Crucial Issues Facing the Next Mayor

David R. Jones, The Urban Agenda

New York City’s voters will have an opportunity later this year to determine the direction on many issues that concern them.  The city will elect a new mayor in November, and a large number of City Council members are going to be replaced.  What will the priorities be for the new administration?

During the many mayoral forums already held, the plight of the middle class has been continually discussed.  And a healthy middle class is crucial to the future of the city.  But politicians shy away from discussing the city’s three million low-income residents.  Low-income Americans weren’t worth a mention during last year’s presidential campaign.  However, the issues that concern this population will affect all New Yorkers.

Affordable Housing

One of the most serious challenges facing the next mayor is the dwindling supply of housing affordable to low-income New Yorkers.  The city's economy continues to generate large numbers of low-wage jobs, yet neither the private market nor affordable housing subsidy programs are producing enough apartments to house the low-income population as it grows both in absolute numbers and as a share of the total population.

A recent housing report by the Community Service Society (CSS), “Good Place to Work/Hard Place to Live: The Housing Challenge for New York’s Next Mayor,” sets out a detailed look at the state of New York City’s public and subsidized housing stock as the next mayor will inherit it.  It reveals rapid losses in subsidized housing as well as major cuts in federal funds for Section 8 housing vouchers and the city’s public housing agency, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) - this in the face of an unprecedented 50,000 homeless New Yorkers.

The next mayor should end NYCHA’s practice of paying the city $98 million per year for police services and Payments in Lieu of Taxes.  There is no good reason for continuing these payments, as many mayoral candidates agree, given NYCHA’s poor financial condition, the physical deterioration of its housing, and the plan to close community and senior centers.  The mayor can end these payments without any need for legislation.

If NYHCA’s Infill plan for private redevelopment of available land moves forward, it should be focused on the creation of new affordable housing, not just the generation of cash flow for the Authority.

The city’s should use its own resources as well as project-basing Section 8 vouchers to make newly developed housing affordable to people with lower incomes, especially in neighborhoods where low-income people face the greatest threat of displacement. 

     Mid-Level Jobs

Cheerleaders for the current administration will tell you that many thousands of jobs have been created in the city since the end of the recession.  The problem is that many of them are low-wage, dead end jobs.  Income inequality is greater in New York City than anywhere else in the nation.  And the city’s business community is well aware of the problem.

The Partnership for New York City is a network of business leaders dedicated to enhancing the economy of New York City.  In April, it released an in-depth analysis of the state of New York City’s economy and a comprehensive set of recommendations for what the next mayor can do, with the help of employers, educators, and organized labor, to accelerate job growth and expand opportunities for all New Yorkers.

The report proposes that employers commit to map career-oriented curricula, provide mentors, work experience, and job opportunities for public high school and community college students at a meaningful scale.  The city should build a network of Urban Tech Campuses that provide affordable housing and flexible work space; create new public-private investment vehicles to finance necessary infrastructure improvements; and establish industry-labor partnerships to promote the growth of good jobs in key industry sectors.

Social Safety Net

A great deal of this involves the creation of mid-level jobs, crucial to the economic health of the city.  Too many New Yorkers lack the skills to fill those jobs.  But education alone will not close the income gap in this city.  Paul Krugman, writing in The New York Times, understands this.

“The only way we could have anything resembling a middle-class society ……. would be by having a strong social safety net, one that guarantees not just health care but a minimum income, too.  And with an ever-rising share of income going to capital rather than labor, that safety net would have to be paid for to an important extent via taxes on profits and/or investment income.”  Will the next mayor fight to strengthen the social safety net?  

There are other important issues, such as the struggle over the NYPD’s use of stop and frisk tactics.  Its merits and effectiveness were the focus yesterday at a mayoral debate at Harlem’s Schomburg Center.

If not successfully confronted, income inequality, growing homelessness, the lack of middle income jobs, and a tattered social safety net will mean more poverty, more people living on the streets, a weakened economy, and, eventually, civic unrest.  These issues affect the lifestyle of all New Yorkers.

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