Mayor de Blasio Delivers State of the City Address

Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers the 2015 State of the City address at Baruch College. Image Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office

Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers the 2015 State of the City address at Baruch College. Image Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office

Affordable housing issues, including rent-regulation, mandatory inclusionary zoning, and more were highlighted in the speech.  On February 3, 2015 Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his second State Of The City address from Baruch College.  The Mayor spoke at length about the affordable housing crisis facing New York City and the programs his administration has begun or will propose to address the problem.

Introduced by Sheryl Morse, a Fort Greene, Brooklyn resident whose low-income co-op received over $3 million in capital improvements under the Housing New York plan, Mayor de Blasio pledged affordable housing would be the administration’s central focus in 2015, comparing it to the push on universal pre-kindergarten in 2014. “If we fail to be a city for everyone, we risk losing what makes New York, “New York”.  We risk losing the very soul of this place.”  The Mayor celebrated the accomplishments of his housing plan by stating over 17,300 affordable units had been built and preserved in the first year, 1,300 ahead of schedule. The mayor also addressed his administration’s adoption of mandatory inclusionary zoning, requiring a new housing development in any rezoned area set aside 20 percent or more of its units as affordable housing.  Mayor de Blasio singled out the Astoria Cove agreement, and praised City Council negotiations for securing 465 units of affordable housing in the development.

Mayor de Blasio spoke to future uses of mandatory inclusionary zoning, specifying the neighborhoods of East New York, Long Island City, the Jerome Avenue Corridor, East Harlem, Flushing West, and Staten Island’s Bay Street Corridor would be rezoned under the City-sponsored rezoning plan.  This was the first full mention of all neighborhoods to receive rezoning since City Planning Chairman Carl Weisbrod named East New York in September 2014, and the Jerome Avenue Corridor and Flushing West during a Council oversight hearing the following November.  The mayor also announced his intent to develop the rail yard in Sunnyside, taking Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn as a model for the 200-acre Queens site.  The Mayor said development at that location has the opportunity to house thirty thousand residents, referencing Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village as both a model and a cautionary tale for the need to guarantee affordability in the long-term.

Mayor de Blasio spoke about a $200 million capital investment into the South Bronx, geared towards affordable housing as well as infrastructure and job creation, and intends to develop the waterfront with a new public space, roads, and cleanup.  The Mayor continued the waterfront theme by announcing a housing commitment to the Rockaways and a new citywide ferry service that would launch in 2017. The system will use existing East River routes and expand to new landings in Astoria, the Lower East Side, South Brooklyn, the Rockaways, and Soundview, and have a cost pegged to that of an MTA Metrocard.  The Mayor specifically rejected the idea that some areas of the city were “doomed” to exclusion because of geography, and argued the ferry system will create new commercial corridors in the outer boroughs, spurring job growth.

Part of the Mayor’s speech focused on  segments of the population specifically served by the housing plan. Mayor de Blasio made a commitment to ending chronic veteran homelessness in New York City by the end of 2015, calling the 1,000 veterans in city homeless shelters a “moral indictment”.  The Mayor pledged to create and preserve 10,000 units of affordable senior housing, beginning this year. The Mayor emphasized seniors living on a fixed income are at severe risk when costs rise, arguing they “deserve to retire in dignity”. The Mayor also spoke of a housing need for artists, pledging 1,500 new JLWQA units for the city’s cultural community under the housing plan, along with 500 dedicated workspaces.

Mayor de Blasio also called on Albany to act and strengthen rent-regulation laws set to expire this year.  The Mayor described the one million rent-regulated apartments in New York City as the only path to the middle-class for many, and called on Albany, in the event they do not strengthen regulation, to provide funding for free legal counsel to any tenant whose landlord was pressuring them to leave their apartment. The Mayor announced a new $36 million commitment to provide free legal counsel in housing court to all tenants of rezoned neighborhoods experiencing harassment, housing neglect, or threatened eviction.

Throughout the speech Mayor de Blasio referred to the threat that without action, New York City could become a “gated community”, defined by exclusivity and in contrast to the city’s history and values.  “We can’t disconnect from our heart and our soul and our history.  This has to be a place for everyone or it literally won’t work.”

By:  Michael Twomey (Michael is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2014.

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