December 12, 2017
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Tahica, it’s a beautiful, beautiful, powerful story.
Tahica Fredericks: Thank you sir.
Mayor: And I really think it’s important, Tahica was saying is something we all have to focus on more. That there is an assumption that’s wrong about homelessness and people who happen to be homeless. And it’s an assumption that was never entirely right but it’s also dated in history when homeless really began to hit this city in the 80s and deepened in the 90s. People took a certain stereotype and never let it go. But today, Tahica is talking about the majority of people. People with families, people who are working, or have recently been working, or are ready to work, but who are dealing with a very unfair economic reality in our society.
I’ve said it a bunch of times but it’s so important to say it after hearing that, the reality after the great recession where the price of housing kept going up in this town but wages did not. The cost of everything went up but the income did not. And to hear a family that was doing everything right still not be able to hang on to a decent place to live is very, very sobering. This is the New York City of today, this is the New York City we all have inherited. It doesn’t look like the New York City we used to know. And some of the changes in our city are certainly for the better but they have come with real challenges too.
So Tahica, I just want to thank you because not only you are telling your story, everyone needs to understand, you know, here you are an obviously admirable human being. And a picture of a good work ethic, and a good mom and someone who is focused on doing all the right things. But that did not mean all the right things happened to you. And this is what we’re dealing with every single day. But it can be changed. It’s a long, painstaking fight, but it can be changed. And I’m happy – so happy you finally got home. You deserve it. Let’s give her a big round of applause.
Mayor: So, we’re going to talk today about this reality. I want to start by thanking people we have worked with closely on this issue. You’re going to hear, in a moment, from Council Member Vanessa Gibson but I also want to acknowledge and thank Council Member Andy Cohen and Assembly member Luis Sepúlveda. We are blessed to have local elected officials who understand this crisis, who are working with us constructively all the time to address it. Who understand it’s their constituents who have had the same exact experience that Tahica has had, and we need to find solutions together. So thank you to all of you.
And I want to thank some of my colleagues who were deeply involved in putting together this new initiative we’re going to talk about today. Of course, our budget director, for a few more weeks, Dean Fuleihan before he takes on a new job. And we are looking forward to him being our First Deputy Mayor. And our Housing Commissioner, Maria Torres-Springer. Thanks to both of you for the hard work you’ve put in. Also, want to say we’re in the presence of a legend in this city in terms of the fight to help people get affordable housing and to bring fairness to neighborhoods that were often left behind by government, Harry DeRienzo. You’ve put in decades into a good struggle, and you’ve achieved a lot. Let’s all thank Harry for what he’s done.
So, the numbers tell the story in a different way than the way Tahica told it but they’re sobering too. So now what’s happened with homelessness? Well 70 percent of people in shelter are now members of families in shelters. 70 percent. You go back to the 80s, 90s it would have been unimaginable. We then thought of shelter, and in fact it was true, it was overwhelmingly single men. But, this is a different reality and the painful piece of this is, just like you heard from Tahica, a lot of people this very hour are one paycheck away from that same situation in this city. One paycheck. It’s not a phrase, it is a human reality. And, every day they show up when that paycheck doesn’t come or when there’s some shocking, unexpected expense in their life, they show up looking for help. And as Steve Banks will tell you, thank God we have a lot of ways to help that do not involve having to go into shelter. There are a lot of ways we can help keep people out of shelter and help them get on a better track. But, some still end up needing shelter. That’s today’s reality.
So, we’ve had this crisis for 35 years. We have to keep innovating to turn the tide on it. I keep saying, it is a – this is going to be a long hard battle. There’s a reason it has happened for 35 years but we in our generation have to find new solutions. The whole country is grappling with this and I think it’s important that we be honest that the whole country is searching for a solution. At least we believe what we can try and do together is find a way to turn the tide to start back on a better road. And we think this tool we’re going to talk about today is part of it.
So, it’s fair to say the magnitude of this crisis is unprecedented. And it’s fair to say that our response must be unprecedented as well. We must constantly create new approaches. And this step today is definitely new and it is bold, and it’s never been used before here and to the best of our knowledge in any other place in the country. But what we know is that it will help folks to transition out of temporary shelter and to reach permanent, stable homes.
So, the City will take immediate action to acquire cluster buildings and convert them into quality, permanent affordable housing. We’ll make the investments to ensure that this housing is good quality housing. Just like Tahica described she’s in now. That’s what these formally problematic buildings should become, good quality housing. And it’s obviously an idea whose time has come. The notion that the cluster system is broken, we’ve known that a long time. And we, in the beginning of this administration, kept talking about how do we get out of it, how do we get out of it, how do we reduce the dependency on it. And the plan we put forward at the beginning of this year, we said here’s how we get out, here’s a timeline so that we’ll never need to use clusters again. But, we recognize we had to think even more deeply of where we could go.
Now look, we said at the beginning of this year we would get out of the clusters by 2021. And we had to aggressively move on that. We have already eliminated 1,000 cluster apartments that had previously been used that we are no longer using. There are 2,300 left.
But, what became clear is that to simply leave, although that was good on important levels, it wasn’t necessarily enough because of the magnitude of the problem. We actually had to take these clusters that had historically been part of the problem and turn them into part of the solution. We had to see them as something that we could change not just leave. So, we identified buildings, we’re finalizing the list, but it’s basically 25 to 30 buildings in which the majority of occupants are now homeless and there with City support. And we recognize that in those buildings we could work with local non-profits, we could help provide the financing for the non-profits to buy the buildings and make that conversion to permanent affordable housing.
This will reach, by the plan we are putting together now, more than 1,100 apartments. All of them will become rent-stabilized. So they not only become affordable now, they get locked into long-term affordability. 800 of those apartments are currently occupied by homeless families. So those 800 people who now are in a temporary status would end up in a situation where their apartment was fixed up, make good quality, they would be given rent-stabilization, they would have permanent affordable housing. No longer homeless by any stretch of the imagination. They would become New Yorkers with permanent affordable housing.
