulances going to the hospitals, Jeff knows that there is significant work to be done in order to make the park more accessible and pedestrian-friendly.