December 11, 2014
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you. Monsignor Sakano, you are very kind in that titling. But I will say in the presence of the cardinal — I grew up watching the famous Hebrew National ad that's "they answer to a higher authority" – so, I think you outrank me on this one. So, you’re the real Eminence.
It is such a pleasure to be here for this groundbreaking – Artsbridge Senior Housing Development – this is going to be an extraordinary addition to this community. And it’s really important to take stock of how much has changed in this community over decades. Now, Monsignor Sakano knows what he talks about because, starting in the 1970s and into 1980s, as he described — a lot of us remember vividly — a lot of us spent time in communities here in the Bronx, and other parts of the city, that had really been devastated. And we remember the physical reality — how troubled neighborhoods had become, how physically obvious it was. And it took champions like Monsignor Sakano believing that there could be a comeback. And it took a lot of leaders who supported that. And mostly, it took community residents who hung on, who believed that they could make their communities strong. That is a story that still is not told enough in this city — about neighbors who decided to stand and fight and bring their neighborhoods back. And what you’re seeing today is, really, another stage in the progress that started with people in the 70s and 80s deciding to reclaim their neighborhoods. And a lot of the credit around here goes to a man who saw the possibility and fought for it — Monsignor Sakano. Let’s thank him.
We’re going to hear from His Eminence, the cardinal, later on. He’ll have some things to say about the tremendous partnership that we forge on a host on issues, and affordable housing is going to be one of the central goals we work on together. I’m also thrilled that Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, the head of Catholic Charities, is here with us, who has a strong partner for New York City in so many of the common goals we have, in terms of providing social services, and help to people in need. And so, I want to thank you, Monsignor. I want to thank the members — yes, give him a round of applause too.
I want to thank the members of my administration that have been involved in helping to move this development along and so many other important works. Our Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been, and our Commissioner for the Aging Donna Corrado — give them a round of applause.
And I’ll be talking about some of our other colleagues in government who will be speaking — I’ll talk about them when they come up. But I want you to prepare your biggest, loudest applause for the children who performed today from Highbridge Voices. Let’s thank them.
They really inspire us. I spoke with a number of the children. They are self-assured young people. This is a good example of what programs like Highbridge Voices provide to young people. They all had something to say and they said it very articulately. So everyone involved with Highbridge Voices, you’re doing a great job.
So from the beginning of this administration, we’ve made clear that we wanted to achieve something on affordable housing that had never been seen before. We recognized the affordable housing crisis in the city had reached an entirely new and higher level. And it had to be responded to very boldly. So the program we put forward – in fact, the day I announced it, I was just a short way from here across the Grand Concourse – we announced a plan to create 200,000 units of affordable housing over ten years, enough to house over half a million New Yorkers. We said at the time that that number of units, housing that many people, in such a short time frame has never been attempted by any city or state in the history of this country – but it’s necessary. It’s necessary because so many New Yorkers are clinging to the housing they have, trying to afford it. So many people are hoping and praying they can stay in the neighborhood they love, around their friends and families – the neighborhoods that they helped to make great. So we knew that we had to do something bolder than ever before. And we are making good on that promise and today is evidence of it. I'm proud to say, that so far this year, over 10,800 units have been financed – affordable units, 10,800 so far.
And it is a busy season at the end of the year and we are on track to finance over 16,000 affordable units by December 31st.
You see evidence here – you can see evidence with the new affordability project at the Domino site in Brooklyn and Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and many others around the city. You can see the city’s first ever application of mandatory affordable housing requirements at the Astoria Cove project in Queens. This is real progress. These are things that are happening in real time right now that are starting the engine that is going to produce a huge amount of affordable housing for the people of this city.
Now today, this Artsbridge project is so inspiring. It’s a great example of a public-private partnership – a group of stakeholders who came together in common cause. New York City HPD providing $1.3 million dollars in federal home funds, another $3 million – I want to thank Borough President Diaz for his focus, for his commitment.
The City Council has been supportive in approving a four-year tax exemption, and the building's on city-owned land, so this is – a host of different tools were used to create this important development. There will be units – 61 units – all for lower-income individuals, all for seniors. Seniors will pay no more than 30 percent of their income in rent, and that's a huge deal for our seniors.
