De Blasio talks affordability crisis during 2017 State of the City

Mayor adds to affordable housing goals

TRD New York /
Feb.February 13, 2017 11:20 PM

Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers his State of the City (credit: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that he will beef up his affordable housing agenda by adding more than 15,000 units for seniors, veterans and low-income tenants.

The mayor said the city would add 10,000 more apartment units for tenants who make up to $40,000 per year, 5,000 more apartments for senior citizens and another 500 for veterans. De Blasio announced the increase during his fourth State of the City address at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Much of de Blasio’s speech focused on what he repeatedly referred to as the city’s “affordability crisis.” A linchpin of “going further” in addressing the issue, he said, will be creating over the next 10 years 100,000 more permanent “good jobs,” which he defined as those that pay at least $50,000 per year.

“This affordability crisis threatens who we are,” he said. “This city simply must do more and do it quickly.”

His speech took aim at landlords, Albany and, most strongly, against President Donald Trump. He twice fired off a warning to the “landlord lobby” – the Rent Stabilization Association – though he didn’t name the organization explicitly. He said the city would defeat the organization in court over its challenge to a rent freeze enacted earlier this year, as well as another lawsuit filed in response to a proposed water tax credit for certain homeowners.

De Blasio is up for reelection this year, a fact that was evident, perhaps, in his repeated reminders of how he’s different from his predecessor (though he never named Michael Bloomberg) and how he’ll challenge Trump’s policies.

The mayor, however, faces some headwinds in the form of ongoing state and federal investigations into his administration. The probes revolve around the fundraising activities of his now-defunct nonprofit, Campaign for One New York.

It’s also not yet fully clear with whom he’ll face off with in November.

Republican opponent Paul Massey recently outpaced de Blasio’s fundraising efforts by $500,000, taking in $1.6 million, according to the Cushman & Wakefield executive’s most recent campaign filings. Last month, Red Apple Group CEO John Catsimatidis said he would hold off on announcing whether or not he’s running for mayor again until Hillary Clinton makes a move.

Leading up to Monday’s speech, de Blasio announced that the city will allocate $93 million over the next five years to provide free legal advice to tenants in Housing Court who are facing eviction. Tenants with household incomes of less than $50,000 will receive free legal representation in court. This adds to a program that launched in 2014, which dedicated $62 million per year to expanding legal services.

“For decades the deck was stacked against tenants in Housing Court,” de Blasio said on Monday. “So what do you do? You reshuffle the deck.”

In January, the mayor renewed his call for a “mansion tax” that would impose a 2.5 percent property transfer tax on all home sales of $2 million or more. The mayor said this tax would pay for 25,000 additional units for senior citizens, a statement that inspired chants from AARP members in the theater’s balcony, a chorus of “Mansion tax now!”

“If we speak loudly, Albany will listen,” de Blasio said. Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo – a perennial sparring partner of the mayor’s – announced he would seek to extend a higher income tax on the state’s millionaires.

At last year’s state of the city address, de Blasio referred to 2015 as “one of the best years ever for affordable housing.” He made affordable housing a hallmark of his administration early on, pledging to create 80,000 new affordable housing units and preserve another 120,000 by 2024.

His remark at the time, however, was somewhat overshadowed by the fresh expiration of 421a, without which his affordable housing agenda, according to some, is considerably crippled. A year later, the future of the program is still uncertain. Cuomo has offered up a replacement program, but the state legislature has yet to move on it. The mayor’s been teasing the possibility that larger condo projects may weasel their way back into the program, though he hasn’t specified exactly how this would come about. He’s also charged that the governor’s proposal will cost the city $82 million more than his previous proposal would have. He didn’t mention the tax break during Monday’s speech.

The mayor ended the hour-long speech with a spirited charge against Trump, saying that the new president wouldn’t stop the city’s progress.

“We are not turning back. No one is going to make us turn back,” he said. “We need to stay a beacon of hope.”


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