Right To The City Alliance (RTC) has been helping to anchor the Housing People's Movement Assembly (PMA) of the U.S. Social Forum (USSF). A coalition of affordable, HUD and public housing; land; anti-gentrification; land trust; housing trust; and homeless advocates are coming together to plan a people's movement assembly (PMA) on housing for the U.S. Social Forum.
In addition to supporting RTC delegates to participate in the forum overall we have concentrated our efforts around developing housing panels, informing the coordination of the March from Austerity to Prosperity local action and supporting the development of a 4-hour Housing PMA. See below for more information about the event.
Additionally we are sponsoring delegates to attend the Summer of Our Power People's Movement Assembly, a Climate Justice Alliance and USSF assembly, hosted by Cooperation Jackson in Jackson Mississippi. For more information about the Summer of Our Power click here.
U.S. Social Forum- The third U.S. Social Forum is taking place in Philadelphia from June 25th to the 28th and will represent a convergence of people from around the country developing people's solutions to our political, economic, and ecological crises. You can follow this link to read more about the Forum.
Please register for the Forum in Philadelphia today by selecting the following
link: http://www.ussfphilly.org/register. Once registered, we encourage you to apply for a workshop: https://www.ussocialforum.net/node/add/workshop.
The deadline to apply for a workshop is June 5th.
Thank you. We look forward to seeing you in Philadelphia this month!
For information on the NYC Assembly- https://ra2015nyc.wordpress.com/about/
FOR RADIO SEGMENT ON WBAI – http://www.wbai.org/audio/Renters%20Assembly%20Segment.mp3
Originally published in the Indypendent-
The seemingly endless construction of luxury apartments is one of the most visually conspicuous signs of New York City's declining affordability, but there are more insidious threats to city residents of modest means. Since the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of rent stabilized apartments have been deregulated and converted to market rate. With NYC rent laws set to expire on June 15, the remaining nearly 1 million rent stabilized units in the city are at risk of befalling the same fate.
Rent stabilization is the only reason that many people of color, queer people, single mothers, artists, students, working- and even middle-class families can afford to stay in New York City. These regulations keep neighborhoods diverse, and protect tenants by requiring landlords to offer lease renewals and ensuring that rent increases are modest. Importantly, because they are guaranteed a lease renewal, tenants of rent stabilized apartments can be more assertive in demanding necessary repairs and services from their landlords than tenants of unregulated apartments who might fear retribution or eviction.
The decision this June is in the hands of state senators in Albany. As a result of the 1971 Urstadt Law, which ensured the city could not pass stronger rent regulations than the state, politicians with little or no connection to the city have control over its housing policy. The potential loss of already existing affordable units — especially considering that Mayor Bill De Blasio's affordable housing plan falls vastly short of the units needed to house the city's low- and middle-income residents — would be a huge blow for many New Yorkers.
The Student Dilemma
Many New York residents view increasing numbers of university students in their neighborhoods with suspicion: Their arrival often goes hand-in-hand with gentrification, and portends the displacement of longtime residents and small businesses. Meanwhile, university students, who account for 20 percent of New York City's population, are often taken advantage of to serve the interests of New York's real estate market. Because students tend not to occupy apartments for more than two to four years, they are viewed by landlords as a market that can be overcharged, underserved and leveraged to deregulate more apartments.
“Everyone needs a place to live and in New York City I think students often have a particularly rough time,” says Darcy Bender, a graduate student at Parsons. “We have limited budgets, for some it's their first time living on their own and many are moving here from outside of the city. A lot of students end up renting apartments that are way overpriced and feel that because they may only be here for a few years they can't do anything about it.”
When students move into neighborhoods and pay exaggerated rents, they become complicit in gentrification. Simultaneously, when the students accept the narrative that they must pay higher rents and run themselves into debt through both tuition and rent bills, they also become future victims of displacement.
“This is detrimental both for the student, who pays an outrageously high rent and lives in poor conditions without knowing their rights as a renter, and for the neighborhood that faces the risk of displacement due to the acceptance by students of their abusive landlords” says Masoom Moitra, another graduate student at Parsons.
