Remember eight years ago, when Bill de Blasio ran for Mayor with a promise to end New York’s “Tale of Two Cities”? That didn’t quite happen, and now we have a deeper economic divide than ever. Nowhere is this more apparent than our City’s housing sector where families continue to struggle to afford their apartments, homeownership is closed off to all but the wealthiest residents, and nearly 60,000 people, many of them children, sleep in shelters every night.
We are in a housing crisis with deep and broad impacts. A lack of safe, stable housing makes it harder for young people to learn in school, harder for a parent to hold down a job, and harder for those struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues. Providing quality, affordable housing to all is both a human right and a critical component to our city’s economic recovery.
Brooklyn’s next Borough President must tackle the problems of housing affordability, NYCHA deterioration, and homelessness with a laser focus to begin delivering housing justice to all our communities.
For homelessness, the best solution is also the simplest: keep folks in the homes they’re already in. Before the pandemic, 15% of households faced the threat of eviction. Since then, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have lost their jobs, and rent relief from the State, while welcome, is insufficient to satisfy the growing rent debt many tenants are facing. When the eviction moratorium ends the ensuing wave of evictions will be catastrophic. I was proud to vote to create and expand the Right to Counsel, giving lower-income tenants access to a lawyer in housing court, but we need to do more, including increasing direct financial assistance to renters and aligning financial assistance with the actual cost of living in Brooklyn.
To achieve this, the Council should immediately pass Intro 146, which would increase the value of City-issued housing vouchers, which fall far short of the average housing costs in the city, often making them insufficient to cover rent for low-income households. Further, we must increase funding for the Human Rights Commission’s Source of Income Discrimination unit. Voucher discrimination is insidious and widespread, preventing those who are lucky enough to receive these vouchers from utilizing them. Through increased staffing in the Source of Income unit, we can begin to hold discriminatory landlords accountable and improve the usability of housing vouchers.
We also must address the horrible condition of the City’s own public housing stock — NYCHA developments. It is unconscionable for the City itself to be a slumlord, but we are, and we’re the biggest one in the five boroughs. As Borough President, I will demand that the next Mayor increase the City’s contribution to NYCHA’s capital budget, and that we have stronger accountability for NYCHA’s failed administration.
Finally, we must address the biggest housing elephant in the room: we simply do not have enough affordable housing to meet the demand. Working with communities, we must ramp up our production of truly affordable housing in every neighborhood and demand that any new housing built on City-owned land be 100% affordable. Buildable land in Brooklyn is always hard to come by, but I believe we must go further than past efforts by looking at all City, State, and federally-owned assets that have the potential to be redeveloped into permanent, truly affordable housing. Furthermore, as BP, I will explore partnerships with mission-driven organizations, including nonprofits and faith-based institutions, that have land holdings with the potential to generate affordable housing units.
Finally, when private developers do develop land, we must hold them accountable to giving back and do their fair share. I am committed to ensuring that all projects coming before the Borough President’s office must have a significant number of affordable units in order to receive approvals.
Brooklyn is at a nexus. The past year has ripped the veil off inequities that have impacted our communities for decades, and we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild in a way that begins to correct for these issues, or we can revert back to the status quo. For too many Brooklynites, a return to “normal” means a reality of housing instability, homelessness, and overcrowding.
We cannot afford to resign so many of our neighbors to housing insecurity – we need a Borough President who not only prioritizes housing, but has the energy, policy expertise, and track record of delivering to tackle this immense crisis. I have dedicated my career to the pursuit of equity through collaboration with diverse stakeholders, and I will bring this approach to Borough Hall, creating a housing framework that is truly for all of us.
City Councilman Antonio Reynoso is running for Brooklyn Borough President.
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