The following is an edited transcript of a forum on housing issues with five mayoral candidates, conducted on April 4th by three of the major housing advocacy organizations in the city: Tenants and Neighbors, Met Council on Housing and Coalition for the Homeless. Michael Bloomberg declined an invitation to attend.
Almost 700 people listened to the candidates answer eight questions on housing issues ranging from the unfulfilled promise to use Battery Park Authority funds to build affordable housing to an expansion of the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption, which pays rent increases for income-eligible senior citizens.
Since some of the candidates arrived after the beginning, the transcript below has been somewhat rearranged to make it easier to read:
Fernando Ferrer: There is a crisis of affordability in New York. New Yorkers are getting priced out of their own town. You may remember I said this four years ago. It hasn’t gotten any better in the last four years. One of the reasons why is because we have a mayor who thinks it’s more important to subsidize major league football stadiums on the West Side than to get serious about affordable housing, than to get serious about schools, than to get serious about good jobs with health care. Well, I think it’s time to get serious about those things.
Over the course of my public life, there isn’t a whole lot of doubt about where I’ve stood on the issue of affordable housing, presiding over the biggest revival of affordable housing in the Bronx at any one time anywhere in America. But now, in private life I’m still chairman of a not-for-profit housing group in the South Bronx that was rescued from decline.
We see first hand the failure of this administration in fighting for enough Section 8 vouchers, the failure of this administration in keeping costs low, like water, like real estate taxes, that reflect themselves in everybody’s monthly rent. This administration has been a failure in affordable housing preferring to spend a whole lot more time on where the javelin throw event will be staged than how many people can live affordably in their own town. That’s why I’m running for mayor.
Steve Shaw: I think that most candidates in this election all want the same thing. We want to have strong neighborhoods, we want to have people live in those neighborhoods without spending an arm and a leg for it. But the question is is how do you achieve it?
I believe you achieve it in a much different manner than which Mr. Ferrer and which the Democrats and Mr. Bloomberg believe you do it. I believe that the way that you achieve affordable housing is through home ownership. That’s the way you do it. That’s the way that the majority of Americans build wealth. That’s the way that you make your housing cost consistent for the rest of your life.
I know I’m not going to be popular for saying this, but if you look at the impact that rent regulation has on homeownership it kills it. If you look at the cities that have high rent regulation, cities like New York, Santa Monica, homeownership is 30 percent. Look at other cities, such as Philadelphia, Seattle, homeownership in those cities â€“ no rent control, no rent regulation â€“ homeownership of 50 to 60 percent.
We have to address rent regulation. We have to cut taxes so we put money back in the hands and people’s pockets so that they can make decisions for themselves. So they can save for a down payment on a home. And lastly we need to create jobs. Because the only way that people are going to afford housing is if they have jobs in order to pay for it. Under Mayor Bloomberg job creation has been nothing; over the last two and a half years, the city has lost about 30,000 private sector jobs. We need pro-growth policies, we need to create jobs. That’s the way you create affordable housing and make this city better.
C. Virginia Fields The number one issue that is facing all New Yorkers is the need for affordable housing... As I look at my time in elected office, someone recently reminded me that one of the reasons I first ran for office in 1989 as a member to the City Council was because of housing -- to turn housing conditions around in the district that I represented, primarily central Harlem and East Harlem, to make sure that we were able to keep housing available for people who had lived there during the years when the community was not where it is now as well as to continue to build and grow a community so that others who were moving to New York right out of college, wanted to have a good start, could also stay there. I am pleased to say that housing was my top priority then, housing has continued to be my top priority, and it continues to be that today.
I will as mayor use the office to develop a real comprehensive plan to create affordable housing. And one way we do that is number one by investing in it, putting dollars in it. When we look in the past in terms of how we have been able to create affordable housing, it is when we had a plan, we had dollars in it, and we leveraged those dollars and we were able to see results so that it is one place we start. I’m passionate about affordable housing. So, I will continue my work that I have started as a community board member, a City Council member, a borough president and as your mayor, to make that a number one priority.
Gifford Miller I’m here to ask you for your support for my candidacy for mayor...Everywhere I go I talk to people who are hanging on by their fingernails either trying to find housing that they can afford or hold on desperately to the housing that they have.
Unfortunately we have a mayor who is making the wrong choices for this city. He’s making the wrong choices for us. Choosing to spend more than a billion and a half dollars worth of taxpayer subsidy â€“ because that’s what it is when you add it all up â€“ in a football stadium? Instead of building the housing and the schools that we need here in this city. And you know, amazingly, he has said â€“ it isn’t just that we want to say no to a stadium, we want to say yes to housing â€“ and this mayor has said if we build housing on that site there will be too much housing in Manhattan. No honestly he said it. I don’t know how much more graphically he can show he’s out of touch with the needs.
He’s also made the wrong choice though on protecting tenants rights, vetoing the strong lead paint legislation that I worked with all of you to enact, to protect children in this city from lead paint poisoning. He’s made the wrong choices.
Now what are the right choices? It’s not enough to say he’s made the wrong choices. What are the right choices? First of all we have to protect tenants. And that’s what that lead paint legislation and other things I’ve done as Speaker have tried to lead the way on. Secondly we have to preserve our housing. And that means repealing the Urstadt Law and protecting Mitchell-Lama units and keeping them in the system and not letting them leave. Third we have to put more resources toward affordable housing. And as Speaker of the Council, I’ve put tens of millions of dollars into the budget to build more affordable units and to make what units we’re creating more affordable. And finally we have to use innovative techniques, like inclusionary zoning, things that won’t require money. And I’m proud of the fact that we’ve just passed the Clinton-Hell’s Kitchen rezoning and created 3,400 units of permanent affordable housing. Those are the right choices. That’s the kind of city that we can be. I look forward to doing it with all of you.
