New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams gave her wide-ranging second State of the City address on Wednesday, March 8th. Speaker Adams gave her State of the City at the Justice Sonia Sotomayor Houses and Community Center in the Bronx.
Speaker Adams’ address is unlike a budget speech but more of a list of things the speaker would like to see executed. The speech by Speaker Adams was based on the “People Over Everything” theme. It covered jobs and economic mobility, fair housing, and healthier and safer neighborhoods.
Expansion of Civil and Public Service
With regard to jobs and economic mobility, the City Council desires an expansion of civil and public service employment. In recent history, city departments have not been fully staffed, leading to inadequate service delivery. Speaker Adams pointed out that social services were affected by the job cuts, resulting in a delay in the delivery of food stamps and housing vouchers. A report from the state comptroller’s office shows that social service departments have reduced staff size by 13.5% since 2020. The City Council believes these vacancies can be filled by capable and qualified candidates.
“Our city workers keep our communities afloat … their work touches every aspect of our lives,” she said. “That’s why we must address the severe understaffing across city agencies with urgency. It has created a domino effect, and now New Yorkers who rely on essential services are feeling those impacts in real-time.”
Speaker Adams also made a point to state that the City Council would continue to sit on Mayor Adams to ensure that city agencies are properly staffed, reiterating the importance of the agencies doing their jobs in a timely manner. Speaker Adams said, “When a New Yorker can’t access their SNAP food benefits because of agency delays, a family is left hungry. When a CityFHEPS housing voucher is slow to be processed, a family faces eviction.”
Addressing the Housing Challenge
New York City has been experiencing serious housing challenges, a problem that has been exacerbated by the arrival of more than 30,000 asylum-seeking migrants. Speaker Adams wishes to see the provision of more affordable housing. One of her suggestions is to use the land owned by the NYC Housing Authority to build housing units. While the focus would be offering public housing on the land, Adams left room for the development of affordable and mixed-income housing.
“Despite its cash deficits, NYCHA is land-rich. Today, I am announcing an idea that could improve residents’ living conditions while increasing the housing supply by constructing new public housing apartments for existing residents. It would utilize unused, open space on NYCHA land to develop new, higher-density buildings that residents are moved into directly from their existing units,” she said.
“The priority would be new apartments for NYCHA residents. To spread out the costs, this higher-density building would include other city and state-funded affordable and mixed-income units. Ground floor usage could be reserved for community or healthcare centers, grocery stores, childcare centers, or other storefronts. I’m under no illusion that this is an easy or straightforward idea. In fact, this ambitious task would require resources and close coordination from DC, Albany, and Gracie Mansion,” she added.
3-K Education Expansion
Speaker Adams spoke of the importance of early childhood education and how it was vital in the development of a person. She further highlighted how an education at the 3-K school level had been minimized, with Mayor Eric Adams’ budget looking to further reduce its funding.
“The Department of Education should restore the hollowed-out Early Childhood Education division and promptly reimburse providers for their services. 3-K must also be revamped and expanded with a newly designed contract so that all children have extended programming. We’ve got to make 3-K better match the workdays of our working parents,” she said.
A big part of living in New York City relates to transportation. Speaker Adams spoke in favor of Fair Fares, wanting the program to be expanded. Fair Fares reduces the price of subway and bus rides by 50% for residents that are eligible.
Speaker Adams seeks an expansion of the program that would include residents who earn an annual salary of $27,180. This would double the number of residents who are eligible for the program. “As part of our work to make our city’s transit system more accessible, we will expand Fair Fares to offer half-priced bus and subway rides to New Yorkers with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level, nearly doubling the number of low-income New Yorkers eligible to benefit,” she said.
Rikers Island Closure
Speaker Adams concluded her address by calling for the closure of Rikers Island. A plan was approved by the City Council to have the prison system closed by 2027 and be replaced with borough-based jail facilities.
Rikers Island has gained infamy for multiple reasons including the inadequate provision of health care and annual deaths inside the facility. There have been calls from the public to shut Rikers Island down.
“Rikers is no longer serving our city. It undermines the stated mission of DOC to create safe environments that provide those within its care a path to successfully re-enter their communities. The conditions at Rikers are only creating harm for everyone there. Advancing the closure of Rikers is more urgent now than ever before – for both public safety and human rights,” she said. Speaker Adams added that her mother, who worked on Rikers Island, believes it should have been shut down years ago.
Speaker Adams’ State of the City is not set in stone, however, it is a great indicator of what the City Council will demand when negotiating the budget with Mayor Adams, who attended the event. “We look forward to discussing these and other proposals throughout the city budget process and working with the speaker to help secure additional investments from the state and federal government,” Mayor Adams said in a statement.