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Will New York Finally Address the Housing Crisis?

Across the state, New Yorkers are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

Rental prices soared to record levels in New York City in 2023. Right now, a family would have to earn at least $140,000 a year just to be able to afford the city’s median rent of $3,500. And this story goes well beyond New York City. Across the state, New Yorkers are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. 20 percent of New York State residents spend more than half of their income on rent, and in some ways, they’re the lucky ones. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers are unhoused, with no clear path to obtaining permanent homes.

Despite this dire situation, state leaders have not done nearly enough to tackle the problem. Nearly everyone agrees that New York is facing a severe housing crisis. But the question is what we should do about it. To help answer that question, we’re joined by three housing experts who will help us dig in to this urgent and seemingly intractable issue.


[00:00:36] Simon: Welcome to Rights This Way, a podcast from the New York Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of New York State. I’m Simon McCormick, senior staff writer at the NYCLU and your host for this podcast, which is focused on the civil rights and liberties issues that impact New Yorkers most.

[00:01:00] Rental prices soared to record levels in New York City in 2023. Right now, a family would have to earn at least 140, 000 a year just to be able to afford the city’s median rent of 3, 500. And this story goes well beyond New York City. Across the state, New Yorkers are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

[00:01:20] Twenty percent of New York state residents spend more than half of their income on rent. And in some ways, they’re the lucky ones. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers are unhoused, with no clear path to obtaining permanent home. Despite this dire situation, state leaders have not done nearly enough. To tackle the problem, nearly everyone agrees that New York is facing a severe housing crisis, but the question is what we should do about it.

[00:01:46] To help answer that question, I’m joined by three housing experts who will help us dig into this urgent and seemingly intractable issue. But first, I’d like to ask you to please rate, review, and subscribe to Rights This Way. It will help more people find this podcast. now I’m joined by three guests.

[00:02:07] Thanks. Julian Morales is the NYCLU’s Senior Housing Strategist. Cea Weaver is a Campaign Coordinator for the Housing Justice for All Coalition. And John Washington is an Organizer and Political Educator with the People’s Action Network. Before we get started, just a quick note that outside guests on this show do not represent the NYCLU and their views are their own.

[00:02:31] Julian, I just want to start quickly with you to just kind of get like a quick sense of why the NYCLU is interested in housing policy. I think some people listening might, not totally get the connection between civil rights and civil liberties and housing.

[00:02:46] And actually we did do an episode in the first season of Rights This Way Where Julian does lay this out and I would definitely urge everyone to, listen to that episode as well. Julian, can you kind of lay that out for us, please?

[00:02:58] Julian: Sure. Yeah, I think, believe it or not, the New York Civil Liberties Union has a long history engaging on housing issues, you know, going back to the early 70s, specifically in regards to exclusionary zoning. In Long Island, but also working with the national ACLU here. But I think for us, you know, housing is a civil right.

[00:03:17] And, as you alluded to early on, we’re in, we’re in a severe housing crisis in the state of New York. stable housing provides a foundation for employment, civic participation, health education, you know, children’s wellbeing and keeping families in their homes. It’s good for families and their communities.

[00:03:33] And so I think, you know, we think that, stability is key. In regards to housing without a home over your head, it’s a little hard to, you know, navigate any other necessity for folks and their families.

[00:03:45] Simon: Thank you for that. And now I’d like to turn to a, broad question here, y’all could just kind of talk about. Some of the major housing issues that, people are facing across the state. We touch on some of that in the intro, but in a little more depth if we could just talk about the problems that you three are, focusing on addressing.

[00:04:04] Julian, I’ll, I’ll start with you.

[00:04:06] Julian: Yeah, I mean, that’s a fantastic question. There are so many. You know, I think that, we live in a state where, yeah, I think we’re pretty wealthy. Our budget is, you know, I don’t know what the exact number is, but I think it was like 230 billion worth of B. Yet we have, 92,000 New Yorkers who are homeless on any given night.

[00:04:25] We have over 175,000 New Yorkers facing eviction. And, there’s just, there’s just not enough, real deeply low income, or affordable housing in the state of New York. I think, you know, there is this conversation that’s been happening particularly since the start of the last legislative session on supply. which is a component. But, you know, as I alluded to in the previous podcast the market will not save us. We have been depending on the market for decades. And in fact our housing crisis has gotten worse. the last thing I’ll share is that I think that, there were very successful housing programs that actually were created by government.

[00:05:05] which include, you know, traditional public housing, the Mitchell Lama program, and various other programs that actually were very effective in housing stability. And so, I think, we want to be part of changing the narrative in regards to some of the solutions for housing in the state of New York.

