The lie began in 2014, when Bill de Blasio campaigned for Mayor on the platform of ending the “tale of two cities.” He said he would end inequality in our City. He said he would help the most vulnerable.
The lie continued in 2017 when he was reelected, and he said he would create the “fairest big city in America.”
Meanwhile, today we still have over 61,000 people living in shelters in New York City. The impacts of this cannot be understated: homeless people’s lives are endangered, their physical and mental health deteriorates, kids miss school, working people lose their jobs, and so much more. No one should ever have to face these spiraling circumstances.
Since he took office, Mayor de Blasio has continued to praise his administration for dealing with a homelessness crisis of record proportions. He’s made half-hearted attempts to deal with the immediate crisis of homelessness by issuing rental assistance vouchers that don’t cover average rents in our city. When people are able to find housing with these below-market rent vouchers, they are relegated to few far-flung neighborhoods where the housing is often in poor conditions. Seeing this lackluster attempt to help homeless people find housing, City Councilmember Steve Levin introduced a bill in January to raise voucher values to meet fair-market rent and to guarantee that voucher recipients continue to receive the assistance as long as they meet eligibility requirements.
But beyond providing New Yorkers with subpar vouchers to find housing, de Blasio has a bigger stain on his record when it comes to housing the homeless: his Housing New York 2.0 plan. Out of the 300,000 units of affordable housing in his plan, the mayor has committed only 15,000 units—five percent—for the homeless.
His defense of this utterly insufficient commitment is shameful. He’s been asked by homeless individuals, advocates, and reporters if he will increase his commitment from 15,000 units to 30,000 units of housing (with 24,000 units of new construction) to meet the desperate need of homeless people in our city. “No,” he answers, “our best hope going forward is the preventative efforts and the broader efforts to raise wages and benefits.”
“No” is not an acceptable answer. Preserving housing and slowing evictions won’t rehouse over 61,000 people; the creation of new shelters won’t rehouse over 61,000 people; a $15 minimum wage won’t rehouse over 61,000 people. In fact, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent, a person living in New York City would need to earn a $30 minimum wage for a 40-hour work week—that is double the $15 minimum wage that has not yet been phased in.
But the mayor is not claiming that any of these efforts will rehouse 61,000 people. That would be deceitful. What he’s telling us instead, unabashedly, is that he has no real plan to put people back in homes and that doing so is not his priority. If it was a priority, de Blasio would not be facing mounting pressure from homeless activists, advocates, and city officials to dedicate a modest 10 percent of his House New York 2.0 plan to house homeless people.
Why aren’t homeless New Yorkers a priority to the progressive mayor who campaigned on fairness? Why doesn’t he dedicate adequate resources to rehouse them? Whatever his reasoning is, we should not accept it. The most deserving New Yorkers are the ones that need the most support. Any progressive mayor, elected official, or living person should agree.
Paulette Soltani is the Housing Campaign Coordinator at VOCAL-NY, a grassroots organization that builds power among low-income people affected by homelessness, HIV/AIDS, drug use, and mass incarceration. On Twitter @VOCALNewYork.