The UNH Blog

Democracy: Is it in Danger?

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Message from UNH Executive Director, Susan Stamler 

Recently, I traveled with a delegation of about a dozen of my New York City settlement house colleagues to the International Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers conference in Helsinki, Finland. The theme of this conference was 
Democracy: Is it in Danger?, and it has inspired my thinking even more than usual about the role UNH and settlement houses play in promoting social change and democracy. Also, about how important it is for us to dedicate even more of our energy towards building an open and democratic society that guarantees, teaches, and encourages active participation, provides access to information, protects a free press, and strengthens communities. Democracy needs exercise to grow. UNH and our members have the stamina, brains, and heart to make that possible. Keep reading to learn more about how UNH is empowering New Yorkers to take part in decisions that affect their communities. 

2018 Settlement House Day Recap  
On April 17, 250 settlement house staff attended UNH’s Settlement House Day! This full day of professional development workshops and panel discussions – offered exclusively for settlement house staff – has become a highly anticipated annual event. Session topics were suggested and led by settlement house staff and included tips for how to use social media to promote programming, building cultural competency for diverse programs, and ways to incorporate civic engagement into everyday activities. The event was so successful – the evaluation showed that 95% of participants think attending Settlement House Day will help them in their work – that we are looking into a bigger space for next year.

UNH is Expanding 

Welcoming New UNH Members
UNH recently welcomed three new settlement house members: Red Hook Initiative in Brooklyn, and the first members from outside New York City in UNH’s 99-year history, Trinity Alliance of the Capital Region in Albany and Syracuse Northeast Community Center. Membership in UNH is considered for organizations that demonstrate commitment to the settlement house model, which means they are embedded in their community, serve multiple generations, offer a variety of programs, and focus on community building and reciprocity.  These new members are committed to actively participating in, benefiting from, and contributing to UNH's advocacy efforts, customized professional development and peer learning opportunities, and technical assistance support.  This increased membership allows us to expand our reach -- UNH members now touch the lives of more than 765,000 New Yorkers of all ages.  We are thrilled to have these three vital and important community-based organizations join the UNH family, which is enriched by their staff and communities. 

New Work Around Neighborhood Affordability 
UNH has hired a new Policy Analyst to expand our efforts to promote and preserve neighborhood affordability. The cost of living in New York City has grown out of reach for too many people. Increasing gentrification and a yawning income gap threatening the fabric of our communities, and our members have seen their neighborhoods changing swiftly. We have hired a new Policy Analyst who will focus on educating our network about the processes that lead to gentrification and skyrocketing rents, and developing a platform that ties together economic and workforce development and affordable housing. From emphasizing the importance of settlement houses partnering with NYCHA to exploring ways land use can benefit low-income New Yorkers, our holistic approach will take aim at some of the root causes of displacement. Check out the first education tool developed as part of this new portfolio of work, which details the New York City Rezoning process and identifies opportunities for engaging and affecting that process to help our members ensure their constituents are represented in the City’s plans. Advocacy in Action

Advocacy Wins in Settlement House and New York City Families
In Albany and at City Hall, UNH advocates for programs that help individuals, children, families, and older adults, and that make our neighborhoods better places to live. We mobilize settlement houses and their communities to speak out for these programs on the steps of City Hall, in marches at all five Borough Halls, and in meetings with legislators in their districts and in Albany. This year’s effort resulted in 22,800 middle school youth being able to attend summer camp, paid summer jobs for 75,000 teens, $12 million in funding restored for adult literacy, and increased funding for critical services in Naturally Occurring Retirement Community programs. We also succeeded in securing long overdue wage increases in state contracts for staff in vital human services organizations. For more information on the results of this year’s City and State budget negotiations, click here for our Budget Snapshots. 

