NYCHARising.info is an online resource that centralizes information about NYCHA’s past and present, and aims to inform the public discussion about what the future of public housing can and must be, and how we can get there. It also highlights the efforts on the ground by tenants and advocates, which are all too often erased or unacknowledged by mainstream media and elected officials.
It accompanies the organizing work of the Justice For All Coalition, and specifically our Campaign to Demand Repairs, Reparations and Respect for public housing residents.
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The Campaign to Demand Repairs, Reparations and Respect
Concerns about repairs and respect reached a new height during COVID-19, when fatality rates in public housing during the first wave were more than twice as high as fatality rates citywide. The lack of repairs continued and worsened, and was accompanied by a lack of cleaning, at a time when housing was considered to be a main defense against a deadly virus. Some tenants referred to the unsafe and unhealthy nature of their buildings – the result of decades of willful, bipartisan neglect at all levels of government – as an underlying condition that led to greater vulnerabilities and loss. And the lack of cleaning was a dangerous additive – like kindling in a fire.
This campaign also responds to the privatization plans NYCHA has been proposing, and instead joins the calls for public investment and resident management now. While Greg Russ and other NYCHA reps and electeds are trying to convince us that this is the political action we’ve been needing, and an about-face on our approach to public housing – these privatization plans demonstrate a continued lack of care while maintaining the power dynamics that keep public housing residents from having a say over their homes and futures.
Public investment and resident management are not only about keeping public housing public, and creating more mechanisms of autonomy and community control; this is also about reparations. Public housing residents today are Black and/or Brown, and/or working-class and/or poor. They are among those, and the descendants of those, who have been most violently affected by our racial capitalist political economy, which has relied on the exploitation of a racialized underclass since its inception. Their genealogies are riddled with stories of dispossession and displacement and social control. Publicly investing in public housing and transferring control over the properties to tenants is about breaking from these past patterns and working towards a more reparative future.
Keep reading to learn more about our campaign and how you can get involved!
Our Public Letter
Neighbors, Officials, Comrades and Allies:
We are residents of Queensbridge Houses, Ravenswood Houses, South Beach Houses, Jefferson Houses, and Holmes-Isaacs Towers – and a growing list of people who have signed on in support of our below letter – and we are sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Every tenant in New York City is supposed to be protected by the warranty of habitability (Real Property Law §235-b). This statute states that tenants have a right to a livable, safe and sanitary apartment, a right that is implied in every written or oral residential lease. Examples of a breach of this warranty include the failure to provide heat or hot water on a regular basis, or the failure to rid an apartment of an insect infestation. Public areas of the building are also covered by the warranty of habitability.
When this right is violated, tenants have a legal right to collectivize and advocate for their rights (Real Property Law § 230). Tenants also have a right to withhold their rent, sue their landlords, and seek a rent reduction (Real Property Law §227).
NYCHA has consistently and increasingly violated this right. In fact, in 2018 and 2019, Public Advocates Letitia James and Jumaane Williams placed NYCHA at the top of the annual NYC Landlord Watchlist, indicating they were the worst in the city.
NYCHA’s neglect has been compounded by neglect by elected officials at every level. The only time public officials seem to pay attention to NYCHA is when they are campaigning, or when they are using our communities and the ill consequences of neglect to justify plans that would in fact work against our interests.
Further still, NYCHA and our elected officials are conspiring to end public housing as we know it, by privatizing and financializing our homes, buildings, and communities.
As predominantly Black and Brown and working-class peoples, these present actions mirror and continue the longer legacies of abuse that our ancestors have experienced ongoing.
Enough is Enough!
- Immediately allocate public funding to address repair needs in apts and buildings.
- Put longer-term funding solutions in place to ensure NYCHA and public housing is truly preserved and publicly-funded indefinitely.
- Financially compensate residents for the pain and suffering incurred by unsafe and unhealthy housing and the toll it has taken on our physical and mental health.
- Pursue avenues through which residents can assume collective control over their developments, such as resident management corporations.
We are human beings, and we deserve better treatment.
We deserve healthy and safe living conditions.
We deserve to be heard by our elected officials and representatives.
We deserve to be compensated for the violent neglect perpetuated against us, our families and communities, and our ancestors.
Our lives are worth public investment, and we demand it.
We invite fellow NYCHA residents, our neighbors, our elected officials, and more to join us in this call.
JFAC is a group of neighbors fighting for just development in Western Queens and in our city. Our roots, base, and leadership are in the public housing developments so the fight for public housing has always been a center to our work – when fighting against Amazon HQ2, development over Sunnyside Yards, the BQX trolley, and more.
In 2019, we started working with a team at Queens Legal Services (QLS) to see what legal strategies might be available to hold NYCHA accountable. Residents were concerned about repair needs – which weren’t being regularly addressed, and were endangering tenants health and safety.
At the beginning of 2020, we began using an application created by JustFix.nyc to support tenants in submitting formal letters of complaint to their local housing managers. To date, more than 120 residents have submitted letters, and while most are in western Queens, we are seeing the interest spiral outwards as well.
Some residents have seen repairs made after formal letters were submitted. This dropped off a lot during COVID-19, as did cleaning. Now we are working with QLS to explore and pursue the available collective legal strategies – more news coming in 2021!
Email: jfacoalition [at] gmail [dot] com
Phone: (646) 705-8887
This site was developed in 2020 by Kristen Hackett, a member of the Executive Committee of the Justice for All Coalition (JFAC) and doctoral candidate at The Graduate Center, CUNY. It pulls in the educational resources JFAC has developed over the last couple years and accompanies a campaign for Repairs, Reparations and Respect, while also drawing on research she is doing towards her degree.