#RDANYC Action Report 9/22/16 – National Renters Day of Action, Homes For All
Downtown Brooklyn was emboldened with #RenterPower this afternoon as a strong convening of housing justice fighters – including 20 organizations in attendance – took to the streets as part of the National Renters Day of Action. Gathering at Barclays Center on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, the 150-strong crowd rallied for an hour before proceeding on a march throughout downtown. The memorial service theme imbued the gathering with a sense of mindfulness at the loss of affordable housing and displaced community members. Also – the sun was intense! But as the crowd grew so did the energy through chants, songs and street theater and the contribution of a horn section – and people began making connections through shared stories of struggle that emphasized a collective commitment to ongoing organizing and alliance-building.
Each site of the march route – sought to highlight a key struggle for land & housing in Brooklyn and citywide. The rally point was Barclays Center, which represents the systematic plunder of Brooklyn’s working class neighborhoods over the past 15 years. It underlines the incredible cynicism with which these projects are undertaken by developers: for all the energy we put into fighting over the amount of displacement or “affordable housing” that will occur – none of it has materialized while their profits soar as projected. It also affirms the dire need for the #RenterNation to set our own terms of engagement, rooted in a different logic insisting that the only bottom line of all development should be to resource and benefit existing communities.
Barclays Center instead typifies the long-established approach, of a massive transfer of public wealth into private pockets, dispossession of existing residents, and the building of services and infrastructure for new residents with more disposable income. Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir’s performance brought up the feeling that it’s audacious to stand up and “break into public space.”
After pushing off, we marched up Flatbush toward Fulton Street, weaving through scaffolding and framed by the high-rise luxury developments blighting the skyline.
The first stop of the march was Albee Square Mall (now called “CityPoint”). Historically the most prominent part of Fulton Mall, this was an incubator of small businesses that catered to black and latinx customers and were its lifeblood as a viable commercial district. After the rezoning that was pushed through in 2004, overnight it became ground zero for the transformation of a new, slickly-branded corporate “Brooklyn” which had immediate effects. Almost every business in Albee Square Mall was displaced. Existing rent stabilized housing in the vicinity was specifically targeted, condemned and demolished.
Pushing on from Albee Square, the next stop was Brooklyn Housing Court, highlighting the fierce fight that renters must engage in to secure even the most basic rights such as legal representation. NYC tenants often find Housing Court a very disempowering space where they find themselves fighting against landlords and lawyers with amicable relations to judges who will determine if they get to stay in their homes.
While tenants must represent themselves, most landlord have attorneys; time in housing court and attorney fees are built into their business plan (they don’t have to take time off work, it is their work!). The demand for the right to counsel is to ensure that every tenant that goes to court can expect to receive adequate legal advice. The Right to Counsel NYC campaign is heating up! There is a really important hearing this coming Monday.
We ended the march at Wyckoff Gardens, home to many of the strong leaders of FUREE’s public housing campaign. A large coalition of public housing warriors from around the city (including Community Voices Heard, who participated today) are fighting the Mayor’s infill policy as one aspect of the larger struggle around Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning and his overall housing plan. The rhetoric is that public housing is in dire need of funding and must be “creative” to ensure basic revenues to maintain the buildings. In reality, what this means is the continued large scale-transfer of public resources into private profits from the handover of land for development to contracts that are often fulfilled with non-unionized labor.
As we closed out the day at Wyckoff, there was a strong sense of accomplishment. The turnout from such a wide range of organizations is a reason for optimism as we lay the groundwork for larger upsurge of renter mobilization and continue to build links of connection, trust, collaboration here in NYC. The speakers today highlighted connections between local struggles and the national Homes For All and #RentersDayOfAction demands while local media coverage (News 12 and make sure to see David Branigan’s excellent video piece) brought encouraging exposure.
Much love to everyone who participated and brought their voice, energy, creativity and dedication to building #RenterPower. Participating organizations included: Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network, Carroll Gardens Association, CASA New Settlement, Coalition for Community Advancement in East New York, Community Voices Heard, Derecho A Techo, Equality For Flatbush, Fifth Avenue Committee, Flatbush Tenant Coalition, Fort Greene for Peace, FUREE, IMPACCT Brooklyn, Met Council on Housing, MTOPP: Movement To Protect The People, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Picture The Homeless, Right To Counsel, Right To The City Alliance, St. Nicks Alliance, St. Lydia’s Church, Stabilizing NYC Coalition, SW Brooklyn Tenant Union, Tenants and Neighbors, UHAB.
Sincere apologies to anyone who got left out of this list! Email email@example.com to set the record straight.
When we fight, we win!
Words: Michael Higgins Jr. and Mark Swier
Pics: Mark Swier