By Ivette Alfonso, President, Citizen Action of New York, and Rebecca Garrard, Statewide Housing Organizer, Citizen Action of New York
Last week, four homeless New Yorkers were brutally beaten and murdered in New York City while they slept, and a fifth man was critically hurt. Their deaths could have been prevented if our state invested sufficient resources in housing, mental health and social services. Every night, 92,000 people sleep unhoused across New York State — 30,000 of them outside of New York City. With a $170 billion state budget, Governor Cuomo and state leaders have the power to fully invest in the tools we all know would save lives and prioritize housing for the majority Black and Brown residents who are most impacted by the housing crisis. Instead, our state gives away billions in tax breaks to big developers while public housing crumbles. State leaders must prioritize our communities, not predatory property owners.
The statewide homelessness crisis is rooted in racism and runaway inequality being driven by big developers. Over-policing and criminalization have been consistent responses to this crisis. In areas experiencing gentrification, people are pushed out of their communities not just by rising rents, but also by targeted police harassment, arrests and ticketing for low-level offenses. In Kingston, NY, Police Chief Tinti recently told business owners and community members that ‘community-oriented policing’ would be implemented three times a day in response to the increased number of individuals experiencing homelessness in a gentrified district in the city. The police chief encouraged community members to call the police to report homeless individuals for harassment. This would then create an official record and the second time there’s a complaint towards an individual, an arrest can be made.
Meeting this crisis with increased policing dehumanizes, persecutes and harms people who are experiencing homelessness, rather than addressing the root causes of the housing crisis. It promotes the idea that people experiencing homelessness aren’t worthy of our resources, respect or safety. This perspective leads to incidents like the horrific murders that happened in New York City. This wasn’t an isolated incident, but instead a tragic symptom of the growing humanitarian crisis that Governor Cuomo has failed to address.
Homelessness has skyrocketed almost 40 percent in the nine years that Governor Cuomo has been in office and the number of people living in shelters is projected to reach over 100,000 by 2020. Half of the state’s tenants are rent-burdened, paying over 30 percent of their income toward rent. At the same time, New York has more multi-millionaires and billionaires than any other state — and they aren’t paying their fair share. While it seems turning our state into a luxury playground for developers is a goal for Governor Cuomo, it’s not the vision held by most people, especially not the large number of housing insecure New Yorkers who go to sleep every night worrying whether they’ll have a roof over their head tomorrow.
The solution is clear: Tax the rich and invest in housing as a human right! Tax luxury second-homes of billionaires who don’t even live in New York full-time. Expand the Millionaires’ Tax. End the 421-a/485-a tax breaks for luxury penthouses. Invest our state’s resources in a homes guarantee that prioritizes people over the profit of a few wealthy developers.
We have the resources to meet the crisis head on and create thousands of new units of truly affordable housing, protect 5.5 million tenants in unregulated units from predatory rent hikes, provide resources for local housing code enforcement that hold landlords accountable for safe living conditions and end the unjust evictions tearing communities apart. The New York State Senate and Assembly must hold Governor Cuomo accountable and put forward a state budget and legislative agenda in 2020 that recognizes that housing is a human right.