Taking Action: Census 2020
The Census is a Constitutionally-mandated count of the population in the United States, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. A proposal is under consideration by the federal government to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census that will likely strike fear in our country’s immigrant communities causing them not to respond to it and to be grossly underrepresented in the new Census count. The ramifications can lead to billions of dollars in lost federal funding and the potential loss of a Congressional seat, diminishing New York’s voice in Congress. UNH strongly opposes the inclusion of this question and as part of the New York Counts 2020 coalition, works to educate communities about the importance of full participation in the census, and to fight for the removal of this question.

For opportunities to take action, please contact UNH Civic Engagement Associate Lena Cohen.

"Best Budget for NYC's Neighborhoods in Years"

Monday, June 23, 2014

This is the best budget we have seen for New York City’s neighborhoods in years.  We applaud Mayor de Blasio and the City Council for preserving core neighborhood services and  for crucial new investments in the Summer Youth Employment Program, free school lunches for middle-schoolers, adult literacy education and the New York City Housing Authority.  However, there remain areas of unmet need and we need to go further.  We are disappointed that the budget does not include needed funding to provide adequate salaries for early childhood education staff. Without equitable salaries, qualified teachers  working with infants, toddlers and three year olds are likely to leave for higher paying jobs in Universal Pre-Kindergarten programs and thereby destabilizing services for younger children. UNH urges the City to work post budget to ensure that community based organizations  providing early childhood education are able to offer equitable salaries to their staff.

Nancy Wackstein reflects on the biennial conference of the International Federation of Settlements

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I’m very glad I went to Vancouver last week!

Last week I journeyed across the continent to beautiful Vancouver in British Columbia, the westernmost province of Canada.  The reason I went was to participate in the biennial conference of the International Federation of Settlements, a worldwide group of nonprofit organizations (typically called NGOs, or non-governmental organizations in countries outside the USA) that do similar work to the settlement houses and community centers of New York City that are members of the organization I lead, United Neighborhood Houses of NY.    In other places – Canada and Europe for example – most typically these organizations are called neighbourhood houses or neighbourhood centres.

I have to confess that I hardly ever go to professional conferences, jaded New Yorker that I am, as they take up a lot of time, cost a lot of money and very rarely turn out to be worth these expenditures in terms of knowledge gained or professional relationships created. But I must say, I was glad I went to Vancouver! 

Why?  There was a powerful and consistent theme running throughout the three full days of this conference, and it brought me back, in some way, to the very roots of our settlement house “place-based” work.  The theme – in short - was how important the authentic engagement of neighbors in the work of every community-based nonprofit organization truly is, and how much we’ve lost our way as many agencies have moved toward a “service delivery” model.

Too often we who run organizations that serve forget to genuinely involve neighbors, community residents, clients or do so as an afterthought.  Too often we give lip service to the views of the people who use our services but then go our own way when it comes to program planning and proposal writing. Too often we say we engage in community-building activities but we forget the first principle of successful community organizing, to listen to and engage the members of the community.  Too often we come to believe our own jargon: we say we use “strengths-based” or “assets-based” approaches but fail to see the potential contributions of society’s marginalized people, those with mental illness or dysfunctional families… or who are just poor.

In workshop after workshop in Vancouver I felt and heard the message that this must change and it really resonated with me.  Without genuinely involving the people who are affected by our policies and programs we will ultimately fail or simply become passive arms of government.  Conversely, when we work hard to involve community members in our work – and it is surely time-consuming, underfunded and just plain hard to do so – we ultimately will have agencies that better fulfill their missions and are more creative and innovative as well. 

A brilliant conference plenary speaker, John McKnight, Professor Emeritus at Northwestern University, noted that the goal of organizations like ours should be to try to “move people from clients to citizens” by helping to uncover their capacities.  To look at what can they teach us and what agendas they can help us set.  McKnight asked: how can we “enable their power to give” vs. “serving” them?  In essence, how can we who have defined ourselves as service providers “help ordinary people become extraordinary?”  I just love that notion.  And I thank my colleagues from around the world who gathered in Vancouver last week for reminding me of these basic and essential truths.