Anthony Weiner: I have a fundamentally different view of the city than the mayor does. Maybe it comes from the fact that I went to public schools, I grew up in Brooklyn, I live in Queens. It’s been awhile since we had a mayor from Brooklyn, huh? You know, I fundamentally believe that when Mayor Bloomberg says, “Ah, it doesn’t really matter that I’m a Republican and I give money to Republicans and endorse Republicans and give a fancy party for Republicans and stand up at a convention for Republicans and say that we should vote for the Republican George Bush,” that’s not what makes him a Republican. What makes him a Republican is fundamentally he has a level of contempt for rooms like this. He has this notion that it is not necessary to talk to other officials of government, it’s not necessary to talk to advocates about how to solve problems, it’s not necessary even to have a vote on something like the allocation of nearly $2 billion of city subsidies for a stadium on the West Side of Manhattan. He doesn’t believe that those processes are necessary.
Well, I argue that democratic ideas, with a capital and a small “d,” not only are the right ones because they give people their say, but you wind up getting better policies. And if he truly had his ear and cared about what the people of the City of New York had to say about these things, and gave us a chance to talk to him about them in a way that is not condescending, then he would find out that there are a lot of good ideas out there, a lot of good ideas from the men and women on this stage about ways to govern this city differently. And he’s going to find them out. He’s going to find them out on the first Tuesday in November when we let him know that he’s going to be a one-term mayor.
BATTERY PARK MONEY FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Question:As mayor what will you do to ensure that the promise of Battery Park City is kept and revenues are spent on the production and preservation of affordable housing?
Fernando Ferrer: Proceeds from Battery Park City, the excess proceeds, were more than twice promised to the people of this city to create and sustain affordable housing. And twice that promise was violated...I want to restore that promise.
But we’re going to need, by the way, not only the proceeds from Battery Park City but so much more city investment in developing affordable housing. There are two important approaches to it: the intelligent use of public land, inclusionary zoning, and the intelligent use of public resources. Not only to develop affordable housing but to keep housing affordable. Now let’s be clear. I’ve got nothing against home ownership. Mr. Shaw made a very interesting point. We need to give people an affordable ownership opportunity. Small homes, co-ops, but we got to remember that this city is a city of renters for a whole host of reasons. And they need not to be priced out of their own town. I’ll keep the promise of Battery Park City.
Virginia Fields: I have repeatedly called for reinstatement of the funds that were established to build affordable housing through the Battery Park City funds, most recently in my state of the borough [address]... When we look at the amount of excess revenue over the next decade we could be looking at close to one billion dollars in terms of the dollars that could be used to leverage private investment in building affordable housing. So, as mayor, I will certainly reinstate that in the way that it was initially intended when Mayor Koch and Governor Cuomo worked to put it in place. In addition to that, I think it is important too to look at the inventory of city-owned land and to make sure that we are not selling that at market-rate prices as it is being done today as another way to look at addressing dollars to be able to build affordable housing.
Steve Shaw: It is true that in 1989 there was a commitment to make $600 million investment in affordable housing from funds by the BPCA. And it’s reasonable to ask for that commitment. But subsequent to that, promises that weren’t even made back then have been made and have been executed. Billions and billions of dollars in subsidies have been given out â€“ billions and billions of dollars. But ladies and gentlemen, more subsidies is not the answer. It is true there is an area for public subsidies, in areas such as supportive housing, which I totally support. There is an area for that for helping the disabled, helping the elderly. But enough’s enough. Where I believe the money should be spent is on our mass transit system. Mass transit system is what really builds this city, it’s what makes this city, apart from the people, makes this city what it is. But the mass transit system is crumbling today. Instead this administration, rather than focusing on the existing mass transit infrastructure, wants to spend over a billion dollars so people could be ferried back to the stadium. That’s not how mass transit money should be spent. So with regards to this, I would not fight for the reinstatement of the $600 million. I would instead allocate that money to the city’s mass transit system.
REPEALING THE URSTADT LAW
Question:Do you support repeal of the Urstadt Law? If you are elected mayor what specific steps will you take to win repeal of the Urstadt Law, and restore full home rule power over its rent laws to the city of New York? How you will overcome the opposition of the governor and senate majority leader to repeal this law?
C. Virginia Fields: I think it is important to repeal this law to give the right to NYC to make decisions around rent stabilization. It’s amazing every time we go to Albany to fight in order to keep these laws in place, we’re talking to people who do not live in NYC, who do not support our concerns nor care about the impact of what is happening here.
Secondly as mayor the specific steps I would take is to go to Albany and not give lip service to it at the time that rent stabilization laws are being discussed, but on a regular basis working with not only our delegation from NYC but working with others, we believe we can turn their opinions around.
This is not something that just the mayor cares about, but many constituencies throughout the city care about this issue. So I would certainly work with other constituencies.
The way we overcome this is to do what the Democratic leader in the State Senate recently said and that is to get a majority in the Senate as we now have in the Assembly. We are close to it. We cannot believe that it cannot happen. So we have to keep working so that we have a majority of Democrats in the Senate working with the majority in the Assembly working with a Democratic mayor leading the way. In '06 having a Democratic governor. And then hold all of us accountable for the things that we say when we’re running for office to make sure that they’re the same things we do when we’re in office. And that’s how we get it done.
Steve Shaw: Typically, I believe that government closest to the people should be in charge of making the policies. I know my mass transit idea didn’t go over too well but I believe that, I believe it should be NYC that controls its mass transit rather than the MTA.