We are working with the current landlords of those buildings. We’re going to give them a chance for sure to negotiate with us in good faith. We’re asking them to do the right thing and work with us so that they can sell these buildings at a fair price and we can move forward with this plan to create permeant affordable housing. But, if there is not good faith negotiation the City is prepared to use, as a last resort, eminent domain to take these buildings and convert them to permanent affordable housing.
One way or another we will achieve the goal. This plan is the first, as I said, to be used in this city or to the best of our knowledge anywhere in the county on this scale. It is unquestionably a new idea and a bold idea, but it is a necessary idea. And we will do whatever it takes to turn the tide on homelessness.
So, I’m encouraged at what we can achieve with this new approach. But it’s just one piece of what has to be a constantly evolving strategy. And what will be a long, long battle. I’ll say that every time. Even when I think we found a powerful new tool, it’s still going to be a long, long battle.
A few words in Spanish –
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]
With that I want to turn to our Social Services Commissioner Steve Banks who certainly has the long view on this issue, has been working to constantly innovate. And again, as I turn to Steve, I want to offer my great appreciation to everyone at OMB, at HPD, at the Law Department. Everyone who worked together on this plan. And obviously, Steve, to you and your team. Thank you for helping us innovate a new approach. Ladies and gentlemen, Commissioner Steve Banks.
Commissioner Steven Banks, Department of Social Services: Thank you, good morning. And I, I want to just say – Mayor, your leadership in addressing homelessness has been extraordinary. As you know I sued four mayors and six governors.
And there are so many pieces that you are putting in place to innovate creative solutions that if we had in place for many years we may be in a different place. But we are at the moment we are at now and we are ready to move forward. I want to acknowledge my partner, Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer. HPD and Department of Social Services are working very closely together on this initiative and so many other initiatives. But we could not be able to move forward with this bold step without the partnership with HPD and the Commissioner.
I think the Mayor has laid out the outlines so let me just fill in some, some details. But I want emphasize a point that the Mayor made particularly with respect to what happened in Tahica’s situation. The number of innovated approaches that we have put in place are part of comprehensive plan – this is one part of that plan. We have invested unprecedented resources and prevention because that is the first goal to prevent homelessness – providing legal assistance, providing renter’s payment.
Once in shelter we’ve put in resources to improve services in shelter. We have programs in place to bring people in off the streets. And we have programs to relocate people to permanent housing. This is a piece of that comprehensive approach to address the cluster closure plan that we laid out.
Cluster plan dates back to a program – cluster program dates back to 2000. And it is one in which at its high point there were approximately 3,600 apartments use, in use at the beginning of the Mayor’s 90 day review of homeless services. And as the Mayor described we have been able to totally get out of a thousand of those units and 300 of them have been turned into licensed, tier two shelters approved by the state.
To continue to make progress, however, we have been reviewing what our options are. And of course we would want tenants to be able to have leases wherever we can but this tool is the, is consistent with the urgency of the situation which will allow us to move forward with financing locally based non for profit housing developers. Like Banana Kelly is a good example of a locally based, reputable, non for profit housing developer. Financing their ability to acquire buildings and preserve them for permanent housing – the focus has been on 25 to 30 buildings in which more than half of the units, the majority of the units are being used as part of the cluster program. There are 1,100 or so apartments in those buildings, 800 of which are being used for cluster shelter. In those 800 units there are about 3,000 people.
And as part of the transaction that we are prepared to finance, the non for profits will purchase, will negotiate with the landlords, purchase the buildings, upgrade them as the Mayor described to make sure that the conditions are appropriate. And then each individual person, tenant in the building will have a rent stabilized lease for permanent affordability.
For the homeless families that are there – obviously we want to keep working with them and move them into permanent housing, even every day we are working on that and connecting them with appropriate services. But if they are there at the point of the transaction they will have the opportunity to remain there – they won’t be forced to, it will be a choice. But we think working with them, that this is an excellent outcome for them.
Look, I’m a lawyer. I’m always an optimist. I’m represented by the Law Department now, I’m not practicing law but I know that our Law Department which I opposed –
Mayor: Thank god.
Commissioner Banks: I know, that our Law Department, which I litigated against for many years is a top notch law firm. They have evaluated the eminent domain laws in our state and we are on solid ground in the event that the owners of these buildings do not want to allow non for profit providers to acquire ownership. We are on solid legal ground to move forward with an eminent domain proceeding.
And pay a fair price for a court proceeding if the landlords won’t agree to pay outside of court. But again, we are challenging them to do the right thing here. And as a result of that we will end up with – moving forward significantly with our plan to get out of clusters but in the process converting the units to permanent housing – essentially addressing two needs at the same time.
We are moving forward expeditiously with this initiative and we think it is an important step to address family homelessness in New York City.
Mayor: Thank you very much Commissioner. Now I want to introduce Councilmember Vanessa Gibson, who we have worked with on many, many issues. And she particularly understands the burden that her constituents are feeling – how many folks have walked down this road of just trying to hang on by a thread economically and she has been a great ally in this work – so, my pleasure to introduce Councilmember Gibson.
Mayor: Okay, we’re going to take questions on today’s announcement, and then we’re going to take question on other topics.
Question: First, what’s the timeline for all of this? Second, could you be more specific – maybe Mr. Banks can – on the specific legal basis for eminent domain?
Mayor: Sure, 2018 is the timeline, so again we would like fruitful, positive negotiations to result in a sale at an appropriate price. If that’s not happening, we’ll move to eminent domain. All of that will happen in 2018 as soon as possible. On the legal basis, let me turn to an actual lawyer.
Commissioner Banks: The legal basis is the eminent domain law allows you, for a public purpose, to make use of – to offer a fair price for someone’s property. We are doing that here, and our public purpose is addressing the homelessness, family homelessness, and ending the cluster program. It’s important that that context be understood, that we’ve sort of said many times a public purpose to the city is ending this 17-year-old program, and that is the underlying basis for us being able to take this action. I want to emphasize that if we have to go the eminent domain route it still provides for a fair price through a court proceeding. Our hope is that we don’t have to go that route, and we can do it out of court.
Mayor: Okay. Great. Yes?
