Disability Issues

Disability Issues – Questions for Candidates

from ARISE, Access CNY, Aurora of CNY, and Disabled in Action 

1. Please describe how your administration will improve the physical infrastructure important to people with disabilities – especially the condition of curb cuts/sidewalks in the city and shoveling public sidewalks in the winter. 

I will municipalize sidewalk maintenance and snow shoveling under the Department of Public Works, which will be responsible for the sidewalks as it is for the streets.

It is inexcusable that people have to walk in the streets when it snows – children walking to school, parents with strollers, seniors, mail carriers, and disabled people with wheelchairs. On many blocks, the sidewalks are impassible even without snow for many of these people because they are in such disrepair.

The old way of fining property owners for failure to maintain and remove snow from sidewalks has been a failure for decades. The city doesn't even do a good job of clearing sidewalks in front of its own properties.

City responsibility for sidewalk snow removal is assumed in Rochester NY, Burlington VT, Fairbanks AK, and many other cities and towns. One estimate for sidewalk snow removal in Syracuse puts the cost at $7 to $10 per premise per year. 

2. Syracuse has the fourth highest number of vehicle/pedestrian accidents in NY State. Areas such as Erie Boulevard, James Street and the area near Destiny and the Regional Market are dangerous, with little to no saftey infrastructure. How will administration make our streets safe for pedestrians?

I will accelerate the city program to make all of our city streets Complete Streets, with priority for pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchairs, and baby strollers over cars.

I want to amend the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which now says: “The City of Syracuse shall accommodate all users equally, with equal right to access and use of the transportation network.”

There are inevitable conflicts between cars, pedestrians, bikes, and public transit in both the use of public rights of way and the allocation of limited public resources for transportation. In those conflicts, cars should have the lowest priority. Cars take more public money and land to accommodate than any other transportation mode. The point is to move people, not cars.

We should plan our transportation system to prioritize walkable neighborhoods, bikes, and public transit. We should plan our transportation system for the day – perhaps a decade away – when self-driving or autonomous cars are the primary vehicles on the road. Most people will use autonomous cars on demand from a private company or public utility when they need them, rather than owning a personal vehicle. It will be a personal rapid transit system with far fewer vehicles overall because they will operate 24/7. It will radically reduce the number of vehicles needed to move people and the land needed for parking. We should plan our Complete Streets now with this development in mind.

3. The city has no formal written plan for dealing with a natural or man-made disaster. Describe the steps you will take to develop such a plan, including whether you will commit to working with the Inclusive Emergency Planning Task Force to develop such a plan.

We have needed such a plan since at least the 1998 Labor Day storm. I would work with the Inclusive Emergency Planning Task Force as well as the Onondaga County FEMA Director to develop a plan.

The plan should include securing water, shelter, and food for people affected. It should include commitments from city broadcast media to communicate with their audiences in the event of an emergency.

One of the failings in the aftermath of the Labor Day storm in 1998 is that much of the media did not communicate what was happening and how people could get assistance. I was party to a challenge filed with the Federal Communications Commission to WSYR radio’s license renewal several years later because, among other problems, WSYR had failed to communicate adequately with the public in that emergency.

4. At the request of the current mayor, the Law Department has reclassified ramps used by people with disabilities to enter and leave their homes as temporary structures – allowing the city to approve their permits without the delay of going to the zoning department. How will you make this decision permanent?

I would put the change in the revision of the city’s zoning ordinance now being developed the the ReZone Syracuse project.

5. For people with disabilities, finding an affordable, accessible and inclusive apartment to rent in the city of Syracuse is an almost impossible task. Waiting lists for these apartments are often four years long. There is a lock of accessible units, the poverty rate for people with disabilities is the highest for any group in the city. New construction and mandated accessibility is almost exclusively in the county, where low income and disabled renters face open discrimination by landlords. Please explain your plans for increasing the amount of affordable, accessible and inclusive housing stock in the city of Syracuse.

I’m calling for an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance that requires a mix of low-income, moderate-income, and market rate units in new or substantially rehabilitated housing developments.

Inclusionary zoning will address the lack of affordable rental housing in Syracuse as well as the segregation in housing that isolates poor, working-class, minority, and disabled people from the resources and opportunities that affluent middle-class people take for granted.

The concentration of poverty in Syracuse that everyone is wringing their hand about is the consequence of segregation by race, class, and disablity.

We can build a coalition to support Inclusionary Zoning to construct more affordable housing because the rent is too damned high for so many people in Syracuse. 65% of Syracuse residents rent and 53% of Syracuse renters spend 30% or more of their income on housing. 30% of income is the federal standard for housing affordability. 29% of tenants spend moer than half their income on rent. 

Those numbers mean at least 30% of new units in a development should be affordable for low-income people to meet the demand for affordable housing. The inclusionary zoning ordinance should also include a standard to ensure that sufficient units for disabled people are developed to meet the need.

Inclusionary zoning also means new developments in poor neighborhoods should include market rate units, so we aren’t further segregating and concentrating poor people. 

Housing, like schools, was not covered in the Consensus Report on metropolitan government and shared services. That discussion has to include schools and housing and how to desegregate them. Extending the city’s new law against source of income discrimination to the county, as well as inclusionary zoning, have to be a precondition for any form of metropolitan government. 

The replacement of the I-81 elevated highway by a community grid is a big opportunity to expand affordable rental housing in the middle of the city. The community street grid should be developed as a mixed-income, mixed-use, and walkable neighborhood with a good number of rental units for disabled people.

The Syracuse Housing Authority is developing plans for the 27 square block area it owns south of Adams Street that will double or triple the number of units there for mixed-income housing, including at least as many units for low income tenants as before. I want to make sure the community street grid north of Adams Street is developed with a similar commitment to mixed-income housing. 

6. Will your administration commit to creating a Mayoral Office for People with Disabilities? 


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Howie Hawkins is the 2017 Green candidate for Syracuse Mayor
Hawkins for Mayor