NEW YORK -- Standing shoulder to shoulder in a packed union hall, tenants from this city's five boroughs vowed to tackle tough housing issues including the power of landlords, developers and big banks that they say is squeezing the people of this city.
The April 18 gathering at SEIU, local 1199's Martin Luther King Auditorium was a mosaic of the myriad communities that constitute New York. Those attending were part of Our City, Our Homes 2013, a coalition of over 25 community groups that insists landlords, developers and big banks actually profit from instability and crisis in housing.
As they entered the hall participants were met, on the right hand side, by members of New York Communities for Change (NYCC), who, in their bright orange t-shirts, ensured that everyone entering was registered and provided with a snack.
Also reflecting the high level of planning, entrants, on their left, were greeted by members of Community Voices Heard (CVH) who, in their royal blue t-shirts, gave registrants placards indicating their borough of origin and their issue of major concern.
Those not registered to vote went on to the Make the Road NY members in baby blue t-shirts and non-English speakers went to Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) members, also in orange t-shirts. "It was like a rainbow ethnically and organizationally," jokingly remarked one of the event organizers.
Cetiliatli Nauhcampa opened the evening's program with a prayer and dance. The performance was two-part, the first to honor mother earth and the second to give strength to the tenant's cause.
" I loved it!" exclaimed Gladys Puglla, from the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. "We need New Yorkers from different countries and cultures to be united in the struggle for housing. It was nice to see the Mexican people taking the fist step and sharing their culture. I am from Ecuador and I wish that we were able to give our traditional blessing.
"This was my first time ever seeing indigenous culture at a meeting of this type," Puglla added. "As a Latino I was proud."
"New York City is either going to be for us or for those who want to push us out," Benjamin Dulchin, executive director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), said as he began the formal program.
Dulchin connected the housing issue in the city to the current mayoral election campaign.
He hit a receptive chord with the crowd as he recalled the plight of working families over the past 20 years and how they have been hurt during the administrations of Republican mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.
"Not enough affordable housing has been built and almost three quarters of what has been built during this time is at risk. Working and poor people are the majority in this city we've been fighting to preserve. We need a mayor who will make affordable housing permanent," said Anna Melendez from Nos Quedamos/We Stay.
Participants were given a memo explaining a comprehensive platform for solving the housing crisis in New York.
"New York City requires an expansive and innovative vision for housing that addressed four key issues," it read. On stage member organizations of the Our City Our Homes 2013 coalition spoke to the importance and necessity of each of those four key issues:
Improving Code Enforcement;
Committing to a Real Affordability Development Policy;
Improving and Preserving the Public Housing Stock in NYC;
Promoting Homeownership Opportunities and Preventing Foreclosure.
The presentations were often interrupted by applause and the overall platform was adopted.
NYCC deputy director Amelia Adams said, "NYCC and our coalition partners will make sure that these issues are on the agenda for the next mayor and hold him or her accountable to the needs of low and middle income tenants and homeowners in New York City."
NYCC is already a member organization of A+ NYC, a coalition that is doing what she described in the field of education. A+ NYC recently had a bus tour where they hit the streets to develop a common vision for improving public schools. This coalition has also targeted the 2013 mayors race demanding each candidate dissociate from the corporate-driven Bloomberg education agenda.
"We need to support coalitions like Our City Our Homes," said Jarvis Tyner, a northern Manhattan resident who is executive vice chair of the CPUSA. "That means finding out if the community group or union local you belong to is a member- if not find out what it takes to join. The Giuliani and then Bloomberg version of quality of life have been more like 20 years of institutionalized racism.
"Instead of the mass incarceration of Black and Latino youth they need to start throwing in jail some of these landlords who blatantly violate housing codes-- they are putting peoples lives in jeopardy!"
Photo: Zoilo Blas