Conclusion de Aissata Camara

Retranscription de la conférence du 19 janvier 2024 à Sciences Po (Paris)
Colloque Organic Cities


Ville de New York

Date de publication

19 janvier 2024


20 mars 2024

My name is Aissata Camara, and I am the Deputy Commissioner for Policy and Strategic Initiatives in the New York City Mayor’s Office. And I’m also the Chief of Staff for International Affairs.

I really want to start by thanking the organizers on behalf of the mayor, Mayor Eric Adams, and our entire administration. I’ve been with the New York City Mayor’s Office for eight years and I couldn’t have imagined when I was 13 years old, migrating from the Republic of Guinea into New York City, that I would be representing such a big city, such a known city around the world.

You see, I have the unique opportunity to work with incredible colleagues every single day, colleagues from Paris, London, Tokyo, Toronto, and other foreign governments to achieve our common goal, which is to make the world fairer, safer, and more sustainable. And so the topic of housing, including affordable housing, is of great importance to New York City, because we are home to 8.6 million people, and we’re continuing to grow.

I will be focusing my remarks on three areas that will help you understand New York City’s experience. I will start by painting the picture of our housing challenges. And then next, I will share our initiatives and our solutions to increase housing and reduce the number of unhoused people and people experiencing homelessness. I will also talk about our efforts to reduce bureaucratic red tape. And finally, I will be sharing with you the outcomes of these efforts and lessons that we have learned from our story.

Figure 1

This is our mayor, Mayor Eric Adams, on the train, and he is with a New Yorker. He sometimes randomly will go on the train and talk to New Yorkers as a way of trying to understand what they’re living through. And he is a big believer in actually going out and making decisions and making policy with people. In New York City, we also call him the swag mayor.

But let me start by sharing with you the background of my office, the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs, and some of the work that we do. Our office has been around for nearly seven decades, and we play a crucial role in providing a global platform for New York City to champion its vision and to also help to make the world more equitable and more sustainable. We also cultivate a lot of partnerships and share best practices with the international community to increase our capacity to address current challenges and capitalize on opportunities. With my office, we also help the city of New York fulfill its role as the home to the United Nations and the world’s largest diplomatic community in the world.

You know, we’re a proud city of immigrants and a city of dreamers. New York is the place where people go to achieve their goals. We’ve been called the concrete jungle, if you’re a big fan of music and rap. And people say that if you can make it in our city, you can make it anywhere. And based on this reputation, it is no surprise that one out of three New Yorkers is foreign-born. And over 200 languages are spoken in our homes and on our blocks. And our mayor likes to say that whatever happens in the world, oftentimes will play out in our streets. And that is because our five boroughs are a microcosm of the world.

1 Housing challenges in NYC

Figure 2

Let us now take a moment to talk about housing and the challenges that New York City is facing. Let me walk you through the importance of housing from the perspective of our administration and tell you why housing is critical. Housing is the foundation of every part of life, including access to education, positive economic outcomes, physical and mental health, as we heard earlier, and overall quality of life. Because housing is at the cornerstone of human development, we have to ensure that people have access to safe, stable, and affordable housing. And yes, many people will say it is the government’s job at the national level, at the regional level, and at the local level. And I will agree with you. But it’s also the job of the private sector and civil society. So that is why this forum was so critical and so important for all of us to participate in. You know, New York City, we like to be unique. We like to stand out. We are proud of our history. But I want to tell you that our housing challenges are very similar to those of other big cities around the world, including right here in Paris.

In New York City, we have invested heavily in creating and preserving housing for many decades, and especially since the early 1980s. And I will tell you, I am very frustrated that I am standing here still talking about housing, because that was before I was born. But we know that population growth and the continued shortage of housing options have added to our affordability and homelessness challenge.

The issue of housing is impacting millions of New Yorkers in very significant ways. Some of our residents struggle to keep up with high housing costs. Some of them spend months, years in shelters, and others deal with unsafe housing conditions.

