"In 2013, you ran on reducing income inequality. Where has it been hardest to make progress? Wages, housing, schools?
What’s been hardest is the way our legal system is structured to favor private property. I think people all over this city, of every background, would like to have the city government be able to determine which building goes where, how high it will be, who gets to live in it, what the rent will be. I think there’s a socialistic impulse, which I hear every day, in every kind of community, that they would like things to be planned in accordance to their needs. And I would, too. Unfortunately, what stands in the way of that is hundreds of years of history that have elevated property rights and wealth to the point that that’s the reality that calls the tune on a lot of development.
I’ll give you an example. I was down one day on Varick Street, somewhere close to Canal, and there was a big sign out front of a new condo saying, “Units start at $2 million.” And that just drives people stark raving mad in this city, because that kind of development is clearly not for everyday people. It’s almost like it’s being flaunted. Look, if I had my druthers, the city government would determine every single plot of land, how development would proceed. And there would be very stringent requirements around income levels and rents. That’s a world I’d love to see, and I think what we have, in this city at least, are people who would love to have the New Deal back, on one level. They’d love to have a very, very powerful government, including a federal government, involved in directly addressing their day-to-day reality.
It’s not reachable right now. And it leaves this friction, and this anger, which is visceral. I try to explain the things we can do. It’s a little bit of a Serenity Prayer — let’s talk about the things we can fix. The rent freeze we did reached over 2 million people.In 2015 and 2016, the mayor’s appointees ruled that new one-year leases on rent-stabilized units could not increase. I’ve talked to people who were going to be evicted, and we stopped the eviction by giving them a free lawyer. And I’ve talked to people who got affordable housing under our plan for 200,000 apartments."