Louis: Adult talk for the next Council

| NY Daily News

Barring a string of unlikely upsets or some other cataclysm, we’ll know as soon as Wednesday morning who will be holding many of the power positions at City Hall. Now comes a fight to see who emerges as the next City Council speaker, and preparation for another four years of progressive political control of New York City government.

My earnest plea to the winners is: think big. Put aside your neighborhood political rivalries — even the bitter ones that cropped up this campaign season — and focus on accomplishing something truly important.

Voters are placing their faith, hope, safety and billions of tax dollars in your hands. Don’t disappoint us.

Departing Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito tried to do big things, and succeeded in launching a plan to reduce the population at Rikers Island and eventually close the central jail complex. On the other side of City Hall, the de Blasio administration points to continued crime reductions while pursuing ambitious policing reforms, and continues to expand pre-kindergarten classes for thousands of families.

But that leaves a lot of work to be done.

Four years ago, candidate Bill de Blasio ran on a promise to create and save 200,000 affordable housing units over a 10-year period. It was a bigger and more audacious number than any of his rivals proposed, and after a term in power, the administration claims to be ahead of schedule.

Unfortunately, that’s not fast enough. Census data shows the city’s population grew by 362,500 between April 2010 and July 2016, an unprecedented rate of increase led by booming populations in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.

We’ve seen a flurry of building activity — just take a look at the cranes in Long Island City or Downtown Brooklyn — but it’s inescapably clear that the building boom isn’t keeping up with the population surge And that means housing prices will go even higher.

It’s time to expand the menu of strategies for relieving the housing crunch. One solution that New York progressives have been reluctant to discuss and even slower to implement is to desegregate the city’s neighborhoods.

As one civil rights lawsuit against the city has charged, the lotteries for new affordable housing units are stacked against black and Latino low-income New Yorkers by giving strong automatic preference in the lottery to people already living in a given neighborhood.

This bias against “outsiders” not only locks in segregated housing patterns — which should appall any truly progressive New Yorker — it also contributes to the high cost of housing. Agents and brokers sell renters and homeowners on the notion that they should pay extra to live in a “good” (white) neighborhood, an old tactic that makes an already tough housing market even worse.

Earlier this year, the Urban Institute think tank crunched 30 years worth of data for Chicago and concluded, in a report called “The High Cost of Segregation,” that creating greater diversity in that divided city would boost college graduation rates for Chicagoans of all races and lower the incidence of violence.

Another big idea worth considering is a regional one. New York officials should take a hard look at beefing up suburban transportation routes so that residents being priced out of the city can consider relocating to affordable sections of Northern Jersey, Westchester or Long Island.

Our leaders shouldn’t take their victories today and in November to mean that all our biggest problems can be fixed by asking the wealthiest to pay more, either.

In fact, New York progressives need to have an adult conversation about “taxing the rich,” a great slogan that can backfire in the long run.

America’s top 1% already pays 46% of the nation’s income taxes. Here in New York City, the top 1% — the 37,000 or so households that earn upwards of $700,000 — paid 49% of all city taxes in 2014, according to Crain’s New York.

In fact, a report by the Empire Center released Monday revealed that from 2010-2015, New York City saw its population of millionaires grow at a slower rate than the nation as a whole. That’s worrisome.

Squeezing an ever-larger share of city tax revenue out of such a small group sets us up for a future fiscal crunch. A crash on Wall Street, a second housing collapse or a wave of retirements or moves to the suburbs could wreck the earnings of a few thousand people. That’s all it would take to cripple the city’s budget.

The next mayor and Council should explore reshaping the tax code so that a broader slice of the population shoulders the cost of running the city.

It’s not as much fun as the slogans, speeches and campaign rallies we’ve already seen. But it’s the kind of lasting victory every newly-elected pol should be hoping for.

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