New York’s public and private housing tenants join forces
Churches United for Fair Housing via Twitter

Cold rain and classic Manhattan sewer water puddles couldn’t stop more than 300 tenants from attending a statewide coalition meeting last Wednesday. Gathered in the auditorium of the Washington Irving High School, activists and leaders of organizations united by the Housing Justice For All began by belting out the tenant anthem: “All the rent, all the rent, all the rent is too damn high,” beautifully orchestrated by Winsome Pendergrass of New York Communities for Change (NYCC).

The coalition won a historic victory last year with the passage of the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019. “From Rochester to the Rockaways we fought as one,” youth leaders Emely, Angy and Lauriana from Churches United for Fair Housing (CUFFH) told the assembly. “We had enough elected officials scared like never before, and I’m talking to you, Cuomo!”

This year, they are gearing up for the next phase of the struggle. “This morning our upstate counterpart had its own action in Buffalo, and now it’s our turn,” a youth activist declared.

The 2020 #NYHomesGuarantee aims to complete the fight for #UniversalRentControl, and is uniting tenants in public and private housing to significantly expand the platform demands: taxing the rich, a $3 billion increase for public housing, a $6 billion increase for social and supportive housing, and a $1 billion increase for enforcement of new rent regulations. The platform also includes measures to end environmental violence, including homelessness, toxic mold, lack of heat, and other housing-related health crises.

“No matter what race or income level you are, you have the right to a safe, quality, truly affordable home,” Peggy Perkins of NYCC said.

A panel of activists from Community Voices Heard (CVH), VOCAL-NY, the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV), Woodside on the Move, and NYC public advocate Jumaane Williams sat to the left of the podium.

The powerful speakers stood in front of a huge cloth banner demanding a “#NYHomesGuarantee!” in bold black and red lettering. Another poster below it charged Gov. Andrew Cuomo with responsibility for a people’s state of emergency, saying this is “#CuomosHousingCrisis.” Below the speakers, a gigantic black banner stretched from one end of the stage to the other, announcing the prosecuting evidence: “92K HOMELESS UNDER CUOMO.” The crowd went wild with the damning indictments and rousing calls to action from movement leaders.

Around the auditorium colorful banners were slung from the side of the balcony, announcing above the tenants’ assembly the active involvement of other community organizations: Community Action for Safe Apartments, based in the Bronx, United Neighborhood Organizations (UNO) from Brooklyn, Democratic Socialists of America, Neighbors Together, Make the Road NY, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Metropolitan Council on Housing, the Communist Party USA, Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC), Cooper Square Committee and Westside Neighborhood Alliance in Manhattan, Goddard Riverside, and others.

The home of Wall Street, New York, is a major seat of real-estate power. Over the past few years, the tenant movement in New York has moved from victory to victory in its battle against the voracious appetites of this parasitic industry, and the elected officials who bow to their minority interests.

January 3, 2018 marked the first joint action of the Upstate Downstate Tenant Alliance, which unified around the Housing Justice for All platform. In the September 2018 Democratic primary elections, the tenant movement played a major role in voting out real-estate aligned Democrats in the New York State Senate who were collaborating with Republicans, replacing them with Democrats who promised to advance a strong people’s agenda. In the general elections that year, the people of New York flipped several GOP seats, giving the Democrats a strong majority in both legislatures.

With a new state government in Albany, tenants continued to put the heat on their elected officials, and on June 14, 2019, they sat in the balconies of the Albany legislatures and oversaw a historic victory: The Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 passed the Senate and Assembly, and was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo later that afternoon. Michael McKee of Tenants PAC called the legislation a game changer. “It is the strongest rent control law that has been enacted in this state since 1950.”

While the bill that was passed met most of the demands for #UniversalRentControl, many tenants in privately owned buildings remain unprotected.

Between 1994 and 2019, nearly 300,000 apartments were deregulated that need to be re-regulated.

Tenants in smaller buildings not covered by rent stabilization also need the protections that would come through a “good cause” bill, like the one sponsored by State Sen. Julia Salazar. “Major Capital Improvements (MCIs)” need to be eliminated so that landlords are prohibited from making tenants pay for the investments they make into their own buildings.

New York State has not provided resources for local housing code enforcement since 1991, and more funds are needed to enforce health codes, especially for upstate tenants.

Community Voices Heard via Twitter

Rent supplements are needed for low-income families and individuals who are facing eviction, homelessness, or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous conditions.

Urgently needed repairs in countless public housing units across the state are being criminally neglected, and major additional funds are needed.

To meet these demands, taxes must be raised on billionaires and large corporations, and state and local governments need more money from the federal government.

Signaling its support for the work being done by many community and labor organizations working together to transform New York, a banner from the Communist Party USA made another important connection: “TAX THE RICH. HOUSE THE POOR. MONEY FOR JOBS, NOT WAR!”

Many state and local governments are struggling to meet community needs not only because of major tax evasion on the part of the 1%, but also because of deeply destructive national priorities. The U.S. is now spending $1.25 trillion on war every year, taking up more than half the discretionary budget, and leaving people in states and cities across the country squabbling over the crumbs.

As the tenant movement moves into demands on the state budget, opportunities are increasing to align it with initiatives like the Move the Money campaign, which is working to pass Resolution 747A in the New York City Council. The resolution calls on the federal government to cut the bloated military budget and fund people’s needs.


CONTRIBUTOR

Cameron Orr
Cameron Orr

Cameron Orr is a musician and writer living in Brooklyn, New York.

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