In The New York Times: White Privilege at the Capitol

To the Editor:

I have been stopped at Grand Central Terminal and had my bag searched, just for commuting with brown skin. I have had to wait at Kennedy Airport to have my Muslim identity verified. So no, I cannot stop thinking about what white supremacist insurgents got away with on Jan. 6.

And yet, my experiences are a fraction of the systemic terrors my Black and Latinx neighbors are subjected to. Americans are systematically criminalized for nothing more than their poverty and the color of their skin. It is heartbreaking to see what it takes to prompt action.

Many of us — who have watched our families be called rapists, who have had immigration bans on our nationalities and who have seen caricatures of our cultures wielded as petty insults — are wondering what has taken so long. The desecration of our democracy is appalling, but it did not begin on Jan. 6.

Syed Ali

Quoted in The New York Times: Bronx Night Market

On May 22, 2019, the “Summer in the City” series from The New York Times published my recommendation for an activity in the Bronx as part of an article highlighting the possibilities of a daylong adventure in the borough:

Something from a reader

Eat and drink your way through the Bronx Night Market at Fordham Plaza. It’s “the Bronx spin on Smorgasburg and the Queens Night Market,” writes Syed A., a Summer reader from Parkchester.

Read the rest in The New York Times >

In The Boston Globe: Graduate Programs Must Reflect the World They Study

On March 11, 2019, The Boston Globe published my letter to the editor about the inadequate diversity of Harvard University’s graduate school population. I wrote:

Kudos to Deirdre Fernandes for not allowing the diversity of Harvard’s undergraduate college to obscure broader failures (“Diversity lags at Harvard’s grad schools,” Page A1, March 3). The schools must make increasing financial aid a priority if they are truly to promote learning across race and class. While international diversity enriches our community, few international students seem to be from the lowest-income brackets in their home countries.

Many graduate courses treat cities across Massachusetts and throughout the country as living laboratories, but the university requires neither training in intercultural communication nor grounding in the history of race, class, and gender conflict in this country. We could all benefit from more of this.

Read the rest in The Boston Globe >

The Process of Preservation: Marketing to Property Owners to Maintain Affordability

“HOUSING NEW YORK,” the banners scream in capital letters. Walking around New York City, one sees these blue and white signs hanging on scaffolding in front of new construction. They promote the Mayor’s signature housing plan and bear the logo of the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development(HPD). These buildings contain at least some new affordable housing units, which are part of the mythical affordable housing lottery that is a luckier draw than most actual lotto tickets. When New Yorkers think of affordable housing, they think of the struggling public housing authority (NYCHA) or of these newly constructed units. Note, however, that development is only one half of the equation in HPD’s name. As the agency marches on towards an ambitious goal of 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026, two-thirds of the units achieved so far have been through preservation. No banners hang in front of buildings with preserved affordable housing, but they are fundamental to keeping New Yorkers in their homes as costs of living continue to rise.

When cash-strapped landlords need to make improvements to their buildings, they turn to HPD as a lender of last resort. HPD is happy to provide financing with generous terms, but it comes with strings; the property owners must agree to offer rents affordable to designated Area Median Income (AMI) bands. While many of the agency’s programs are geared toward larger buildings where they can maximize impact, some are geared towards small and medium-sized buildings. Owners of smaller properties, however, are unaware that these programs are available to them. They are usually not professional property managers and may own only one or a few properties. Continue reading “The Process of Preservation: Marketing to Property Owners to Maintain Affordability”

Undesigning the Redline in the Bronx and Beyond

In 1938 — as the New Deal infused capital into cities and Robert Moses molded New York — the federal Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) carved America into the unequal landscapes it is today. In the Bronx, my home borough of New York City, it granted the Riverdale and Fieldston neighborhoods its green, first grade, type A status. HOLC recognized that Riverdale and Fieldston were of the newest, most suburban, and most secure of neighborhoods for real estate investment. They were most desirable for what they did not have: communities of color. HOLC’s forms lay it bare:

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Planning by the Book: HPD and the Neighborhood Planning Playbook

City of New York interagency collaboration shown through a section diagram calling out different agencies relevance to everyday lifeThis post is the second of five appearing on the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) Community Service Fellowship Program (CSFP) blog, describing my summer working as Neighborhood Planning Intern at the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

“A truly democratic planning process is both inclusionary and transparent,” said Frances A. Resheke, then Board Secretary of the Municipal Art Society, when introducing a session on the City of New York’s Neighborhood Planning Playbook in 2015. I can think of no better way to introduce the Playbook myself. Introduced at the end of that year, the document creates the framework for a planning process that encourages collaboration between city agencies and with local communities. The Neighborhood Planning team at the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) takes this namesake process and playbook seriously, looking back at it constantly to make sure that we are studying neighborhoods in a well-managed, clearly articulated way. Continue reading “Planning by the Book: HPD and the Neighborhood Planning Playbook”

Why I’m Working on Housing New York This Summer

This post is the first of five appearing on the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) Community Service Fellowship Program (CSFP) blog, describing my summer working as Neighborhood Planning Intern at the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

New York claims to be a welcoming city, but all the pride flags and Black Lives Matter stickers and “immigrant and refugees are welcome here” signs fly in the face of our exclusionary financial pressures. Our city has a “right to shelter” law, but is struggling to accommodate demand not just from the homeless but also the more fortunate. Neighborhood after neighborhood sees sea change. People clinging onto the only homes they know are harassed by rising rents, conveniently inconvenient construction, the deprivation of heat and hot water, and a host of other bad behaviors.

The NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is on the forefront of this battle, helping tenants keep their footing as the sand shifts under their feet. The agency develops and preserves affordable housing, protects tenants from harassment, ensures the safety of homes, and engages neighborhoods in planning their futures. Continue reading “Why I’m Working on Housing New York This Summer”

Quoted in The Associated Press: “Shock, then ambition: Ocasio-Cortez hopes to shake up House”

I am proud to have supported Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for the Democratic nomination for New York’s 14th congressional district. I am proud of my neighbors in the Bronx and Queens for voting for bold change. I am my proud of my future congresswoman for speaking truth to power and delivering an impressive victory.

Supporters in her district said that’s what they were looking for when they picked her over U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, a senior member of the Democratic leadership in the House and a longtime party boss in Queens.

“She understood us because she is one of us,” said Syed Ali, a 26-year-old Harvard University graduate student from the Bronx who volunteered for her campaign. “The real highlight of her campaign was just how genuine she was. Her voice felt very true.”

Read more from The Associated Press >

What Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Victory Means to Me

I can’t adequately explain how much this means to me. I haven’t been this inspired by political energy since Barack Obama soared into office. I’m not saying Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is running for President, but that her victory is a victory of personal and political significance.

Establishment media shaken awake after her victory keep noting how many views her campaign video has gotten. I can’t help but wonder how many of those views are from people like me who watched it everyday, sometimes multiple times a day, in bed at night and on the 6 train in the morning. When women from the Bronx speak—whether it’s Cardi B or Sonia Sotomayor—people listen. Few have been as much of a pleasure as Alexandria, who speaks forcefully, heart-wrenchingly, about the everyday injustices working families face.

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