As I mentioned before I am in support of limiting regulation on housing and as a result I would not fight for the repeal of the Urstadt Law. Instead, I would focus my political capital on the ways that I believe will help New Yorkers build better lives for themselves. Work with the state legislature, work with the governor to limit the tax burden on New Yorkers, work with them to create a pro-growth, jobs-friendly environment for New Yorkers, that’s what I would focus on, that’s how I would spend my political capital.
I think it’s important for everybody to realize that when I say I’m against rent regulation people think you got to be pro-landlord. Well, if you look at my campaign contributions, granted there aren’t many of them, I’ve taken about $50 from landlords. So, I’m not in the pocket of the landlords. What I want is I want the market to be just like it is in other cities. For instance, if you go to another city, if you go to Chicago, if you go to Philadelphia, if you go to Seattle and you start looking for an apartment you’ll see a wide array of prices, prices at every price point. The reason why it is that way is because they don’t have rent regulation. That’s why it is. But in New York City, one million units are out of the market. And as a result of that, as a result of that when you go and you look for an apartment the only ones that are available for rent are ones which are thousands of dollars. That’s not acceptable. We get rid of rent regulation, we’ll make significant steps in this area.
Fernando Ferrer: In case anyone hasn’t noticed, there’s a housing shortage in this city. And in spite of the fact that there are a million non-controlled units, we have seen record high homeless rates not seen since the Depression. The two are related. People are getting priced out of their own town and it’s not right. We need rent regulation in this city.
We also need to have home rule. I’ve believed that for all of my public life. And I agree with Borough President Fields. The way to achieve that right now -- it’s achievable, it’s realizable -- is to get the Republican majority out of Albany. The way to achieve that is to elect a Democratic governor and to get George Pataki or any of his surrogates out of Albany. And the way to achieve that is to have a Democratic mayor who won’t [support] the bad and failed policies of George Pataki, Joe Bruno and George Bush.
You know this mayor’s getting ready to go to Albany to fight for the state’s $300 million for Jets Stadium. I haven’t seen much fight for Section 8 vouchers, I haven’t seen much fight for affordable rents. Oh yes, oh yes, some get a $400 rebate check from Mayor Bloomberg. But the bill you know actually never has his name on it. Did you ever notice that?
Gifford Miller: Absolutely I’ll support repealing the Urstadt Law and you don’t have to guess what I’ll do as mayor â€“ you know what I’ve done as Speaker. As Speaker of the New York City Council, I led the Council in for the first time ever passing a resolution calling upon the state to repeal the Urstadt Law and as mayor I will fight again to make sure that happens.
There is no reason, no reason, that we should have to go up to Albany and bargain with some upstate senator for our homes. It is wrong. And I as mayor will change that, partly -- absolutely I agree with my colleagues -- by making sure that we get a Democratic Senate who will care about the needs of New York City and put New Yorkers first and just give us an opportunity to take care of our own, because we’re not asking for anything other than to be able to take care of our own. We’re not asking them for anything.
I will also get you involved in repealing the Urstadt Law. You know I took an enormous amount of heat because last year I took buses and brought working New Yorkers -â€“ tenants -â€“ up to Albany to lobby to make a difference. You would have thought that the walls would come tumbling down. You know, it’s supposed to be only lobbyists who have the money to be able to go to Albany and be able to lobby Albany. Well I’ll tell you, if I’m elected mayor, I will bring all of you back to Albany and we will make a statement again that we will not accept having Albany making decisions for us, we deserve to be able to make our own decisions for ourselves.
Question:As mayor, will you promise to guarantee the right to emergency shelter for all homeless adults and children?
Gifford Miller: Absolutely. People have a right to shelter in this city. And it’s a sensible thing to do. We can’t be the city that we want to be unless we’re making sure that everyone in the city has shelter. There’s nothing more fundamental. Basic shelter.
Audience member: What do you mean by shelter?
Gifford Miller: Well, the question was about the right to shelter...We absolutely should have a right to shelter and I’m proud of the fact that not only am I saying that but as Speaker of the Council I have fought for that. Amazingly, when this administration took office they were requiring people who were domestic violence victims to show police reports before they got access to the shelter system. These are our people who are literally mothers and children on the run for their lives and the administration was saying come back when you’ve got a fully completed police report. I passed legislation in the City Council to make sure that those victims weren’t re-victimized by our system. That’s the kind of principles that we ought to be bringing to our system. As mayor I definitely will continue that.
Steve Shaw: As we examine this issue, the right to shelter, I believe there is a distinction to be made between the word “right” and the word “privilege.” I believe that when you call something a privilege that it comes with certain responsibilities. That’s what I believe comes with providing shelter, there are certain responsibilities that come with it.
Audience member: Shelter’s not a privilege!
Steve Shaw: You have to behave. If you’re having problems with drugs, you have to get counseling. If you’re having problems with domestic violence, you need to address those issues...You have the same issue that you have with school discipline. You have one or two bad kids and they mess up the situation for everyone. And as a result fewer people are willing to go to a shelter, they say, “you know what, this shelter is going to be extremely violent, its going to be very difficult to sleep there, I’m going to stay on the street.” But if instead, we make those shelters safe and we make people have responsibility, then more people will go into the shelters. And that’s what we’ve been seeing.
Virginia Fields: Yes, I certainly do support the right to provide shelter, emergency shelter as well as other housing for the homeless. And I will continue that as mayor.
But what I want to say up front is I think we’ve got to give more emphasis to prevention. We must look at creation of jobs so that people do not become homeless. We must invest in jobs at every level. I think there was an article in one of the newspapers today, people were talking about manhole covers being made somewhere in India. Why can’t we make them right here in New York City and put people to work? So, on the position side, we must look to put New Yorkers to work so that the issue of homelessness is addressed on that end.
