July 21, 2020 By Christian Murray
A popular graffiti-removal program has been axed as the city looks to tighten its belt given the budget crisis.
The city’s $3 million Graffiti-Free NYC program has been suspended since March as the de Blasio administration finds ways to cut costs as the city looks to close a $9 billion budget hole.
“The City has suspended the Graffiti Free NYC program indefinitely,” said Laura Feyer, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s office, in a statement Monday. She noted that it was suspended “to ensure the City can continue to devote resources to essential safety, health, shelter, and food security needs.”
The program allowed residents and business owners to make a 311 complaint about graffiti–and the city would arrange for its free removal. Property owners could also sign a form that gave the city the ability to get rid of graffiti from a building without requiring permission each time.
The free program was popular. The Wall Street Journal, which first reported that it had been suspended, noted that in fiscal year 2019 more than 14,000 sites were cleaned as a result of the program.
Many say the suspension of the program has already had an impact.
Jaime-Faye Bean, executive director of the Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District, said that she has noticed more buildings tagged with graffiti since the program was put on hold.
Bean said that Sunnyside Shines—like most BIDS—hires a private contractor to keep the Sunnyside district graffiti free. But outside of the immediate district she has seen an uptick.
“I see more property outside of the BID that has been defaced,” Bean said, noting that it is important for people’s quality of life for it to be clean.
“I recognize there are a lot of human needs right now with lost jobs and lost loved ones,” she said “but people’s physical surroundings can affect their mental well-being. Nobody wants to live in neighborhoods that look like they are falling apart.”
The loss of the program puts the onus on property owners to remove the graffiti. Many commercial landlords call on their business tenants to pay for the cleanup. The extra cost comes at a time when many small businesses are struggling.
Council Member Bob Holden blasted the mayor for cutting the program.
“Every New Yorker can see that graffiti has actually increased significantly during the pandemic,” he posted on Facebook yesterday.“This administration continues to turn a blind eye to quality-of-life issues.”
The mayor’s office did note that the suspension of the program will not impact graffiti removal on city properties or infrastructure.