Last month, during his first joint legislative budget hearing as chairman of the Assembly Housing Committee, Steven Cymbrowitz made it clear he has New York City’s interests at heart. During the testimony of leaders of the New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), the assemblyman directly asked if the state agency had “excluded” New York City officials from discussions vital to the city.
“Is there a signal that’s being sent by the executive to New York City?” Cymbrowitz asked. “It seems as if anything that has to do with New York City is not bringing New York City to the table as to what they think is the best way to get things done.”
The HCR officials denied that such a “signal” exists, but the exchange highlighted the assemblyman’s agenda of making sure city leaders have a say in housing decisions that directly impact their constituents.
Cymbrowitz has a deep background in housing. He served as assistant commissioner for Housing Finance and deputy commissioner for Development at NYC Housing Preservation and Development, and as NYC Housing Authority’s (NYCHA’s) director of intergovernmental relations, before he was elected to the the 45th Assembly District in South Brooklyn in 2000 to succeed his late wife, Lena.
His elevation to housing chairman this year, replacing former Manhattan Assemblyman Keith Wright, marks a move back to Brooklyn for the powerful position. seat The Housing Committee that plays a key role in deciding where and how state funds are distributed for projects that are always a priority for neighborhoods, mayors, governors, activists and developers. For many years, the positions was held by longtime Brooklyn political powerhouseboss Vito Lopez before his extensively chronicled fall from grace in 2012. While opinions of Lopez varied greatly, there was no disputing that his influence benefited Brooklyn’s and the borough benefited greatly with favorable budget allocations. Since then, the borough has lost some clout as the chairmanship moved to Bronx leader Carl Heastie and then to Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright after Heastie’s elevation to assembly speaker. While the Housing Committee chairmanship has statewide purview, a responsibility Cymbrowitz clearly takes seriously, his district is in Brooklyn.
Cymbrowitz has already outlined several priorities for the 2017-2018 budget. He has called for a new 421a tax abatement program to help build affordable housing, called Affordable New York. He has also called for state funds to be appropriated to NYCHA directly to allow for quicker repairs and improvements.
Additionally, he has aggressively pushed for $2.5 billion in state funds to be set aside for affordable and supportive housing that would create or preserve 100,000 affordable housing units and 6,000 supportive housing units throughout the state over the next five years.
“We’re facing a housing crisis. Without the creation of affordable housing units, New Yorkers will face higher housing costs, which can lead to the displacement of existing residents and an increase in the number of rent-burdened families,” Cymbrowitz said.
With the state’s current population of 2.6 million seniors expected to increase to 3.6 million by 2040, Cymbrowitz says it is urgent for New York to take a long view in preparing for the growing number of struggling fixed-income residents who will want to remain close to children and grandchildren and should be given the ability to do so. The assemblyman wants to see supportive housing funding designated specifically for seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia, providing “wrap around” services for patients and their caregivers. He also recommends adding $30 million in funding ($10 million this year and $20 million the next) to preserve the existing network of foreclosure-prevention services in New York.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us and many people depend on us,” he said. “We cannot let millions of New Yorkers struggle to keep their heads above water. That goes against everything we fight for every day in the People’s House.”