Report on the housing movement in New York State

BY:Cameron Orr| June 6, 2019

Since Andrew Cuomo became governor of NYS, the number of people evicted from their homes every single day has grown from 4 to more than 100. There are nearly 92,000 homeless people in New York State, more than 63,000 in NYC alone, 23,000 of whom are children under the age of 16 years old. 17% of homeless people in the US are in New York State, the home of Wall Street, although the population of our state is just under 6% (5.92%) of the United States’.

NYS rent laws expire on June 15 of this year. The Metropolitan Council on Housing, with whom the NY District works closely, started planning with other tenants’ organizations two years ahead of time to organize the defense and expansion of tenant protections. Their main base is tenants in privately owned buildings, especially rent-regulated apartments, although some organizations of public housing tenants also participate in actions and meetings.

They have built an upstate/downstate tenant alliance, the Housing Justice for All coalition, which has recently been meeting in our District’s offices, and has a 9-bill platform for #UniversalRentControl and 5 additional measures to “end homelessness.” The coalition includes manufactured (mobile) home owners in rural areas, and has recently garnered significant labor support. People have been making weekly trips to Albany for rallies and lobbying days, and launching social media campaigns. To put extra pressure on specific elected officials, they are knocking on doors, flyering, and organizing neighborhood actions in their districts.

The tenant movement had a significant role to play in bringing about a major progressive shift in the balance of power in the NYS Senate, targeting members of the IDC a full year before the most recent primary elections. The IDC (Independent Democratic Conference) was a group of officials elected as Democrats who caucused with Republicans in the NYS Senate, blocking many important bills from coming to the floor for a vote, including not only legislation to protect tenants, but important bills for voting rights, climate protection, reproductive and healthcare rights, and more.

Former IDC members were among the most heavily real-estate backed State Senators. The tenant movement helped remove 6 of the 8 former IDC members, as well as other heavily real-estate backed Senators like Martin Dilan, who was defeated by DSA member Julia Salazar. Salazar is supporting the full #UniversalRentControl platform, and has sponsored one of its most expansive bills. Tenants also helped Andrew Gounardes defeat the pro-Trump Martin Golden in the general elections. Golden was one of the few GOP State Senators in NYC, and had many rent-regulated apartments in his district. Former IDC leader Jeff Klein was defeated by Alessandra Biaggi, who was heavily backed by SEIU 32BJ and who has also signed on to all of the 9 #UniversalRentControl bills.

While the NYS Assembly already had a strong Democratic majority, the NYS Senate went from a bare Democratic majority with de facto Republican control to a strong 39-23 majority, including consistent progressives like Zellnor Myrie, who many of our Brooklyn club Comrades helped elect as members of the Brooklyn Progressive Action Network (BPAN), a local New York Progressive Action Network (NYPAN) group. NYPAN united many of the Bernie groups after the 2016 Presidential primaries, and is an affiliate of Working Families Party.

In NYC, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who ran as a progressive Democrat on an anti-stop and frisk platform, has lost a lot of support from local communities on the bases of his housing policy, which has used definitions and rates of “affordability” that have only facilitated the building of more luxury condos in working class communities of color. In these areas, an enlarged police force has been cracking on so-called “quality of life” crimes.

Brooklyn club members have been working with Uprose, an environmental group with many Puerto Rican members, that is fighting gentrification in Sunset Park, specifically a plan to build hotels on the waterfront. Alongside other community groups, they are demanding wind turbines and other sustainable energy be developed there instead, creating union jobs for people in the local community.

Another coalition of environmental justice groups, unions, community, and health groups is fighting for the Asthma-Free Housing Act to address asthma and asthma disparities. Nationally, about 1 in 11 children have asthma, but in some low-income areas of New York City, the childhood asthma rate can be upwards of 1 in 4.

All these struggles contain important lessons about the relationship between the electoral struggle and on-the-ground organizing in working-class communities fighting for their survival. They also show the relationship between extreme-right forces that prefer Republican rule, like the landlord and real-estate interests, and the anti-monopoly fights against forces within the Democratic Party that compromise with the extreme-right.

These fights are winnable. A coalition of community, labor, and environmental groups recently won legislation to retrofit polluting buildings in NYC. According The Nation, “50 percent of the city’s climate-altering emissions are produced by just 2 percent of buildings.” The Huffington Post estimated the legislation will create “more than 3,600 jobs construction jobs per year and another 4,400 jobs in maintenance, services and operations.”

There is still a need for much stronger organization around the demand to repair and expand public housing, where people are suffering and dying from lack of heat, toxic mold, and many other serious health and safety concerns. The waiting list for public housing is decades long.

Because the tenant coalition is one of the most organized, widest, and diverse working-class movements in NYC and NYS, and is attacking real-estate, a major pillar of finance capital, members of the NY District are working to build its links with the anti-war movement. We have been in communication with leaders of the Move the Money campaign about this, which is working to pass a city council resolution calling “the federal government and its legislators [to] move significant funds away from the military budget to fund human needs and services,” citing multiple housing related issues. Move the Money is very interested in forming these links with the housing movement.

One potential area of connection is the Housing Justice for All bill for Home Stability Support, a rent supplement for low-income families and individuals who are facing eviction, homelessness, or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous conditions. Housing Justice for All is also supporting a bill to fully fund and create 20,000 units of supportive housing to help people with substance abuse problems, or mental and physical health needs. States need more federal money to support programs like these, as well as for public housing.

Struggles around housing are increasing not only in NYC but around the country and world, including a fight for rent control in California, and in Germany, where Die Linke is demanding one of the largest real estate firms be taken into public ownership.


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