Residents at New York City Housing Authority’s Holmes Towers and Isaacs Houses are fed up with the lack of meaningful change after a year into their collective Housing Part action court case asking for basic repairs. Residents brought NYCHA to court in late 2019 with the help of the Justice Center en el Barrio and representation by TakeRoot Justice. The case cites a lack of proper heat and hot water, frequent elevator outages, and continued rodent and infestation issues.
Looking beyond the case, residents say that fighting in court is not enough. They have come up with a list of demands that address the core issues behind their case.
The co-founders of the Holmes Isaacs Coalition — Saundrea I. Coleman, Jose Guevara, and La Keesha Taylor — have been organizing for the past several years initially against a proposal of a private development on the property, and now against NYCHA’s negligence. As the housing crisis in New York City grew worse and worse every day, the residents came up with demands to address the inequity public-housing residents face, especially now that the city has begun rolling out plans to privatize various developments.
Their demands are especially timely considering the continued push from public officials for residents to accept privatization measures, like the ones found in the latest iteration of NYCHA’s plans, the “Blueprint for Change.” Residents say these plans claim that privatization is the “only solution” for raising funding for much-needed repairs. This is a false choice, residents say, that does not consider resident input.
Looking at recent national calls for expanding, upgrading, and protecting public housing, the Holmes-Isaacs Coalition has come up with its own list of demands:
- Environmental justice now! Improve living conditions for residents by making “green” upgrades. Currently, residents report recurring and frequent issues related to 40-year-old boilers, broken elevators, and inadequately insulated pipes, as well as problems with cleanliness and infestation. Residents demand that these issues be fixed by retrofitting NYCHA and updating the buildings to bring things up to code.
- Nothing about us, without us: resident participation in decision-making processes, resident prioritization in new hiring. The current resident engagement processes are inadequate for actually incorporating resident voices in a meaningful way. Residents report being treated with negligence and disdain by NYCHA staff and having no recourse. Resident associations often lack the power and resources to both engage with all residents and stand up to NYCHA management. Furthermore, NYCHA residents should be the primary pool considered for new jobs created through environmental upgrades.
- Accountability for NYCHA staff and public officials. Qualified immunity is a process used to protect public officials whose nefarious actions cause personal harm to residents across the city. If public officials were held personally responsible for the repercussions of their actions or failure to act, court cases like the ones that residents are fighting would not drag on.
- Expand public housing — end the Faircloth Amendment! The Faircloth Amendment to the Federal Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998 prevents the country from building more public housing than existed in 1999. This act relies on the faulty logic of public housing systems being essentially flawed while ignoring the consistent under-funding that led to the decrease in quality seen today. We need significant federal and state investment in public housing in order to combat current issues of homelessness and eviction.
- ‘No’ to privatization, ‘yes’ to alternative funding! Privatization measures, including infill, conversion to Section 8 through the Rental Assistance Demonstration, and New York’s implementation of it — which NYCHA is calling the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together — all erode resident rights and put the very nature of public housing at risk. Officials present them as the only options to fund much-needed repairs, but this is a false dichotomy. In literally the richest city in the world, the resources absolutely exist to make the kind of investment that residents at NYCHA deserve.
Residents are confident that these demands will lead to the kind of meaningful changes that their families and neighbors deserve.