Maya Wiley at her campaign launch (photo: Gotham Gazette)
Democratic mayoral candidate Maya Wiley released her first two detailed policy plans last month, and they focus on two pressing issues in New York City: preventing gun violence and evictions. While shootings and murders spiked in 2020 in New York City, as they did in many other cities across the country, residential evictions would have as well if not for preventative government measures — namely an eviction moratorium, which New York State recently extended through at least April for those who have experienced financial hardship due to the pandemic.
Wiley, a civil rights attorney and advocate who served as counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio from 2014 to 2016 and then as chair of the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board for police misconduct, is running in the Democratic primary to succeed the term-limited mayor, part of a large, diverse, and growing field of candidates hoping to prevail in June and go on to the fall general election.
Wiley’s gun violence and eviction plans emphasize reducing disparities for New Yorkers of color and helping people struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The gun violence plan de-emphasizes the role of the police, including by shifting funds away from the police department, and centers the roles of community input and government investment. Wiley draws clear lines between gun violence and other problems, chiefly joblessness.
“We must invite residents of impacted communities to participate in the development of solutions that work,” says the gun violence prevention plan, which features Wiley’s ideas for what she calls a participatory justice fund and Citywide Safe Corridors, a program in which adults supervise students as they walk between school and a train or bus station.
“All New Yorkers should feel secure in their homes and the City has an obligation to ensure this security,” Wiley’s plan for ending evictions says. The plan includes using $251 million in federal housing aid to the city for a citywide rent and tax relief program and expanding legal counsel for people facing eviction.
Her proposals both cite potential funding sources, including the NYPD’s budget, aid from the federal and state governments, and new taxes on the wealthy, but do not give estimated overall costs. Neither plan gives numerical goals, though Wiley does use the term “ending” as the target for evictions.
The plans both say that in the coming weeks and months, Wiley will release detailed plans for housing, policing, and jobs. She is in the process of holding what her campaign calls “people’s assemblies” where Wiley and her team are gathering New Yorkers to discuss what they want from their next mayor.
Preventing Gun Violence
In 2020, shooting incidents in the city doubled over the prior year and murders increased by more than 40%, according to the NYPD, though the roughly 450 murders in 2020 were fewer than the city experienced in 2011 and many years prior. Still, there were fewer than 300 murders in the city in both 2017 and 2018.
Wiley’s approach to solving the issue of gun violence, which predominantly and disproportionately impacts communities of color in the city, emphasizes localized resources and efforts, mental health care, and social mobility. She has taken to saying that her vision includes “putting the public back in public safety,” meaning ensuring that communities are helping to design efforts toward more safety and less violence.
Wiley relates 2020’s surge in gun violence to the inequalities that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed. In addition to catching and dying from the coronavirus at disproportionate rates, New Yorkers of color “have also been hardest hit economically, losing jobs hours and wages, driving stress, trauma and hunger,” the plan points out. “Recent research has shown that gun violence is driven by a lack of social mobility, also called ‘the social determinants of health.’”
Her plan, therefore, focuses on improving employment opportunities and mental health resources while having community members play a role in deciding what solutions work best for them and carrying them out. “We cannot meaningfully talk about reducing and addressing gun violence until we grapple with the tragic conundrum that many times, especially in Black and Brown communities and especially among folks with disabilities, the only recourse people are given to respond to incidents of gun violence are police officers who too often make them less safe,” the plan says, in one of its few mentions of the NYPD beyond removing funds from the department.
Among Wiley’s key policy proposals within the gun violence prevention plan is a “participatory justice fund” that works similarly to participatory budgeting. The $18 million fund would allow communities to develop and choose the violence prevention strategies most appropriate for them, like job training or bringing in negotiators to settle disputes, using money taken from the budget of the NYPD, which is roughly $6 billion annually for operating expenses.
“The participatory justice fund would allocate funds to communities identified by their rates of gun violence and support a democratic process to support existing and new programs that have proven track records or promising evaluation,” the plan says. “This process will also allow impacted communities to identify and develop proposals to reduce gun violence– transforming potential perpetrators into community investors and shareholders of public safety.” Most of these impacted communities, the plan points out, are in the Bronx and Brooklyn.
Including people who have experienced gun violence personally is not only a part of Wiley’s participatory justice fund but also part of her plan to expand therapeutic programs for middle school students, high school students, and adults to reduce gun violence. Notably, Wiley does not mention the problem of gangs and crews, which Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD regularly cite as major factors in the city’s gun violence.
These therapeutic programs would have staff from communities affected by gun violence and would target “individuals with the highest risk [of being involved in gun violence] and need.” “Outreach staff from affected communities” would be responsible for recruiting for the programs.
The program would include mentorship, cognitive behavioral therapy, and motivational interviewing, and people would receive stipends or other incentives to participate. In addition to cognitive behavioral therapy, Wiley also plans to expand dialectical behavioral therapy in schools to help students who have experienced trauma.
As mayor, Wiley would expand community-based and hospital-based “violence interruption” to public health facilities in communities that experience the most gun violence. Violence interruption programs send credible community messengers — often people who have experienced gun violence themselves, at times as perpetrators — to talk with those who have been victims or shooters, or who appear on the verge of getting involved in gangs or other activity that at times leads to involvement in gun violence.
