Health Chair Levine Statement on Upper Manhattan Legionnaires’ Cluster

**RELEASE** November 9, 2018

CONTACT: Jake Sporn // 917-842-5748 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY – Council Member Mark Levine has issued the following statement:

"From the moment we learned of a second legionnaires cluster at the same location in upper Manhattan, I began asking pressing questions: are there defects in cooling tower equipment which make them vulnerable to repeat contamination? How long does intense monitoring last after a tower is found to be contaminated once?

Five weeks--and one oversight hearing--after Lower Washington Heights was hit with a second deadly cluster, we still don’t have adequate answers to these questions. DOHMH needs to move immediately to put in place better protocols to prevent this kind of repeat contamination."

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Council Member Levine Statement on Waived Licensing Fees for Struggling Taxi Drivers

**RELEASE** October 29, 2018

CONTACT: Jake Sporn // 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

 

City Hall, NY – Ahead of the October 31st Taxi Licensing Fee payment deadline, City Council Member Mark Levine has issued the following statement:

“Independent owner-drivers who played by the rules set by the City are now enduring extraordinary financial hardships through absolutely no fault of their own. After having bought an asset because they had a guarantee from the City about its underlying value, our city has failed these small business owners.Both the financial and human toll brought on by this crisis cannot be overstated.

For us to better understand the depths of this crisis and ways to address it, I have introduced legislation, Int. 1069, which will require the TLC to study ways to ease the financial hardship of these hardworking, overwhelmingly immigrant drivers.

As I have stated before, the app-based taxi corporations should be the ones to shoulder the financial burden of providing financial relief to the independent medallion owner-drivers who are suffering.  

While the legislative process moves forward—and as the Council continues to look for lasting solutions to help New York’s taxi community—I’m thrilled the TLC has answered my call to waive the required annual medallion renewal and inspection fees, which force payments two years in advance and cost up to $1,650 per medallion. For many, that is the difference between paying the rent and putting food on the table.”

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Council Member Levine Introduces Legislation to Address Impact of Supertalls on Parkland

**DRAFT RELEASE** October 16, 2018

CONTACT: Jake Sporn // 917-842-5748 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY – As a new generation of super-tall skyscrapers emerges throughout the city, Council Member Mark Levine is introducing legislation that would require the creation of an inter-agency task force to study the effect of shadows cast by tall buildings over City parkland.

The loss of sunlight is detrimental to City parks. This is especially true in Manhattan, where the narrow street grid means many blocks only have direct sunlight for a few hours per day. Depending on the season, buildings over 1000 feet cast shadows that can extend as far as twenty blocks.

From a tower built in 2015 on the southern edge of Madison Square Park that casts a shadow over most of the park’s six acres, to small parks in neighborhoods like the Lower East Side surrounded by lots with unused development, there are parks across the City in danger of being overshadowed. Even Most strikingly, new developments on “Billionaires Row” are putting Central Park at risk.

In the past few years alone, no fewer than seven towers have been completed or began construction on Manhattan’s 57th Street corridor, six of which measure over 1,000 feet in height.  One, the so-called Nordstrom Tower, will top out at a staggering 1,775 feet--just a few inches shorter than 1 World Trade Center. At least five other mega-towers are in some stage of planning or financing, which, if realized, would bring the total number in the 57th Street vicinity to twelve.

“Parks and greenspaces are essential pieces of our City’s infrastructure and parks need sunlight to thrive,” said Council Member Mark Levine, former chair of the Council’s Parks Committee.

“We want to tackle this problem before the next boom on super-tall towers attacks Central Park. They cast shadows that can be a mile or longer in the park. If it was just one, you would wait for it to pass, but there are potentially seven more and that’s going to affect the ecosystem of Central Park alone.

“Currently, there is no process in the zoning resolution to assess, let alone mitigate, the impact of buildings on parks and open space,” said  Layla Law-Gisiko, Chair of the Central Park Sunshine Task Force in Manhattan Community Board Five. “As a result, we have seen numerous parks throughout the city plunged into shadows with no ability to protect the public's access to sunlight.  We need to urgently equip ourselves with better zoning tools.  A task force will help identify the best mitigating solutions to protect our parks from shadow encroachment.”

