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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Visits CLearview Senior Center Residents to Discuss Water Bill Credit

December 8, 2016

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you so much. Well, I'm really happy to be here with you. This is the – this is something that so many people care about in this city that I want to talk to you about, because, let's face it, it is hard to make ends meet in New York City, correct?

Not just a few people, millions of people – they get whatever income they have; whether it is a paycheck, whether it is social security, pension, whatever you have – and you try to make ends meet each month, and it is hard to do. The cost of living in this city is high. And what people care about is knowing that – anything they spend money on – that they are getting a fair deal.

If they are paying taxes they want to know they get their money's worth. If they're spending money on housing, they want to make sure they are living in a good place. That is how people's lives go. I want to talk to you, today, about something that was done the wrong way for years and years in this city. It took money out of the pockets of New Yorkers, unfairly. It took money out of the pockets of homeowners, unjustly. And we are righting that wrong, but we have one challenge and I want to talk to you about it. I want you to hear about it. There's something you can do about it.

First, let me thank everyone who makes this center great. I just want to say a few thank you and acknowledgements upfront. Let's thank everyone at Clearview for the great work they do.

[Applause]

I want to thank our great Commissioner for the Aging who supports senior centers all over this city, Donna Corrado. Thank her for all she does.

[Applause]

I will [inaudible] our new Borough Chief, Chief Holmes, we thank you for all you do to protect us; our wonderful acting Commissioner at the Department of Environmental Protection – that is who provides all our water – Vincent Sapienza thank you.

[Applause]

There he is, sorry.

And then you're going to hear from my colleagues in government; your Councilmember Paul Vallone, that does such a great job for the community.

[Applause]

And the Chair of the Environmental Protection Committee in the City Council, who looks out for the water supply for every single New Yorker, Councilman Costa Constantinides – thank you – from Queens – from Astoria.

[Applause]

Alright, let me tell you this story it's so important. So, I said we had to create fairness for people. We had to help people make ends meet. There are a lot of things we have to do to do that. We had to find a way to keep the water bill as low as possible. There's been – every year there's some increase in the water bill because it cost more money every year to provide water. This year was the lowest increase in 16 years. It was only a two percent increase. So, for so many people, thank God, that lightened the burden.

We provided 120,000 seniors with relief on their water bill – 120,000 New Yorkers got relief on their water bill because of their income level. And then we said we wanted to do something more. We wanted to give something back to people who had worked so hard. So, I said it is time to stop what was a hidden tax in the water bill. For years and years you paid the water bill, but you didn't just pay for water. There was a hidden tax baked into it; had a strange title. They called it a rental payment – it didn't make any sense. What it was was a hidden tax. People were spending money on the water bill. It was going to things that had nothing to do with water. I said if you pay a water bill you should just pay for the water. I'm a homeowner myself in Brooklyn. Every homeowner – over 600,000 homeowners – deserves a water bill that actually is just about the water.

So, what we decided to do earlier this year was no longer have the hidden tax, cancel the hidden tax, no longer burden the homeowners, and give money back – $183 per homeowner – $183.

[Applause]

Now, everyone knows it is a rare thing for the government to actually give money back to people. This was righting a wrong for the past. Everyone deserved this money, so we started the wheels in motion and people were supposed to get that money over the summer. You were going to get $183 credit on your water bill. Why didn't it happen? Because the landlord lobby sued us. The landlords – the big landlords that own big apartment buildings, they are called the RSA – the Rent Stabilization Association. They sued the City of New York to block us from giving 600,000 people money back. A bunch of powerful, wealthy landlords who could afford all the lawyers in the world sued your city to stop 600,000 people from getting money back, and then tying us up in court. We're going to fight them and I believe we're going to win in the end.

By the way, when we gave a rent freeze to 2 million New Yorkers – over the last two years we have had a rent freeze in this city for 2 million people. You know, don't you?

[Laughter]

They sued us, the same landlord lobby – the RSA sued us to stop the rent freeze. Think about that. It affects two million people and they tried to stop it. So, we're going to fight back in court and we want all New Yorkers to be a part of supporting us in this because it is just not fair. It's not fair that hardworking people are being kept from money they deserve. We're going to keep going to court as long as it takes. We expect to prevail. And one day, I hope, soon everyone who has to pay a water bill see that credit in their water bill.

Now, as I said, we have gotten such wonderful support and efforts to help everyday people make ends meet from our colleagues in the City Council. They have been extraordinarily in fighting for the needs of homeowners and for renters and everyday people. And when I talk about ending the hidden tax I got a lot of support and a lot of amens from the City Council. And none stronger than my good friend and your councilmember – I want you to hear from him now – Paul Vallone.

[…]

Question: As a long time rent controlled tenant, along with my husband, I wanted to know how rent-regulated tenants can get increased savings. And I'd like to plan something in your [inaudible].

Mayor: Yes.

Question: If you're familiar, you must be, with the maximum base rent law – there is another line item, fuel [inaudible], which I think at this point should be revisited because the [inaudible] goes up to seven-and-a-half percent every year. And I think things will be equalized. 