The therapy programs and the violence interruption programs would be funded by money taken from the NYPD and/or Department of Correction and gained through asset forfeiture, the plan says. Wiley also expects the programs to in part pay for themselves because public hospitals would not have to treat as many shooting victims.
Wiley proposes using currently existing workforce development and education programs to create and expand job placements for young adults in communities that experience high rates of gun violence. “This will include doubling the number of slots allocated to youth at risk of involvement with violence in the Summer Youth Employment Program, resulting in 10,000 slots designated for young people at highest risk of being involved in gun violence,” the plan says.
The plan also includes ideas for increasing school safety and youth supervision. Wiley believes school safety should emphasize “a holistic commitment to supporting the well-being of students” rather than relying on discipline and police intervention.
“We will create student support teams that help identify students at risk who need support to manage trauma, bullying, difficulties at home, learning differences and other conditions that can produce inappropriate and dangerous behaviors,” the plan says. “We will expand school guidance counselors and social workers so that every school has these capacities on student support teams, along with teachers, administrators and School Safety Agents, whose position descriptions, training and role will be appropriate to a student support model.”
As mayor, Wiley would also launch “Citywide Safe Corridors,” a program in which community-based organizations “staff street routes from mass transport to high-need schools to provide an extra level of community/adult supervision and guidance” so that fights and robberies don’t occur before and after school. She does not say how many of these she envisions, but notes they would be deployed near “high-need schools” and “potential hotspots for violence.”
Wiley’s gun violence prevention plan, issued December 2, says she “will soon be releasing my full policing plan” and “In order to address gun violence, we need a jobs plan. In the coming months, I will be introducing proposals aimed at getting New Yorkers back to work at good, well-paying and stable jobs.”
Wiley’s platform to “end evictions” includes supporting an eviction moratorium, expanding legal counsel for those facing eviction, rapidly rehousing those who are evicted, and helping small landlords.
“We have a homeless crisis that’s a historic one in size and it’s because we need to understand it as an eviction crisis,” Wiley said at a forum about housing earlier in December, not long before she released her plan. Her eviction plan, released December 23, says, “In the coming weeks, we will roll out an ambitious housing plan that looks at these and other housing issues holistically. We must combat deep structural problems with structural solutions and be prepared to respond immediately.”
According to the eviction plan, Wiley doesn’t think the recently passed federal stimulus package, which included $600 stimulus checks to qualifying U.S. residents and an extension on the federal eviction moratorium until January 31, did enough to help those suffering financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She supports a long-term moratorium on evictions rather than a “patchwork of temporary eviction moratoriums” that she thinks simply delay an eviction crisis rather than preventing one.
Her plan includes fighting for a stronger eviction moratorium “long enough to ensure that we have averted an eviction crisis that will trigger a massive homelessness stemming from this pandemic.” On December 29, a week after Wiley released her plan, New York banned evictions until May for tenants who can show that they have endured a COVID-19-related hardship — a move that Wiley commended in a statement.
“My eviction plan would build off this legislation,” she said in the statement. “We should create a rapid rehousing program designed to prevent the eviction crisis caused by the pandemic and strengthen tenant protections by increasing legal representation. We also need to address the looming issue of owed back rent once the moratorium is lifted.”
Wiley supports current City Council legislation that would expand the city’s landmark right to counsel law to all tenants facing eviction who make less than 400% of the federal poverty line.
As mayor, she would create a partnership with local law schools and pro-bono legal partners where attorneys represent tenants, the plan says. “The program will provide legal counsel at the building level in cases where a significant number of tenants are facing eviction,” it states.
A Wiley administration would create a citywide rent and tax relief program in which small and nonprofit landlords who comply with the eviction moratorium and tenant protections receive relief for back rent owed to them. This program would be funded with the $251 million designated in the recent federal stimulus package for rental assistance in New York City. Landlords who give tenants the right to renew their leases with limited rent increases would also be eligible for property tax deferment.
Landlords would be considered for this program based on already-existing filings and application processes so that those who cannot navigate a bureaucratic maze are not excluded. For additional application requirements that do exist, the government would provide technical assistance, according to the plan.
The plan includes details for “rapid rehousing” of people evicted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wiley supports “State action on application fees, security deposit relief for families at 400% of the Federal Poverty Line, and property tax forgiveness for landlords who voluntarily waive these expenses.”
Wiley’s administration would also partner with community organizations to provide housing counseling, case management, and financial planning services for people seeking housing. It would also launch a grant program, funded with help from the federal and state governments, to financially assist people with security deposits, application fees, and other housing-related costs.
The above “rapid rehousing” measures are mentioned alongside Wiley’s promise of “an ambitious housing plan” to come.
Her eviction-related policies depend on federal and state funding, though she also believes ending evictions will save the city money that it would otherwise spend providing shelter to homeless people, an expense currently in the billions each year.
Wiley also hopes to create new tax revenue sources to help fund these proposals. These may include, the plan says, “a pied a terre tax, a vacancy tax, a mansion tax, and a stock transfer tax.” These taxes would mostly fall on the very wealthy and need approval from the state capital.
by Lauren Hakimi, Gotham Gazette
Ben Max contributed to this article.