Last weekend, W42ST asked Hell’s Kitchen’s Council Member Corey Johnson to share with readers a summary of what he’s heard are the key challenges in the neighborhood — and the actions he’s taken, actions he’s planning to take… and the things that will take time to solve. Today, we publish an Op-Ed from Speaker Johnson.

There’s no question Hell’s Kitchen has been facing some real challenges these past 15 months.

Speaker Johnson Visit in Hell’s Kitchen on May 21, 2021.

Theaters are closed. Office workers and tourists that we count on to patronize local stores and restaurants have not returned. And a large number of the neighborhood hotels that once accommodated those tourists and business people have been remade into homeless shelters, a temporary solution to a long-standing problem.

In this difficult landscape, we have also seen a dramatic increase in certain crimes, including assaults, robberies, and hate crimes.

As we begin reopening, we must address the challenges the community is facing, some of which stem from complicated issues like lack of mental health treatment, addiction, and homelessness. 

These issues have been with us for a long time, but they’ve been exacerbated by the pandemic. Residents and business owners deserve to feel safe and secure in their neighborhood. The newly launched NYPD Business District Recovery Task Force is being guided by feedback from members of the community to focus on “hot spot” areas in Hell’s Kitchen that need attention. But in order to make lasting change, we’re going to need to take a multi-pronged approach that seeks to address the root causes of crime, homelessness, and the inequities in our city.

I recently brought city officials from a wide range of agencies – the Department of Homeless Services, the New York City Health Department, the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit, the NYPD ­– around the district to meet residents and business owners and hear their concerns.

Homeless Services Commissioner Steve Banks attended, as well as Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi. I routinely talk to them about the issues facing my district, and they are invested in helping the community to recover and thrive.

The Council also recently passed a groundbreaking bill to increase the rates the city pays towards its rental assistance vouchers for those experiencing homelessness. This increase will help move people out of shelters and into permanent housing.

The more people we get out of the shelter system, the more we can focus our resources on some of the neediest individuals, like the chronically street homeless and those with mental health and addiction issues. 

Many of you have asked how you can assist members of our community who are living on the streets.  I encourage you to reach out to the DHS Joint Command Center, by calling 212-607-6040.  This is a direct service line that assists street homeless individuals and has a significantly faster response time than 311 as it is built for one social services department. 

Speaker Corey Johnson packages food at Encore Senior Center.

In addition to DHS, the non-profit Breaking Ground is also doing a lot of work with chronically street homeless in Hell’s Kitchen. They try to convince people to get services that they need and are entitled to, as well as trying to find housing for individuals. I know they are doing incredible work.

Prior to the pandemic, I released “Our Homelessness Crisis: The Case for Change”, a report with nearly 90 recommendations aimed at preventing and supporting those experiencing homelessness. Much of what we need going forward remains the same — stop the short-term solutions, increase access to permanent and supportive housing, and prevent homelessness from happening in the first place.

I am proud to say that in addition to the groundbreaking voucher bill that just passed — which was a top recommendation in the report — the Council in March secured nearly $19 million in funding for mental health programs. That includes funding for mobile case management services for those who are homeless.

Clearly there are no easy solutions to the problem of homelessness, and street homelessness in particular is a complicated issue, often exacerbated by addiction and lack of access to mental health treatment. As discussed in depth in the report, one of the driving factors of homelessness is the deinstitutionalization of state psychiatric centers over the past several years.

To really tackle these issues, the City will need more state funding, as well as more outreach tools like mental health teams specifically dedicated to street homelessness (currently there are none). We also need a more robust safe haven system, which has a lower entry barrier than traditional shelters.

In my conversations with members of the community, I know that many residents and business owners don’t feel safe right now. I hear those concerns, and will continue working to help the neighborhood move past this difficult time.

Johnson visits with a Hell’s Kitchen business on May 21, 2021.

I’m committed to continuing this work, and I’m confident Hell’s Kitchen will come back from this pandemic better than ever. Not because I am blindly optimistic, but because I know that the people of Hell’s Kitchen love their community, and will continue looking out for one another and fighting every day for a better future. It’s an honor to serve this community, and the city we all love.

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42 Comments

  1. This is it ? This is his response?
    I would still like to know where the heck he’s been during this past year.
    And what about the hundreds of motorcycles and four wheelers? How long is Hells Kitchen going to be filled with shelters ?

    1. I read it will take 10 weeks to empty the hotels. They are taking them back with or without the COVID vaccine. Many had openly said they weren’t going to take the shot so they could stay in the hotels. Taking 10 weeks will bring us to the end of summer, which is generally higher in crime anyway. Summer doesn’t look good!

