Jumaane Williams, the Chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings, was generally positive about Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing announcement yesterday. However, Williams would like to see de Blasio make repealing the Urstadt Law a top priority, and more outreach to low-income households. Passed in 1971, Urstadt put New York City rent regulation in the hands of the State, which has generally leaned towards deregulation. Williams lauded de Blasio’s 50/30/20 mixed income program (50% middle income, 30% moderate income, 20% low income), but pushed for more. “They talked about 80/20 kind of being outdated and we need a new model…I’m hoping he will research some of the other models” said Williams, “…because I think we need to dig a little deeper to get more of the lower income band.” In this vein, Williams has been a vocal advocate of regional AMIs [Area Median Income] – the current AMI used by HUD includes Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester Counties, which have higher median incomes than New York City. He also noted that some people believe the City actually needs an additional 400,000 units of affordable housing, not the touted 200,000 number. Williams has some lingering questions going forward: “I would like to see how much money the City is going to put in of the $41 billion…they’re going to be talking about [NYCHA] later on, and I’m looking forward to what [Councilman] Richie Torres has to say about that.”
Category Archives: Mayor Bill de Blasio
On Tuesday afternoon, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced a sweeping rules reform package that included changes to member discretionary allocation for over $50 million given to the City Council to spend annually. In the proposed reforms, all discretionary spending given to City Council members will be allocated based on a “fair, objective formula that is publicly disclosed.” That formula will include a base amount given to every City Council member, and an increase based on the number of people living in poverty in their district. The Speaker’s own discretionary funding will be limited to 50% of total discretionary member expense allocations.
Beyond the money, there will be new open data requirements for discretionary spending, the creation of a dedicated legislative drafting unit to draft legislation requested by members, a plain-language summary of bills, a written attendance policy, and a “supermajority bill sponsorship” that would require bills with 34 co-sponsors to have a Committee decide whether or not to hold a hearing.
These are major changes, and what some see as a response to the politically-motivated allocation practices of former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
The mood in the City Council’s Red Room was celebratory, with many Council Members thanking Speaker Mark-Viverito for making good on her election promises, and seemingly acting against her own self-interest allocate the money. “This process began last fall when 34 new and returning members signed onto a platform calling for significant reforms to the Council’s rules,” said Mark-Viverito. “What followed was an exhaustive and comprehensive top to bottom look on the Councils’ existing rules…we engaged with members so the public, good government groups… and we did a public hearing where we took hours of testimony on best practices.”
“We will take the politics out of member items,“ she said.
Councilman Brad Lander, Chair of the Rules Committee that helped develop the reforms, (and who later in the day turned his blazer inside-out in support of Clippers players) was ebullient. “I challenge the press and the historian here to find any set of reforms that’s more bold and comprehensive and moves the Council forward towards good government in any point in it’s history.”
Inez Barron, for her part, spoke about the Fresh Democracy Council in 2002 that tried to introduce rule reforms. “The problem was that those that were pushed through and accepted were not embraced and not implemented, because the Speaker at that time did not embrace it. “ After the press conference, Barron was very forthcoming with her opinions about former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who removed former Councilman Charles Barron (Inez’s husband) from the Committee on Higher Education.
“Personally, the prior speaker was very vindictive, punitive, and denied the constituents of a district their fare share, so if you did not take the same position as the Speaker, you were punished… money went to persons who lived in those districts who had residents in their district who gave graciously and abundantly to the Speaker. So it was a reflection more of a political debt in terms of financial support …My predecessor Councilmember Charles Barron [Councilwoman Barron’s husband] didn’t get as much from the speaker, but he was resourceful enough and persistent enough to reach out to other agencies to get them to buy into projects that he wanted to have in his district.”
Councilmember Fernando Cabrera, whose district is in the Bronx, agreed with that assessment, and emphasized the socioeconomic implications of these reforms. “I represent the 5th poorest district in the entire city and if you look at the allocations… [the] cost of speaking up on certain issues that differed with the previously speaker was penalized, and actually it wasn’t me who got penalized, it was the constituents.”