One of the most troubling problems with the current laws is vacancy decontrol. This means that a landlord can deregulate/destabilize a rent stabilized unit if the rent is above $2,500 and the unit becomes vacant. Rent can increase as much as the landlord decides, relative to market prices, so a destabilized apartment's rent could spike overnight from $2,500 to $4,000 or higher. Another vehicle for landlords to increase rents — more than the annual legal mandate — in rent stabilized apartments is to do repairs and construction in between tenants. In this case, the rent can increase by 20 percent of the construction costs. This deregulation is responsible for the loss of tens of thousands of units from the rent stabilization program each year.
Vacancy decontrol gives landlords the incentive to have quick student turnover in regulated apartments so that between each tenant the rent can be increased towards the $2,500 mark. Ironically, once the unit has been deregulated, a higher-income tenant can be moved in, contributing to the unaffordability of the neighborhood for all low- and middle-income people, including students. And certain neighborhoods are disproportionately at risk: for example, in the Lower East Side, 40 percent of apartments are still rent stabilized, while there is a large transient student population from the nearby universities. Apartment turnover there has been increasing rapidly in the last several years.
Stand Up, Fight Back
On May 23, students and housing justice organizers will be coming together at the St. Jacobi Church in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, for a Renters' Assembly. A large coalition is needed to exert pressure and raise awareness for the needs of New Yorkers in advance of the June rent laws vote, and the assembly's purpose is to forge connections and build activist momentum leading up to it. The assembly will be a gathering of students, renters and housing justice organizers interested in fighting gentrification, displacement and supporting the local movement to save and strengthen the rent laws that protect NYC residents. Moitra thinks students need “to discuss these issues, raise awareness, exchange knowledge and work with housing organizers around the city in order to understand how they can get involved, express solidarity and become allies with those struggling for housing justice.”
The assembly will also be a space to learn about topics like the intersection of race relations and housing policy, the role of the police state in displacement, the university as gentrifier and the policy agenda of housing advocates to increase affordability in NYC. “The renters' assembly is so important,” says Bender, “because we desperately need a space to discuss not only our unique housing woes, but also how we fit in systems that perpetuate displacement, racism and gentrification. We need to connect with our neighbors and realize that so many of us have horror stories and the only way to change this system is to take action together.”
Rent stabilization laws make up the de facto largest affordable housing program in the city, and tenants, housing justice activists and students across the city are working to ensure that the laws are renewed and strengthened in an effort to curb the rampant speculation and gentrification that characterizes the current NYC real estate market.
If they are strengthened it will help fight the rising tide of gentrification and be a victory for tenants rights. Weakened regulations, meanwhile, would mean more money for landlords and the real estate market, increasing tenant harassment and displacement. If you are a student or housing justice activist in New York City, we hope you'll join us on May 23 for a Saturday of learning, action and movement building.
To see what local tenant groups are fighting for, see the policy platform of the Real Rent Reform Coalition and the Alliance for Tenant Power. To check out and join the Renters' Assembly, see us here.
Tait Mandler is an organizer of the Renters' Assembly and a graduate student in the Design and Urban Ecologies program at Parsons, the New School.
Boston's inclusionary program, called the Inclusionary Development Policy, was established in early 2000 through an executive order of the Mayor. The full inclusionary program was a response to the very high and rapidly rising house prices in the city, and a severe shortage of conventional funding to provide more affordable housing. Higher percentage of affordable units, larger buyout payments and deeper affordability are needed to help stabilize our community.
Community Land Trust can be used as on tool towards reaching the mayors affordable housing goals. Emerging CLT's are entering a highly competitive real estate market and are neither have the cash on hand nor the development history to access development loans. A newly-formed Greater Boston Community Land Trust Network is proposing that the City consider directing a pool of City resources towards expanding the role of community land trusts as a vehicle to promote neighborhood stabilization and a strong resident voice in planning for neighborhood development.
The Right to Remain Campaign is an emerging citywide coalition: Right to the City Boston, Right to the City VOTE, Boston Tenant Coalition, Alternatives for Community & Environment, Boston Workers Alliance, Chinese Progressive Association, City Life/Vida Urbana, Community Labor United, Dominican Development Center, Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation, Dorchester People for Peace, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Fairmount Indigo Line CDC Collaborative, Greater Four Corners Action Coalition, Jamaica Plain Progressives, Neighbors United for a Better East Boston, New England United for Justice.
