Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Announces Affordable Housing Plan has Financed 40,000 Apartments So Far, Enough for 100,000 New Yorkers

January 11, 2016

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Those are tears of joy?

Luz: Yes.

Mayor: Luz, we’re very, very happy for you. We’re very happy for you – someone who is a Brooklynite, loves this borough, loves this neighborhood, and all you wanted was to be able to live here and help be a part of this wonderful community. And I want to congratulate you and thank you for joining us here today, and thank you for everything you’ve said. 

Luz: Thank you. 

Mayor: Congratulations.

Luz: Thank you. Thank you so much, sir. 

[Applause]

Luz: Thank you very much, sir. 

Mayor: You’re welcome. 

Well, I have to tell you – and there are so many people – so many people in this borough, so many people in this city – who have been going through exactly what Luz has been going through, wondering if they could stay in their neighborhood, wondering if they could make ends meet, even if they were working one job, two jobs, even three jobs in some cases – hasn’t been enough. And there are so many people who are doing the right thing, but didn’t have the security of knowing whether their home would be there for them for the long-term and for their family.

So we’re here today with some very good news about affordable housing in this neighborhood and all over the city. 

Across the street from us now, four buildings, which house 65 tenants – 65 New Yorkers live in those buildings, including Luz and her family. I want to thank the city’s HPD and I want to thank our partners at BEC New Communities Housing and the Hudson Companies. Because of them, those four buildings and nine others throughout Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights will remain affordable for 30 years – 30 years that these families will be guaranteed a good, clean, safe, affordable place to live. 

The city is providing the funds necessary for critical repairs at these 13 buildings, replacing roofs and windows, repairing crumbling facades, upgrading the lobbies and the common areas – all the things to make these quality buildings for the long term. And in turn, BEC and Hudson will keep all 212 apartments affordable for another generation of households earning as little as $24,000 dollars a year. And 21 units will now be set aside for formerly homeless families – people who will now have a home for the long term. 

So think about it – in a neighborhood where so many residents are worried right now – they’re worried about what the rent will be next year for these families. They can rest easy for the next 30 years, knowing that they’ll be able to afford these homes. That’s very good news – and if we were just announcing that, it would be a perfectly good reason to call you all here. 

But there’s so much more to tell you about today. These 212 apartments that have been preserved are part of something much, much bigger that was achieved in 2015. 

In 2015, through the great work of HPD, and HDC, and so many of our partners, we can now announce the final total for how much housing is being created as a result of the work in 2015 – how much housing was preserved and how much housing was financed to be built.

The grand total of apartments for 2015 is 21,041 apartments – and that is the highest annual total for the city of New York in a quarter-century – 25 years. Congratulations to all of you.

[Applause]

I can say that you’ll hear from Vicki and Gary in a moment, but they’re the kind of people who like to set records – well, you just set a record – congratulations – and you made us all very proud. That includes 13,862 preserved apartments, like Luz’s, and 7,179 new construction units – the highest number of new units ever secured by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development in any single year. So, they’ve got a record for the last 25 years in the total number of units, both preserved and new, and they’ve got the highest number of units financed in any year in this city’s history – and that is something to be very, very proud of it. 

It brings the grand total for our plan – maybe you haven’t seen it lately – let me show it to you – 

[Laughter]

– the grand total for this plan, announced now – it was announced in May of 2014, and this plan is going like gangbusters right now because of the great folks working on it – the grand total for the two years we’ve been working on Housing New York – 40,204 apartments that will be affordable for New Yorkers. 40,204 apartments – enough to house over 100,000 New Yorkers – and that’s a lot for this whole team to be proud of. That is now putting us actually ahead of pace to reach our goal of 200,000 units by the end of 2024. So this team took an incredibly difficult goal and they’ve now managed to actually get ahead of pace in fulfilling it.

Now, you know this is the most ambitious municipal affordable housing plan in the history of the country – and let’s talk about the people who have achieved this extraordinary progress. Alicia Glen couldn’t be with us today, but her leadership has been extraordinary and effective throughout. You’re going to hear from two heroes of the day – our HPD commissioner, Vicki Been, and our HDC president, Gary Rodney. I also want to thank our HRA commissioner, Steve Banks, for being with us – I know this announcement is important to him in the work he is doing as well. 

But we also have to thank everyone who works at HPD, everyone who works at HDC. These are unsung heroes. They don’t get on the front pages, but boy the work they do – Rafael, I like that you’re nodding, because you know from experience – the work they do is extraordinary for this city.

I also want to thank some of the leaders of these agencies – Eric Enderlin, the deputy commissioner for development at HPD; Ken Kurland, the deputy general counsel at HPD – for the extraordinary work they do. 

We’re going to be joined by some council members – we’ll announce them when they come in – but their leaders of the community board here, whose support and partnership is crucial. I want to thank chair of Community Board 3, Tremaine Wright, and district manager of Community Board 3, Henry Butler, for the work they do – let’s give them a round of applause and thank them.

[Applause]

And, my friends, success has many mothers and fathers. So this success is everyone I’ve named but also all of our development partners, the nonprofit partners, the financial institution partners who are part of this effort – we needed all of them and they’ve all been crucial to this work.

