Celebrating Strengths, Addressing Needs: Community Driven Solutions To Improve Well-Being In Northern Manhattan

May 01, 2018
  • Description

Northern Manhattan reflects the diversity and cultural richness of New York City as a whole, while also reflecting the city's challenges, including pockets of high poverty and the associated risks to child and family well-being. In this report, we focus on the community districts of West Harlem, Central Harlem, and Washington Heights, and where possible, provide data on the eight neighborhoods within these districts. Our findings suggest the neighborhoods of northern Manhattan each face unique challenges. Manhattanville in West Harlem struggles with the lowest levels of employment among adults and lowest average household income; Central Harlem has the highest rates of homelessness and most worrisome child and adult health outcomes; and Washington Heights faces high levels of linguistic isolation and low levels of adult educational attainment. Though specific neighborhoods have unique challenges, there are also issues that are universal across the neighborhoods of northern Manhattan. The poverty rate in each northern Manhattan neighborhood is higher than the citywide rate, and at schools in each neighborhood (with the exception of Morningside Heights in West Harlem) students perform well below the citywide level in state-mandated English Language Arts and Math exams. The data also point to areas in which there has been significant improvement in northern Manhattan. The uninsured rate for both children and adults has decreased substantially—faster than it has citywide—and only 1% of children in West Harlem and Washington Heights lack health insurance. The teen birth rate has dropped considerably in each district, at a faster rate than it has citywide. Poverty rates are higher—and average incomes are lower—in northern Manhattan compared to New York City as a whole. However, each northern Manhattan community district has experienced greater increases in average income—and larger decreases in poverty—than the city as a whole over the last several years. Amidst the good news is the troubling fact that children and families facing multiple risks to well-being are disproportionately black and Latino. Where possible, we identify disparities in outcomes for these and other demographic groups, such as immigrant and single-parent households. Findings from these analyses point to the stubbornness of unequal outcomes, and the persistent need to further expose and combat discrimination in all its forms. In our research, service providers and community members pointed to several issues that should be addressed to improve child and family well-being in northern Manhattan. For example, both caregivers and youth are seeking more opportunities that will allow them to be economically secure and upwardly mobile. Residents feel they need greater protections in maintaining stable housing, and they expressed a need to eliminate access barriers— including lack of information and language—to ensure greater ease and accessibility in obtaining needed and desired programs and services. There was a desire for a more equitable distribution of resources in schools and more opportunities for parental involvement in their children's education. And community members felt they could benefit from shared spaces and co-located services where multiple needs and interests can be addressed. Below, we further explore the major themes that arose in our research and provide broad, community-informed recommendations to address the issues raised.