“Up with the wages, down with the rents!” rang the shouts of tenants and community activists as they marched into City Hall Plaza on Tuesday afternoon, April 7. Led by tenants who have been forced out of their homes by speculative developers, the march began on Hudson Street in Chinatown, where protesters called on First Suffolk LLC to halt its acquisition of historic brick row houses that threatens to displace low income immigrant families. Chinatown has experienced skyrocketing real estate values following the addition of nearly 3,000 luxury units in the past 15 years.
Pei Ying Yu, an elderly tenant displaced from her Hudson Street apartment, broke into tears as she described the ordeal of being forced from her home after the building was purchased by First Suffolk LLC. “All we want is to return to our home,” said Yu.
Arriving at City Hall Plaza, speakers included tenants, foreclosed homeowners, and community leaders from Jamaica Plain, East Boston, Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan, who called for new policy solutions to the displacement crisis. After speaking in front of City Hall, some 300 marchers moved indoors to pack a city council hearing on displacement, community stability and neighborhood preservation, sponsored by Boston city councilor Tito Jackson.
Darnell Johnson of Right to the City Boston noted more than 4,500 households experienced foreclosure in Boston over a six-year period and that most had joined the rental market. Sixty-seven percent of Bostonians today are renters.
“Low wages, corporate greed and for-profit development robs our neighborhood stability,” said Johnson. “It's only fair to establish a policy to protect vulnerable residents against no-fault eviction, and at the same time support small property owners who are willing to keep apartments affordable.”
Kadineyse Peña of the Boston Tenants Coalition called for increased developer payouts under the city's Inclusionary Development Program and for targeting resources to low and moderate income Bostonians most threatened with displacement.
“Rents keep going up, but wages have been stagnant,” said Peña, citing a Brookings Institution study that placed Boston third in a ranking of major US cities with growing income inequality gaps. “Developers are making huge profits and need to pay their fair share.” Others noted that a real estate transfer tax on luxury sales has brought more than $100 million in new revenues to San Francisco.
Karen Chen, Co-Director of the Chinese Progressive Association, called for neighborhood stabilization zones around new transit nodes and in rapidly gentrifying areas like Chinatown or East Boston. “We need to have policies focused not only on new development but also long-term preservation of affordable housing before our people are pushed out of the city.”
The Right to Remain Campaign is an emerging citywide coalition: Right to the City Boston, Right to the City VOTE, Boston Tenant Coalition, Alternatives for Community & Environment, Boston Workers Alliance, Chinese Progressive Association, City Life/Vida Urbana, Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Fairmount Indigo Line CDC Collaborative, Greater Four Corners Action Coalition, Jamaica Plain Progressives, Neighbors United for a Better East Boston, New England United for Justice.
Apirl 7, 2015
By Kafui Attoh
Something exciting is happening in Poughkeepsie. In the last two years a group of local residents — under the name “Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson” (NLMH) — have been organizing to fight for the rights of the city's low-income residents. For those whose knowledge of Poughkeepsie begins and ends with “The French Connection,” Poughkeepsie is not unlike many postindustrial cities in upstate NY — defined by decades of capital flight, city center decline and entrenched poverty. In this context, the emergence of NLMH has been an important development.
More than anything, it has been important for what the group has already accomplished. Last year, NLMH spearheaded the passage of the state's first municipal foreclosure bond law — an ordinance requiring owners of properties in foreclosure (mostly banks) to post a $10,000 bond to the city for upkeep. Poughkeepsie is only the seventh city in the country to pass such legislation. This year, NLMH has embarked on a new campaign aimed at fighting the Central Hudson Gas and Electric Company — the public utility monopoly that serves the Mid-Hudson region. As Central Hudson pushes for a rate hike and as local residents —already on the margins — consider the possibility of power shut-offs, NLMH has raised a set of important questions. What rights do people have to heat, electricity and a warm home? More to the point, what rights should they have?
This spring I sat down with some of the members of NLMH to ask them a set of “big picture” questions about how they understand their work — not only as organizers, or local residents, but as individuals seeking a more just society. Below you will find a transcript of that discussion. The hope of what follows, of course, is to offer the readers of this blog a glimpse of what I think is not only an incredibly dynamic and thoughtful group of organizers, but a group or organizers raising precisely the questions that matter for those of us interested in fighting for a more just city, a revived labor movement and the rights of low income people everywhere. Power to Poughkeepsie!