I also want to thank our many allies who have supported this vision for affordable housing and are partners in this effort as well – the labor unions, the clergy, the community organizations from all over the five boroughs who believed we needed the most ambitious affordable housing plan in this history of this nation and are doing a lot to help us achieve it. I want to thank them all.

Now, I’m finding the right page – here we go – I’ve said to you guys, you know, wherever I go – boy, this is – this is one of these truisms that proves to be consistent – wherever I go, the number one concern I hear about affordability – how do I pay the rent? Am I going to be able to find some place I can afford? Am I going to be able to stay in my home? Am I going to be able to stay in my neighborhood? I hear one question or another like that all the time. I hear the question all the time – what is affordable? 

And I talked to you about the fact that these units are going to be for folks earning as little as $24,000 dollars a year. That is truly what we talk about when we say affordable housing for so many people in this city. There are people who make more money who need affordable housing, too, but so much of what we’re achieving is reaching those who are really struggling to make ends meet. So I hear it all over and I hear it from people like Luz, who are living in communities that have gone through a lot of change, and are asking tough and legitimate questions about what are we going to do to balance that change. We know some of the change that has happened in our communities over these last ten or twenty years is positive. We also know a lot of people have been displaced and we know there’s a lot of challenges that come with that change. Too many people have been priced out. And I think the city government didn’t do enough to address the issue. Now, we’re here to do something; to do something different; to reach more people; to create some real balance in the equation. We know the people want to stay in the communities that they have been a part of their whole lives in many cases or in many cases for generations. Communities they literally built; communities they stood by during some tough times back in the 70s, the 80s.

We want to give people a chance to stay in the neighborhood they love. You heard about the buildings that are being preserved here. For many families who struggle every day, those are the kinds of families who will be housed in more than 70 percent of the apartments that we secured in 2015. So a lot of people have been asking the question, are we making sure a lot of these units are available for folks at the lowest income levels, the answer is yes.

And who are those people? A lot of them are seniors. Some of them are veterans; they’re grandmothers and grandfathers; they’re a lot of people who’ve done a lot for all of us, and deserve this chance for an affordable life. We’re very, very proud of the numbers, but the numbers, again, they represent human beings; they represent families; they represent the difference between a family that struggles and a family that has security. You know, when someone gets affordable housing not only could they finally make ends meets, it gives them the chance to do somethings that they’ve wanted to do for a long time – catch up on other bills; get financially stronger; maybe invest in education for their children – things that families deserve. But it’s so often keys in on having an affordable place to live. So, we are looking for every way to reach every family we can, but we also recognize that this is more than just about a number of families, this is about the effect it has the entire neighborhood; the entire community because affordable housing is just one part of what we’re doing, and so much of what we plan to do.

All over the city and particularly in some of the areas that we have the opportunity to rezone; we’ll be doing more with schools; more with parks; more with community facilities to make neighborhoods stronger. In neighborhoods nearby, even where we are now, what we’ve been able to do to help turn around Boys and Girls High School – a legendary institution in the community, that’s good for the larger community; that’s good for the children who live in the affordable housing; or the Stockton Playground. A playground that was ignored for a long time – we’re going to invest $2 million dollars to make it a quality playground with a lot of amenities; with greenery, and playground equipment, and picnic tables, and things that the neighborhood needs. So, it’s about lifting up all the families of the neighborhood. We’re very proud of what’s been achieved in 2015, but, literally, it is only just beginning because the mission is to make New York City a place for everyone; to make sure everyone, has a chance to succeed in this city; to rise together in this city. That has been the magic formula in New York City’s history. That’s what worked in the past, and that’s what can and must work for us again in the future.

Quickly in Spanish –

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]

Mayor: Okay, we’re going to go back over that again. So, we’re going to do questions on this topic, and then a couple of specific things I want to raise questions on that, and then off-topics.

Yes, man [inaudible]?

Question: How many of these 40,000 – 40,000 units are ready to go – ready for families to move in? Is it just a – the city has put the money, but the apartments might not be ready –

Mayor: So, I’m going to have Vicki go into detail reminding you, and again, the plan is worth a look if people haven’t looked in a while; 120,000 units will be preserved over ten years, 80,000 will be built new. Obviously, once you secure the financing, you’re home free to build, but it takes a while. The preserved happens a lot quicker because it’s actual existing apartments.

Why don’t you break out the numbers?

Commissioner Vicki Been, Department of Housing Preservation and Development: So, remember that these units – these homes are homes that were financed since January of 2014. New construction usually takes about two years, so we’re just starting to see those come online. We’ve seen many, and if you – we can get those numbers to you from Housing Connect, which is the lottery, of course, that people have to enter. The preservation units take less time, and so we’ve been putting many of them into service right away. The ones that we just closed in December, the preservation units will tend to come online six months, eight months, etcetera. So – but we can get that – get you the precise breakdowns from Housing Connect, okay?

Mayor: Wiley Norvell, you will get that information out.

Okay. I think that’s a good thing for us to refer to in all of our events from now on; the actual number of people who are in the homes already.

Okay, yes?

