Liberation photo.

Residents of East Harlem’s Holmes Towers are celebrating the news that the New York City Housing Authority will withdraw its Section 18 land disposition application that would have allowed Fetner Properties to build a 50-story luxury tower on top of their development’s playground. 

Since 2015, concerned residents of Holmes Towers and of neighboring Isaacs Houses,  joined in recent months by organizers from the Justice Center en El Barrio, have organized and fought to denounce this plan as unjust and not a real solution to NYCHA’s reported $32 billion shortfall for repairs, maintenance and capital improvements.

At a town hall meeting earlier this month, Holmes Towers residents spoke passionately against the plan, some wearing matching, hand-made t-shirts reading, “Say NO to Infill” and “Save Our Park.” The infill proposed for Holmes Towers was part of the larger NYCHA 2.0 plan, which is slated to impact one-third of NYCHA’s 325 developments over the next decade, through “partial privatization” measures, including infill (private, mostly luxury buildings built on development grounds), PACT (formerly RAD, public housing conversion to Section 8 and private management), sale of air rights and more. 

Nearly 600,000 New Yorkers live in NYCHA, as some of the last truly affordable housing left in New York City.

“We, the tenants, never gave up, and we felt strong about fighting to retain our land and playground that the community utilizes. The plan would have deprived and devastated this community,” said Saundrea Coleman, resident of Isaacs Houses and former resident of Holmes Towers. “We urge the city and state to allocate the much-needed funds to restore NYCHA dwellings citywide and stop taking away our playgrounds and parking lots. We will remain united to stop the privatization of New York City Public Housing Land.”

“The proposal of a 50-story building to loom over us at Holmes was met with a resounding ‘NO!’” said La Keesha Taylor, a lifelong resident of Holmes Towers. “We have asked and will continue to advocate that NYCHA find a better solution than privatization. We are not going to settle for less because we live in a NYCHA development!”

“Housing is a human right, and NYCHA residents deserve repairs without jeopardizing their health, quality of life or the future of their homes,” said Monica Cruz, an organizer with the Justice Center en el Barrio.  “Let’s keep this going!  We need a real alternative, not fake fixes and privatization. This is a huge victory for public housing residents.  When we fight, we win!”

Residents of Holmes Towers and Isaacs Houses, along with organizers from the Justice Center en El Barrio, had planned a march around the development grounds with placards and hand-made t-shirts on June 17 as part of the ongoing organizing against the proposed infill tower. The march will now be a celebration of residents’ victory and a call to action around the ongoing need for repairs at Holmes Towers.

In a bigger context

Though it seems like there’s never a shortage of funding for police, prisons, the military and tax cuts for the rich, when it comes to investing in public housing, schools or healthcare, working class people always get told there’s never enough to go around. In fact, for decades, city, state and federal governments all slashed funding for HUD and NYCHA, creating major disinvestment, slum-like conditions and the deficit we see in NYCHA today. Until recently, NYCHA even paid the NY Police Department $75 million annually out of the NYCHA budget for the NYPD to conduct vertical patrols in NYCHA developments–essentially stealing much-needed funding from NYCHA to pay for the kind of policing that led to the killing of Akai Gurley by police for the “crime” of walking up the stairs in a NYCHA building in 2014.

NYCHA is home to over half a million people and  an invaluable resource for New York City, as one of the last places working class people, who are the lifeblood of this city, can still  afford to live.  The infill plan, and all of NYCHA 2.0, is proof that under capitalism, the government would rather give away subsidies to private landlords than put money into NYCHA’s budget.

Another system is possible

In Cuba, housing is a full right for all, and almost everyone owns their home or pays pennies for rent. As a part of La Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela (GMVV)–The Great Venezuela Housing Mission, the Venezuelan government has built 2.6 million homes, and millions more are planned to house the people of Venezuela. Meanwhile, under capitalism in the United States, nearly 3.5 million people experience homelessness every year, while 17.4 million houses stand vacant.

Clearly something is sick when a system would rather prioritize filling the pockets of private developers and banks over putting a roof over people’s heads. This win for residents at Holmes Towers is a major victory for public housing residents everywhere, and the struggle continues as we fight against bad private “solutions” to the housing crisis and fight for a better system that prioritizes the needs of the people over developers’ greed, to ensure that housing is truly a human right for all.