Secondly, we must also invest in programs and services for people who might need them, whether they are alcoholism, drug programs, and supportive housing for the mentally ill because these people need other kinds of support And to the extent that we make those distinctions then we are reducing the number who end up for emergency housing overall.
So yes to providing housing for people who need it on an emergency basis and people who are homeless. It is our obligation, it is our right to do that for them. But working on the other end also.
Anthony Weiner: When the mayor gave his state of the city address he had this tone and he even had a bunting behind him that talked about how great things were in the city. And he talked about how unemployment was down and things were going so well. In fact, the truth of the matter is that last year in the City of New York, in this great city in the year 2004, over 500,000 children showed up at a soup kitchen or a church basement or went to HRA for food to eat.
Let us not be so sanguine in the success that we might have because the property values have gone through the roof to say that we don’t have challenges for those of us to face. And the fundamental difference between Mayor Bloomberg and all of us, is we, in all the disagreements we may have -- and some of them are greater than others -- in all the disagreements that we have, we are fundamentally united by one idea: that we are grateful to live in such a great city, but we are constantly dissatisfied that things aren’t better.
Mike Bloomberg gets up every morning and dislocates his shoulder patting himself on the back because when he sits down for dinner, he sits at a table full of well-to-do developers who say “Oh, aren’t you great.” Well, here’s what I’m going to do: when I get up in the morning, I’m always going to be thinking about the fact that there are people in New York City who are not getting up in a home, who are in the street or in a shelter, I’m always going to get up in the morning knowing that tonight in this city, nearly 15,000 children are going to be without a place to sleep. We can never be satisfied with that.
And that also means that standing up â€“ and I will do this â€“ standing up when it’s Governor Spitzer and saying, “Listen, I don’t care if you are a member of my party, I’m going to fight you every step of the way to make sure the basic needs and the basic dignity of all New Yorkers is protected.”
And that means finding a place for them to live, a job that gives them dignity, education that lets them live up to their greatest potential. And I will never, ever be satisfied unless those things are delivered to my constituents.
RENT GUIDELINES BOARD AND ONE-YEAR RENT FREEZE
Question:Will you support a one-year rent freeze by the Rent Guidelines Board this year? If you are elected mayor, what qualities will you look for in the public members you will appoint to the Rent Guidelines Board? Will you support amending the Rent Stabilization Law to allow for the City Council to vote on your appointments to the Rent Guidelines Board?
Anthony Weiner: I would support a freeze. Part of my concern is that we have started to measure too much about our success as a city by whether or not property values are rising a lot. You hear the mayor talk about this all the time. There is something that must be very nice when you see in the newspaper that wow, this apartment just like the one I own is going up in value a great deal.
But let’s look at what it’s doing. First of all, it’s forcing more and more apartments off the market because more and more people are taking rental units and converting them in to co-ops and condos. That makes it harder to find a rental apartment.
Secondly, it’s driving more and more small businesses clear out of New York. You know, when I led the fight to stop Wal-Mart from coming to Queens -â€“ and I’m doing it now to stop Wal-Mart from coming to Staten Island â€“- part of it was because I believe what it winds up doing is big corporations like that drive out the small businesses that employ the young people in our community and provide people like all of us our first job.
The real concern I have is that developers in this city, the big guys, have too much access right now. Now we have a city that is driven by access to City Hall that is dominated by the big developers in our city and I’m going to change that.
Quickly on point two, I look for someone who understands every day the plight of New York renters, understands New York City, understands where to go. And as far as 3, no, I wouldn’t give the City Council that vote, I want as much authority as I can because I have big dreams for this city.
Virginia Fields:For the past two years, I have supported non-increase of rent and I would continue to do that as mayor. When I spoke before the Rent Guidelines Board last year, I made it clear that I did not support the rent freeze by the Rent Guidelines Board because we have one of the most serious housing crises in our city today. And rents continue to go up without any information or support in terms of the impact that that is having. So, yes, to that question.
The second question, if elected the type of person I would look for, is clearly someone, people like you, who are in this room -- people who are knowledgeable, people who understand these issues, people who are willing to give the time, people who really do care about this and are not going to be pressured one way or the other but will do what is the right thing to do.
And they will relate to you and hold audiences with you. I think one of the complaints that I have gotten about some of the members on the board is that they won’t meet with advocates, they won't meet with tenants. Well you don’t have that choice. You will meet with people because you are a public representative.
I’m going to agree with my colleague over there from Congress on the last one. I would not look to give this right to the City Council in terms of making the appointment or advising on it. My view on this issue -- someone who has been actively involved in this movement now for a long time, one who has invested in the building of affordable housing, one who has established a Mitchell-Lama task force to make sure we protect all of those rights -- I know that...consulting with you, talking with you, as well as the City Council, I would be able to make that appointment in your best interest, too.
Gifford Miller: First of all, the first question to me is really who are you going to appoint to this board. This board is not some abstract board. This is a board that makes decisions about people’s lives, about whether they are going to be able to stay in their homes, about whether their housing is going to remain affordable. So I think it is one of the most important appointments that a mayor can make. And I would agree with my colleagues that the kind of a person that I’m going to be appointing to that is the sort of person who understands what they’re doing. Who understands that there’s a real difference between four percent and a freeze in people’s lives.
At a time when fare hikes are going up, CUNY tuition is going up, the cost of milk going up, this is a huge decision in people’s lives. And I would want to make sure that whoever is making this decision is somebody who is a fair person, an honest person and who understands the impact of the decisions they’re making.
