Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Remarks at NYSAFAH Housing for All Conference

May 11, 2016

Video available at: https://youtu.be/H1SZ7MyijpQ


Mayor de Blasio: Good Morning Housers.

It is so good to be with you. I appreciate so deeply the work you do, and I want you to know we consider NYSAFAH crucial allies in this work that is absolutely about keeping New York City – New York City. About keeping everything we love about this city, about the values of this placed alive for future generations. Now, I must take this occasion to note – some people apparently don’t like New York values. I don’t know if you’ve read about that. You’ll notice that those people are no longer on the stage. They’ve left now, but you know it was a worthy question. What are New York values? And I think NYSAFAH epitomizes those values. Those values are of a city and a state that is inclusive, that is a place where everyone is valued. Doesn’t matter if you’ve been here for generations, or you’ve just gotten here – where working people are given every opportunity to succeed. Where families have the ability to put food on the table to live in a good and a decent place they can afford – those are New York values. We believe in a City for everyone, and what you have all done – every single person in this room has kept those values alive in everyday people’s lives. You have helped people to achieve the American Dream and to see what’s possible in their futures because you address the biggest challenge they face, which is finding housing they can afford. So I want to thank everyone at NYSAFAH. I want to give a special thank you to Jolie Milstein for her outstanding leadership. Let’s give her a big round of applause.

[Applause]

And I want to talk about my team because I could not be more proud of them. I appreciate the kind words of Alicia Glen, but I have to tell you about Alicia now. When I first talked to her – now some of you may remember the original show Mission Impossible where the agent was given a tape recorder, and there was a mission and then it self-destructed.  And the mission was of course in all cases seemingly extraordinarily difficult, and no one had ever done it before etc. etc. Well I remember my first conversations with Alicia about what we wanted to try to do here in New York City. And I said to her I am going to ask you to do something that has never been done. I am going to ask you to pull together every conceivable force in this city in common cause and do something bigger and faster than any city has ever done in this country. I said, we’ve come to the conclusion that we could reach a half million people with our affordable housing plan and a lot of people doubted it. A lot of good people doubted it. A lot of people who wanted to see it happen said it’s a beautiful, beautiful vision it’s just not possible. I said Alicia, I am not going to tell you it will be easy, but I am going to tell you we have to find a way.

Now it is a credit to her because as I like to say you know she wakes up in the morning and goes to bed at night trying to figure out how to achieve this mission among many others on her plate. And a lesser woman would have said that’s a good moment to say, you know I have another job I got to do, and it’s not time in life for this particular job. But what I love about Alicia Glen is that she saw that challenge and she relished it. And she believed that if we all truly put our hearts and souls into it. If we were all creative, if we all were willing to break down some boundaries and put the resources in and not make excuses and cut through the bureaucracy that we could do something that has never been done before. And, she and this wonderful team we work with are pulling it off every day so I need you to give a rousing round of applause to Alicia Glen for all she does.

[Applause]

And then we put together this all-star team of colleagues to take on each and every piece of this equation and we asked them too to work together in a way that everyone in this room knows. Government agencies have not always worked together. They have not always worked so well with you. And we asked them to try a form of collaboration that was really different and took a lot more strategic thinking, a lot more willingness to be creative and flexible. And low and behold they did it. And I want to thank each and every one of them. I want to thank of course our HPD coordinator Vicki Been who has done an outstanding job. Give her a round of applause please.

[Applause]

The coordination and the work together between HPD and City Planning when we passed MIH and ZQA was it to many people unprecedented to see these two agencies that for too long thought they had different missions actually conceive their work as a common mission. And one of the great reasons for that was that we have a great executive director at the City Planning Commission Purnima Kapur, thank you.

[Applause]

Now I think for many of you, you appreciate all these great leaders, but you have a special appreciation for the man who actually makes the resources flow to achieve so many of these projects. He has been creative and dogged and persistent, and he’s one of the reasons why we have the numbers we have. I want to thank the president of HDC, Gary Rodney.

[Applause]

And finally you know a guy who doesn’t – not because of him himself but his title, this title usually doesn’t illicit a lot of applause – but slowly but surely at the Buildings Department things are changing. Now, no one in this room has to tell me that more has to change at the Buildings Department. I long ago way back at my time at the City Council came to that conclusion, and we are moving the equation there rapidly for new inspectors and the ability to move projects a lot more quickly. It is tough work changing a culture that needs to be changed profoundly but Rick Chandler is doing that work. Our Buildings Commissioner, let’s thank him.

