November 5, 2014
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—Four years ago the Alliance for a Greater New York was formed when New York Jobs and Justice and Urban Agenda combined their resources to continue the work for economic and social justice. The alliance’s executive director, Matt Ryan, says the organization today is focused squarely on the twin crises of income inequality and climate change.
“The way we see things is that we have a very big problem in the city right now with income inequality. The good thing though is that more people are talking about the tale of two cities. They’re talking about how it’s not right when the richest 20 percent of the city takes home well over half of all the income. So we believe that if we get in front of this issue we can really drive an agenda that’s about creating good jobs, improving low-wage jobs right now and tackling the challenges of climate change,” said Ryan.
We video interviewed him at the Trinity Church, while standing precariously close to the graveyard’s edge. Ryan has been ALIGN’s executive director since the merger in 2010. The alliance picks up where New York Jobs and Justice and Urban Agenda left off—almost 25 years’ worth of working with organized labor, political allies, religious organizations and disadvantaged communities to improve working conditions, job opportunities and the local environment.
It’s two years on now since Superstorm Sandy battered the city. Ryan noted that the organization is particularly focused on a climate resiliency agenda that benefits vulnerable communities.
“We’ve been very proud that the Mayor has been working with us and our alliance to pilot a local hiring program in Far Rockaway to make sure that rebuilding investments are benefiting local people.”
But the rebuilding resiliency has to accompany social resiliency.
“You’re never going to have a resilient community unless people earn a living wage and have housing they can count on,” Ryan said.
That’s why the alliance is involved in the direction of affordable housing in the city.
“We’re working with the Building and Construction Trades Council and housing groups to really figure out how do we create the deeply affordable housing that we need, while also creating living wage jobs and local career opportunities for local residents,” said Ryan.
The alliance works with many different local organizations throughout the city that work with local residents on issues unique to that community. Therefore, trying to formulate a cohesive policy solution that the alliance will pursue has its institutional challenges.
“At our root we’re that coalition of labor and community. I think what’s unique about ALIGN is that we’re a space for people to come together to build that long-term agenda. Concretely, yes, there are always institutional challenges between different organizations. But when you ask the members of 32BJ and the members of Faith in New York, [they’ll tell you] we all live in the same communities, we’re all feeling the same pressures of finding affordable housing and a good job. That’s the common denominator.”
Today is Election Day! While ALIGN doesn’t endorse political candidates, nonetheless its coalition members will be voting for candidates who they believe will advance the alliance’s agenda.
“I think we’re very excited to drive the agenda, along with our partners, for increasing the minimum wage and making sure we have the local power to do that, fighting for more affordable housing and continue to get the state government to invest more in long-term infrastructure upgrades and long-term climate resiliency. We hope the elections go well for working people,” Ryan said.