The Fight Continues: NYC-DSA and Struggle for Housing Justice

By Cea W

Last year, NYC-DSA took on the fight for universal rent control as a citywide priority in the 2018-2019 legislative session. In June, under pressure from an emboldened movement of tenants and socialists, the State legislature passed historic rent reforms that give renters more power over their homes. Landlords are now severely limited in their ability to endlessly raise rents, harass tenants, and evict families.

As one landlord told the Wall Street Journal: “It’s all over. You can’t raise the rents. You can’t deregulate.” Evictions are plummeting and the regulations empower and energize renters to further organize — in their buildings, on their blocks, and beyond. As for the real estate industry’s relationships in Albany: accepting money from the landlord donors has gone from being a universal practice for politicians to a major political liability.

This is just one step forward towards our long-term vision of a fully de-commodified housing market. This vision will require a radical restructuring of American society — away from private property/ homeownership, and towards housing as a universal human right. Rent control, in New York and across the country, is a major step towards this goal. It makes it nearly impossible for capitalists to speculate on protected housing stock. 

Capital is responding to these attacks by refusing to make repairs, holding units off the market, and, in some cases, selling whole portfolios of rent-protected buildings at huge losses. Our success at driving capitalists out of the market creates a major opportunity for further reforms — like community land trusts, mutual housing associations, and limited equity cooperatives — that take us closer to our goal of a fully decommodified system that recognizes housing as a human right.

With capitalists on the defensive and tenants emboldened, now is the time to identify and organize around expansive demands that put NYC-DSA in deep collaboration with working class communities of color, that expand the tenant class as a base for mass political action, and that can take a significant amount of housing out of the hands of capitalists. Below are some ideas for how NYC-DSA can continue to organize for housing as a human right in 2020.

Build our tenant organizing program, particularly among unregulated renters, and fight to win “Good Cause” eviction

In the wake of the enormous tenant victory of 2019, organizing renters is perhaps more important than ever before. 

Landlords are threatening a capital strike, refusing to make repairs and holding units off the housing market. In addition, Governor Cuomo’s administration has intentionally starved the Division of Housing and Community Renewal of the resources required to justly implement the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act (HSTPA). These tactics are designed to undermine the effectiveness of rent stabilization, and to convince the State Legislature that they have gone “too far.” Tenants must organize for both dignified living conditions in their homes and to protect the political possibility of true universal rent control.

“Good Cause” eviction — a bill introduced by socialist State Senator and NYC-DSA member Julia Salzar — was eliminated from the final legislative package of rent reforms. If passed, this bill would expand the right to a reasonable renewal lease (e.g. limited rent increases) to all buildings, no matter the size or year built, and would give every tenant the right to organize in their building without fear of retaliation. (Rent stabilization only applies to buildings with 6 or more units built before 1974.) We must engage in shared struggle with our neighbors to win good cause eviction. 

Engage in struggles that expand social and public housing

In this political moment, tenants must organize to fight for an expansion of social housing in New York. NYCHA continues to be in a crisis state and the vultures (corporate landlords) are circling. Decades of intentional and racist divestment has built political consensus around the idea that public housing has failed. Homes are on the brink of collapse and over 600,000 residents are being forced to swallow privatization of land, buildings, or both as the only “solution.” 

NYC-DSA members who are public housing residents are organizing, alongside their comrades and their neighbors, to resist privatization of their homes. We must support them. We should fight for billions in New York State funding for public housing and we should engage in federal fights for things like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s Green New Deal for Public Housing, Ilhan Omar’s Homes for All, and other promising proposals.

Fight to tax the billionaires, and reimagine “economic development” in New York

In order to end the housing and homelessness crisis, we need to break Governor Cuomo’s austerity budget and tax billionaires to vastly increase spending on homes for poor and working class New Yorkers. NYC-DSA should engage in a statewide campaign to raise taxes on the wealthy. As tenants and tenant organizers, we should fight alongside teachers, nurses, and other sectors of the working class for the pied-à-terre tax, an ultra-millionaires tax, a wealth tax, and other progressive schemes that can replace private speculative investment with a social commitment to housing, education, and healthcare for people and not for profit. 

The real estate industry continues to wield enormous influence in Albany, particularly in the State budget. Governor Cuomo uses our state budget to funnel money to some of the largest corporate landlords and property owners in the world. (Think Amazon HQ2 or Hudson Yards.) We should fight to eliminate New York State’s corporate subsidies to the real estate industry, most importantly 421-a/Affordable New York, which costs us at least $2 billion in foregone revenue annually.

Keep electing socialists to office

NYC-DSA transformed the campaign for universal rent control by effectively electoralizing the issue. New York City is the heart of the political power of the real estate industry and defeating them here is crucial for the nationwide movement for a homes guarantee. In 2020, at least four NYC-DSA candidates are running for state office on the promise to implement good cause eviction and fully fund public housing.

About Rebecca Capua 117 Articles
Red Letter spotlights editor, former MWG OC