Question: Mr. Mayor, back in February you touted the Ebbets Field complex affordable housing worth preserving. Some of those apartments have been refurbished, rehabilitated, and are back on the market – studios, 450-square foot studios for $1,300 a month. How do you – are you happy with those prices? I mean, how do you feel about what’s going on there as far as the larger affordable housing –

Mayor: I’m going to speak broadly. I’m not – I haven’t been back to the Ebbets Field Houses in a bit, so I’ll speak about the broader situation and Vicki, feel free to jump in. Again, the plan – one of the things we’re very proud of in this plan is we broke out the income levels from the very beginning. So you can see exactly how many apartments will be produced, built, and preserve for each income level. We said from the beginning we’re trying to reach New Yorkers who need affordable housing. Some of whom are very low income; some of whom are, you know, working folks struggling to make ends meet; some of whom are more moderate income. You know, we’ve often said – you’ve heard it that if a family of public servants, you know a cop and a teacher – we want them to be able to live in New York City. So, we have affordable housing for different levels of incomes. So, I think the point here is we want to see that in a range of neighborhoods as well. As I said, in this first two years about 70 percent of what has been produced is for folks at some of the lowest income levels, but the plan as a whole we want to reach across the spectrum.

Do you want to add anything? Okay.

Go ahead, Sally.

Question: Kind of a two-part question; first of all, how much of this growth do you see as resulted from a boost in new construction because of 421-a expiring and kind of concerns about that. And also, sort of to follow up on that, you know, in the next year there won’t be that – that push and interest rates are going up; and I’m just wondering if you have any tools that are going to be used next year that aren’t in play right now?

Commissioner Been: So, we did certainly see a, you know, rise in building permits resulting, undoubtedly, from the desire to get in the ground before 421-a, but remember that the kinds of statistics that the Mayor gave were over a 25-year period. And 421-a has been threatened with expiration basically every four years, so it kind of works out over time. So, in terms of what we will see next year, we are always rolling out new programs. We’re trying, you know, trying to figure out new ways of bringing people into the programs. We’re rolling out a green preservation program, as you know, that we hope will bring a lot of new buildings into preservation programs, and affordability programs. So, we’re always going to be rolling out new programs. And, you know, they will come throughout the years, you know, as the needs arise. Okay?

Mayor: I’d also add, I think the numbers so far, you know, being ahead of pace means that we have real momentum here. We know they’ll be ups and downs along the way, but remember also because there’s a preservation element and a new construction element – maybe at some point over the ten years new construction [inaudible] at a particular strong place – there are points we may lean more to the preservation side, but the overall numbers, we feel very good about.

Yes?

Question: I was wondering if you could comment a little bit about the [inaudible] distribution of these units. Particularly, if there have been any neighborhoods or boroughs where it has been more difficult to find these kinds of opportunities.

Mayor: Again, Gary or Vicki – whoever wants to jump in? I’ll start by saying, you know, I think when it comes to preservation, we obviously have lots of different places we can reach all over the five boroughs. When it comes to a new building, as you know, that’s going to depend on do we have available space or in some cases a rezoning. So, I would differentiate the two. I think preservation clearly is where we can reach almost across the board. New building, there’s some limitations depending on where’s available land and available space to work with.

Anyone want to add?

Commissioner Been: So, most of the units over the – over the two years were in Manhattan. 14,000 of them were in Manhattan. The next were in – the highest – and about the same were in Bronx and Brooklyn, and then Queens and Staten Island are fewer. So, in terms of challenges, that’s one of the challenges that we have in terms of new construction is always finding land that we can use. And land that’s zoned appropriately, and that’s something, as you know, that we’re working very hard on across the city.

Mayor: Courtney?

Question: Mr. Mayor, over this same time period, how many units were lost to market rate, and does that factor – do these numbers factor in those numbers? Meaning has there actually been a net gain, or has there been a –

Mayor: So the – you’re referring to units that come out of rent-regulation or come out of Mitchell-Lama or other affordable programs. And, no, this is – we’re talking about that which we are contributing. That – you’re raising a very real point and a very meaningful one because that flow of units out has always been a problem. There was a little bit of improvement in the rent laws last year in Albany that made it a little less likely for some of those to come out. We also have had some tremendous success, and again I give all the credit to the folks standing around me, stopping some developments that were about to become market rate and be gone from affordability forever – most notably, Stuy Town- Peter Cooper. That was almost 5,000 units; Rivington almost 1,000 units. So, what I’m very proud of with this team is that they’ve managed to see, you know, the iceberg up ahead – the chance we could lose vast amounts of affordable housing, and they’ve stopped it. And they’ve preserved that affordable housing for the long-term, but we have a real problem at the same time because we do keep seeing some units go out. I don’t know if we have those numbers at our fingertips, if not we can get them to you.

Commissioner Been: Actually, the rent-regulation – the units that expire out of rent-regulation are very hard to track, and we don’t have those numbers yet for 2015; we can try to get you the numbers for 2014. But we are, as the Mayor said, because we achieved some reforms in Albany last year we are seeing a reduction in that. And we think that that will help stem that tide for now.

Mayor: And I would say also, one last point Courtney, that that’s, you know, the goal – the next opportunity is to continue to strengthen those regulations; to preserve more units for the long haul. And anytime we see a development – I use Stuy Town-Peter Cooper and I use Rivington as examples, but anytime that Vicki, Gary, and their colleagues see another opportunity whether it’s a Mitchell-Lama or any other type of development that might be reachable, we’re looking for those opportunities all the time.

Anna?

