Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: Nonprofits Can’t Help Homeless People When Cities Pay Them Late

Nonprofits serving the most vulnerable New Yorkers are waiting. The city owes them hundreds of millions of dollars in cost reimbursements, and they’re racking up tens of millions in interest and fees to compensate.

In January, 275 nonprofit representatives sounded the alarm in a letter to the mayor’s office estimating that almost 20 percent of their agencies are technically insolvent, owing in no small part to chronically late payments on city-funded social services contracts. The city charter mandates that the comptroller “register,� i.e. sign off, on a contract, confirming that the city has funds to follow it through. According to data from the city comptroller, in fiscal year 2017 the city registered more than 90 percent of its social services contracts after the contract start date, with an average registration date of 210 days after the start date.

New York City agencies usually begin the services per the date on the contract, trusting that it will be registered. Once registered, a contract’s scheduled payments can be made but many require the nonprofit to submit a monthly reimbursement form detailing expenses. Each of these must be approved and can incur delays.

New York City nonprofits aren’t the only ones struggling. Hilda Polanco, founder and CEO of the nonprofit consultancy, Financial Management Association International, has seen gaps of six months or more from the time nonprofits begin delivering services to the time they finally collect the cash that public agencies committed to pay, particularly in Chicago, where social services providers weathered several months of state funding delays. In San Francisco, the Homeless Emergency Service Providers Association (HESPA)�a coalition of 30 nonprofits operating on the front lines of the homelessness crisis�sees the same six-month gaps in city-funded contracts, which force their agencies to carry hundreds of thousands or more in month-to-month service costs.

As co-chair of HESPA and a senior manager of Larkin Street Youth Services, I have seen and dealt with these problems firsthand. Like many other cities, San Francisco doesn’t have the depth and quality of data that the New York City comptroller’s office provides, to help quantify the effect on local nonprofits. This visibility into a city’s contracting system presents a critical opportunity to amplify the discourse on an issue that poses serious risks not only for nonprofits, but also for the vulnerable communities they serve.

These gaps compromise the financial health of individual nonprofits on a scale that weakens the entire social safety net, including the homeless response system. Nonprofits need a steady flow of cash to provide a steady flow of services to cities’ most vulnerable residents, particularly homeless residents. When public agencies take months to process payments, nonprofits must divert their resources from the strategic priorities of ending homelessness to the tactical priorities of managing cash. They must furlough staff or delay hiring for critically needed services; they must spend within their means, even if that means providing fewer shelter beds so that more people sleep in the streets.

Cities must confront this as a crisis�one that compounds the humanitarian crises, like homelessness, that they contract with nonprofits to solve.

Research from Oliver Wyman and SeaChange Capital Partners shows that nationally nearly one in eight social services nonprofits is technically insolvent, “limping along from payroll to payroll.� For shelter and housing providers, who generally have high fixed costs, the number jumps to one in three. The reason? Financial stressors imposed by government contracts that not only underpay nonprofits, but underpay them late, with additional compliance and overhead costs red-taped on top.

Conceptually, there are two problems in play. The first goes to the amount of money the city is contracted to pay the nonprofit; the second and much more insidious problem is cash flow�the timing of the money out the doors of public agencies and into nonprofit accounts. Even if government contracts paid a sustainable amount�and they don’t�a nonprofit with enough contract revenue for the year will have no cash in hand to pay the bills if payment is slow.

Nonprofits from New York to San Francisco are delivering unpaid services for up to six months or more while they wait for finalized contracts. And that’s only the first step to getting paid. The second step�invoicing for payment�can take an additional 30 to 45 days, depending on the grace period each government agency gives itself for paying nonprofit invoices.

New York City’s homeless services nonprofits may have it the worst. The Department of Homeless Services registered all of its contracts late, most about a year and a half after when services started. To put that in perspective, a nonprofit with a two-year contract may do 75 percent of the work before it sees a dollar in reimbursement. That’s a long time to wait, especially for nonprofits paying not just their own office rents, but also the rents keeping thousands of formerly homeless people in housing.

