OPINION: Let’s demand affordable housing for all

The Ridgewood Tenants Union is a coalition fighting for tenant protections and an end to homelessness. Photo courtesy of the Ridgewood Tenants Union

The Ridgewood Tenants Union is a coalition fighting for tenant protections and an end to homelessness. Photo courtesy of the Ridgewood Tenants Union

By Louise Barry

City shelters are not a long-term solution to the affordable housing crisis that has left many of our neighbors homeless. However, in New York City, homeless men, women and children have a legal right to shelter. The proposed shelter at 78-16 Cooper Avenue in Glendale, Queens has been a hotly debated issue. Opponents of the shelter that is set to provide 200 men with a place to lay their head at night, along with needed services and guidance on securing employment, have fervently organized against its opening at every step. And though there is a lot of opposition being led by the Glendale-Middle Village Coalition, with support from Councilmember Robert Holden, the fact is that too many of our neighbors are in need of housing. 

This shelter will provide a temporary solution while we fight for and demand Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo invest in permanent and truly affordable housing for all. All people, including those who are currently homeless, should have a right to safe and stable housing and placing our energies on blocking this shelter drives us further away from resolving the crisis we’re in. 

It’s understandable that we all want to be safe where we live but at every instance, conversations around this proposed shelter have become so downright ugly and obscured by racist stereotypes of who we think the homeless are. In talking about this shelter, Holden has said we must “take care of our own” and that people living in the shelter “won’t assimilate to our neighborhoods.” 

This fear of the “other” is what drives opponent’s motivations to block the shelter from opening.  The truth is, we have homeless neighbors who come from our district, including those who have been displaced from homes in Glendale, Middle Village, Maspeth and Ridgewood. With a median asking rent of $2,300, this should be no surprise. The racism on display from opponents is connected to a continuum of systemic racism that allows luxury developers free reign of our community, igniting gentrification that displaces people who have lived in the neighborhood for decades.

If we can all agree on one thing, it’s that Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, along with other local elected officials, have failed us. They’ve failed by not committing to implementing real solutions to end homelessness. We know that the leading cause of homelessness, especially among families, is a lack of affordable housing. And with over 90,000 people homeless in New York State, we need to act now. It isn’t too late but all of us need to be working together. 

To address this problem, we need to tackle it at the root, in part by passing strong tenant protections like Good Cause legislation that will protect private tenants from baseless evictions that can lead to homelessness.  This June, we won historic protections for tenants in New York State and we need to build on those wins by expanding rent protections to all tenants. We need our elected officials to be brave and stand up against the real estate industry by passing progressive tax solutions that will give us the resources to create housing that is truly affordable for all.  Homelessness is a societal failure and the solutions to the problem are not complicated. By creating much needed housing, we won’t only be “taking care of our own,” but ensuring housing for all.

Louise Barry is an organizer with the Ridgewood Tenants Union, which is a part of the Upstate-Downstate Housing Alliance, a diverse coalition of tenants, homeless people, manufactured housing residents, and advocates from across New York fighting for stronger tenant protections and an end to homelessness.