On Monday night, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio stood on the stage of the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, and delivered his third State of the City address—the last before he runs for reelection this November. As on so many other big nights for the mayor, those who support him and those who don’t will light upon the same reasons, spun different ways, for their vastly different sentiments.
De Blasio, for instance, is never shy about expressing his deep affection for his wife, Chirlane McCray. Some of us think the professions d’amour are cute, but others could do without.
His rhetoric trudges rather than rolls, waylaid by gaping pauses and the circuitous structure that comes from winging it. That lack of showmanship is endearing. Or not.
And then there’s the big one: that the mayor is still talking about the housing-affordability crisis that got him elected nearly four years ago. Some will fault him for not having solved that crisis yet, or for milking for political gain an emergency he knew he would be incapable of ending as mayor, or for adopting policies that failed to truly address the problem.
There’s merit to some of that skepticism, but it’s not as important as this truth: Housing affordability and income inequality are the most dire threats facing New York City, and a good mayor cannot help but at least try to wrestle that monster, even if it takes more than three years—and even if it takes a change in attack.
De Blasio has focused since taking office on trying to create and regulate housing so as to reduce the pressures on rent. On Monday night, however, he devoted the bulk of his speech to a sweeping promise to address the income side of that affordability crisis.
“We understand that the affordability crisis is a fundamental and a profound problem. It’s deep, but it’s not complicated. The math is real simple: Housing costs kept rising and rising, but incomes didn’t,” the mayor said, noting that from 1990 to 2014 the average rent in New York City increased 22 percent, adjusted for inflation, while over an even longer span real wages rose only 1 percent. “That’s what went wrong. That’s why people are struggling.”
He pointed to steps he’s taken to address that struggle: paid sick leave, support for a higher minimum wage, a two-year freeze on rents in rent-stabilized housing and—in just the past few days—announcing that he’d tilt his housing-development plan more toward lower incomes and pay for every tenant facing eviction to eventually have counsel in housing court. But he added: “We have to go even farther. Everything we’ve been doing so far is necessary. I believe it’s right, but I believe it’s not sufficient.”