Skip to main content

At de Blasio's State of the City, affordable housing rhetoric but not details

So, I finally checked out Mayor Bill de Blasio's 2/13/18 State of the City address and, as the New York Times's William Neuman wrote, "The speech was long on oratory and vision, but it had less to offer in the way of details, new ideas or measurable goals."

According to a video of the event, a preview video (about 31 minutes in) shown to attendees  at the Kings Theatre touched on "creating affordable housing for New Yorkers." The illustration was not ground-up construction but a rent freeze for seniors. Okay.

"So, let me take you to the task at hand, becoming the Fairest Big City in America," de Blasio said, according to the transcript. "The video you saw gave you the flavor of some of the steps we've taken so far what they mean to the people of this city and when you came in this evening, you were handed this booklet, which conveniently is titled, 'The Fairest Big City in America.'"

So what did he talk about? His mandate, he said, is to "make every decision with this simple question in mind, will this action help make us the Fairest Big City in America? And then apply these decisions with urgency and energy." Oh, sure. That hasn't exactly happened with Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park affordable housing like 535 Carlton.

He then talked about making "the safest big city in America even safer," extending "Pre-K for All" to three year-olds, and "increasing the number of children reading on grade level by third grade."

About housing

And then he said:
Number four – and this is one I know everyone can relate to – in the few months the biggest affordable housing plan in the history of New York City got even bigger. When it comes to fighting income and inequality and creating fairness in our everyday lives, nothing is more important than affordable housing. It's not just that this is the number one expense for every family and that the costs of housing defines whether you can live a decent life or not in this city. It's also about a basic question of fairness. Will the people who built this city, the people who were here in good times and bad, will they get to stay in the city they love?
Well, here's how I see it, every time a family is saved from an illegal eviction, every time a family gets their apartment preserved at affordable rent, every time a family moves into one of our new affordable buildings, it's another step towards becoming the Fairest Big City in America. And we will reach more New Yorkers in the next four years than ever before in our history. So they can be New Yorkers for a long time to come.

There's another good way to make sure New Yorkers can afford the city they love, give them better paying jobs.
According to the booklet:
RAMPING UP THE MOST AMBITIOUS AFFORDABLE HOUSING PLAN IN HISTORY
We started by committing to build or preserve 200,000 affordable homes in 10 years. We applied unprecedented resources and rewrote decades-old rules that left housing construction at the mercy of the market. We’re also making it possible for every New Yorker facing eviction to receive free legal advice, including legal representation in court for low-income tenants. Our successes showed us we can do more, so we’ve raised the bar. Now, we’re producing affordable apartments at a historic rate. In 2017, we financed almost 25,000 homes, breaking the all-time record. This will allow us to reach our original goal two years ahead of schedule and then surpass it, to build or preserve 300,000 homes by 2026—enough to house the entire population of Boston. We’ll get there by setting aside underused, small, and irregular lots for affordable construction; helping non-profits buy rent-stabilized apartments in gentrifying neighborhoods; protecting Mitchell-Lama buildings; and offering financing to first-time home buyers. 

de Blasio deserves recognition for the most ambitious affordable housing plan in history. It also deserves context, that it's not nearly enough for the needy, and that far broader initiatives, including regional policy and transportation investments, are needed to address the need.
As Jarrett Murphy wrote in City Limits, advocates were unimpressed:
Katie Goldstein, the leader of Real Affordability for All, was harsher: “Mayor de Blasio again focused on his effort to build housing but failed to mention the affordability crisis that’s threatening the very survival of our city. He failed to offer any new policies or ideas to help the growing number of New Yorkers who can barely afford to live here. That’s wrong and unacceptable. His speech was both a moral and political failure.”
De Blasio did talk about affordable housing and NYCHA—and pre-K, policing, mental health and more – during the first part of his address, as he ran through a 12-point booklet that had been distributed to audience members and that focused on initiatives launched during his first term.
But while the mayor made clear that work was continuing in many of those areas, he didn’t suggest any new efforts or shifts of direction.
In the Village Voice

On 2/14/18, Samuel Stein wrote in the Village Voice, Vampire Squids and the Mayors Who Love Them, subtitled, "Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen’s affection for all things real estate development is a feature, not a bug."

It contains this very interesting blind quote:
Even within the administration, staffers commiserate about the way Glen’s Wall Street agenda counteracts other good works they are trying to pursue. One mayoral office staffer told me, “I am concerned that the negative effects of relying on a market-based affordable housing strategy are an impediment to achieving the equity goals of the administration. Other affordable housing strategies have been advocated internally, only to be stopped by Deputy Mayor Glen’s office.”
Stein is harsh:
Despite pressure from the tenant movement, despite her spats with the press, and despite her own propensity to say exactly what she shouldn’t say in public, Glen delivers big deals to a mayor who is pursuing what he calls “the strongest, most progressive housing policies in the nation.” She is remarkably good at tying public investment to private profits, and while the mayor would never characterize that as one of his goals, it’s exactly what he needs in order to meet his metrics...
Hitting those numbers, however, comes at a cost far beyond the sticker price. It means giving away scarce public land for subpar private luxury development; it means “preserving” affordable housing at rents current tenants can’t afford; and it means luring luxury development into the city’s poorest neighborhoods. While 300,000 units may sound like a major accomplishment, Glen’s methods ensure that any real gains will be undercut by rising overall land and housing costs that drive rents upward for other city residents.
Here, by the way, are Stein's alternatives, including:

  • "Significant expansions in public housing and rent regulation [which] would require changes to federal, city and state laws, as well as substantial new revenue sources."
  • "Halt rezonings" to stop speculation and displacement.
  • "establish a citywide anti-demolition and anti-harassment zone"
  • "encourage every neighborhood in the city to create community plans," with "guidelines for planning goals (including fully affordable housing for all)"
  • end "tax breaks to market rate development"
  • rezone public housing developments to prevent speculative development
  • "the city should consolidate its vast holdings into a scatter-site community land trust"

Then again, others (like the Regional Plan Association) would argue for upzoning in certain neighborhoods with transit and/or increased investment in transit to spur new construction.

Comments