Models of the shadows they will cast show that vast stretches of the park will be covered in shade during much of the day and through much of the year. These new shadows will be so long that they will reach as far as the Great Lawn and 72nd Street on the East Side, affecting the Heckscher Playground, the Central Park Zoo, and many of the park’s ball fields.

Said Council Member Levine, “Other cities--including Boston, Fort Lauderdale and San Francisco--have already enacted zoning ordinances that afford a measure of protection for green space. One common measure is to apply a ‘shadow budget’ to development around parks, to shape development in ways that minimize shadow impact. With the number of out-of-proportion developments increasing throughout the city, it’s well past time New York takes action to protect our parks.”

New York City enacted ground-breaking zoning rules in 1916 and 1961 in no small part as a reaction to the loss of sunlight caused by the rapidly increasing height and bulk of buildings in those eras. But in recent years a combination of transferable development rights, zoning lot mergers, and new building technologies have enabled super-tall structures that would have been inconceivable a half century ago--effectively rendering previous zoning laws impotent.  

While shadow assessments are required as part of the City’s environmental quality review process for projects that need discretionary approvals or permits from a City agency, or have received City funding, no such assessments are required for the type of as-of-right development now occurring around 57th Street.

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Council Member Levine Renews Call for West Harlem Ferry

**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE** October 15, 2018

CONTACT: Jake Sporn // 917-842-5748 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov  

City Hall, NY – As the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) finalizes its 2018 NYC Ferry feasibility study, Council Member Mark Levine wrote a letter calling for the establishment of ferry service at the West 125th Street Piers and across the Hudson River to New Jersey.

“A ferry network with stops on the west side of Manhattan and uptown would help reduce crowding on the increasingly over-packed 1 and A trains, stimulate economic activity, and remove countless fume-spewing vehicles from our streets” said Council Member Mark Levine. “As residential and commercial growth continues up and down the west side, and with key infrastructure already in place at West 125th Street, investing in ferry service now is a sensible step to address the need for an additional transportation hub. As New York City embarks on a new phase of ferry expansion through the five boroughs, Northern Manhattan shouldn’t be ignored again.”

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Council Member Levine to Host Transportation Town Hall Featuring NYC DOT Commissioner, Transit Advocates

**FOR PLANNING PURPOSES ONLY**

MEDIA ADVISORY FOR: October, 15th, 2018 at 6:30 pm

Contact: Jake Sporn 917-842-5748 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

Harlem, NY -- Council Member Mark Levine will be joined by NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and transportation advocates from Rider’s Alliance, TransitCenter, and Transportation Alternatives for a Town Hall meeting at the Manhattan School of Music.

Topics to be discussed include the City’s new program reserving street parking for car sharing services, the failing bus system, Council Member Levine’s renewed push to bring ferry service to West 125th Street in Harlem, the proposed Amsterdam Avenue redesign, and more. After a discussion led by Council Member Levine, community members will be invited to ask questions of the panel.

This event is open press, however due to space concerns, please RSVP to Jake Sporn by 4pm.

Where: Manhattan School of Music, 132 Claremont Avenue

When: Monday, October, 15th, 2018 at 6:30 pm

Who: City Council Member Mark Levine, NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Advocates from Rider’s Alliance, TransitCenter, and Transportation Alternatives.

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Right to Counsel Leaders Introduce New Legislation to Expand Landmark Tenants’ Rights Law

For Immediate Release: September 12, 2018

Contact: Jake Sporn // 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY -- Following the historic passage of New York City’s landmark “Right to Counsel” legislation, the law’s lead sponsors City Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, together with the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition (RTCNYC), are introducing new legislation to strengthen and expand the nation’s first universal eviction legal defense law.

