What De Blasio’s 2015 State of the City Address Means for Brooklyn

Reading Between the Lines

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Mayor Bill de Blasio with US Senator Schumer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams at 2015 State of the City address, Feb 3, 2015. Courtesy of NYC.gov

Brooklyn, Feb. 3, 2015 … What was said, and not said, in today’s “State of the City” address by Mayor Bill de Blasio?

What didn’t get a mention: the 2016 Democratic National Convention at Barclays, the past year’s fumbles with the NYPD, Al Sharpton, Dante, Governor Cuomo, and yesterday’s encounter with Charles G. Hogg, the Staten Island ground hog whose predecessor died last year after being accidentally dropped by the Mayor.

Here’s my sense of the highlights of what the Mayor’s speech means for Brooklyn, keeping in mind that these big annual speeches are more aspirational than blueprints. (Did you see the President’s State of the Union? Case in point.)

Affordable Housing a Top Priority… And Expect High Rises

The Mayor promised affordable housing units in numbers unheard of in recent years in New York, a full 200,000   homes including developments in East New York, historically one of Brooklyn’s most crime-impacted neighborhoods. A total of between 400,000 and 500,000 New Yorkers will benefit from his housing initiatives, said de Blasio.

He promised more affordable housing for specific groups: low income and middle class New Yorkers of course, but also (hello, Brooklyn) “artists and makers,” and seniors.

Highrises, folks: “Since we only have so much land—we’ll create more affordable housing by literally building up: adding density to appropriate parts of our city,” he said.

Affordable Housing

To set the scene, a Fort Greene, Brooklyn  resident opened the ceremony with a first-person account of the concerns of longtime residents about being able to afford to stay in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. Even if you’re not one of those threatened by displacement, anyone who lives in or walks around Brooklyn knows this is going on in dozens of neighborhoods.

What the Mayor Proposed:

  • For Artists and Makers: To help low-income artists thrive in New York City, the Department of Cultural Affairs “will invest $30 million in 1,500 affordable live/work spaces for artists in the coming decade, working with cultural partners, housing agencies and the philanthropic community.” Sounds great but it’s over ten years, and “working with the philanthropic community” means money will have to be raised.  The City will also “convert underutilized City-owned assets into 500 below-market artist work spaces, creating new cultural hubs for communities to share in performances and arts education,” which sounds good— but we don’t know where yet.
  • For newcomers to East New York, formerly one of the city’s most dangerous areas: A new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy will require all new housing built under rezoning to include affordable units,  in East New York and elsewhere.
  • For Seniors; A new Senior Affordable Rental Apartments (SARA) program, will begin this year “to help create and preserve 10,000 units of senior housing, supported by a $400 million capital investment as well as Section 8 vouchers.” We don’t know what the time frame is; it’s meant to begin this year.
  • Free Legal Defense for Tenants in All Areas Undergoing Rezoning. Of course, there will be displacement when gentrification arrives. In the past, most low income tenants showed up in court without legal representation. According to the Mayor,” $36 million will be newly allocated to pay for free legal representation in housing court to all tenants in rezoned neighborhoods.” Nice.

Ferry Transportation

Once again, City Hall offered some hope that finally we will have a functioning year-round waterway transportation system so that neighborhoods in South Brooklyn, presumably Red Hook but who knows, maybe also Sunset Park, are more accessible. A new citywide ferry service, slated to launch in two years, is promised, with new landings and services that will link Red Hook and other points in South Brooklyn with, well, the rest of the world.   It might get as far as Coney Island, too, pending additional funding.

Cost has always bedeviled the dream of ferry transit from Brooklyn. “Pegged to the cost of a Metrocard, ” the Mayor said, “the service will be supported by City operating support and a $55 million capital commitment.” Reading the tea leaves, that means we don’t know the price of a ferry ride, or the route yet. Still  water transportation, except maybe on a chilly day like today, seems like such a good alteranative to sitting on the N/R trains.

Entrepreneurship, Jobs

The Mayor stressed his administration’s focus on small businesses in emerging industries – “from technology, to green jobs, to food exports, to advanced manufacturing ,” promising to create an  Entrepreneurship Fund for low-income New Yorkers and a Fashion Manufacturing Fund — leveraging (which I read as “pending”)  private investment.

And, the 1-5 percenters might be taxed more for educational initiatives. Stay tuned.

You can see and read the speech here.

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