And we know our city's changing. Our senior population is growing. For so many of us, we yearn to make sure that those who gave us life, and those who nurtured us enjoy their senior years – have stability, have the ability to make ends meet. This is what we have to do. Projects like this are what make sure that our seniors get to be near their family, near their loved ones, near their friends, in neighborhoods they love – that they get to live the right way. So, this is putting into action the values that we have, and we have to do a lot more of this given the growth of our senior population. You'll see a lot of our affordable housing plan focused on helping seniors.
Now, I want to give you an example of a senior who we see as exemplary, because he has fought for people in need. Despite whatever's been thrown at him, he keeps fighting, and it's because of people like Gregory Bell Sr. that a development like this today is happening.
A lot of you know Gregory. He is remarkable. He is a longtime community activist. He fought in Vietnam, he came back from Vietnam, and became homeless and lost his eyesight – now legally blind. But throughout all of the challenges – never gave up, had the strength and resiliency that we, New Yorkers, pride especially. And he didn't only not give up on his own life, he didn't give up on everyone else, on the community. He started his own non-profit called Insight for New Housing, and he's focused on helping people like him – homeless vets, people with disabilities. He believed that a lot of people who were being left out could be reached, and through his efforts, so much was done. He now lives in Motthaven with his 10-year-old great-grandson. And Gregory is an example of the kind of people we want to see get fairness, and get opportunity, and get housing they deserve – but he's also an example of someone who fought through everything to help others. Let's thank Gregory for all he has done.
So I say, this is not about buildings – this is about people, this is about families, this is about giving people a decent life. We have found such partnership with the Archdiocese in this work, because we share a moral commitment to helping people in need. And this commitment has been a really extraordinary – in the sense that it's played out in so many ways – the relationship between the Archdiocese and the city government is helping us do more on affordable housing; it's helping us do more to serve our immigrants – be they documented or not – it's helping us to do more to serve children through our pre-k program; it's helping us to bring police and community together. The cardinal and I talk a lot, and we have an agenda filled with commonality, and a desire to make an impact, and an urgency to make an impact. And I just want to thank His Eminence for that partnership. It's meant a lot to the people of New York City. Thank you so much.
Before I call you up, since you're probably going to give your remarks in Italian – from your time in Rome – I will do a little Spanish first. Okay? Just to be cosmopolitan.
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]
[Laughter] Yeah. Archediocese? – Judges? Okay – de Nueva York. [Laughs] I was like, the judges have spoken. That felt like gymnastics. That was [laughs].
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]
With that, in whatever language he chooses to speak – he is a great leader and a great partner. It is my honor to introduce His Eminence, Cardinal Dolan.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan: Your honor, thank you, and thanks to all of you. It’s an honor and a joy to be with you. Mayor, you mentioned that this partnership – you mentioned it so graciously, and it’s one that we savor, it’s one that we relish, it’s one that we very much look forward to – but you would know that it's a long partnership, and you would know that the church’s passionate commitment to housing goes way, way back. All right? It didn’t start today, and it’s not about to finish today. And you know how far back it goes? Well, let me tell you. Two weeks from today, all over the world, we’re going to be reading from the second chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, and it’s going to be the Christmas story, because two weeks from today is Christmas, right? And that Christmas story is filled with a lot of joy and peace and hope, but there’s one very somber, sad line in that Christmas story. Do you remember when Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem and they were looking for housing? They were looking for a place where their baby would be born, and there was no housing. There was no place for the son of God to be born. Now, that, I reckon, is why Jesus was so sensitive about the homeless. That, I know, is why his church has been passionate about the homeless and about providing housing from way back. So it’s no surprise that a priest – Monsignor Sakano – would’ve been the dream and the creativity behind this. It’s no surprise that today there’d be people like Bishop Jenik, the vicar here in the Bronx, who has such a track record of housing; or Monsignor Sullivan, with Catholic Charities; or Scott LaRue with ArchCare, our health care apostolate. It’s no surprise at all that we’d be here, because we’ve got to be here, because our boss – who was born two – whose birthday we’re getting ready to celebrate – was born homeless, and he told us that the salvation of our soul was going to depend on how we took care of those without homes. So, mayor, all I can say is thank you for allowing us to be partners in what we consider not only a noble endeavor, but a sacred endeavor. Thank you – a blessed Christmas, everybody.
