Christine Quinn’s State of the City: Working Class, Poor Not Welcome

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Speaker of NYC City Council
Speaker of NYC City Council

By Mary Alice Miller
Mayoral candidate Christine Quinn’s last State of the City (SOTC) Address as Council Speaker was stunning in its vision for a New York in which middle class is defined as those who earn household incomes between 100 percent and 300 percent of area median income (AMI). The Census American Community Survey (ACS) for 2011 found the median household income for New York City was $55,000, and the median family income $66,800. But the city’s per capita income is $30,600. For New Yorkers earning less than even the AMI, Quinn was not talking to you.

Quinn’s SOTC Address outlined broad policy prescriptions for those NYers earning up to at least $150,000 (100-300 percent of AMI). Commensurate with her address, Quinn released a report called “The Middle Class Squeeze”, which outlined challenges for the city’s dwindling middle class including unemployment and NY’s high cost of living.

The Speaker’s solutions include building 40,000 new middle-income affordable apartments over the next ten years. Contrast that number with the mere 4,000 new units of low-income housing purportedly already being produced.

Quinn lamented the annual loss of thousands of middle income Mitchell-Lama housing due to the 20-year sunset of affordability requirements. Her solution is a proposed Permanent Affordability Act which would give building owners a new tax exemption capping their property taxes at a certain percent of their income while requiring they keep units affordable. The caveat is a power to renew every 30 years, provided the buildings remain standing.

Speaker Quinn proposes to turn existing market-rate housing into affordable units. How? By capping property taxes to a fixed percent of building rental income.

To address the numbers of foreclosed buildings, Quinn proposed a Distressed Housing Preservation Fund so that the city can buy these overleveraged at-risk buildings before they go to auction. Repairs would be made before the city transfers the properties to approved developers who would keep the buildings affordable and in good condition.

Quinn referenced the homeless by stating she is “currently suing the Bloomberg Administration to stop policies that make it harder for homeless New Yorkers to access shelter”. What she did not mention is the homeless would not be negatively impacted by Bloomberg’s policies if she had not overturned two referendum and millions of voters who did not want a third term for Bloomberg or her. Nor did she address the growing income inequality that occurred under Bloomberg’s oligarchy.

Quinn wants to extend a Middle Class Child Care Tax Credit from those who make less than $30,000 to those earning up to $150,000.

In a pander to immigrant communities, Quinn acknowledged undocumented immigrants who’ve taken “off the books” jobs that pay less than minimum wage without addressing “off the books” work or the business owners who pay less than minimum wage. Her solution for undocumented immigrants is “the creation of a new $13 million fund that will allow us to provide a seat in an adult ed program for every last one of these young New Yorkers” available in a wide range of languages. Here, Quinn did not mention that one of the first things Bloomberg did after his election to a third term was to cut education and language services for immigrants.

Quinn’s SOTC Address was widely viewed as a campaign stump speech. The mayoral hopeful has carved out her base of support: the middle class, the real estate lobby and immigrants.

Everybody else remembers Quinn’s slush fund scandal, overturning term limits, serving as Bloomberg’s rubber stamp, controlling the city’s legislative process via withholding Council discretionary funds, campaign finance violations, as well as human rights and animal protection abuses. And who could forget that in Quinn’s very own district, she allowed gross mismanagement which led to the closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital for the benefit of real estate interests.

Quinn is counting votes, and the poor and working class of the city are not among them.

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