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It’s become de rigeur for our top city officials to all give annual State of the City addresses. As it turns out, these speeches are about more than simply raising one’s profile, and, in fact, offer many good ideas.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, in her State of the City address last month, laid out an ambitious proposal for preserving and increasing the city’s stock of affordable and middle-class housing.
Under her plan, 40,000 new middle-income apartments would be built over the next ten years. The money for this, Quinn said, would come from finding “increased efficiencies” in city government, basically reallocating money from wasteful programs.
It’s not as if nothing is being done now on the affordable-housing front: Under Mayor Bloomberg, 4,000 low-income units are being created per year.
Yet it was refreshing to hear an official of Quinn’s caliber speaking forthrightly about helping keep this city a place where the middle class can still live. Despite his creation of low-income units, Bloomberg is thought of as a mayor who has focused on big-ticket development projects, such as the Hudson Yards. Under his administration, there’s finally been movement forward on the long-dormant Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.
Of course, these mega-projects are essential for the city to move forward and keep pace. And Bloomberg deserves credit for jumpstarting them — and, let’s not forget, SPURA will have a healthy amount of affordable housing.
Admittedly, Quinn has, in fact, often been criticized for being cozy with big developers. Nevertheless, her promise not to forget the middle class and New Yorkers of even less means was heartening and refreshing — and needed.
She noted that the Mitchell-Lama program created 100,000 middle-income rentals and co-ops in the 1960s and ’70s, but that many of these have been lost as Mitchell-Lama owners have converted to market rate.
So, Quinn said, her plan would create a Permanent Affordability Act to give property owners new tax incentives for not converting their units to market rate. What’s more, Quinn added, her plan could be applied to existing affordable units.
The Council speaker said, while some neighborhoods around the city have already gotten out of reach of the middle class, “we’re not giving up on any communities.”
She cited Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Throgs Neck as places on the tipping point of becoming fully gentrified, though, surprisingly, not any areas right in her own Third Council District. (Then again, she is, after all, running for mayor.)
Of course, the proof will be in the pudding as to how many of her ambitious proposals come to fruition. But it was uplifting to hear her focus so exclusively on the middle class and affordability. People of lesser economic means strive to rise to become a part of the middle class; so it’s also about ensuring that those who work hard and improve their lot in life will have a place here, as well.
The late Mayor Ed Koch produced more affordable housing — 180,000 units — than anyone, and it was one of his proudest achievements. It’s an achievement not lost on Quinn.
“The dream and promise of the middle class — that’s the dream that Mayor Koch was thinking about,” the speaker said.
She ended with a pledge to the middle class: “New York was — New York is — and New York always will be your city.”
Let’s hope so, that the Big Apple won’t increasingly be a heartless place of empty pied-à-terres, but a place with a healthy mix of income levels and strong middle-class backbone.