Additional reporting by Samantha Maldonado and Greg David
Mayor Eric Adams promised more jobs and housing — and fewer rats — during his second “state of the city” speech Thursday, where he laid out what he called a “Working People’s Agenda” for his second year in office.
“The state of our city is strong,” Adams said at the start of his address, delivered at the Queens Theatre in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
“As strong as the police officers and first responders who have made this city safer, as strong as the legions of city workers who have laid the groundwork for the future, and, above all, as strong as the working people of this city who make it all possible,” he said.
In a sprawling, nearly hourlong speech, he laid out many of the city’s challenges and his plans to answer them, arranged around what he called the four “pillars of support”: jobs, safety, housing and care.
Without those metaphorical pillars, he said, “cities crumble, institutions fall, society weakens. We will not allow that to happen in New York.”
Here are some of the highlights, and what Adams’ plans could mean for New Yorkers.
Jobs and the Economy
The city is still struggling to rebound fully from the COVID pandemic even as it has added 200,000 jobs over the last year, the mayor said. The recovery, though, hasn’t been equal.
“The unemployment rate for Black New Yorkers is at least three times as high as for white New Yorkers,” he said. “This era of inequality must end.”
To achieve that, Adams said the city would revamp its workforce programs, including by connecting 30,000 New Yorkers to viable career paths through his administration’s “Apprenticeship Accelerator.”
“This is on-the-job experience with an opportunity for permanent employment in high-demand careers, and it will ensure employers can tap the talent they need,” he said.
Adams also said City Hall is working on legislation that will allow people “to keep public benefits for up to six months after they take a new job, easing the transition to financial independence.”
And the administration is also investing $20 million in a new biotechnology hub at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and plans to fund a new incubator to encourage more hiring, as THE CITY reported early Thursday.
The mayor also discussed his plans for cannabis shops as the first licensed operations open in the city. Those include more enforcement aimed at unlicensed shops, as well as “a new loan fund to help more New Yorkers who were impacted by the ‘War on Drugs’ to start new businesses.”
That carrot-and-stick approach has a specific goal, Adams said: “We’re not
going to let bad actors undermine the promise we made to New Yorkers who were impacted by marijuana criminalization.”
He added, to laughs, “If you think you’re going to come into our communities without a license, put our kids at risk, and steal jobs away from people trying to do it the right way, you must be smoking something.”
Crime and Safety
A former police officer, Mayor Adams has made public safety and policing a top priority. On Thursday, he said that the city’s police department would focus on retail theft, and would also expand community response teams.
The mayor also touched on the statewide bail reform, which he has repeatedly criticized and said needs to change. He focused on the “most wanted” criminals — roughly 1,700 people whom Adams and the NYPD have said commit a vastly outsized share of crimes.
Although changes to the bail reform law require state intervention, Adams plans to give more money to the court system to speed up discovery on the part of prosecutors.
“We all agree that no one should be in jail simply because they can’t afford to post bail,” he said.
“But we should also agree that we cannot allow a small number of violent individuals to continue terrorizing our neighbors over and over again.”
Housing and Development
Last year, the mayor announced an ambitious “moonshot” plan to build half a million units of housing through a mix of investment and changes to some outdated and complicated regulations.
One of the major goals is the redevelopment of Willets Point in Queens, a project that began under former Mayor Bill de Blasio. In November, Adams announced more affordable housing and a soccer stadium will also be built at the site.
On Thursday, in the beginning of his second year in office, Adams also mentioned a plan to rezone large parts of Midtown to allow for more housing — ideally converting commercial buildings into residential as the city continues to face a housing shortage.
He said he was doing so at the behest of local City Council members and had won the immediate and enthusiastic support of business leaders, like the 5 Borough Housing Movement, which was recently formed to advocate for office building conversions, and the Garment Center Business Improvement District.
But the proposal could face opposition from progressives, if it includes tax breaks for conversions, and from some city planning experts who fear that the rezoning will spark too many conversions, said Mary Ann Tighe, CEO of the New York region for real estate firm CBRE, who has been involved in Midtown rezonings for decades.
