NEW YORK—City Council Speaker Christine Quinn delivered her State of the City Address at the CUNY Graduate Center on Tuesday afternoon. She diagnosed the ailments of a city in the midst of a budget crisis. Many of her remedies were low-cost, with a focus on simplified procedures and digitizing archaic practices to get New Yorkers what they need more quickly.
“[Some] problems are as big as a tenant getting evicted from her home. Others are as small as getting a parking ticket,” stated Quinn, promising to address the concerns of any and all New Yorkers brought to the City Council's door.
Speaking of the council's door, Quinn says she could not give her address from council chambers because the ceiling is falling in.
The council is experiencing a common phenomenon in the lives of many of the citizens it represents—citizens caught in subpar living arrangements due to a citywide shortfall in affordable housing.
“If you were to rank the biggest problems in New York City based on the number of calls and e-mails we get at the council,” announced Speaker Quinn, “then housing would be number one.”
Technology could make securing affordable housing much easier, says Quinn. To enter lotteries for new developments, prospective tenants must get out the stamps, paper, envelopes, and pen to engage in a process Quinn says is more suited to the 18th century. Instead of sending a postcard to every developer, getting applications in the mail, and filling them out to put back in the mail, Quinn suggests clicking a button.
A new online center will compile all the pertinent information and digitize the lottery process.
It's not just a matter of connecting people with new developments—Quinn points out that rent protection expires in thousands of existing affordable units citywide without tenants or the city even being aware of it until it's too late. The city was able to renew rent-protection for 419 units in West Village Apartments, but lost 1,300 in Independence Plaza in Tribeca this past year.
“At the heart of this issue is something that may surprise you: there is no official system for tracking affordable housing in New York City,” declared Quinn. City Council will develop an online Red Alert system to provide an early warning before rent protection expires, so measures can be taken to renew it.
Cutting through the clutter, Quinn's address reflected themes similar to the Simplicity program Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled in his State of the City Address delivered last month.
Simplicity is a program intended to make things easier in the daily life of the city. Through a public interface on NYC.gov, the mayor wants to crowd source, to find out what New Yorkers want, and cater to their daily needs. Pain-in-the-neck laws such as not being able to hail a cab in the outer boroughs would be dissolved. The bureaucratic red light holding up small business openings would turn green.
Quinn recounted the experience of Oliver Stumm who wanted to expand his restaurant, Café Select. Three different inspectors set out contradictory requirements for him at different stages in the construction, creating a nightmare that dragged on for months and cost him thousands. A single coordinator will now take care of all permits for a business through NYC Business Link, says Quinn, absorbing the discrepancies between different agency requirements.
THE SMALL STUFF
Matters of home and business carry a lot of weight, but something little—a parking ticket, a run-in with an obstinate traffic cop, the minutia of daily life—could be that straw that breaks the camel's back.
“Here's one that's especially infuriating,” began Quinn. “Have you ever parked your car, then gone to the munimeter to pay—only to come back and find an agent is writing you a ticket? And when you complain, they say they're not allowed to cancel a ticket once they started writing it, and you'll have to fight it in court,” she described the exasperating scene.
She hopes to dispel the storm clouds brewing over the heads of drivers and officers alike when faced with this preposterous situation. Council will pass legislation mandating the immediate disposal of such a ticket upon presentation of a munimeter receipt.
Areas of the city with the cleanest streets two years running will get a break in alternate-side parking. From matters big to small, Quinn laid out the problems she has seen and heard through public feedback and the many testimonials at council hearings over the past year, and her solutions.