Saturday, July 31, 2021



The de Blasio administration today announced that the City is raising the value of City rental assistance programs (CityFHEPS) to federal Section 8 Fair Market Rent levels, more than a 90 percent increase for a family of four, the largest increase since this Admin recreated City rental assistance programs from scratch, which had been completely cancelled by the City and State in 2011.


The rule implements legislation sponsored by Council Member Steven Levin. Current values are aligned with the State FHEPS rental assistance program; Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal and State Senator Brian Kavanagh successfully sponsored legislation to similarly increase state vouchers, but the bill has not yet been signed by the Governor. 


“New York City’s recovery depends on giving every family the tools they need to thrive in their communities. Increasing rental vouchers will help thousands of New Yorkers find stable housing or avoid the shelter system altogether. It’s a transformative change,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “New York City is the most compassionate city in America, and these vouchers are an essential step forward for our most vulnerable families.”


Since 2014, more than 170,000 New Yorkers have secured housing through the de Blasio administration’s rental assistance and rehousing programs, including CityFHEPS. More than 140,000 of those individuals moved out of shelter and into permanent housing; the remainder were able to avoid entering shelter altogether by keeping their homes. Raising the value of CityFHEPS rental assistance will help even more New Yorkers who may be facing eviction or experiencing homelessness remain in or obtain permanent homes.


With the publication of this rule, the new CityFHEPS rent levels are expected to take effect for September rentals. 


“Supporting all families in NYC to achieve stability and growth is paramount to our long-lasting recovery and growth,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Melanie Hartzog. “We’re grateful to the advocates of the changes to our assistance programs that will help more New Yorkers secure permanent housing and access additional tools necessary for success.”’


“As we have said in our budget testimony, we believe that raising the value of all government rental assistance programs to federal FMR Section 8 levels is the right thing to do, going further to prevent and address homelessness and building on our progress helping more than 170,000 New Yorkers in need secure housing,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks. “With this reform, we are taking important action well ahead of schedule, moving to raise rental assistance values to FMR Section 8 levels, and thereby continue to alleviate homelessness and reduce the number of people in DHS shelters.”


“This Administration’s latest action to raise the value of City rental assistance programs will build on our comprehensive efforts to do everything we can to support New Yorkers experiencing homelessness,” said Department of Homeless Services Administrator Joslyn Carter. “And as we continue to use every tool at our disposal to level the playing field for vulnerable New Yorkers while building on the important progress we’ve made helping more than 140,000 New Yorkers move out of shelter into permanent housing, we must also take every opportunity to acknowledge and thank our dedicated frontline staff and provider-partners who went above and beyond during this past year of crisis to make this positive change possible. Thank you for your extraordinary efforts around the clock in service of this vital mission and in support of our clients as they get back on their feet.”


“Since day one, this Administration has been committed to expanding City programs and services that connect New Yorkers in need to permanent housing opportunities, with more than 170,000 individuals utilizing these resources to move out of shelter or stay in their own homes,” said HRA Administrator Gary Jenkins. “Today’s announcement builds on that progress and will provide thousands of New Yorkers with housing stability. We thank our partners at the City Council for their advocacy and support in our ongoing efforts to ensure that New York remains a city where anyone can call home - regardless of their economic or housing status.”


The NYC DHS census is now at fewer than 45,000 people, below the 50,689 figure at the beginning of the de Blasio administration. The census began trending downward prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to shelter moveout initiatives, the City’s efforts to create permanent housing by converting former cluster shelter locations into affordable apartments, and pre-pandemic efforts to reduce evictions. Evictions decreased by more than 40 percent through the city’s first-in-the-nation right-to-counsel initiative, which provides free legal services to tenants in housing court. The COVID-19 eviction moratorium prevented more families from entering shelter but sustained rehousing efforts – let by tireless efforts from the City’s essential workers – have actually driven down the number of shelter residents.


More than 140,000 New Yorkers have used City resources to move out of shelter. More than 80,000 of those have used rental assistance programs developed by the City alone – which did not exist before this administration – and approximately 13,000 used federal rental assistance like Section 8. Nearly 19,000 New Yorkers moved out of shelter in 2020 alone, with more than 11,000 using City rental assistance programs.