First, what is NLMH and how did NLMH start?
Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson is a radical housing rights organization based in Poughkeepsie, New York. We spun off from Occupy Poughkeepsie in early 2012 after the occupation was evicted by local police. Our initial campaign was around foreclosure and eviction. We were very fortunate to link up with the Right to the City Alliance, a national alliance of over 50 racial, economic and environmental justice organizations, and similar organizations like City Life/Vida Urbana, a Boston-based social justice community organization. With their help we began using what they call a “radical organizing model” and the “sword and the shield.”
Radical organizing stresses organizing ideologically to identify the structural roots of everyday problems, making demands that challenge profit motives and market values, building the leadership of directly impacted people, and continually building a broader movement. The Sword and the Shield is a two-part strategy of public protest and legal defense that combines the power of collective action with legal rights and basic services to keep people involved while winning material gains. We adopted this model to fight foreclosure, but in 2014 we were hearing that a major source of housing insecurity and displacement was around unaffordable utilities. We made a commitment to adapt the radical organizing model for this campaign, and to retool our sword and shield. With a few leaders from the foreclosure campaign, a lot of research, and thousands of conversations in social service offices and at doors —we launched the People's Power campaign.
Tell me about your membership. How many members do you have? Do they pay dues?
Our membership is primarily working class women of color living in the City of Poughkeepsie. We're made up of mostly unemployed and underemployed workers who are forced to choose between which bills they will pay: medical care our housing, heating or eating. We have a loose membership of 30. We've just begun formalizing membership and a dues structure, and just last week started signing folks up and passing out membership cards. That's a big step for us. One of our biggest challenges has been organizing in a small, post-industrial city, where there is a real lack of movement building infrastructure. It feels important to find ways to build that in places like Poughkeepsie, which have really become marginal within the U.S. political economy and demobilized politically.
Tell me about your first campaign. How does a foreclosure bond work? And why is it important?
We used a combination of legal pressure and direct action to defend individual homeowners against big banks. That was a complicated process, because foreclosure is a judicial process in New York State. We scored some important victories legally and through public protest, but our biggest accomplishment to date was the passage of a foreclosure bond. This was done in coalition with Community Voices Heard and with legal support from the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. A huge social consequence of the foreclosure crisis in Poughkeepsie is vacancy and blighting. The legislation forces banks to put down a $10,000 bond whenever they initiate a foreclosure and for each vacant property they own. The city can draw from the bond if the banks fail to maintain the properties themselves. For years banks have privatized the gains and socialized the pain of the foreclosure crisis, and this bond allows us to reverse that. The bond was passed unanimously in Poughkeepsie at the end of last year, making it the first legislation of its kind in New York. But we're still pushing to begin implementation in earnest. We also contributed to the Right to the City Alliance's successful campaign to push the Federal Housing Finance Agency to allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to sell foreclosed homes back to residents instead of evicting them; to direct them to sell foreclosed properties to nonprofits instead of hedge funds; and to require Fannie and Freddie to pay into the Housing Trust Fund (for affordable housing for low-income people).
Tell me about your second campaign. How has it been different or similar from your previous one (organizationally, strategically)?
The People's Power campaign is a struggle for affordable, sustainable, and just utilities. What we mean by that is first, prioritizing human needs over the profit motive in order to create a truly affordable situation for working class people. Second, we know that the consumption of gas and electric utilities is directly tied to the fate of environment. A successful movement to protect the environment has to come from the most impacted communities, especially working class communities of color. Therefore, struggles for affordability and sustainability have to be linked.
When we talk about a “just” world, we're calling the system out. It is a racist system, in that Black and Brown folks are disproportionately having their power shut off and sinking into deep debt. It is a sexist system, in that the burden of survival is placed on the shoulders of women in the absence of a social safety net. And it is a system where there simply aren't the jobs or income to pay the utility bills the way they are now. The fight for justice will require us to challenge that system head on.