Mayor: The cardinal takes the long view of the situation. That was a big picture framing there, and very powerful. Thank you, cardinal. That was touching, and powerful, and reminds us the depth of your commitment, and the church's commitment, and why this partnership will also be eternal, because we have a lot of work to do.
Again, this project today is happening in large measure because the borough president of this borough is committed to it. He made it a priority, he put a lot of heart and soul into it – he also put some American cash dollars into it, and we appreciate that deeply – Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
Mayor: Okay, we will take questions from the media on topic, followed by questions off topic – let us begin on topic.
Question: Mr. Mayor, on affordable housing, and pre-k [inaudible] collaborated with the Archdiocese. Can you talk about [inaudible] opportunity to collaborate with the Catholic church, and also talk a little bit about your relationship with Cardinal Dolan [inaudible]?
Mayor: He's a lot of fun to hang around with. [Laughs] No, the cardinal and I – first of all, we do have a real personal rapport, and a shared sense of mission. And I have to say, we found it very comfortable and easy to work together. And I think we – in part, because of sharing some of the same values about what matters. The cardinal just said something powerful about the history of the church’s understanding of homelessness. I thought that was a very evocative and powerful point – that the church understands human suffering, and has – for hundreds and hundreds of years – addressed it in a variety of ways. So, look at the issues we’ve worked on lately. You know, we just gathered together on Sunday evening with mayors from around the country, working to support our immigrants and particularly to reach out to our undocumented immigrants. This is something I believe in, fundamentally – as a matter of philosophy, as a matter of basic fairness – it’s our obligation to do. The cardinal believes it personally and the church believes in it as part of their mission to reach everyone, to treat everyone with an equal sense of the value of their humanity. So I think there’s been a real philosophical alignment on immigration, on affordable housing, on pre-k, as something foundational to building children’s futures and to helping a lot of families that need that opportunity, that would have to pay precious resources to get an opportunity like pre-k. And we had the great virtue of the archdiocese having quality programs that we could support and add more seats to in terms of pre-k. And on police-community relations, where the cardinal has really stepped up and gathered other senior clergy together on an ongoing basis since the first meeting that Commissioner Bratton and I had with him and the other leaders – that cardinal has kept that building, which I think is also part of the church’s historic mission as peacemakers. And that’s true of many faiths. And the faith leaders have been outstanding stepping forward in recent months, and helping people to work together towards the day when police and community come together more fundamentally. So I think it’s been very natural, organic, and certainly – if I may editorialize – helped along by the fact that he’s just a great guy to spend time with. And we have a lot of fun together, and we have, you know, a real ability to agree very readily. On topic? On topic, on topic – yes?
Mayor: I’m sorry, explain?
Mayor: Vicki Been is doing the right thing and stepping to the stage. And I ask, do you want some height? No height?
Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been: So we – I’m sorry – we – the number that the mayor cited was starting on January 1, when the mayor took office – of this year, of 2014. And we are more than on target. We are doing great towards what we projected for calendar year 2014, which was more than 15,000 units.
Commissioner Been: No with – they’re closed. The closing means that the financing, the transfer of land, et cetera — the construction starts after closing. So those are ones that closed since January 1, 2014.
Mayor: I just want to add – why don’t you stay just in case there’s others – add another shape to this. We talked about – when Vicki came in as commissioner and Alicia Glen as deputy mayor – we talked about what the standard should be, and I think the simplest way to say this is there has to be value added. Some things were moving previously that were, you know, absolutely done – and that’s fine – but where this administration added value and had to complete something that was started, or start something new, put together the financing, put together the coalition, or whatever other – you know, work through the rules and regulations, et cetera. That’s what we count towards our goal.
Mayor: Okay – on topic? Going once, going twice – Your Eminence, it’s usually when I say going twice that – what inevitably has happened is when I say, okay, next, then someone raises their hand. So, I’m trying to see if I can elicit it while it’s still ongoing – ah! See?