Early Detection of Asian Longhorned Beetle Infestations to Protect Trees

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today encouraged swimming pool owners to participate in DEC’s annual Asian Longhorned Beetle Swimming Pool Survey. During late summer, Asian longhorned beetles (ALB) emerge as adults and are active outside of their host tree. The goal of the survey is to locate infestations of these invasive pests before they cause serious damage to the State’s forests and street trees.

“The best opportunity to eradicate and limit the spread of invasive species is by finding infestations early, when populations are low,” said Commissioner Seggos. “Swimming pool monitoring is a simple, economical approach to surveying for these pests and gives New Yorkers the chance to take an active role in protecting their communities."

From now until swimming pools are closed for the season, DEC is asking pool owners to periodically check their filters for insects that resemble ALB, and report suspects either by emailing photos to or mailing insects to DEC's Forest Health Diagnostics Lab at 108 Game Farm Road, Delmar, NY 12054, Attn: Liam Somers.

People without swimming pools can help the effort by reporting signs of ALB in their communities. The invasive pest ALB:

  • Is about 1.5 inches long, black with white spots, and have black and white antennae;
  • Leave perfectly round exit holes about the size of a dime in branches and trunks of host trees; and
  • Create sawdust-like material called frass that collects on branches and around the base of trees.

ALB are wood-boring beetles native to Asia that were accidentally introduced to the United States through wood-packing materials. These pests attack a variety of hardwoods, including maples, birches, and willows, among others, and have caused the death of hundreds of thousands of trees across the country. The State Department of Agriculture and Markets has worked diligently to manage ALB infestations in New York, successfully eradicating them from Brooklyn, Staten Island, Manhattan, Islip, and Queens. The beetle is still actively managed in central Long Island, and there are active infestations in Massachusetts, Ohio, and South Carolina.

For more information on the 
ALB Swimming Pool Survey and ALB, including biology and identification tools, visit DEC's website. Attached photos are courtesy of NYSDEC.

Senator Biaggi's Week in Review: 7/19/21-7/23/21


Senator Alessandra Biaggi

Dear Community,

When our nation was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity and hunger skyrocketed drastically. The Bronx was especially hard-hit, as even prior to the pandemic, the South Bronx had the highest rate of food insecurity in the country and the Bronx had the highest unemployment rate in the state. COVID-19 resulted in hunger increasing dramatically in our district, with 1 in 5 Bronxites suffering from food insecurity. Along with COVID-19, food insecurity became its own pandemic. 

Throughout 2020, my office distributed over 100K meals to families in need. We are continuing to work with food distributors in the community to distribute food, especially fresh produce that is often inaccessible in the Bronx. However, we cannot depend on emergency food assistance in the long-term and must maximize investment in nutritional programs at every level of government. This is why I am committed to passing my Healthy Foods Procurement billwhich will require nutritious and locally grown food to be served in all schools and state-supported facilities, expanding access to healthy foods and bringing us one step closer to eradicating food insecurity in our communities.

Good health is a fundamental human right, not a privilege – and that starts with access to food. To live up to these values, we must ensure nutritious, affordable food is accessible to all New Yorkers, regardless of their race or income. We can no longer put bandaids on everything, but rather we must address the root causes of these problems and enact long-standing solutions. I look forward to working alongside the Bronx community to combat food insecurity. 

With Gratitude,

State Senator Alessandra Biaggi

Governor Cuomo Updates New Yorkers on State's Progress During COVID-19 Pandemic - JULY 30, 2021


84,495 Vaccine Doses Administered Over Last 24 Hours

MTA Pop-Up Vaccination Sites Have Now Administered More Than 30,000 Shots

3 COVID-19 Deaths Statewide Yesterday

 Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today updated New Yorkers on the state's progress combatting COVID-19.

The Governor also announced that pop-up vaccination sites at MTA station stops have now administered 30,017 shots since the program began. Sites are still open at Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal. 

