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Albany Leaders Respond To Disparities Highlighted In National Report

In mid-December, a national report heard on this station showed Albany has some of the biggest inequities among children living in different neighborhoods. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas garnered reactions from local officials.

NPR got an early look at data showing vastly different opportunities for children of different races living neighborhoods apart. The story compared two diverse neighborhoods, Arbor Hill/West Hill  versus Buckingham Lake in the vicinity of Upper New Scotland Avenue.

Statistics gathered by the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy at Brandeis University show a sharp racial divide in access to opportunities in almost every major metropolitan area. But Albany’s are among the worst. Here's Democratic Mayor Kathy Sheehan:   "We inherited a situation that was, you know, it's not unlike situations that exists in other Northeast cities and instead of trying to sweep it under the rug, we have, you know, really embraced the challenge. And I think that they highlighted a number of the things that we're doing to ensure that we bring opportunity to our neighborhoods that where there is the least opportunity right now. You know, we can't deny the fact that we have neighborhoods that because of discrimination, racism, economic injustice, don't have the resources that other neighborhoods have. And I think that, you know, that piece really highlighted the fact that there is a deep commitment on the part of this administration, to work to ensure that every neighborhood is a neighborhood of opportunity for our children."

Center for Law and Justice Executive Director Dr. Alice Green characterizes the report as "depressing," and believes it didn't move people like it should.   "You know, you don't hear a lot of calls for action, which I think the report should have done. I'm a little concerned about that, because that should have been a wakeup call, because we all know that poverty is a major issue. We've not adequately dealt with that. We've not been moved to make sure that we have the best education system for our young people. Because this sets the tone for everything, when kids are not educated properly, when they are left without good housing, and good health care. You know, all of this tells a sad story, and it doesn't allow us to move beyond where we're at right now.”

Texas attorney Robert Franklin, a member of the Board of Directors of the non-for-profit National Parents Organization, says the idea that neighborhoods are important for giving or withholding opportunities for a children is a fair one, but one that raises the question of whether public policy can follow from that information.    "Poor people in poor neighborhoods cannot go to live in more affluent neighborhoods, for very obvious reasons. And if they could, they'd have done so already. So, can we then bring opportunity to poor neighborhoods? Well, I suggest that's difficult particularly, because the concept of opportunity goes very much hand in hand with the presence of fathers for children, or more appropriately, two parent families. And that's hard to import into the neighborhood."

NPO notes Franklin's opinions do not necessarily reflect its views.

On its website, NPR headlines the story with a photoof one of Albany's notorious "Red X" buildings. The fire department has identified the buildings as having possible safety issues.

First Ward Common Councilmember Sonia Frederick:   "Yeah, that is absolutely something that needs to be addressed. It's concerning to the community.  It's concerning even when you just drive by and you see all the abandoned buildings, and you wish that they were truly places where people can live and flourish. So I am hoping to work as closely with the common council members as I can to really make sure that we're making that a better and we're decreasing the number of abandoned houses in the neighborhood."

Council President Pro Tem Kelly Kimbrough believes the red x program is flawed and offers a recommendation.   "Communicating with owners to get the information or to get in for our fire personnel to get into those houses to look at them, because I think I would hazard a guess, that a great many of those red X houses that don't deserve to have red X's on them. They're just vacant and have been that way. They're not necessarily unsafe. But they've been banned and they've been vacant for a while."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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