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What do Hell’s Kitchen residents really want? Expanded supportive social services, increased pandemic relief funding, reliable, safe public transit, and actionable investments in citywide racial and gender equity, according to a recent survey from NYC Speaks.

Hell’s Kitchen residents offer their point of view in this survey. Photo: Phil O’Brien

The public-private partnership between civic services, community leaders, and the Adams administration has been working with local organizations to canvass neighborhoods and identify top policy concerns, priority issues, and potential solutions across the five boroughs and has compiled an interactive database with zipcode-by-zipcode results, with options to additionally filter by demographics such as age, race, sexuality, income level, and housing status.

Over 43,000 adult New Yorkers participated in the largest public policy survey in New York’s history, with an additional 18,000 child respondents through the NYC Youth Speaks program. W42ST pulled the results from 350 respondents across Hell’s Kitchen (zip codes 10018, 10019, 10036) to look at what West Siders had to say about public safety, education, housing, quality of life, the workforce, health and wellness, climate, transportation, equity and inclusion, arts and culture, and civic engagement. 

The 350 respondents make up less than 0.58% of the total Hell’s Kitchen population, which as of the 2020 Census sits at 59,524 people. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting the local and hyperlocal issues that are top of mind for West Siders. Here’s what they had to say: 

PUBLIC SAFETY 

The survey asked respondents how City government can make their neighborhood safer — and the top three responses skewed significantly across opinions on the role of law enforcement. The majority of respondents voted to “send mental health responders for those in crisis in lieu of police”, with second and third top answers listed as “increase mental health and addiction treatment services,” and “increase the number and presence of police officers.” 

When asked what resources the City government should provide to people who have previously been incarcerated, to help them rebuild their lives, respondents requested across the board in favor of expanded supportive programming, with requests to improve access to mental health and substance abuse services,” “create employment programs for justice-involved New Yorkers,” and “create transitional housing for justice-involved New Yorkers.” 

NYPD visit a homeless encampment on the West Side Highway at the Javits Center. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Asked for solutions to improve trust in the criminal legal system among New Yorkers of color, the most selected responses were to “increase accountability for police misconduct,” “diversify legal fields,” and to “diversify police ranks.” 

EDUCATION

Queried on the most urgent priorities to rebuild New York’s public education system, West Siders noted their top priorities as “increasing funding for students facing the greatest barriers (ie disabilities),” “increasing the hiring and salaries of more diverse teachers and staff,” and creating “more tutoring for students who have fallen behind.” Asked how the city government should address New York’s disappointing record of school segregation, locals noted a need for the “equitable distribution of citywide resources,” more “diverse teachers and staff,” and (perhaps in direct opposition to proposed legislation around the country) “culturally responsive teaching and a diversified curriculum.” 

HOUSING

Housing was top of mind for many of those polled, and when asked what would be the most beneficial government action to ensure safe, quality, and affordable housing, the overwhelming majority of respondents selected “rent stabilization” — an unsurprising choice in a time where Manhattan and West Side rents have rarely been higher. The next two priorities outlined were to “enforce building code violations to enforce safe conditions” — locally relevant to the battle that the Hell’s Kitchen tenants of 410 and 412 W46th Street have been fighting for years. The next choice? “Convert hotels and office spaces into affordable housing,” a proposal that has recently gained support from both the Adams and Hochul administrations

Local tenants have strong feelings about being treated fairly. Photo: Phil O’Brien

NEIGHBORHOOD

Asked about what public infrastructure investments Hell’s Kitcheners would you most like to see in your neighborhood, respondents’ top choices were “more green space” — a valuable initiative actively pursued by advocacy groups like the Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance and the Clinton Housing Development Company. The next picks were “regular trash collection” and “high-quality recreation centers”. When questioned on how the City Council should balance the needs of the city overall versus the needs of individual communities when it comes to approving large projects, most locals argued that the “interests and the quality of life of local residents should be prioritized”. The next top choices were that the “city should develop a plan that all parties can live with” and the opposing opinion that “citywide benefits should be prioritized.” While we’re here, don’t forget to vote in the District 3 participatory budgeting project selection! 

WORKFORCE

Protecting and supporting both employees and small business owners was the overarching theme of responses by Hell’s Kitchen residents questioned about the state of the city’s job market. Polled to choose what actions the City government should take to ensure that everyone can access secure employment that provides a living wage and opportunities for advancement, locals voted to “expand workforce training in growing sectors (ie tech)”, “expand free childcare,” and reduce the outsized costs of higher education by implementing “free public college and forgiving student loan debt.” 

COVID-19 economic recovery was a talking point in the survey. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Another key issue for respondents was in regards to COVID-19 economic recovery. City small businesses, left without federal relief, have suffered greatly, and Hell’s Kitchen entrepreneurs have not been spared. When asked what the City government should do to help small businesses, West Siders chose “commercial rent control to protect tenants from gentrification” as a top solution, with the creation of “a relief fund for small businesses in grants and loans” and “help for small business owners to provide healthcare for employees” as the second and third-choice actions. 

Implored to choose which workplace protections the City should prioritize as part of COVID-19 recovery, residents in the artist and freelance-heavy neighborhood chose to “expand minimum wage and paid sick leave to all gig workers and freelancers” as their top pick. Next up were to “pilot a benefits program that allows workers to transfer benefits and paid time off between jobs” and “enact guaranteed paid time off policies for both full and part-time workers.” 