  2. He is such a clown. I’m sure he’ll probably win Comptroller because of name recognition, and to the significant further detriment of our city, but I hope he does not. His absence pre-pandemic and during the pandemic is not excusable. Having HIV, as he’s cited as the reason for not being in his district for over a year, is offensive to those living and working here every day with HIV. I saw another comment about his new commercial recently. Just like having HIV isn’t an excuse from doing your job, being gay does not qualify you to be comptroller. If it did, we’d have thousands of comptrollers right here in HK! He truly represents the worst of politics and I hope New Yorkers can see through that.

      1. @Tommy That was the statement from his office. He’s “immunocompromised” due to HIV so he couldn’t be present in his district. What about all of the people who lived and worked here, with our without HIV or other immune issues — many working frontline jobs. He’s just a joke.

        1. I’m still confused by his logic. He would not be able to catch it elsewhere? I really need to find this statement.

          1. @Tommy
            https://patch.com/new-york/midtown-nyc/corey-johnson-missing-his-hells-kitchen-district-some-say

            “ In a statement, Johnson’s office strongly defended his record in the neighborhood and said he had been avoiding travel during the pandemic for personal health reasons.
            ‘As his constituents know, Corey is HIV positive and has been taking precautions to protect his health during this pandemic,’ said Jennifer Fermino, a City Council spokesperson. ‘With the city reopening and more people being vaccinated, he looks forward to attending more in person events.’”

            Truly a despicable person.

    1. It’s campaign rhetoric and it’s bullshit. He’s glossing over everything else to barely scratch the surface of homelessness. 15 months of no-show only to act like he’s concerned JUST BEFORE AN ELECTION. I don’t care who’s running against him. Whoever it is will get my vote. I will never trust CJ again to get the job done.

  3. Sorry. Generalized answer to specific issues. 9th and 10th Avenues are dangerous. I no longer go out after dark. But even during the day, I look over my shoulder.
    We need help now, long term solutions later.

  4. It is time for this guy to be voted out. What a bunch of blah, blah, blah. Showing up for photo ops and holding meetings during election season when you realize you’re likely soon out of a job after abandoning the city and doing nothing for much of the pandemic doesn’t cut it, Corey.

  5. C’mon Corey…..This is a general statement on NYC homelessness. This contains ZERO accountability for your absence in HK for the last year. You took more accountability when we spoke face to face 2 weeks ago and I strongly suggest you share that same remorse and acknowledgement with your constituents. They deserve to hear it to. Even if it’s not the safest move PR wise.

  6. Campaign rhetoric with no actual, actionable, immediate solutions. And no explanation of his 15 month absence and abandonment of the neighborhood. When the gay bar Therapy had to close in 2019 due to a nearby building’s structural instability, Corey Johnson MOVED MOUNTAINS to make sure it was open by Pride Weekend. Yet here we are with the entire neighborhood in distress and he’s offering platitudes. I’m not impressed and I remain seriously concerned.

  7. Where is the business improvement district responsible for cleaning and power washing our sidewalks and streets? There is a literal stench of human feces on multiple corners. We need to focus on forcing building owners and the city to partner together to literally clean and scrub our streets, sidewalks, and bike lanes. The garbage and human excrement is ridiculously out of control. Lincoln square has a task force for this – why doesn’t Hell’s Kitchen? Let’s prioritize the areas where tourists congregate and restaurants flourish outdoors, and that starts with an actual scrubbing of HK.

  8. I truly believe Corey is working extremely hard to help the HK neighborhood and it’s small businesses. As a small business owner in Hells Kitchen I can see the improvement and appreciate the police presence. Great Job Corey, thank you

    1. I agree with you Tommy and appreciate all that you have also done to keep our neighborhood going. You’re incredible

      1. Holly-I do subscribe to your newsletter and I appreciate all you have done while our elected officials haven’t done a thing. But, as a female I do ask-what has Corey done to make sure we can feel safe just existing in our neighbohood?

  9. Let’s be clear, the deterioration happened under your watch. How many cries for help from the community did it take to finally start looking into the deep rooted issues into this community? How many neighbors felt they had no other option but to move out in fear of safety for their families. How many young children are traumatized from
    being accosted or witnessing disturbing acts while walking down the street.
    Thank you to the people in the community who have been fighting to get these issues visible to the individual who was elected and received a salary while choosing to stay silent for the past 15 months.

    1. yes, seriously. when last fall/winter(?) someone who delivered food to me (who actually was a local restaurant owner who did me a favor) commented on how bad my block was, and told me that he didn’t blame me for the fact that I wouldn’t go out at night…it’s bad. I’m not asking for much, I’m just asking, as a female to feel safe walking in my own neighborhood. I’m seriously dreading the fall/winter when I have to go back to my office and commute home when it’s already dark out. Sorry Corey-too little, too late. You don’t have my vote.