The Council passed Levine and Gibson’s bill, Intro 214, in July of 2017, making New York the first jurisdiction in the country to guarantee legal representation in housing court for tenants. The new law mandated the NYC Office of Civil Justice provide New Yorkers with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line – or $50,200 annually for a family of four – with free legal representation when facing an eviction.

Since implementing, the Right to Counsel law has already had a dramatic impact in protecting tenants from eviction, including:

  • A 24 percent decrease in the number of evictions since 2014;
  • An increase in the number of non-profit legal aid attorneys working with tenants city-wide from 200 to 500, yielding a rise in the number of tenants with legal representation from just 10 to over 27 percent; and,
  • According to Housing Court Answers, zip codes covered by the first year roll out of Right to Counsel showed unprecedented progress. In the Bronx, the borough with the highest evictions, there was a 15% drop in the two zip codes where tenants have a right to an attorney. In Brooklyn, the two covered zips showed a decrease of 18% in evictions over the last two years. In Jamaica, Queens, the covered areas showed a 13% decline in 2017 compared to 2016.

Lastly, reflecting a paradigm shift in the tenant-landlord relationship, the number of eviction cases filed in NYC’s housing courts has already started to drop--down almost 10 percent since 2014--proving that even just having an attorney reduces the number of frivolous cases landlords bring to housing court.

“The passage of our right to counsel law last year was an historic step towards justice in NYC’s housing courts, where for generations the vast majority of tenants faced the threat of eviction without the benefit of legal representation,” said Council Member Levine. “The stakes for implementation couldn’t be higher-- which is why we need to expand and strengthen this law to keep New Yorkers in their homes, off the streets, and out of the shelter system.”

“After just one year, Right to Counsel is proving to be an unprecedented success,” said Council Member Vanessa Gibson. “This groundbreaking legislation has kept people in their homes, and out of homeless shelters and housing courts.”

Despite the new law’s extraordinary success, a combination of evolving landlord tactics, implementation issues in the courthouses, and lack of public awareness of the law continue to make it difficult for tenants to receive the legal representation they are now entitled to. To address these issues, Council Members Levine and Gibson, in partnership with RTCNYC Coalition leaders, are advancing new legislation that includes:

Increasing the income threshold to 400% of the federal poverty line

While the majority of tenants in housing court are eligible for the right to counsel under the current 200 percent threshold, a single New Yorker earning a $15 an hour minimum wage is not.

Said Council Member Levine, “The federal poverty level is totally out of whack with the reality in New York City. With the skyrocketing cost of living here, more and more people above 200% of the federal line are in fact facing enormous economic struggles. We need to expand the Right to Counsel law to reflect that.”  

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Council Health Chair Levine to Hold Hearing on Speaker Johnson Bill to Make Birth Certificates More Inclusive to All Gender Identities

**ADVISORY**

WHEN: Wednesday, June 13th, 2018 at 10 a.m.

WHERE: City Hall Main Chamber

Contact: Jake Sporn // 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY - Tomorrow, New York City Council Member Mark Levine will chair a Health Committee hearing regarding a bill proposed by Council Speaker Corey Johnson requiring the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to amend birth certificates issued in NYC to include a third category to reflect a non-binary gender identity.

Under the proposed law, NYC birth certificates will include male, female and a new, third category of “X” to reflect a non-binary gender identity. The legislation, Int 954, also amends the law so that transgender New Yorkers will no longer need a letter from a physician or an affidavit by a licensed health care provider to change their gender marker. Instead, people born in New York City will be able to submit their own affidavit, which attests that the gender marker change is for the purpose of affirming their gender identity

If you can’t attend the hearing in person, a live stream will be available online here.

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“Right to Counsel” Leaders Call for Expansion of Landmark Tenants’ Rights Law

For Immediate Release: June 8, 2018
Contact: Jake Sporn // 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY -- Less than a year after the historic passage of New York City’s landmark “Right to Counsel” legislation--and on the heels of San Francisco creating their own tenants’ right to counsel--the bill’s lead sponsors City Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, together with the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition (RTCNYC), are laying out a new agenda to strengthen and expand the nation’s first universal eviction legal defense law.

