The Film 'In the Heights' Is Shooting ... in (Washington) Heights
Lin-Manuel Miranda's about Washington Heights, based on the 2008 Tony-winning show In the Heights, has been shooting uptown this summer.
On a recent night during the heat wave, the crew shut down the 1 train subway tunnel at 191st Street to film a scene. They blocked the opening of the tunnel with a one-story-high scrim; the floodlights behind it created the illusion of daylight.
Belen Flores, 61, was watching just outside. "I've lived here my whole life," she said. "I could write a book." She learned about the filming when her husband was trying to park their car on the street when they were waved off by a production assistant. "I'm like, 'Wow, of all places.' They could be in the Bronx, they could be in Brooklyn. And they're here in the Heights. And I live here. So of course it's exciting."
The tunnel is famous — its graffiti murals and tags are the colorful site of fashion shoots and YouTube music videos. The location scouts had told the local community board that the tunnel would be completely closed since the No. 1 subway line was down for repairs, but instead, the crew waved people through if they needed to use the elevator up to St. Nicholas Avenue or down to Broadway.
"We were just walking around," said Louis Espinal, who lives a couple blocks away. "We noticed this, and I was like, 'What's going on?'"
A large, corrugated tube provided air conditioning. Uplights studded the walls. Olga Merediz, who originated the role of Abuela Claudia in the original Broadway production, sang her solo number "Paciencia Y Fe," about gentrification. The extras were clustered behind her, wearing colorful tank tops and shorts. Most of them were local residents, chosen through a process that gave precedence to folks in the neighborhood.
Ari Schwartz, the set dresser, said shooting "In the Heights" actually IN the Heights is an obvious choice. "You get the real flavor," he said. He noted that his parents had grown up in Washington Heights and Inwood. "I sent my mother a picture of the entrance to the tunnel today, to say, this is where I am — because this was her station."
Much to the disappointment of locals, creator Lin-Manuel Miranda wasn't on set that night. But he will be in the film, not as the lead (which he was on Broadway), but as the piragua vendor who sells shaved ice from his cart.
Shooting in Washington Heights wraps up this week; next the production moves to a studio in Brooklyn. "In the Heights" will be released next summer.
HUD Administrator Skeptical of HUD's No-Immigrant Rule
The top federal housing official in New York distanced herself from the Trump administration’s proposal to exclude undocumented immigrants from federally-subsidized housing.
“Do I think that this proposal is a priority when we have so many other issues going on, particularly here in Region II?” said Lynne Patton, Region II administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who oversees HUD activities in New York and New Jersey. “No.”
Currently, undocumented immigrants cannot receive federal housing subsidies unless they are part of a household with legal residents. Earlier this year, the Trump administration proposed a change so that none of these so-called mixed-status households would be able to stay in public housing or receive other federal housing assistance — a move that would affect 3,000 households in New York State. Most other mixed-status households reside in California and Texas.
Patton, a former Trump family aide whose appointment to a government post was controversial, said she wanted instead to focus on improving conditions at the New York City Housing Authority, which has long-standing issues with lead paint, heat and elevator outages and vermin infestation.
“My priority right now is getting rats the size of cats out of NYCHA,” she said. “Whether or not an undocumented immigrant lives in those houses is not my personal priority. “
According to HUD’s own analysis, replacing mixed-status families with legal residents could end up costing $227 million annually. Mixed status families get pro-rated subsidies based on the number of family members with legal status. But if all members of the family are legal residents their subsidies would need to increase. HUD assumes that instead of Congress increasing funding to cover that liability, “the number and quality of public housing units likely could decline” if the rule goes into effect.
“The Trump administration wants to make kids homeless and call it immigration policy,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement released earlier this month, when his administration submitted comments opposing the rule. “This proposed rule would hurt some of the most vulnerable members of our community, and we’ll fight it every step of the way.”