In New York City, SeaChange calculates a cash flow burden of $675 million for the 1,025 nonprofits with City contracts for social services. This breaks down to $662 million in “negative� cash flow (i.e., nonprofits delivering services faster than they’re being reimbursed) and an additional $13 million in financing costs, like interest and fees. While the negative cash flow is not an “absolute loss��it will be reimbursed eventually�the interest and fees are a non-refundable cost of doing business with the city. And these unnecessary fees end up being diverted to banks and lending institutions rather than providing for the people who need basic necessities like shelter. When money can’t get out the door fast enough to provide shelter and housing, homeless people often can’t get inside.

Emergency housing subsidies are a perfect example: a nonprofit may have a contract that pays for 50 people to sleep inside (at motels, single room occupancy (SRO) hotels, etc.), but if the contract doesn’t pay for several months, then the nonprofit must buy shelter with whatever cash it has on hand. In practice, this could mean that only 10 people get shelter while the other 40 sleep outside�despite the fact that there’s a city contract paying for all 50 people to be inside.

Of course, buildings owned or leased by nonprofits will provide the same number of beds regardless of whether the nonprofit gets paid on time. But in high-rent jurisdictions that rely on rental subsidies to shelter homeless people, cash flow is the lifeblood of the system. Landlords on the open market won’t wait for the rent.

When seemingly routine administrative delays result in more people being homeless on any given night, cities should treat it like a crisis. But officials may be reluctant: Cities already struggling with a homelessness crisis can hardly afford a secondary bureaucratic crisis of the city’s own making.  

In New York City, the solutions are flowing about as slowly as the cash. The de Blasio administration launched a Nonprofit Resiliency Committee when cash-flow problems surfaced in 2016, but officials recently told the City Council that improvements to the contracting system won’t come online until 2020.

SeaChange recommends several fixes, from creating a $150 million fund to finance the smaller contracts (they’re 75 percent of all contracts), to collecting fees from late-paying public agencies and using those to capitalize the fund. Above all, SeaChange notes that nonprofit boards must be “laser-focused on liquidity,� which may mean rejecting “on-mission� contracts with “potentially fatal timing delays.�

Cities should also be laser-focused on liquidity. While solutions could surely include financing mechanisms and other creative workarounds, they should primarily target the system itself�simplifying policies and procedures, eliminating unnecessary layers of administration, and reducing grace periods for paying invoices�rather than enable an unacceptable status quo that deprives nonprofits of operating cash and makes homeless people wait for the services they need today.

Housing is the answer to homelessness; it’s just not the only answer. Housing only works when money can get out the door fast enough to sustain it. City contracting systems should be helping people off the streetsâ€â€�not inadvertently keeping them there.    

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: CityLab Daily: The Stark Traffic Safety Divide

What We’re Following

Crossroads: The United States is on track to report its highest number of pedestrian fatalities since 1990, with an estimated 6,227 deaths in the preliminary 2018 data. Researchers say the surge in deaths shows that something has gone terribly wrong in the last 10 years.

There are many clues as to why. Americans are spending more time driving, smartphones have introduced new distractions, and more lethal heavy-duty SUVs have proliferated. And old dangers that inhibit drivers�like darkness and alcohol�have remained stubbornly pervasive.

U.S. Pedestrian Fatalities 1990-2018

(Governors Highway Safety Association)

On the other side of the windshield, people inside America’s cars and trucks have never been better protected. As pedestrian deaths increased by 35 percent from 2008 to 2017, the number of all other traffic deaths dropped by 6 percent. The pedestrian picture isn’t entirely bleak: Local Vision Zero plans that are specifically geared at improving pedestrian safety appear to have been effective, as the 10 largest cities reported a 15 percent decline in pedestrian fatalities in 2017. But those efforts have concentrated on city downtowns, while a growing number of fatal crashes are happening in the suburbs and exurbs. CityLab’s Sarah Holder has the story: The Stark Traffic Safety Divide

�Andrew Small


More on CityLab

Minneapolis’ Snow Parking Ban Winks at its Pro-Transit Future

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David Montgomery

How Marvel Packs a Universe Into New York City

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a massive mythos with the Big Apple at its center. Here’s what Spider-Man, Iron Man, and other superheroes say about their city.

