Right To The City – NYC: Making moves on housing

Posted February 24, 2010

Turning luxury condos into truly affordable housing. Undocumented immigrants voting. Living wage economic development. Ending Welfare’s unpaid ‘work experience program.’ Permanently funded and protected community gardens. Schools replacing ‘fast food’ with produce from regional farms.

Can you imagine?

Well, that’s what an alliance of base-building community groups envisions for New York City.

A few weeks ago I went to a presentation of a broad ‘policy platform’ by Right To The City Alliance’s New York City chapter (RTTC-NYC), which includes over 20 base-building community organizations in working class communities of color across the city, many of which have memberships well into the thousands. The chapter first came together in 2006 to fight gentrification, then joined Right To The City when it was founded leading up to the US Social Forum in 2007. It’s also the largest chapter among the 8 chapters around the country: Boston, DC, LA, Miami, New Orleans, NYC, SF Bay Area and Providence.

Much of what the chapter has done since forming is strengthen the ties among the member groups and their respective membership bases. A central purpose of the ‘policy platform’ was to define the chapter’s politics and long-term vision, as well as chart out their collective work going forward. With that goal in mind, the platform was developed through an intensive process involving the membership of each of the member organizations, “written over the course of a year… urging the city to combat environmental racism, and ensuring that the unemployed get adequate services and that the employed receive a living wage.”

With that internal process wrapping up last fall, ‘condo conversion’ was selected as the first collective campaign based on the platform. Focusing on housing that lies vacant due to the speculative boom, they hope to make low-income housing out of the luxury developments that would otherwise have accelerated gentrification. In a survey of these developments RTTC-NYC hopes to complete in the next few months, the chapter has so far found over 600 buildings in which construction is stalled, partially completed or the building is completed but remains vacant. For example, one building in downtown Brooklyn has had its nearly 250 units on sale for over a year, with only 7% occupied (hardly surprising, considering the price is around $440,000 for a one-bedroom). Last July, Mayor Bloomberg proposed a “Housing Asset Renewal Program”, which would make affordable housing out of a paltry 400 vacant condo units. The work of RTTC-NYC makes it clear that Bloomberg’s plan is designed for show, not substance (assuming the developers would even agree to participate – which is unlikely by their own report).

The campaign will focus on six areas of the city where the member groups of Right to the City are concentrated, and will certainly involve direct action along with media, legislative and other tactics. The hope is that through this collective action, more and more members of each member-organization will gain experience in city-wide campaigns, laying the foundation for even more powerful campaigns down the road. Stay tuned!