An oped by Jasmin Sanchez is a lifelong NYCHA resident. She is a member of the DSA-AfroSocialist and Socialist of Color Caucus, Movement School — Reclaim Fellow, Sunrise Movement, the Omega Phi Beta Foundation and Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana Diaspora Network.
On August 27th, 2020, the Republican National Convention (RNC) aired a video featuring New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents praising Donald Trump’s leadership, and attacking our immigrant communities. The video consisted of typical Republican talking points designed to tokenize, deceive, and weaponize both working–class Americans and immigrants, and falsely bragged of an increase in funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). However, as the NYCHA residents in the video revealed following its airing, they had no idea that their words would be used during the RNC as propaganda.
Let’s be very clear: the enemy here is not the NYCHA residents nor immigrant communities. As a lifelong resident of NYCHA’s Baruch Houses, I have realized that NYCHA residents have two enemies: the Trump administration, which continues to pin working class communities and communities of color against one another for profit, and New York City’s plan to privatize NYCHA.
NYCHA is not a pawn in Trump’s game nor is it a talking point for career politicians. There are over 600,000 lives at stake within NYCHA’s 326 developments citywide. Many of whom live in deplorable conditionsincluding leaky apartments filled with lead and mold, broken elevators, and a lack of gas or heat. During COVID-19, we have seen how decades of disinvestment from HUD has made NYCHA vulnerable not only to a global pandemic, but also to environmental crises. NYCHA developments are located in the most vulnerable locations with exposure to climate change near highways, bridges, and ConEd plants — and all of this is by design.
In 1965, HUD was created by President Lyndon Johnson to provide housing and development in urban areas. In 1972, however, President Nixon’s administration began the Era of Privatization and halted all expansion of subsidized housing programs, which was further hurt when President Reagan slashed the HUD’s budget to under $40 billion — a decrease of more than 50% from when it was $83.6 billion in 1976. This disinvestment led President Obama’s administration to create the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) in 2012, which allowed properties to shift from Section 9 classifications (which marked them as public housing) to Section 8’s housing voucher programs, altering the types of federal housing assistance that these properties would receive. Despite what the RNC video suggests, in the 2021 Presidential Budget, HUD is proposed to see an $8.6 billion decrease.
NYCHA residents need to remain informed and vigilant about what is happening — not only to fight back against displacement, but also address the violation of our human rights. We are seeing the privatization of NYCHA because it is starved for funding and in dire need of repairs. RAD is being glorified as the only solution by Mayor de Blasio, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, NYC Council Members and Governor Andrew Cuomo. However, in 2016, NYC piloted RAD at Ocean Bay Houses in Far Rockaway, resulting in the highest rate of evictions of all public housing across the city. This proposed plan is not worth the displacement of over 600,000 families.
NYCHA residents need to understand that we must target NYCHA’s power players to produce change. These players include HUD NY Regional Administrator Lynne Patton, who thinks that in order to “fix NYCHA”, it must be broken up by borough, with its own general managers and chairpersons. Additional players include Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson, NYCHA Chair Greg Russ, NYCHA General Manager Vito Mustaciuolo, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, NYC Council Finance Chair Danny Dromm, and NYC Council Committee on Public Housing Chair Alicka Ampry-Samuel.
NYCHA residents must say no to any plans to allow private development on parking lots or playgrounds, known as “infills”. We must say no to the selling of air rights above NYCHA buildings. We must say no to any proposed plans to convert NYCHA units to Section 8 and transfer properties to private management. We must say no to the Public Housing Preservation Trust introduced by the Chairman of NYCHA, Greg Russ. These plans are all ways to speed up the privatization of NYCHA.
But there is hope. If we want to speak about truly finding solutions iand improving NYCHA, let us reimagine what public housing can look like. We need not only justice and equality for 600,000 New Yorkers, but a way toachieve financial investment without displacement, end environmental racism, and break future cycles of poverty.
This year, the House repealed the Faircloth Amendment, which prevented the construction of new public housing developments for close to three decades. This was an important step towards achieving a Homes Guarantee but it’s still not enough. We need a fully fledged Green New Deal for Public Housing, which was introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and calls for $172 billion over 10 years, and the creation of 240,000 jobs per year. The bill will invest deeply in the infrastructure of NYCHA by prioritizing frontline communities, enhancing the workforce development of NYCHA residents, and retrofitting both apartments and the public housing stock to feature on-site zero-carbon renewable energy structures.
For better alternatives to privatization, we should also look to Senator Julia Salazar’s bill on taxing the wealthy (S4511A), which would focus on the personal income tax rates for New York residents with taxable incomes over $1,000,000. She has also proposed a bill on the mezzanine tax (S07231A) which mandates the inclusion of mezzanine debt in the mortgage recording tax, with the revenue from these taxes being allocated to NYCHA.
NYCHA tenants perform the labor that keeps NYC moving, yet every year residents are under attack from our own city, state, and federal governments. The RNC’s recent falsifications only further highlight this deadly disconnect between the current government and NYCHA residents. Our government needs to rectify decades of disinvestment to not only protect and provide a just and healthy society for NYCHA residents, but repeal policies that put profits and real estate over the basic needs of its people.