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The status quo is not working’: Council speaker backs homeless housing measure

(POLITICO) By Janaki Chadha, November 1, 2019

Council Speaker Corey Johnson offered clear support on Wednesday for legislation that would require the city to build more housing for the homeless.

The bill, introduced by Council Member Rafael Salamanca, a Bronx Democrat, would mandate all city-subsidized housing developments set aside at least 15 percent of apartments for people coming out of shelters.

“We are going to get this bill done,” Johnson said at a rally on the City Hall steps with Salamanca and other elected officials. “I can promise you that my team, in conjunction with Council Member Salamanca, is working day and night to get this done.”

The bill has broad support in the Council, with 34 sponsors signed on — a veto-proof majority — but the de Blasio administration has opposed enshrining a requirement to house the homeless into law.

“The mayor who occupies this building behind me believes that it’s okay for 21,000 children to get ready for school this morning in a shelter,” Salamanca said. “This mayor has decided that the best solution is to build more shelters. …The only solution should be figuring out how we can get people into more permanent housing.”

Johnson has previously said he supports increasing the set-aside for homeless housing but had stopped short of publicly backing the legislation.

“We have the potential to change the issue of homelessness as we know it,” he said Wednesday. “We are not going to do that by sticking with the status quo. The status quo is not working, the solutions that have been put forward are not working.”

The de Blasio administration has said the bill would make it more difficult to adapt to changes in the real estate market and could ultimately jeopardize affordable housing production. De Blasio has not vetoed a piece of legislation during his mayoralty thus far.

His ambitious plan to build or preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026 has been criticized by progressive activists and other elected officials for not producing enough apartments for homeless New Yorkers and very low-income people.

How best to structure the city’s affordable housing program will almost certainly be an issue in the next mayor’s race. Johnson is expected to run for the office, as is City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who released a report last year slamming de Blasio for not focusing his housing plan on the populations with the most acute needs.

Stringer and other elected officials had harsh words for the administration on Wednesday. 

“Let’s stop building housing that does not reflect the emergency need,” Stringer said at the rally. “This is not pie-in-the-sky. In 1938, Mayor La Guardia built public housing, in the ’50s and ’60s, Rockefeller, Lindsay, Republicans created the Mitchell-Lama housing program, Koch gave back the vacant apartments to community-based organizations and built the low-income housing in the ’80s. This administration made a deal with [the Real Estate Board of New York].”

Nathylin Flowers Adesegun, a homeless housing activist who confronted de Blasio at his Park Slope gym last year, praised them for “standing against de Blasio, who is showing us no support.”

“He doesn’t have a clue,” she said of the mayor.

The mayor’s office did not immediately return request for comment.

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