Nolan Gray

Jane Jacobs and the Power of Women Planners

In a field dominated by men, Jacobs broke through with groundbreaking, decidedly female ideas about how cities should work

Roberta Brandes Gratz

A Major Chicago Public Housing Lawsuit Ends. The Segregation It Confronted Lives On.

Over 50 years after the “Gautreaux� case began, the city’s neighborhoods remain divided along racial lines.

Sophie Kasakove

Sex, Vomit, and Criminalized Pedestrians: Is This the Future of Self-Driving Cars?

In Episode 2 of our new podcast Technopolis, we take you on a tour of autonomous vehicles’ little-considered effects.

Molly Turner and Jim Kapsis


What We’re Reading

The Midwest will likely raise gas taxes�and widen highways (Streetsblog)

Airbnb is buying into the hotel industry (Quartz)

Is Chicago done with “tribal� voting? (Chicago magazine)

Dollar Tree was once considered “Amazon-proof.� Now it’s closing hundreds of stores. (Vox)

People bought the “panhandle murder� story because they think the worst of Baltimore (Washington Post)


Tell your friends about the CityLab Daily! Forward this newsletter to someone who loves cities and encourage them to subscribe. Send your own comments, feedback, and tips to hello@citylab.com.

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: How Marvel Packs a Universe Into New York City

If the Marvel Universe has anything to say about cities, it’s that superheroes can’t move past New York.

When Captain Marvel hits U.S. theaters on Friday, it’ll be the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) 21st movie in a little over 11 years. More than half of those are either set in New York City or heavily featuring it. With 11 fully fledged TV shows on top of that, the series is a massive mythos with the Big Apple at its center.

New York City isn’t just another setting, though. Partly a function of Marvel’s roots, and partly a reflection of the city’s cultural preeminence, most of MCU’s superheroes are themselves a function of New York City. In a nod to its host city’s rich diversity, Marvel heroes are much more than generic New Yorkers. Often, they represent and belong to one of its specific neighborhoods: Spider-Man and Forest Hills, Captain America and Brooklyn Heights, Luke Cage and Harlem. Even those heroes who aren’t of New York City, including Thor and Hulk, are regularly forced back inside for pivotal moments, like thwarting an alien invasion in Midtown or protecting the Infinity Stones in Washington Square Park. With such a visceral connection to the city, Marvel’s superheroes have a lot to teach viewers about New York, and New York has a lot to offer anyone trying to understand the superheroes, too.

Fans watch as stars arrive for the world premiere of Spider-Man: Homecoming. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Spider-Man and Queens: Your Friendly Outer Borough Superhero

Spider-Man is the most conspicuously “New York� superhero. Viewers are constantly reminded that Peter Parker is from Queens, and one of his key powers�web-slinging�would be almost meaningless without Manhattan’s skyscrapers. But to understand why Peter Parker is so relatable, you must remember his status as a “Queens boy.� For all the focus on Manhattan, Queens comes closer to capturing the spirit of New York City, with a large population of migrants and upwardly mobile middle-class families. Peter isn’t rich, or famous, or a super soldier: He’s a good kid from the suburbs out to prove himself in the big city.

That theme is weaved into every element of Spider-Man’s MCU presence. Peter is constantly kept at arms length from the key MCU conflicts: Tony Stark, the embodiment of Midtown, tries to distance him from the larger conflicts, with Spider-Man never fully admitted into the Avengers. Instead, key scenes in Spider-Man: Homecoming nearly all take place in the outer boroughs, including saving the Staten Island Ferry and defeating Vulture in Brooklyn’s Coney Island. Peter Parker is a bit of an outsider in Manhattan�despite having the strongest New York bona fides�and that’s precisely Queens.

Robert Downey Jr. and “Iron Man” ring the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange. (Richard Drew/AP)

Stark Industries in East Midtown: The Original HQ2

After his mansion is destroyed at the end of Iron Man 2, Tony Stark moves Stark Industries from Los Angeles to New York City in what we can safely assume was some kind of Amazon HQ2-scenario�helipad and all. At the start of The Avengers, we see the brand new Stark Tower emerging in East Midtown. With the Avengers forming and Stark Industries undoubtedly growing, Stark, like thousands of other businesses, needed to be where the talent was�superhero or otherwise.

