A month ago, Nathylin Flowers Adesegun questioned Mayor de Blasio inside a Prospect Park gym about doing more for homeless New Yorkers. Last week she stood outside the Gracie Mansion asking the same. And on Wednesday morning, Flowers made was on the steps at City Hall steps with elected officials to support Councilmember Rafael Salamanca’s bill that will require developers dedicate some of the housing they build or fix for people without homes.
Salamanca’s legislation will require developers who receive city financial assistance for housing development projects to set aside no less than 15 percent of created or preserved dwelling units for homeless individuals and families. For the Councilmember, the bill comes at a crucial time, because a large chunk of his district — specifically the Crotona Park East and Longwood neighborhoods along Southern Boulevard in the South Bronx — is being studied by the Department of City Planning for a possible rezoning.
“Our city is at a critical juncture. Since 2014, the number of homeless people in NYC shelters has stagnated around the 60,000 figure,” said Salamanca outside City Hall. “It is clear that we need legislation that could actually be effective citywide and I believe that mandating a 15 percent set aside has the potential to drastically alter the grim reality for so many.”
“We have the opportunity to change the course for homeless New Yorkers and those on the brink of homelessness and we need to act now,” Salamanca, chair of the Council’s land-use committee, said.
Salamanca was also joined by Councilmembers Stephen Levin, Vanessa Gibson and Jumaane Williams (who is running for public advocate), along with former Council Speaker Christine Quinn —now the CEO of the homeless services organization Women in Need —as well as representatives of the Coalition for the Homeless, Vocal-NY, Housing Works and other organizations.
In 2016, the city passed the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program, a integral piece de Blasio’s housing plan for 300,000 affordable housing units —and especially important for the neighborhoods undergoing rezonings. During the rezoning process,, a local Councilmember picks the mandatory inclusionary housing standard (there are four options) that will apply in their district. If the Councilmember has set more than one option then the developer decides the option they will use when building in the rezoned area. (A comprehensive breakdown of MIH and its’ options can be read here.)
Currently, some city housing subsidy programs include homeless set-asides. But some developers who benefit from MIH do not participate in those programs, and so face no such requirement. Salamanca’s bill would change that.
Salamanca said discussions about the proposal are at an early stage. “There are going to be a lot of conversations,” Salamanca said. “I am going to be bringing the state officials, Congressmembers —they need to be a part of this conversation and make sure to bring in those federal dollars. We expect our state electeds to bring in state dollars. But we need to do our part by setting aside for the homeless.”
Salamanca expects to see major support for his bill including from his neighboring districts. Gibson said the bill was crucial to her because she has the highest concentration of homeless shelters in her Bronx district. “These families need to go somewhere as opposed to going to another shelter. They should be going into permanent housing,” she said.
Salamanca’s legislation has the support of the City Council Speaker. “Homelessness is one of the biggest issues we are grappling with as a city, and we need an all-hands-on-deck approach towards solving it. Developers who receive taxpayer funds must be part of the solution, which is why I support increasing the number of units they are required to build for homeless New Yorkers,” said Corey Johnson in a press release.
As of Tuesday, an estimated 60,896 people are in the city’s homeless shelters including 22,519 children.
“City government has been failing New Yorkers. Period. The number one issue is affordability in this city and with affordability the number one issue is housing. We as a city have been subsidizing the development of luxury housing for far too long,” said Williams. “We should have done this in the last term. This is not an ask—it is a demand. I hope the mayor joins if not then we are going to shove it through. So join us or get out of the way.”
The de Blasio administration opposes the idea, arguing that it is unrealistic to require developers who aren’t receiving other city subsidies to create housing affordable to people coming out of homeless shelters.
“We have set a new standard by requiring a minimum 10 percent of apartments in virtually all affordable developments be set aside for homeless New Yorkers. This allocation can be as high as 60 percent in some developments,” says Juliet Pierre-Antoine, a spokeswoman for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. “This bill would undermine the flexibility we need to adapt to the market and continue delivering housing for homeless New Yorkers as well as low-income New Yorkers and those on the brink of homelessness.”
For 72-year-old Adesegun, the homeless crisis is a reality. She has been in New York’s homeless shelter system for the last couple of years.
“I was an office manager for decades on Wall Street. I worked and then I retired,” said Adesegun. “I was kicked out of a rent-stabilized unit in Flatbush. This was not how it was supposed to work.”
Adesegun said the plan always was to work hard and retire into a comfortable life but, overnight, “My rent went from $475 to $1,300.”
Currently, Adesegun lives in a Queens homeless shelter while she looks for an apartment but has faced discrimination at every corner, “They cut up one room into four rooms and there is one closet. That is what you get on rental assistance. There is more than just homelessness. There is income-source discrimination too. If my check is for $1,268 than the landlord will say they have an apartment but it is for $1,270.”
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