From the Field: New York City Housing and Homelessness Advocates Stage Three-Day “Cuomoville” Demonstration and Sleep-Out

More than 100 New York City housing and homelessness advocates, including homeless people and tenants of rent-regulated, subsidized, and public housing units, staged a “Cuomoville” demonstration and sleep-out in front of the New York City office of Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) June 14-17. The Cuomoville advocates slept overnight in front of Mr. Cuomo’s midtown Manhattan office building for three nights to protest statewide low income housing policies that the groups say favor developers at the expense of low income renters.

The demonstration and sleep-out were led by the Alliance for Tenant Power, which was joined by the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition (Tenants & Neighbors), an NLIHC state partner, the Real Rent Reform Campaign, VOCAL-NY, Community Voices Heard, Flatbush Tenant Coalition, Crown Heights Tenant Union, Housing Conservation Coordinators, Metropolitan Council on Housing, New York Communities for Change, Make the Road New York, Churches United to Save and Heal, Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, Tenants PAC, Democratic Socialists of America, Picture the Homeless, and New York Progressive Action Network. New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams (D) expressed his support of the action.  

Mr. Cuomo signed a 2017-18 New York State budget deal in April that included $2.5 billion for the development of new affordable rental housing across the state. (See Memo 4/17.) This $2.5 billion marked a victory for the 3-year Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing, a coalition of housing and homelessness advocates that included some of the organizations who also participated in the Cuomoville demonstration. Some Cuomoville participants celebrated this year’s significant funding allocation, but many insist that the funding is insufficient to meet the immediate needs of people experiencing housing instability and homelessness in New York City. Others cite significant failures in the Governor’s housing and homelessness policies and identified priorities that require urgent action.

While the April budget deal included a significant allocation of new resources to housing, advocates protested what they called a failed housing agenda that favors high-end and luxury developers over low and moderate income renters, public housing residents, and homeless New Yorkers. Advocates criticize that this year’s funding will go directly to housing developers in the form of the controversial 421-A state property tax abatement. Some of the developers who will benefit from the 421-A tax credit are the same companies constructing high-end luxury developments in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods across New York City. Developers become eligible for the 421-A tax abatement when a percentage of units in a residential development are set aside as affordable units. But under 421-A, households with annual incomes as high as $100,000 will be eligible to live in rental units qualifying as “affordable,” and some rents on qualifying units may be as high as $2,500 per month. Extremely low income households in the New York City metropolitan area, those with incomes at or below 30% of the median income, have annual incomes at or below $20,200 and can afford a monthly rent of just $505 without spending more than 30% of their income on housing.

Cuomoville participants argue that 421-A is a misaligned housing policy that needs to be rebalanced to assist those with the greatest needs. They call for strengthening the state’s rent laws, which impact 2.5 million New Yorkers, and investing in public housing, which houses more than 600,000 New Yorkers, as solutions that would more immediately and meaningfully address the housing and homelessness crisis in the city. Demonstrators note that loopholes in the state’s rent laws allow landlords to increase monthly rents on existing tenants beyond what they can reasonably afford, leading to eviction and increased homelessness and worsening the lack of affordable housing for the lowest income residents. According to the latest data available from the New York City-based Coalition for the Homeless, an NLIHC state partner, on any given night there are more than 62,000 adults and children sleeping in New York City homeless shelters.

The Alliance for Tenant Power issued a press statement during the Cuomoville demonstration that reads in part: “Cuomoville launched a statewide movement uniting tenant advocates, public housing residents, and homeless New Yorkers to address the unaffordability crisis in New York State leading up to Governor Cuomo’s bid for reelection in 2018,” said Tenants & Neighbors Executive Director Katie Goldstein. “Housing affordability is getting significantly worse in New York State, and Cuomoville was our first action laying that crisis at Governor Cuomo’s door.”

For more information contact Katie Goldstein at kgoldstein@tandn.org