Cuomo-de Blasio feud threatens cooperation on housing for homeless

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Mayor Bloomberg visits the Via Verde affordable housing development in the South Bronx, in 2012. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)
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Bill de Blasio and Andrew Cuomo could become the first mayor and governor in decades who fail to set aside their differences to jointly fund a housing program for homeless New Yorkers.

De Blasio recently announced a new city plan for what's called supportive housing — which includes on-site services like case workers, counseling, and mental health — saying he could no longer wait on the state, and he called on Cuomo to “step up” and contribute as well.

The governor was unmoved. Through a spokesperson, Cuomo said “it’s clear that the Mayor can’t manage the homeless crisis,” and that he will outline his own plans.

Previous mayors have found common ground in supportive housing with governors, including Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo, who negotiated the first such deal with his erstwhile rival, Ed Koch. The two negotiated a deal, late in Koch’s third term, when the utility of the new housing was still very much in question.

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“Is it going to be expensive? It’s going to cost a fortune,” Mario Cuomo said at the time. “[But] if government can’t take care of the homeless, the mentally ill and the people who are addicted, what is government for?”

The first agreement, referred to as New York / New York I, and later signed by Cuomo and Koch’s successor, David Dinkins, created 3,615 units of supportive housing and marked the first acknowledgement by the state that it should bear the responsibility for caring for homeless people with mental illness. Under that agreement, the state paid two-thirds of the construction costs, and the city paid the remainder.

In the lead-up to a second agreement, Mayor Rudy Giuliani sought more units than Governor George Pataki was willing to support.

Both were Republicans, but Giuliani had declined to endorsed Pataki in 1994, and instead offered his public support for Mario Cuomo’s bid for a fourth term. Pataki won anyway.

A coalition of advocates began pushing for 10,000 units in 1997, and Giuliani sought 2,500 in the protracted negotiations with the state, while Pataki wanted to fund only 1,350 units. The two eventually announced a deal in 1999 for 1,500 units.

The small scale disappointed advocates, though it marked a victory of sorts. The governor added money for just three new initiatives in the state budget that year and he vetoed $1 billion in programs.

In the following two years, the city and state agreed to share funding for other supportive housing programs — called High Service Needs I and II — which generated 1,600 units.

Pataki later agreed to a third major supportive housing deal with Giuliani’s successor, Michael Bloomberg, another fellow Republican, with whom he enjoyed a relatively productive working relationship.

Advocates had begun pushing for a third deal in 2002, calling for 16,000 units in the first year of Bloomberg’s mayoralty.

In 2005, when Bloomberg was running for re-election, and Pataki was nearing the end of his third term, the city and state announced the last major deal on supportive housing — a 9,000-unit plan over ten years.

In pushing for a fourth agreement, advocates have called for 35,000 units statewide, with 30,000 units in New York City. A report by the Corporation for Supportive Housing found the state needs 31,475 units of supportive housing, with 24,155 in New York City, to meet the needs of homeless individuals.

In the spring, de Blasio called for 12,000 units over ten years for New York City, more than double the 5,000 that Andrew Cuomo had called for statewide over seven years, with roughly 3,900 of those in New York City.

In November, de Blasio changed course and said he could no longer wait for the state. He unveiled his own plan to create 15,000 units in New York City over 15 years and issued his challenge to the governor to add even more.

The prospects for a joint agreement remain dim. The two men held a dinner meeting in early December, but the attempt to mend their relationship reportedly “didn’t go well.”

The governor is expected to lay out his own plans for supportive housing in his State of the State speech next month.

A version of this article originally appeared in the winter 2016 issue of POLITICO New York magazine.