Question: As the commissioner said, Staten Island was the lowest in terms of adding or preserving units. I mean, I think since your last announcement in July only 50 units were added or preserved. I was just wondering, do you think that you’re maybe underutilizing Staten Island given the size of the borough, and just the opportunities that might be there on the North Shore in particular because it’s closer to transit?

Mayor: Well, we’ll be looking to do a lot more in Staten Island. I think there are some real opportunities with available land, that’s certainly something I’ve talked to the borough president about. I think, in terms of rezoning as well, we’re going to have a potentially great opportunity there to create a lot of affordability. So, I would say in Staten Island there’s – there’s much more to come.

Question: On this 20,000 units, a number of them were in the works for a long time – 286 Ashland, Pacific Park, the Durst Pyramid. Were you able to modify some of those plans that were hashed during the Bloomberg era, win more affordability? Are you treating city land differently than they did?

Mayor: I’ll – I’ll speak broadly and let my colleagues fill in the blanks. Look, I think you saw in the beginning with Domino and some other examples, that we were able, in many cases, to improve those plans to get more affordability, get more  back for the community and for the taxpayer. That’s certainly been the model – bless you. That’s certainly been the model that – look, I think these experts would say the reason we came up with our counting methodology is we said until something is secured and financed, it’s theoretical. And if it was secured and financed before we walked in the door, we don’t count it. If we finished it – you know, even if some real good work had been done before, and I do give the previous administration credit for – for moving some great initiatives, but it ain’t over ’til it’s over. So if we’re the ones to finish, that’s when we count it. But I think in a lot of these cases, we have had an opportunity to improve the outcomes in the process. And I think it’s been made clear that we intend to drive a hard bargain – a lot of times we won’t finish a deal until we feel it is to our satisfaction. 

Gary or Vicki, want to add?

Commissioner Been: And let me just add one thing about that is – that we did introduce this a year ago, what we call a New Term Sheets, which is a geeky way of saying these are the new minimum that we expects – and the maximums that we will give in terms of subsidy. So those term sheets are now well-ensconced in these numbers, and reflect both getting much further down in terms of affordability and asking a lot more for the subsidy that we’re giving. 

Mayor: Okay. Who else have I missed? Yes.

Question: So roughly 7,000 of these units or almost 7,000 units are for people in the income band of $93,000 to $128,000 dollars a year. Your administration in its release refers to this as a middle-income bracket. Is somebody who makes $128,000 dollars a year really middle class? And should they be getting subsidized housing? And I have a second question just to follow up.

Mayor: Yes. We said that in May of 2014. So I appreciate your question – the answer is yes. This is what we declared publicly from the very beginning. We believe the answer’s yes. 

Question: Okay, now just to follow-up to that is – the second question is bouncing off Sally’s question – you know, there is a threat that 421-a could expire, which, you know, many people in the real estate industry say that would be the end of development. How has your administration precisely prepared for that possibility? 

Mayor: I think the death of development is an overstatement by any – by any definition. Look, we believe that the 421-a reform made all the sense in the world – that we should stop putting taxpayer money where it didn’t belong and that we should get a lot more affordability out of 421-a. There is still time for a positive result. I hope that the folks negotiating, you know, take full advantage of this time and get us to a positive result. So I don’t want to talk about hypotheticals – I will say – I think Vicki referred wryly to the history – this is not the first time that 421-a has been on the brink. I think there’s a lot of reasons why it can be saved here with the right reforms. 

Question: [inaudible] hypothetically, we’re talking about in four days it could expire – 

Mayor: Four days is a long time in this work. 

[Laughter]

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Again, we’ve been down this road before. There’s been times when it lapsed in the past, and then there was oftentimes action to resolve the issue after the fact. So there’s time on the clock. 

Yes, sir. 

Question: Mr. Mayor, congratulations on your [inaudible]. I’m [inaudible] –

Mayor: I’m sorry, we’re doing media questions only. My apology.

Question: Oh, okay.

Mayor: Okay. My apology. Media questions on topic – I want to see if we have any other on topic, going once – wait, I see a hand – yes. 

Question: Hi, mayor. [inaudible] when they applied for discount housing [inaudible]?

Mayor: Do you mean to say there’s some people who are paying so little that even – you don’t think they could afford affordable housing, is that what you’re saying?

Question: They are, like, moving from places to places because – 

Mayor: You mean, like, informal situations and temporary situations? Let me see if Vicki or Steve may want to comment as well. 

Wow, this thing is killing my foot – there we go.

Commissioner Been: It’s alright. So we do try to use our Section 8 vouchers and also the coupons that we, the city, has made available to help provide permanent housing for those folks. And we have done a tremendous amount of that – and Steve can speak more broadly to those overall numbers. But we – in those situations, where somebody is, you know, really scraping by on the kind of money that you’re talking about and moving from house to house, we try to provide permanent housing through either vouchers or, in many cases, they need supportive housing to address some of the underlying challenges that they have – and we are providing supportive housing as we go as well. 

Mayor: Steve, want to add? No? Yes? No? 

Commissioner Steven Banks, Human Resources Administration: Sure. 

Mayor: Sure, okay.

[Laughter]

Commissioner Banks: Thank you. 

I mean, clearly the situations you described didn’t happen overnight. And the numbers of the programs that the mayor has put in place are enabling us to begin to address those kinds of situations – the 22,000 men, women, and children that moved out of the shelter system, for example, over the last year or so is as a result of new housing tools, new rental assistance that the mayor’s put in place, and use of some existing tools as well. And the 15,000 units of supportive housing that’s part of the plan going forward will certainly have an impact on the kinds of problems that you describe. 