[Applause]

So I had the opportunity to come to you in 2014. It was nine days after we reached our Housing New York plan. Now everyone in this room knows that euphoria you feel when you finally put out a vision and a plan. A lot of hard work went into it. It was a real non-stop effort in the first months of the administration – one of the things we put the most time and energy into. But we all also know that feeling that sometimes challenging feeling we get when we’ve put out a strong vision, very intense goals, and then that moment of realization comes – for those of you who remember the famous 1972 movie with Robert Redford, The Candidate. Where the final scene after he’s elected he looks at his campaign manager and says – what do we do now? Well we had a little bit of that feeling after we announced Housing New York because we realized we actually had to achieve this thing – this extraordinarily complicated and very, very ambitious plan. But we knew that everyone in this room would be real partners and allies in that effort.

And we predicated on the notion that we had to go literally the farthest we could go. And this is an interesting way about thinking about public policy. No excuses, no boundaries, no over-referencing of the past or the assumptions about what could or couldn’t be done – asking a simple question – how far can we go? What is the outer limit of our possibility? How far can we go? What is the outer limit of our possibility, if we fire on all cylinders? We came to the conclusion it was reaching half-a-million people over ten years. So, I want you to know, as I said, this is about something so essential. This is about fighting for the soul of New York City, and when it comes to preserving all this place is about, nothing is more important than affordable housing. So, we said when you’re thinking in those terms – this is about everything we believe in, everything we are historically, everything we were meant to be – we didn’t have a choice of half measures, we had to go to the farthest extent possible. What’s amazing is the numbers that have been put up already. Again, I hope everyone feels a share in these victories because everyone here has participated so intensely. As of March 31 of this year, we have financed 43,500 affordable apartments in all five boroughs – 43,500 apartments. Includes nearly –

[Applause]

You can clap for that.

[Applause]

21,000 of those achieved in 2015 alone. So, that made 2015 the year in which the most apartments were built or preserved in any single year since Mayor Koch was rebuilding the South Bronx. That was an extraordinary time in our history, and a time that I think many of us thought could never be matched, but because of your help we’re actually achieving things on a level that can be compared to those extraordinary times.

Now, within the 21,000 units I mentioned, 7,179 are new construction sites – excuse me, new construction starts, the most since year since HPD was founded in 1978. So, we set a record with your help, and it says so much about the approach we’re taking because we have set the bar high and then we keep getting higher and then we clear the bar because we have the alliance and the partnership with you that allow us to do it.

Now, that was certainly true when we were fighting for MIH and ZQA. You will remember that at the beginning of that discussion in the City things did not look promising. We were talking about big, big changes. We were talking about thinking about our City in a whole new way –  opening up space for the creation of affordable housing that had not been available to us before, focusing on senior affordable housing, requiring that developers create affordable housing as a condition of development wherever we rezoned. This was a whole new way of thinking. And you’re never surprised, when you put a whole new way of thinking on the table, that there’s immediate resistance. It’s normal, it’s human. And I say – with absolute respect to all our brothers and sisters on community boards – I’m never 100 percent surprised when the community board disagrees with something emanating from City Hall. So, the early going was tough. But we rallied. We rallied with the help of NYSFAH. We rallied with the help of community leaders and clergy and labor unions and so many others who believed these were the changes our city need. So many people came together – AARP did amazing work. It was an example of a really broad coalition for change. And we knew we were on the right side, and we knew we could win the day, and we preserved together.

The day that that vote was won – and it was won by a very healthy margin, I’d like to remind you – at that moment we achieved the most progressive affordable housing plan of any big city in this country. On that day we showed that things could really be done differently, and that we could marshal all our forces in the interest of working people and low-income New Yorkers and everyday New Yorkers who are just struggling to make ends meet – that we could actually change our policies profoundly and be on their side. That’s what that vote showed. And all of you played a profound role in garnering the support that got us there.

So, I want you to know that now that we have the tools we can talk about what we’re going to achieve for everyday New Yorkers. And I think you know this from your work, but I want you to visualize the meaning of what you’re doing. We all deal in statistics – statistics are important. Measures and metrics are important, they tell us something. But I want you to think about the people whose lives you’re changing. I’ll tell you an easy vignette – a quick vignette. I was once challenged when I was a city councilmember – I fought very hard to add ten more units of affordable housing in a particular development in my district. And I remember being at – I think it was a community board meeting – and someone said why should we care about ten more units of affordable housing. And I said – think about ten families whose lives will be changed forever – literally – because they got one of those affordable apartments. Think about a family that can finally put food on the table, pay for medicines, and pay the rent all at once – maybe even start to save a little money for their child’s education. That’s what this is about. Every single additional affordable apartment changes the trajectory of a family’s life. And when you go about your daily business today – if you stop at the coffee cart, the person in line next to you might be the person that one day gets some of the affordable housing that you create, when you go on the subway, the person who – the straphanger next to you might be the person whose life is changed because they got affordable housing – and not just for them, for their entire family. That is why we do this work.

And we know that the people of this city want to see this change. They understand that the City is changing for bigger reasons. They understand the economy is changing, technology is changing, global realities have made this place more appealing than ever. They get that, but they also think they have some rights in the equation. I’ve never known New Yorkers to fear change in the broad sense. It’s too dynamic a place for that, but they do believe that they matter in the context of change. They do believe that fairness is something that needs to be guaranteed in the context of change. That’s where we all come in – creating a reality that takes the good elements of change and the good resources and opportunities that it provides and marshals them to create fairness and inclusion. That is our mission.