Organizationally, we're still taking on corporations directly like we did with foreclosure. We're still using the sword and the shield, but we're forced to rethink the model to fit a new context. We are working to enforce basic consumer protections in the Home Energy Fair Practices Act, helping folks apply to much needed low-income programs, and encouraging people to file complaints with the Public Service Commission in order to remedy Central Hudson's consistent violation of the law. Additionally, we are using protest and publicity to put direct pressure on Central Hudson to negotiate with our members around debt and shutoffs, and to make critical changes like protecting children from shutoffs and lowering extremely regressive Basic Service Charges.
We also created what we call a Shutoff Free Zone. We will fight every shutoff of our members and ensure that the lights and heat stay on. We're establishing the right to utilities in Poughkeepsie, and fighting like hell to realize that right. We see the Shutoff Free Zone as a particularly transformative part of our campaign.
We frame part of our fight around survival. If you're a working class person who can't afford your utility bill — as many Poughkeepsie residents are — you have to fight to survive. Many people have to fight on their own to get the assistance/survival programs they need to keep from getting shut off. But it also goes the other way — people need to survive so they can fight more for themselves, for others, for a better community and a better future.
Strategically, we are dealing with a target who has a history of regulation and even public ownership and at least on a paper a direct level of accountability to the public. Public utilities have really born witness to neoliberal deregulation. But there are still levers of public power, in our case the Public Service Commission. It opens up avenues for increasing public control, and it helps us imagine a world in which utilities are governed by and for the public, and not for capitalists.
Why should utilities be a right?
Almost everyone we talk to has a story about how a single utility bill can throw their life into disarray. Someone gets shut off, and their sick child can't use a nebulizer. Someone else loses their Section 8 voucher because they couldn't pay their utility bill, and they get evicted. Someone else has to move because no matter how much they cut down on their utility consumption, the bill is still 40% of their income.
What this points to, is that utilities are a necessary component of a right to housing. When they are not affordable, it is a health issue, it is a displacement issue, it is an insecurity issue. The Right to the City Alliance has included “fair” utilities in its Renters Bill of Rights as part of its Homes For All Campaign. That's a critical addition, because utilities are part of a right to housing, and therefore a right to the city.
I think a more precise way of describing the way we think about utilities are that they are a human right and a public good, which ought to be subject to democratic, public control and guaranteed public access. As long as public goods like utilities are not subject to public, democratic control, we are not living in a democracy!
The right to utilities stands at the intersection of a number of other rights. It connects with issues of healthcare, issues of racial and gender inequality, and issues around labor and work. As a point of convergence for a variety of struggles, the fight for utilities justice presents an avenue to build a movement around broader set of social rights: the right the housing, to healthcare, to social justice, and to work. We think it can complement the incredible struggles that are happening within housing rights organizations, labor organizations, racial justice organizations, environmental organizations, etc.
Nobody Leaves's goal is to find a way to wage that broader struggle in our own context, around an issue where we can win concrete victories and build real power. Because utilities really touch on so many struggles, because they are both shaped by both neoliberal deregulation as well as a rich history of state control, and because they provide a way for working class communities to address a growing ecological crisis, we think utility organizing is one strategic way to advance a broader movement, and to take capital head on.
As you know, the Murphy Institute Blog has a large following among members involved in the Labor Movement. What does NLMH have to say to such members? To what degree do labor struggles matter for what you do?
Samora Machel has that great quote about solidarity: it's “not an act of charity but an act of unity between allies fighting on different terrains toward the same objectives.” That's how we think about our work: advancing a broader working class movement on a specific, but complementary terrain.
It's clear to us that we're organizing workers, but doing it beyond the point of production — in fact, doing it at the point of reproduction. We have a lot to learn from the labor movement here. The most creative labor organizing in the last few years is coming to grips with the ways in which neoliberalism has reshaped work and the working class. We see examples like organizing low-wage service workers, organizing outside the traditional NLRB format, and organizing around racial justice and immigration reform as fights taking place within the workplace and outside of it. We take strategic lessons from the ways folks are building worker power by mobilizing community power, addressing the connections between work and home, and organizing those most impacted by neoliberalism — women, immigrants, and working class communities of color. We may be trying to organize around consumption, around the bills people pay, but it means we're building working class power in the community.
