Spoken at the public hearing for the Resident Hiring Ordinance by the Urban Jobs Task Force, Tuesday October 6th, 5:30 PM in Common Council chambers, City Hall.
My name is Frank Cetera, and I am a member of the Green Party of Onondaga County and Board President of Cooperative federal credit Union. I am a political, social, and environmental activist and organizer here in Syracuse, among other things. One of those other things is that I am a neighbor to people in all four corners of the city - through my community greening work on the east and south sides, my employment and public service job on the northside and downtown, and my residence on the westside.
And in each of those locations, I see the same thing over and over - poverty. In many places the numbers equate to between 40%-60% of households. Our city is like a giant snowball right now, like the Titanic heading for the iceberg, it is a huge weight to try and turn around, but we have to start somewhere.
Keeping our city wealth in the hands of our city residents is one answer. We’ve already seen what happened in the 1950s and onward as residents left the city an empty shell of itself. Now we are faced with more people actually moving back into the city creating competition for the fewer than ever jobs that are available here now. And once again, sending our wealth out to the suburbs and beyond by our hiring practices.
After working with green Party volunteers to collect over 200 petition signatures for the ordinance, I can tell you that neighbors that I talk to are tired of struggling, tired of trying to scrape by in competition with their friends for the measly Dunkin Donuts and Destiny USA retail jobs that still leave them in need of public assistance because the current minimum wage is still a poverty wage. They are left with a vision of a derelict future because our education system is underfunded, while suburban schools flourish. And every day their lives are in danger from gun violence as many poor folk turn to entrepreneurship in the illegal drug trades when no reasonable paying jobs are available for them in the city.
Our poverty epidemic is well documented in the media, but even more so in the streets. As I walk in any direction in my Near Westside neighborhood from my home on Otisco St it is impossible to miss the vacant and crumbling homes that are virtually abandoned by landlords seeking to suck additional wealth out of our city, or trying to avoid paying the property taxes they owe. Widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots a little bit further each month. The quality of our rental units is something reflected in every neighborhood I visit and talk to people in. Perhaps if we start hiring our residents, paying them a livable wage, and giving them home-buying opportunities, we can also start solving the housing stock and absentee landlord issues that plague us as well.
The arguments against this ordinance have also been offered up. To those I simply ask, how has the economy worked for you in the last decade. But even more importantly, I ask, how has the economy worked for your brothers and sisters across the tracks? It is time to heal our wounds, and for healing you need treatment, medicine, and TLC. I offer to you that the urban jobs ordinance offers just that - treatment, medicine and TLC for our ailing work force, residents, and neighborhoods. I support the passage of this urban jobs ordinance, and call on all of our Councilors to do the same. Thank you.