And absolutely I would expect that person to be the sort of a person to understand that it is time for a freeze. Why should there be a freeze? Because the way that they make this decision is skewed. They never take into account the fact that the returns the landlords are getting on their properties have been going up and up and up and up and up and up. They don’t take that into account, and they ought to.
I would support giving the City Council the right... even if I was mayor. Because if I appointed somebody who couldn’t get through the City Council, I shouldn’t be appointing that person in the first place. And so, I have no problem if I’m the mayor of the City of New York in submitting my appointments to another body for approval. I’m not going to give them the appointment power, because I believe I’m going to make the right decision for the people of the City of New York, but I have no problem having a certain level of public review for it.
Steve Shaw: I don’t believe it’s really up to the government to determine how much money a landlord makes.
Audience member: Who’s it up to?
Steve Shaw: Well, it’s up to how well the landlord operates the property, that’s who it’s up to. A landlord has every right to operate his business as he sees fit. While it’s true that not all landlords are necessarily reputable people, they have the right to operate their business and make a profit.
While I will not support a zero percent increase, what I will do is I will do every thing that I can to cut the tax burden of New Yorkers because in fact that is the largest operating expense of landlords, real estate tax. So, if you want to look at a way that you would be able to lower that, that’s the way that you do it.
Now, in terms of how I would reform the Board, what I would do is as follows. I don’t like when decisions are made with a stacked deck. Just like the MTA approved that the stadium that was going to be there. It’s a stacked deck. It’s appointed by Pataki, some cronies of his, and Bloomberg, some cronies of his. That’s not how it should be made. What I propose is as follows: the mayor has to make five appointments. What I would do is have the mayor nominate five people, have the City Council nominate five people, have public hearings, and then after all those hearings have the mayor select three and the City Council select two. This is too important of an issue to have just one person make. It needs to be made in conjunction with the entire City Council and that is what my solution would do.
Question:What will you do as Mayor to ensure that additional supportive housing is provided for New Yorkers living with mental illnesses?
Virginia Fields: I know the value of supporting supportive housing, as a Council member working to increase the number of supportive housing...It worked. And it provided a safe environment for people who had tremendous needs. So one of the first things that I would do is work with our New York delegation in Congress in an effort to get federal legislation changed to allow subsidies for permanent supportive housing. That would go a long way in terms of making this more of a permanent solution.
That is related to an overall reform or initiative that I would take with respect to our budgets. I would immediately work with our state legislators and our people in Washington to advocate for the things that we need in New York City, including more money for permanent supportive housing. Leading the charge because when we involve our legislators in both areas â€“- Albany and Washington -â€“ we’re taking care of the business of New York City. Because you know what? The people the mayor represents are the same people Congress people represent, the same people Senate and Assembly people represent. So I would...include them in addressing these issues. And I cannot think of a more important one than to work for federal legislation to change and provide... funding for supportive housing.
Gifford Miller: Absolutely. I’ve long supported moving toward a supportive housing approach from the current scatter site housing and shelter approach. And there’s two reasons: First of all, it’s cost effective. Supportive housing saves money. Because when you can put somebody in an environment where they are going to succeed, give them an opportunity to really hold on to their home and to participate in society with the array of services that they need in order to be able to hold their own, you save money, not just in terms of the shelter system but in terms of the additional costs from entrance into prisons or so many other of the enormous costs that come when we force people to make desperate decisions. So supportive housing is a good investment for the city.
But much more importantly it’s the right thing to do. What we’re here to talk about is how we can help people live in their own homes and provide for themselves. And there’s a lot of New Yorkers that need some support in doing that. So I strongly support supportive housing...
In the Council, I and some of my colleagues have pushed hard for the administration to adopt this...approach, and in the last year they’ve made some progress. You know it’s good to come up here and criticize and say everything that they’ve been doing wrong, but in the last year they started to make some progress towards investing more in supportive housing and moving away from the scatter site housing and that’s the right thing to do. And I as mayor would continue to do it.
Steve Shaw: I believe that supportive housing is a good use of public funds...It attacks the problem at the root, before it becomes a much worse problem. And that’s where public money should be used â€“- to solve these problems before they become huge issues. What I will say, however, is that using the word “permanent” is very dangerous. Government only has a finite amount of funds. So, if you say that everyone is going to get permanent, then what that’s going to do in the end is it’s going to limit the funding that you can provide for the people on the front end, which is where I think it needs to be focused. So, while I support supportive housing, it cannot be permanent in all cases.
Anthony Weiner: You know this is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel, but I disagree with Mr. Shaw. But...I give Mr. Shaw a great deal of credit. I think if Mike Bloomberg were here, we’d all be a lot better off.
As a Democrat I have no fear talking about...housing services to the disabled, housing services to those with mental illness as not just being something we leave to the whim of the capitalist market. We have to recognize one of the reasons that government exists is because we’re not in this as individuals. We’re not in this as disjointed from society. All of us benefit when those who need care get care. We’re a more civilized place and the economy as Speaker Miller points out winds up benefiting when we care for one another. I don’t believe in the Mike Bloomberg Republican model that says, “You know what? If the free market doesn’t give it out, we’re not going to give it out.”
We have to recognize that programs the federal government has come up with â€“- like the Section 202 program that provides housing for seniors so that they get out of their market rate apartment (that maybe has two or three or four bedrooms but no services), free[ing] that up for a working family... The government says, “Look, if you find a sponsor and you find a piece of land, we will underwrite virtually all of the construction, if you agree to have these services available for seniors and the disabled.” It’s a model that worked; therefore, George Bush has done away with it. And we have to recognize that there’s value to bringing those programs back.