Mayor: Excellent. Thank you, Rochelle. First of all, thank you, you're a knowledgeable citizen. Excellent – and we're going to work with the Councilman on that particular issue. You know your facts, and we're going to work with him on that one, so make sure we follow up together. But let me tell you – to your question – the question is for those who rent, for seniors who rent what can be done to give them some help and to lighten to burden. So, here's an amazing number – it blows me away – there are almost 80,000 seniors and folks with disabilities in this city who are eligible for a rent freeze and are not getting it because all we need them to do is fill out some paperwork, and they don't realize it's as simple as that – 80,000 New Yorkers. Those are folks who are eligible for what's called SCRIE and DRIE – two rent increase exemption programs that we run with the State. We are now sending out teams of people all over the City to find people who are eligible for these programs and get them signed up. Any senior who makes less than $50,000 can qualify for a rent freeze and any disabled person who is low income and over 18 years old can qualify for a rent freeze, but as I'm telling you 80,000 people are not getting the rent freeze they deserve. So, we're trying to do something about it, going out to communities, working with our colleagues in the City Council, and if anyone knows anybody who might be eligible, we want to get them those forms. It's easy to do. We're going to help them fill out the forms and get them the rent freeze.

And then for everyone else – as I said – for two years running we've done a rent freeze for two million people in rent-stabilized housing. There's one more thing I want to tell you. There are people in this city who have been harassed by their landlords, not given heat and hot water, not given repairs when they ask for them, overcharged rent, being told the rent is higher than its legally allowed to be, and worst case there are people in this city who have been illegally evicted by landlords. It used to be a lot of those people did not know their rights and did not have a lawyer. We've done something. We put $62 million into giving people a free lawyer to stop an illegal eviction, to stop overcharges of rent, to stop harassment by a landlord. All you have to do is – you think you're a victim of any of those kinds of situations, you pick up the phone and you call 3-1-1-. It's all you have to do. You pick up the phone you call 3-1-1, describe the situation. Our lawyers will look. If they think there's a violation of the law, we will give you a lawyer for free to go to housing court, to fight for your interest. As I mentioned a moment ago, since we've started giving people free lawyers, evictions have gone down in the entire city 24 percent in just the last two years, and we are going to go farther. So every time you stop an illegal eviction – especially of a senior – they get to keep the affordable housing they have for the long-term. So please, if you know anyone who's being mistreated by a landlord, tell them to pick up the phone and call 3-1-1. It's as simple as that. Thank you.

[Applause]

Who else has a question? That one?

Councilmember Vallone: Did you have a question you wanted to ask?

Mayor: Hold on, wait for the microphone coming to you.

Question: I'm reading over this pamphlet – this little piece of paper they gave us – it says about the $183 of water credit, is this going to be open to everyone or just seniors?

Mayor: No, the water credit is for 600,000 homeowners, all over the City, all five boroughs. Homeowners who pay the water bill, every single one of them will get the $183 credit. On top of that seniors who are lower income can get relief from the water bill in addition to that, but the $183 is literally for every homeowner in New York City.

Question: Thank you because my water bill is astronomical. I'm a – I just live down the block from here, and I know my neighbors and everybody. We've been complaining. It's been out of control, totally out of control these bills. I'm glad that something is being done.

Mayor: We're going to keep doing everything we can. Let me tell you – and what you know now is you will not be paying for anything more than water. When we prevail in court, you'll get your $183 credit. We're going to keep the increases – when we have to do them – we're going to keep them as low as possible to keep up with the cost of providing the water, but the other thing is we're going to make sure if anyone qualifies for a further reduction in water bill – especially because they're a senior – we're going to help them. 120,000 seniors have already benefitted, so we're going to make sure we get to even more. Thank you.

[Applause]

Councilmember Vallone: So, the Mayor is the Mayor for the whole city. He's got five boroughs to run, too. He's promised to go to some of the tables, so for the questions he's going to come around. I just wanted to take this minute to give you one last easy question because every day I drop my Charlie Vallone – fourth grade over at [inaudible] and I looked at Charlie, and I said, Charlie, what would you ask the Mayor since he's coming today? And he said – you know, he's big into the holidays – ask the Mayor where he and his family are going to be spending Christmas this year? And I said, that's a great question. Where are you going to be spending the holidays?

Mayor: Paul, the most wonderful thing for me is just to be with my family, so we're going to be at Gracie Mansion. My daughter graduated college in June, and we're very proud of her, and she's living with us like pretty much every young person now lives with their family. So, that's good. We've got room for her. We're thrilled she's here. My son is going to college. He's a sophomore at Yale. We're very, very proud of him, so he's nearby. He'll come home for Christmas, so it will be a nice Christmas together at Gracie Mansion. It doesn't get better than that.

Councilmember Vallone: Perfect. That's as good as it gets. Let's give a big hand for our great Mayor everybody. Thank you to Self Help as always and to [inaudible] and for all our seniors – God bless every one of you. Have a wonderful, happy holiday season and Merry Christmas.

Mayor: Let me add to everyone – let's make this a beautiful and peaceful holiday season for everyone. It's a troubled world, but, I have to tell you, this city – I always say – this city – look around the room, every kind of person from every part of the world – no matter what religion you are, no matter what country your family comes from, no matter what language you speak in this city we find a way to live and let live and get along, and that's part of what New York City has to teach this country and this whole world, and we should celebrate that with the holiday season.

So, happy Hanukkah; Merry Christmas; Happy New Year to everyone.

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