Kristen Kaufman: “Housing is crucial in attracting more talent”

Kristen Kaufman: “Housing is crucial in attracting more tale...

Esteve Almirall

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Kristen Kaufman has a relevant background as an entrepreneur and has worked for companies such as Merrill Lynch. After a period in the private sector, she worked in non-profit foundations such as the Carnegie Council and Teach for America. Now she is devoted to politics serving as Deputy Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs in New York City.

Moving to the public sector took you a lot of time, right?  

It took me a lot of time and effort to find a position that combines all my skills in my previous jobs, from finance to non-profits to policy... But finally, I found it!   

Homelessness is a problem everywhere, but in NYC especially. 

Yes, and covid made everything worse. Homelessness and mental health are significantly linked; you cannot treat them as separate policies.   

How is NYC dealing with it?  

NYC is a right-to-shelter city. This means it offers shelter and a bed to everyone who needs one. In December 2022, we had over 68,000 individuals in our shelter system, including 21,000 children sleeping in the shelters every night.   

That seems like a lot.  

It is the highest level since the great depression of the 30s. And it doesn't include the 42,000 asylum seekers that arrived in NYC over the past year.  

Are all of them in shelters?  

Thousands of unsheltered individuals choose not to enter the shelter system and sleep in the streets. Many suffer from severe mental and health problems and cannot care for themselves. For them, we have outreach workers in the streets and subways, finding and managing these people day and night.  

What else are you doing?  

We also put in place the 'Clubhouse model' that provides a community for people that don't have one together with care, help and training. In addition to that, we expanded the supportive housing program for people with mental illness to 8,000 units. 

Why are there so many homeless people?  

Lack of housing is one of the main causes. So for the transition, we also have rental assistance programs helping more than 150,000 New Yorkers to have and maintain a house, moving needed New Yorkers into permanent housing.   

New York has been addressing the housing problem for a long time.  

Housing is crucial in attracting more talent, maintaining a vibrant city, and alleviating homelessness. NYC needs to double the number of apartments that it builds to solve this problem. Mayor Adams laid out a moonshot goal to build 500,000 new homes across all five boroughs.   

Now housing is becoming a pressing problem in Spanish cities too… What should they do? 

Key ingredients are, first, slashing red tape and paperwork; second, speeding up the approval processes. The strategy is simple: build more houses and put prices down.   

What other interesting policies can we copy from NYC?  

The ones about immigrant integration, for instance. We have 400 languages in our city. The second generation feels always American — and most important, New Yorker; we are very successful in this. We have many programs, such as 'Breaking Bread, Building Bonds, ' in which we organize over 1,000 dinners city-wide with 10 to 12 common and diverse New Yorkers in each meal. 

And any local industrial policies?  

I can mention the new urban economic model and how we're building industrial ecosystems from scratch. Pre-covid, our focus was attracting businesses, but now it is about attracting and retaining talent. So, first, we create an environment where families want to live and, secondly, develop ecosystems for businesses to thrive.   

How exactly do you do this?  

We learned a lot from the financial crisis in 2009. We founded our VC firm and connected with other VCs nationwide. We created 17 co-working spaces throughout the city (that was before co-working spaces even existed). We created incubator programs for startups and now we have more than 100 incubators. We also set up tax incentives for real estate developers for wet labs.   

And what was the result?  

We went from zero to being valued at $170B — the second most valuable ecosystem in the world. Now we have more than 9,000 startups and quite a lot of well-established tech companies.   

In terms of green policies, what's there?  

In NYC, we are building 30GW of offshore wind on the East Coast that will power 10-20 million homes together with industrial jobs for marginalized communities.   

NYC invented 'tactical urbanism,' which is becoming popular in Barcelona. What is it?  

Tactical urbanism is about reclaiming city spaces for pedestrians and building neighborhoods. The 'New New York' is our new program investing $375M in parks and plazas while widening side blocks, making intersections safer, and expanding bike lanes. In summary, making the city greener.    

Not every neighborhood has a park nearby...  

Yes, and for that is essential our 'Open Streets' program for neighborhoods that don't have access to green spaces. This program closes streets to cars for specific hours, allowing neighbors to congregate and spend time together. It's beneficial physically and mentally.  

What makes the Adams administration unique?  

Inclusivity and building bridges between groups is probably the main characteristic of the administration. Also, we go to the business community with a clear message: we need you to be a part of the solution. The message is clear: you are welcome, we need you, and we value you! — Without you, our city doesn't work! 

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