New York City and New York State entered into a rather progressive agreement, something called the New York New York agreement, in which they said, “You know what? The city and state are in this together, to provide housing for those who need these services.” Naturally, Governor Pataki and the state have walked away from it. Wouldn’t it be remarkable if at the Republican Convention Mike Bloomberg stood up and says, says this to his Republican brothers and sisters, says, “I am here to welcome you to New York and to express my outrage at the 70 percent cut in housing.” It would have elevated that issue to the front pages of the New York Times and finally gotten a national debate. That’s why it’s going to be different with Mayor Anthony Weiner than it was with Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
Question: Do you support a mandatory approach to inclusionary zoning, requiring developers to produce a percentage of affordable housing? If so, what percentage do you believe is appropriate? Do you believe that the units developed as affordable should be permanently affordable â€“ or be permitted to convert to market-rate prices after a set period?
Gifford Miller: I absolutely support inclusionary zoning. In fact, I haven’t just said I support it, I’ve forced inclusionary zoning into our zoning amendments that the City Council has been making over the last three years.
When I took office, the administration said, “No way, no how, there’s no way.” But look if we’re going to give property owners the enormous value that comes from upzoning their properties, we ought to take some of that value back for the public.
We have to be realistic. The federal government is not going to come in and bail us out on affordable housing. Because they’re in the process, as the congressman said, of cutting support for housing. The state is not going to come in and bail us out on housing. Cause they’re under court order to meet our schools’ needs and they’re not even doing that. So what do we have as an opportunity? What we have is tools like inclusionary zoning, which says, “You know if we’re going to let you build this high, you can build a little bit higher but you got to use a significant portion of that for affordable housing.”
Not only have I said that I’m for this, I forced this into our plans, as I’ve said. Just recently with the Hell’s Kitchen-Clinton rezoning that we did, I set a new standard for what is going to be acceptable in terms of rezonings: 28 percent of that housing is going to be created affordable housing and yes I believe it should be permanent. Because we’re giving these benefits permanently to property owners, we ought to make the housing we’re creating permanent. It’s the right thing to do.
I’m very proud of the work that I’ve already done on inclusionary zoning, and as mayor I would continue that not just in Manhattan but all over this city in order to create more affordable housing opportunities for all New Yorkers.
Steve Shaw: The issues that I have with inclusionary zoning are as follows. The first is, what it does is it’s putting investment in parts of the city which are of less need than much others. For instance, many of the inclusionary zoning programs are in Manhattan, excellent neighborhoods in Manhattan. They’re in parts of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is an amazing neighborhood. I’m from Brooklyn. Congressman Weiner’s from there, I actually live there right now. Manhattan â€“ and those areas â€“ is not really where we need the investment. It needs to be done in the outer boroughs, in parts, Brownsville, Brooklyn, East New York, Brooklyn, parts of Queens, et cetera, et cetera. That’s where it needs to happen. But if all the incentives are toward areas which are already prime neighborhoods it doesn’t make a lot of sense...
The second issue is this: part of inclusionary zoning is upzoning. So, we’re going to let more units be built. Has anyone been to Staten Island recently? Has anybody read the Staten Island Advance? The one issue which they talk about time and time again is over-development. What over-development does is that it taxes the roads, it taxes mass transit, it taxes the schools. It overpopulates those areas. So, it’s not a solution.
In addition, one of the parts of inclusionary zoning is this subsidy called 421-a, where I believe developers get about a 10-year tax abatement. There are all sorts of abatements if you are going to build a ritzy new building which is part of this, but how about the tax policy for the small business owner, the person who really needs it? The person who is being driven out of New York City? That’s what tax policy needs to be focused on and that’s what I’ll do as mayor.
Anthony Weiner: I support inclusionary zoning, but I have to tell you I think we need to take it to the next generation. It is not enough merely to have inclusionary zoning that says 80 percent at market and 20 percent for low-income people. We need to create a third category of housing for middle class New Yorkers. We have to recognize something that, with that meteoric rise in property values, I think that the number that is more appropriate is 60-20-20, [rather] than 80-20.
I think we should have programs that protect housing for middle class New Yorkers, as well, and I’ll tell you why. I think it’s important for the soul of New York, for the culture of New York, to have diverse communities. I think we should not create situations like we’ve increasingly done with public housing that we create very poor pockets of our community. When public housing was at its most successful, is when there was a healthy mix of working New Yorkers mixed in among those who were in most dire need. That created stability and also it created a sense of a ladder out of public housing into market rate housing. So, I would do that.
And I would say to someone, “Look, we have to realize” â€“ and this is where again I disagree with the mayor’s perspective and I disagree with my Republican brothers and sisters â€“ “you’ve got to realize that land in New York city is our asset.” What winds up being developed through the zoning law is something we are in control of. For those of you â€“ well, probably no one in here read it â€“ but for those of you read the New York Post, probably not a popular newspaper in this - , you know there was an excoriating op-ed written by someone criticizing me because I had the audacity to suggest that our zoning should reflect our values. That is exactly what our zoning text should reflect. It should reflect how we parcel out the...scarcest of resource we have in New York, and that is our housing. Just the same way they’re careful with oil in Texas we should be very careful with our housing and real estate here in New York.
The only question I haven't answered...
Audience member: Should it be mandatory?
Anthony Weiner:No I like to work it solo there brother. The only thing I hadn’t answered is the one my friend shouted out and yes, I believe it should be mandatory and it should be permanent. Certainly, the asset that they’re going to get with that skyscraper is going to permanently go up as we’ve seen. Certainly, we should keep the permanence to the affordable units as well.
