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2003 Annual Report
Community Relations Bureau
The Commission is also charged with encouraging understanding and respect among New York City's many communities. To address this mission, the Community Relations Bureau (CRB) provides services through the Commission's five borough-based Community Service Centers.

The various services of the Community Relations Bureau's field operation compose its Neighborhood Human Rights Program (NHRP). NHRP works on a local level with block, tenant, religious, educational, merchant and community groups to improve and stabilize communities, educate them about the protections they have under the NYC Human Rights Law, and connect them to the Commission's law enforcement functions.

During 2003, the Commission increased its services to the public after successfully restructuring its entire field operation. This included the consolidation of field offices, opening a new permanent field office in Staten Island, and expanding CRB's major programs.

Each field office, or Community Service Center, offers the Commission's many services and programs including: Immigrant Employment Rights training; Equal Access (disability access) investigation and intervention; School-Based Education which offers three separate curricula (NYC Human Rights Law, Sexual Harassment, and Conflict Resolution); Peer Mediation training in high schools; and Mortgage Foreclosure and Pre-Purchase Counseling to avert predatory lending practices. A dedicated team of Human Rights Specialists staffs each borough office.

Immigrant Employment Rights
The Commission, along with its partner - the New York Immigration Coalition - conducted 133 workshops during 2003 to inform immigrants, employers and immigrant advocacy organizations about their rights and obligations under Federal and City Laws. The United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division Office of Special Counsel for Immigrant Related Unfair Employment Practices, awarded the Commission an additional $70,800 grant to continue the program, bringing the two-year total to over $140,000.

The informal discussions, literature and PowerPoint presentations educate immigrant workers, employers, employee associations and business associations about discrimination in employment based on national origin, citizenship status or alienage. The citywide presentations are conducted in English, Spanish, Chinese, Creole, and Russian.

Two of the larger immigration workshops – one for advocacy groups and the other for employers – received widespread media coverage as part of an ongoing campaign to educate the public about the discrimination that immigrants face in the workplace. These workshops included speakers from the U.S. Department of Justice, the New York State Attorney General's Office and the Commission.

Mortgage and Pre-Purchase Counseling

CRB staff counseled over 1,000 homeowners and potential homeowners on ways to avoid predatory lending practices and retain their homes. These lending practices include excessively high fees and commissions, misrepresentation of the mortgage's terms and conditions, high interest rates, repeated financing of loans, balloon payments and the financing of high-cost credit insurance. The program also identifies predatory lending practices and the discrimination often associated with them.

The Commission’s proposal was selected in 2002 by the New York University Wagner School of Public Service's Capstone Program to explore the extent of discriminatory practice and fair housing violations in home lending.
For nine months, a team of NYU Capstone graduate students and CRB staff members assessed the impact of discrimination within the sub-prime lending market and identified NYC neighborhoods significantly affected. Those communities are: Jamaica/Hollis; Williamsbridge/Baychester; Bedford– Stuyvesant; and East New York/Starrett City. The findings reinforced other studies documenting race as the most common factor used in the solicitation and targeting practices of predatory lenders.

The Commission is using the Capstone findings to focus and upgrade our mortgage counseling services.

Equal Access
The Commission was one of 55 awardees nationwide to receive a grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Foundation. The $24,501 grant is being used to expand the Commission's Equal Access Program. In conjunction with LEB, CRB staff members regularly conduct investigations and provide pre-complaint intervention when individuals experience accessibility problems. As a result, the Commission has successfully negotiated 152 modifications during 2003. These modifications include ramps and lifts to stores, restaurants, offices, and apartment buildings, grab bars in restrooms, parking spaces, and permitting the presence of guide dogs in public accommodations. The program also provides NYC Human Rights Law workshops for senior citizens and the disabled community.

School Based Education
The program includes three basic curricula for students in grades 6-12: the NYC Human Rights Law, Sexual Harassment, and Conflict Resolution. Last year, CRB staff conducted 255 sessions in 24 schools citywide, reaching nearly 7,500 students.

Peer Mediation Training
The program prepares middle and high school students to be capable young leaders and negotiate non-violent resolutions for situations among their peers that create conflict within their schools. A $52,000 impact grant from the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation is helping the Commission expand the program.

CRB Staff
The Community Relations Bureau consists of 36 Human Rights Specialists assigned to the Commission's Community Service Centers. In addition, CRB has seven support staff members.

Presentations and materials on employment protection for immigrants (City law and Federal law) in cooperation with NY Immigration Coalition for:
1) immigrant workers;
2) employers;
3) immigrant advocacy organizations.
HUD-referred counseling for individuals facing the loss of their homes that includes:
1) reviewing in person their financial and mortgage status;
2) writing letters to creditors or banks to negotiate payment;
3) exploring alternatives to foreclosure with individuals and lending institutions;
4) referring cases of suspected predatory lending;
5) distributing literature and participating in housing coalitions;
6) community presentations on predatory lending and foreclosure prevention.
The Program provides:
1) investigation of individual inquiries (interviews, space assessment, code assessment, analyze possibilities of code compliance, discussion of the law);
2) intervention, i.e. negotiation and education with owners (calls, letters, visits);
3) group presentations to consumers, business people, social service agencies, hospitals re: disability rights;
4) drafting complaints and follow-up investigations.
Present three basic curricula, the "NYC Human Rights Law," "Sexual Harassment," and "Resolving Conflicts":
1) to school classes (grades 6-12);
2) to community groups.
The Mediation Program:
1) responds to requests to mediate bias and other community disputes;
2) sets up peer mediation groups in schools (grades 6-12);
3) delivers conflict resolution training to community groups as well as not-for-profit and school personnel.
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