Time to Act: Our last chance for affordability and diversity in New York City Housing

We’re at a crossroads in New York City. The city is facing record-high rates of homelessness that surpass the levels witnessed during the Great Depression, with rents for “market-rate” housing out of reach for a growing number of New Yorkers. 

The complex nature of the housing problem makes it hard for most of us to understand what can possibly be done about it. But luckily, there are at least a dozen North Star Fund grantees who do understand the true nature of the problem, and they’re engaging thousands of New Yorkers in the fight for genuinely affordable housing in New York City.

To support the ability of these groups to advance the right policy on multiple fronts, North Star Fund is launching the Housing Now Fund, a $100,000 matching fund for a more affordable New York City.

When you contribute to the fund, you’ll support two existing coalitions: Real Affordability for All (RAFA) and Homes for Every New Yorker. Both unite grassroots tenant organizing groups from neighborhoods across the city.

“We’re up against big money. The people controlling real estate in New York have a lot of political power, so it’s going to take a lot of muscle and also strategizing on the citywide–not just neighborhood–level.”

--Jennifer Flynn, co-chair of North Star’s Community Funding Committee and executive director of VOCAL-NY

Here are just three of the many examples of how North Star Fund donors are supporting our grantee partners in the fight for all New Yorkers to have a place to live.

Creating new truly affordable housing

Problem: Last November, there were 60,000 homeless New Yorkers in the shelter system, including 25,000 children. City shelters are operating at 96.6 percent capacity and are expecting to exceed 100 percent this winter. More and more New Yorkers find that even while working two jobs, they can’t find a place with rent they can afford.

There just aren’t enough affordable apartments in the city. And under the mayor’s current housing plan, “affordable” for some new units is defined as affordable for a family of four with an income of $86,000 a year.  Most working people and households don’t even approach that number. Annual income, even when combined with a couple of breadwinners in a working class household, is well below that.

Solution: VOCAL-NY, a North Star Fund Movement Leadership grantee, is partnering with other Movement Leadership grantees such as Picture the Homeless to demand that 10 percent of the units constructed under Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan are created for the currently homeless or for New Yorkers earning incomes under $12,000 per year.

The need to preserve rent regulated apartments

Problem: Approximately 1 million rent-stabilized apartments in the city have been subject to continuous rent increases. Even though landlords have been able to win approvals for rent increases year after year from the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB), they’ve also been able to exploit loopholes in rent laws, arbitrarily increasing rents and harassing tenants into moving out, leading to the loss of thousands of affordable apartments each year.

Solution: Strengthen rent laws and close unfair loopholes, which the New York State legislature failed to do this past spring. But despite that setback, organizers succeeded in convincing the RGB of the need for a rent freeze this year.

This victory occurred thanks to the efforts of grantees like Tenants and Neighbors who worked with a citywide coalition, pressured elected officials, and organized tenant advocates to achieve the first rent freeze in RGB’s history. Alongside many other grantees, such as Metropolitan Council on Housing, they continue to advocate for improvements in New York City’s rent laws, even as the legislature failed to close destabilizing loopholes.

Preserving Section 8 housing

Section 8 housing describes buildings in which the landlord signs a contract with the federal government so that tenants only pay 30 percent of their income towards rent and the government subsidizes the rest. In the Lower East Side alone, there are more than 2,000 units of Section 8 housing.

Problem: Section 8 contracts expire, and when it’s time for renewal, many landlords decide to leave the program. When this occurs, tenants are forced to move out (with vouchers to find themselves new housing) and the apartments revert to “market rate” housing without any subsidized benefits.

Solution: Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES, a grantee) organizes individual tenants, activates tenant leaders, and collaborates with tenant associations in Section 8 housing to preserve hundreds of units each year, improve living conditions in the buildings, and ensure they receive repairs and maintenance.

These are just a few of at least a dozen different grantees organizing to deal with the city’s housing struggle. Strategies to preserve affordable housing in the city also include NYCHA tenant organizing, community land trusts, and Housing Court reform. All of this takes resources to organize and exert community pressure from the City Council to Albany. The Housing Now Fund will direct resources to grantees who are working in coalition to build their power and impact on housing and related community planning issues. 

We are at a precipice in this affordable housing crisis, and if we don’t act now to strengthen grantee organizing, this city may soon become uninhabitable for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers forever. 

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