Virginia Fields: Absolutely, I do support inclusionary zoning as permanent housing. Over the last major ULURP and land use applications, whether it is the rezoning of the West Side or the rezoning of Chelsea-Hell’s Kitchen, you will see the recommendations there from the borough president’s office, advocating, mandating that we do this.
Now, it’s about will. And as a mayor, I will have the political will to live up to that commitment and to continue my advocacy and support. And the reason why is again: We are having a serious, serious housing crisis. And we need to be able to build housing that can be afforded by people at...the many different economic levels. And as developers continue to receive needed and important incentives, they too have an obligation to give back in ways that we can address our housing crisis.
I also think that it is important that we look at inclusionary zoning along with other incentives, such as 421-a and others, so that a combination of these incentives would enable developers to even develop more affordable housing. It is doable. And when we have tested these PILOTS [payment in lieu of taxes] out in several areas, we have seen a difference. So because tax dollars are going to developers to develop these large projects, let’s make inclusionary zoning mandatory, let’s make it permanent, let’s have a mayor who has the will to stand there with us and make it happen.
PRESERVING GOVERNMENT-SUBSIDIZED AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Question: What will you do as mayor to preserve the supply of government-subsidized affordable housing? Will you make city funds available to preserve this housing? What legislation or policies will you support to slow or halt the loss of this housing supply?
Steve Shaw: President Clinton once said...that welfare should be...a second chance, not a way of life. I believe that the same principle needs to apply to public housing.
We cannot have permanent public housing. Right now, the average stay in public housing is about 18 years. Some people stay in public housing their entire lives. That’s not what government programs are meant to do. What government programs are meant to do, is to give people the help that they need, to get them back on their feet and get them back off government programs. That’s what they’re there for.
One of the things that I support is a program that Mayor Bloomberg has put together, believe it or not. It’s called Housing Stability Plus. And the reason why I think it is a good program is this: There is a finite period of time in which you will get the help. The most help is concentrated in the beginning and then it tapers off at the end. That’s how it should be.
When it comes to things such as Mitchell-Lama housing, those were things that were done years and years ago. There was a 20 year period which you knew that it was going to sunset. 20 years! That is plenty of time, more than enough time. So, I oppose any extension of Mitchell-Lama and I oppose what Mayor Bloomberg did with that regard.
The way that government works in this area, it’s all about expectations. If you don’t expect anything and you just say, “Oh you know the people will never be able to afford their own homes, they’ll never be able to afford a rent increase, they’ll never be able to get out of public housing,” well guess what? That’s exactly what’s going to happen. If you keep telling people that they’re never going to do it, then they never will. You’ve got to empower people and that’s exactly what I’m gonna do as mayor.
Anthony Weiner: Hearing a Republican complain that people stay in public housing too long reminds me of the story of the kid who kills his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan. The reason that you have people staying in public housing for a generation at a time is we have slashed funding to the other housing that they should be graduating to. The Nehemiah program slashed, almost completely eliminated, the Section 8 program, almost completely eliminated, to the point that there are waiting lists of more than 10 years, the Section 202 program almost completely eliminated.
And the federal government has also said about our public housing stock, that you the localities -- the cities and the states -- you have to take care of something that has always been a federal responsibility.
When I was in the City Council for 7 years, and I had a chance to choose what committee I wanted to be the chairman of, I chose the subcommittee on public housing -- not because I had a lot of public housing in my district (I had some), but because I recognized a population of people that was underserved, they’re doubled and tripled up, they’re more likely to be people of color, they’re more likely to be low-income people, and they were being mistreated.
We deserve some credit in the City of New York for investing in our public housing, more than other localities have, but one thing I will commit to is that I will do that investment. I will make sure of something else. Unlike this administration, every single dime of eligible public housing I would try to get and not leave it on the sidelines simply because of ideology. As far as whether I would make the funds available, I certainly would and the legislative priorities that I’d pursue are these, while we definitely need the federal and state help to make these programs work, that doesn’t stop us in the City of New York from doing innovative things ourselves, like helping to clean up brownfields, taking some of the legal liability off of developers if they agree to build low and moderate income housing. We can’t simply sit on the sidelines and say, it’s enough that we create another giant glass market-rate building and ignore public housing and the stepping-stone housing programs that help people take themselves out of public housing and get them into their own homes. But we have to make sure those homes are available.
Virginia Fields:As mayor I would certainly invest in government-subsidized housing to preserve it...I don’t only think about government-subsidized housing as it relates to [the New York City Housing Authority], but I also think about Mitchell-Lama. Because we are losing so much of our Mitchell-Lama base and that is our stable, middle-class working population.
So, what I have done, over the past three or four years, and some of you are of course members of our task force, and through that task force we have worked with our state legislators to introduce legislation and every year we go to Albany to advocate, again.
But this is about people in Albany not understanding what our housing needs are and therefore not supporting it. So, I would continue to invest in the capital improvements and renovations of our NYCHA developments so that we can maintain decent living housing for the people who live there. I would support continued legislation with respect to Mitchell-Lama in an effort to at least try to get some of that stabilized under the Rent Stabilization Law so that people can be further protected there. I would continue to advocate in Albany and make it known the importance of making sure that we support these initiatives because without it, quite frankly, so many of our people are threatened with the possibility of losing their housing and perhaps their lives too.
Lastly, with respect to NYCHA, I certainly am opposed to a lot of the laws, congressman, in Congress as it relates to forcing people to do community service just to be able to continue to work there. So we will fight against those issues and try to keep people in their homes.