Mayor: Cardinal and monsignor — you might want to jump in.
Cardinal Dolan: No, I can’t.
But there are people here that can. Where’s Monsignor Sullivan? Where’s Monsignor Sakano? And Bishop Jenik? Come up here if you’ve got something to add.
Monsignor Donald Sakano: They have money in their pockets. You know, I don't. No. Actually the resources that we bring to bear, you know, to date has mainly been the resources that, you know, cost money – our manpower and our services. This is a collaboration that we’re celebrating today. But I think that there will be a new venture that we’re looking forward to, that others can speak to as well. We’re going to bring more resources to bear because this is a critical factor on our society — is affordable housing and everything that it means. You know, so, we started off years ago with a small loan program. It was a million dollars that Cardinal Cooke – a long time ago – put together. But we really realized that the most important thing that we could bring is the dedication of people that greets the resources that comes from the public sector.
Monsignor Kevin Sullivan: One of the concrete things the church brings is some land and property. And around the city, there is not a lot of that to build stuff. So, we already are working on a piece of property only a couple of miles from here, on Franklin Avenue, where the parish is no longer needed in that site – parishioners are going someplace else – but that piece of property – the former St. Augustine’s – is land that will be put as part of this project to build affordable housing. So there’s a very specific case of doing that. Bishop Jenik can speak further to Monsignor Sakano’s point about the value of a community being there over time.
Mayor: Bishop, would you like to add? Please introduce yourself first.
Auxiliary Bishop John Jenik: Bishop – Auxiliary Bishop John Jenik of the Archdiocese of New York, and the chair of the Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation. We reached out to the Ursuline nuns at Mt. St. Ursula – 198 Street in the Bronx – to see if they would be interested in putting up senior citizen housing on their property, and they were 100 percent for it. And we applied for funding, and we put up – over about three years – we put up three buildings – three brand new buildings – and the old one was renovated, and we ended up with 252 apartments for senior citizens. And if you ever get a chance, you’re more than welcome to come up there. It’s a great site. It has many services – it has a theater, all of the buildings are interconnected, so if the senior citizens want to walk and get exercise, they can walk throughout the entire buildings, because they’re all connected.
Mayor: Monsignor, do you want to –
Monsignor Sakano: Yeah – come on up. Come on – we’ve got one more.
Reverend Joseph Franco: And with many prayers, we think it’s possible, at some point in the very near future, for there to be a great collaboration between my parish, which is right here in Highbridge – Sacred Heart St. Francis of Assisi – hello, to many of my parishioners who are there – hello. And St. Francis of Assisi is a church that has, over time, not had the funding to repair itself and to take care of itself, and so we’re at a point now where we realize we either need to repair that structure or perhaps look and explore into an area where we can build a new – a new facility like affordable housing. That’s a very concrete piece of property that’s about a block and a half away.
Mayor: Henry – I – you want – we’re going to give you the layout for this project [inaudible] different partners. Would that helpful? I’m going to do – the cardinal always teaches me something, so I’m going to do, "I don’t know that, but Vicki Been does."
Commissioner Been: So, it always takes a village, and it takes many financial resources to bring to the people on something like this. So this was financed with land from the city – right? – financing from HUD, financing from low-income housing tax credits, and what the archdiocese [inaudible] have brought to the table is that they are the developers. They are putting the sweat, the blood, the tears into making this happen, right? And they – you know, that’s the contribution that they make, which is enormous. Across the city, they have contributed land on many of our projects, so they have been a major contributor in all kinds of ways. Okay?
Mayor: Thank you. All right, last call. I think we’ve covered that well – last call? We – is it a media question – are you from the media? Okay, well, let me do that after, because we’re just doing media questions first. Yes.
Question: I’m going to piggyback off Henry’s question. Just to – not to belabor the point, but just want to get clarification about exactly what the archdiocese’s role in this project is? What is [inaudible]?
Mayor: I just – I’m going to do a common sense explanation, and then Vicki’s going to come up and give more detail. In other words, think about any building built anywhere – the financing can come from any number of sources – banks or non-profits or government. The actual development work – taking that plot of land and turning it into a building – has to be managed by someone, and the archdiocese is literally managing that process and creating the building. Want to add?
