4 Things New York City Government Needs to Do in 2013

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4 Things New York City Government Needs to Do in 2013
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New York City Hall. (Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/aguichard.)

COMMENTARY | Heading into the new year, it's clear that solving the housing affordability gap, improving taxi accessibility, and increasing preparedness for natural disasters should be at the top of every New York City politician's to-do list.

Additionally, local government officials should look into new ways to help New York City's Chinatown recover from Hurricane Sandy.

2013 will feature a heated campaign for the New York City mayor position currently held by Michael Bloomberg, and that means a lot will likely get done by local politicians in the lead-up to Election Day. Here's a look at some of the top issues facing New York City in 2013 and what local politicians can do to help:

Solving the Housing Affordability Gap

According to a recent report by the Community Service Society, the gap between New York renter households' income and apartment rents has grown much wider since 2005. Low-income renters have been hit especially hard, as some are stuck using half their monthly income for rent.

Rent levels rose 17-25 percent in many areas of New York City over the past decade, which outpaces most annual income increases.

The escalating rental market, coupled with a post-recession economy still in recovery mode from the economic crisis of 2008, has been especially hard on low-income tenants trying to survive in these difficult times.

William C. Thompson Jr., New York City's former comptroller, is one of the leading candidates to replace Michael Bloomberg in the city's 2013 mayoral race, and solving the affordability gap is reportedly one of the main issues he plans to address.

Thompson has extensive experience in finance and business, which should help him become a leading mayoral candidate for residents faced with the ever-increasing affordability gap.

Natural Disaster Preparedness

New York City residents are dealing with a long, slow recovery from Hurricane Sandy, which will undoubtedly extend well into 2013.

The city is still trying to recover from the superstorm's damages, and local politicians hopefully learned that they need to be better prepared when natural disasters strike.

Local politicians could perhaps take a cue from New Orleans by looking into building dunes and levees to protect against surging seawater entering New York City homes during superstorms such as Sandy in the future.

New York City government officials should also revise building codes, update zoning requirements in low-lying areas, and reinforce building infrastructures to ensure they can withstand hurricane damages.

Taxi and Subway Station Accessibility for Disabled Riders

New York City is supposed to be progressive when it comes to catering to folks from all walks of life.

That said, it's astounding that fewer than 2 percent of New York City cabs can accommodate wheelchairs.

Taxi accessibility will undoubtedly be a key difficulty disabled New York City residents will be faced with in 2013, as a federal appeals court struck down a ruling in June that would have required the city to give taxi licenses only to wheelchair-accessible cabs.

However, the fight is far from over, and it will likely stretch into the new year and beyond.

"We're disappointed. But this is Round One of what is likely to be a lengthy battle on many fronts," said Sid Wolinsky, director of litigation for Disability Rights Advocates.

Many New York City residents rely on subways, taxis, and other forms of public transportation to navigate through the city, and most of the city's taxi fleet is inaccessible to the thousands of disabled people living in the Big Apple.

Over 98 percent of the city's taxis are not wheelchair-accessible. For those who would advise disabled riders to take the subway, the answer is not that simple, because most of the city's subway stations are also not wheelchair-accessible.

Chinatown's Hurricane Sandy Recovery

Hurricane Sandy devastated portions of the Lower East Side section of New York City, and Chinatown was absolutely ravaged.

Businesses were left in the dark for days, and floodwater crept through the streets of Chinatown for several days after the storm.

Recovery in the area has been slow. Local businesses in Chinatown have been suffering ever since Hurricane Sandy hit, as tourists and business travelers are avoiding the area due to safety concerns.

Tourists have been taking their business uptown, visiting hot spots like Times Square and Hell's Kitchen.

Heading into the new year, the local New York City government should hold fundraisers to raise awareness and money for Chinatown residents and businesses affected by Hurricane Sandy. It's the only way to drive business back to the area.

Eric Holden, a lifelong New York resident, reported on Hurricane Sandy for several Long Island-based publications. He also has extensive experience as a New York City politics reporter. Follow him on Twitter @ericholden.

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