NEW YORK – Mayor Bill de Blasio opened his State of the City address with a commitment to maintaining a city that is inclusive and affordable. He then laid out his vision, which leaned heavily on housing. “In total, we pledge to preserve or construct nearly 200,000 units of affordable housing – enough to house between 400,000 and 500,000 New Yorkers-to help working people by literally putting a roof over their heads.”
The plan would put into motion 80,000 new units that would be affordable to average wage earners.
The mayor’s address went on to highlight other achievements but returned to the theme of affordable housing, sighting the high cost of living as a danger to the city’s essence: Some “46 percent of our city’s residents live at or near the poverty line” he said.
A challenge to the administration is securing a percentage of affordable units that is higher than 20 percent. For example, comparing the Queens Sunnyside Yards project (some 200 acres), to Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan the mayor would like to see Queens development boast the same number of affordable apartments, approximately 11,000, which housing advocates say is inadequate considering the land mass. Stuyvesant Town itself has become unaffordable to due to hedge fund machinations.
Some housing advocates were not happy with the mayor’s housing plan. They sighted the example of the 421 tax abatement system which gives developers a short-term 100 percent tax abatement (an end to the 421-a tax abatement) and zoning laws that allow developers to build larger and larger apartment buildings at taxpayer expense e.g., inclusionary zoning which pushes out long-term tenants as the rents climb and the neighborhoods become unaffordable to working-class families.
Tenant advocates say that given the broad opportunity developers have to build luxury housing and charge market rents (80 percent of new units) the administration can and should negotiate at least 30 percent to 40 percent of those units to the median income of the community. Advocates have suggested that developers open their books to show cause as to why this allocation of units would not allow them continue to turn a handsome profit.
“Mayor de Blasio’s plan for building or preserving 200,000 affordable housing units is not enough to make a dent in the number of New Yorkers seeking affordable housing. Last year, tenants won 2,500 new apartments through 41 lotteries that drew a total of 1.5 million applications,” write Mireya Navarro-The New York Times.
A large question then, is, can the mayor’s vision of an inclusive, affordable city be maintained without federal partnership e.g., Mitchell–Lama type housing.
Kathryn Wylde, president of business group Partnership for New York, said, “Affordable building in the Koch era only worked thanks to “robust public-private partnership,” and argued that collaboration was even more important today. However, tenants say this “partnership” is based on old and lopsided agreements that favor developers.
There were many other highlights in the Mayor’s address e.g., ending stop-and-frisk, and perhaps his signature achievement, full-day pre-K for more than 50,000 children.
Crime is at an all-time low and New York’s police commissioner, William Bratton, is putting back into place community policing something that Mayor David Dinkins had pushed during his administration.
Mayor de Blasio complimented the hard work of police officers – EMS workers and all public employees who protect the safety of all New Yorkers.
Sweeping reforms are being made at the Department of Corrections including an end to punitive segregation for adolescents in city jails.
With the help of the City Council, the mayor is pushing to raise the minimum wage to $13 an hour and indexing it to the cost of living; this is big – if Albany can be moved.
Quoting Mayor Fiorello La Guardia de Blasio said, “A mayor who can not look 50 or 70 years ahead is not worthy of being in City Hall. We must lay the foundation now for the strength and stability of New York’s future a future of greater equality and opportunity.”
To listen to Mayor de Blasio’s full address go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AyzXv_eshE
Photo: Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers the 2015 State of the City address at Baruch College. Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office.