Organizations rally for affordable housing for all in the City
“What?” “Affordable housing!” “When?” “Now!” That was the rallying cry last Friday as volunteers from Habitat for Humanity New York City, the Interfaith Assembly on Housing and Homelessness, mayoral candidates and representatives from a variety of other organizations gathered on the front steps of City Hall to call for an end to homelessness in the city.
The call to action was led by Larry Wood of the Goddard Riverside Community Center. Wood, who noted bankers and developers agree more money must be allocated for housing, said, ”I’m very pleased this effort is putting a focus on these issues. We need all the allies we can get.” He aims to bring mayoral candidates together to debate homelessness and make it a priority issue in the campaign.
Prior to the rally, 43 individuals set up overnight camp in City Hall Park in solidarity with the 57,000 homeless people living in New York City.
Dr. Anne Klaeysen, leader of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, was one who spent the night in the park.
“Every evening we shelter eight women,” said Klaeysen. “I often sleep on a cot, but last night we made a virtual home on the sidewalk.”
“We have working poor and we have working homeless in our city,” she added. “They have the right to a safe, warm home.”
Homelessness in the city is at an all-time high, according to Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
“There is no question that comprehensive affordable housing is one of the most important issues for the next mayor,” said Quinn.
The Speaker also pointed out while homelessness is often thought of as a problem impacting those with low or no income, even those in the middle income range struggle to find housing.
Quinn echoed Wood, saying that across every business sector she is hearing demands for housing to be built for workers, and many New Yorkers are left out of federal funding for housing.
“We cannot yield to gentrification,” said Quinn. “It’s unacceptable there are so many neighborhoods where people cannot afford to live. We need permanent affordable housing.”
She added there needs to be a major overhaul to New York City Housing Authority and Section 8 federal subsidy policies.
“We’re running in place if every time we build more housing we let a slumlord drive a unit into the ground.”
Matt Dunbar, the associate director of government relations and advocacy with Habitat for Humanity NYC, noted, “At the rate we can build, it would take 5,500 years to meet current affordable housing needs in the city.”
“That’s why we’re here not just with our hammers but with our pens,” said Dunbar.
Dunbar explained Habitat has launched the Build Louder Hammer & Pen Campaign which aims to help elect the best affordable housing mayor and pursue a comprehensive housing plan. Dunbar and other Habitat volunteers unfurled a paper scroll with signatures from thousands of supporters of the push for affordable housing.
Councilmember Gale Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side, noted the devastating impact for homeless seniors and said currently no one is doing what needs to be done to help in the city’s government.
“In my district we lost 10,000 rent-regulated units,” said Brewer. “At least half the homeless people simply do not have the rent.”
Musa Abdus-Salam, of the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing’s board of directors, said minorities are always left behind by policies that fight homelessness because they often aren’t as aware of their rights.
“Everyday I get calls from new families,” he said. “Some have been living here for 20 years and have four kids and now they’re being asked to leave their homes. This is not a faith-based problem, it’s a general problem.”
Phillip Tracy Speight, a formerly homeless veteran, said alcohol and substance abuse problems led to his homelessness but got back on his feet with the help of these organizations and is now living in Jericho Housing.
“I’m here representing the veterans who fought in combat and are now sleeping on the street,” he said.
Marc Greenberg, the executive director of the Interfaith Assembly, located in downtown Manhattan, said, “We have to tear down the wall between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ We don’t want a candidate to walk in without a plan.”
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