Commissioner Been: Yeah – again, you know, a development takes both financing and it takes a developer and it takes a – it really takes a village to bring the project all together. And so, between, you know, Highbridge and the archdiocese and Catholic Charities, they have really made this project happen.
Mayor: All right – last call, on topic, going once. On topic? Going twice. Off topic.
Question: [inaudible] thoughts on the NYPD's expanded use of tasers [inaudible]?
Mayor: Well, no, that is a proposal. That's not something we've locked down, but I think what Commissioner Bratton said the other day – this is something worthy of exploration. The commissioner, I think, has it exactly right. This is something we think could be a tool we use additionally, that could bring us some ability to help resolve situations better, but – as the commissioner said – it, like any other tool you use, has pros and cons. So, we've got to do more work to determine exactly how much we want to use tasers, what we think the protocol and the training should be, and then there is a financial issue, too. So, all of that is going to be worked through in the coming months, as we go into the budget process in January and February, but it's a very active conversation with the commissioner about where that should be in our strategy.
Mayor: You sound like Vito Corleone. [Laughter]
Mayor: Again, I – I can only say broadly. I don't know the details of what the Campaign Finance Board did, so that's my understanding – it had to do with some City Council races. So, I haven't seen the details, but I'm sure everyone will conform with that judgement.
Question: [inaudible] I was wondering if you could extrapolate – you were talking about the drop in crime, attributable to [inaudible] and you mentioned something about airbrushing the truth, I was just curious [inaudible]?
Mayor: Well, I – first of all, I've said a number of times, the history and progress on bringing down crime is a 20-plus year achievement in this city. And a number of administrations deserve credit – in terms of mayors, a number of different police commissioners, and certainly the City Council, which played an early role in making sure the resources would be there, the state legislature, and most importantly – of course – the men and women of the NYPD working with community residents. So, this is a big, consistent, historical pattern, where each achievement has to be built on by the next. What is often left out of the discussion is the fact that Mayor Dinkins and Speaker Vallone put together the Safe Streets, Safe City package, went to Albany – it was not an easy thing to achieve – they got a dedicated tax to add police officers at a time when we desperately needed that to turn around the dynamics. Anyone who was here in the early 90s will remember just how difficult the situation was. And that was one of the foundational acts – maybe the most foundational act – in the turnaround on crime in this city, for the later administrations benefitted from those resources and helped to consolidate the gains. So, my central point was, this – the origins of this progress are often not talked about, and should be. And those two men were standing there at the unveiling for Speaker Vallone's portrait, and I thought it was important to give credit where credit is due.
Question: Mr. Mayor, wondering what you think of the City Council initiative to put – I guess – the CCRB officials out in the district to make it easy for people to file complaints, and at the same time, what you make of the PBA counter that if you're going to make it easier for people to file complaints, it would be a good idea to have them do so [inaudible]?
Mayor: Well, we have a process for people to file complaints, and obviously, people should only file legitimate complaints. And I think, in the process, typically, if a complaint is illegitimate, that is determined pretty quickly. But what we have to do is continue to improve the Civilian Complaint Review Board across the board, and this is the mandate we've given the new leadership of the CCRB – to make the process faster, and more effective, and more fair to civilians and police officers alike. I think a lot of people have felt that CCRB determinations take way too long, and that's not fair to anyone. That leaves the civilian without resolution up or down. It leaves police officers dealing with an issue that I think is unfair for them to have to wait so long for resolution of. So, I want to say the big story here – the big imperative – is to make the CCRB work better and more quickly. The City Council has offered this idea – it's obviously their right to do so. And if it means that there's information available to citizens, and citizens make their own judgements, that's fine. But I think that is about how the City Council wants to reach out to its constituents. I'm much more focused on the question of making the CCRB work more effectively for everyone.
Question: [inaudible] can you talk about how [inaudible] out of work [inaudible] during the holidays [inaudible] ?