[00:05:22] Cea: I think at the root of the housing Crisis in New York, if you want to call it that is actually a crisis of power and who is represented in our state and who are elected officials think about when they think about their constituents. Something that we like to prep our membership base around is that, you know, for every one landlord or homeowner lobby visit, we need to make sure that we line up 10 to 20 tenants to go and do cleanup work.

[00:05:50] Right. We have a situation in New York, but also in the country where like property ownership is more important to the functioning of our democracy than people’s rights to live and stay in a home. And that to me is like the fundamental root cause of the housing crisis. So in Housing Justice for All, what we’re trying to do is bring together a force of tenants who can collectively assert their political power in Albany, at the ballot box, in their homes where they live, where they’re maybe directly confronting the landlords who own their buildings.

[00:06:22] And we’re pushing for public policies, like good cause eviction, like rent control, like social housing, as Julian alluded to, that both take housing out of the marketplace, but also increase tenants power to be represented politically to collectively control a major asset. of the New York economy something that a comrade of mine likes to say that I think is really apt here is that in New York state, real estate is like oil in Texas.

[00:06:52] It’s the most powerful industry in the state. But the truth is, is that’s produced a really powerful tenant movement as well. And so our housing policy really is like a product. Of these two very organized forces fighting against each other in the terrain of Albany, but also in the terrain of the very neighborhoods in which we live.

[00:07:12] And we, I think, you know, the crisis is bad, but we have achieved some really significant things. And I think we’re going to continue to do so in the coming legislative session. I was really proud that in 2019, we strengthened and expanded rent stabilization to cover the whole state. Since 2019, cities in the Hudson Valley have actually opted in to rent stabilization for the first time, stabilizing renters in those housing markets in the face of dramatic price gouging and dramatic gentrification.

[00:07:42] And now I’m happy to say that Rochester, Albany, Ithaca and maybe some other cities as well in the Hudson Valley have launched efforts to bring their cities into rent stabilization as well. So when I think about the crisis and the potential solutions, I like to think about like what are the policy things that we can fight for that actually are a real transfer of power to working class renters who, you know, need to be represented.

[00:08:07] It’s more than half the state, right? They need to be represented in our political system, which is dramatically biased towards homeowners and property owners.

[00:08:15] John: Yeah, I agree with all of what Cea and Julian said, and I also just wanted to get back and make it more personal. Like I live in Buffalo, New York. I think since I’ve lived here, I’ve moved about 30 times. Had about three or four years of homelessness and different stints. And the reality for upstate New Yorkers is that these are some of the oldest built cities in the country.

[00:08:36] Buffalo has some of the oldest housing stock and therefore the most expensive and the hardest to live in. If your landlord does not actually care. And so the reality for the human experience is like. Everything starts with home. We’re animals, like, we’re products of our environment. And our housing system was designed to track people who look like me, black and brown folks in particular, environments.

[00:08:55] And I think we have to really take it all the way back to like, what was this system designed to do? And there was a housing system that was kind of scattered before. And this particular housing system was designed to solve the problem of segregation, right? Of the fact that black and brown people were moving North and coming into this country and white people who are now white, but at that time were not considered white needed to be segregated and there needed to be a racial wealth gap and suburban and like all of these things are a reaction to The question race and really class and so I think it’s important that we understand that like this isn’t a crisis And the market isn’t just influencing things the market is defining our reality And taking tenants rent and turning it into mortgage backed securities and all kinds of things that allow and actually build the power.

[00:09:40] I think that we need to be really grounded that the rent and the labor that we contribute to this economy is the only real thing in it. I think in 20, 2008, 2020, we’ve seen just the likes that the federal government, that bankers will go to. To make sure that tenants are oppressed and that we are forced to give up our money to, to build their wealth to build their buildings to get their tax breaks.

[00:10:03] And so I think that the real crisis is like, like Cea said, it’s a crisis of power. Who was represented by this government. And also like, what is the value that we get in exchange for our rent? Because no one in Buffalo, New York is getting what they’re actually paying for. I’m sure that that’s also true across the state.

[00:10:20] And I think it’s really important for us to be really grounded in just the human dignity. Like that’s why it’s a civil liberties issue. Cause how can you be free if you don’t know where you’re going to live or if where you’re living is killing you and making you sick and one four two Oh eight where I live, like these houses are literally killing people.

[00:10:36] They’re giving our kids you know, all kinds of mental health issues, our schools, all kinds of issues. So I also just want to say this is bigger than housing. This is about how capitalism has made housing, the insurance policy and the infrastructure of racial capitalism and how we racialize the caste system that America was designed to be.

[00:10:56] Simon: And John, I want to pick up on something that you mentioned is part of your answer there, which is the sort of racial justice aspects of the housing crisis, right? It doesn’t impact every New Yorker equally. can you talk about that and, and feel free to bring in the national context as well, but, but just how, a person’s race can impact the likelihood that they are facing rent insecurity or, or homelessness.

