It's very appropriate that you have chosen New York City to discuss the issues and challenges facing public housing and urban redevelopment. After all, it was right here in new York City that Eleanor Roosevelt and Fiorella LaGuardia opened the country's first public housing facilities in 1936 -- "First Houses" on the lower East Side.
That marked the beginning of what was to become the largest, most successful public housing network in America. Today, the New York City Housing Authority has over 180,000 apartments and 3,000 building with a housing population (600,000) roughly the size of the city of Boston (574, 283).
Over the past 60 years, as NYCHA has grown, we have always adhered to the standards that were established in its charter -- and these standards are to provide safe, decent, and affordable housing to each and every resident.
In fact, we have exceeded these standards. According to the latest U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rankings, New York City places first in management proficiency among all cities with 8500 or more units of public housing.
We've been a top performer each year since the rating system began precisely because we have never forgotten the significance of our mandate and what it means for the people of New York City.
Every family deserves to raise their children in an environment that is safe, one that is free from fear and intimidation. That's why three and a half years ago, we set out not only to make our streets safe, but to ensure that all New Yorkers feel safe and secure in the sanctity of their own homes.
We take the safety and protection of our public housing residents seriously. That means paying attention to all violations of the law, not only those that make the headlines.
That's why last month we issued a zero tolerance policy against vicious and menacing dogs that were being kept illegally by residents of public housing. In a joint effort to crack down on this very serious problem, we created a special 24-hour hotline (1-888-895-DOGS) and a task force to work with the police department and the Center for Animal Care and Control.
We have applied the same high standards to reducing crime in NYCHA developments that we have applied to the rest of the city. When in 1995 we merged the Transit Police, the NYPD, and the Housing Police, it was one of our guiding principles to ensure that every police officer have the same degree of training so that the police force as a whole would function with greater efficiency and at the highest level of professionalism.
We have seen the remarkable results. We have improved the way we fight and the way we prevent crime. That's why if you look at the decline of crime in public housing, it parallels and in some cases exceeds the success of our city as a whole.
In every borough of the city, we have made major strides in reducing crime. For instance, since 1994, in NYCHA developments, crime against other persons and crimes against property both decreased by about 48 percent.
As I have said on a number of occasions, we cannot improve the quality of our lives without creating a safer environment in which to live and work. That's because the greatest catalyst for economic development in a neighborhood is a safe environment that is conducive to growth and prosperity -- one in which children feel safe and businesses feel confident.
When you look at the revitalization of Times Square, or the Atlantic Center in downtown Brooklyn, you will experience first-hand the effects of our strategies.
Across the city, neighborhoods are safer and more vibrant. Maintaining the highest standards for our public housing developments, and raising those standards, are critical parts of creating successful neighborhoods.
When people feel safer and more confident in their community, they are better able to deal with the daily challenges and responsibilities they face.
And when they feel that they are in control of their lives, they make the entire community better for everyone. They participate fully in the social contract, which says that for every right there is a duty, for every benefit an obligation.
Over the last three and a half years, we've worked very hard to make people across the city more self-sufficient. Since March of 1995, over 280,000 people have been moved off the welfare rolls -- that's more than any city or state in the country. It is as though we removed virtually the entire population of Richmond from our welfare rolls. These people have been given a new opportunity to support themselves and a new chance to take charge of their own lives.
Our workfare program is the largest, most successful in the nation, and has served as a model for cities throughout the world. Over 200,000 people have moved through the program and now into self-sufficiency.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. believed, "if a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.'"
Our administration also believes providing people with the opportunity to work restores a sense of dignity, independence, and self-esteem that no social program can match.
In our NYCHA communities, we can see the success of our workfare program. There are currently 3,000 W.E.P. workers assigned to the housing authority...about 500 perform clerical type duties in our field and central offices. And 2,500 people work at our developments as a supplement to our regular caretaker staff, performing grounds work and cleaning assignments.
Of these workers, 120 just this year alone are going to be retained permanently on the staff of NYCHA. That's 120 people who now have the rewards of work and the dignity that comes with being self-sufficient.
The city has come together to create communities where people not only support themselves, but support one another as well.
Last month, along with New York City Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew and Chairman Ruben Franco, I announced our plans to expand a very exciting and innovative program called "Partners in Reading." By this fall, the program will reach over 5,000 children in 92 Housing Authority Community Centers throughout the city.
We are confident that this project will prove to be a success because a pilot program has already reached over 1,500 first, second, and third grade students. This is a truly wonderful initiative that is infusing children with the excitement and joy of learning.
The program is led by trained professional teachers from the Board of Education, and assisted by parent volunteers and community center staff. It is a true cooperative effort. For two hours a day, twice a week, students come to the community center after school and focus on honing their reading skills in a fun, caring environment.
We're in the midst of a major, multi-faceted effort to enhance child reading skills, and this is a creative, sensible, and practical part of that plan.
NYCHA, the Board of Education, and the Office of the Mayor came together to make this happen. What united them was a common concern for the future of our children. That is the best, most important reason for making any public policy.
NYCHA continues to put the needs of families first. Take, for example, our newest development, lower East Side III. It represents the state of the art public housing designed with the needs of residents in mind.
The low-rise design of the development gives families their privacy. The central courtyard gives children a common place to play. Security cameras deter vandals and make the development safe for all its residents. And a number of units in the development are specifically built for the physically disabled.
The development is equipped with a management and maintenance office, community center, and laundry room. The families who live in the development have their independence, while the design of lower East Side III also fosters a sense of community. A building superintendent is available around the clock. And lower East Side III is managed by a private company -- which is, for this development -- another intelligent and economical innovation.
Last year, I attended the 60th birthday of First Houses, the first public housing in the nation. The city still remains committed to its success. With NYCHA's excellent record of maintaining all of its housing developments, I'm confident that the oldest and the newest -- First Houses and lower East Side III -- will thrive as cohesive communities well into the next century and beyond.
In fact, the creativity and resolve of public housing officials across the country make me confident that the nation will succeed in facing the public housing and urban redevelopment challenges of the future.