For City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen), the fight to boost funding for public housing is a personal one. When he was nine, his family moved into one of their town’s few public housing units, where they stayed until Johnson graduated high school.
“My mom was my lunch lady at school; my father was a truck driver,” said Johnson. “Public housing gave my family a chance to succeed. It meant that we were able to live in a town we otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to live in. It allowed my sister and I to go to a good school. Our rent was adjusted based on my family’s income on an annual basis, which provided my family with greater housing stability.”
Johnson is grateful for the privilege of enjoying well-funded, well-maintained public housing. Today, he wants to see New Yorkers enjoy the same privilege that he did.
Johnson held a press conference yesterday, calling on Albany to invest more funds to combat our housing crisis. The conference took place on the steps of City Hall at 12 p.m. Johnson joined Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Washington Heights, Inwood), along with several representatives from advocacy groups like the Legal Aid Society and New York Communities for Change.
The press conference came on the heels of Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiling his Fiscal Year 2021 Executive Budget Proposal. The proposal did not include any new funding for public housing, nor did it include sufficient funding for anti-homelessness initiatives. This, said Johnson, is unacceptable, in light of the current state of our public housing.
“The public housing that I grew up in was nothing like the public housing here in New York City,” said Johnson. “The public housing I grew up in was fully funded, and it was not in bad condition. There was no lead paint, there were no leaky roofs, there were no vermin infestations. But shamefully, those conditions that I just mentioned are the conditions that public housing residents – over 400,000 New Yorkers – have to deal with every single way. That ain’t right.”
Among their demands were a $3 billion investment in public housing, including $2 billion for NYCHA; a $5 million investment in rent support vouchers; and the construction of 20,000 new units of supportive housing.
Barbara Williams of Community Voices Heard supported Johnson’s arguments regarding the unacceptable state of NYCHA. However, she also pointed out that public housing has provided her family with an invaluable pillar of support, just as it did for Johnson. NYCHA’s failings, she said, all stem from inadequate funding.
“You may be used to seeing on TV what a failure NYCHA is, but that is not the whole story,” said Williams. “Without public housing, my husband and I would not have been able to afford to raise a family in gentrified Harlem. Where public housing has failed is because it has been starved of the funding it needs to succeed. We are here today to demand that Governor Cuomo put a down payment of $3 billion toward [public housing] in this year’s budget.”
Ydanis Rodriguez, whose mother currently lives in public housing, said that the lack of funding is symptomatic of a far more insidious problem: namely, systematic racism and classism.
“These are the places where working class blacks, Latinos and Asians, and the poorest whites, live,” said Rodriguez. “It is a shame that the most wealthy city in the whole world has hundreds of thousands of people living in such poor conditions. Lead paint, elevators broken, the quality of the stairs… we would never let this happen in the middle class or upper class communities.
“So for me, it’s a personal commitment to say, I’m fighting for my mother. I’m fighting for our people. Many of the children living there will be the next lawyers, the next elected officials. So let’s get the money now.”