UNH Responds to the Mayor's FY15 Executive Budget

Friday, May 09, 2014

We applaud Mayor de Blasio’s progressive Executive Budget proposal and are thrilled he proposes investments in many key priorities for settlement houses and the communities they serve including expanding high-quality full day Pre-Kindergarten programs, moving towards universal access to after-school programs for middle school students, expanding summer programs for middle school students, investing in the Summer Youth Employment Program to close the jobs gap created by the state minimum wage increase and the loss of other funding sources, and investing in the New York City Housing Authority.  We also appreciate Mayor de Blasio’s commitment to a transparent and collaborative budget process. We remain committed to working with both the City Council and the administration to achieve salary parity for early childhood educators and an adequate rate for Early Learn programs, rate parity for after-school programs, universal free school lunches, adult literacy resources to help students and educators make the leap to new Common Core standards, expanding and improving services for older adults and an expansion of the Summer Youth Employment Program to serve the nearly 100,000 young people who despite today’s investment will still be turned away this summer.

UNH Responses to Fiscal Year 2015 State Budget

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Although there remains tremendous unmet need in services for New York City’s children, youth, immigrants and older adults, United Neighborhood Houses is pleased that the NYS FY2015 budget includes several positive investments that will improve the lives of residents in vulnerable and low income communities. The investment of $300 million to make Universal Pre-K truly universal in New York City is a historic victory for New York City's children and families. In addition, the $34m expansion in the Child Care Block Grant (CCBG) will also help ensure that parents are able to go to work while their children are in safe settings. We are encouraged by the $5m increased investment in the Community Services for the Elderly (CSE) program which will allow greater numbers of older adults to age with dignity in their homes, and also applaud the $1m expansion to the Settlement House Initiative, which provides settlement houses with the flexibility to meet evolving community needs.

However, UNH is deeply disappointed in the failure of leadership that resulted in the DREAM Act not being included in the final budget. As a result, thousands of immigrant youth without documentation through no fault of their own will continue to face significant financial barriers to pursuing a higher education after succeeding in high school. This represents a missed opportunity for New York to capitalize on their talents and potential. In addition, by not investing greater resources in Adult Literacy Education (ALE) and the transition from the GED® to the Common Core-aligned TASC™ examination, immigrants seeking to improve their English skills, and other adult education students hoping to earn their high school equivalency diploma will continue to face class shortages.

Also of significant concern to UNH is the nominal increased investment in the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). While the $2.5m increase will help retain some youth jobs, thousands more will be lost in NYC at a time when over 100,000 youth in the City are already turned from the program annually, as the State did not fully account for the impact of the increased minimum wage on the program.

Disappointment over NY Senate Decision about the DREAM Act

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

United Neighborhood Houses is deeply disappointed that the New York Senate failed to pass the DREAM Act yesterday. Investing in the educational opportunity of youth eager to pursue higher education is a common sense move that states as diverse as Texas, California and New Mexico embraced years ago. At a time when immigrants drive New York City’s economy— comprising 44% of our workforce and generating over $210 billion in economic activity every year—shutting the door on the dreams of their children is shameful. UNH calls on Governor Cuomo, Speaker Silver and the Senate Leadership to include the DREAM Act in the final budget.

UNH Response to Senate Bill

Friday, March 14, 2014

United Neighborhood Houses (UNH) is pleased that the Assembly and Senate have each produced budget resolutions that include support for several key programming areas that vulnerable New Yorkers rely on, and that both houses of the legislature are  now united in support of the New York City plan to expand Pre-Kindergarten and After-School. Together, the two houses will make UPK truly universal and provide every middle school student access to an after-school slot. Under the leadership of Speaker Silver, the Assembly’s budget resolution includes NYC’s financing plan for Universal Pre-Kindergarten and After-School expansion, $25m to support implementation of the DREAM Act, and expanded investment in innovative Settlement House programming used to meet complex neighborhood needs.