Question: Bronx leaders have said that homeless people have been relocated from other boroughs to the Bronx. Now we see Ms. Fredericks came from Brooklyn to the Bronx. Can you tell us how many other homeless people have come from other boroughs to the Bronx because it seems that the Bronx has an un-proportionately large number of homeless people compared to –
Mayor: The whole concept of the plan that we announced earlier this year is to end the practice of moving people away from their home borough and to try and create just common sense and decency that when, God forbid, someone becomes homeless they will be in a shelter in their own borough. And ideally as close to their own neighborhood, their own community board, district as possible. So that’s what happening now literally as new shelter facilities are being created. Crown Heights is a good example. It’s for people from Brooklyn and increasingly from the immediate area. I can’t tell you exactly – maybe Steve can get you some statistics about what has been – but that whole, literally the entire structure, is being reworked right now to change that reality, which is not the reality we want for anyone.
Question: I have two questions. One is many of these apartment, not all that I knew, had significant issues with maintenance over the years – does that factor at all into the legal base for eminent domain or no [inaudible]?
Commissioner Banks: No, our focus is on the public purpose of ending the cluster program and providing permanent housing for homeless families. I know that we have said this on other occasions, and I just want to emphasize it – in getting out of 1,000 units we prioritized the units that had the most challenging conditions, and now as we continue to move forward with our plan, we’re looking at units with rehabilitation that can be made available for permanent housing to serve our public purpose of ending the cluster program and providing permanent housing for homeless families.
Question: [Inaudible] family will transition, I assume, from being clients to being tenants so will they –
Mayor: Of the non-profit.
Question: Of the non-profit – so will they pay rent under the stabilization laws, and what will those rents look like?
Mayor: That’s why it’s called rent stabilization.
Commissioner Banks: Right. They will be paying for rent, and as you know we have a range of different rental assistance programs. Some of the programs are for people that are working, and some of the programs are for people who are not. And even in those cases we provide employment training programs, but they will be paying rent.
Mayor: I’m going to jump in and say some people will be paying rent because they will have the employment or the other source of income that they can pay rent without any additional assistance as well. They will become rent-stabilized tenants taking advantage of affordable housing in a building that will have been improve physically and will be run by a non-profit.
Question: I guess, to be more specific, will there be any tenants who will not be paying rent and essentially live in permanent affordable housing – in other words, will the City be subsidizing the rents of some of these tenants?
Mayor: I’m going to start, just common sense as the non-expert. That’s literally a year to year thing. You know, our affordable housing program in general – and Maria might want to chime in – when you’re in one of our affordable housing programs we have that 30 percent of income stipulation, but that is an annual recalculation. Anyone in public housing that’s the same concept. So no one is static – it all depends on their situation, but of course the goal is to help people have sources of income to the maximum extent possible. There may be some people for whom that is impossible, but I think if you think about the whole thing interconnecting a little, you want people in affordable housing, you want that affordable housing to be stable and protected long-term, you want to help people improve their economic situation so they can pay more, but the standard we’ve set is figure out an affordable percentage of income that people can live on.
Either one of you want to fill in the blank?
Commissioner Banks: I would just add to that – all of our programs for people on public assistance, for example, are very much focused on education and training to help people be connected to employment. And I think that there’s a lot of mythology that people simply remain on public assistance for very extended periods of time, and the data doesn’t show that. So we’re going to be very much focused on whoever is in place at that time, developing, as the Mayor said, an individualized approach to help them pay rent and move off of public assistance as soon as possible.
Question: What percentage of the people that are gaining an income [inaudible]
Commissioner Banks: Well, 34 percent of the families with children in the shelter system have an adult who’s working, which gives you a sense of the economics that the Mayor spoke about and Ms. Fredericks spoke about that are drivers of homelessness.
Mayor: And as I turn – all good questions, I want to share the wealth – but I want to remind you income takes many forms, so employment is one, other people it may be social security, it may be other forms of support – obviously a Section 8 voucher – there’s all sorts of different types of income.
Question: Mayor, what’s the financial incentive for a landlord to sell a building, a cluster site building, to the City when a landlord has been raking in like huge sums of money from the City to operate a cluster site – you know, well in excess of what the market rate would be?
Mayor: The cluster program is ending. There’s one incentive. Obviously, you see if we’re out of 1,000 apartments in the short term, and we intend to be out of all of the rest that reality is going to change. We’re willing to offer a fair price, and I just think it’s the right thing to do. But again, if after good faith negotiations a landlord doesn’t want to go down that road, we’ll use our legal option to turn to eminent domain.
Question: And just on the eminent domain question, you said earlier that it’s never been done in the city, and you don’t think it’s been done nationwide – what gives you guys the confidence that this argument is going to hold up in court that the greater good, ending the cluster program, is going to convince a judge to take someone’s property away?
Mayor: Well, I want to tip my cap first, and then I’ll turn to Steve again for the legal interpretation. Besides the fact that I think it’s a common sense vision, everyone knows there’s a homeless crisis in America. It has to be addressed. These buildings, right now, are part of addressing the homelessness crisis, and we’re willing to offer fair compensation up front. So I think it stands to reason. It’s like any of the other uses of eminent domain – to address fundamental public needs. That’s why eminent domain exists. But the second thing I’d say is there’s a huge renowned law firm that believes in this strategy called the City of New York Department of Law.
Commissioner Banks: I would just add again where the Mayor said it well, we’re on very firm legal ground here, and an answer to your other question – in terms of the landlords, we’re challenging them to do the right thing here, but make no mistake about it they’re either going to have the building acquired in a negotiated agreement or through a court proceeding. Our preference would be to acquire it without a court proceeding, but if need be we’ll use the tool the law gives us to use here.
Mayor: Way back? Yes, Grace?
Question: Following up on Mara’s question, so there are families who don’t – let’s say – that don’t have any income that are in these cluster apartments right now. They would be able to stay if this is – if there unit is converted to affordable housing, and what the City would work with them to get them vouchers or rental assistance? I mean no one is – are you saying that no one, even if you don’t have any income, no one is going to be turned away from their apartment if they want to stay?