It’s appropriate that Stark and the Avengers are in East Midtown, one of the New York’s most globalized, outward-facing neighborhoods. But Stark is never truly “of� the city. Almost as soon as he arrives, he’s gone, relocating to a converted Stark Industries warehouse in Upstate New York, taking New York City out of the crosshairs. Perhaps he’s pursuing some of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s tantalizing upstate subsidies? Capturing the spirit of Midtown, the constant churn of residents and businesses plods along, but the skyline is forever changed by Stark’s ego.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor on the set of “Doctor Strange” in New York City. (Star Max 2)

Doctor Strange and Greenwich Village: Preservation for Whomst?

A neurosurgeon on the other side of an existential crisis and newly-obsessed with Eastern wisdom, Doctor Strange is too perfectly of the Village: clearly quite wealthy, but insistent on maintaining a bohemian affect. Once a haven for artists and activists like Bob Dylan and Jane Jacobs, the Village today is one of New York’s most exclusive neighborhoods. It’s suggested that Doctor Strange lost all his money after the accident that destroyed his hands, but one shudders to imagine his rent.

His base of operations�the Sanctum Sanctorum�is located at 177A Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. A squat, four-story building, it captures some of the eclecticism of the Village. And you can rest assured that the anachronistic temple is under the strictest historic preservation rules that the neighborhood has to offer, as Greenwich Village was one of the city’s first neighborhoods to be designated as a historic district. Intentionally or otherwise, this geographical subtext jives with the film’s third-act focus on literally preserving the New York sanctorum from destruction.

Actor Charlie Cox at “Marvel’s Daredevil� premiere. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Daredevil and Hell’s Kitchen: Fighting Gotham’s Demons

Hell’s Kitchen receives some Marvel recognition, too. Raised by a working-class, Irish Catholic boxer, Matt Murdock, a.k.a. Daredevil, grows up to be a defense attorney by day, crime-fighting vigilante by night. Crime fighting notwithstanding, it’s a “moving on up� story shared by many of New York’s second- and third-generation residents. It’s also an echo of Hell’s Kitchen’s evolution from one of New York’s poorest, most dangerous areas into a posh residential neighborhood west of Midtown. Daredevil captures New York as a place that’s made a remarkable comeback.

Curiously, the series also taps into the paranoia about real estate development that permeates political rhetoric in New York City. The show’s antagonist, Wilson Fisk, is a developer who unsubtly invokes Donald Trump. The first season bares teeth at Fisk’s efforts to build in the relatively underdeveloped parts of the Hell’s Kitchen. His stooges, depicted conspiring on construction sites, are mostly Chinese and Russian�two groups commonly blamed for driving up rents in the city. More so than any other entry to the MCU, Daredevil  understands the political anxieties that make New Yorkers tick, for better or worse.

***

A universe as expansive as Marvel requires New York City. After all, the Big Apple offers what the franchise needs: a shared ethos�best captured by the state’s motto Excelsior, “Ever Upward��pursued from every conceivable walk of life. The standard superhero formula is kept fresh by the Big Apple’s diversity across a few dozen iterations, allowing heroes as diverse as Harlem’s Luke Cage and Queens’ Peter Parker to explore what justice means in the context of their neighborhood. What Marvel understands is that there isn’t one answer to the question of what it means to be a New Yorker, nor is there one answer to the question of what it means to be a superhero�and that’s why the relationship works.

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: Proofs of parallel evolution between cognition, tool development, and social complexity

A study has used eye-tracking techniques to analyze the processes of selective attention that determine the way in which we explore and interact with our environment. Researchers studied the movements of the eyes when observing different decorative patterns represented in prehistoric ceramic objects. The results indicate that there is a parallel evolution between the cognitive processes, the development of material culture, and social complexity.

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: Minneapolis’ Snow Parking Ban Winks at its Pro-Transit Future

Minneapolis has run out of places to put its snow, so the cars have to go.

Last week, the city banned street parking on even-numbered sides of many city streets, removing more than one-third of all the street parking in the city overnight. St. Paul, the other half of Minnesota’s Twin Cities, followed suit a few days later.

