Once upon a time, the annual release of the Mayor’s Management Report was a notable event for civic observers in New York City, a moment when the administration is mandated by the City Charter to give the “straight dope” on the performance of the city’s agencies, devoid of any political agenda or spin. While Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first Management Report is not quite the propaganda handbook that some accused Michael Bloomberg’s of being, it is safe to say that there are still gaps in the information being disseminated to the public.
Each administration over the last 30 years has had a different philosophy behind the report. Ed Koch’s reports were typically very data-driven and acted as a report card of sorts (the mayor even once declared that based on the report, he would give his sanitation commissioner a “C”). David Dinkins’ reports were typically a sober evaluation of the highs and lows of governing, acknowledging setbacks, but acting as a cudgel his office could wield to fight off cutbacks to social services.
The messaging of the Management Report truly changed, experts say, under Rudolph Giuliani, who stocked it thick with charts and graphs to demonstrate that the city, previously crime-ridden, had risen from the ashes under his stewardship. His successor, Bloomberg, downsized the report significantly and took a page out of Giuliani’s playbook by using it primarily to highlight the good at the expense of the bad.
The common thread of de Blasio’s report is a focus on “equity, equality and opportunity,” writes Mindy Tarlow, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, and one of the primary authors of the report. To that end, each agency section, regardless of its function, provides a “Focus on Equity” statement in the report to explain how it will achieve this goal.
Considering de Blasio’s campaign mantra, and overall branding of himself and his administration as “progressive,” this theme is hardly surprising. City & State examined de Blasio’s first mayor’s management report through the lens of how it dovetails with some of the issues that his administration has prioritized in its first year, from improving police-community relations to creating affordable housing to decreasing the city’s homeless population.
Policing & Crime
In a nifty bit of campaign branding, de Blasio made his candidacy for mayor synonymous with putting an end to the unconstitutional use of stop-and-frisk policing, despite the fact that his position on the controversial tactic did not differ all that much from his opponents.
So it was somewhat of a surprise that the New York Police Department’s agency report mentions the term “stop-and-frisk” only once, saying that crime rates have remained low, while “the Department has experienced a dramatic decrease in the levels of stop-and-frisk,” yet there are no statistics provided in the report to support this claim. By contrast, Bloomberg’s reports also did not account for the number of stops, but he and and his police commissioner, Ray Kelly, were proponents of the tactic. Judging by the sharp rhetoric de Blasio has used to criticize stop-and-frisk, it would be reasonable to assume that some mention would be made of the NYPD’s attempts to curb its use.
It is worth noting, however, that cases commenced against the city in state and federal court decreased from 3,997 in Fiscal Year 2013 to 3,701 in Fiscal 2014, perhaps a sign that the recently enacted Community Safety Act, which makes it easier for individuals to sue the NYPD over stop-and-frisk, has had the desired effect of reducing unconstitutional stops.
In addition to the stop-and-frisk claim, the NYPD’s “focus on equity” comes through “needs-based” allocation of police personnel, establishing an Office of Collaborative Policing to develop strategies to enhance community relations, and supporting another one of the mayor’s campaign platforms, Vision Zero, by strengthening the department’s enforcement of traffic safety violations throughout the city. As a result, moving violations issued by the NYPD increased five percent in Fiscal 2014 and summons issued for hazardous violations increased by 10 percent.
Despite much public uproar over new Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s emphasis on “broken windows” policing—i.e. focusing on quality-of-life crimes before they escalate to a larger scale—statistics show that quality-of-life summons have actually decreased by 12 percent in Fiscal 2014 compared to the previous year.
For city housing experts and advocates hoping that the management report might provide an additional window into how the de Blasio administration will utilize the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next ten years, the respective agency reports reflect that the administration’s long-term housing goals are beginning to bear fruit.
Housing advocates had long pointed to reforming NYCHA as a key part of any long-term plan for preserving affordability, and the authority has taken steps to that end. The number of applicants placed in public housing increased 41 percent in the last year, an encouraging statistic at first blush, though the increase in rentals is largely attributed to the fact that 470 apartments that were reserved for residents impacted by Superstorm Sandy were put back on the market.
Eliminating NYCHA’s lengthy repair backlog, a key step in the de Blasio administration’s plan to preserve afforadable housing, continues to be an issue under new NYCHA Chairwoman Shola Olatoye. While the percentage of active projects on schedule increased from 24.3 percent in Fiscal 2013 to 32.3 percent in 2014, the percentage of active projects in construction and on schedule actually decreased from 70.2 percent in Fiscal 2013 to 61 percent in 2014. Whether that is attributable to a transitional slowdown between the former and current administration is unclear, though the report vaguely cites “administrative delays” as one reason for the drop-off. If de Blasio is to meet his ambitious goals for preservation, he will need NYCHA to accelerate its much-needed repairs and housing improvements.
HPD, the agency taking the lead in administering de Blasio’s affordable housing plan, showed in its report that the administration is largely on target in terms of its goals for housing creation, but it is lagging behind on the preservation front, citing a large number of Mitchell-Lama developments that were projected to be completed in Fiscal 2014 that were not completed, though the projects were 90 percent complete and awaiting final paperwork and loan payment drawdown. The agency sets a target of 16,000 housing starts for Fiscal Year 2015, 5,269 of which will be new construction and 10,731 will be preservation starts.
The administration exceeded its targeted number for “housing starts,” meaning new affordable housing created, by two percent, though a number of the new affordable housing projects that broke ground this year were originally negotiated by the Bloomberg administration, including the Domino Sugar development in Williamsburg and Livonia Commons in East New York. Next year’s management report will offer much greater insight into how quickly HPD, the city’s Housing Development Corporation, and Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen are able to negotiate with developers to ramp up the number of housing starts.
It’s no secret that New York City is dealing with a homelessness crisis, one that predates de Blasio’s mayoralty. Unfortunately, despite a lot of rhetoric devoted to the issue—lest we forget Dasani Coates’ appearance front-and-center at Inauguration Day—the number of homeless individuals in New York City now stands at 56,454 people, 2,839 more than the number on the day de Blasio introduced policy changes to decrease the homeless population in May.
It is surprising then, that the Department of Homeless Services’ (DHS) agency report tends to give the impression that the agency is struggling to cope with this tragic reality. One telling indicator is that DHS’ homeless prevention program, Homebase, which provides individualized assistance to homeless families and individuals, continues to exceed its “targets” with a 95 percent success rate, though hitting these benchmarks evidently has not done much to curb the overall homeless population.
Another discouraging sign is that despite an uptick in the number of single adults exiting the city’s homeless system, a figure that climbed by 20 percent for the first time in DHS history, the number of exits among families has decreased, a reflection of a vicious cycle that even where the city has made notable gains, it still cannot chip away at the total homeless population. The agency does highlight some of the de Blasio administration’s new initiatives, such as rental subsidy programs beginning this fall, as measures that could ultimately help decrease the length of stay in shelters for families, though their actual effectiveness is a question for next year’s Mayor’s Management Report to address.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that no reason was given in the Department of Housing Preservation and Development's agency report for the delayed Mitchell Lama preservation starts, and that no targets were provided for total housing starts for Fiscal Year 2015. The article also stated that the NYCHA repair backlog may have contributed to the lag in HPD's preservation goals, though NYCHA units do not count towards the total preservation number. The story has been corrected to reflect these changes.
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