In his penultimate State of the City address, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio portrayed a city on the brink and in need of saving. With a focus on helping the city’s young people, saving small businesses, and protecting the city from the ravages of climate change, he offered a litany of proposals—complete with a hashtag: #SaveOurCity.

At the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, speaking in the Hall of Ocean Life below the belly of a suspended 94-foot blue whale, de Blasio spoke like someone who knows the clock is running out on his mayoralty and is looking for ways to quickly up the score. 

Addressing a room filled with elected officials and invited guests in set-up reminiscent of the town hall meetings he’s held in City Council districts across the city, de Blasio said despite all his administration has been able to achieve—from universal pre-kindergarten and paid-sick leave to an overhaul of the city’s zoning laws as part of an affordable housing plan—“people are afraid that New York City won’t be New York City anymore.” (Video of his speech here.)

Drawing a parallel to the way people feared crime in the 1960s and ‘70s, de Blasio said there is another fear that is gripping all New Yorkers and it’s a fear of displacement driven by greed. “It’s not that we have to fear street thugs, it’s that we have to fear bad landlords. That’s the reality,” de Blasio said. 

To that end, the mayor presented a combination of ways to address the costs that come with trying to live and work in the city.

He began with a focus on the city’s youth continuing his emphasis on early childhood education. The mayor said the city will expand 3K to four new districts: District 12 in the central Bronx, District 29 in southeast Queens, District 1 in Chinatown / Lower East Side and District 14 in Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn. He said the city would also add more recreation centers, extend the hours at existing ones and reopen six dormant facilities. 

De Blasio said the city aims to address the needs of 28,000 struggling small businesses. One of the central proposals is a new landlord vacancy tax, which would penalize owners for keeping commercial spaces off the market so they can wait for higher-paying tenants like chain stores and banks. The measure would require state legislation, something that’s been a sticking point for the mayor in past proposals like his long-sought millionaire's and mansion taxes.

In something of a reversal, de Blasio plans to convene a commission to study commercial rent control, a policy he expressed skepticism about as recently as last fall when he sided with the real estate industry and against a City Council measure. Like the commission charged with reviewing the city’s property tax system, de Blasio said this new panel would be charged with evaluating commercial rent control proposals and deliver recommendations about how it could be done by the end of this year. That would give his administration just one year to go to Albany to lobby for any reforms.

When it comes to living in the city, de Blasio said his administration is making changes to his affordable housing plan, in part by rebranding all the city’s affordable housing programs under the umbrella of “Your Home NYC.” 

Another change will prioritize setting aside new homes for the lowest-income New Yorkers. Half of all city financed newly-built homes will be for families making under $50,000 per year, and at least half of those will be for families making less than $30,000 per year. In total, this will mean 2,000 more units for low-income New Yorkers over the course of the plan.

De Blasio also sought to appeal to renters at higher income bands.

“Here’s a new idea: how would you like to rent an apartment and not have to pay a security deposit,” said de Blasio who plans to pursue legislation to do just that. The mayor said the city will begin with up to 60,000 city-financed homes where renters will have the choice of paying a security deposit or signing up for renter security insurance that allows small monthly payments or a smaller single upfront payment in lieu of the full month deposit. 

De Blasio voiced support for using Community Land Trusts which would allow for the development of affordable housing on vacant land. He said these opportunities would be offered to organizations that could propose community ownership models and will include enough city owned land to add more than 3,000 units of community owned or shared equity housing.

For homeowners, the mayor said the city will take the first steps to legalize basement apartments and accessory units, also known as tiny houses, by updating zoning laws. The city also plans to set aside capital funds to finance low interest loans to homeowners hoping to create safe and legal affordable apartments on their property. De Blasio said these measures could add approximately 10,000 more affordable homes within the next decade.

As part of his green agenda, de Blasio signed three executive orders during the speech: banning the purchase of plastic single use bottles from city buildings; converting the city’s entire car fleet to electric vehicles by 2040; and ending the use of natural gas and other fossil fuels starting with government buildings, also by 2040. 

Shortly after the mayor concluded his address, the city’s Public Advocate Jumaane Williams delivered rebuttal remarks that were live-streamed, the first time an elected official has so explicitly seized on what is traditionally the mayor’s moment to reshape the debate. While he offered some praise for the mayor’s agenda, particularly around creating and preserving affordable housing, Williams also said the latest proposals should have come sooner.

“These new targets come after years of lost time - and in this case, time is units,” said Williams

Two of the city’s likely mayoral candidates also sat front and center during the mayor’s address.

After the speech, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said the Council will evaluate the mayor’s proposals, many of which encompassed policy changes the chamber he leads was already working to address. 

Johnson said the Council already invested money last year in community land trusts for affordable housing, and cited existing legislation on commercial rent control and electrifying city buses. 

On the mayor’s central theme of “saving the city," Johnson said, “it’s not the 1970’s," but he did stress the many challenges facing the city. 

“We have record homelessness and every New Yorker you talk to talks about it,” Johnson said and then equated riding mass transit with “playing the lottery” in terms of getting to work on time. 

Overall, Comptroller Scott Stringer gave the speech a less favorable review. “I didn’t understand, ‘Save the City,’” said Stringer. “It sounded like he wanted to save the city from himself.”