[Learn more about Adolfo’s campaign here.]
Red Net (RN): Please tell our readers briefly who you are and why you’re running.
Adolfo Abreu (AA): I’m Adolfo Abreu, candidate for city council district 14 in the Bronx. I’m an organizer. I’ve been doing this work for 16 years. I’ve lived in this district for 28 years. I was born to a single mother. She was a home health aid for the first 12 years of my life, making $4.50 an hour. By the time I was thirteen, we had lived in four different apartment buildings because of affordability issues.
RN: How have these experiences guided your campaign, especially regarding the present housing crisis under the pandemic?
AA: Since March, we’ve been organizing to get the legislature to take action, to either cancel rent or strengthen eviction moratorium protections. They’ve been struggling to just do that. For the longest time, we had Governor Cuomo’s executive order. Every couple weeks or months, he would extend it instead of providing real relief.
Right now, the new protections [passed at the start of January provide momentary relief to tenants and homeowners across the state, but they’re just a stopgap measure. The legislature needs to cancel rent, especially for families who might not be able to pay their back rent. In districts like mine, even prior to the pandemic, many people were paying more than 30% of their income towards rent.
RN: What unique housing challenges does the Bronx face? What would you like to see going forward?
AA: I think back on the time when the Bronx was burning in the 70s; landlords were burning their buildings, because it was far more profitable for them to collect their insurance than to actually maintain their buildings. There was a lot of white flight, but there were also community members all throughout the Bronx who stood, whether they founded community gardens or they built their own housing.
They had a system of sweat equity. If you helped build it, you could live in it. That shows the blueprint for how it’s possible for us to invest in opportunities for our community members to own the land, own their building. Even back then, in the 70s, when the city was broke, New York City was giving buildings to a buyer for a dollar, to nonprofits or HDFCs (Housing Development Fund Corporations). We’ve done it before. We just need to do it on a larger scale.
RN: What does being a socialist mean to you? What would socialism look like here at the city-level in New York?
AA: For me as an organizer, socialism aligns with my theory of change, which I learned through a nonprofit organization, [the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition]. Working class communities need to be in co-governance with elected officials, and be at the center of decision-making. It’s also about a vision of shared wealth and shared ownership for our communities.
RN: What unique challenges to insurgent campaigns like yours have to overcome to be successful?
AA: In an organizing campaign, we go into a building, we educate people, we let them know what their rights are. We utilize all these tactics to improve the living conditions in the building, but then, a couple months later, if the tenants stop meeting, the landlord stops doing the work. The building gets back into the same condition that we found it in. For us, we only win victory in our campaigns if our people in the community own it, if there’s a significant transformation. Our vision for Democratic Socialism is to transform our housing, our education systems, so that it works for us.
For me, as a candidate, I feel comfortable going into a building where I have relationships, but I’m not going to ask volunteers as of yet to do that. That’s the risk that I’ll take, but I’m not going to ask other folks to do that unless we get to a point where it’s safe.
In terms of the race, I’m feeling optimistic. The combined forces of the DSA and the relationships with organizers and community members I’ve built over these past two decades, that will get us to victory. It’s possible to win with Socialism in the Bronx.