Dick Dadey, the Executive Director of the non-profit citizen’s Union, was positive about the proposed reforms. “Today’s proposed rules reform will do much to change the way in which the council operates. It will be a much more democratically run…and allow members to be able to represent better their constituents, and result in more equitable distribution of funds for al the neighborhoods of the city as well as allow members to advocate and push for legislation that serves the needs of their districts.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio is known to be against discretionary item funding. City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito disagrees. “I’ve been a very, very strong a defender…of the discretionary allocations. We see it as a reinvestment of taxpayer’s dollars in our districts. These go to organizations that employ locally, that provide very grassroots community based services…so we’re going to continue to make that case, and that’s what’s going to be part of our conversation with the Mayor.”
Another public hearing about the rules reforms will be held on May 7th.
On Thursday afternoon, a City Council subcommittee voted on the proposed Domino Sugar Refinery redevelopment. 17 members voted yes, with 1, Councilwoman Inez Barron, abstaining. According to Councilmember Stephen Levin, negotiations between the City Council and the Mayor’s office went late into the night, and the vote that was supposed to take place this morning did not happen until after 2 pm in the afternoon.
City Councilmember David Greenfield explained the changes that have taken place to the Domino development between the April 1st hearing, and the subcommittee vote on Thursday.
The main changes are that we now have guaranteed levels of affordability that we did not have before, and we have guarantees from the administration that all of the affordable housing will on average be below 70% of the AMI, which is reflective of the affordability and the means of that particular community. But for that, it could have been much higher. It could have been as much as 125%. …the community [also] now has guaranteed input through the modifications that we made…those are really the two most significant changes….there will also be larger mix of larger units. There will be more two and three bedroom affordable units.”
Greenfield estimates that a 70% AMI will be roughly $60,000. Councilmember Stephen Levin who was active in the Domino negotiations and played a starring role in the April 1st hearing, sees Domino as a precedent for future major developers in the City.
“I think that one thing that the City Planning Commission and the de Blasio administration have made clear is that more is going to be expected of developers…This is in a lot of ways a groundbreaking development because of what the de Blasio administration did at the City Planning Commission… 24% of the floor area has to be affordable. Normally that’s 20%…really upping the ante in terms of affordable housing.
Published in City & State
Even the most ardent critics of former mayor Michael Bloomberg would concede that PlaNYC was a landmark moment for municipal environmentalism.
Unveiled in 2007, the initiative pushed for the planting of one million trees, increased bike lanes and pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, among other changes.
But despite his best efforts, Bloomberg did not entirely fulfill his dream of a gleaming green metropolis. His Manhattan congestion pricing plan met a painful death in Albany, where his brook-no-arguments style did not endear him to state legislators. Naysayers labeled it a regressive tax on the working class, though it would have been a valuable new source of revenue for the MTA, and also would have reduced carbon emissions. This stumble notwithstanding, PlaNYC receives praise from unlikely quarters.
“I tell people, ‘If you can’t stand Bloomberg, even a broken clock is right twice a day. If you don’t like anything else he did … you have to give the devil his due,’ ” said Eddie Bautista, Executive Director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and a former Bloomberg official.
Even current Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has certainly never been hesitant to criticize his predecessor, praised Bloomberg’s environmental efforts during his campaign.
“I think Bloomberg’s broad vision of the environment in New York City is something I agree with,” de Blasio said in an interview with The Nation.
Now mayor, De Blasio seems willing to keep the baby and throw out the bathwater when it comes to Bloomberg’s legacy on the environment. He established some ambitious objectives during his campaign with his program “A Framework for a Sustainable City,” including ending the use of Styrofoam by the city’s government and achieving zero waste.
De Blasio is also recycling some of Bloomberg’s staff. Emily Lloyd has returned as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, the same role she served in under Bloomberg from 2005 to 2008. DEP COO Kathryn Garcia was appointed commissioner of the Department of Sanitation, and Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency architect Dan Zarrilli is now the director of the Office of Recovery and Resiliency.
One thing most activists agree on is that environmental justice is about to have its moment in the sun under de Blasio. His rhetoric on inequality and wealth discrepancy folds well into environmental causes such as broader access to green spaces and a waste management plan that alleviates the burden on low-income neighborhoods.
“There are encouraging signs that a focus on environmental and quality of life issues will continue even if the priorities won’t be identical to Mayor Bloomberg’s,” said Eric Goldstein, a senior attorney at the National Resources Defense Council. “It’s likely that environmental protection and sustainability issues will be reframed with a focus on advancing environmental programs that also address the administration’s equity concerns, and that’s fine. The important point is that the focus on sustainability that was begun by Mayor Bloomberg does not look like it will disappear.”
