NY4P in the NYTimes: 6 Numbers That Reveal Bill de Blasio’s Legacy on Inequality

6 Numbers That Reveal Bill de Blasio’s Legacy on Inequality

Emma Fitzsimmons 

December 22, 2021

When Bill de Blasio first ran for mayor in 2013, he pledged to reduce inequality in an increasingly opulent New York City where he argued poor residents were falling behind.

Over the last eight years, he succeeded on key priorities like creating universal prekindergarten, embracing police reforms like body cameras and continuing to reduce stop and frisk incidents, and building affordable housing. But he had difficulty making inroads on other major problems like homelessness, school segregation and transit inequities.

The share of New Yorkers living in poverty dropped during Mr. de Blasio’s first term, but the pandemic exposed the city’s entrenched disparities.

Still, he helped tens of thousands of families save money by not having to pay for preschool and pushed for a $15 minimum wage. At the same time, many more single adults are now living in squalid homeless shelters.

Here is how Mr. de Blasio performed on six key issues:


93 percent reduction in police stops

Mr. de Blasio built his mayoral campaign on police reform, but his record is mixed.

The mayor directed the city to drop its appeal of a landmark federal court decision that found that the Police Department’s use of stop-and-frisk tactics was unconstitutional, and had disproportionately targeted Black and Latino men. Mr. de Blasio also welcomed reforms and a federal monitor to oversee the department’s progress.

Random stops of New Yorkers plummeted. There were roughly 13,400 stops in 2019, down from 191,800 in 2013, and from a high of 685,700 under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2011.

Enforcement, however, still falls disproportionately on people of color. In 2020, 86 percent of those stopped by police were Black or Latino, and 61 percent were found to have done nothing wrong. A federal monitor has also voiced concerns that police officers are underreporting the number of stops they make.

Low-level marijuana arrests were reduced by more than half in the last four years, but also fell disproportionately on Black and Latino New Yorkers. In the first quarter of 2021, before marijuana was legalized by New York State, 90 percent of the 163 New Yorkers arrested for marijuana possession were Black or Latino. Court summonses for marijuana possession, which also fell disproportionately on Black and Latino New Yorkers, decreased only after marijuana was legalized in 2021.

Still, Mr. de Blasio introduced significant reforms. His office shepherded in the concept of “precision policing” — a policing model that specifically targets areas based on data and crime statistics — and created an infrastructure for working with community groups in high-risk neighborhoods. The New York Police Department began 2013 without body cameras; now most patrol officers and specialized units use them.

Critics note that many reforms were thrust on Mr. de Blasio. According to statistics released by the department, marijuana possession arrests were greatly reduced in 2021, after lawmakers in Albany legalized recreational use of the drug; and changes to the police budget came only after mass protests against police brutality in 2020.

The pandemic complicated his legacy on policing when shooting and murder rates increased. While both have recently shown signs of improvement, neither has returned to prepandemic levels.

— Ali Watkins


70 percent of schools are still segregated

Mr. de Blasio campaigned on a promise to tackle inequality in the nation’s largest school system. But for most of his tenure, he did not focus on some of the major issues that contribute to segregation in city schools.

By the start of his second term, intensifying pressure from activists — many of them students who attended segregated schools themselves — to take action on integration forced City Hall to acknowledge the issue, even though the mayor never explicitly promised to integrate schools.

The number of schools that are “intensely segregated” has remained high, decreasingly slightly from 72 percent in 2010 to 70 percent in 2019, according to the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

Mr. de Blasio’s push to eliminate the admissions exam that dictates entry into the city’s eight so-called specialized high schools failed. A task force he assembled to study integration solutions proposed that he eliminate gifted and talented classes, a recommendation he ignored for years until he issued a similar plan with just a few months left in his mayoralty; mayor-elect Eric Adams has already said he won’t put that plan into effect when he takes office.

Ultimately, the most significant efforts to integrate schools came from individual school districts that have well-organized parent groups who spent years creating plans to diversify schools in their own neighborhoods, including the Lower East Side and swaths of brownstone Brooklyn. The number of schools that have voluntarily adopted integration measures, like setting aside seats for low-income or homeless children, has ballooned to 100 schools from just seven. Mr. de Blasio approved and in some cases championed aspects of those proposals, but he did not create them.

While City Hall’s efforts to diversify schools were halting, the mayor had much more success in creating what has become a new grade for the city school system: prekindergarten. The massive expansion of early childhood education for 4-year-olds — and recently many 3-year-olds — is widely considered Mr. de Blasio’s signature achievement. When the mayor took office in 2014, there were about 19,000 pre-K seats available to 4-year-olds; there are now 60,000. Together with the 3-K class, there are currently about 96,000 children attending public school before kindergarten.

Mr. de Blasio also presided over years of steadily increasing high school graduation rates: nearly 79 percent of students graduated high school after four years in 2020; that rate was 66 percent in 2013. Still, allies of former mayor Michael R. Bloomberg have said that Mr. Bloomberg’s policies aimed at improving struggling high schools helped set the stage for rising graduation rates.

— Eliza Shapiro


65 percent increase in single adults living in shelters

Shortly before taking office, Mr. de Blasio described a “tale of two cities,” and cited growing homelessness as a prime example of how the city failed poor New Yorkers.

“We are simply not going to allow this kind of reality to continue,” he said.

