Housing at NYC libraries and Aqueduct Racetrack proposed by City Council speaker

New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams unveiled a slate of proposals to make the city more affordable and family-friendly in her third State of the City address on Wednesday, in which she urged local officials to “get back to basics” and “make government work” for all New Yorkers.

In an upbeat speech covering housing, education, childcare, mental health and other essential services for residents, the speaker teased lawmakers’ policy priorities as the Council reviews Mayor Eric Adams’ preliminary spending plan for next year. Her remarks came in the wake of recent clashes between the 51-member Legislature and the mayor over budgetary and criminal justice matters.

“As a co-equal branch of government, our duty is to turn these ideas into effective laws and to conduct oversight,” said Speaker Adams, who is the first Black woman to head the Council, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House. “But laws and policies are only as good as their implementation. … We must focus on execution and investment.”

This year, the Council has already overridden Mayor Adams’ veto of measures compelling the NYPD to record demographic information on low-level investigatory stops and banning most uses of solitary confinement in city jails. It has also joined the nonprofit Legal Aid Society in a lawsuit against the mayor for allegedly refusing to enact legislation expanding access to rental assistance programs for New Yorkers facing homelessness.

Here are some key takeaways from the speaker’s address.

More housing development — even at city libraries

Speaker Adams said she wants to turn the city’s underutilized land, including at certain library branches, into housing and community uses.

“Building on previous efforts to expand their reach presents an opportunity to modernize our library branches for New Yorkers and create new community spaces like early childhood education centers,” she said. “By building homes connected to the pillars of our communities, we can create self-sufficient ecosystems that enable all of us to thrive together.”

The speaker added that the 172-acre Aqueduct Racetrack in her Southeast Queens district should also be transformed into housing, as it’s expected to stop hosting horse races in the coming years. Her pitch includes redeveloping adjacent city-owned land along the subway’s A line and working with state officials on the state-owned Aqueduct portion.

“This presents a generational opportunity to transform this site into housing and homeownership, open space, and new community amenities,” she said.

The speaker shared plans to update the city’s decades-old zoning laws and create incentives for private developments to accept housing vouchers. Local lawmakers are also eyeing what their peers in Albany can do to create funding and tax incentives for homeownership in the city.

Measures requiring speculators to disclose fair market property rates to combat deed theft and establishing free estate planning programs to help New Yorkers manage inherited property are also on the table, according to Speaker Adams.

“We must build a city where all New Yorkers, especially working people who make up the backbone of our communities, can build their legacy right here in our city,” she said.

Free maternal health programs for first-time and low-income parents

Improving maternal health remains another priority for the Council, which has had a female majority since 2022. As one example, Speaker Adams said the city’s free doula initiative — originally scheduled to end this summer — would become permanent.

The Council will introduce additional measures to combat the maternal mortality rate in New York City, where Black women are eight times as likely as white women to die from pregnancy-related causes, she said.

“These aren’t just statistics,” the speaker noted. “Each loss represents a mother, family and community devastated by preventable harm and trauma.”

Bills to create postpartum support programs, expand nurse home visits for low-income and first-time mothers, and fund psychologist positions in the maternal health departments of the city’s public hospitals are also being considered, according to the speaker.

“Mothers are the heart and soul of our communities, and when our mothers are healthy, so are their children and families,” Speaker Adams said.

More mental health supports in city’s schools and jails

Speaker Adams said the Council aims to pass laws to establish peer-to-peer mental health training for students and guidance on starting wellness groups, including in CUNY’s social work program.

“With the stigma around mental health, it’s on us to make it easy for young people to access the help they need,” she said.

The Council is also working to bolster mental health resources for the city’s jail system, where more than half of detainees have a mental health diagnosis. Speaker Adams said expanding mental health courts and services to eliminate months-long wait times, increasing the supply of therapeutic hospital beds, and sustaining trauma recovery centers are among the proposals.

“By prioritizing these responses, we can meet New Yorkers where they are and improve the health and the safety of our communities,” the speaker said.

Assisting migrants, CUNY students and climate-vulnerable communities

As hundreds of migrants continue to arrive in the city each month, Speaker Adams announced plans to launch a “New Arrivals Strategy Team” composed of government and nonprofit leaders who will brainstorm strategies for helping migrants integrate and become self-sufficient.

The Council also plans to tap the CUNY system and DC37 municipal workers union for a new initiative to prepare residents to fill vacancies in local government, the speaker said.

“Partnering with CUNY to create pipelines to fill vacant positions in city government, to make sure that we’re providing the rigorous oversight and accountability that is needed [for] the mayor, couldn’t be more important right now,” said Councilmember Lincoln Restler, a progressive who represents parts of northern Brooklyn, in a brief interview after the speaker’s speech.

The speaker said lawmakers are planning legislation to create “higher-ground” centers to shelter people during dangerous storms — especially those who live in basement apartments and are most at risk of flooding. Similarly, the Council will consider citywide zoning changes to boost green infrastructure and defenses.

“Our response to climate change must be equitable, because while none of us are immune to it, we are impacted differently,” Speaker Adams said.

Brigid Bergin contributed reporting.

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