Mendez, Chin Address City’s Budget Woes

Mendez, Chin, Council Speaker Christine Quinn at recent press conference.

It’s no secret the city and state are in a big financial pickle.  Mayor Bloomberg has ordered city agencies to cut $1.3 billion from next year’s budget. Earlier this week, in appearances before CB3, City Councilmembers Rosie Mendez and Margaret Chin were blunt about the potential consequences.

Mendez said the situation is bleak and that no area – from social services to education to transportation – will be untouched. As chair of the City Council’s public housing committee, she has been focused on reversing the city’s decision to freeze government rent subsidies for thousands of families. In December, the New York City Housing Authority announced it had been forced to terminate “Section 8″ vouchers distributed to more than 2,600 households.

“We are trying to right that wrong,” Mendez said. But at the same time, the city has been warning of new reductions (perhaps impacting as many as 10,000 families). There’s a possibility, she added, that people in the program would be forced to pay $200 more a month in rent. If that happens, Mendez suggested, “we’re talking about mass homelessness. ”

Chin said this month’s budget hearings at City Hall have been sobering. “It’s upsetting to hear about cuts to so many social services,” she told CB3. While acknowledging that some cutbacks are unavoidable, Chin said the Council is preparing to fight for critical services.  Both Mendez and Chin are members of a new progressive coalition that was announced this week.

Chin indicated she has received more than 200 requests for funding. Last year, her predecessor (Alan Gerson) awarded about $370,000 in discretionary funds. Mendez won approximately $413,000 for organizations and projects in her district.

But the focus is on the big picture: citywide funding for schools, social services, housing and transportation. Chin believes her years as a community organizer will serve her and her constituents well in the months ahead. As the budget process accelerates, she said, community activists will be called on to fight for essential programs.

Chin represents District 1, which includes most of the Lower East Side, Chinatown, Soho, Tribeca, and the Financial District. Mendez represents Council District 2, covering (among other neighborhoods) the area north of Houston, including the East Village.