Mayor: I want to see if there’s any other questions on this topic?

Okay, I want to give just a moment to the chair of the Housing Committee in the City Council, Jumaane Williams, to add his comments before we move on to other topics. 

Welcome.

[Council Member Jumaane Williams speaks]

Mayor: Thank you. Okay. I want to talk about two topics. I’m going to raise each topic, and if there’s any questions on each one, we’ll take them in turn. And then, again, we’ll go after that to all general topics. So, something really horrendous happened on Thursday night in Brownsville, and I think, all over the city, we’re feeling the anger and the disgust at this horrible act. This poor, young woman attacked by five teenagers – her father forced say at gunpoint – this is something deeply troubling. I feel this very personally. Obviously, I am the father of a young woman, and this is the kind of thing that, you know, for me – deeply, deeply troubles me, and it’s an intolerable situation. And we’re going to fight to make sure that young women don’t go through this kind of tragedy. 

Now, the NYPD has been very aggressive in addressing this case. So, I think you all know by now, four of the five assailant are in custody. I am very confident we will find the fifth assailant. NYPD is very focused, and we take every one of these attacks very, very seriously. Those in custody right now – a 14-year-old, two 15-year-olds, and a 17-year-old. Now, there was a concern raised, and I always want these concerns to be addressed – there was a concern raised about the response time. I want to make very clear, I have looked into this personally, there was no delay in the response time. The victim’s father approached a patrol car from the 7-3 Precinct on the street, told the officers about the attack – the officers immediately responded and found the victim at the playground. There was not a 9-1-1 call, and that’s important to recognize here. If there had been a 9-1-1 call, of course that would have instantly lead to action, but the officers who the victim’s father found went to work right away. The 7-3 Precinct went father – did a canvas of the whole area – found the video footage that was so crucial to finding these assailants, and that lead to the surrender of two of them, and the arrest of two others. So, the fact that the precinct went out, worked the area until they found the footage, and the footage made it inevitable to these assailants that they were going to be arrested. That is why we have four of the five. That is why I believe we will find the fifth soon. But the public can help us, and we want the public’s help. The NYPD needs your help. The CrimeStoppers hotline – 800-577-TIPS – 800-577-T-I-P-S; or, you can go online – www.nypdcrimestoppers – that’s all one word – nypdcrimestoppers.com; or you can text to 274-637 [inaudible] is the word crimes. 274-637, and then enter “tip 577” – t-i-p 577. Three different ways to report anything you may know about the fifth assailant. We want to find this individual immediately. 

Quickly on the same topic in Spanish –

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish] 

So, we really want the public to help us find this last assailant. Any questions on this topic? Yes, sir? 

Question: Mr. Mayor, Brian Conybeare from CBS-2 – City Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo and some women’s advocates held a news conference on the steps of City Hall today. They’re asking point blank is the NYPD, and the city, for that matter, doing enough to protect women in the city?

Mayor: The NYPD every day is focused on protecting women in this city – and we are bringing online 2,000 more patrol officers in the course of this year – some of them graduated just the other day and are already serving on our streets. We’re improving the training of our officers when it comes to crime against women. There’s a lot of efforts being made, but there’s more to do – there’s no question there’s more to do. We’ve seen an uptick in the numbers of rapes – some of that is because of better reporting – and that is – it’s difficult to say this, but that is something that actually suggests progress because we need this crime reported – we do not ever want it swept under a rug. We need it reported. So some of those increases represent people coming forward from even past crimes to acknowledge what happened so we can go after those who were their assailants. But some of it is causing us tremendous pause, obviously. If we see another area where there’s a problem, we have to address it aggressively. So there’s a lot of focus at the NYPD in addressing this issue. 

Question: There’s also been rapes in some cabs – a slight increase in that. Do you support putting panic buttons in all cabs and for-hire vehicles?

Mayor: I think we should look at all the options. That’s certainly an option. I don’t have a final opinion because it hasn’t been studied by the NYPD yet and the TLC, but that’s something certainly worthy of study. 

Mara.

Question: Mr. Mayor, the broader public wasn’t informed about the rape in Brownsville until Saturday evening, which was two days after the incident took place. These were a group of five people who were still on the run at the time – or at least some of them were. One of them may have been armed. Do you think that’s appropriate? And then, just off of that and related, do you agree with Commissioner Bratton’s suggestion that women should buddy-up to help prevent sexual assault in cabs?

Mayor: Two – two different things I want to address. So, first of all, I don’t know exactly when the information was verified to the point that it could be made public. And obviously because it was a rape investigation there are real sensitivities. So I want to be careful, not knowing the exact process by which NYPD got to the decision of when it was time to divulge the information. As you know, sometimes divulging information helps catch suspects, sometimes it is unhelpful in terms of a process that’s already underway to capture the suspects. So I want to be careful about the details. But I think, as a broad rule, there are many, many times, once we have the information that we believe is in solid shape, we go to the public, we put out a picture, we put out a description and we tell people we need their help. Not only do we want people to be safe and be aware, but we want their help to find someone. So that, I think, has been shown many, many times, but I’m happy to look into what constituted that specific timeline. On the other point, look, I believe what Commissioner Bratton was saying is that people need to be careful always, especially as they’re traveling around. But it’s our obligation to protect them – obviously. We want people to be aware. We want people to be vigilant – against crime, against terror. We want people to – if they see something, say something. All those are areas where we ask the public to help protect themselves and help protect all of us. But in the end, it’s our responsibility to make sure people are safe. That’s why, again, 2,000 more cops coming, better technology so our cops can do much better investigations, things like ShotSpotter, things like the iPhones they’ll now have, so all – and more training, including training in how to deal with special victims. So it is our responsibility to get it right. We continue to make the changes we need to to do a better job all the time at protecting the women of this city. 

