It’s been an undeniably eventful first year in office for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who became the first person of color elected to the position in 2021 after a highly competitive contest. In addition to pursuing large-scale targets like the Trump Organization, the District Attorney has announced wide-ranging housing, mental health and homelessness support services designed to confront Hell’s Kitchen challenges exacerbated by COVID-19.
As Bragg prepares to begin his second year in charge, W42ST talked one-on-one with the District Attorney to discuss Midtown’s most pressing safety issues and the administration’s plans to address them. This is the second part of the interview — last week we reported on the actions the DA was taking in the investigation of the deaths of Julio Ramirez and John Umberger.
Mental Health and Substance Abuse
As a COVID-era Midtown became the center stage for unhoused individuals suffering from mental health crises and substance addiction, Hell’s Kitchen residents have continually campaigned for additional resources to help those desperately in need around the neighborhood.
Asked about his administration’s strategies to take a more hands-on yet holistic approach to mental health and substance abuse outreach, Bragg cited his newly announced, two-prong $9 million dollar initiative to flood the neighborhood with trained engagement professionals to connect individuals with appropriate housing, healthcare and social services. In addition to the implementation of “Court-Based Navigators”, who will work with individuals with a history of recidivism to break the cycle, a fleet of “Neighborhood Navigators” will be connected with community groups, business owners and other local stakeholders to serve as an on-the-ground resource working with New Yorkers in real time.
“We’re going to work with community based groups, selected in large part for their knowledge and background,” said DA Bragg. The program will be modeled after the Times Square Alliance’s similar outreach program and is expected to be fully operational by summer 2023 after a six month period of engagement with local organizations. “The [Neighborhood Navigators’] function will be to connect people in distress with services,” he added, with the program’s focus on utilizing existing local social services rather than creating new ones. “I know an issue that’s come up a lot in Hell’s Kitchen is the concentration of social services – we’re not adding a new methadone clinic or something like that in the neighborhood. It is about connecting people with already existing social services.”
For interested residents, the most direct way to get involved is to join in on the engagement and proposal process through a Hell’s Kitchen local community group. The court navigator engagement process will be announced shortly, DA Bragg added. Proposals aimed at serving any Manhattan neighborhood will be considered, but those serving Chelsea/Hell’s Kitchen/Midtown West alongside the Lower East Side/Chinatown, Central/East Harlem, and Washington Heights/Inwood neighborhoods will be prioritized for funding.
One of the neighborhood’s most hot-button issues, the nightmarish conditions, safety violations and managerial intimidation at 410 W46th Street are just one example of citywide housing woes, where residents allege that predatory landlords make New York largely unlivable.
In response, DA Bragg’s administration is creating The Housing & Tenant Protection Unit, a dedicated department designed to target “systemic criminal harassment of tenants and abuse of government programs by landlords and developers” — the first of its kind to engage the DA’s office in landlord neglect as a criminal matter.
“New York City is in the midst of a housing crisis, and that means tenants are particularly vulnerable to unscrupulous landlords,” said DA Bragg. “By taking a targeted approach to complex and pervasive criminal activity, we can root out the bad actors who are seeking to game the system for profit at the expense of ordinary New Yorkers. The creation of this unit represents our firm commitment to fully utilizing the resources of our office to ensure Manhattan residents can exercise the right to live safely and securely.”
In Hell’s Kitchen, whose own hellish landlords made the top of New York’s “Worst Landlords List, Bragg revealed “there is some housing stock in your neighborhood that we are aware of” that could qualify for examination under the new unit. Asked how they plan to resolve long-standing cases like that of 410 W46th Street where other city agencies like the Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) were already involved, the DA noted that it “won’t preclude us” from getting involved. He said. “One of the first things we do is check with that agency – we’ve also let the relevant agencies know that we’re doing this work so that when they’re working on something and they see something that goes beyond their jurisdiction, they know that we’re standing at the ready.”
The District Attorney encouraged Hell’s Kitchen residents with concerns about criminal landlord activity to call their specialized hotline at (212) 335-8900 or email email@example.com
Safety in Hell’s Kitchen and Midtown
DA Bragg’s priority in Hell’s Kitchen and across the city is to make New Yorkers feel safer. “In Hell’s Kitchen, we want to continue to drive shootings and homicides down and focus on those who do the most harm. We’re also addressing the shoplifting and other things that people are seeing,” he said. Bragg’s office joined Mayor Eric Adams in designating Times Square a “Gun-Free” zone and has also recently expanded the city’s hate crime unit.
Crime patterns have also been a frequent topic of discussion in Hell’s Kitchen, where both Midtown North and Midtown South‘s precinct data show that complaints of larceny (shoplifting) and misdemeanor assault in the area have risen over the past two years. While some serious crimes such as shootings and murders have declined over the past year— and major crimes in Midtown have dropped as much as 82 percent over a 30-year period — some Hell’s Kitchen residents have expressed concerns over increased theft and assault in the area.
Bragg was quick to acknowledge that incidents like sexual assault and hate crimes are vastly underreported – and although he has recognized that “many witnesses and victims don’t trust the system” and that there is significant work to be done to improve trust between the public and the police, he hopes the Hell’s Kitchen community will reach out to his office to keep them informed. “I think it’s absolutely essential that people report the crime they experience to the police or to us,” said Bragg. “The only way we can address and deter and hold people accountable is if we know.”