HEALTH

After several intense years of reflection on the city’s public health services, respondents were vocal about the changes they hoped to see implemented in the government’s wellness programs. Asked about the kind of local health services New Yorkers wanted to see more of, residents noted that they wanted “more grocery stores and farmer’s markets” — a choice backed up by W42ST’s recent survey of whether the neighborhood should gain a Trader Joe’s. The next requests were again for more “parks and open spaces” as well as “one-stop-shops for physical and mental healthcare and community health resources.” 

On the subject of food insecurity, respondents were asked what would help Hell’s Kitchen to have greater access to healthy foods — the top choices were “more farmer’s markets,” “more healthy food choices in public schools,” and “subsidized grocery stores.” 

Mental health and wellbeing was also top of mind for West Siders. When asked what mental health resources the city government should prioritize, residents chose “mental health professionals and social workers in every public school,” and “holistic housing and healthcare programs for people suffering from mental illness,” while another share chose to support “enforcement of existing mental healthcare insurance coverage laws.” 

Healthcare was important to survey respondents. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Looking at the city’s recently shifting COVID-19 policies, respondents were asked to rank citywide preventative measures against the virus. Hell’s Kitcheners chose “hybrid work models to enable remote work” as a first option, with “mandated vaccinations to enter congregate settings (events)” and “mandated vaccination to work in public buildings” as second and third priorities. 

CLIMATE

Sustainability initiatives, as well as infrastructure threats from climate change were key talking points in questions regarding the environment. Asked how the City government support should those at risk of flooding (Hurricane Ida’s victims being only the most recent example), respondents chose “investment in flood-protection projects,” “help for homeowners and renters to understand the risks and protect their homes,” and “no new construction in flooding areas” as their top solutions. 

Looking at the city’s sustainability investments, respondents were asked what the City government should do to ensure those impacted by environmental burdens benefit from climate investments. Making “energy upgrades to public housing”, making “energy upgrades more affordable” and “training for green jobs” were the most selected answers by West Siders. 

TRANSPORTATION

When it came to transportation, respondents heavily favored three widely agreed-upon aspects of what would make a better transit system: “feeling safer riding transit”, “better maintained transit,” and “shorter wait times at my transit stop.” 

EQUITY

Asked what specific measures the City government should prioritize to ensure one’s race does not determine their life outcome in NYC, locals voted for officials to “work to root out systemic racism in policies, plans, and budgets” across government, fund “public financial services that focus on accelerating communities of color to build wealth,” and build “more resources for disinvested communities of color.” 

Regarding reparations, respondents were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed that New York’s government should find a way to provide reparations to residents that are descendants of Africans enslaved in the US — a majority of West Siders “strongly agree”, with a secondary category “neutral” to the issue, and a third share that also “agree” with reparations. 

Queried on how the city government can support immigrant communities, Hell’s Kitchen respondents chose an “expansion of legal services”, partnerships with “industries that rely on immigrant labor”, and “health insurance and federal pandemic relief for undocumented workers” as their key priorities. 

Searching for measures the City government should prioritize to advance gender equity, voters suggested the administration “institute ‘equal pay for equal work’ policies within the government”, “invest in universal childcare, reproductive health services, and housing for women”, and ensure “protections for LGBTQIA+ individuals.” When asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed that the City government should provide a public option for child and eldercare, locals mostly “strongly agreed” and “agreed”, with a third share identified as “neutral” to the issue. 

ARTS AND CULTURE

COVID-19 recovery was the top issue among questions regarding the city’s arts and culture scene. When asked what the City government should do to help small to medium-sized arts organizations recover from the economic impacts of the virus, Hell’s Kitchen voters cited “pandemic relief for artists and employees”, an “increase contracting opportunities for city-owned venues” and facilitated “access to affordable cultural spaces” as their suggested solutions. 

In surveying what the City government should focus on to improve the nightlife sector, West Siders suggested “funding and operational support for venues”, “resolving conflicts between venues and residents” and “revising zoning to support live music and dancing” in the neighborhood. 

NYC Speaks Co-Executive Director Shango Blake speaks at the unveiling of the citywide survey results. Photo supplied

ENGAGEMENT 

The last questions pertained to civic engagement and the city’s decision-making process. Asked what changes would make it easier to participate in local government and engagement opportunities, locals asked for “greater transparency on how the city makes decisions,”  “a citywide plan guided by community input,” and, in a practical measure, “real-time response to 311 calls.” Relatedly, voters were asked what services they would like to see included in a centralized app for city services, and West Siders responded that “housing resources,” “311”, and “health resources” would be useful to have developed into an app. 

Now what? NYC Speaks is hosting a series of Community Conversations to further discuss the findings and provide insight into what will become the organization’s official recommendations to the Adams administration this June. If you or a local organization you know would like to participate in an upcoming discussion, more information is available here

Said Dr Shango Blake, Co-Executive Director of NYC Speaks: “We’re proud to release this data today, but this is just the first step in the process. We look forward to launching the Community Conversations to engage the community on our findings and build a stronger, more thriving city.”

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3 Comments

  1. Awesome deep dive! One question on the survey methodology: were response options multiple choice (ie, pre-populated) and/or free-form?

  2. For such a small sample seems to represent what I expected from those I know in the neighborhood. Biggest question of course is the source of funding for all of this. Esp subsidized grocery stores, education, expanded and diversified law enforcement -mental health. I run a national joint law enforcement/public health program for drug overdose and out relatively small program is very expensive. And not buying an aircraft carrier is a solution that is long past! So how to find, and how to prioritize? I’d love to hear suggestions, not just being a pain!

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