New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents and supporters of affordable housing packed the steps of City Hall last week to protest rate hikes and service cuts. Standing shoulder to shoulder in the rain, the group protested proposed increases in rents for parking and decreases in others services to those who can least afford it High importance was placed at the event on the upcoming mayoral and municipal elections and the need to let the budget axe trim fat on Wall Street.

Matthew Hendricks, a resident of the Lower East Side’s Smith Houses, described NYCHA subcontractors as “incompetent” and typical of “indifference to residents of public housing.”

“I pay monthly for my parking and have already paid for this month’s but still have not received my sticker. Eight days into the month and nothing. I have already been to the office three times to complain but each time was given the runaround.”

Rosa Rivera, of Thompson Houses in Brooklyn came to voice opposition to 400% rate hikes in parking fees set to go into effect this month: “From 2006 to 2010 I paid $5 a year for parking. In 2011 the fee went up to $75, which was too much. This year, again they want to raise the fee up $340. I can’t afford it! “

Rivera and her family, like many working families in the outer boroughs of New York City, depend on a car to access basic necessities and services. “There is no easy way to get my kids to medical appointments using public transportation. Before I bought my car I had to take a taxi home from the supermarket.”

Sarah Martin president of the tenant association at the Grant Houses in Harlem told “I came to be a part of the protest! They are taking our parking lot and playgrounds to build housing for the wealthy. What about the families that live here?”

Martin responded to plans of replacing Grant Houses’ common areas with luxury housing. “We need housing to be built yes, but affordable housing,” she said.

When asked how the upcoming Mayor’s race would affect her grievances Martin said, “We all know the big elephant in the room is Bloomberg. He is the one pushing this! We need a mayor who will be a voice for NYCHA residents not privatization!”

Mrs. Janine Knocks has lived in the Berry Street Houses in Williamsburg for the past 20 years, the same time period as the Giuliani and Bloomberg mayoral terms. For the past 12 years she has been the tenant association president. When asked why she became active Knocks said “Poverty! Its effects are very visible in my neighborhood. There are so many issues to fight for. We have to start uniting, then we will have a voice.”

Over a decade ago Councilmember Robert Jackson, Co-Chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus was able to build that kind of unity, filing suit and beginning the campaign for Fiscal Equity that addressed unequal state funding to New York’s public schools.

Joining the public housing resident’s press conference Jackson said, “Allowing private companies to increase the residents’ parking by 400% is misguided and unjustifiable. NYCHA residents deserve to be actively involved in the development and planning of their place of residence and immediate community. This project needs to include a transparent process, so that the public can hold NYCHA accountable and come up with a collaborative solution to improving public housing.”


Estevan Bassett-Nembhard
Estevan Bassett-Nembhard

Estevan Bassett-Nembhard is the New York City organizer of the Communist Party USA. He has led community campaigns for the Black Radical Congress, the Young Communist League and La Fuente. He traveled the country helping health care workers form unions with the Service Employees International Union. He enjoys exploring NYC neighborhoods and parks with his family, friends and dog, Conan.