Open Letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio from progressive leaders
“This affordability crisis … threatens the very soul of this city.”
– New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, State of the City address, Feb. 13, 2017
Mr. Mayor, We agree.
Unfortunately, the affordability crisis is not limited to housing. Low-income New Yorkers struggle every day to pay for transportation. More than one in four often can’t afford the bus and subway fares needed to get to work, commute to college or transport their children. Should our fellow New Yorkers be reduced to begging for a swipe? Forced to choose between food and finding a job? Should a low-paid home health aide, desperate to get to work on time and keep her job, risk fare evasion that could lead to deportation?
The cost of MetroCards consumes more than 10 percent of income for the working poor. With the latest round of fare hikes that went into effect March 19, public transit has become even more out of reach for those who rely on it the most because they can’t afford cars, taxis or Uber.
In a recent letter to New Yorkers you said, “The fact is: People are so fundamentally challenged by the affordability crisis that this city must do more and must do it quickly.”
Here is one thing you can do right now, that unlike so much else, does not depend on action from Albany: Provide half-price subway and bus fares to working-age New Yorkers living at or below the poverty line. The city already subsidizes half-price MetroCards for seniors, reimburses the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for student passes and gives a tax break through transit benefits to middle- and higher-income commuters. Why not give a break to those who need it the most?
Half-price fares would put up to $726 in the pockets of the lowest-income New Yorkers. That’s nearly a month’s rent that could keep a family from becoming homeless, or buy more than a month’s groceries to feed an entire household.
Current law allows the mayor to secure reduced fares, as long as the city makes up the foregone revenue to the MTA. Estimates put that at $212 million a year or just 0.25 percent of your proposed $84.7 billion municipal budget. That’s a very small bite out of the city budget to reduce a huge bite out of the household budgets for hundreds of thousands of the neediest New Yorkers.
Economic mobility requires physical mobility. Let’s make it possible for every New Yorker to get ahead. We urge you to include funding for fair fares in the fiscal year 2018 city budget.
Rev. Michael A. Walrond Jr., senior pastor, First Corinthian Baptist Church
Eric L. Adams, Brooklyn borough president
Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and executive director, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies
José Calderon, president, Hispanic Federation
Rev. Fred Davie, executive vice president, Union Theological Seminary
Hazel N. Dukes, president, NAACP New York state chapter
U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat
Betsy Gotbaum, former New York City public advocate
Bill Lipton, New York state director, Working Families Party
Former U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel
John Samuelsen, president, Transport Workers Union Local 100
U.S. Rep. José E. Serrano
Javier Valdés, co-executive director, Make the Road New York
Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher, The Nation
U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez
Dorian Warren, president, Center for Community Change Action
Afua Atta-Mensah, executive director, Community Voices Heard
Deborah Axt, co-executive director, Make the Road New York
Catherine Barnett, executive director, Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York
Sean Basinski, director, Street Vendor Project of the Urban Justice Center
Rev. Micah Bucey, associate minister, Judson Memorial Church
Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF
Mary Ellen Clark, executive director, New York City Employment and Training Coalition
Carol Corden, executive director, New Destiny Housing
Ronald Deutsch, executive director, Fiscal Policy Institute
Jacqueline M. Ebanks, executive director, Women’s City Club of New York
Rabbi Michael Feinberg, executive director, Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition
Christina M. Greer, associate professor of political science, Fordham University
Seymour James, attorney-in-chief, The Legal Aid Society
David R. Jones, president and CEO, Community Service Society of New York
Doug Lasdon, executive director, Urban Justice Center
Jenny Laurie, president, Emergency Rent Coalition
Bertha Lewis, founder and president, The Black Institute
Nancy Rankin, vice president for policy, research and advocacy, Community Service Society of New York
John Raskin, executive director, Riders Alliance
Katy Rubin, executive director, Theatre of the Oppressed NYC
Gene Russianoff, senior attorney, New York Public Interest Research Group’s Straphangers Campaign
Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director, Brooklyn Defender Services
Robin Steinberg, founder and executive director, The Bronx Defenders
Elinor Tatum, publisher and editor-in-chief, New York Amsterdam News