Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie surprised observers Thursday night when he highlighted homelessness in his opening remarks for the 2020 legislative session.
Heastie cited several figures that called attention to the problem of homelessness across the state and spoke at length about the issue, signaling that he, too, may be feeling pressure from the left. Yesterday, hundreds of tenants from Housing Justice For All, the group that pushed successfully for changes to the rent law last year, descended on the capitol yesterday to call for “good cause” eviction, increased funding for public housing and a remedy for homelessness.
“The number of New Yorkers who were homeless over a recent 12-month period exceeded 250,000 — more than the populations of every city in the state except for Buffalo and New York,” Heastie said.
The speaker went on to note that the primary cause of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing and vowed to work with city and state officials to address the issue. Heastie indicated that more decisive action is needed.
“We cannot address these issues in piecemeal fashion,” Heastie said, noting that housing and homelessness are interconnected. The speaker also expressed support for investment in supportive housing, which includes social services. “It is time, once and for all, that we put an end to the homeless crisis by keeping people in their homes and making continued investments in supportive housing for those who need it.”
George Arzt, longtime political insider and lobbyist for Extell Development and other clients, said Heastie is looking for a “comprehensive package” to address homelessness.
“Carl comes from the Bronx and is well aware of the problem,” Arzt said. “He has always looked for solutions. He knows that we have to do something.”
Paulette Soltani, the political director of VOCAL-NY, which organizes homeless New Yorkers, was surprised by Heastie’s statements. “The housing movement has impacted the way the entire legislature is talking about housing issues,” Soltani said. “I suspect that every elected official is taking into account the power the housing movement has in Albany.”
Heastie is regarded by some as an ally of the real estate industry in a turbulent political landscape. He recently told donors at a fundraiser that he intended to protect incumbents from challenges from the left. His conference will face at least three challengers backed by the Democratic Socialists of America and dubbed the “Good Cause” slate. Phara Souffrant in Crown Heights, Boris Santos in Bushwick and East New York and Marcela Mitaynes in Sunset Park have all vowed to push for the controversial legislation, should they be elected.