Make the Road New York serves and engages New York communities that face shared hardships and injustices. All of the communities in which we work are predominantly populated by poor and working class Latinos, immigrants, and African Americans. MRNY's 14,000+ members come from over 25 different countries and have a wide range of experiences and backgrounds.
MRNY has centers in Bushwick, Brooklyn; Jackson Heights, Queens; Port Richmond, Staten Island; and Brentwood, Long Island, and our membership draws from surrounding communities throughout the five boroughs and Nassau and Suffolk counties, as well as communities newly impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Our advocacy and litigation work affect millions of these New Yorkers at the citywide and county levels, and increasingly at the state level.
The more than 100,000 residents of Bushwick are among the poorest in the city. The average per capita income is $11,871óless than half the city average. Fifty-six percent of Bushwick households earn less than $39,000 and 33% earn less than $18,000. Bushwick is also an immigrant neighborhood: over 35% of households are made up of foreign-born immigrants, three quarters of whom are from Latin America. A significant portion of residents are undocumented. According to the Furman Center at New York University, only 13% of Bushwick residents have attained a Bachelor's degree or higher level of education, while 41% never graduated from high school.
Over 86% of Bushwick residents are renters and nearly a quarter of Bushwick households spend more than 50% of their income on rent. As gentrification spreads east from Williamsburg, MRNY members report an upsurge in harassment by landlords, neglect of the housing stock, demands for illegal rent increases, and fraudulent eviction proceedings to force tenants from their rent-stabilized apartments. Bushwick's rate of serious housing code violations is the single highest in the city.
Bushwick is also home to a public health crisis. The city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene ranks Bushwick (in combination with neighboring Williamsburg) below average on virtually every health indicator, as compared to the 41 other city neighborhoods. The adult asthma rate in Bushwick is almost twice the city average, exacerbated by the epidemic of asthma triggers in residential housing. Obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are rampant. Bushwick is located in the heart of NYC's so-called "lead belt," and is consistently reported to have one of the highest incidences of childhood lead poisoning in the city. The neighborhood also has high levels of rodent infestation and the second-lowest amount of park space of any NYC neighborhood.
The job picture in Bushwick is troubling as well. Garment factory jobs have largely fled the neighborhood for other countries, but sweatshop conditions predominate in the industries that remain. Restaurants, retail, small-scale construction, and food wholesalers employ large portions of MRNY's membership. More often than not, these employers violate the law by paying sub-minimum wage or by forcing employees to work as many as seventy to eighty hours per week without proper overtime pay. Employees who complain are routinely threatened or simply fired on the spot.
Jackson Heights, Queens
Jackson Heights and neighboring Elmhurst are home to a large and diverse immigrant community with the two largest shares of immigrants of all NYC neighborhoods. In both neighborhoods, people who were born outside of the U.S. make up more than 60% of the population. The community in Jackson Heights is predominantly Latino; immigrants from Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, and Uruguay comprise 60% of residents. Half of these residents are not proficient in English, and of those, nearly three quarters speak Spanish in the home.
Poverty here is on the rise, and more than 15% of families are considered poor, even by national government standards, in both the Jackson Heights and the Elmhurst/Corona areas. As in Bushwick, problems of noncompliance with basic minimum wage and overtime laws are the norm, not the exception. There is also a growing trend of rampant abuse by employment agencies.
This area has been an epicenter of the growing mortgage foreclosure crisis, which profoundly hits renters being evicted from foreclosed buildings and immigrant residents who invested their life savings to buy a home. In Elmhurst/Corona, 77% of residents rent, and 57.6% of apartments are rent-regulated. In another disturbing trend, private equity firms are buying up western Queens' stock of rent-stabilized housing, then mounting aggressive campaigns to force thousands of long-term residents from their homes in order to re-let apartments at illegally high rents.
Health access is another critical issue for residents. Western Queens has the highest percentage of adults without health insurance of any NYC region. One third of adults in Western Queens lack a primary health care provider, and women in Western Queens are less likely to get regular pap tests than women in the rest of Queens or New York City as a whole.
Port Richmond, Staten Island
Looking at the borough as a whole, Staten Island appears largely white and middle class. Island-wide, the median income is over $66,000 and fully 69% of Staten Island residents own their own homes. Only twenty percent of the whole Island's population is foreign born, 36% of whom emigrated from Europe.
In contrast, the enclave of Port Richmond on Staten Island's North Shore is home to the city's fastest growing immigrant population. Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, Staten Island's Latino population grew by more than 50%, with more than 81,000 Hispanic residents now living in Port Richmond. MRNY members in Port Richmond typically speak little English, and often speak only modest Spanish, second to their indigenous language. Neighborhood incomes average below $19,000 for a family of three.
Like those in Jackson Heights and Bushwick, the poor and immigrant residents of Port Richmond face exploitive labor conditions, often in poorly regulated sectors, and also have minimal access to government services and low levels of educational attainment. Half of North Shore residents rent and the percentage of renters in Port Richmond is even higher. Community members often live in illegal basement apartments without the protection of rent stabilization.
Day labor work in construction is typical of Port Richmond residents, who get picked up by contractors for jobs in New Jersey or Long Island. The industry is notorious for nonpayment of wages, a trend likely to accelerate if construction continues to slow and employers attempt to cut costs. MRNY's Port Richmond members confirm the trend noted by the Centers for Disease Control: foreign-born Latino workers face disproportionate and increasing rates of work-related injury, particularly among those working in construction. Employers intimidate workers, especially undocumented workers, from securing the workers' compensation benefits to which they are entitled, leaving immigrant families with staggering hospital bills and placing increasing strain on public hospitals.
A recent spate of anti-immigrant hate crimes in Port Richmond highlight the specific challenges facing this isolated, growing population.
Brentwood, Long Island
Long Island's immigrant population has more than doubled in the past few decades to just over 465,000 residents, accounting for more than 16 percent of the general population. More than half of all immigrants arriving on Long Island since 2000 are from Latin America, compared to less than 17 percent of those who had arrived in 1980 or earlier. As of the 2000 Census, more than 54% of Brentwood residents, 27% of neighboring Central Islip residents, and 23% Patchogue residents were Latino or Hispanic. These numbers have climbed even higher in subsequent years, with newly-arrived immigrants accounting for much of this growth.
A recent report by the Fiscal Policy Institute concluded that immigrant economic output represented more than a third of total economic growth in Long Island from 1990 to 2007. The net economic benefit to Long Island of Latino immigrant residents' presence, computed as the difference between taxes paid and cost of government services used, is estimated at over $130 million, or $842 per Latino immigrant resident, clearly refuting regressive propaganda that characterizes Latino immigrants as a drain on the economy.
Despite these contributions, immigrant Latinos in Long Island have been the targets of intense anti-immigrant policy initiatives and public anger. Some public officials have opted to build their political careers on anti-immigrant platforms, instead of promoting public policies that address the growing inequality between immigrants and their native-born or white counterparts. Today, Latinos have lower per capita incomes than black, Asian and white Long Islanders, as well as lower levels of English proficiency and educational attainment. Additionally, Latino and immigrant students in Long Island public schools face a much greater array of obstacles to college preparedness.
As with their New York City counterparts, Latinos in Long Island face profound violations of fundamental wage, health and safety rights on the job. Anti-immigrant sentiment, distrust of government agencies, and the paucity of legal resources have led many immigrant workers to tolerate violations rather than report the abuse. Since 2011, MRNY has worked to create opportunities for meaningful political participation for immigrant Long Islanders, both to address the wave of hate crimes on the rise throughout the county, and to build the political power necessary to reform public policies that address the needs of those growing immigrant communities.
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