Mayor Eric Adam and New York Governor Kathy Hochul announce subway safety plan at the Fulton Street Subway Station on Friday , February 18, 2022. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

NYC Mayor Eric Adams slashes housing resources in budget

Just seven weeks into his term, the freshly minted municipal leader is saving billions. Yet, his problem-solving places additional burdens on some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers. 

The devil is in the details. Or in this case, the $98.5 billion budget proposed by newly elected New York City Mayor Eric Adams. Unveiled last week, the financial blueprint directs funds toward childcare and policing among other things. All the while, the budget slashes resources for thousands of residents who depend on some form of housing assistance.

Prioritizing public safety, economic recovery and responsible oversight of the City’s resources, Mayor Adams’ spending estimates force agencies servicing the homeless to operate with one-fifth of its previous budget. Included in the cuts are 131 unfilled staffing positions. To add, less money will be given to adult shelters starting July 1, at the top of the 2023 fiscal year. Of what Adams calls “effective planning and management,” the new plan decreases the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS) spending by $615 million, or from $2.8 billion to $2.15 billion in the 2023 fiscal year.

In his comments, the mayor expressed the city was in a transformative time. “Now, after two years of struggle, we are on the brink of a recovery that offers . . . a once-in-a-lifetime generation[al] opportunity to make real change on a grand scale,” said the retired police-officer-turned-politician at a press conference explaining his plans. After pandemic-era setbacks Mayor Adams assured his projections implement solutions “to change the way we work and live.”

At the start of his term, the mayor came into office with all five boroughs in a budget deficit. Receipts showed a budget gap in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 totaling $10.4 billion. Under the previous administration, the “pandemic-triggered recession” led to a downfall in state and city revenue. Subsequently increasing annual budget gaps to at least $6 billion every year, starting in the 2022 fiscal year.

In response, Mayor Adams cut $2 billion in spending with a plan to “eliminate the gap.” By his numbers, and what he calls “judicious management” of the “public purse,” the initiative will increase the City’s financial reserves to their largest in recorded history—$6.1 billion.

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Mayor Eric Adams and New York Governor Kathy Hochul, along with the mayors of Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers, unveil the new Joint Security Operations Center (JSOC) that will bolster New York State’s ability to combat cybersecurity threats and attacks. 11 MetroTech Center, Brooklyn. Tuesday, February 22, 2022. Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

At the same time, the former New York Police Department (NYPD) captain vowed to amp up policing in the extensive subway system. In collaboration with New York Governor Hochul, the crackdown is a way of reducing crime by the City’s homeless population in the 32-mile-stretch of the Metro Transit Authority (MTA). The Subway Safety Plan was pitched as a law enforcement-infused agenda with promises to include holistic approaches in dealing with the overflow of homeless persons in the underground public transportation circuits.

“There are parts of the Mayor’s subway safety plan that seem positive and we look forward to reviewing in more detail, such as the increase in health services at DHS sites, creation of drop-in centers near subway stations, and increased coordination across government,” NYC Council Speaker Adrienne E. Adams commented. Yet, she added with caution that “ramping up NYPD enforcement of MTA rules” runs the risk of being “counterproductive by criminalizing people who are in need of housing or treatment.”

Prior to the reign of Adams, DHS already made strides to lessen their economic footprint during the current fiscal year. They reduced their budget by $109 million as part of previous mayor Bill de Blasio’s Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) cost saving mandate; with the bulk of reductions stemming from the stop of commercial hotels for families with children in need. 

While Mayor Adams—whose campaign coffers were filled by industry persons in big real estate—claims to implement solutions to longstanding problems such as homelessness, the critics of the Subway Safety Plan vehemently disagree. 

“It is sickening to hear Mayor Adams liken unsheltered homeless people to a cancer. They are human beings,” wrote Shelly Nortz, Deputy Executive Director for Policy with Coalition for the Homeless in a response to Mayor Adams’ explanation of The Subway Safety Plan.

“Folks are sleeping on subways [because government] has failed to build necessary, caring infrastructure,” messaged NYC Councilmember Tiffany Cabán (D-District 22). The self-declared queer abolitionist said that budgets should be treated as “moral documents.”

On the other hand, artist and homeless advocate Sham DeBaron showed unwavering support for the new public safety program. “I was that person that you see in the street and the subway,” recounted DeBaron during the subway plan announcement. “I had nowhere to go. I did seek [housing] help, but help was hard to find.”

Affectionately dubbed “da homeless hero,” DeBaron spent a majority of his life on the NYC streets while his parents struggled with addiction. Now, he advocates for the rights of displaced locals and works with Mayor Adams on related initiatives. DeBron was also highly critical of the DHS head, Stephen Banks, who led during the Bill de Blasio Administration. Right before Mayor Adams came into power, Banks left the agency.

Mayor Eric Adams takes picture with MTA worker at Subway Safety Plan announcement at Fulton Street Station on Friday 19, 2022. Collaboration is with New York Governor Kathy Hochul. Photo credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

The City that never sleeps 

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated a palpable pre-pandemic housing crisis. In January 2019, DHS reported that 63,839 individuals slept in shelters that month. With current economic uncertainties and rising eviction cases,“the pandemic and related economic crisis made it clear we needed to step up with additional resources and increase awareness for our programs that keep New Yorkers in their homes,” said Joanne M. Oplustil, President and CEO of Brooklyn-based CAMBA.”

As reported by the Coalition of the Homeless, homelessness in NYC now mirrors that of the Great Depression period in the 1930s. In December 2021, there were 48,691 homeless people, including 15,227 homeless children, sleeping in the municipality’s main shelter system on a daily basis. Furthermore, over 100,000 different homeless adults, including 31,947 kids utilized DHS shelters throughout the 2021 fiscal year. 

They also state that research shows the primary cause of displacement, particularly among families, is lack of affordable housing. Followed by eviction; overcrowded housing; domestic violence; job loss; and hazardous housing conditions.

Although the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness says New York was only behind California in the largest homeless population in the nation in 2020, it had the highest rate of sheltered homeless people in the U.S. Around 20 percent of all sheltered individuals live in the former. The average life expectancy of homelessness in NYC is 50 years old. 

Plus, one in 15 renters across over 177,000 apartments within 335 housing developments rely on their aid according to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). Created in the mid 20th century, NYCHA is the largest public housing authority in North America. It serves more than 350,000 residents through the conventional public housing program, or Section 9; and over 75,000 families through federal rent subsidies via leased housing programs like Section 8. Officials announced increases to income limits for Section 8 renewals in early November 2021

. . . .

After pressure from homeless residents following a De Blasio leadership where several key figures were indicted or forced to resign because of corrupt practices, many find Mayor Adams’ budget cut plans to be shocking. 

Of another concern is the mayor’s sentiment toward renters shown in the January 9 fire at a Bronx apartment building that killed 19 tenants and injured 60. Nine of the dead were children. Mayor Adams said his takeaway from the incident is to remind residents to “close their door,” during a fire to prevent smoke inhalation and the spread of the burn. Added to the controversy, the building was co-owned by Rick Gropper, a partner in the Camber Property Group, as well as one of the 56 members on the housing transitional team for Mayor Adams.

As the pandemic gradually slows down, New Yorkers are still facing tough housing obstacles in the uphill battle in securing relief. Now, thousands face the obstacles of accessing housing with new evictions on records amidst the eviction moratorium that ceased on January 15. Even worse, landlords are trying to recoup pandemic-era losses through predatory renting practices and pricing. Needless to say, Mayor Adams’ proposed cutbacks make circumstances more difficult for low economic and communities of color.

Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, domestic, international relations, and the African and Latin Diasporas.

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