Mayoral hopeful Andrew Yang said, if elected, he would provide the leadership that responds to Haitian New Yorkers’ needs, such as building a Haitian-American community center and affordable housing, providing cash relief and diversifying city government.
Yang, an entrepreneur and former Democratic presidential candidate, also told The Haitian Times in a phone interview Tuesday that his anti-poverty proposal would benefit families of English-language learner students, including Haitian-Americans.
Yang said he has learned about the Haitian community’s needs after speaking with community members on the campaign trail.
“They feel like they’re on the outside looking in, that there are city agencies and governments that are overlooking and neglecting the needs in their community,” said Yang, 46, the son of Taiwanese immigrants. “This is why we need change, we need a different type of leadership in New York City.”
As the Democratic primary approaches June 22, candidates like Yang, who has been at or near the top of the polls since announcing his candidacy, have been making more appearances in Flatbush and meeting with Haitian-Americans.
One priority Yang said he learned from Haitian New Yorkers on the campaign trail is the need for a community center ‒ something The Haitian Times called for in an editorial last month ‒ which could serve the community by bringing access to educational resources and cultural offerings, he said.
Providing financial assistance, housing
A former test preparation company CEO and Venture for America founder, Yang has brought some of his notable ideas from the 2020 presidential campaign into the citywide race, including a universal basic income proposal for certain New Yorkers.
Yang said his proposal to offer $1,000 per year to families of public school students living below the poverty line could help improve livelihoods citywide. The plan applies to families of students who are English-language learners, per Yang’s website, Haitian-Americans being among them. On his website, Yang also proposes giving $2,000 per year to New Yorkers in extreme poverty.
“My plans around cash relief, and a People’s Bank, and getting people access to financial services would benefit Haitian families more than most,” Yang said, referencing his proposal for A People’s Bank of New York. “There are big things we can do that will improve people’s way of life.”
Funded by an initial $100 million loan from the city, the People’s Bank would prioritize lending to small businesses and entrepreneurs in underserved communities. Per Yang’s website, it would also help unbanked individuals access financial services.
Yang, who resides in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, plans to create more affordable housing, which current and former Flatbush residents have said is scarce and often out of reach, due to income guidelines. The candidate has pledged to commit $4 billion annually to build and preserve 30,000 affordable apartments per year. Part of the money would be used to convert unused hotels into housing.
“With that kind of footprint [30,000 units], you’re going to be in lots of different places and not just converting existing buildings,” Yang said. “I understand very acutely that Haitian New Yorkers are struggling with access to affordable housing as much as anyone.”
This housing, per Yang’s website, would target New Yorkers in a wide income range, earning 0-80% of the area median income (AMI). The AMI for a single individual is currently $81,600.
Although she praised the hotel conversion proposal as “a viable solution,” Flatbush tenant and community organizer Ivie Bien-Aime said candidates need to “go a little deeper,” to ensure housing is truly affordable. Elderly residents on a fixed income, for example, may earn $30,000 or less and struggle to find an apartment that meets their budget, she said.
“Most of the mayoral candidates are not really focusing on these tenants,” said Bien-Aime, who encouraged Yang to forge relationships with tenant organizers in Flatbush. “I don’t see [Yang] around enough.”
More representation in government
Yang’s most widely publicized appearance in Flatbush came at a May 20 press conference on law enforcement, with Lt. Edwin Raymond, a District 40 council candidate. During the conference, Yang pledged to diversify NYPD leadership and introduce a system to document warnings given to people committing low-level offenses.
At the conference, Raymond said the warning system could limit overly aggressive policing, but policy experts have called the proposal controversial, per media reports.
Yang has not advocated for budget cuts to the NYPD. But he has outlined plans to ensure that half of all senior officers are people of color, during his administration. He has also proposed appointing a police commissioner with broad experience outside of law enforcement.
Haitian New Yorkers, he said, can play a role in diversifying the force and ultimately making the city safer.
“The city is struggling with increased rates of shootings and violence in every community, so my first priority is to try and make sure that families feel safe,” Yang said. “If there are Haitians who are reading this, who want to be a police officer, we need you. That’s a way that you can both protect and serve your community and also help the [police] culture evolve.”
Other candidates for mayor courting the city’s Haitians have spoken about their close ties to the community. Maya Wiley resides in Flatbush and said she witnessed the pandemic’s devastation on the health and business life in one of New York’s largest Haitian enclaves. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams organized for police reform alongside community members starting in the late 1990s.
It isn’t out of the ordinary for mayoral candidates to have big ideas, said Carine Jocelyn, executive director of the nonprofit Diaspora Community Services. For her, Jocelyn said, the follow-through once in office is critical.
“Everybody has ideas and thoughts, and then what happens?” Jocelyn said. “Whatever’s going to work to allow people to have a decent place to live that they can afford, and to be able to address homelessness in a long-term way, not just put a band-aid on it, that’s the candidate we need.”