  10. Addressing the root causes of homelessness — just one of HK’s problems — while laudable, is a long and deep fix. We need relief for multiple issues now.

  11. This response epitomizes Corey’s inability to act. We – the residents of HK – have been begging for solutions to address the near term problems caused by his (and others) decisions this past year+, because we love our neighborhood and our city. Corey seems to love the sound of his own voice over those of his supposed constituents. I am using my voice to tell every NYC voter I know about my experience as one of his constituents.

  12. I am one of the candidates running to fill Corey’s seat. My main opponent is the guy who has been Corey’s Chief of Staff for 6 years, and who had been equally absent from the whole Council District until he stepped down several months back so he could run for office full-time (what a luxury!). Corey and Erik did disappear. Corey moved to Brooklyn; he even posted a tweet about a missing dog in Brooklyn. Erik went to say with his mom upstate. I decided to run (I live in the Village) because we had no leadership during the really bad months – as stores closed, and deaths rose – and also in the early part of this year when we had no organized effort to get locals vaccinated. Corey’s chosen successor has a slogan: the Best Days Are Yet to Come, but neither he nor Corey explain how to get there.
    Step one is to put cops back on the beat. Get them out of cars. Community policing worked in the late 80s and early to mid 1990s, and it can work again. I have spent a good deal of time in Hells Kitchen since February, and I NEVER see a cop on the street. The homeless in the hotels – how about a big effort to provide them with mental health and medical and job services, and to transfer them to permanent housing. Yes, the City Council – just now- passed a bill to give better rent vouchers to homeless people. But this solution as a way to empty the shelter-hotels has been pressed for years. Then there is the business closures, whether it be in retail or in the arts. Small businesses make our lives safer, and they keep the streets cleaner. Corey and Erik bottled up the Small Business Jobs Survival Act for the last 5 years. That law would provide a way for storeowners to challenge high rents. Now we need commercial rent control.
    When the MTA cut service on the C and F trains. Corey was mute . I went to Court and blocked it. When NYC Transit tried to depopulate the Station Booths back in February, Corey was mute. I went to court and blocked it. When the MTA reneged on a propmise to add elevators at the 14th Street C and L train stations last December, Corey was mute . I threatened the MTA and not only got those, but an agreement to add them on the 1.2 and 3 on 14th Street, and then got Senator Schumer to pledge full funding.
    Yes, Corey has been missing from Hells Kitchen. He has also been missing from Chelsea (where he used to live), and Greenwich Village and Hudson Square. He is trying to pass the baton, but he is doing that not having been running things in our District for years. Folks can say no to him – and his baton passing- on June 22.

    Arthur Schwartz- http://www.arthurfornyc.com

    1. Arthur,
      I haven’t seen you up here campaigning. I’ve seen Leslie, Aleta, and yes Erik — a lot. Your living in a glass house with those stones.

  13. Corey is completely useless now. What a bunch of nonsense. Does nothing to address The actual situation that has been going on for the last 15 months in this neighborhood. Due to them jamming into the hotels not just homeless people but mentally ill people as well as rikers inmates. it is very dangerous to go out at night around here. Even during the day you can get assaulted, attacked mugged, robbed, stabbed, even shot. The. neighborhood is a disaster and it’s his fault.

  14. His tactic is and always has been to say what “we must” do or “we need to” do, but then never actually doing it. It is always “we need to pass a bill” then seeming to confuse publishing that sentence with actually putting forth the bill. He also ignores all direct communication attempts with him and his office from constituents, and people don’t forget that. We deserve to be addressed, and he fails every single time.

  15. During the height of the pandemic small business operators like myself were begging for help from the city council office, I never once received a call back. I thought to myself, Corey and Erik must be really busy helping other small business operators like myself. As it turns out, what they were really busy with was fundraising. Hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure themselves jobs while the rest of us were losing ours. All while collecting tax paid city salaries, (Erik is the highest paid chief of staff in the council, 164k a year.
    Corey enters the mayors race, loses support for a budget he manipulated and lied about, and pulls out.. Regroups.. Takes some college courses.. Good for him..
    This is how privilege perpetuates itself. He’s not interested in serving New Yorkers, he’s interested in preserving his power.
    It’s public service. It’s not to use the power and networking from one office to transfer to another position of power afterwards.
    It’s too dangerous to be radical. And In radical I mean wanting to see things changed because they arent working… they haven’t been working for people in this district for decades and the pandemic only made it worse.
    Erik.. Why does his position as a chief of staff make him a better person for the job? Because he has access and connections that make him suited for the job? Well then if that’s the case why are so things so bad in this district? If there’s one person who can say that our neighborhoods were fine and dandy before the pandemic then I’ll shut up and mind my own business. However I think we can all agree, that Erik and Corey have been serving their resumes more than they have been serving the community.

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