Housing advocates in NYC look to budget to help curb post-pandemic gentrification

Photo by Mark Hallum

If the Great Recession taught many of New York’s elected officials and housing activists anything, it’s that community land trusts (CLT) are needed before the economy can rebound to keep real estate speculators at bay.

That’s what groups led by Manhattan’s Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, among others, are looking to put into action across the city to prevent further gentrification as the state recovers from being the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis in the country and over 100 days on lockdown.

Rivera wants to see in the city’s fiscal year 2021 budget, due for approval by the end of June, resources for tenant organization Stabilize NYC and the city-wide funding for CLTs. Also introduced in City Council last week by Rivera is legislation that would “level the playing field” for CLTs in the housing market, the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act.

If successful, their call for the creation of more CLTs across the five boroughs will help not only combat what they expect to be an onslaught of evictions but also stabilize housing, taking a shot at two crises as they see it.

“That history of redlining and really taking away so many opportunities from our black and brown, low-income neighborhood, we have to fight it with every tool in the toolbox,” Rivera said. “So the need for community ownership initiatives has never been greater as the land and housing crisis tumble in the wake of COVID-19, these budget initiatives and pieces of legislation are going to be critical to guard against ramped up real estate speculation which wreaked havoc in black and brown communities after the 2008 financial crash.” 

According to Manhattan Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, the city has an opportunity to divert funds from the NYPD’s $6 billion budget to supporting low-income communities of color as promoted by the movement to defund police departments following the death of George Floyd and adopted by much of City Council.

But also being supported by activists on Thursday’s press conference is the push to restore a proposed 40% cut to HPD’s capital budget that would be diverted to affordable housing developments and support for Brooklyn state Senator Zellnor Myrie’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act.

“That ownership of the land is a game-changer. That means speculators don’t have the power,” Gregory Jost said.

Wanda Swinney, a resident with Banana Kelly, a nonprofit in the south Bronx says community ownership of housing turned her life around and gave her the opportunity to put her past of homelessness behind her.

“I lived through the drug addiction epidemic and went through the shelter system and saw lots of hard times, but things started to change because God had blessed me with a union job and an apartment with Banana Kelly,” Swinney said. “The city needs to invest in our people, not in a system of policing and mass incarceration, but through community ownership and control.”

Whether or not these initiatives can be worked into the city budget by the June 30 deadline will be revealed over the coming days.