But on homelessness, what has emerged is something like a tale of two shelter systems. Overall, the homeless shelter population, which was up 17 percent under Mr. de Blasio before the pandemic, is now down 11 percent during his tenure. But the numbers for family shelters and single-adult shelters have diverged.

The population of family shelters, including children, has fallen about 30 percent under Mr. de Blasio, from about 41,000 in the main shelter system in December 2013 to about 29,100 last week.

That is partly because of a pandemic-era state eviction moratorium that will expire in January. But the family shelter population was already dropping when the pandemic began and has kept falling, because of programs created and enhanced by Mr. de Blasio’s administration, including rental-assistance vouchers, priority for homeless families in public housing and a program that pays rent arrears. Critics note that the city has also held numbers down by turning more families away.

The single adult shelter population, though, is more than 60 percent higher than when Mr. de Blasio took office, and the mayor has acknowledged that the homelessness crisis was his biggest failure. The number of single adults living in the main shelter system has risen from about 10,100 in December 2013 to roughly 16,700 last week.

There are many reasons behind the increase, said Jacquelyn Simone, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless. Jail and prison populations have dropped sharply and the state sends more than half of the prisoners it releases to New York City directly to shelters. Anti-eviction measures that helped families stay in their homes have been less helpful to single adults, who become homeless primarily for reasons other than eviction.

And because of difficulties finding permanent housing — the shortage of so-called “deeply affordable” housing is particularly severe for studios and one-bedrooms — a single adult who enters the shelter system now stays an average of 476 days. That’s nearly six months longer than when Mr. de Blasio took office.

“For single adults, more people are coming in the front door, and they’re staying longer,” Ms. Simone said.

— Andy Newman


194,000 affordable housing units built or preserved

Mr. de Blasio made investing in affordable housing a cornerstone of his strategy to reduce inequality, as soaring rents left people homeless or struggling to afford their homes.

His administration said in September that it had preserved or started building more than 194,000 affordable homes, largely by using public subsidies to build new homes or preventing rent regulations from expiring.

While the overall number of affordable units eclipsed his predecessors, Mr. de Blasio also drew criticism that his administration was not doing enough to help the lowest-income New Yorkers. Most of the investment was directed toward residents who earned at least $53,700 for a family of three, when the need was greatest among those who earned less, according to report in February by the Community Service Society of New York, an anti-poverty group.

The public housing system has been a crucial lifeline for many of the lowest-income New Yorkers, and the mayor had promised to improve longstanding problems. But under Mr. de Blasio, conditions in New York City Housing Authority developments continued to deteriorate, revealing serious problems with lead paint, heat and other issues.

Mr. de Blasio invested more money in the system, but it was not nearly enough to address aging NYCHA developments’ ballooning needs. A NYCHA official testified last month that the agency needed about $40 billion to do major repairs, adding that the amount was growing at about $1 billion every year.

The number of evictions filings — another measure of the city’s housing crisis — has decreased. In 2013, there were 11.2 evictions for every 100 homes with renters. In 2019, before the pandemic, that number dropped to 7.9, a decrease that housing advocates have attributed in part to measures signed into law by Mr. de Blasio that aimed to protect tenants from harassment and guaranteed tenants lawyers in housing court.

— Mihir Zaveri


8 m.p.h.: The slowest bus speeds of any major American city

The mayor of New York City remarkably does not control the subway — it is run by the governor — but Mr. de Blasio did have considerable sway over city streets, and bus speeds remained exceptionally slow during his term.

In January 2019, Mr. de Blasio pledged to increase bus speeds to 10 miles per hour by 2020. Yet bus speeds hovered around 8 miles per hour this year, roughly the same rate as before 2014, and the slowest of any major city in the nation.

Many low-income New Yorkers rely on buses that are still inching along in clogged traffic despite calls for more bus priority lanes. In fact, New Yorkers who take the bus earn less than three-fourths of what subway commuters make, according to a 2017 report from the city comptroller.

The 14th Street Busway in Manhattan that put bus riders first was viewed as a major success, but it did not come until his sixth year in office.

Instead, he often focused on ferries, which are highly subsidized by the city and are not known to serve poor riders. New York’s ferry system has among the highest transit subsidies per ride at $9.34, compared to $1.05 for the subway.

He also vowed to make city streets safer by introducing his Vision Zero plan, modeled after Sweden’s program, with the goal of reducing traffic fatalities to zero. That has not happened. Traffic deaths had dropped for several years before surging this year to their highest level in nearly a decade.

— Ana Ley


18 percent of New Yorkers still do not live within walking distance of a park

New York City has more than 30,000 acres of municipal parkland that have become more important than ever during the pandemic, but many residents do not have easy access to this vast green space.

Just as there are transit deserts, park deserts continue to persist, especially in communities with poor people and people of color in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. The percentage of New Yorkers living within walking distance of a park has barely improved over the last five years — it has hovered under 82 percent — though in 2015, Mr. de Blasio set a goal of 85 percent by 2030.

Mr. de Blasio added more than 500 acres of new parkland, but his signature effort to improve park access has been to commit $743 million to renovate dozens of long neglected community parks. Another $150 million has gone to upgrade amenities such as soccer fields and hiking trails in five large parks.

Still, Mr. de Blasio could have done far more, according to park advocates who say city parks need roughly $6 billion in infrastructure and maintenance work.

“They didn’t go all in, they never prioritized parks and open spaces in a way that would have made a generational difference,” said Adam Ganser, the executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, an advocacy group.

— Winnie Hu

Read the full article online at the New York Times