"The Delta variant's spread throughout New York State and across the country is reinforcing the need for New Yorkers to get vaccinated as quickly as possible," Governor Cuomo said. "This virus can still infect you and others, and being vaccinated is the crucial action each of us can take the slow the spread. There's ample supply and vaccination sites conveniently located across the state, so I urge everyone who can to get the vaccine as soon as possible." 
Today's data is summarized briefly below:

  • Test Results Reported - 108,797
  • Total Positive - 2,677
  • Percent Positive - 2.46%
  • 7-Day Average Percent Positive - 2.28%
  • Patient Hospitalization - 657 (+46)
  • Patients Newly Admitted - 132
  • Patients in ICU - 134 (+8)
  • Patients in ICU with Intubation - 56 (-1)
  • Total Discharges - 186,695 (+99)
  • Deaths - 3
  • Total Deaths - 43,074
  • Total vaccine doses administered - 22,212,520
  • Total vaccine doses administered over past 24 hours - 84,495
  • Total vaccine doses administered over past 7 days - 260,849
  • Percent of New Yorkers ages 18 and older with at least one vaccine dose - 72.3%
  • Percent of New Yorkers ages 18 and older with completed vaccine series - 66.8%
  • Percent of New Yorkers ages 18 and older with at least one vaccine dose (CDC) - 74.9%
  • Percent of New Yorkers ages 18 and older with completed vaccine series (CDC) - 68.3%
  • Percent of all New Yorkers with at least one vaccine dose - 60.4%
  • Percent of all New Yorkers with completed vaccine series - 55.5%
  • Percent of all New Yorkers with at least one vaccine dose (CDC) - 62.7%
  • Percent of all New Yorkers with completed vaccine series (CDC) - 56.8%

Proposals Reveal 4.65-Acre Affordable Housing Development In Wakefield, The Bronx


Rendering of a 'Building A' at Wakefield Village (Newman Architects)
Rendering of a 'Building A' at Wakefield Village (Newman Architects)

The Department of City Planning is reviewing proposals to construct a 4.65-acre mixed-use affordable housing development near the Metro-North Station in Wakefield, The Bronx. If approved, the six-building complex would create approximately 1,200 income-restricted apartments, 28,000 square feet of retail space, 87,000 square feet of community facilities, 130,000 square feet of publicly accessible open space, and 600 parking spaces.

In total, the residential component across all six buildings would measure nearly 1.1 million square feet, including associated amenities.

Proposals submitted to the Department of City Planning refer to the project as “Wakefield Village” with renderings attributed to Newman Architects. Buildings depicted in those renderings have multi-colored brick façades, upper-level setbacks that will likely be activated as private or communal terraces, and roof-level communal spaces. The central grounds surrounding the buildings will feature a vibrant mix of commercial retail and community facilities.

Rendering of retail spaces and outdoor areas between 'Building A' and 'Building B' at Wakefield Village (Newman Architects)

Rendering of retail spaces and outdoor areas between ‘Building A’ and ‘Building B’

Rendering of a 'Building C' at Wakefield Village (Newman Architects)

The project site is surrounded by the Wakefield Avenue Bridge, the Wakefield Metro-North Rail Station and associated rail lines, the city of Mount Vernon to the North, and the City of Yonkers to the west. The site is partially leased to the New York City Police Department as a commercial parking lot with approximately 400 spaces.

Before the development can break ground, the Department of City Planning will need to grant a mix of zoning text amendments and special permits to allow the construction of a mixed-use residential building in an area primarily zoned for light-industrial manufacturing properties, an expansion of allowable building height, and an increase in approved density for an enclosed parking garage. The proposed actions are also subject to the ULURP approval process and review of a completed environmental impact statement. The latter was submitted on July 23, 2021 and will be reviewed at a public scoping meeting this summer.

At this phase of development, a project timeline for the complex is uncertain.

View of Wakefield Village Project Site (outlined in Red)
View of Wakefield Village Project Site

157 Days and Counting


Here I am yesterday sitting at Orchard Beach in the Bronx winding up my City Hall in the Bronx week. I got to play a little volleyball with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and he went all out in the game. His team won as my team just couldn't get to the ball, let alone put it over the net. 

My advice to incoming Mayor Eric Adams is to put Diaz Jr, in a very high level position in your administration. He is a good person to have around. I only wish that I could of had Ruben in my administration, then maybe I would have done thing a lot better. So Eric don't pass up our friend Ruben Diaz Jr., he will make a fine 1st Deputy Mayor.  

