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True Public Safety is Housing for Every New Yorker

February 28, 2022

Mayor Adams’ decision not to prioritize housing in his preliminary budget is shortsighted and irresponsible.

Photo Credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Mayor Eric Adams’ self-proclaimed theme of his administration is “Get Stuff Done,” but when it comes to the housing crisis, Adams’ plans thus far do little to address the severity of the issue. In the announcement of his preliminary budget released earlier this month, Mayor Adams makes virtually no mention of housing, and his proposed budget includes cuts to the agencies overseeing housing and homelessness. A budget is a reflection of an administration’s priorities and Mayor Adams has sent one message loud and clear: housing is not a top concern.

This comes despite the fact that currently tens of thousands New Yorkers sleep on the streets or in shelters, and thousands more are behind in rent and face eviction, in part due to drying up of emergency rental assistance funds. While Wall Street profits and real estate sales are up, everyday working families are still struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and unemployment remains high.

Mayor Adams has championed fiscal restraint, parading the $6.1 billion in reserves included in his budget to help the City withstand future “rainy days'' and crises. But in terms of housing, the crisis is here and now, and fiscal responsibility means spending what is needed to prevent even greater long-term costs in both monetary and human terms. This is not a time for austerity. 

More specifically, the Mayor’s budget imposes a 3% cut to the operating budgets of most city agencies, including Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and Department of Social Services (DSS). These cuts will be achieved in part by letting vacant staff positions go unfilled; the Mayor’s plan will reduce the municipal worker headcount by more than 10,000 employees by the end of Fiscal Year 2023.

While some agencies (Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and NYC Health + Hospitals) were rightfully exempted from these cuts, the City’s agencies overseeing housing were not, regardless of the near unanimous opposition from housing advocates. Furthermore, and despite promises Adams made on the campaign trail, the capital budgets for both HPD and NYCHA remain flat in Adams’ proposed budget, even though there is dire need to invest now in maintaining our public housing infrastructure and to create additional sorely needed affordable housing.

The Mayor has defended his budget by saying that it’s the best path forward to simultaneously address public safety and achieve fiscal responsibility. But the idea that we will achieve true public safety without significant investment in housing is shortsighted. Deploying more police to streets and subway platforms does nothing to tackle the fundamental root causes of violence and homelessness, and scapegoating people without homes will not make our city safer.

Similar to how urging individual tenants to “close the door” is not enough to prevent catastrophic fires caused by corporate landlords’ negligence and greed, a narrow focus on punitive action will not address the systemic issue of homelessness. Innumerable research studies have shown that evidence-based interventions like supportive housing work to reduce the use of costly emergency room visits, stays in psychiatric hospitals, and re-incarceration. Investing in housing, along with services, is a comprehensive, holistic, and fiscally responsible solution to both homelessness and public safety – creating jobs, improving health and economic outcomes, and decreasing overall costs to society. 

On the flip side, the consequences of not investing in housing are steep, and much more inefficient overall. ANHD members – mission-driven, nonprofit housing developers, housing organizers and advocates, and community-based social service providers – as well as the communities they serve will be the first to experience the impact of these budget cuts on the ground. Mayor Adams’ budget will mean more NYCHA tenants languishing in abysmal and unsafe conditions, more delays to the affordable housing development pipeline, more challenges in leasing up vacant units and responding to code violations.

The theory that simply reducing headcount will automatically achieve greater efficiency remains to be seen – if anything, fewer staff at critical agencies like HPD and DHS will slow down the vital pipeline of housing and services that are so desperately needed at this time. If Mayor Adams wants to talk efficiency, let’s talk about the real data-driven solutions – housing vouchers, capital subsidies for 100% deeply and permanently affordable housing, a more streamlined referral system for homeless units, investment in climate resiliency – that can cut bureaucratic red tape, achieve significant cost savings over time, and guarantee every New Yorker has a safe and stable place to live so we can withstand the future storms to come. 

Let us not forget that housing justice is also racial justice. BIPOC communities are overwhelmingly hit the hardest by evictions, housing insecurity and homelessness, as well as gun violence and police brutality. A lack of investment in housing is therefore fundamentally a lack of investment in tackling persistent racial inequity and closing the racial wealth gap. While Mayor Adams says that “the NYPD is our first line of defense against gun violence,” we say that more cops are not the solution; housing security, access to good jobs, and robust community services must be our first lines of defense. It’s certainly true that we can spend our City’s resources more wisely, and many City agencies are in need of reform, but ANHD and our members fundamentally oppose the idea that investment in housing is equivalent to “waste and inefficiency.” 

If there’s anything we’ve learned through this pandemic, it’s that no one is safe until we are all safe. While vulnerable New Yorkers, and particularly BIPOC New Yorkers, will bear the highest burden of Mayor Adams’ austerity budget, the reality is that the housing and homelessness crisis affects everyone.

For a more just and equitable future, and to achieve true public safety, we need investment in housing now and a guaranteed Right to a Roof for every New Yorker. 

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