Commissioner Banks: Right, nobody is going to be forced to stay or forced to leave, however, I think we’ve said this in other contexts, our approach to homelessness and homeless families and individuals is not a one size fits all. It will be a case-by-case analysis. For some families, they may want and need supportive housing, which would be a better option for them. For other families, they may be from Brooklyn and would be much better situated to move from a building in the Bronx or vice versa a building in Brooklyn to the Bronx, so there will be case management services as a part of our implementation plan of this new initiative.
Question: What’s the cost of the program and do you expect these landlords – if you look into your crystal ball, do you expect these your landlords to easily go to sale here, or do you think you’re going to end up you eminent domain? I mean you’re mentioning it over and over again, presumably it’s going to be used as a lever to get them to work with you?
Mayor: Look, again, I’m not a lawyer. I think it’s common sense. We have a very powerful tool, and we’re ready to use it. I think that’s a great argument for let’s just come to a negotiated settlement, and let’s do it quick. I think it’s as simple as that. So I am very hopeful. On the cost, we’re obviously not going to get into the negotiation process here in public. What I can say is a fair price is a good deal for New York City. So we can move forward on what is not only a more humane solution to have long-term affordable housing, but definitely better for the tax payers by any notion in terms of adding things up over years. And you know we will, as I said, we will invest with the non-profit in terms of fixing the buildings. Again, that’s consistent with our broader approach to affording housing.
Question: On the cost, I’m not asking for the individual cost of for a particular building, but what is the –
Mayor: Good, because I wouldn’t give it to you.
Question: - program, where will the money come from? I know there’s [inaudible] goal of affordable units created and preserved.
Mayor: Let me start on the first part, looking to Dean Fuleihan, I’ll try the laymen’s version, and if you want to jump forward with the expert budgetary verbiage you would be welcome. We have to develop the specific costs because it all is case-by-base. As we said, about 25 to 30 buildings, each one of them a different situation etcetera, etcetera. So we would have to cost it all out. But what I can say with assurance is we started down this road because we knew it would be a net gain financially, paying a high price now for something that’s not what we want it to be, so by any common sense measure we win. Come to a microphone if you want to say something – you’re okay?
Second part again?
Question: You’re announcing this but you have no idea what it’s going to cost?
Mayor: Willie, I really love when you ask your guileless questions. Let’s just be clear, we’re not going into a lot of it on purpose because we’re in a negotiation. So that’s what I’m saying. I’m giving you the assurance that we have done projections that tell us this is a net gain for the taxpayer.
Director Dean Fuleihan, Office of Management and Budget: It will be reflect in capital budgets. We’re talking about capital expenditures. It will meet all the benchmarks that we do whenever we put together a capital budget. We will make sure that we remain, as we have significantly below 15 percent of City revenues, our capital – our debt service and we’ll make sure it’s consistent with that. This will be adjusted as we move forward in ongoing capital budgets.
Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer, Department of Housing Preservation and Development : Yes they will, they will count towards the overall goal. On the preservation side of the ledger but as the Mayor and Commissioner Banks mentioned the real impetuous here is to make sure that we are using every tool that we have to address homelessness and to provide permanent housing.
Mayor: Who else, Michael.
Question: You said the timeline for this is 2018 right?
Question: So I mean, if you’re using eminent domain and you have landlords who are resisting in court – do you expect to have push back on that timeline can you see that as particularly problematic for reaching the time goal?
Mayor: No, I mean I’ll start again and Steve can speak to the legal dynamic. Again we come in peace we are looking for a good faith solution. And we are very hopeful we can get to a good faith solution. We want that good faith solution as early as possible in 2018 so we can get on with this important work.
If we can’t reach it and that is a building by building discussion. This is not a class, this is each individual landlord that we are talking about. We will proceed during 2018 at a time of our own choosing if we feel negotiations are exhausted we will proceed with the eminent domain action legally. I’m not saying it will all be resolved if we take that path, I’m not saying everything is resolved – Steve can get a sense of that. But either way you slice it we’re crossing the Rubicon in 2018. We are either coming to a negotiated outcome, our strong preference, or we are initiating legal action. You agree with that summary or you want to amend?
Commissioner Banks: I agree with that summary and I would only add that this, a way to accelerate our 2021 plan to end the use of clusters. And that’s again the purpose of going, of using this tool. And we will as the Mayor said either – we will be either in a resolution out of court or in court.
Question: How are coming at peace with your threat to use eminent domain to take someone’s property?
Mayor: I think, you know, I think what was the Theodore Roosevelt quote? Does that, can I use that quote? Okay good, I got my lawyer to agree – speak softly and carry a big stick. You know, we literally are saying to these folks – this program is ending. Here’s a chance to get a fair price, resolve the situation once and for all because whatever you were receiving from rent from the city isn’t going to be there anymore so why don’t we do something good together and is also good for the world.
It’s a choice but eminent domain which as a broad concept – non lawyer, you guys can correct me if I say anything wrong but eminent domain has been reiterated and reconfirmed by the Supreme Court many times in many ways for fundamental public goods. Addressing the homelessness is a fundamental public good, particularly at this point in history. [inaudible] Gloria.
Question: I know you are not going to get into the specifics of prices but I assume some of this is going to be determined by what the market looks like, what people, what landlords hope to get from these buildings so how are you going to prevent not having to pay top dollar for some of these properties?
Mayor: Either one of you? It’s, I think it’s something we are not going to get into any detail on, I’ll start just by saying the obvious, we are not going to get into a detail on any of that on purpose. We believe we can reach a fair price. Okay.
Question: Mayor, you own a home that you presumably purchased from somebody, you negotiate with landlords all the time in terms of affordable housing things – what makes you think that the owner of the property is going to sell to you for simply a fair price and doing the right thing. Was that your experience when you bought your home?
Mayor: I bought a home, yes I bought a home, semi-attached family home. Yes that’s true. As opposed to a landlord that owns a multi-family building that has been involved in a city subsidy program for years and years and has more than 50 percent homeless people in it - just totally apples and oranges. Anyone else, Rich?
Question: Do you see these as bad landlords?
Mayor: I don’t have a judgement on them individually. I’m saying we believe fundamentally this is a way to address important public needs. Obviously these buildings have been part of the effort to address homelessness in a very big way. And we are going to offer a fair price. By any measure we are going to offer a fair price – it’s either you know, we will go to the table, here’s a fair price – we are not going to be arbitrary about it.