Friday, July 30, 2021

Dark Web Narcotics Dealer “Fentmaster,” Responsible For Overdose Death, Sentenced To 15 Years In Prison


Chukwuemeka Okparaeke Netted Millions by Distributing Kilograms of Fentanyl Analogues and Synthetic Opioids Through a Darknet Marketplace and the United States Mail, Completing Over 7,000 Sales

 Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that CHUKWUEMEKA OKPARAEKE, a/k/a “Emeka,” was sentenced today to 180 months in prison for importing and trafficking fentanyl analogues and other synthetic opioids through the dark web.  OKPARAEKE previously pled guilty to distributing U-47700, a controlled substance analogue of AH-7921; importing 100 grams and more of acryl fentanyl, a controlled substance analogue of fentanyl, from Hong Kong; and making false statements to the Government regarding the proceeds of his offenses.  Through his guilty plea, OKPARAEKE admitted that in November 2016, he sold U-47700 to an 18-year-old individual (the “Victim”), who died from an overdose after using the drug.  OKPARAEKE further admitted that his narcotics offenses involved over 9 kilograms of acryl fentanyl, nearly 6 kilograms of U-47700, over a kilogram of furanyl fentanyl, as well as 12 grams of 4-ANPP.  OKPARAEKE was sentenced in White Plains federal court by U.S. District Judge Nelson S. Román, who previously accepted OKPARAEKE’s guilty plea. 

U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “Chukwuemeka Okparaeke previously admitted that he peddled highly addictive opioids over the darknet, including to an 18-year-old who died from them.  Okparaeke also lied to agents and prosecutors about the whereabouts of Bitcoins representing millions of dollars in poison-peddling proceeds.  Now Okparaeke will forfeit those proceeds and go to prison for his crimes.”

According to the allegations in the Superseding Information, Complaint, other court filings, and statements made during public court proceedings:

From at least July 2016 through March 2017, OKPARAEKE imported kilogram quantities of fentanyl analogues, including acryl fentanyl and furanyl fentanyl, and other synthetic opioids, including U-47700, from Hong Kong and China into the United States.  To transact with customers and coordinate his narcotics sales, OKPARAEKE used a darknet website known as AlphaBay Market (“AlphaBay”), accessible only through a special software program that allows users to mask their identities and anonymize their internet traffic.  Under the AlphaBay vendor name “Fentmaster,” OKPARAEKE engaged in more than 7,000 sales of synthetic opioids, which he shipped to customers throughout the United States using the U.S. Postal Service.  OKPARAEKE’s narcotics trafficking generated criminal proceeds of at least 680.60963624 Bitcoins, worth millions of dollars.

In November 2016, OKPARAEKE sold three grams of U-47700 to the Victim, an 18-year-old living in Vancouver, Washington, in an AlphaBay transaction.  The Victim used the drugs purchased from OKPARAEKE and died in a U-47700 overdose on November 10, 2016. 

OKPARAEKE – who attended medical school before he began selling synthetic opioids on AlphaBay – used extensive measures to conceal his identity, including software to encrypt his internet traffic and communications sent from his cellphone.  Using alter egos, he boasted online about his exploits as a darknet drug trafficker, offered advice to other drug dealers, and published a short story describing his criminal activities and his strategies for evading law enforcement.  In January 2017, Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), in conjunction with Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) and United States Postal Inspection Service (“USPIS”), intercepted several packages containing kilogram quantities of fentanyl analogues that OKPARAEKE had imported from Hong Kong.  Subsequently, in March 2017, law enforcement searched a drug premises OKPARAEKE maintained in Kearny, New Jersey.  During the search, law enforcement seized more than 10 kilograms of U-47700, acryl fentanyl, and furanyl fentanyl, as well as a quantity of 4-ANPP and approximately 82 mailing envelopes containing smaller amounts of those substances that OKPARAEKE had packaged for distribution to his customers.

On September 15, 2020, OKPARAEKE met with representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.  During that meeting, OKPARAEKE falsely represented that the approximately 680 Bitcoins – worth millions of dollars – generated by his narcotics sales on AlphaBay were no longer in his possession and control, and that a third party had stolen the Bitcoins from him through hacking and other unauthorized access to OKPARAEKE’s electronic accounts.  OKPARAEKE subsequently surrendered the 680 Bitcoins to USPIS and agreed to forfeit those proceeds as part of his plea agreement.

In addition to the prison term, OKPARAEKE, 32, of Middletown, New York, was sentenced to five years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $105,177.30 in United States currency and 680.60963624 Bitcoins, presenting proceeds of his narcotics trafficking.

Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding efforts of the USPIS, HSI, CBP, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Fairfax County, Virginia, Police Department, the Virginia Office of the Attorney General, the Middletown Police Department, and the Vancouver, Washington, Police Department for their investigative work and ongoing support and assistance with the case.