During Thursday's forum, four main requests were voiced: to rehabilitate existing NYCHA units, to allocate capital for new affordable units, to use vacant NYCHA land for senior housing and to hold landlords accountable for illegal evictions
On Thursday evening, four of the eight candidates running for City Council speaker - Councilmembers Jumaane Williams, Corey Johnson, Mark Levine and Robert Cornegy - faced the community's pressing questions around the city's affordable housing crisis. Public Advocate Letitia James, East Brooklyn Congregations (EBC) and Metro Industrial Areas Foundation (Metro IAF) hosted the third New York City Council speaker candidate forum.
A large audience of about 1,200 people, consisting of residents, advocates and developers, used Thursday's forum to voice four major requests: to rehabilitate existing NYCHA units, to allocate capital for new affordable units, to use vacant NYCHA land for senior housing and to hold landlords accountable for illegal evictions.
The forum kicked off with the topic of rehabilitating and preserving affordable housing. Two weeks ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed his Housing 2.0 Plan which seeks to build and preserve 200,000 housing units by 2024. Members of the EBC and the audience pressed the candidates to specify what percentage of the units they think should be reserved for families with annual incomes under $40,000. Levine was uncertain about a concrete number, yet Cornegy stated it should be 30 percent.
[perfectpullquote align="left" cite="" link="" color="" class="" size=""]"The city should put the money into [fixing] it," Wiliams said. "The city as a landlord should be treated as any other landlords." [/perfectpullquote]
With the recent revelations of NYCHA falsely certifying lead inspections, the topic of debilitating conditions of NYCHA buildings loomed large. One EBC member claimed that it will take $20 billion to fix the problem and wondered where the money will come from. Williams stated that it was the city's responsibility and further suggested forming a separate authority to administer the capital.
"The city should put the money into [fixing] it," he said. "The city as a landlord should be treated as any other landlords."
A few audience members received the opportunity to share their personal stories of eviction, touching on the issues of affordable senior housing and illegal practices of landlords.
Linda Watts, a 61-year-old minister from Bedford-Stuyvesant and her three grandchildren were asked by their landlord to vacate their home by October 31 - yet with no place to go, due to the city's shortage of affordable senior housing. Currently, senior residents in need of housing are facing wait times of up to five years before an affordable unit becomes available. In response to the issue, EBC members proposed to build 15,000 senior affordable units on vacant NYCHA-owned land within the next four years. The four councilmen expressed strong support for such a proposal.
Anaiyah Vinson, a 16-year-old former Bushwick resident now living in Pennsylvania after being evicted from her grandparents' house, endures a daily five-hour commute to attend school in NYC. She shared that her former landlord is now in prison for illegal eviction practices, but she wanted to know what the candidates plan to do to protect tenants from the "tens of thousands of landlords like that out there." The Councilmen were all in agreement that stricter punishment should be imposed on them.
"But multi-thousand-dollar fines and imprisonment are not enough," said Johnson. "We should take their buildings away."
In conclusion, the four councilmembers presented their ideas on how to improve the mayor's new plan to fight homelessness. Levine said he "will make supportive housing a priority." Johnson suggested that "shelters should not have a sobriety requirement." In Williams's opinion housing and homelessness are two sides of the same coin.
"Now there is a plan for homelessness and a plan for housing. We should take away the plan for homelessness and have one plan for housing to streamline the process," he said.
Thursday's event was one of multiple forums and debates leading up to the City Council speaker election in January 2018. On Friday, December 1, NY1 will host the only televised City Council speaker debate and all eight candidates are expected to participate.