We are also encouraged by Senate Co-Leaders Klein and Skelos’s work to produce a budget resolution that increases investments in critical areas including a $4.7m expansion in Adult Literacy Education (ALE) and $1.0m to support the High School Equivalency (HSE) transition to the Common Core, an additional $5.0m to serve older adults through Community Services for the Elderly (CSE),  and expanded eligibility for the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage Program (EPIC). In addition, the Senate resolution commits to fully funding NYC’s plan to universalize Pre-Kindergarten and expand After-school for middle school students.

We remain disappointed, however, that that additional funding to account for the increase in the minimum wage was not included for the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) in either budget resolution. Without this funding there will be 2,750 fewer jobs for young people in NYC this summer. In addition, the Senate’s failure to include any funding for the DREAM Act is a tremendous letdown for the thousands of hard-working young DREAMers who will continue to find college out of reach.

UNH now calls on Governor Cuomo, Speaker Silver, and Senate Co-Leaders Klein and Skelos to ensure the State’s final budget bill includes support for all of these programs that our communities need to be safe, stable, and vibrant.

UNH's Applauds Governor Cuomo for Reinstating Funds to SNAP Benefits

Friday, February 28, 2014

United Neighborhood Houses is proud to work in a state in which the Governor has chosen to reinstate the deplorable Federal cuts to vital nutrition supports for low-income individuals and families. Governor Cuomo’s solution to provide the $457 million in SNAP benefits that were stripped from the Federal farm bill shows his commitment to the most vulnerable members of our communities. UNH member agencies see first-hand that hunger stands in the way of children learning, seniors remaining healthy, and of workers being productive; we are relieved to know that Governor Cuomo sees these realities too.

Dear Mr. Mayor

Monday, January 06, 2014
Dear Mr. Mayor,

Our favorite word this year has been "neighborhoods" and we hope it becomes yours too. In the run-up to the November Mayoral election, UNH co-hosted a Mayoral Candidates Forum on Neighborhoods and published the "Blueprint for Neighborhoods", a collection of over 50 policy recommendations to inform the strategies of the next Mayor and other City leaders.

Mr. Mayor, please consider this list just a starting point, but here are our three simple wishes for a better New York.

1. Support quality educational investments for children and young people, including expanding access to child care and after school programs, and enhancing quality in all schools.

2. Enhance New Yorkers' ability to enter and succeed in the workforce, with scaled up investment in community-based adult education and training programming and expanded employment opportunities for New Yorkers of all ages.

3. Build and sustain healthy and inclusive communities by funding community-based preventive programs to address health, homelessness, immigrant integration, and to keep older adults in the neighborhoods they love.

Best wishes for a great new year!
United Neighborhood Houses

Blueprint for Neighborhoods

Friday, June 28, 2013

On Tuesday, UNH will release a new report, a “Blueprint for Neighborhoods” that outlines policy recommendations for the next Mayor that will help keep New York City  neighborhoods strong, stable and vibrant.   One of its key points is that the human services the government pays nonprofits to provide in communities across the city are as essential as other municipal services like police, fire and sanitation.  While these “uniformed services” are always included in Mayoral budgets and, in fact, often receive increases in their spending authorization, services that are equally important to community health and well-being, like child care, afterschool programs, English classes and senior centers, continue to be cut and continue to rely on reduced, unpredictable, often one-year funding.  This approach not only jeopardizes the stability of the nonprofit agencies the City relies on to deliver these services, it puts entire neighborhoods at risk.   

When New Yorkers turn on their light switches they expect the electricity to flow.  When they open their faucets, they expect the water to rush out.   These are utilities that we have come to count on.  Similarly, we need to provide “social utilities” to the many hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who need predictable child care and senior care, to name but two.  When an older adult walks down the block,  she needs to know the doors of her senior center are still open.  When a young mother looks for affordable child care, she needs to know there will be a spot for her child in her neighborhood.   It is time to start treating these services as “discretionary”.  They are not.  Just like police and sanitation, they are part of what makes New York City a strong, stable and livable city.