‘People over everything’: Speaker Adams seeks rezoning, guaranteed income funding in her State of the City address

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams
City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams delivers her “State of the City” address to the crowd at the Justice Sonia Sotomayor Houses and Community Center in the Bronx on March 8, 2023.
New York City Council

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams outlined her own State of the City vision with an address in the Bronx Wednesday focused on improving economic mobility — and rezoning figures to play a major role in her plan.

During her address at the Justice Sonia Sotomayor Houses and Community Center, Speaker Adams offered something of an answer to Mayor Eric Adams’ “Working People’s Agenda” unveiled at hizzoner’s State of the City address on Jan. 26. (The mayor and speaker share a common surname, but are not related.) It also helped set the tone for upcoming budget negotiations between the mayor, who was in attendance for the address, and the City Council in the run-up to the June 30 deadline.

One major highlight of Speaker Adams’ “People Over Everything” plan aims to combat poverty by allocating $5 million toward guaranteed income programs aimed at helping low-income mothers with infants, as well as vulnerable youth. These two groups, she explained, are at the highest risk of poverty because of engagement with the foster or criminal justice systems.

Guaranteed, or universal basic, income programs have popped up throughout the U.S. since 2020 as a means to help close economic racial disparities.

One such program was launched in New York City in 2021 by The Bridge Project, which is providing a guaranteed income to young mothers in Washington Heights, Inwood and Harlem making less than $52,000 annually to help them afford essential items for their families, according to Ms. magazine. Recipients receive bi-weekly payments of anywhere between $500 and $1,000.

Speaker Adams said The Bridge Project is just one nonprofit whom she wants the city to work with to expand the availability of guaranteed income to people in need.

“We will work with organizations like the Bridge Project, Children’s Defense Fund, and Chapin Hall to support programs that provide monthly financial assistance payments to vulnerable young people and low-income mothers with infants,” she said. “These efforts have shown great promise in helping people out of poverty and into stability.”

Speaker Adrienne Adams
City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams greets guests at her State of the City address in the Bronx on March 8, 2023.New York City Council

The “People Over Everything” plan also aims to tackle economic disparities and encourage new opportunity by calling for changes to existing zoning laws.

Speaker Adams says she wants to prioritize reform of the city’s manufacturing zoning laws, which are more than 60 years old, to encourage more manufacturing and green energy job creation throughout the five boroughs. Her “People Over Everything” plan includes identifying potential sites in outer-borough communities that could provide new business growth opportunities in either sector.

“We are sitting on industrial gold mines that have been neglected,” she said, pointing to the transformation of the former Elmhurst Dairy site in her southeast Queens district as one example where the city can find new economic opportunity. “The city and state should work together to reactivate vacant sites like this to create living wage jobs and catalyze emerging industries and entrepreneurship.”

Then there’s the ongoing housing crisis in which ballooning rents and soaring property values have priced many low-income, working-class and middle-class families out of New York City. Last December, Speaker Adams outlined her own “Housing Agenda” aimed at boosting the construction of affordable housing and restoring equity to the real estate system.

“This Council is prepared to meet the affordable housing crisis head-on. Last year, we approved over 40 land use projects to create more than 12,000 units of housing, with more than 60 percent being affordable,” the speaker said. “Many areas of the City have overly restrictive zoning that limits our ability to produce more affordable homes. The current levels of affordability simply don’t cut it for many working families. We can incentivize development that accommodates deep affordability by permitting increased density for just these projects.”

Mayor Eric Adams and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams applaud during City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams’ State of the City address on March 8, 2023.New York City Council

As part of her “People Over Everything” plan, the speaker wants the city to establish a Fair Housing Framework Law to create target levels for housing production, preservation, voucher usage and neighborhood investment in every community district of the city. She also wants the state to eliminate the 12 floor-area ratio (FAR) cap in parts of the city to allow for greater housing density.

Adams also proposes increasing density in development in order to allow more affordable housing for people whose annual income salaries are $56,000 or less; and an updated Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law to deepen the affordability of affordable homes for New Yorkers based on area median income (AMI) levels that have outpaced actual income inflation in recent years.

The speaker’s plan also calls for more community-based ownership and the exploration of utilizing community land trusts to help develop more affordable housing citywide.

Beyond housing, Adams’ “People Over Everything” plan also calls for a litany of efforts designed to make neighborhoods healthier and safer across the board, from combating poverty to expanding anti-violence measures.

The plan includes creating year-round public pool access and expanding free swimming programs; reforming the city’s 3K For All and early childhood education programs to ensure adequate staffing and capacity; and providing $100,000 to each City Council District to provide community safety and victim services and help combat the spread of gun violence.