Gifford Miller: I am an extraordinarily strong supporter of supporting the supply of subsidized affordable housing. Why? ...[S]pending a little bit of money to preserve existing affordable housing is so much less expensive than the alternatives -- either people losing their homes and entering the shelter system or having to build more affordable housing which is much more expensive than preserving what we got. So I absolutely strongly support this and I think here’s an area where you don’t have to guess what I’ll do as mayor because you know what I have done already as Speaker. I have put millions of dollars into the budget to deal with and address the needs of distressed Section 8 housing, and on Mitchell-Lama, I have passed legislation to extend the tax credits for Mitchell-Lama housing so that it makes for people to stay in the program. And I’m sponsoring legislation to make sure that every Mitchell-Lama tenant has the right, if their owner tries to take the project out of the program, every Mitchell-Lama tenant should have the right to buy their own home right then. I’ve sponsored that legislation with many of the groups that are involved here, we’re working hard and I expect to pass that before this session is out. So, you don’t have to wait to know what I’m going to do if I get elected mayor. You can check what I’ve been doing as Speaker of the City Council right now, today, to support these programs.
I will make the money available, I will support policies to slow down the reduction of housing supply and absolutely as mayor I will continue those policies.
EXPANDING RENT INCREASE EXEMPTIONS TO THE DISABLED
Question:Will you fight for State legislation allowing for the expansion of SCRIE (Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption) to assist tenants living with disabilities? What steps will you take to ensure that this expansion of SCRIE occurs in New York City?
Anthony Weiner: I think that SCRIE should be extended to make people with disabilities...eligible. Plus, I think we need to raise the income level to make it so that middle class seniors can be eligible as well. It’s not enough simply to say that we’re going to lift up a small fraction of seniors as needy as they might be. So many seniors are being pushed into poverty by the rent that they are paying. They’re not eligible when they fill out the form, by the time they’re done paying the rent, they’re pushed down into Medicaid poverty.
And the way I would fight for it is the way I’m going fight for every issue when I’m mayor of the city of New York. There is not going to be any issue, and maybe it’s from my upbringing, there’s not going be any issue that I’m going to say, “Ah, it’s not my job.” I’m not going to pursue this job the way Mike Bloomberg has said, “I’m only going to advocate when I think it’s something that I care about.” I’m going to fight if it affects you, if it affects my neighbors in the city of New York, I am going to go up to Albany every day if necessary advocating.
Virginia Fields: As borough president I’m pleased to have been a leader in fighting for changes in the state legislation not only to expand SCRIE in terms of income levels for seniors but making sure that we got the language added to address people with disabilities. We still have work to do, but we have been a leader on that issue, we have been able to get our colleagues in Albany to present legislation and we will continue to advocate for that: An increase in the income level for seniors as well as for people with disabilities.
As the mayor, ensuring that we are able to do this here in New York City, the efforts to lobby Albany, to work with our legislators, again for the purpose of ensuring that we all understand, I as mayor represent the same people they do, and they as legislators represent the same people I do, working as a team, inclusion, making sure that the priorities that affect our daily lives in New York City are the agenda that all of us are carrying forward and I would be a tireless advocate and a leader and a partner with my colleagues who have the responsibility in Albany for addressing this particular issue.
So it is about partnership, it is about inclusion, but it is about a mayor who cares about all of the priorities we have been talking about here tonight. And it is about real leadership...[T]hat is the kind of commitment I made as borough president, as City Council member, and I certainly will not stop as your mayor.
Gifford Miller: This is another example of a question where you don’t have to wonder what I will do as mayor, you can already examine what I’ve done as Speaker. I passed legislation in the New York City Council calling upon the state to give us the power to expand SCRIE to tenants living with disabilities, and if I’m mayor I will fight once again in order to get that done.
This is the moral responsibility of a mayor â€“ to stand up and fight for those who need our help the most. And tenants who are living with disabilities, struggling to try to afford rent, it doesn’t make sense to be making it more difficult for them to stay in their homes. Because if they lose their homes, it’s going to cost all of us in financial terms, but more than that, it’s going to cost us something moral, something deep about the kind of city we are.
And what steps will I take? I have been a leader who has brought together, repeatedly, the most diverse legislature in the country behind great goals that people said couldn’t be accomplished and then gotten them done even during the most difficult times our city’s ever faced. I passed the first earned income tax credit this city has ever seen, lifting 700,000 people from poverty toward prosperity. People said it couldn’t be done. I passed the first living wage law this city’s ever really had, helping 50,000 families provide for themselves and their children with jobs that are created by government dollars. People said that couldn’t be done. And with your help, I passed the first real lead paint legislation in this country to protect children all over New York from the scourge of lead paint without driving the cost of housing through the roof. Something everyone said couldn’t be done except the people in this room.
I know how to bring together great diverse coalitions behind great causes like this and the other ones we’ve been talking about. And I know we can be a more just city, I know we can. With your help, I’ll get that opportunity to lead this city.
Steve Shaw: I believe that expanding SCRIE to people with disabilities makes sense. I believe it’s a good use of public resources. Because the way that I look at problems, the way that I look at the role of government is, where does it make sense? And here is where it makes sense. Government, as I mentioned before, has so much in money. So the question is this, do you focus it on things such as inclusionary housing, which are by and large focused on already excellent neighborhoods in New York City, or do you focus it on the people who really need it, such as people with disabilities? That’s where I think the focus needs to be.
In closing, the way that I look at government and the way that I look at housing policies is as follows. Above all, I believe in you. I believe that you, if you’re left in control of your own destiny, will build a better life for yourself. That’s what it has to be, it has to be up to personal responsibility. Not everything can be relied on the government. And I’ll do everything that I can to empower you, do everything I can to make your life in New York as good as it possibly can be.
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