Mayor: Well, no one's – no one's going to be put out of work because this legislation has been introduced. This is the beginning of what will be a lengthy legislative process, and what I've said from the very beginning of this debate, way back last year, was we believe that, as part of this legislative process, we'll be able to create a new pathway to jobs for these very same people, in work-related to horses, and/or related to tourism. And I want to see these same people have employment opportunity. I want to see them do well. I don't want to see any discontinuity in their income. But I also don't think we should have horse carriages in New York City. So, the whole process will lead us to that kind of outcome, but it's not going to happen this year. It's going to take time. We just introduced the legislation.
Question: Bill O'Reilly has a question for you.
Mayor: Okay. Are you his emissary?
Question: Yes, I am. You don't know Watters' World?
Mayor: Again, please?
Question: I'm Watters. This is my world right here. Okay?
Mayor: Okay. Continue.
Question: We've been trying to book you on the show, and your staff hasn't been very respectful towards us. We're just trying to get to –
Mayor: I'm sure they're very respectful.
Question: Actually not.
Mayor: I'm sure they are.
Question: We're just trying to get to know you better. What's the problem?
Mayor: Well, I appreciate the invitation, and my staff will follow up with you.
Question: But they haven't been following up, and that's why I'm here–
Mayor: Okay. We – I'm glad you're here. But let's take some serious questions.
Question: We're fascinated by the de Blasio mystique.
Mayor: Go ahead, Henry.
Question: Can you help us out?
Mayor: I've talked to you, my friend. Henry.
Question: You haven't responded.
Question: Will you do the show?
Mayor: Henry. Henry. Just start talking, Henry.
Question: I'm trying to rescue you here.
Question: You need rescuing.
Mayor: I never need rescuing. I just want a real question. Go ahead, Henry.
Mayor: Say it again.
Mayor: I haven’t ruled out anything. I mean, we are putting together a legislative agenda for the new session in Albany that will start in January. A whole host of issues have to be looked at. There’s been a number of different proposals related to housing and affordable housing, but we have not ruled in or ruled out anything. There’s a process that we’ll complete this month that will lead to a formal legislative agenda.
Mayor: Hold on one second – we’re doing media questions. Media questions.
Mayor: Okay, but got this one first –
Question: [inaudible] Crown Heights [inaudible]?
Mayor: Well, I think the attack on the synagogue was very, very troubling to so many New Yorkers – of all faiths – and it was particularly of concern to the Jewish community. Obviously, after what happened in Jerusalem just days before, I think any time a house of worship is invaded and there’s violence, it grabs at people and makes them very uneasy – and that’s not surprising. So my job is to go and meet with the community leaders and say very clearly that we have their back, that we’ve put very substantial NYPD resources into making sure that Jewish community locations are safe, and that we’re vigilant. I’ve spoken about the fact – in some parts of this world, even in our allied nations in Western Europe, there has not seemed to be as much vigilance, in terms of protecting Jewish community locations, when there’s the threat of these attacks. We want to make very clear to the community that we are focused and vigilant and are going to apply the resources to keep people safe.
Question: [inaudible] just want to say thank you for coming to Highbridge.
Mayor: Thank you.
Question: And just want to give you an open invitation to join us [inaudible] on Edison Avenue.
Mayor: That’s very kind, thank you, and very happy holidays. Yes.
Mayor: I’m not – you have to ask in a little bit more detail, I’m not sure what you’re referring to.
Mayor: You mean within the NYPD? Their own disciplinary procedures?
Mayor: Well, I’m very satisfied with Commissioner Bratton’s leadership, and I’m very satisfied with the Internal Affairs Bureau and the way they go about things. I’ve seen in any number of cases already this year, there was very clear follow-through and real consequences when the department determined that an officer had done something wrong. So, I think with any personnel proceedings, there are confidentiality issues that are very real and have to be respected, but I think the integrity of the process at the NYPD is quite strong.
Mayor: Again, I think in personnel matters, there are a host of – I’m not a lawyer, but I think it’s common sense that on personnel issues, there are real confidentiality restrictions that need to be respected – whether it’s police or any other area of personnel in government or in private sector. That being said, the outcomes are quite public, and the way we handle the proceedings from the beginning, when there’s an allegation, to the end, the broad strokes are quite public and I think that’s appropriate.
Unknown: Last call here!
Mayor: Last call, last call. Thanks everyone.