- Associated Press - Thursday, March 10, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) - New York City will use the nearly $10 million in settlements by unscrupulous landlords and property owners to fund the construction of nearly 600 affordable housing units across the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.

The announcement comes amid a major public relations push for de Blasio’s zoning proposal - a key component of his affordable housing plan - and the event had some of the familiar hallmarks of a campaign rally.

A large banner reading “One New York: More Enforcement, More Affordable Housing” flew behind de Blasio at the empty Brooklyn lot that will be home to some of the new affordable units. Several public officials, including Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Public Advocate Letitia James, and some city and state legislators were there to lend support. And a woman whose life was improved by similar housing offered up her emotional life story.

“All sorts of people in need will be accommodated by these apartments,” de Blasio, a first-term Democrat, said. “We’re cracking down on bad actors, and that is leading to (new apartments) for people who need the most help.”

A two-year joint investigation between the Attorney General’s office and the city discovered 23 landlords and building owners who violated tenants’ rights laws and failed to provide rent-regulated leases among other violations. That yielded $9.8 million in settlements, which in total could finance more than 1,000 affordable units.

“Catching bad guys is good, but solving problems to help good people is better,” Schneiderman said.

De Blasio is aiming to center much of his 2017 re-election bid around the progress he has made in fulfilling his goal to build or preserve 200,000 affordable apartments over a decade, and negotiations have intensified between the administration and the city council on the zoning proposal.

“It would be the toughest and most stringent rules that require affordable housing to be a condition of building housing in this city,” the mayor said.

A primary sticking point has been the particulars of the mandatory inclusionary zoning bill, which would require developers to set aside some apartments in new buildings for poor New Yorkers. Some housing advocates and city councilmembers have suggested that the mayor’s original plan did not set aside enough apartments for lower-income residents, adding to fears among some New Yorkers that they soon would be priced out of their rapidly developing neighborhoods.

Administration officials have signaled this week that a compromise is possible. And City Hall has ramped up its efforts to get a deal done.

The mayor has appeared at town halls and participated in teleconferences with influential groups backing the plan, including the AARP. He appeared at a union rally on the City Hall steps on Wednesday. His team has rolled out several high-profile supporters of the plan, including the Rev. Al Sharpton. And the mayor’s political action group created a housing-focused offshoot that has engaged in a slick advertising campaign.

The council is slated to vote on the proposal at the end of the month, leading the administration to press for an agreement in the coming days.

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