Last year, in his first State of the City address, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would use every tool at his disposal to address economic inequality. He twice repeated a campaign refrain that New York had become a “Tale of Two Cities” where the wealthy do extraordinarily well and everyone else struggles to get by. To change that, the new mayor laid out a host of legislative priorities including an ambitious affordable housing plan that would build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade. One year later, we have an update.
With 17,300 affordable units already financed (1,300 more than scheduled), the mayor came back before New Yorkers to say he would do even more to try to keep their rents in check. Most notably, De Blasio plans to boost the city’s overall housing supply by creating a taller, denser New York. In addition to his 200,000 unit affordable housing plan, he aims to build 160,000 market-rate units to decrease overall demand. “We are not embarking on a mission to build towering skyscrapers where they don’t belong,” De Blasio, who will certainly face development backlash down the road, said today. “We have a duty to protect and preserve the culture and character of our neighborhoods, and we will do so.”
A key piece of creating new units, both affordable and market-rate, will be rezoning neighborhoods. The mayor said his administration plans to do just that “from East New York to Long Island City; from Flushing West to East Harlem; from downtown Staten Island to the Jerome Avenue Corridor in the Bronx.” Per the mayor’s mandatory inclusionary zoning requirement, all new market-rate development would have to include affordable housing as well. What percentage of units would be designated affordable has not yet been announced. Along with these rezonings, the mayor said he will continue working with local stakeholders to study ways to build a 200-acre, mixed-use development on top of a rail yard in Sunnyside, Queens. And without offering many specifics, he also called to reform the Department of Buildings to speed up development overall.
As part of his push for increased development, de Blasio directly addressed concerns about gentrification. “If you ask 8.4 million New Yorkers what they think of gentrification, you’ll get 8.4 million different answers,” he said. To limit the type of displacement that is currently occurring in New York City, the mayor will continue to push for stronger rent laws at the state level. Barring cooperation from Albany, De Blasio said the city will act on its own. “In any of the areas in which the city rezones, if we find evidence that tenants are being harassed, we will supply those tenants with legal representation, at no cost, to take their case to Housing Court,” he said.
Along with new development, the mayor wants to see big investments in transportation, including a citywide ferry service that will be operational in 2017. For the cost of a Metrocard swipe, said the mayor, residents of the Rockaways, Red Hook, and Soundview could take a ferry ride to Manhattan. The mayor also said his administration plans to complete 20 bus rapid transit routes over the next four years.