NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday announced a massive $2.6 billion housing investment to help New York City’s homeless, declaring that the city would not wait for New York state’s help in combating a growing crisis that has dominated headlines and damaged the mayor’s poll numbers.
Over the next 15 years, the city will pay for the creation of 15,000 “supportive housing” units, apartments that will be paired with on-site social services to help domestic abuse victims, veterans, drug addicts and those living on the street. Currently, there are nearly 58,000 people in city shelters and a few thousand more estimated to be living on the streets of the nation’s largest city.
The city and state had been negotiating on funding a new supporting housing program but de Blasio announced Wednesday that City Hall would forge ahead on its own.
“We are acting decisively. We are not waiting on Albany,” de Blasio said. “It was time for New York City to act. It was a simple as that.”
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Talks began in February to create the fourth installment of the so-called New York/New York program, which would have split the responsibility between city and state for funding 12,000 units of housing. But they collapsed over a dispute about the cost breakdown and have become the latest front in the ongoing cold war between de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a pair of Democrats whose feud has dominated state politics.
But while de Blasio has frequently been outmaneuvered by an aggressive Cuomo — who, in recent months, positioned the state to take the lead on New York City-centric issues ranging from battling Legionnaires’ Disease to regulating nail salons — this time the mayor struck first and said that the city would shoulder the cost of the entire program. The funding for the initiative includes $1 billion in city capital funding and $1.6 billion from low-income tax credits and other private sources.
“It’s time for the state to step up,” said a noticeably enthusiastic de Blasio, who seemed invigorated by the campaign rally-like feel of Wednesday’s news conference, complete with cheers from housing advocates and the formerly homeless. “I made a very public request of the state back in February. We weren’t seeing the kind of forward motion we needed, it was just time to act.”
A Cuomo spokeswoman said the state would provide “additional resources” to combat homelessness and took a swipe at de Blasio’s alleged tardiness in addressing the problem.
“Everyone understands the city has had a very real homeless problem and we’re glad the city is starting to act on it,” said Dani Lever.
De Blasio’s supportive housing plan — which will be paired with more immediate homelessness programs like reserving beds at houses of worship — drew praise from many homeless advocates.
“For New Yorkers suffering with mental illness and other disabilities, on the cusp of facing another brutal winter on our city’s streets, Bill de Blasio has just thrown them a lifeline of hope,” said Mary Brosnahan, President of the Coalition for the Homeless.
The move also comes as the public’s concerns about homelessness have begun to take its toll on City Hall.
Some highly visible examples of homelessness have become a regular sight in the city’s tabloids and on local TV newscasts, and a poll released this week showed that nearly two-thirds of New Yorkers disapproved of how de Blasio has handled the issue. The mayor’s overall approval ratings have also sunk, topping out in the low 40s in several recent polls.