The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is home to an estimated 650,000 people who reside in hundreds of buildings spread across New York City.
Former New York City Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia, who first established the authority in the 1930’s, is on record as having stated: “There shall forever be public housing for successive generations of poor people.”
NYCHA was built with the intention of being cities within a city, NYCHA originally had their own parks, gardens, parking lots, employees, community centers, and they once had their own 2,700 officer NYCHA police department. Millions of people grew up poor; nobody looked upon them as likely criminals or societal burdens to be swept away.
Over time political attacks on poor people became de rigueur. Today is a whole new ballgame. Attacks on poor people have become political theater. Developers have been seen walking thru NYCHA grounds with shopping lists in hands; NYCHA properties have become eye candy for real estate interests. The over all portfolio of NYCHA properties is waffling under the weight of huge amounts of repair needs. There have been public officials who, without documentary support, have publicly stated the price tag for these repairs exceeds $15 billion. Indeed, the city, state and federal government have all contributed to the budget disinvestment for NYCHA over the past decade.
Horrid NYCHA living conditions abound: broken boilers, water pipes, elevators broken, uncollected garbage, roofs leaking, peeling paint, broken windows, lead paint not removed–the list goes on. Recently, the NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye publicly and under oath at a New York City Council Hearing stated she knowing submitted false documents to the United States Department of Housing Development (HUD) that falsely claimed lead paint was removed from thousands of NYCHA apartments when she, in fact, knew it had not.
Elected officials have been marching into NYCHA developments throughout New York City and taking over playgrounds and parking lots, and giving them away to their developer friends to erect hi-rise privately-owned buildings. NYCHA is under a full-scale and unrelenting attack with no end in sight.
NYCHA residents who are waiting for someone to save them must wake up and realize there is none coming to save them–they must save themselves. Its time for a full-scale revolt by NYCHA residents–on a number of levels.
First, NYCHA residents must wake up and realize their numbers are profound. The 650,000 NYCHA residents’ numbers are larger than whole U.S. states; North Dakota has 600,000 residents, Alaska has 580,000 residents, Wyoming has 475,000 residents, Vermont has 590,000 residents. Indeed, there are whole countries around the world that do not have 650,000 residents. Luxembourg has 583,000 residents, Suriname has 563,000 residents, Western Sahara has 552,000 residents, Malta has 430,000 residents and Iceland has 335,000 residents.
Second, its time NYCHA residents realize they must organize together to protect their interests and to thwart greedy developers and their cronies in public office. Its time to form the NYCHA political party to leverage the voting power of NYCHA residents. Voting matters. Elections have consequences and NYCHA residents must vote like their homes depend on it.
The United States Constitution provides for the expression of free speech and the right to assemble, organize and to petition government to address their grievances. NYCHA residents must understand there are all kinds of political parties. There are the Democrats, the Republicans, the Conservatives, the Independents, the Working Families, the Liberal Party, the Reform Party, the Green Party and Right-to-Life Party, among many others. Political parties are the method for getting on the voting ballot, for sponsoring political candidates and to express their political interests. Political parties are also a method for raising money to run candidates for public offices and to buy elected officials. One look at the news in recent years shows politicians can be brought and paid for–often for small amounts of money.
It’s time NYCHA residents actively participate in the formation of a NYCHA political party and a NYCHA [Residents] Political Action Committee (PAC). It’s time NYCHA residents make candidates for public office respect their interests.
Third, NYCHA residents must be prepared to put their money where their mouth is. What NYCHA’s 650,000 residents spend in one week on candy bars and cigarettes could buy up a lot of elected officials. NYCHA residents must pool their money to advance their interests. NYCHA residents must realize that in many New York City Council districts elections are decided by very slim margins of victory, some as few as three thousand votes.
NYCHA tenants could have made the difference in the election result. To illustrate, the 2009 mayoral election was decided by a margin of about 60,000 votes. In the four years after the 2009 mayoral election, the mayor with city council approval, increased the giveaway of NYCHA playgrounds and parking lots to real estate developers.
Fourth, elected officials and developers have given in recent years to pushing the false narrative that NYCHA harbors massive amounts of unused or underutilized land. This bogus posture is a scam designed to soften the impact of taking NYCHA playgrounds, parking lots and open space and giving it away to developers.
NYCHA residents and indeed the larger general public must not be fooled by the false narrative of ‘unused NYCHA land’. One example is illustrative: about 2009, after a 75-year history of free parking for NYCHA residents, the city instituted parking fees. These high fees forced many NYCHA residents to park their cars off NYCHA grounds to save money. Less used NYCHA parking lots became an excuse to sell off these NYCHA parking lots to developers. Instituting NYCHA parking fees was an outright scam to thin the parking lots to slide them to developers.
Fifth, NYCHA residents must take to the streets to participate in public rallies to show their displeasure with the city’s handling of all things NYCHA. Public rallies serve the laudable goal of putting a human face on the problem and giving the elected set a much-needed jolt.
Going forward in the months ahead there will be a major push to form a NYCHA political party. NYCHA residents can expect an all out attack on their formation efforts (read: fake news) by the traditional political parties, and a retinue of assorted paid off elected public officials, consultants, alleged civil rights leaders and activists who will pop up in fear the revolt and upheaval that a NYCHA political party could cause to their own political parties. NYCHA residents must stay focused and not be distracted by the predictable attacks on their organizing efforts.
Lastly, the city has a $4 billion surplus in their budget. NYCHA supposedly has unused land. Connect the dots. The dots are that NYCHA buildings are the only affordable homes left in the city. So if elected public officials truly are interested in reducing homelessness, they should build more NYCHA buildings on NYCHA grounds with some of that $4 billion surplus.
Joe Gonzalez is a former NYCHA resident and a community organizer in Brooklyn.