The First Mayoral Debate: De Blasio Looks Energized

Last Tuesday, the Democratic and Republican Mayoral Candidates faced off in their first televised debate of the general election. With the second debate happening tonight, we’re giving you a refresher on how the candidates defended their affordable housing positions. Check out this video from last week, and you can read summaries at Daily News Live-blog, Business Insider and ABC.

It only took the candidates 13 minutes to get to the issue on thousands of voters’ minds: affordable housing. The first question coming from the viewers via Facebook and twitter was from a woman identifying herself as Pamela from Harlem, who according to the newscaster, “can’t afford to live in her neighborhood anymore because she says all the empty lots she sees is [sic] filled with high-priced condos”:

“Are plans being made to make affordable housing for people like myself who work, make an income of less than $100,000 and do not have Section 8?” 

Democratic nominee Bill de Blasio answered first, discussing his plan to have over 200,000 new and preserved units of affordable housing over the next ten years. He went on to say:

“What we need is affordable housing for every New Yorker so they can stay in the neighborhoods they love near their families, near their friends — and that’s what I’m focused on creating.”

Republican nominee Joe Lhota also opened strong, “On January 1st, I’m going to declare a housing emergency — the need for affordable housing is overwhelming.” He went on to discuss his plan to build 150,000 units of new housing in the next four years, saying that for any new development the “cost for [any] variance is going to be affordable housing.”

When confronted by a question asking why he did not do more to fight for affordable housing as Public Advocate (specifically around Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn), de Blasio argued that in fact he did try his best to put pressure on Ratner and others. He went on,

“The bottom line is that we have to require the creation of affordable housing in all new development we do. Right now the Bloomberg policy is its optional.”

This sparked one of the most interesting exchanges of the entire debate.

When asked to respond, Lhota boldly pronounced, “I don’t believe in mandatory inclusionary zoning… I think its a violation of the constitution.”

When one of the panelists tried to ask Lhota a follow up, de Blasio interrupted: “I have to respond to that” calling mandatory inclusionary zoning “legal and appropriate.” The further into this specific response he got the more energetic the former NY/NJ Regional Director of HUD became: “We are demanding affordable housing back in the name of the people.”

Then a panelist asked for Lhota to clarify his position, but after a full answer, Lhota’s stance was still unclear — so de Blasio jumped in again ahead of the panelist to push Lhota to clarify if he supported mandatory inclusionary zoning or supported Bloomberg’s policy of optional inclusionary zoning.

“There’s a middleground.” Lhota said — at which point de Blasio halfheartedly tried to interrupt, eventually letting Lhota reiterate his talking points while making frustrated glances at his opponent.

An exciting 7 minutes for all.

Mandatory inclusionary zoning is an exciting idea that has the potential to reshape affordable housing development in New York City. But we also want to direct focus to the thousands of rent stabilized units that are at risk due to predatory equity and its associated problems: deferred maintenance and harassment, or displacement and gentrification. Any new administration needs to come up with creative solutions to tackle the constant loss of affordable housing through deregulation.

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