Yes.

Question: There’s been a lot of reporting about youth-crew violence, especially in Brownsville. Is there any connection to the youth crews or gangs in this, and is – you mentioned that all four were underage – minors – what’s the significance of that?

Mayor: I think we need to know more, that’s why the investigation is underway. Look, I don’t know yet. I have not heard that they might be gang or crew related, but I’m not ruling that out at all. We have a real gang and crew problem in this city, there’s no question about it. We’ve talked about it many times. It is, as Commissioner Bratton said at the press conference last Monday, you know, summarizing all of 2015 – one of the areas of concern is how much of the violence that we do have is coming from gangs and crews. Our overall violence numbers keep going down. Our overall numbers of shootings, etcetera have gone down, but that which we do have emirates substantially from gangs and crews. Now, at the same time, NYPD is showing more and more capacity to undermine those gangs and crews. There’s been a number of takedowns. We’re using social media very effectively to undermine gangs and crews. So, there’s some reasons why we can find real opportunities for progress in addressing the problem. But I don’t know in this specific case if that [inaudible]. What I know is, it’s disgusting. It’s young people that obviously went on the wrong path, and that’s something we work all the time to stop, so it’s very troubling. And we have to do everything we can to stop this kind of thing from happening. 

Yes?

Question: Mr. Mayor, could you talk to us about when you first heard about this horrible incident from the NYPD and, you know, exactly how that played out over time – when you were told and then what happened?

Mayor: I’d have to get back to you because I don’t remember the exact hour and all that, but I can get back to you on that. 

Question: A police official told the New York Times that the young woman and her father were drinking in the park. I was just curious whether or not you think that’s an important detail?

Mayor: I don’t know the specifics of what happened, so I want to be careful. But on first blush, I don’t see how that factors into this equation. 

Question: What is going wrong when you have 14- and 15-year-olds committing gun-point gang rapes?

Mayor: I think it says that a lot of our young people are not getting the guidance they need. They don’t have the structure in their lives they need. They don’t have the hope we want them to have. Look, I’ve seen this problem for a long time, but it makes it no less comforting that it’s a problem we’ve had for a long time. I mean, we’ve got young people who don’t believe there is anything better to do in some cases than be a member of a gang or a crew, and don’t think they have any future prospects, and haven’t been taught a better way of thinking about themselves or their responsibilities to others. This is something we have to go at with lots of different tools. It’s a very complex problem, but, you know, all of the pieces of the equation that can be changed, we’re trying to work on. We’re trying to get young people earlier and better education. Even something like affordable housing, so that families are more stable, can help parents bring up their children with more hope, with more possibility. There’s lots and lots we have to do. And sometimes we have to be very tough on these young people if they’ve taken the wrong path. So this is a big challenge, but one I believe, it’s fair to say, the city has shown its ability to make real progress on. I – I don’t accept the gang and crew problem we have. When you look at some other places in the country, thank God ours is much more contained, but it’s something we have to work on every day.

[inaudible] see if there’s anything else on this, and then I’m going to go to another topic.

Question: [inaudible] follow-up, Mr. Mayor, did you say that you thought it was a good idea for the buddy system or not the the – 

Mayor: I think it falls under the broad rubric – and I believe this is what the commissioner was saying – of people being vigilant, you know, being careful in what they do. But, again, I don’t want there to be any mistake – we are responsible for the safety of the women of this city, across the board. We have to make sure – I – two different concepts, I think, that are related, though. I want people to be 100 percent clear – we are responsible for making sure women are safe in this city. 

Okay, I’m going to go to another topic, and this one, I’m very happy to say, is some good news, and good news that does say something hopeful about many of the young people in this city. So, we have some tough situations that pull at us and trouble us, but there’s also a lot of young people on the right path, and some progress happening for those young people. So, let’s talk about that as well.

As part of our Equity and Excellence vision for our schools, we committed to reaching a high school graduation rate of 80 percent over the next 10 years. New York City has never come near an 80 percent graduation rate, but we believe that’s what’s necessary for a great world city. Today, we have further evidence that we are on our way. For the first time ever, the four-year graduation rate for New York City high schools has risen to over 70 percent, and that is good news for this city. Over 70 percent for the first time ever – you can clap for that, people. 

[Applause]

What’s going on back here? 

For the 2014-2015 school year, graduation rates rose to 70.5 percent – that is a two point gain over the previous year. I’m going to show you a graphical representation. And this is actually a good-news story, and I want to give some credit where credit is due. The Bloomberg administration also gets a lot of credit. This is where the Bloomberg administration began, and they certainly made steady progress. We’re proud to have picked that up and deepened that progress, and our new approach has us well on the way to the goal of 80 percent graduation rate over the next 10 years.