Now, as we deal with the rhetoric of poor people, poverty, immigrants, and all of that, it is really important to dispel the myth that these people are lazy or that they are unwilling to work. These New Yorkers are hardworking people. They are essential to our economy and to our city.

Yet, according to a 2021 housing vacancy survey initiated by our New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, I will call it HPD moving forward, only 4.5% of the city’s housing supply currently sits vacant. Yet, less than 1% of homes that are priced at below $1,500 per month are currently available in the market. So what does this mean? It means that a New Yorker that makes our city’s median income, which is about $34’386, will need to earn twice as much just to afford the median asking rent of $2’750. So the level of rent burden and severe rent burden have remained consistently high since 2011. Additionally, half of the city’s renting households spend more than 30% of their income on rent. Another one in three of those households spend over half of their income on rent.

So what do these facts mean? They mean that New Yorkers have less money to spend on other critical needs. They cannot spend on health. They cannot spend on food. They cannot spend on education and other basic needs. The lack of low-cost housing is especially prevalent in certain parts of our city. Those parts of the city that have strong access to transit, to parks, to high-performing schools, and other fundamental resources that shape the quality of life. In plain English, the nicer the neighborhood, the less likely that you’re going to find housing to rent or to buy. So we can imagine how missing out on these services and opportunities can have life-altering consequences.

2 The City of Yes

Figure 3

But we have a solution. Let me shift to talking about the making of the city of Yes. Many New York City employees, including the mayor and I, come from working-class backgrounds. So we deeply understand the struggles that I’ve been mentioning. Our lived experiences have united us in our desire to make our five boroughs better than ever before. Yes, we have experienced the negative impacts of bureaucratic red tape on our service delivery, and we want to address these issues at their roots. We also strongly believe in cross-sector engagement and bringing stakeholders together to the table to find durable solutions. And we are using a mix of bottom-up, top-down approaches to combat our housing issue. And we’re pushing beyond the bureaucratic limits. And instead of starting from a place of “no” or “I cannot do it, we cannot do it because it’s policy,” we’re opening ourselves to the exciting potential of starting from “yes.”

Figure 4

So what does the “City of Yes” look like? We have co-created a blueprint that we have called the “City of Yes”. And it is grounded in five tenets.

The first priority is to transform the New York City Housing Authority, NYCHA. When I say NYCHA, if you’re not from New York City, you might not know what I’m referencing. But if I call it the projects, you probably will know, because that’s been very popularized in our mainstream culture. We want to empower NYCHA residents because we want to change the model for service delivery and remove the red tape. We want to remove the barriers that are preventing resources from entering the NYCHA system and allowing residents to make renovations and to be able to take charge of their own homes. We also want to put residents at the center of decision making and invest in their health and in their safety.

Our second priority is to address homelessness and housing instability. We are breaking down government silos so we can better measure and address homelessness. We are also actively combating housing instability to help New Yorkers stay housed. We’re improving shelters and services within those shelters for New Yorkers.And finally, we are helping New Yorkers in shelters move into permanent housing faster and reduce their risk of returning to shelter. Because it’s not just one thing to put someone in a home. You have to ensure that they’re able to maintain that home.

And our third priority is to create and preserve affordable housing. We have been accelerating and increasing the capacity for new housing supply citywide. We are also expanding the tools to preserve existing low income and low cost and affordable housing. We have increased access to transit and services for low income New Yorkers so they are not missing out on the services based on where they are located across New York. And we’ve focused on meeting the housing needs of key segments of our society. Segments that are oftentimes overlooked. And those are senior citizens and the people with disabilities. Now, we’re very aware that home ownership is a key driver of wealth. So we want to help New Yorkers become homeowners while also helping to stabilize those individuals that are renting.