We are going to offer a fair price and then if they don’t like it we will go to court. And the court will determine a fair price and we will pay that fair price. It ends up the same way either way. Ultimately we will pay for the building – it’s just one way or another. Way back, whose back there?
Question: Mr. Mayor, these addresses a part of the homeless problem if it is successful. What about the rest of the homeless? Is this then the prototype for everything or is there another trick up your sleeve?
Mayor: Well it’s not the prototype for everything. No, this is – you’re exactly right with your first statement. This is one piece of strategy with a lot of different pieces to it. So just a quick attempt at summary – I’ll say obviously if you’ve looked at the plan we published earlier in the year that is the essential template. And it’s an honest template that says this is going to be long, incremental – you know slow and incremental progress. I never want to lie to people about that. That’s what it is going to take but if we do it right, we’ll steadily reduce the number of people in shelter. And we will contract the shelter system over years and years.
But I also, of course when we talk about the homeless, we are talking about street and we are talking about shelter. On the street side the strategy is very sharp, very clear – it’s the HOME-STAT initiative, which I think it’s about 900 people have come off the street in the last year in a half and stayed off the street.
And I’m going to ask my team to give you more of their individual stories. Obviously, you know, some people who are willing to come forward publically, others may not be but we want you to see what’s really happening with HOME-STAT because something big is starting to happen on the street level. That’s very encouraging and the development of more safe havens.
But on the shelter side, it’s everything from the constant growth – bigger affordable housing plan which is having a big impact. It’s the Right to Counsel law which is a huge change in the city so a lot more people, I think will be stopped from illegal eviction.
It’s everything we are trying to do to raise wages and benefits which is being felt more and more. Obliviously, you know, one of the things we push for and got done finally was the increase in the minimum wage – that’s kicking in year by year. So that’s going to have more and more on the ability of families to stay in the housing they have.
There’s a lot of different pieces to this – stopping people from ever becoming to begin with, with the right subsidy to keep them in their own apartment. And then creating a shelter system that’s based on where people come, newer shelters, getting out of clusters, getting out of hotels. And then finally, you know the vision – those new shelters, one day if we do things right and our successors do things right – those new shelters get converted to either permanent affordable housing or permanent supportive housing and then finally – I should say obviously – we’re in the middle of a plan for 15,000 permanent supportive housing units, which is another big piece of the puzzle. So all of that is moving, but the nature of this crisis is it doesn’t give you big, gaudy victories. It’s day by day and incremental progress.
Way back, I saw someone back? Yes, Grace?
Question: Have you begun anything of the negotiations with the landlords, and are they hearing about this through this news conference or have they been given a heads up that the city is going to approach them with some sort of offer for their building?
Maria: Negotiations have begun with some of the landlords, and as the mayor mentioned that will continue through next year, and we hope to come to conclusion with those of those. And if we don’t, we’ll move forward with eminent domain.
Question: And what’s been the [inaudible] reaction?
Commissioner Torres-Springer: Of course – I wouldn’t want to undermine our negotiations by providing those specifics, but I would say our discussions with owners have been in good faith, and we have challenged them to do the right thing, and we hope that’s the outcome we’ll get over the course of the next several months.
Question: Can your office provide us with a list of the landlords and buildings in question?
Mayor: That decision on which buildings qualify is still being worked through, and again there’s certain sensitivities any time we identify a location, so I’ll let folks process that, but first we have to decide what the final universe is.
Question: [Inaudible] when we’re talking about eminent domain, we’re talking about buildings right? Not – you can’t do units, unit-by-unit can you?
Commissioner Banks: It’s a building approach, so we’ve identified 25 to 30 buildings, and that includes a total of about 800 cluster units and 300-or-so units with permanent tenants in them who will remain and have upgraded conditions as well.
Question: I’m not a lawyer, but –
Mayor: Join the group.
Question: With eminent domain I understand part of ‘public good’, but does that definition narrow when you talk about private property – and can the government just take your private property?
Mayor: I just want to start as the non-lawyer answering the non-lawyer. It’s a definition of public good but with obviously with a lot of other specifics if you will, and these buildings have been involved very specifically in addressing homelessness – in many cases for quite a while – and in all cases we’re talking 50 percent of more of the units are explicitly part of a city program to address homelessness and getting city funds. So it’s a very specific and narrow approach.
Commissioner Banks: And specifically under the eminent domain law, the ability to take property for a public purpose is permissible, but it’s not taking without compensation, and so the compensation is established through the court proceeding if the parties don’t come to an agreement outside of court, which again is what our preference is.
Mayor: Right, and it’s very important – an entirely objective third party, a judge, has to determine what that fair price is if negotiations don’t achieve it.
Question: Can I do another topic?
Mayor: We’re going to you, brother. When we finish this topic we go to other topics.
Question: One clarification here. Typically in eminent domain a property is taken for a different use – say a housing development is [inaudible] and properties have to be bought up for a highway or properties have to be [inaudible] for a dam to be built. So this – you’re not changing the use in this, does that present any complexity or you?
Mayor: We’re changing the nature. It’s not permanent affordable housing. It would now be permanent affordable housing. It’s a different reality.
Did I see a hand back there? Yes?
Question: What percent of folks do you expect to pay no rent, and what percent of folks do you expect who live there now do you anticipate will want to stay?
Mayor: This is similar to Mara’s question. Look, we can’t predict all of that in advance. You’re talking about a group of individuals at any given point in time and people move and people get other opportunities, get jobs, and are able to get to other housing. I don’t think we can project that per se. The bottom line is the strategy is get people into permanent housing, and then do everything we know how to do to help them get stronger financially and economically, so they can pay a higher amount of rent or ultimately maybe end up in an entirely different housing circumstance. I think it all comes down to a case by case dynamic that changes in each building.
Commissioner Banks: I would just add, over the course of our initiatives about more than 70,000 men, women and children have benefitted from our rental assistance and re-housing programs. Over the course of the next year, while these negotiations are proceeding either to the point of resolution or litigation, some number of those 800 families will benefit from the ongoing programs that we’ve got. And so, we can’t predict now which ones of those 800 will still be there after a year.
