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Roll back rents—vouchers for all

Published May 10, 2009 3:49 PM

In its 2009 “State of the Homeless” report, released April 23, the Coalition for the Homeless reported that 36,000 people use New York City shelters every night. This includes a record 9,600 families with 15,500 children, representing a 12 percent increase in homeless families in nine months. (coalitionforthehomeless.org) Thousands more homeless do not use the crowded, unsafe shelters or are crammed into temporary space with relatives.

The current economic depression will send the numbers of homeless soaring.

These numbers are due to the systematic, deliberate capitalist displacement of tenants in New York’s working-class neighborhoods, especially people of color communities. It’s called gentrification—workers out, parasites with luxury apartments in.

Real estate developers and banks—backed by city, state and federal government policies—have stripped New York City of affordable housing. Between 2005 and 2008, 80,000 apartments under the monthly rent of $1,000, and 55,000 under $800, “disappeared.” (coalitionforthehomeless.org)

Bloomberg denies subsidies to homeless families

Section 8 is a federal subsidy of housing costs above 30 percent of income (if you can find a place to live at the rent cap set by the program). There are only 300,000 vouchers available, meaning you can only get a voucher if someone leaves the program. There are one million families throughout the country and 130,600 in New York City on the waiting list. An additional 231,000 are on the waiting list for New York City public housing. (nyc.gov)

Previous New York City policy was to move families with children in shelters to the top of these lists. Mayor Bloomberg banned this in 2007 and implemented the “Work Advantage” program, which carries a two-year assistance limit. The first 1,400 families in Bloomberg’s program will soon be cut from assistance, to likely wind up in shelters.

Mayor Bloomberg is the eighth richest person in the U.S. His company, Bloomberg LLP, advises bankers and developers on how to maximize real estate profits and obtain low-cost, tax-free loans. He appointed Marvin Markus to head the so-called Rent Stabilization Board, which rubberstamps whopping rent increases each year. Markus is vice-president of Goldman Sachs, an investment company hugely involved in real estate.

It is estimated that the profit return on real estate is about 30 percent in New York City—an amount that makes capitalists drool.

It costs $36,000 a year to house a family in a shelter (coalitionforthehomeless.org) and $149,650 a year to incarcerate a youth—many of whom wind up in jail due to homelessness. (NYC Association of Homeless and Street-Involved Youth’s “State of the City’s Homeless Youth Report” 2009) Why not spend it on real housing and jobs? The city wants to keep rents high for the profit of their buddies and themselves.

The municipal New York City Economic Development Corporation and similar agencies direct hundreds of millions of dollars to promote gentrification. The city and state gave Forest City Ratner Companies a $670 million, low-interest loan in tax-free bonds, and $200 million in outright subsidies, to gentrify parts of Brooklyn. (Gotham Gazette, April 28)

“Converting Chinatown,” a meticulously documented report by CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities and the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center, describes the process. First the city pays for studies that declare an area ripe for picking, such as the East River Waterfront. Then the city rezones the area and arranges for loans and subsidies.

Then harassment of tenants begins. Seventy-five percent of Chinatown tenants surveyed reported harassment by landlords, from disrepair of buildings to refusing rents or new leases, illegal court action and outright assaults. Small businesses are also being forced out.

The New York City Planning Board has approved 25 new hotels, 118 luxury boutiques and cafes and 26 luxury residential buildings for Chinatown. (urbanjustice.org) When the new, unaffordable projects are built, they receive tax abatements, meaning developers don’t have to pay taxes on profit. “Converting Chinatown” states that 25 percent of all real estate taxes in New York City are currently in abatement.

Housing is a right

Every human being has the right to a decent place to live. That’s why we fight for socialism, where the working class in power will ensure housing to all. But while capitalism still exists we must fight.

Federal Housing Section 8 should be available to all who need it. In New York City we need an emergency rollback in rents to levels people can afford. From 1942 to 1974, numerous federal and state acts were passed on an emergency basis. These were all a result of enormous struggles by the workers and communities.

A steady chipping away at these controls; the complete merging of the banks and real estate with government; and high unemployment, the destruction of welfare and declining wages are evicting thousands of people from their right—a home. We have the power to fight back.