Unlike typical “snow emergencies,� which restrict street parking for a few days to let plows work, the new even-side parking restriction is scheduled to last all the way until April. It’s a response to the area’s record-breaking February snowfall: 39 inches of white stuff. All that snow has increasingly encroached on streets, with curbside snow banks pushed inward as plowed snow piled up, and standard 32-foot-wide streets getting narrower and narrower.

By late February, the situation got to a breaking point: Fire trucks and buses simply couldn’t make it down residential streets stuffed with snow banks and parked cars on either side. Minneapolis doesn’t have either the staff or the storage space to remove all those snow banks, but it does have the authority to order people to remove their cars.

It’s a fairly rare occurrence: The city has only imposed such restrictions four times in the past 20 years. But this weather-related parking crunch comes as Minneapolis is trying to forge a less car-dependent future. Its recently adopted 2040 city plan encourages more density and less off-street parking. This winter, Mother Nature is also giving residents a little taste of what a slightly less auto-friendly city might feels like.

Many Minneapolis neighborhoods have seen little impact from the snow-parking ban, since off-street parking is abundant. But in some densely populated neighborhoods, where apartment-dwellers rely on street parking to stow their cars, adaptation has been rougher as what was already a tight parking situation became much worse.

“I had to circle around for 10 minutes for a spot,� Whittier neighborhood resident Andre Eggert said of the first night the even-side parking ban was in effect. Kate Ryan, who lives in another dense Minneapolis neighborhood, Stevens Square, had to park six blocks away from her apartment on Thursday. The night before, she left her car at a downtown parking garage overnight and took the bus home.

But just as the inconvenience has been immediate, so have the benefits. Before the ban, many streets had become too narrow for two-way traffic, or even for one-way traffic in some cases. “It’s an inconvenience, but I respect the decision they had to make,� Ryan said.

Minneapolis public works director Robin Hutcheson said most people are complying with the rule, but some aren’t, especially in neighborhoods where street parking is most in demand. Over the first three days of Minneapolis’s winter parking restrictions, the city issued about 500 tickets for violating the even-side parking rules, and towed around 90 cars. Many scofflaws were in the Uptown neighborhood and the Dinkytown neighborhood near the University of Minnesota. “There are areas of the city that rely much more heavily on street parking,� Hutcheson said. “Those are the areas where we see the biggest challenges in clearing snow.�

The even-side parking ban will remain in effect until April 1 or until it’s no longer needed, which could happen if March sees a major thaw�no sure thing in chilly Minnesota, where snow banks sometimes linger until May.

This car crackdown comes a few months after Minneapolis adopted another measure aimed at scaling back the city’s parking: a plan to eliminate the city’s legal requirements for residential developers to build off-street parking spaces. The 2040 plan also discourages the construction of new parking lots and auto-oriented development, such as gas stations or drive-throughs, and allows denser housing in residential neighborhoods. The goal is to encourage walking and mass transit use, and includes even stricter parking restrictions around transit stations.

This winter’s parking restrictions aren’t necessarily a preview of that future�they limit street parking, while the 2040 plan targets off-street parking. The neighborhoods most impacted by the even-side parking restrictions are precisely those places without a lot of off-street stalls. Other neighborhoods�such as the Northrop neighborhood of South Minneapolis, where Hannah Neely lives�have suffered fewer effects because most residents have garages or driveways. She parks on the street because her 1920 home’s garage is too small for modern cars, but hasn’t had any issues finding a nearby spot, even with the snow ban.

Still, the city’s hope is that by restricting parking and expanding transit options, there will be fewer parked cars and therefore less driving overall. And the local transit agency, Metro Transit, has taken advantage of the winter-season parking limits to spread that message by encouraging people to ride the bus or train.

Many residents are doing just that, or other options that don’t require parking a car. Ryan said she’s taking Uber or Lyft for some errands she would ordinarily drive for. She and Eggert have both also taken public transit more often. “It certainly is a little inconvenient,� Eggert said. But he’s “really happy they did it � I can finally drive down my street without worrying about dinging a mirror.