Economic Equality was the overarching theme at New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s State of the City Address on Monday, February 13.
The event, which was held at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, was his last annual pitch in the final year of his first term before the start of his reelection campaign year. He ran down the list of strides made by his administration toward building fair housing, increasing employment, improving education and decreasing illegal evictions..
But in an admirable show of humility, the mayor went straight to the elephant in the room: the city’s outrageous affordability crisis. He admitted the city’s shortcoming in focusing so much on building “affordable housing,” when little has been done in the way of job creation or wage increases. In fact, while housing in New York City has skyrocketed 22 percent from 1990 -2014, wages have only increased a mere 1 percent.
“We have to respond to that kind of profound crisis with even stronger solutions,” said de Blasio. “We have to drive up incomes.”
The mayor went on to speak anecdotally about some of his plans to drive up incomes but not before first touting some of his administrative successes via legislation pushed through Albany:
- A minimum wage increase to $15
- New paid sick leave legislation passed
- New paid parental leave legislation passed
- 70,000 children now enrolled in Pre-Kindergarten
Other achievements listed included:
- Wages up 5%
- Highest ever graduation rates
- 77% of graduates enrolling in college
- Mental health support in every school
- 24% fewer evictions city-wide
- Two consecutive years of rent freezes
- Safest year (in crime) in New York City’s history
- Stop-and-Frisk Down 97%
Whether some of those successes have been felt yet by residents citywide seemed left up to interpretation, and perhaps questionable, as the mayor remained on the defense, continually returning to the topic of the city’s economic and job crisis. “Everything we’ve been doing is right, but it’s not sufficient,” he said.
He talked about “ordinary New Yorkers” working harder than ever to make ends meet: “So many people are afraid that they cannot afford the city they love; the city they have given so much to,” de Blasio acknowledged. “We have to talk about the city in new and different ways, because all those millions of New Yorkers need to know that this is still their city.”
At the address, the mayor showed a video that profiled real-life stories of New Yorkers struggling to make ends meet, new immigrants adjusting to the city, small business owners and the successes of the universal Pre-K program, all of which presented a healthy cross-section of a residency that, collectively, shared in a diverse set of challenges but were managing to find ways to overcome each and every one.
“So many people love this city, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to live here,” he continued. “For a lot of seniors, this is not an easy place to live; for a lot of young people just starting out, it’s not so easy. For folks struggling to make ends meet, this can be a punishing environment.”
The mayor pledged in the next ten years to add 100,000 “good-paying” jobs, benefitting at least a quarter-million New Yorkers–40,000 of which would be created in the next four years.
Some of those jobs– around 1,500– would come from a proposed industrial and manufacturing center called the Made in NY campus, a new hub planned in Sunset Park, Brooklyn for garment, fashion and film production industries. He also proposed a plan to retrofit buildings across the city for energy efficiency, adding another 3,000 workers over the next three years.
He made a commitment to tackle the steadfast problem of homelessness and drug addiction by continually addressing the growing problem of mental illness, an initiative undertaken already by his wife Chirlane McCray’s ThriveNYC. He also spoke briefly about the city’s swelling population and street congestion. Ironically, he spent little time elaborating on his plan for improving community-police relations, deflecting instead to a near-100 percent drop in stop-and-frisk arrests and a record low number of crime incidents.
“The state of the city is that we are safer than we have ever been,” de Blasio exclaimed. “The era of neighborhood policing has begun. The era of stop-and-frisk has ended.”
Overall, however, he focused most squarely on housing and the rising cost of living in New York City where residents are leaving by the droves, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual update of population estimates. In fact, the latest estimates bring New York’s total “net domestic migration” loss since the 2010 census to 653,071 people—the largest such decrease of any state, both in absolute terms and as a percentage.
“We have the biggest affordable housing plan in the history of this city, but we have to go even farther,” said de Blasio. “We have to now focus on the other half of the equation: We have to drive up incomes. And that means helping people get the kind of jobs that allow you to afford to live in New York City.
“Good-paying jobs,” he added, defining them as those that paid at least $50,000 a year.
“This will be the new frontline in the battle to keep New York City affordable,” he continued. “We’ve got to do everything at once. We’ve got solve the housing problem every chance we get; w’eve got to solve the income problem every chance we get.”
On the eve before Valentine’s Day, the mayor focused much of his time speaking to the public about his commitment to job creation and wealth building in the city, so that in addition to being known as the mayor where crime is at a record low, he is not also known as that mayor where resident migration was at an all-time high.
He added, “Finally, I want to say, to my wonderful wife and my partner in all things, ‘Honey, I remember that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day… Will you be my Valentine?'”