City Council Speaker Christine Quinn laid out the parameters of an affordable housing plan and committed to supporting and elevating New York City’s middle class in a lofty State of the City speech on Monday. While Quinn delivered the speech at City Hall wearing her hat as Council speaker, her elevated rhetoric and vision for the city that would outlast her term in the Council was clearly that of a politician who plans on shepherding these ideas through as the next mayor.
The address began with Quinn doing a victory lap, touting key legislation the City Council has passed over the last year, including a living wage bill and full-day pre-kindergarten programs. But the key note of the speech was what Quinn called “the dream of the middle class,” which coincided with a report from the Speaker’s office entitled “The Middle Class Squeeze” that paints a stark picture of the declining state of New York City’s middle-income earners.
Hitting on that theme, Quinn made reference to what she called an “affordability crisis” that threatens the city’s long-term diversity, specifically when it comes to housing.
“It comes as no surprise to any New Yorker that affordable housing is at the heart of this crisis,” Quinn said. “[Housing is] also central to our competitiveness as a city. Every time I meet with a business owner or major corporate leader, they tell me one of their top priorities is affordable housing, so they can attract and retain the top talent in the world.”
Quinn described her plan as ”the single largest middle class housing program since Mitchell Plan.” Central to the plan is the construction of 40,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years, layered on top of the roughly 4,000 new units of low-income housing developed through Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace Plan. To pay for this ambitious initiative, Quinn proposed utilizing unused city agency funds and borrowing money while interest and federal mortgage rates are at an all-time low.
The speaker also announced that state Sen. Martin Golden and Assemblyman Keith Wright will be introducing a Permanent Affordability Act to give building owners an incentive to convert high-end market rate housing into affordable units in exchange for capping their property taxes at a fixed percent of their building’s rental income.
Putting the city’s affordable housing in the hands of Albany comes with some risk, but Quinn’s plan has already received early support from the Real Estate Board of New York, a key player in the city’s housing community.
“We applaud Speaker Quinn for focusing on the need for both middle-class and affordable housing and the tax policies impacting them, and we look forward to reviewing the details and the legislation involved,” said Steven Spinola, president of REBNY.
Other tenets of Quinn’s housing plan include an overhaul of the city’s housing maintenance code to force landlords to keep their property in living condition, and the creation of a distressed housing preservation fund to save housing units that are in or on the verge of foreclosure.
What is clear about Quinn’s housing initiative–as well as proposals she announced to revitalize Brooklyn’s industrial waterfront and develop a plan to double the city’s exports by 2020–is that they will need to be sustained by both the next Council speaker and the next mayor. With Quinn leading the rest of the Democratic field of mayoral candidates by a solid margin (24 points ahead of her closest challenger, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, according to the most recent poll) it’s reasonable to assume that she envisions these ideas as the potential pillars of a Quinn administration.
Ruth Messinger, a former Manhattan borough president and mayoral candidate who now heads the American Jewish World Service, said that Quinn wisely used her speech to lay out her immediate goals as speaker while also projecting her future ambitions as potentially the next mayor.
“What she’s doing is using this as an opportunity because she has a future plan that’s pretty well known to everybody, and what she’s saying is, ‘Here’s a fuller vision of what I think New York City needs in these next several years or in this next decade, and this is who I would be and what I would work on, not only over these next ten months as speaker, but should I be fortunate enough to be elected mayor.’ ”
This notion of Quinn’s dovetailing interests was not lost on her colleagues in the City Council, whose reaction to the speech ranged from positive to tepid.
“I guess it’s her hope that even if she doesn’t succeed as mayor that the succeeding speaker will carry on with these programs,” Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr., said. “It’s not all that likely, but I guess it’s her hope.”
The speech concluded with an acknowledgment of the late former Mayor Ed Koch, an early endorser of Quinn’s mayoral candidacy, and she alluded to Koch’s first inaugural address, when he said, “We are the trustees of a national treasure: the City of New York itself.”
“He was talking about the very idea of New York,” Quinn said. “A city defined by opportunity, where pe0ple from every corner of the world come here to pursue their dreams. A place where hard work means that you too can have a part in the dream and promise of the middle class.”
Tags: affordable housing, Bill De Blasio, Christine Quinn, Ed Koch, housing maintenance code, Keith Wright, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, middle-class, New Housing Marketplace, Permanent Affordability Act, Peter Vallone Jr., Real Estate Board of New York, Ruth Messinger, Sen. Martin Golden, State of the City, Steven Spinola