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Militant Journalism

Public housing residents sue NYC over slum conditions

Liberation photo.

On Dec. 13, New York City Public housing residents from Holmes Towers and Stanley Isaacs Houses filed a group Housing Part action lawsuit demanding the New York City Housing Authority fix the broken elevators, vermin infestations, lack of heat and hot water, broken intercoms and other issues facing residents.

In addition to demanding repairs, residents involved in this lawsuit are demanding full public funding for NYCHA. NYCHA faces a reported $32 billion shortfall for repairs, maintenance and improvements. NYCHA has proposed privatization measures, like constructing of infill luxury towers and converting to private property management companies (a program called Rental Assistance Demonstration or RAD).  Residents argue that this will jeopardize the long-term affordability of their homes, while barely making a dent in NYCHA’s budget crisis.

In June, following protests by the Holmes-Isaacs Coalition and the Justice Center en el Barrio, NYCHA withdrew its Section 18 land disposition application that would have allowed Fetner Properties to build a fifty-story luxury infill tower on top of the Holmes Towers playground. NYCHA has claimed that accepting privatization measures, like this infill tower, is the only way that public housing residents can get the repairs they need.  Residents, the Justice Center and members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation  organized this group HP action to call NYCHA’s bluff and get repairs without privatization.

Suit meant as an example others can follow

La Keesha Taylor. Liberation photo.

“This HP lawsuit is not just for us, it is for every NYCHA stakeholder that has gone without timely repairs and is living in hazardous conditions due to the decades of neglect from the largest landlord in New York City,” said Saundrea Coleman, a resident of Isaacs Houses and co-founder of the Holmes-Isaacs Coalition.  “Our hope is that we will finally receive humane living environments within our campuses.

“We want to inform NYCHA residents citywide that they, too, can take this type of action to obtain safer homes without the threat of privatization to get these critical situations met.  Healthy housing is a human right that is why we have taken up this fight.”

Tenants not listened to

 “I have lived in NYCHA for 46 years. I have seen plenty of problems, but worst of all I have seen the decline in the overall upkeep of my development,” said La Keesha Taylor, a resident of Holmes Towers and co-founder of the Holmes-Isaacs Coalition.  “People had to sue to get into this development at one time, but the disinvestment by the government has led to this state of crisis.  We are living in squalid conditions, while seeing ridiculous promises of repairs through private partnerships such as RAD, PACT [another assault on NYCHA tenants misnamed Permanent Affordability Commitment Together-ed], or infill!  These programs won’t deliver true funds to fix much needed repairs.  NYCHA needs to truly clean house and listen to the tenants as we are the ones suffering.”

“Everyone deserves to live with dignity.  No one should come home, at the end of a long work day, to herds of rats or constantly-broken elevators or no water to shower with,” said Karla Reyes, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation.  “Privatization is lose-lose: it puts residents’ homes at risk and doesn’t even solve the problem. We need full funding for public housing now, so residents can get the repairs they deserve.”

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.

A united struggle

Saundrea Coleman. Liberation photo.

Filing this lawsuit was the culmination of a tremendous amount of work by many Justice Center and PSL members and public housing resident leaders.  For more than six months, they knocked on hundreds of doors in order to collect intake paperwork for residents to join the lawsuits and to have conversations with residents about privatization and the need for a different system that prioritizes human need over private greed.  PSL members held regular, near-weekly organizing meetings with resident leaders and worked together to organize a large town hall meeting, several legal clinics, and an October march to Gracie Mansion (residence of Mayor Bill DeBlasio), where one hundred people, including  NYCHA residents from different campuses and their supporters, demanded “repairs without privatization.”

The next step is to pack the court for the lawsuit’s hearing in mid-January, and to prepare for early January visits from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, when residents will lead HPD inspectors around the two developments to show them the unacceptable living conditions in their buildings.

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 money to go around. In fact, for decades, city, state and federal governments all slashed funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and NYCHA, creating major disinvestment, slum-like conditions and the deficit seen in NYCHA today.

Under capitalism, the government would rather give away subsidies to private landlords than put money into NYCHA’s budget. 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.

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.  These are examples of what’s possible under socialism, a system that prioritizes the needs of the many over the greed of a few.

Filing this New York lawsuit represents a huge victory in the struggle for housing with dignity for everyone.  The struggle continues as we fight against bad private “solutions” to the housing crisis and fight for a better system to ensure that housing is truly a human right for all. Join us!

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