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At De Blasio inauguration, calls for fairness, more affordable housing dominate

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The need for affordable housing connects to De Blasio’s larger goal of making New York “the fairest big city in America”

Photo by Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office

Upon his decisive re-election in November, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared that he had been given a mandate by New Yorkers—namely, to ensure that New York becomes “the fairest big city in America.”

And during today’s inaugural ceremony on the steps of City Hall, De Blasio, along with incumbent Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James, echoed that call, with a particular focus on addressing the city’s affordability crisis.

Though speeches were generally brief—in part as a kindness to those who attended the outdoor ceremony on a bitterly cold day—each speaker managed to hit on that idea of fairness as the goal for the next four years, whether by creating and preserving affordable housing or ensuring that “equal pay for equal work” isn’t merely a slogan.

In his remarks, Stringer especially went in on the affordability crisis, and noted that “bold ideas” will be necessary to combat issues like homelessness and the lack of affordable housing. “If we become a place where the entrance fee is a $2 million dollar condo and where only the most privileged can prosper, then we will betray the promise of New York,” Stringer said in his speech.

He continued, “[U]naffordability does not have to be a fact of life. It does not have to be inevitable, and it is not intractable.… We can be a city where economic growth does not come at the expense of an equitable economy.”

Letitia James, who was sworn in by the pastor of her Brooklyn church, also hit on those points, while highlighting the accomplishments of her office in the past four years. Specifics that she called out included the Landlord Watchlist, and helping pass the Salary History Ban.

Still, “the most pressing issue in our city of this generation is affordable housing,” James said; she stated that in her second term, she would work to address that problem, whether through making “preferential rent” permanent (rather than something a landlord can change or remove at whim), or creating more housing, rather than shelters, for homeless New Yorkers.

Sen. Bernie Sanders was also on hand to deliver jokes about the weather (“by Vermont standards, this is a warm and pleasant afternoon”), and to connect the progressive issues that he’s championed to De Blasio’s promise of fairness for all New Yorkers. “We’re here to thank Mayor Bill de Blasio for leading this city and making it one of the most progressive cities,” Sanders noted before swearing in De Blasio.

The mayor himself spoke for less than 10 minutes, and though his speech didn’t include much in the way of actual policy—he wanted to keep it short for the benefit of those assembled in the cold—he did repeat his promise about making New York “the fairest big city in America.”

“This is your city,” he declared. “The true owners of this beloved place are not the big landlords and developers, not the titans of Wall Street and the one percent. The deepest, truest stakeholders of this town are the people who do the work… but too often have not reaped the rewards.” To make that a reality, he said, his administration will work to create affordable housing a good-paying jobs, among other things.

In creating that agenda, De Blasio may do well to read this editorial from The Nation, which outlines some specific ways his administration could realize that dream of fairness. They include “to remove (or, at the very least, dramatically increase) the $2700 rent-stabilization cap”; reworking his housing policy to address the needs of low- and extremely low-income New Yorkers; reserving NYCHA apartments for homeless New Yorkers; supporting congestion pricing; and improving transit by “step[ping] off the sidelines and into the role of Straphanger-in-Chief, to ride with New Yorkers, rage with them, and make demands for them.” Sounds good to us.