The Council passed Levine and Gibson’s bill, Intro 214, in July of 2017, making New York the first jurisdiction in the country to guarantee legal representation in housing court for tenants. The new law mandated the NYC Office of Civil Justice provide New Yorkers with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line – or $50,200 annually for a family of four – with free legal representation when facing an eviction.

As the Right to Counsel law approaches its one year anniversary this July, it has already had a dramatic impact in protecting tenants from eviction, including:

  • A 24 percent decrease in the number of evictions since 2014;
  • An increase in the number of non-profit legal aid attorneys working with tenants city-wide from 200 to 500 has yielded a corresponding rise in the number of tenants with legal representation from just 10 to over 27 percent; and
  • Reflecting a paradigm shift in the tenant-landlord relationship, the number of eviction cases filed in NYC’s housing courts has already started to drop--down almost 10 percent since 2014--proving that even just having an attorney reduces the number of frivolous cases landlords bring to housing court.

“The passage of our right to counsel law last year was an historic step towards justice in NYC’s housing courts, where for generations the vast majority of tenants faced the threat of eviction without the benefit of legal representation,” said Council Member Levine. “The stakes for implementation couldn’t be higher-- which is why we need to expand and strengthen this law to keep New Yorkers in their homes, off the streets, and out of the shelter system.”

“After just one year, Right to Counsel is proving to be an unprecedented success,” said Council Member Vanessa Gibson. “This groundbreaking legislation has kept people in their homes, and out of homeless shelters and housing courts. As we begin RTC’s second year and expand its implementation.”

Despite the new law’s extraordinary success, a combination of evolving landlord tactics, implementation issues in the courthouses, and lack of public awareness of the law continue to make it difficult for tenants to receive the legal representation they are now entitled to. To address these issues, Council Members Levine and Gibson, and RTCNYC Coalition leaders are advancing a new agenda that includes:

Increasing the income threshold to 400% of the federal poverty line
While the majority of tenants in housing court are eligible for the right to counsel under the current 200 percent threshold, a single New Yorker earning a $15 an hour minimum wage is not. To remedy this, Council Members Levine and Gibson are drafting legislation to double the qualifying threshold.

Said Council Member Levine, “The federal poverty level is totally out of whack with the reality on the ground in New York City. With the skyrocketing cost of living here, more and more people above 200% of the federal line are in fact facing enormous economic struggles. We need to expand the right to counsel law to reflect that.”  

Expanding the Right to Counsel Outside of Housing Court
While most eviction cases occur in City Housing Courts, several thousand are left to higher courts or administrative hearings, including:

  • HPD administrative hearings for Mitchell-Lama residents;
  • Certain Supreme Court Ejectment cases; and
  • Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC) cases.

Though the current law guarantees tenants get an attorney for the entirety of their case, it does not cover appeals. With more tenants than ever being represented and winning their cases, landlords are filing more appeals. Without legal representation to defend their victories, tenants will be left alone when the final, most consequential, decision is made. Council Members Levine and Gibson are drafting legislation that would expand the law to HPD, DHCR, and in Supreme Court Ejectment hearings and appeals.  

Connecting tenants to attorneys before they arrive at court
For the Right to Counsel law to be truly universal, every tenant needs to know about it, understand it, and use it. Neighborhood based groups with histories of tenant organizing and community service are trusted community partners and therefore are best positioned to do the outreach and education work that is critical to the law’s success. In addition to calling on the New York State Chief Judge to amend eviction notices issued in NYC to alert tenants of their right to an attorney, Council Members Levine and Gibson are also pursuing legislation that would fund community based organizations to conduct outreach and engagement to inform tenants of their right to an attorney.

Said Council Member Gibson, “I want to once again thank the many advocates, community groups, and especially the Right to Counsel Coalition and my partner in this effort, Council Member Mark Levine, for their commitment to New York tenants and fairness in housing court. Our historic legislation has laid the groundwork for cities across the country to enact their own right to counsel laws and our movement will help reduce homelessness across America. As the rollout continues, I look forward to working with all stakeholders to improve upon the good work we have done and enact additional legislative reforms that build on our success. Together we protect and preserve tenants rights!”