And I have to tell you, when you think about the impact – we talk a lot about the new housing we will build together, we talk a lot about what it means or people to see a vacate lot turn into a beautiful affordable development, but we also have to focus on the 300,000 or so New Yorkers who will be able to stay in their apartments and will have an affordable apartment for the long term because of our preservation efforts. Imagine again – put it in very human terms – that that individual, that family feeling a great deal of insecurity and not sure at all what life will bring them, worried that they won’t be able to stay in the neighborhood they love – the neighborhood they contributed so much to, the neighborhood they defended in the bad old days, in the tough times. Every time we preserve an apartment, we’re taking a situation that felt unsupportable and insecure, and we make it strong and good and worthy of that family. That’s the work we do together. And that was true for folks at the Riverton and in Harlem. It was true of folks in Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village. It’s true for so many people who feel the impact of their home being preserved and protected for the long term.

Now I want to put this in the most human terms by giving you a real life example. Some of you may have been at my State of the City remarks, and we played a video before it, which really moved me because it portrayed the work we were doing through the lives of everyday New Yorkers. It showed how the changes we’re making – the policies we’re promulgating – what they meant for people at the grass roots. And there was one woman in particular, I met her months ago at an announcement we did in Brooklyn. Her name is Luce Santiago. Very dynamic woman, a model New Yorker in so many ways – someone who dares deeply about her community and her family, worked very very hard, started her own business, but was struggling to stay in the borough she loved in the city she loved. And when I met her it was inspirational. It reminded very sharply of why we do this work. We asked her to appear in our video, and I thought her comments were amongst the sharpest and clearest I had ever heard on why affordable housing matters in a changing city. I just want to take a moment to introduce you – via video – to Luce Santiago. Let’s see if our technology is working here.

[Video plays]

Mayor: There you go. That is an example of why we do this work, isn’t it?

[Applause]

Mayor: I love it when she says ‘this is my Brooklyn, too’, which is such a beautiful summation of what it means for people who have fought the fight for their city for years and years, and they deserve the opportunity to stay here and reap the rewards of our great future. That’s the work everyone in this room does. I also love when she talks about the window in the bathroom – the most heartfelt of all of her comments.

[Laughter]

Mayor: So what have we done together? We have preserved already 29,363 affordable apartments – amazing number.

[Applause]

Mayor: So, I have given you the accolades you deserve. I have told you what important partners you are to us. I’ve reviewed the extraordinary success of the last two years. And I think established the fact that we are well on our way to fulfilling this plan and this vision together.

There’s one last piece of the equation I want to talk about. This involves Albany, New York. We need support in the state capital. We need help. We need partnership to achieve a plan that speaks to the number one concern of New Yorkers. It’s true all over the state by the way. People are centrally concerned about whether they can afford to live in their community, but here in the city it’s the top of the charts by far of public concern. It’s the thing that people worry about the most. It’s the thing they want solved the most. And right now, in the coming weeks in Albany, we have a chance to get something right.

When it comes to the 421-a program – I’ve said many times the way it was configured in past years didn’t make sense anymore. It wasn’t fair to the taxpayers. It wasn’t helping us create all the affordable housing we needed. It focused too much on luxury buildings. Well, everyone worked hard together –  including a lot of people in this room – to come up with a new vision, and a better vision, a more thoughtful, a more effective version of 421-a – a reformed version for today’s reality. We’ve got 5 or 6 weeks left in the Albany legislative session. And it’s a chance for Albany to get it right now. It’s a chance for Albany to help us all do this work. To do something that is fair to the taxpayers but addresses the number one issue on the minds of New Yorkers, which is affordable housing. We all have to use all the impact we have in Albany. We have to reach our legislators. We have to let them know how important it is, and we have to put it in human terms as we saw with Luce Santiago. There are a lot more people like Luce we can help if we get a reformed version of 421-a to help us achieve these goals.

Now, I am a believer that when something makes this much sense it actually can get done – even in Albany, New York. I’m a believer that the voice of the people matters most, and the people are demanding of all of us that we find a way to move forward and do the maximum to achieve affordable housing. I’m asking for your help in these next weeks to get this job done. I believe together we can do that. I believe together we can help everyone in Albany understand this is about a senior citizen struggling to hang on, this is about a family trying to finally make it, this is about everything we stand for. We have a chance to get it right now. And I want you to consider that against the backdrop of the work you did because you are the agents of change, you – right now – are the authors of history because you are saving this city as a place for everyday people. If not for the work you’re doing, it would be slipping away, but we are turning the tide. We believe in a city for everyone and together we will achieve that.

Thank you, God bless you all for the work you do.

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