The environment might be a vague catch-all term, but one area of specific concern to coastal cities like New York is the flooding and unpredictable weather events that have been occurring with increasing frequency in recent years. In New York there is the added complication of the location of heavy industry along the waterfront, making those facilities particularly susceptible to flooding. A major criticism of the Bloomberg administration was its rezoning of waterfront areas for dense development—an approach which remains contentious.
“Williamsburg and Greenpoint are two prime examples: There’s a lot of construction on the waterfront— that’s not a bad thing,” said Roland Lewis, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance.
Lewis added, “There are some neighborhoods in Staten Island and elsewhere where it’s going to be very hard to maintain these neighborhoods in terms of sea level rise over the long term. Places like the Rockaways and Oakwood Beach. Building near the water, not on the water, is still something that’s viable to do, and we’re not against that.”
De Blasio has the opportunity to concentrate on attainable and measurable goals like increasing low recycling rates and improving sanitation. He also faces the near existential crisis, however, of rebuilding in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
Earlier this month, de Blasio announced changes to the Build It Back program, setting a clear target of starting construction on at least 500 homes and issuing 500 reimbursement checks by the end of this summer. He also called for better engagement with the community and a desire to cut through red tape between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the city.
Also impacting New York City is Gov. Cuomo’s proposal to buy out homeowners living in areas of New York City particularly susceptible to future storms. That plan requires federal approval. Most activists support the idea, but they think all levles of goverment should take a smarter approach.
“It’s really a complicated mix of the desire to build a community back and the New York sprit of resiliency, but then there’s also climate change,” Bautista said. “And then you’ve got people—just because they’re homeowners doesn’t mean they’re rich: lower middle income families that own [houses] along the shoreline in Staten Island that can’t recoup the equity in their homes.”
“We really believe that all communities should be equipped and better able to handle extreme weather events,” says Emily Maxwell, director of the Nature Conservancy’s Urban Conservation Program. “And we would like to see the city pursue adaptation strategies that utilized nature and natural defenses or infrastructure, like natural shorelines and wetland barriers.”
Published in City & State
Several of the hosts of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s favorite morning radio show on Hot 97 appear to not be registered to vote, at least according to public records.
In an ongoing effort to portray himself as a man of the people, Mayor de Blasio has made several appearances on The Hot 97 Morning Show on hip-hop and R&B radio station Hot 97, engaging a much different demographic than his predecessor Michael Bloomberg, who preferred the more buttoned-down John Gambling on AM radio.
De Blasio has appeared on The Morning Show three times since becoming mayor, and once as a candidate. The Morning Show deejays Ebro Darden, Peter Rosenberg, DJ Cipha Sounds (a,k.a Luis Diaz), and Laura Stylez (a.k.a. Laura Estilo) have discussed a wide range of issues with the mayor from charter schools, to stop-and-frisk, to decriminalizing marijuana, and of course universal preschool. However, after a search through Board of Elections records, City & State found that only Rosenberg is registered to vote in New York City.
When City & State reached out to Hot 97 to confirm these findings, the station’s publicist and digital communications manager Lindsay Salandra claimed that both Darden and Estilo are registered to vote as well.
“You’re not finding voting registration information because you have incorrect government names,” Salandra wrote in response to C&S’ email inquiry.
She added that she was not sure about Diaz’s registration status because “I have not gotten a chance to speak with him.”
When asked to provide the hosts’ correct names, Salandra replied that she was not authorized to release them. Salandra did not respond to a follow-up email requesting documentation to prove that both Darden and Estilo were registered to vote.
The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Wednesday, Public Advocate Letitia James sat down with a small group of reporters to discuss her work as New York’s Public Advocate, and her goals moving forward.
She covered subjects ranging from Citi Bikes, to Affordable Housing, to her opinions on Mayor Bill de Blasio.
In terms of her own office, James hopes for a budget increase, which Mayor de Blasio has proposed. “It’s difficult to continue to operate with twenty staff members,” she said. James also emphasized that she is working closely with City Council. “I’m trying to remove the divide between City Council and the office of the Public Advocate.” James has attended several City Council meetings, and talks about being a steady presence there. “Operating in silos will no longer continue.”