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said, “’Right to Counsel’ is one of the strongest tools that we have to prevent evictions, homelessness and displacement. Strengthening this law can help us go even further when it comes to protecting our city’s tenants. I congratulate Council members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, as well as the entire Right To Counsel NYC Coalition, for their efforts to make this law a reality and to protect New York’s tenants by providing them with counsel in housing court.”

“We have the track record to prove it — establishing the right to counsel in housing court works, reducing evictions and helping correct a gross power imbalance,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “If you’re working full-time at minimum wage, you should qualify for the right-to-counsel program.”

Randy Dillard, a leader of the tenants’ rights group, CASA, said, “A lot of tenants who have this new right, don't know about it. And what's more, being evicted is really frightening and brings a lot of shame, and so just knowing your rights isn't enough to confront the fear and shame that evictions bring, especially in the context of landlords having so much power and your home being on the line. Community based organizing groups, who are trusted members of the community and who have strong ties and relationships with community members need to be the ones doing outreach and organizing to respond to landlord retaliation. Right now RTC funds lawyers but the true cost should cover funding for neighborhood based community groups.”

“Across the country and especially in New York City, low-income tenants need access to comprehensive legal services to thwart unlawful evictions,” said Judith Goldiner, Attorney-In-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “This must include a right to counsel during the housing appeals process where the right to an attorney makes all the difference. Anything else falls short of what is truly needed. The Legal Aid Society stands with Council Member Mark Levine and Council Member Vanessa Gibson in support of RTC 2.0 to strengthen the current law, benefiting our clients and poor New Yorkers.”

Jennie Laurie, Executive Director of Housing Court Answers said, “We need to raise the income threshold for right to counsel. 200% of the federal poverty level – the current threshold - is not a high income in New York City. Today, a single person making the minimum wage working a full-time job at 40 hours a week is over income. Clearly, a tenant at this income level could not afford a private attorney – but would still be a prime target for landlord harassment and displacement. Let’s raise the threshold to 400% - that would allow representation for almost all tenants facing eviction in Housing Court.

"All NYC tenants should be able to fight to defend their homes," said Marika Dias, Director of the Tenant Rights Coalition at Legal Services NYC, "That includes working tenants who can't afford to pay for a lawyer; tenants who are fighting to keep essential housing subsidies so they can pay their rent; and tenants who want to come together in their neighborhoods to stand up for their rights. That’s why expanding our right to counsel law is a critical next step in the struggle to keep our communities together and families in their homes."

“The threat of eviction particularly hits low-income tenants and families the hardest and leaves far too many New Yorker’s stripped unfairly of one of life’s most basic necessities,” said Representative Adriano Espaillat (NY-13). “I commend Councilmembers Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson in collaboration with the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition (RTCNYC) for today’s announcement that will strengthen and expand the nation’s first universal eviction legal defense program. We must continue our efforts to guarantee universal access to legal counsel and ensure all tenants facing eviction can have their day in housing court.”

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CM Levine Launches “Languages for All” Campaign to Expand Bilingual Education in City Schools

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 15, 2018

CONTACT: Jake Sporn // 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, New York -- Today, Council Member Mark Levine launched a new Languages for All campaign aimed at creating a robust expansion of foreign language education programs in NYC.

Learning a foreign language early in life can be an invaluable asset to a child growing up in the world’s most global city. However, very few of the DOE’s language learning programs reach students during their most formative years. In addition to the obvious economic benefits associated with knowing a second language, studies have proven that language learning benefits students in countless ways, including: higher levels of academic achievement, improved cognitive ability, enhanced decision-making ability, and even staving off the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

Council Member Levine is renewing his call for the City to increase the number of elementary students in immersion programs to 20% of all students and to grow the number of languages offered to 20, a goal the City has not yet met despite progress.