While acknowledging that the city had a serious affordable housing shortage and a homeless crisis, Patton said there was room to balance those issues with the Trump administration’s goal of giving priority to U.S. citizens on waitlists for public housing. She said she plans to get more involved with the proposal and thinks the best solution might be to let undocumented immigrants currently residing in public housing to stay and to prioritize citizens and immigrants with legal status moving forward.
“If I can help influence the powers that be at both the White House and HUD, I will be happy to do so,” she said.
HUD is currently reviewing comments to the proposed rule and has not given a date when it will decide whether to approve, amend or abandon the proposal.
Hundreds of Thousands of New Yorkers Could Go Missing in the 2020 Census
Derrick is a 67-year-old black man who lives in Astoria. If the city has any hope of getting most of its residents counted next year, demographers believe they need to convince people like him that the census isn't evil.
"Maybe ten years ago, I would've answered," he said, while walking past the Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City. "But now, the way things are with the [Trump] administration and how they're oppressing people, I want no part of it."
They're caging little children, he said.
"To me, something like the census is a big joke now. And it seems like something to give ICE ammunition...It's really a bunch of crap in my opinion."
So how would he respond if a census enumerator showed up at his home?
"I would close the door in their face."
The census has always required a herculean effort, but in the current political climate, city officials and community groups are bracing for what could be the worst undercount ever. This despite the Trump administration's abandoned effort to place a citizenship question on the census. The damage, as many census experts like to say, has been done.
Peter Lobo and Joe Salvo closely monitor New York's population at the Department of City Planning.
(Arun Venugopal / WNYC)
Joe Salvo, the city's chief demographer, said the current record for an undercount is held by the 1990 census.
"The undercount in the city was about a quarter of a million people," he said. About three percent of the city's population.
In 2020, he said an undercount of 400,000, or five percent, is conceivable. And even 500,000 isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Either of these scenarios would very likely mean fewer Congressional seats, as well as less federal funding for public health crises, schools, ESL training and emergency preparedness.
"The census bureau and the decennial census defines reality," said Peter Lobo, Salvo's colleague at the Department of City Planning. "It tells us who we are."
But it's not just an undercount. It's an undercount of some communities compounded by an overcount of others.
"People who are double-counted tend to be white," said Lobo, "and people who are missed tend to be black and Hispanic."
Lobo said the white population will very likely be overcounted because they may own multiple homes and get multiple census forms and actually fill out those forms.
The Urban Institute of the 2020 census and it projects a white overcount both nationally and locally. But the overcount will likely be dwarfed by the number of people who simply ignore the census. These include African Americans, who could experience the most significant undercount of any major racial or ethnic group, as well as members of immigrant communities.
"There's a fear in those families that reporting on household members who aren't citizens could lead to families being separated because the family member could be reported," said Sophie Simon, the director for immigrant services at Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement, in Long Island City.
As in the past, the Census Bureau will reach out to households by mail and by going door to door. But for the first time, it will also reach them online next year.
Although federal funding equations are notoriously complex, by one rule of thumb, a single person represents $2700 in potential federal funding. By that measure, if 400,000 New Yorkers like Derrick do refuse to engage with the census, that's more than one billion dollars in lost funding for New York City.
Julie Menin, the city's census director, is hoping to use figures like these to her advantage. The job of getting people to fill out their census forms falls on her and her team, and if they're to be successful, they'll need to erase the cynicism and sense of defeat that permeates some communities.
"That's letting the Trump administration win," said Menin. "That's exactly what their intent was by asking the citizenship question. It was to cause fear and intimidation. To bully immigrant communities and communities of color. If we give in to that, then they've won."
Menin is getting help. For the first time, the city has allocated funding to census outreach. $40 million of it. That's on top of $20 million in state funding. Menin said this money will help place ads across the five boroughs.
It'll also be directed to organizations that can mobilize the most undercounted communities, and help convince New Yorkers that they simply cannot afford to sit this one out.
Week Ahead: July 22, 2019
The MTA holds its monthly board meetings to prevent an undercount.