En Español Know Your Rights
Source: New York Community Trust
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Protecting the Purity of the City’s Drinking Water

Most
New Yorkers drink out of cool, clear mountain streams every day without leaving
their homes. Rain and melted snow from the forested mountains filter through the
Catskill/Delaware and Croton watersheds and collect into 19 vast reservoirs.
Each day, more than 1.1 billion gallons of water are pumped into the City,
earning its reputation as the Dom Perignon of drinking water. But the system is
delicate and at constant risk of contamination.

The
New York Community Trust has been a lead funder of efforts to safeguard this
resource. "Since we began our New York
City environmental grants program in the mid-1980s,
protecting the quality of the City’s drinking water supply has been a
priority," said Pat Jenny, program director for The Trust’s environmental
grantmaking. "With our support, Natural Resources Defense Council, Riverkeeper,
and other groups, successfully campaigned for New York City to set aside $300
million to buy ecologically sensitive watershed lands between 2007 and 2017,
part of the 1997 landmark agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency to
protect the purity of New York City drinking water in its unfiltered state."
Since then, Trust grants have helped groups purchase conservation easements on
forest and agricultural lands in the watersheds.

Still,
steadfast monitoring is required throughout the watersheds facing growth
pressures as the New York
metropolitan region spreads northward. "Ill-planned development threatens the
ecosystems that provide natural filtration for the water of nine million
downstate residents," said Eric A. Goldstein of the Natural Resource Defense
Council. "Such development replaces forests, meadows, and wetlands with roadways,
parking lots, and rooftops. That brings additional sewage pollution and leads
to storm water runoff."

In
1999, a developer proposed a massive plan to build three golf courses, hotels,
and hundreds of condos on a nearly 2,000-acre plot of forested land adjacent to
the Belleayre Ski Center
in the heart of the Catskill watershed. This posed a serious threat to water
quality and would have set a dangerous precedent for future development.

After
several years in and out of court, environmental organizations were victorious
and signed an agreement in principle that would protect more than 86 percent of
the total acreage from development and provide for a more ecologically
sensitive project. Its single golf course would be managed without dangerous
pesticides and it would also have to meet stringent standards for waste
treatment and erosion control. And before this smaller development could
advance, it would have to make it through a supplemental public environmental
review process.

But
protecting this expansive landscape requires more than challenging individual
projects. Trust grants have supported Riverkeeper’s public education and
organizing campaign in towns in Putnam and Westchester
counties to adopt more sustainable land-use patterns. One specific result of
this campaign was a State ruling that forced the town of Southeast’s planning board to hold a rigorous
environmental review before approving a housing development on parcels
containing wetlands and other waterways. Its report, Pave it…or Save It?, covered
the environmental, social, and economic impact of sprawl and was presented to
more than half the town boards in the Croton watershed.

The
Trust’s commitment to protecting our drinking water, as well as grants for
projects to reduce air pollution and other environmental toxins, manage our
solid waste, conserve parks and open space, and reclaim our waterfront are made
possible by generous donors who set up funds long ago. "These New Yorkers
trusted us, and our successors, to respond to contemporary problems," said The
Trust’s president, Lorie Slutsky. "The charitable resources they left to us
will help us leave a healthier city to our grandchildren and great
grandchildren."

Healthy Housing
Victories Spur Inspections of Hazardous Homes

Irania
Sanchez had been living with mold, spotty heat and hot water, and "rats as big
as cats" for the last five years. She and other family members who live in her
building suffered from severe asthma – a result of these dangerous housing
conditions. Her landlord repeatedly refused to make repairs. Make the Road New York worked with the
City’s housing department to threaten legal action and organized a rally that
successfully prompted the landlord to begin making repairs.

Make the Road has also battled
successfully to make sure tenants around the City are living in buildings that
are up to code. With a grant from The Trust in 2006, it helped pass the Safe
Housing Act – a piece of legislation that promotes real accountability for
negligent landlords who fail to repair violations that the City deems
"immediately hazardous."

The Fifth Avenue Committee and the
Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development are two other nonprofits
that work on behalf of New Yorkers. With grants from The Trust in 2006 and
2007, the Fifth Avenue Committee documented the direct connection between
health problems, such as asthma, and poor living conditions that cause and
exacerbate them. This research is a key part of efforts to reclassify
health-related housing code violations in the City, helping to get toxic homes
cleaned up faster and more thoroughly.

"Under
the Safe Housing Act, thousands of dangerous apartments are being inspected and
repaired, allowing low-income and immigrant families to live in healthy and safe
conditions. Tenants who live in problem buildings will get comprehensive
repairs, not just band-aid fixes. We are excited that we are finally seeing
change," said Angel Vera, an organizer with Make
the Road New York.

Fabian Rivera, a tenant who has lived for more than ten
years in a Bed-Stuy building with 192 housing code violations, testifies to the
change that he has seen as a result of this legislation. "In my apartment there
are many violations and the landlord has never wanted to do the repairs well.
Right now, the worst is the bathroom. I called him and told him that the
ceiling fell and that my son is living in dangerous conditions. The bad conditions
are effecting us psychologically and physically, especially my child. I always
call the landlord, and he says that he’s coming to repair problems, but when he
comes, he only wants to collect the rent, but I have stopped paying because it
is not just to live in these kind of conditions. Now the HPD inspectors are
coming almost every day. I have confidence that the City will do the repairs
because that is what the law demands."

With
multiple grants from The Trust, the Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development
won a commitment from the Bloomberg administration to implement the Targeted
Code Enforcement Program by building broad public support through dozens of community
events and briefings for policymakers and civic associations. "This program helps
tenants and the City systematically go after landlords until they make
repairs," says deputy director of the Association, Benjamin Dulchin. "It gives
the City a sharper set of tools, and more power to use them."