By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Mayor Bill de Blasio gave his second State of the City address at Baruch College at Lexington Avenue and East 23rd Street on Tuesday morning, making affordable housing the focus of the speech and his agenda for the next year. He outlined a number of new programs, including housing for targeted populations like seniors and veterans and said that he would be working to protect tenants against predatory landlords and institute mandatory inclusionary zoning to require affordable housing in new developments.
The mayor singled out Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village in the address, praising the complex as a bastion of affordable housing and an example that his administration will follow, but acknowledged that there are lessons to be learned when building a new development planned for Sunnyside, Queens.
“Stuy Town, when it opened in 1947, provided our city with 11,250 affordable apartments, a community where trees and parks, and shops dotted a landscape from which residents could actually see the sky,” the mayor said. “We’re bringing that same kind of scale, and a real sense of urgency, to Sunnyside Yards and setting the same exact goal of 11,250 affordable units, as part of a neighborhood that anyone would be proud to call home. And in contrast to the recent history of Stuy Town, we’re going to make sure that affordable housing at Sunnyside Yards stays that way.”
The mayor noted in the address that one of the problems with housing for middle class New Yorkers has been is that the city did not have strong enough laws or rules in place that limited what developers were allowed to build.
“Sometimes projects included affordable housing but far too often, they did not,” he said. “As the city expanded, our growth was guided primarily by the developers’ bottom lines.
“In 2014, 56 percent of rental households in New York were spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, up 10 points in a little more than a decade.”
He noted that this meant there was an increased disposition for luxury housing, which then increased rents in surrounding neighborhoods without offering any corresponding affordable options, and he said that the new programs are an attempt to combat this trend.
In addition to the new development for the 200-acre space in Sunnyside, the mayor said that there are six neighborhoods throughout the city that are being studied for new developments and the new mandatory inclusionary housing policy would require affordable housing to be included in all new developments in those areas.
Senior housing was another focus in the mayor’s address and he said that the city will be working to preserve 10,000 units of affordable housing for seniors. The housing will be supported by a $400 million capital investment and Section 8 vouchers, and the new Senior Affordable Rental Apartments (SARA) program will begin this year.
“Women and men who live on fixed incomes have little recourse when housing costs go up,” the mayor said. “They need our help, and they will get it.”
He added that veterans are often also struggling with housing costs and through programs and outreach, his office will be working to end veteran homelessness.
“We commit to ending chronic veterans homelessness by the end of this year,” he said. “Those who fight to protect our freedom abroad should never be left without a home.”
Another component of the effort to preserve and create affordable housing is just coming up with a place to put it.
“Since we only have so much land, we’ll create more affordable housing by literally building up, adding density to appropriate parts of our city,” he said. “We are not embarking on a mission to build towering skyscrapers where they don’t belong.”
He noted that part of this effort to preserve the neighborhoods would include working closely with communities and investing in amenities that neighborhoods need, such as parks, schools, restaurants and shops.
De Blasio also urged Albany to aggressively enforce the rent laws.
“We need stronger rent regulations that reflect today’s New York,” he said. “If Albany truly believes in opportunity for all, they will strengthen our rent laws in 2015.”
The mayor added that if Albany does not strengthen the rent laws, tenants need help in other ways, including a new program that will provide free legal representation in housing court for tenants in rezoned neighborhoods who are facing harassment from landlords, eviction proceedings and building neglect. The mayor’s office is allocating $36 million to help tenants, the majority of whom enter housing court without a lawyer.
The mayor addressed a number of other new initiatives in the speech, including a proposed ferry service that he promised will be priced the same as a MetroCard fare, although since the service will be operated by private companies, it won’t actually be accessible by MetroCard. The ferry service is meant to provide transportation options for areas of the city like the Rockaways, Bay Ridge and Staten Island that have long commute times to Midtown. One of the proposed routes would go from East 34th Street to the Rockaways, also stopping at East 23rd Street, Grand Street on the Lower East Side, Wall Street and the Brooklyn Army Terminal.
He also said that he would be addressing income inequality by working to raise the minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2016. He added that indexing the minimum wage would bring it to $15 per hour by 2019 because it wouldn’t require action from Albany.