By Ariama C. Long
Passionate Black and brown housing advocates from across New York City rallied at City Hall last Thursday to demand the passage of “social housing” bills that would address the city’s housing crisis.
Albert Scott Jr., a lifelong East New York resident in Brooklyn who heads the East New York Community Land Trust (CLT) organization, was beside himself with the turnout for the rally and subsequent hearing. His group has been working towards legislation that would protect Black & brown tenants and homeowners for years, putting an emphasis on community-first land development as opposed to a strictly for-profit-model that creates racial and economic displacement.
He said the pandemic contributed to a shift in mindset that propelled the movement forward where previously he had been shouting into the void about the impending housing crisis. “Since most people were just one or two paychecks away from not being in their homes during the pandemic, people felt it,” said Scott. “It activated this activism shift.”
Scott and advocates were joined by bill sponsors Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, City Comptroller Brad Lander, and Councilmembers Pierina Sanchez, Gale Brewer, Carlina Rivera, Lincoln Restler, Sandy Nurse, and Charles Barron among others. Afterwards, the council’s Committee on Housing & Buildings held an oversight hearing and heard testimony on the council bills.
“It’s been decades and decades that the corporate model of making as much money as humanly possible has brought us to this point,” said Williams. “We cannot fix the problem while keeping the model the same. Period.”
The seven social housing focused bills and resolutions would establish a city land bank, ensure that public land is prioritized for non-profit developers and CLTs under the Public Land for Public Good bill, allow tenants or nonprofits an opportunity to buy buildings first with the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA) and Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), implement a feasibility study for a social housing agency, create more social housing in communities of color, and end the city’s tax lien sale. Additionally, the package of bills would further the creation of a Housing Access Voucher Program (HAVP) and the Good Cause Eviction bill.
Sanchez, who chairs the council’s committee for housing and buildings, said the “dire housing crisis” is completely unequal and concentrated in low-income communities of color that also intersect with people living with disabilities and the LGBTQIA+ community. Sanchez and others were all largely in support of Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adam’s future plan to build over 800,000 thousand houses, reduce red tape, and enable market rate production across the city and state. Sanchez questioned who the new housing was meant for since historically, marginalized communities have been left out.
“This pain that is felt differentially is widely documented. It’s a function of the history of our great nation. Government and private sector policies like redlining devalued certain communities,” said Sanchez.
The bills aim to expand current housing policy in a manner that builds intergenerational wealth for Black and brown families, includes solutions for our most vulnerable, expands equity within housing, and ultimately prioritizes communities over profit, she added.
Lander, who is continuing his housing advocacy from when he was a council member, testified that median asking rents are nearing $3,500 a month with less than a 1% vacancy rate for units under $1,500 a month. He said the city is losing not only Black homeownership because of inaffordibilty, but younger generations across the board that don’t see a path to owning or even affording an apartment.
Williams said that it is time to create alternatives, like housing owned by communities of tenants rather than corporations, as a path forward.
Barron recently championed a “100% affordable housing” project that was approved by the city council to be constructed in his district in Brooklyn. The project, dubbed Urban Village, includes 11 mixed-use buildings across 10 acres near the East New York waterfront. Over 60% of rental units are reserved for low-income residents and the homeownership units are reserved for low-income households. According to a YIMBY report, the average household income in the immediate area is around $56,000 and the median household income at $39,163.
The East New York community sends a clear message to developers and anyone else who comes to the neighborhood, Barron said.
“We define affordability,” he said. “It has to be affordable to us. You cannot come into my neighborhood saying you’re going to build something, and we have to make $100,000 to get in.”
He said that this and four other coming projects is an example of community development that centers the community and stops gentrification. Part of the problem, he said, is council members who also don’t vote on housing projects with the “welfare of the people” in mind.
“These council members sit and talk all this stuff at these rallies but they go behind the scenes and vote on projects 35%, 25% affordable,” said Barron.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://bit.ly/amnews1