Here’s another good-news story – again, this is about 15 years ago – a 22 percent dropout rate. That meant kids that – within the four years that were supposed to be their high school years – left and never came back. That number now – 9 percent. Now, that’s still 9 percent too many, but, boy, what a difference that makes.

[Applause]

There’s been real concern, and fair concern about disparities in education, and there still are some real disparities to overcome, but when it comes to the progress that has been made, it has been across the board in all demographic communities, and we’ve seen the highest gains among our Latino, Asian, and black students. So, that’s something good for the city as well. 

Since we took office, over the last two years – a 4.4 percent increase [inaudible] in the graduation rate. Again, it’s numbers – we have to measure ourselves by numbers, but every one of those numbers represents another child who graduated – is on a better path – a family that succeeded in shepherding that child to graduation. It’s real progress. And remember, also, in this city, and this state, we have the highest, the most rigorous standards in the entire nation. So, here, graduating means more than it does in many other places because we hold ourselves to a very high academic standard. 

The reduction in the dropout rate – very important. That means in addition to the 70.5 percent of the kids that we graduate on time, 21 percent of the kids who don’t – of our overall kids don’t graduate on time, but they do graduate. It might take them five years, it might take them six years – but they do graduate. That last number – that nine percent – we’re going to work on relentlessly to pull them back, the get those kids back into the educational system and show them a pathway to graduation. So, much more to do, but a lot of what he have started to put in place is working. We saw an increase in test scores. We’ve seen an increase in graduation rates. And we’re really going to deepen the Equity and Excellence plan, that’s including computer science for all, that’s including AP classes in every high school, algebra for all in middle school, and all of our kids at the second grade level – reading on grade level over the next ten years. Those are building blocks of a bigger plan, and we’re happy to see real progress.

Quickly in Spanish –

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]

Any questions on the graduation rate that we announced today? I want to see if there’s anything there – yes, sir?

Question: In spite of the improvements, the numbers among Latinos remain the lowest. I was wondering, how do you explain this? And also, do you have any ideas [inaudible] 

Mayor: That – you’re right, the Latino graduation rate – at 64 percent. We have more to do for sure. Now, that rate has also seen a steady increase over the years I’ve mentioned, and a real important from last year to this year. So, it shows some of the efforts underway are working right now but I think all of the pieces that we have put in place – I certainly, believe that if we’re talking about a long-term, things like full-day pre-k for all are going to make a huge difference. If we’re talking about some of the things I talked about a moment ago, we’re going to put in place over these very next years – the algebra programs, the computer science programs, what we’re doing in renewal schools – are going to reach a lot of our Latino students and improve their situation. The increased dual-language programs, I think, are going to help a lot of Latino students, including very recent immigrants – and remember, this is a city where new people are coming all the time and some kids come during high school from all over the world and have to enter high school, continue their education while learning English simultaneously. We’re trying to reach a lot of those kids with better English-language learner programs. So, I’m very hopeful that these pieces are starting to add and they’re going to reach more and more of our Latino students as well.

Any other questions on this before we go to general topics? Going once, going twice – it is a good news story – going once, going twice, okay general topics.

Yes, sir?

Question: There has been some talk about Mike Bloomberg possibly running for president. Do you think Mike Bloomberg should run for president? How do you feel about that?

Mayor: I think Hillary Rodham Clinton should be president.

[Laughter]

I am very proud to support Secretary Clinton. I think she has a very powerful vision for the future of this country and specifically, for addressing some of the economic challenges that have plagued us for a quarter-century or more – and I’m proud to support her. I respect Mayor Bloomberg, obviously, I had some areas where I agree with him a lot, some areas where I disagreed with him a lot but many, many achievements he deserves real praise for but I think Hillary Clinton can be and should be our next President.

Question: Mr. Mayor, will you be marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade?

Mayor: Well, we have more work to do on that front, because we’re still waiting for some clarity about how the parade will be handled, but I’m very encouraged. I’m hearing positive ideas from the new parade leadership, who came in in the last year. I think the choice of Senator Mitchell as grand marshal is a very positive choice, one of the great American leaders of the last few generations and someone who is well known for being an agent of inclusion and tolerance and understanding, and a great peacekeeper in terms of all the work he did after the Senate. So I’m encouraged, but there’s still some more work to be done to understand exactly what the approach will be. I’m hopeful we can do some good work with the parade-organizing committee. 

Question: Do you have any condition or any – 

Mayor: Again, that’s an ongoing conversation with the parade organizers, but, again, I’m hopeful. 

Jen.

Question: Today, there was some rally in front of City Hall with Hakeem Jeffries and Comptroller Stringer, where they want this city to use your purchasing power to sort of pressure gun makers to make safer weapons. Do you have a position on this? Is this something you would support?

Mayor: I haven’t seen the specific proposal but the broad concept of using our purchasing power, I agree with, meaning, I’ve called for divestment by all public pension funds in gun manufactures who sell assault weapons and military grade weapons on the open market. We’re going to be working with leaders around the country on that but I certainly think thinking about our purchasing power as another tool makes sense. I have to see exactly what they’re proposing but I think it’s the right vein to be looking at.

Courtney.