Mayor: Okay, last call on this topic – going once, going twice. Okay, way back – what do you got?
Question: A question about the attack yesterday – how does the City adequately protect subway system and transportation hubs when there are literally thousands of subway stops and entrances [inaudible]?
Mayor: You’ve got a couple of different questions there, let me start with the essence of it. This is what Commissioner O’Neill spoke to yesterday. I would say it’s the same question of how do you defend a city of 8.5 million people spread out over five boroughs? You do it with the best police force in the world that now has 2,000 more officers than it did two years ago, and thank you to the City Council for their leading role in that. You do it with new specialized counter-terrorism forces that we’ve put together, like the Critical Response Command; through intelligence gathering – that’s hugely important – but the intelligence gathering is stronger now because we’re in much greater partnership with our federal partners in particular than we were in the past. And you do it ultimately with the support and cooperation of the people. You know, Commissioner O’Neill said immediately yesterday, thousands of police officers in the subways, but there’s also 6 million New Yorkers riding it every day who should be the eyes and ears, and partners of those police officers, who are force multipliers – they take what the police can do and they magnify it many times over. And we’ve seen that – we’ve seen some of the situations that could have been most negative – in Chelsea last year when an average resident saw a package, reported it to a police officer – that stopped something from happening. In Times Square years ago, I think it was a hot dog vendor who alerted a police officer, stopped something bad from happening. This is the shape of the reality. You can’t just sit back and say, hey, our first responders will take care of everything for us. You have to be a participant. You have to help them do their jobs. So, we’ve got the biggest police force in the country by far, and the best one by far. They’ve done an incredible job stopping attacks. Deputy Commissioner Miller spoke about this the other day – well over 20 attacks have been thwarted since 9/11, but we also have to recognize the time we’re in, in history – everyone can help the police. If you see something, say something.
Question: Mr. Mayor, it looks like the Right to Know Act is going to come up to a vote in the Council [inaudible]
Mayor: There have been good, collegial negotiations involving our administration, including the NYPD. And the issues that we had in the beginning I think have been addressed effectively. I think these bills are fair. I think it’s also very good that the NYPD, starting last year and continuing through this year, implemented its own approach on these issues and changed the reality on the ground in an effective way. But I’m also comfortable with this legislation. It’s consistent with the approach the NYPD has taken, and is a good piece of reform legislation. It clarifies how people will have more information when an officer addresses them, it clarifies how searches are undertaken. It’s been a good collegial negotiation and we feel good about it.
Mayor: I look forward to it, yeah.
Question: Just to follow up, can you be specific about the changes that were made that lead you to be supportive of the bill?
Mayor: My team can give you the chapter and verse and the line by line. I’ll say broadly, from the beginning, I wanted to see if we were to go down the legislative road – and again, I state very clearly, I believe the best approach initially, certainly, was to let the NYPD do this administratively. They did, they did it very effectively. And I’ve said to a lot of people who care about the issue, if you’ve got specific instances where you feel the rules weren’t followed on the ground by officers, please come to me, and no one’s ever come to me. I think, you know, the administrative approach really worked and was part of the overall reforms that we put in place in policing in this city. Whether you’re talking about moving away from the overuse of stop and frisk, or the retraining of the police force and de-escalation tactics, or neighborhood policing, what was done administratively on searches and on officer identification was very consistent with all of the reforms, and I think worked. But there’s obviously been a yearning in the Council to address this legislatively for the long term, which is an understandable concern. I said consistently I was open if it could be done in a way that made sure our police could do their jobs effectively in terms of protecting us. And strike the right balance. And I think the legislation, after a long process, got there.
And I just want to say to my Council colleagues, if at any point you want to jump in, feel free.
Question: I want to talk about the terrorist attack yesterday. Did New York just get lucky? And given the fact that we’ve heard from police officials and it’s obvious to everyone that there’s more lone-wolf style attacks. You know, people who are getting radicalized on the internet. Has there been any discussion about changing NYPD’s surveillance tactics?
Mayor: No. And I think we’ve got to put this in perspective. This is very unsettling for people when something like this happens. And it’s a painful, painful reality. But New Yorkers are also incredibly mature. You saw their response on October 31st. I couldn’t be prouder of this city. You know, something horrible happened, everyone understood exactly what it was, people went right back to their lives, they didn’t live in fear, they mourned those we lost, and they moved forward.
So, this is the time we’re living in. We understand this challenge is happening all over the world. But a lone-wolf is still an isolated actor who, you know, I detest the fact that some people decide to use violence for whatever sad and sick reasons in many cases. But, they’re an individual actor. And we, you know, we’ve seen horrible incidents around the country that have nothing to do with the kind of terrorism we’re talking about in the case, but are equally horrible and violent. And in many cases when there was no warning someone might do something. We have to figure out the bigger solutions, I think there are some in terms of that huge challenge. For example, sensible gun safety legislation. But, people recognize it’s a feature in our society. We have to try and address but at the same time we cannot let us stop us or change who we are.
So, I think the notion of going back to a broken approach to surveillance would only make the situation worse. The vast majority of people in all different kinds of communities recognize in this city that they are respected, that they are included, that they have opportunity. Those are the things that help avoid people feeling isolated, or God forbid becoming radicalized. Some people still, whether it’s a mental health condition or something else, might be tempted by it. But let’s face it, a societal dynamic where the society works for everyone is a good preventative measure. And that’s what we’re trying to do here.
But going back to the broken approach to surveillance would only alienate people and create division in a way that’s counterproductive.
Question: Mayor, I wanted to ask you about a letter that 48 tenants at the Red Hook Houses got regarding – saying basically that they could be evicted for breach of lease because of lead paint in their apartment. Which obviously is not their fault –
Mayor: That was a stupid mistake.
Question: I mean how does a stupid mistake like that happen?
Mayor: I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But, it was a stupid mistake. Bureaucracies never fail to amaze me. Everyone has been notified that that was a mistake, and of course they are staying in their apartments. I have seen things like that over the years in pretty much every City department. It’s not acceptable. We’ll go and make sure it doesn’t happen again. But, just really stupid.