Utilities are unaffordable because there aren't jobs and income in our area. For that reason we often say, “No jobs? No income? — No shutoffs!” That's a really radical proposition. The more we can link up with organized labor, and build a movement that fuses struggles for better jobs with a struggle for housing rights, the more we're organizing “whole workers” in a movement that speaks to their needs.
Of course that needs to be ideological. If we fight these fights without the “unity” that Machel refers to, without forming real links around a real vision for power, then I think we'll remain only rhetorically linked.
On a more local note, we've struggled to build these kinds of coalitions in the Hudson Valley, and we're really looking for allies to help us move in that critical direction. If we could have “a union at work, and a union at home,” I think we could see a significant leap in working people's power here in Poughkeepsie.
We understand concerns of utility workers — they see consumer power as something that will hurt their interests as workers. It's a failure of our movement, and a testament to the power of capital, that we can't create a shared identity as “whole workers” that unites and fights against corporations. We need to keep talking about how our interests are linked. Utility workers are consumers too. Central Hudson's parent company, Fortis, cares little for the fate of the region and the people who live there, and is perfectly willing to outsource work and bust up the union. Community support can bolster workplace action, and can create a common front against Central Hudson. A stronger labor-community alliance can help us withstand the assault on working conditions in the Hudson Valley and other similar areas. Such an alliance, however, requires a politics of struggle. We think that folks at the Murphy Institute have done, and can continue to do, a critical job of pushing the labor movement toward this politic.
How does this campaign fit into your larger vision for the city, for a just society, or at least for a different Poughkeepsie?
Our work is definitely small. Right now, we're a part of a Left that is asking questions about how all this work adds up. I don't think there are definitive answers yet. But it's clear to see that corporate power is growing, that exploitation is felt in both workplaces and communities, especially among working class women, people of color, and immigrants, and that the regulatory state has been gutted. The institutions of struggle that have helped build powerful movements are also in decline. Trade unions in particular, but many workers institutions — hell, even the idea of workers' institutions — have really been beaten down. In a small way, in our own context, we're trying to rebuild institutions.
Historically, these institutions built our capacity for struggle; they trained leaders as both thinkers and fighters. They helped win real gains, and in the process, acted like schools for movement building and social change. We need them today, and we need a strategy to grow and unite these institutions. Ella Baker called it spadework. We see every shut off we prevent, every movement song that we learn, and every right we claim as a part of that spadework.
As you've mentioned, you are affiliated with the Right to the City Alliance, how would you say your work fits within, or builds upon the mission of that organization. What does a right to the city framework add to your work?
Through the research we're doing, thanks in part to the folks at the Sociological Initiatives Foundation, we're deepening our analysis of utilities, and beginning to propose some much needed policy changes. All that is a part of Right to the City's Homes For All campaign, which is uniting renters and homeowners in the struggle for affordable housing. “Fair utilities” is a key part of their renters rights, but because so few organizations are doing base building work around utilities, we're working really hard (even as a very small organization) to think through what “fair utilities” really means, and what type of policy can make that real.
Where is NLMH going? Beyond the immediate campaign, what are your hopes for the organization?
This People's Power campaign is a new one for us. We're always trying to punch above our weight and do something transformative, but the reality is we need to dig in and build a strong organization, win more victories, and build our capacity. We're going to really need support from within Poughkeepsie and allies beyond it to hit the streets and do the necessary thinking and learning work. We want to do a better job reaching monolingual Spanish speakers and addressing the intense utility injustice the recent immigrants face. We want to build coalitions with environmental groups, labor groups, and other groups statewide. And we want new members to help us put together a report on policies for a just utility system.
If we can do that, and build something deep, we think we can help spread the “radical organizing” model, and retool the “sword and the shield” and in some small way, do that really critical spadework in a small, hard-hit city like Poughkeepsie.
– See more at: http://murphyinstituteblog.org/2015/04/07/nobody-leaves-mid-hudson-an-interview/#sthash.VC2K0k0z.M9Pfb3L0.dpuf
The Right to the City Alliance is building a strong housing and urban justice movement in America and beyond. The idea of a right to the city frames and activates a new kind of urban politic that asserts that everyone, particularly the disenfranchised, not only have a right to the city, but as inhabitants, have a right to shape it, design it, and operationalize an urban human rights agenda. Learn More »