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Stringer: Mayor Needs to Work More With Community on Homelessness, Housing

By Jeff Mays | February 24, 2017 2:48pm | Updated on February 27, 2017 7:12am
 Even as Comptroller Scott Stringer seemingly dismissed the idea of running for mayor during an hourlong interview with reporters and editors from DNAinfo New York, he offered strong criticisms of Mayor Bill de Blasio's management style on the issues of homelessness and affordable housing.
Even as Comptroller Scott Stringer seemingly dismissed the idea of running for mayor during an hourlong interview with reporters and editors from DNAinfo New York, he offered strong criticisms of Mayor Bill de Blasio's management style on the issues of homelessness and affordable housing.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

MIDTOWN — Comptroller Scott Stringer is often cited as one of Mayor Bill de Blasio's toughest potential challengers to his re-election bid this year.

But even as Stringer seemingly dismissed the idea of running for mayor during an hourlong interview with reporters and editors from DNAinfo New York, he offered strong criticisms of de Blasio's management style on the issues of homelessness and affordable housing, two of the city's toughest challenges.

"Right now I just spend a lot less time thinking about campaigns and running for office than the mayor does," Stringer said. "That's what they talk about. I believe the best way to run for office is to work at the job you have."

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De Blasio is set to announce a new plan to address the city's record homelessness Tuesday afternoon, a speech Stringer called the "most important announcement of his mayoralty" so far. There are currently more than 60,000 people being housed in city shelters. 

"I don't mean that politically, I just mean for the life of the city there is a correlation between how he announces a plan to fight homelessness and also, as I have been suggesting for three years, how he changes the affordable housing plan," Stringer said.

The mayor has not been transparent enough in how he deals with homelessness and affordable housing as the city rightly spends growing amounts of taxpayer dollars to tackle the vexing problems, Stringer explained.

"Show me what the goal is? Where should homelessness be? Where should the state of play be a year from now? Don't tell me where its going to be eight years from now, 10 years from now, when there's a new mayor," Stringer said.

Sources said the mayor could announce a plan to build more neighborhood-based shelters Tuesday.

"If you're going to build new shelters, then just tell people what's the overall plan. And then do something that we should be doing everyday — not just on homelessness but on affordable housing," Stringer said. "We have to go back to this notion of community-based planning. You have to go to the communities."

De Blasio spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg declined to release details of the mayor's upcoming proposal.

"Our plan will address how we will turn the tide on this decades-old problem, by focusing on a citywide, neighborhood-based approach aimed at helping our most vulnerable New Yorkers," Rothberg said in a statement.

When the city announced plans to turn a former hotel into a homeless shelter in Maspeth, Queens, residents bristled, protesting at the home of Human Resources Administration head Steven Banks. 

Regarding housing, de Blasio has been criticized for failing to work more closely with residents in his plan to rezone 15 neighborhoods. Most community boards across the city rejected de Blasio's citywide zoning proposals, and only one rezoning, in East New York, has been completed so far.

►READ MORE: Community Boards' Opinion on Rezoning Not as Important as Mine: De Blasio

Many groups and advocates, including those who supported de Blasio's successful campaign for mayor, said his affordable housing plan was not affordable enough to the New Yorkers most in need.

"It is going to be tough. It is going to cause anger, but you have to show people that you are willing to engage," Stringer said. "And this administration, whether it's their affordable housing plan or their homeless plan, they feel it is an inconvenience to have a discussion with communities around the city."

Stringer said he sees some movement in de Blasio's affordable housing plan, with recent announcements from City Hall of plans to build more housing for people making less than $40,000, as well as an effort to get a "mansion tax" to fund existing affordable housing for 25,000 senior citizens.

Still, Stringer said the city needs to get more creative. He listed his proposal for a land bank to utilize 1,150 vacant city properties as an example. There are also buildings that are in disrepair that the city could utilize, the comptroller said.

"We could build the next generation of public housing like LaGuardia did in the 1930s or the Mitchell Llama program in the '50s and '60s. What the hell are we waiting for? We've got a housing crisis," Stringer said.

The city said many of the plots are not developable, and of the more than 600 that are, 400 are in the process of being developed. The other 200 or so could take several years to move along in the development process.

"If they have plans for every one of these parcels, no one told the communities, no community board knows about this, I don't know about this. We can't get any information," Stringer said. "We are in a crisis. Put everything on the table."

It appears that Stringer's watchdog role has annoyed de Blasio. In September, the mayor called Stringer's criticism of his affordable housing plan "disingenuous" and "grandstanding" during an interview on WNYC.

"It's breathtaking how little the comptroller understands about this issue," de Blasio said.

And recently, the mayor called Stringer's refusal of a police body camera contract because of a Department of Investigation probe a "cheap stunt."

Stringer said he isn't bothered by the criticism.

"When you have the give and take between a comptroller and a mayor, speculation about what motivates the comptroller is the natural sense of, this is all about running for mayor," he said.

"To be the watchdog of our city, especially in these challenging times, has been a tremendous personal experience for me. The idea that I could serve eight years as comptroller is certainly something that's a great honor," Stringer added.

During the interview, Stringer praised the mayor for accomplishments such as settling almost all of the city's union contracts and being willing to go back and beef up his plan to preserve or create 200,000 units of housing by 2024.

Stringer said he's also on board with the mayor's vow to keep New York as a sanctuary city to protect undocumented immigrants, even if it means losing federal funding.

"I'm going to continue to support the mayor and be his champion when it comes to fighting to protect immigration in the city. This is not a political football. This is one of the critical economic issues facing the city," Stringer said.

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The comptroller also praised the mayor's plan to beef up reserves to a record $5.2 billion due to possible funding cuts from the Trump administration, but said another $1.7 billion should be added to the pot.

"I have not backed down from the fight to hold City Hall and the mayor accountable, but I think we do it in the most professional way," Stringer said, "because the goal is to make sure we serve the kids who are homeless and the people who cry out for affordable housing."