Question: Do you think that President Trump should resign over sexual misconduct allegations?
Mayor: I think there should be a full investigation of those allegations. Obviously I fundamentally disagree with President Trump on essentially everything. But, I think the right thing to do is – if he wants to come forward and tell us the whole truth which I’m sure he hasn’t and lay on the table everything that would be helpful. But, the best way to handle something like this is an objective investigation.
I think it’s great that Robert Mueller is investigating the alleged efforts by Russia to influence our election. I think there should equally be an investigation into the charges against President Trump because they’ve been stated by many individuals. And obviously with the elected officials or candidates in all these other cases recently, and people in the media and Hollywood, the allegations have led to action. Why is there only one person who the allegations have not led to any follow-up? And that’s Donald Trump. Of course there should be a fully investigation.
Question: Do you think [inaudible]
Mayor: There should be a full investigation. As the result of the investigation if it’s proven true of course then he should step down.
Question: This survey program that [inaudible] in courts. What is – what is the purpose of this from your perspective? I mean do you regret putting the money into giving out Dunkin Donut gift cards to the people in court –
Mayor: Michael it may shock you that I was not in the meeting determining whether there should be Dunkin Donuts gift cards. I know you know I micromanage a lot, but not that much. I am not familiar with the approach. The broad notion of we’re trying to get the court system to improve for everyone’s benefit and speed up trials, and it’s also part of obviously reducing the amount of time people are in Rikers. I mean there’s a lot of good reasons why everyone in this society should prefer speedier trials and a better court system. It’s part – it’s noted in the Constitution for God sakes.
How you survey people and what tools you use, I don’t have any details on that. I’m not familiar with what they were trying to do.
Question: Do you have an opinion about the Dunkin Donut gift card –
Mayor: I’d have to – on this urgent matter of public policy, this grippingly important issue I’d have to ask the people involved what they were thinking before I judge them.
Question: I have two agencies I want to ask you about, HHC and DOE. What can people look forward to at HHC because there’s talk about cutbacks and possibly closing hospitals. And at the DOE what changes are going to happen [inaudible] since it seems like we’re going to have a new Chancellor, and what other things are going to happen?
Mayor: So look, you aren’t at most – and I’m saying this negatively, you’re not at most of our press conferences so I’m going to give you some extra credit that you haven’t heard me say some of these things 100 times. Many of your colleagues have heard me say these things 100 times. So here goes 101. On any personnel matter, assume continuity unless you hear otherwise. Period.
In terms of Health + Hospitals, we have a new president coming on board very soon, Mitch Katz, who is a renounced public health leader. He is coming in to help us continue to stabilize and strengthen a system that’s been very troubled for the last few years. One of the huge x-factors will play out in the next few weeks in Washington. If the tax bill passes in anything like its current form it’s going to hurt New York City and New York State deeply. What is that going to then mean for the federal budget, and I fear a second wave of negatives for the city and state. That’s going to put pressure on every City agency. So since Health + Hospitals is already hurting, you know, they’re going to particularly feel it.
But, no. I’m kind of sick of rumors because we’ve said a thousand times. The hospital facilities are going to stay open. We’re also going to constantly look at how to use them better because the previous uses in many cases weren’t working and a lot of them were outmoded.
What we worry about, and this is the one asterisk, a huge asterisk, which is if the Affordable Care Act weren’t there anymore then that changes the whole discussion because then we don’t have a revenue source that we’ve depended on. And right now, taking away the individual mandate, if that continues to be in the tax bill would hurt us a lot but would still leave in place important elements of the Affordable Care Act. If in fact, the Affordable Care Act were repealed at any point, then we have to reevaluate everything because we’re talking about whole new financial landscape.
Question: For instance up here in the Bronx there’s talk about [inaudible] hospital taking over North Central Bronx because it owns basically the land, probably, that is surrounding it, and [inaudible] between both hospitals –
Question: Would that be a possibility?
Mayor: I don’t deal in hypotheticals. North Central is going to remain. Again, we’re going to keep working on trying to figure out the right mix of uses. An obvious example, a lot of hospital beds that aren’t being utilized might be something we can use better as part our mental health initiative. I mean there’s different things to think about. But, the facility will remain open and we’ve got to figure out what the exact specific uses that works best for the community.
Okay, let me see if there’s anything else. Juliette?
Question: Getting back to the Right-to-Know Act –
Question: Due to the fact that so much work has been done on community policing and establishing NCOs are you concerned that this may renew tensions between residents and police?
Mayor: No, because the NYPD already did it. Look, I’ve spoken about it before but I want to put a point on it. I believe – I see myself as a change agent, I see my colleagues here as change agents. Change takes many forms. Sometimes it’s best done administratively. Sometimes it’s best done legislatively. Sometimes it’s best done incrementally. Sometimes it’s best done very quickly, you’ve got to mix your pitches.
Question: So, what was done administratively that you’re comfortable with that would allow you to approve this legislation?
Mayor: Well, first of all, well over a year ago the NYPD issued new rules to officers related to consent to search and related to providing identification. And they trained officer in it, they implemented it, and the relationship between our officers and community is better than it’s been in a long, long time. Complaints against officers are down markedly, the response to neighborhood policing is very positive and very strong, I think tensions in the City have reduced. So, that reform clearly worked both functionally for our officers and for the community. I have not found community members coming forward saying that that rule was not respected and followed, and you see what our officers are achieving – they’re on the way to quite a record year. So, the fact that something’s being codified into law after that’s already been done, after the road’s already been traveled I think is different than if it, you know, fell out of the sky, if you will. And I think the Council’s been very responsible listening to the NYPD, trying to figure out what that balance point is, but I won’t speak for my colleagues, I’ll only say I think there was a concern in the Council that the reforms [inaudible] idea, they wanted to make sure they’d be lasting.
Question: I know we spoke about this the last time that you took questions, but Sal Cassano’s son, Joseph Cassano, entered the FDNY firefighter academy on Monday. Some of your colleagues in government, including some of the people sitting at the table with you, have called on you to not let him become a firefighter. Have you heard their reasoning? Are you concerned at all?