Question: So, tonight you’ll be speaking to NYCHA residents – talking to them about potentially building new housing on their development property. How does this plan fit into your overall affordable housing plan and what kind of – what’s your expectation? There’s been a lot of anger from NYCHA residents, they are not necessarily supportive of this.

Mayor: I think part of the anger is because there’s real fear that goes back many years about any hint of a potential privatization. I’m going to make very clear to the residents tonight, that I oppose privatization of NYCHA properties. It will not happen on my watch. And I want to preserve NYCHA for the long-term. There’s 400,000-plus people in our housing authority. This is the bedrock of affordable housing in this city and it has to be protected. So, I’m going to make that clear. I’m going to make clear that unlike past plans, this plan comes with 50 percent of the units will be affordable, the market-rate units are going to provide resources to help fix the development surrounding them which is desperately needed. We all know that most of our developments have millions and millions of dollars of repair needs. So, this is going to be how we direct a lot of resources to that specific development and help with NYCHA’s overall financial problem which is severe. I want to be very clear, NYCHA is in severe, dangerous financial condition and we have to fix that. So, I think when people hear there’s a real commitment against privatization, a real belief in helping the specific development with real capital repairs, and specific repairs we very much want to hire residents from the development on any construction that is done and any of the building service thereafter. This is a very different kind of plan. I think people will see that.

Yes?

Question: Mr. Mayor the New York Times [inaudible] about a series of home raids that the – immigration department ramping up home raids especially for –

Mayor: You mean ICE?

Question: Yes, from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Is the city working with the feds on this and – or are – is the city out to protect immigrants?

Mayor: I’ve said before, I want to emphasize it, I’m not comfortable with these raids. I am very worried about people who were refugees fleeing violence in places like El Salvador – being caught up in these raids. I’m very worried about families being torn apart. We see no evidence of any activity in New York City of this nature, meaning no raids in the city. I certainly don’t think there should be raids in the city. I think the whole approach should be reconsidered and our focus right now should be on comprehensive immigration reform.

Question: There had been a rumor about an ICE raid at a high school in Harlem –

Mayor: No raids in the city. I’ve checked on that recently. And there’s been no raids in the city, certainly, that we’ve had reported to us.

Question: The NYPD issued departmental charges to a sergeant who was present during Eric Garner’s death. I was wondering if you see that as some measure of justice and whether or not you think there will be more departmental charges.

Mayor: Again, there’s a really clear process here and I don’t offer opinions on due process. Due process is what it is. The department has come to the conclusion those charges were warranted. Meanwhile, we all know the department – the U. S. Department of Justice has to make decisions in the other element of this and that – when that is all adjudicated, then the department will make its own decisions to Officer Pantaleo. So, that’s how the due process works. I have absolute faith that is being handled appropriately by both the Justice Department and the NYPD.

Question: Mr. Mayor, the Powerball has gone to $1.3 billion.

Mayor: I have [inaudible] noticed. If I don’t show up for the next presser, it means, miraculously, I got the winner ticket.

Question: Two dollars and a dream, I mean, would you self-finance the campaign, would you –

Mayor: I’ve already – sadly, Rich, I already committed it to the coffers of New York City. I don’t know what I was thinking – that was when the number was lower but it was on record. So, if I were to buy a ticket, I would happily donate the proceeds to New York City.

Question: Happily?

Mayor: Well –

[Laughter]

Happily is a strong word. I would dutifully.

Sally.

Question: I just wanted to go back to 421-a for a second and follow-up on Will’s question. I know that it has been threatened in the past but I don’t think its future has ever been dependent on this kind of negotiation between two private parties. And I’m wondering as we’re getting close, you know to the deadline, what you think about the arrangement that’s been set up –

Mayor: I think it’s evident we put forward a plan that we believed was inherently fair. It had worked through with housing advocates, the city government, the real estate industry, and I thought it was one of the better examples of everyone being brought around a table and getting to a big set of solutions that reform the program, that stop wasting tax payers money on luxury housing, that got us a lot more affordable housing for the money we were investing. I think, you know, there was – there was concern that maybe the Assembly and the Senate wouldn’t agree. The Assembly and Senate did agree and they accepted it almost entirely as it was. So, I think it was sound from the beginning but here we are – legislative process is a strange and miraculous thing. So, there’s still time for it to resolved to all those doing negotiation, they should pay very close attention to the fact that so many people in this city want to see this succeed so we can get on with the work of creating affordable housing.

Let me just offer a personal cultural comment, if I will, if I may. Two things – one, obviously, for a lot of us, this is a sad day, with the loss of David Bowie, who was a big presence in a lot of our lives. Many, many wonderful songs, but "Young Americans" is the one I would refer you all to. Do you remember your President Nixon? A line that rang through my ears for many, many years, but a guy who did a lot of good in the world. 

And my other cultural reference – so, I mentioned to you all the movie “Spotlight.” I have another one to refer you all to. If you have not seen the “Big Short” it is absolutely positively necessary to see that movie. It, in its own way, illustrates a lot of things that should have been talked about more at the time, and still need to be talked about in this country – and it makes your blood boil. So, I would urge everyone to do that.

Question: Did you see it this weekend?

Mayor: I saw it last night with Chirlane and Dante – and all of our blood was boiling.

Thank you, everyone.

pressoffice@cityhall.nyc.gov

(212) 788-2958