Tighe added that she believes Park Avenue and Madison Avenue should be excluded from conversions because their office market is healthy, and the rezoning should focus on hard-hit areas like the Third Avenue corridor. But she also urged quick action.
“The risk is not in overdoing residential but in delaying the conversions of obsolete buildings,” she said.
Adams said there will be more opportunities in the next year to build even more housing, but did not elaborate.
“This year, we will pursue opportunities to add even more housing, jobs, and infrastructure in all five boroughs,” he said, pointing to the announcement by Gov. Kathy Hochul — who was in the audience — in her State of the State address earlier this month about investment in building housing.
“It’s been a long time since the governor of New York has come to a State of the City address,” Adams said, hinting at the rocky relationship between de Blasio and disgraced ex-governor Andrew Cuomo. “It’s a testament not only to our incredible partnership but to your commitment to the people of New York City. I’m grateful to have you here today and to have you fighting for us in Albany.”
He also highlighted $22 million for tenant production programs and more investments into the city’s public housing.
Care and Concern
Adams said the city will improve access to mental and other health care across the city by “eliminating bureaucratic barriers and focusing on the structural challenges that so often force people into crisis.”
The city will start with people experiencing homelessness, announcing a plan with financial support from the state and federal government to offer free health care to anyone who spends more than seven days in a city shelter. Adams said New York City would be the first city in the country to do this.
“We’re not going to wait for people in crisis to show up at the ER — we will provide the care they need when they need it,” he said.
The mayor also announced more funding would go to the organizations and service providers working with those who are experiencing mental illness, including new centers for peer support, he said.
Rats, Scraps and Trash
Also on Adams’ agenda: a plan to broaden the city’s program to compost food scraps and other waste over the next year, he said.
The sanitation department started — and then paused — a pilot composting program in Queens, which lasted for three months. It’s scheduled to return to Queens on March 27, and to begin in Brooklyn on Oct. 2.
Ahead of the speech, the New York Times reported that the compost program will land in The Bronx and Staten Island in March 2024, and hit Manhattan that October.
“For far too long, New Yorkers were asked to accept things that should be unacceptable — crime, rats, trash, traffic,” said Adams.
“When we allow quality of life to deteriorate, it is working-class New Yorkers that suffer most. It also hurts our economic recovery.”
Eric Goldstein, New York City environment director for the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, welcomed the expansion of composting but expressed concern that it would not be sufficient.
“It was an exciting announcement and encouraging move, but ultimately a voluntary program by itself can’t achieve the scale of participation necessary for long-term success,” he said. “City Council has an essential role to play in enacting a mandatory universal organics program that serves every household.”
What Wasn’t Said
A few dozen protestors were outside the Queens Theatre to urge the mayor to continue the plan to close Rikers Island. Adams has said the plan to close the troubled jail complex should be revisited.
Amariliz Torres, 25, was one of the protesters. Her 28-year-old brother Erick Tavira was the seventeenth person to die in city custody or having been recently released over the course of Adams’ mayoralty.
“Stop incarcerating people for minor cases, minor judgements. My brother needed treatment and he didn’t get that at all,” Torres said. “I just want it to be closed. That’s all. Nonexistent.”
After Adams’ speech, some said they wanted more details on what the mayor proposed, and said the persistent lack of adequate staffing at city agencies could render change-making difficult.
“There are more than 23,000 vacant positions across city government. We can and should be doing more to recruit and retain the top talent needed to tackle the biggest challenges facing New York,” wrote Grace Rauh, executive director of the new public-policy think tank 5BORO Institute, in a statement.
City Councilmember Chi Osse, a Brooklyn Democrat, said he was encouraged by the mayor discussing plans to address the fentanyl crisis, but also worried that there was no mention of libraries, which are facing budget cuts.
“It’s a State of the City [speech], where you hear a lot of things,” Osse said.
“When it comes to diving into the details, I think that’s when things can become more alarming or even better than they sound.”