Mayor: Sure – 100 percent, of course I understand the reasoning. I have a respectful disagreement because I believe in redemption. I can’t talk about trying to fix our Correction system and reorient to redemption – you know, we’re providing five hours of instruction and training every day to folks at Rikers Island, unlike one hour in the past, because we believe people can turn around their lives and get better. I can’t say it for one group of people and then say, well, it’s not okay for another group of people. If someone made a mistake, and it’s a horrible mistake, but have systematically done the things asked of them to atone for the mistake and to show a different and better approach – there has been no recurrence – then, he deserves a chance. If he makes another mistake, the consequences will be very harsh.
Question: If it was someone that you were hiring, would you hire someone who had did that?
Mayor: If I believe the person had systematically addressed the issue, yeah, I think, cause I – I can’t pull up an easy example for you right now, but do I know people in my life who I think did something really dumb or really inappropriate, but then proved that they had moved past it? Sure. If it was in life that you make one mistake – I mean, I know you in the media are all pristine and perfect beings, but for us mortals here on the panel –
If the ground rule was one mistake and you can no longer participate in public life, there would be essentially no one left in public life. So, there has to be a pathway to redemption. But I get it, I get why people are very upset and I get why some people would say, no, that crossed to much of a line. I just have a respectful difference on that question, it’s a pretty narrow definitional difference, in my view. But where we can all agree is there’s no additional chance after this. One additional transgression and the results will be very harsh.
Question: It seems that from some of the reporting on Cassano’s son that there has already been an additional transgression, that even after having resigned from the Department, been rehired sometime later, that he was again disciplined for leaving a child – leaving an injured black child at the scene with his parents instead of transporting him to the hospital before an ambulance arrived. So, how do you explain this to people who are – have tried to get into the Department for a long time and their records, for whatever reason, have kept them from being able to do so? And how do you explain that this person is not getting some sort of special treatment because of who they are?
Mayor: So, on the first point, I’ll always be straightforward with you when I know the details of something versus when I don’t. I don’t know the details of that further allegation or whether any action was taken. I’ll speak directly to Commissioner Nigro and I’ll be happy to speak to it after I have. I don’t want to prejudge something I don’t know, but I want to make sure you got me 100 percent, at this hour – check your watches – at this hour, of this day, any further transgression, from this point on, will be handled very harshly, period. I’ll come back to you on the previous – the second part of your question?
Question: How do you explain this to people who see it as Cassano getting special treatment because of who he is and people who have tried – have had a really difficult time getting into the Department for whatever reason – their record or not being able to pass the test several times – and this person is sort of fast-tracking –
Mayor: The Department today is a very different place than it was just a few years ago. I think it is a place that more and more people are being given an opportunity to serve in. I think it looks more and more like New York City. I can’t get into the nuances of why people in any given situation might be told, you know, something they did might be too problematic – I don’t know all of those nuances, I don’t know all of those rules. I think this should be seen exactly for what it is – if all of the other work was done appropriately, and the statements in the past were absolutely inappropriate, and there was a stipulated path to make up for that, and that path was followed, and there are no new transgressions, that to me is consistent with the notion of you give people a chance to make up for their mistakes – but that’s the end of our openness to redemption. But, again, I’m not in on all the details of this. I will absolutely get back to you on that specific point you raised.
Question: Regarding the terror attack yesterday, did the NYPD get any prior warning? Or was there anything to indicate this might happen before it did?
Mayor: So, again, investigation’s going on, I don’t want to offer any details while that’s happening. I’m only going to say very, very broad strokes. As I said, there has been a number of situations where attacks were thwarted. There are a number of situations where people are being watched carefully at any given point. From what little I can tell you at this point, this appears to be without any prior indication. He has – I think you know – did not have a criminal record, nothing that was known about his family previously that seems to be a problem from what, again, I’ve been briefed on so far. But I don’t want to say that definitively until we have concluded the investigation.
Way back – last one.
Question: Mayor, does the attack yesterday and the attacker – the way the attacker got here – cause you to consider your support for chain migration?
Mayor: I’m so glad you asked that question. My grandfather came here in 1905, and my grandmother came here a little bit before that, and they have said before they did not have a lot of formal education, they did not speak English. My grandfather, Giovanni, never really fully got the hang of English, but I want to give him credit, he didn’t have a lot of time – he was only here 70 years –
So, he – they lived the American dream. Their daughter, my mother, went to Smith College – child of immigrants – spoke Italian before she spoke English. I could go on and on. So, here’s my blunt statement to my fellow New Yorkers – and I think I should specify it because we all better – and to my fellow Americans – we all better get this right. Let’s take it from a New York perspective – if you are Italian-American, if you are Irish-American, if you are Jewish-American and your family particularly comes from Eastern Europe, so you’re part of the great waves of migration in the latter part of the 19th Century, beginning of the 20th Century – you, and probably a lot of people in your family are only here because other family members who were allowed to come after the first family members got here. That’s called family reunification. But if we’re now talking about a new generation of immigrants who are, in many cases, people of color, and suddenly it’s “chain migration,” and it’s a bad thing, well, then, are we saying we wish all of our grandparents and great grandparents were not allowed to come in, following the family members who came here first? I mean, let’s be really blunt about it – none of us – I wouldn’t be here if that were the standard. I literally would not be here because I know for a fact that for both my grandmother and grandfather, they had family members who came ahead. So, you know, it’s just disgusting to me that there’s an effort to vilify immigration and to vilify immigrants of any color whatsoever, and it’s got to stop, it’s profoundly un-American. And it’s also – you know, we’ve got to just stop this ridiculous double standard. If it was good enough for your ancestors, it should be good enough for the people of today. So, no, the President, once again, is trying to racially divide us; once again, is trying to dog-whistle. And taking the fact that one sick individual did something totally wrong and reprehensible, and then condemning all immigrants is ludicrous. And, by the way, the American people don’t buy it. The American people actually think we should have comprehensive immigration reform. The American people think the DREAMers should be allowed to stay. The American people are a lot smarter than their President.
Thank you, everyone.