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It’s not just education: Bill de Blasio and housing

Stephon Johnson | 3/14/2014, 12:58 p.m.
Whether it’s affordable housing or homelessness, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s legacy isn’t just tied to charter schools ...
Bill de Blasio Photo by Bill Moore

Whether it’s affordable housing or homelessness, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s legacy isn’t just tied to charter schools and universal pre-K. A group of activists and supporters of the mayor gathered outside of City Hall last week to call for more affordable housing, stating that his current policy goals don’t go far enough.

Calling themselves the Real Affordability for All Campaign, which includes groups like New York Communities for Change and Make the Road New York, the groups want de Blasio to continue to push for the building and preservation of 200,000 units of low-cost housing, but they also want him to take the next step.

“One of the things that we’ve been pushing the administration on is that this isn’t a drive toward a number, this is a drive toward affordability,” said Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change and a coalition member, in a statement.

Along with the campaign launch, the groups also released a report—which was distributed at the rally—showing a gap in the number of units targeting families of four that make less than $41,000 a year in income. According to the report, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s policies did not aid 700,000 residents in households in the aforementioned income bracket.

The movement has allies in the New York City Council, including Council Members Jumaane Williams and Ritchie Torres, chairs of the Committee on Housing and Building and the Committee on Public Housing respectively, who released a joint statement advocating for change when it comes to how New York treats non-rich individuals who want substantial affordable housing.

“For the last 12 years, the city’s housing policies have grossly overlooked the needs of low-income New Yorkers,” read the joint statement. “With one in five New Yorkers living below the federal poverty line—a trend that is on the rise for Black and Latino households—the city needs to take real action to create quality, income-targeted housing options that are accessible to residents at every income level. 

“We must define a threshold for affordability of 60 percent or below AMI [area median income] and ensure that the city’s housing subsidy programs and public housing developments reflect this priority,” continued the council members’ statement. “We will also work to ensure that New York City once again obtains home rule over its own housing policy, including rent regulation, by advocating for the repeal of the Urstadt Law.”

The Urstadt Law, passed in 1971 by the New York Legislature, took away New York City’s ability and power to pass local rent laws that are more stringent than the state’s.

As de Blasio sees push back from his allies to go further than even he planned with affordable housing, the mayor is also working on homelessness, particularly homeless shelters. Last week, de Blasio and Department of Homeless Services (DHS) Commissioner Gilbert Taylor announced the administration’s plan to convert the Auburn Family Shelter and the Catherine Street Family Shelter into facilities that will service homeless adult couple without minors.

Auburn Family Shelter and the Catherine Street Family Shelter are two of the largest city-owned and -operated family shelters.

Inspired by a December 2013 New York Times story on a homeless family at the Auburn Family Shelter, de Blasio called on the DHS to develop a plan for the removal of all families with children from DHS-run shelters with congregate bathrooms.  

“We won’t leave these children and these families behind. We believe in our fundamental responsibility to lift up those going through adversity and crisis,” said de Blasio in a statement. “The transition at the Auburn and Catherine Street shelters is our first public step in a larger strategy to improve homeless services while we address the underlying causes that have left a record number of adults and children living in New York City shelters.”

At the moment, there are 64 families with children sheltered at Auburn. The new plan involves each of those families relocating to other, non-congregate, homeless shelters or placed into permanent housing by the end of this school year. The same plan will be enacted for the 83 families at the Catherine Street shelter.

The preliminary budget currently directs $1.3 million in fiscal year 2014 to improve security and programming at both shelters.