Inequality.org: What kind of legislation do you prioritize for the future? How do you intend to balance your advocacy of bottom-up tenant empowerment with your advocacy of curbing the richest and real estate?
CW: There is a massive tax break for luxury developers called 421a, which Cuomo has renamed “Affordable New York”. It produces a tremendous amount of luxury housing and is going under in Albany next year, so we will fight to keep this program from being renewed. It costs us $ 3 billion a year: We could use that money to help solve the homeless crisis, invest in public housing, community land trusts, limited equity cooperatives, and the like. And of course we also need an eviction for good reason.
We have to go and chew gum at the same time, on wealthy real estate developers trying to control power in our state while increasing rent for tenants through Good Cause Raviction and shared equity co-operatives.
WP: Albany has a lot to do for its citizens. The battle continues, especially for tenants in Buffalo, Binghamton and Rochester. You need a good cause in this session.
Inequality.org: What are common misconceptions you want to clear up about your coalition or the fight for housing justice?
CW: That there are these mom-and-pop landlords who claim the tenants have all this money, and that’s them choose not paying rent – that they are drug dealers, scammers, or sex workers. It’s all very classic and racist. There is a huge narrative about “bad tenants,” how tenants are destroying landlords’ property rights, and so we must end the eviction moratorium. Tenants are not like that, and even if they were, everyone has a right to a home.
The second misconception is that we can solve this crisis by tightening our belts. Our economy is structured so that people who have property have wealth and equity and people who do not have not. The austerity framework, where we ask the people at the bottom to sacrifice the most, will not solve the crisis or pandemic.
WP: Even with the money given to tenants, rent is paid, but we are still poorer because it goes straight into the hands of the landlord who now has money to try and buy more property during our time getting a job or two on short notice to pay the rent. The money is not in our pockets; The landlords benefit from this. The government should facilitate tenants’ access to cooperative buildings, help tenants be part of something they can call their own, and build generational wealth for their families.
And when it comes to people who say tenants are destroying their properties – we don’t! I am proud of wherever I live.
Inequality.org: What can the country learn from what you do in New York?
CW: Rent control! That’s the most important thing people should do. Anything states can do to lower the barrier between tenants and homeowners and fight for a society where everyone is treated equally, regardless of whether they own property or not, we are making great strides in that in New York Respect and I hope that other federal states can do the same.
WP: People from other states are joining us, whether from Kentucky, Pennsylvania or Washington. We hear that our horror stories were their horror stories, and they took them to their governors too. Kentucky recently raised some money from its state to help out tenants. Although we enjoy it, this work is tiring. Pushing for the moratorium was bone-breaking, but so good. At first they didn’t give us a 12 month moratorium, but by urging and demanding they extend it every three months.
We need more tenants, especially in public housing, to build up pressure. If we have the numbers with us, we cannot be discounted. Each individual’s story makes us stronger.
After all, we want everyone to form a tenant group or organize themselves within your building. Even if you think there is no problem in your building – there is!