James stated early on in the discussion that main priority moving forward is providing universal free lunch to New York City students. “The children who are below the poverty line often times are ashamed, often times are ridiculed, and often times hide in disgrace or go hungry…I want to remove the stigma of poverty, and I want to allow all children to eat a free nutritious lunch regardless of income in the city of New York.” James said that she needed $20 million for a free lunch program, most of which she claimed would be reimbursed by the federal government. As of today, there are just over 1,660 signatures in a petition for the program on the website Change.org. James also claimed that 46 city council members have signed a letter in support of a universal free lunch. The cost of covering this program, however, is uncertain, and will involve talks with the Federal Government. “There’s a question as to the reimbursement. Hopefully they can get beyond the challenges.”
When asked about the struggling Citi Bike program, James reminisced that she came out in favor of Citi Bikes when they made their debut, and said that she would support a co-public-private venture to try to save the program. She also expressed that she would like to see it expanded to reach more of New York. “The bike network only reaches downtown Brooklyn and then it falls off the face of the earth.” She remains open to the city using its own funds to help bail out Citi Bike. “I think what we need to do is put everything on the table, and have a robust discussion about how to save the program…I’m not saying no to that.”
On Charter Schools, James said that she is not against them per se, but outlined her problems (and lawsuit) with co-locating charter and public schools. “It’s unfortunate that we had to initiate litigation against the de Blasio administration in the absence of any standard or metrics in the instance of forced co-locations, and particularly in the absence of the blue book task force,” she said. She often referred to co-locations happening at schools that were already over capacity, and cited complaints that she’s heard of lunch being served at 9 am, and special-needs students being taught in closets because of the lack of space. “Halt the co-location in any school where children are being taught in trailers. I think that’s a reasonable request.”
On the affordable housing front, James was clear that she agreed with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer in supporting a moratorium on the downsizing HPD is carrying out on New York subsidized housing. This downsizing involves moving tenants from bigger apartments to smaller ones. Citing HPD Commissioner Vicki Been’s testimony at City Council last week, James doubted whether the federal sequestration (and budget shortfall that HPD suffered) was completely at fault. “It’s unfortunately that the federal government has turned its back on urban centers, but at the same time I think HPD can do a better job with carving out certain exceptions so that seniors and disabled can live in their home during the twilight of their life.” She also listed her goals for affordable housing throughout the city that included redefining AMI to be between $30,000 and $80,000 for a family of four, increasing the size of apartments for families with children, and expanding the famous 80/20 affordable housing percentage to include more than 20% affordability.
On Police Commissioner Bratton, James was positive. “So far, so good.” She called for an increase in the number of detectives assigned to cold cases, and an increase in the number of Police Service Areas specifically assigned to public housing crime. There are currently only 9 PSAs in New York City. She also called for an increase in the number of police officers as a whole, citing a growing number of officers who are retiring. “Do I think we should increase the rank and file? Yes.”
James was mostly complimentary of Mayor de Blasio, saying that they don’t talk regularly, but they do have conversations. “If I had to grade the mayor, he’d get a B+,” she said, citing his push for sick leave, stop and risk reform, and universal Pre-K. “Were there some missteps in Albany? Yeah. But Albany is a strange place, and they live by a different sent of rules. And it’s really hard to get accustomed to those rules in your first 100 days.” On Cuomo, she said simply that his poll numbers were up, and declined to comment further.
James noticeably shied away from making any comments on the Rangel Espaillat congressional race taking place in Harlem right now. “This is not a political discussion. This is a discussion on policy.”
Published in City and State
On Wednesday, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James sat down with a small group of reporters to discuss her first 100 days on the job and her vision for the office going forward. But first James is hoping that the additional funding Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed in his preliminary budget for her office remains in the final agreement. “It’s difficult to continue to operate with twenty staff members,” she said. James also emphasized she wanted to have more of a role in her old stomping ground at the City Council, hoping to “remove the divide” and play a more active role in policy. “Operating in silos will no longer continue,” James said. As for her evaluation of the mayor’s first 100 days, James was mostly complimentary, giving him a B+ grade, citing paid sick leave, stop-and-frisk reform, and universal pre-K as big wins. “Were there some missteps in Albany? Yeah. But Albany is a strange place, and they live by a different set of rules, and it’s really hard to get accustomed to those rules in your first 100 days.” Her evaluation of Governor Andrew Cuomo was considerably more brief; James noted that his polling numbers were up, and declined to comment further.