The DOE currently offers 245 Dual Language programs across the five boroughs for 11 languages, including: Spanish, Chinese, French, Russian, Polish, Japanese, Arabic, Haitian Creole, Italian, Hebrew, and Korean.

Council Member Levine introduced two pieces of legislation to expand dual languages programs in the City, including:

  • A bill directing the DOE to annually report to the Council on the number and progress of foreign language learning (FLL) programs in the City (Int 762-2018); and
  • A resolution calling on the State to enact A.1154/S. 3641 sponsored by Assemblymember Nily Rozic and State Senator Kevin Parker that would establish incentives for college students to become bilingual-certified teachers (Res 273-2018).


“New York is the most multilingual city in the world, and yet, our City’s public schools are falling behind when it comes to foreign language instruction at an early age,” said Council Member Levine. “As the world becomes ever more connected, multilingualism is an increasingly valuable asset in the job market. Language learning-- especially at a young age--also aids cognitive development and promotes academic achievement in other subjects. For young people to succeed in today’s global world, we need to create a language learning system for the 21st Century, focused on immersion at a young age.”

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Health Chair Levine Introduces Lead Testing Legislation for City Parks

CM Levine also Endorsed Two Bills Aimed at Curbing the Rat Scourge in Manhattan Valley

**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE**

CONTACT: Jake Sporn // 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY – Today, New York City Council Member Mark Levine, Chair of the Health Committee, introduced legislation that requires the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to annually test lead levels in City parks.

Council Member Levine’s bill is part of a package of bills introduced to the City Council today to eliminate childhood lead poisoning in the five boroughs by strengthening the city’s lead laws. In 2016 alone, over 5,000 children tested positive for high levels of lead, or about 1.65% of the one to two year olds tested annually as required by state law. Though the number is down from 12.5% in 2005, this package of bills will require the city to conduct more thorough investigations when children test positive for high lead blood levels - including in the exposed child’s day care, preschool, and parks and play areas. The package will lower the threshold for what counts as elevated blood lead to 5 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL), which matches the Centers for Disease Control standard. The city’s current level - which is the standard used to instigate a mandatory investigation - is three times higher.

Currently, the City does not test for lead in parks or the many thousands of water fountains in them. Council Member Levine’s new legislation will require DOHMH to annually test lead levels in City owned and operated parks, including water fountains and in the soil of playgrounds, and if lead levels are unacceptably high, the Department will be required to remediate those levels immediately.

Council Health Chair Mark Levine said, “While our city has made great strides in the battle against lead poisoning, far too many of our children continue to test positive for dangerously high levels of lead in their blood. We must attack this challenge everywhere that children are at risk: in our homes, in our schools, and in our parks. This sweeping package of legislation will put New York City at the forefront nationally in this vital public health fight, and as a former Chair of the Parks Committee, I’m especially proud to be introducing legislation that will make our parks and playgrounds safer and healthier for New York families.”

Council Member Levine Backs Legislation to Curb Rat Scourge in Manhattan Valley

Today, Council Member Levine also sponsored two bills, Intro 658 and Intro 659, which aim to address the prevailing issue of rats in DOHMH designated “rat reservoirs,” which include large swaths of Manhattan Valley and Morningside Heights.

Intro 658, sponsored by Public Advocate Letitia James, would make abating rodents a requirement for the issuance of construction permits in any rat reservoir. Intro 659, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso would require the City to publicly report on its progress in lowering rodent populations.

"The prevailing issue of rats has plagued New York City, and particularly Upper Manhattan for decades," said Council Health Chair Mark Levine. "Rats are not only a detriment to quality of life, but also to public health and safety. In the past few years my office has held several Rat Academies in partnership with the Departments of Health and Sanitation to demonstrate safe and effective ways buildings and homeowners can control rodent issues, and I look forward to doing even more in the coming months. I am also working directly with the Health Department to bring in new rodent resistant trash bins and to increase abatement measures in NYCHA buildings such as the Douglass and Grant Houses.”

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