Fight for public housing not social housing

Fight for public housing not social housing


This piece is a contribution to the Pre-Convention Discussion for our 32nd National Convention. During Pre-Convention Discussion, all aspects of the party’s program, strategy, and tactics are up for consideration and debate. The ideas presented here are those of the author or authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Communist Party USA, its membership, or their elected leadership bodies. — Editors

The New York District Housing Committee has been organizing at the core of the broad tenant-led housing movement throughout NY State for the past 4 years. Organizers, through their hard work, have earned their place in the leadership of many of the grassroots Housing/Tenant Justice movements and have accrued hard won knowledge of the complicated legal and political terrain facing working class tenants in N.Y. State.

It is our considered opinion that so-called Social Housing is neither an organic demand of the tenant movement, nor a legitimate and workable alternative to Public Housing, nor is it a point of left-center unity. Rather, we feel it is a right wing scheme designed to end Public Housing as we know it and that enacting it would be a catastrophe for working class tenants across the country. Furthermore we feel that where it has been tried, the results are in to prove that it is a pro-development Trojan Horse which raises rents for the vast majority of tenants, and that certain Tenant non-profits have been tricked, or have allowed themselves to be tricked into supporting it.

While the proposed Social Housing legislation differs in particular details across the country, we feel the current bill before the State Legislature in NY is commensurate with the broad elements of the scheme across the country. Therefore we are reprinting our statement of opposition to it in full so that we can alert and warn housing activists across the CPUSA and the broader movement what is happening, and so that we can drop any language of support for Social Housing from our platform immediately. We urge CPUSA Housing Organizers to work with broad national organizations like Save Section 9 and join the fight to fund and expand Public Housing.

Why we oppose the creation of a Social Housing Development Authority

The Committee opposes the creation of a Social Housing Authority as proposed in State Assembly Bill 2023-A9088.

The bill includes an operating budget of $60 million, for the creation, administration, and staffing of a Social Housing Development Authority. The remainder of the $5 billion in capital, proposed by the plan’s supporters, relies on bonds that the newly created authority would issue against future income from its properties.

There is a growing trend among cities in the U.S. of setting up “public authorities” to solve their financial problems — “corporate instruments” which rely on the private bond market to finance public infrastructure projects. They issue financial reports for their investors, they make financial decisions that guarantee them income streams (through rents of, say, airport terminals or tolls on bridges), and they assess risk of a successful challenge of their projects by their bondholders without any direct accountability to voters.

The much-touted “resident democracy” incorporated into the bill amounts to choosing which pre-approved private management company to use and 8 building-resident seats on the 19-member authority board of directors. Meanwhile, the authority could sell any of its properties and relocate residents for rehabilitation or demolition, to balance its portfolio and please bond-holders, without any mechanism for resident involvement in these decisions about their homes.

The Social Housing Development Authority (or, “the corporation” as referred to in the bill) would be able to determine the proportion of income categories for each of its projects. While the bill guarantees 25% of the entire portfolio of the authority be reserved for very low income residents (compare this to the 40% of U.S. Department of Urban Development Office of Public Housing (PHA) units guaranteed by federal housing law), it would be entirely up to the discretion of the authority what the “mix” of incomes is within one particular mixed-use building. Up to one third of all the units in its portfolio could be 100 – 165% AMI. Based on current AMI in New York City, these units could have monthly rents as high as $4,369 for a three-person household. The average monthly NYCHA rent in 2023 was $544.

As many housing activists have pointed out, Area Median Income (AMI) itself is a poor metric for determining community needs. According to HUD, the 2023 AMI for the New York Metropolitan Region is $127,100 for a family of three. But, the median income for renters in New York City is $70,000 (up from $50,000 two years ago) and the average household income in New York State Housing Authority (NYCHA) is $24,511. That’s off the charts for the 2023 New York City region AMI – poverty wages.

The bill conveniently exempts all of the Authority’s projects, whether affordable or mixed-income, from local zoning laws on height, bulk, or parking regulations. This can be used as a not-to-subtle back-door upzoning scheme. The Authority, working in consultation with local elected officials and “other leaders” (say, friendly developers), could determine that it would be very beneficial to its portfolio to build some new mixed-use towers in an up and coming neighborhood, paying its bond-holders and driving low-income residents further out of the city, and ultimately raising fair market rates and AMIs.

The initial annual rent for a household will be based on 25% of their (gross) annual income1. While the bill claims that the Authority’s units fall under the jurisdiction of existing rent stabilization laws, the annual rent of a unit is subject to re-evaluation based on income any time a new resident moves in, effectively undermining the 2019 rent laws, which eliminated vacancy increases and high-rent/high-income deregulations. The rents in these buildings will continue rising as the city gentrifies.

Such rent increases, combined with the loss of public housing units through decades of underfunding and negligence, would be catastrophic. No scale of mixed use building could make up for the rising rent threshold driven by the bond market interests at the heart of the proposal.

Housing and tenant organizations across the state and country should resist such schemes and join the growing national movement represented by Save Section 9, Poor People’s Campaign and other forces to fund and expand public housing.

If continued, such a scheme would accelerate the eviction of low income residents, affecting the livability of NYC and NY state for everyone and it must be stopped.

Fund public housing!

The Committee stands with PHA, the 360,970 residents in New York City Housing Authority units, and 35,975 PHA residents across NYS. PHA units are largely occupied by Black and Hispanic single-mother households and elderly tenants on fixed incomes. Every year, there is a $40 million gap between what the federal government contributes to PHAs and what PHAs need to operate, making it impossible for PHAs to sustain themselves financially. As a result, many PHAs have turned to the private market, allowing Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) conversions and demolitions that displace thousands of households and increase the instability of once stable low-income tenant families. This is demonstrably a strategy designed to place money into the hands of what are often bad-acting landlords and strip the State of any responsibility regarding housing low-income, over-exploited renters.

This issue of instability was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which remains a persistent reality despite the sunsetting of the emergency declaration. PHA tenants were purposefully excluded from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), and in late 2021, the State decided to prioritize tenant households with incomes between 80%-and-120% of the AMI, rather than PHA tenants (the majority of which have an AMI well below 30%). A program to pay-off landlords (LRAP) was enacted before PHA tenants were given serious thought. It was not until 2023 that the State allocated ERAP funds for PHA tenants, which was appreciated, but in many instances was too little, too late. The vast majority of tenants with pandemic-related arrears are now severely rent burdened in the private market, or struggling to exit the shelter system (if this is even an attainable prospect).

It is likely that over one-fourth (approximately 100,000 residents) of NY PHA tenants are at-risk of eviction or have already been evicted as a result of these decisions. To allow the evictions to continue to occur will certainly condemn the vast majority of tenants with arrears to long-term homelessness, which is all the more concerning when considering the Adams-Hochul proposals to deny tenants the right to shelter.

We urge the Democratic Party leadership and the other members of the State legislature to provide public housing authorities a minimum of $4.5 billion for capital repairs to preserve 40,000 public housing units over the next five years and $500 million to address public housing arrears, stopping the displacement of thousands of low-income families and securing much needed capital for our underfunded PHAs.

We further urge the Democratic Party leadership and the other members of the State legislature to advocate for full Federal funding for public housing authorities and the protection of all 396,945 NY PHA units. The numbers to retain and maintain existing PHA units across the country are astronomical (see the NYCHA need for $78B), but pale in comparison to the hundreds-of-billions being spent on prospective wars, ongoing conflicts and genocides across the world2.


    NY District Housing Committee

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