Op-Ed | New York City can make housing rights a reality

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Housing is a human right — and New York has the power to make that right a reality.

Unfortunately, decades of disinvestment have turned New York housing into an unaffordable luxury. Millions of people across the state have long struggled against affordable housing shortages, stagnant wages, and sky-rocketing rents — and COVID-19 only made the crisis worse. But here’s the good news: if we end tax breaks for the rich in New York, we can generate sustainable revenue to house New Yorkers. Together with federal aid, the Invest in Our New York Act is our surest way to housing justice. 

For years, our state handed tax break after tax break to the wealthiest residents while making cuts to services we all rely on: Albany has cut spending to state hospitals, mental health services, NYCHA, rental assistance programs, homeless shelters and more. 

Now, almost a year after COVID-19 first hit New York, the housing crisis is more dire than ever. More than  92,000 of our neighbors live in homeless shelters or on the street, with 78,000 in the five boroughs alone. Of those who are housed, 1.4 million are facing eviction. The 400,000 New Yorkers who call NYCHA home live in units plagued by mold, lead, and broken heating.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest New Yorkers have been entirely shielded from this housing crisis. While millions of their neighbors struggle to pay rent, they’re using their extra cash to buy more property in the wealthiest zip codes. 

As the Congress Member representing the 7th District, I’ve worked overtime to win federal funding to help end this tale of two cities. Last month, I introduced the Public Housing Emergency Response Act, which would put aside $70 billion nationally for public housing repairs — and allocate $32 billion of the total to NYCHA specifically. The deterioration of NYCHA is a public health crisis right now, and I will not stop until we win those federal funds for our neighbors.

But federal aid will not be enough. New York needs billions of dollars in sustainable revenue to ensure housing for all. That’s why our legislators in Albany must pass the Invest in Our New York Act. This package of six bills would end tax breaks for the rich and generate over $50 billions in new revenue — not just this year, but annually. That’s the kind of long-term funding that we need to not only provide rent relief and address the housing crisis itself, but also the conditions that created it: a lack of good jobs, broken healthcare system, underfunded schools.

In the 7th Congressional District, the majority of renters and homeowners pay more than half their income to rent or mortgage payments. To survive, many families have been forced into overcrowding. Others have ended up on the street, as evidenced by the persistent rise in homelessness this decade, and especially in family homelessness

Fabian, a resident of Sunset Park in my Congressional District, has faced harassment, disrepair and four lawsuits from his landlord. In response, Fabian organized his building to form a tenant union, where the building residents can share resources to fight back against disrepair, mold, rent overcharges, intimidation and more. 

Day by day, Fabian’s fear grows that his landlord will start evictions. He asks, “where would my children live if we were evicted from our home?” Fabian believes that New York needs to cancel back rent that has accrued during the pandemic. We have more than enough resources in New York State to do so. By passing the Invest in Our New York Act, we can prevent the evictions of families like Fabian’s all over the state. 

We cannot afford to punt on this issue. As we speak, millions of New Yorkers are suffering: multi-generation extended families in cramped studio apartments, single adults who have been homeless for years, children who move with their families from shelter to shelter. The moratorium temporarily protecting countless tenants is just a flimsy door holding back a waterfall of evictions, plus the subsequent inevitable disruptions to schooling, jobs, and food access. 

While we fight for the federal dollars we desperately need from Washington, we call on our friends in Albany to secure the resources we have in our own backyard. By passing the Invest in Our New York package, we can end housing insecurity in New York once and for all. 

Representative Nydia Velazquez represents New York’s 7th Congressional District, which spans parts of Brooklyn, lower Manhattan, and Queens.

Fabian Bravo is the President of his building’s tenant association, a constituent of the Congresswoman, and an active member of Neighbors Helping Neighbors and the Fifth Avenue Committee.