Our fourth priority is to improve the health and safety of New Yorkers. We are improving housing quality to ensure healthy and safe living conditions. We don’t want people living in mold or living with pests. We are also keeping New Yorkers safe in their home in the changing climate. It’s been mentioned before. And we all know that climate change is an existential threat. So what we want to focus on is creating healthier and more sustainable homes.

And our final pillar, our final priority, and if you’re from civil society like I used to be, or from the private sector, you probably will applaud this the most. We want to reduce the administrative burden. You see, the city’s decade-long housing crisis requires policies that respond with urgency to meet the needs of New Yorkers. But for far too long, access to public assistance, rental subsidy vouchers, and affordable units often required long and complex processes involving extensive paperwork, in-person meetings, and valuable time that people facing housing instability or homelessness simply do not have. Now, while many of these barriers were created with good intentions, they were created to weed out people that are not eligible for these services or to prevent fraud, others reflect a lack of inter-agency coordination. They reflect a lack of investment in technology and a lack of user-centric program design. And our administration has made it a top priority to change this dynamic. We want to design systems and services that fit the needs and experiences of residents. And we want to make sure that we are serving the people that put us into office, the people that are New Yorkers, rather than the internal bureaucracy of government.

3 Historic results

Now, if you are a thinker like me, you’re probably asking, “So what has the impact been of this work?” Well, I’m going to share a few of them with you. We have been seeing real and historic results from these five pillars. Just yesterday, while I was in Paris here, the mayor announced another historic win for our work. Our administration has connected more New Yorkers to homes than ever before. We have connected nearly 13’000 households to affordable housing in 2023. Nearly 10’000 of those 13’000 came through the Housing Connect Lottery system, and 3’000 came from the shelters in the HPD program. Our administration has also continued to combat the housing and affordability crisis by producing 26’682 homes in 2023 alone. And these were done through new construction and preservation deals. Our HPD has financed the highest number of supportive homes in the city’s history, and the highest number of homes for New Yorkers who were formerly experiencing homelessness, since we started tracking that data in 2014.

And we have continued to cut bureaucratic red tape and lengthy government processes so we could accelerate housing production and advance historic projects, including one of my favorite projects, which is the transformation of Willets Point, the city’s largest 100% affordable housing project in 40 years. Through the Department of Social Services, we’ve also helped 15,000 households move out of shelter and into permanent housing, using a variety of our tools and our subsidies.

Figure 5

I want to conclude with some ideas for you on best practices. We have to be bold and go beyond imagination. We have to acknowledge the advancements that have been made, but not allow them to limit us. We have to innovate and not be afraid of failing forward. There are always lessons that we can learn, even in our failures. We have to ensure that when we are making housing policies, that we do so with our communities. Policies cannot be made in silos. Communities know their problems. They are living it every single day, but they are also solving it on their own, and they could be real assets in allowing us to reach our goals. Cross-sector partnerships are going to be integral. We have to work together on common solutions. This is critical. It is non-negotiable. We cannot work in silos. Academia has to work with civil society. Civil society has to work with the private sector, and us governments, we have to work with you.

We have to be honest. We all want to celebrate progress, but we cannot achieve the outcomes that we are trying to reach if we are unwilling to acknowledge where we are. We have to share our data freely, and we have to share our learning. And we have to rethink our bureaucracy. We have to think about the user experience. Every time that you’re creating a new bureaucracy, think about that busy, overworked, stressed resident that has to interact with your service. How can you make it more efficient, fast, and positive for them? If you keep these things, these tenets in mind, you can go from questioning whether we could be a “City of Yes” to actually knowing that we can reach a “City of Yes”.

Figure 6



  author = {Camara, Aissata},
  publisher = {Sciences Po \& Villes Vivantes},
  title = {Conclusion de Aissata Camara},
  date = {2024-01-19},
  url = {},
  langid = {fr}
Veuillez citer ce travail comme suit :
Camara, A. (2024, January 19). Conclusion de Aissata Camara. Organic Cities, Paris. Sciences Po & Villes Vivantes.