Quinn’s middle way

It’s become de rigeur for our top city officials to all give annual State of the City addresses. As it turns out, these speeches are about more than simply raising one’s profile, and, in fact, offer many good ideas.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, in her State of the City address on Feb. 11, laid out an ambitious proposal for preserving and increasing the city’s stock of affordable and middle-class housing.

Under her plan, 40,000 new middle-income apartments would be built over the next 10 years. The money for this, Quinn said, would come from finding “increased efficiencies” in city government, basically reallocating money from wasteful programs.

It’s not as if nothing is being done now on the affordable-housing front: Under Mayor Bloomberg, 4,000 low-income units are being created per year.

Yet, it was refreshing to hear an official of Quinn’s caliber speaking forthrightly about helping keep this city a place where the middle class can still live. Despite his creation of low-income units, Bloomberg is thought of as a mayor who has focused on big-ticket development projects, such as the Hudson Yards. Under his administration, there’s finally been movement forward on the long-dormant Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.

Of course, these mega-projects are essential for the city to move forward and keep pace. And Bloomberg deserves credit for jumpstarting them — and, let’s not forget, SPURA will have a healthy amount of affordable housing.

Admittedly, Quinn has, in fact, often been criticized for being cozy with big developers. Nevertheless, her promise not to forget the middle class and New Yorkers of even less means was heartening and refreshing — and needed.

She noted that the Mitchell-Lama program created 100,000 middle-income rentals and co-ops in the 1960s and ’70s, but that many of these have been lost as Mitchell-Lama owners have converted to market rate.

So, Quinn said, her plan would create a Permanent Affordability Act to give property owners new tax incentives for not converting their units to market rate. What’s more, Quinn added, her plan could be applied to existing affordable units.

The Council speaker said, while some neighborhoods around the city have already gotten out of reach of the middle class, “we’re not giving up on any communities.”

She cited Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Throgs Neck as places on the tipping point of becoming fully gentrified, though, surprisingly, not any areas right in her own Third Council District. (Then again, she is, after all, running for mayor.)

Of course, the proof will be in the pudding as to how many of her ambitious proposals come to fruition. But it was uplifting to hear her focus so exclusively on the middle class and affordability. People of lesser economic means strive to rise to become a part of the middle class; so it’s also about ensuring that those who work hard and improve their lot in life will have a place here, as well.

The late Mayor Ed Koch produced more affordable housing — 180,000 units — than anyone, and it was one of his proudest achievements. It’s an achievement not lost on Quinn.

“The dream and promise of the middle class — that’s the dream that Mayor Koch was thinking about,” the speaker said.

She ended with a pledge to the middle class: “New York was — New York is — and New York always will be your city.”

Let’s hope so, that the Big Apple won’t increasingly be a heartless place of empty pied-à-terres, but a place with a healthy mix of income levels with strong middle-class backbone.

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One Response to Quinn’s middle way

  1. Georgette Fleischer

    Whoever wrote this editorial is out of touch with reality. We live in a country in which the rapidly widening disparity in wealth is greater than in any other country in the world, and we furthermore live in Manhattan, which contains the highest concentration of individuals in the top 1% and top 1/10 of 1% in wealth: the financial industry and big real estate rule; the rest of us merely serve. Economists, including Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, have demonstrated a direct correlation between extreme concentration of wealth in the upper percentile, and deprivation and poverty among the rest. We all know where outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg fits into this equation. For nearly twelve years we have endured the devastating effects of Mr. Bloomberg’s rarefied crassness, and painfully, the results of his cronies having been appointed to head city agencies that should be regulating conditions for all New Yorkers—City Planning, Parks and Recreation, Transportation, the Board of Standards and Appeals, Consumer Affairs. Our neighborhoods have been destroyed for all but those wealthy enough to insulate themselves from diminishing public services on the ground by occupying the towers rising into the skies. Is the Villager to have us believe that City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has not been doing the bidding of these powerful interests, that these interests will not extend themselves in order to see her elected as Bloomberg 2.0, and that she will not reward her sponsors handsomely?

    Let us focus for a moment on the history that precedes Speaker Quinn’s middle-class “pledge,” her performance on one of the biggest development schemes of the decade, NYU 2031, also known as the Sexton plan (for NYU President John Sexton). The Villager did an excellent job of covering Quinn’s July 25th martinet-like ejection from City Hall of protestors trying to defend their homes and precious public parkland from NYU’s development arm. How much did Speaker Quinn value the affordable housing of middle-class residents of Washington Square Village and surrounds? Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Politically ambitious, Quinn acts expediently but never as far as I have seen out of conviction, and it is flat-out naïve or disingenuous of the Villager to see as otherwise her recently issued statements designed to refashion herself as a champion of the middle class. As with Mayor Bloomberg, we have had almost twelve years to observe Speaker and Mayoral-hopeful Christine Quinn in action. Her record indicates that her political ambitions are strong, her commitment to public service weak.

    Georgette Fleischer
    Founder, Friends of Petrosino Square

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