[00:11:19] John: I mean, if you look at the statistics on homelessness, you look at the statistics on evictions, look at the statistics on home ownership, and you look at like what, Actually happened in the, in the thirties and the design of this economy and the insurance policies that allowed for this supply production that people like to talk about so much now.

[00:11:36] All of that was designed to privilege white people, to drive white people to move to suburbs to segregate communities and also to make sure that most people of color remain renters remain renters in terrible conditions and in conditions that were not stable enough for them to build the power and dignity that they needed in their workplaces and anywhere else in their lives, and so we talk about gentrification, but really that’s just a name for powerful people.

[00:12:01] And powerful people defining the reality of poor people and of, segmenting in this caste system that also has our communities pit against each other. Because when people immigrate to new communities and are, are moving into places that have previously been segregated, it makes it really hard to build bonds and relationships when everybody’s being treated subtly differently.

[00:12:21] And ultimately, you know, I, I think most of us on this call don’t like money, but money is power. And so the more rent we’re paying and the less power and privilege people have to defend where they live through mortgages or through actual ownership of where they’re at the more than bankers and investors can bet on our rent and use our rent against us in order to build power, to build inflation.

[00:12:42] And so when you look at the racial wealth gap, that’s not an accident. The racial wealth gap has been very intentionally designed. By these policies, and I believe that tenant centered policies inherently build for black and brown people. And they build power for all people because when we’re doing justice for the people who’ve experienced the worst everybody else benefits.

[00:13:02] Simon: I want to now turn to what happened and what also didn’t happen last year, because I know a lot of what held up the budget, right? Last year was somewhat related to, it was, it was bail, but it was also housing, right? Governor Hochul had various housing plans that were very much focused on like the supply side on, on building more homes.

[00:13:25] And there was a conflict between her wanting to do that and lawmakers who wanted to do that. And Lawmakers and other advocates who wanted to do things like good cause But doing things that are more tenant focused, that, that you all have mentioned that help build tenant power and aren’t just about addressing a, market supply demand sort of issue.

[00:13:44] So Julian, can I start with you to just kind of talk about what was accomplished last year and what’s sort of still on the table?

[00:13:51] Julian: You know, last year, the governor, I guess the plus was that she was really interested in housing. the downside was as you alluded, it was, essentially, working with big real estate on major proposals for for new development. It was also unclear. Like what affordability levels would be included in a lot of her proposals in particular but with that said, I mean, I think There were many of us on this call and a lot of other folks pushing for A lot of things that that we’ve been pushing for for some time, you know, including the good cause eviction the housing access voucher program the tenant opportunity to purchase act the right to counsel statewide legislation and a school of other tenant protections and rights that are necessary.

[00:14:35] And, you know, I think through the budget in particular it all sort of fell through with tremendous pushback from the governance proposals. From a lot of lawmakers who felt like, you know, she came out with these proposals and there was really no real trying to build and connect.

[00:14:52] Even with the pushback that the significant pushback she received from particular regions but even at the end of session when we have a supermajority, in both houses in the state assembly and in the state Senate. the leaders articulated that they were interested in a lot of different things, but they decided since the governor was not interested that they would not.

[00:15:13] Use their power. And I think that seemed to me to be a tremendous missed opportunity. At the very least you know, have them show that they actually do support a lot of these issues and tenant protections that we’re pushing for

[00:15:27] Simon: Yeah, see, you know, Julian has alluded to this that there is a super majority. which means that the assembly and the Senate could override the governor’s veto of any legislation, right?

[00:15:40] Potentially if they were able to get you know, all the Democratic legislators on board with something or enough that they could override it with a two thirds majority vote. But the way the legislature, as I recall, you should correct me if I’m wrong, but the way the legislators sort of framed it is, oh, this you know, the governor, they’re clashing, you know, we just we can’t, Come to an agreement here, but there isn’t actually a need for an agreement.

[00:16:03] If the legislature is willing to override this, and I feel like the governor even actually sort of hinted at that when she said something like this is I’m paraphrasing. But at the end of the session, she said something like the legislature can pass whatever bills they want.

[00:16:18] Right. I, I can’t, like stop them from doing this. So, you can’t necessarily pin this all on me. So see, I’m curious your take on, on all of that in addition to the, the first question I asked,

[00:16:29] Cea: Yeah, I mean, I, what Julian shared is accurate and to just like add a little bit more sort of detail here. I think, we are in a moment in history when there’s a tremendous amount of sort of right wing populist organizing happening in New York state and across the country. And there are a lot of people who are xenophobically fear mongering about the role of immigrants in our society, for example, and alongside that, the role of renters people who are maybe unstably housed all the way up from people who knew New Yorkers who are coming to New York for the first time, homeless New Yorkers and renters are being very associated by the right with things like They’re fear mongering about crime, even though that we know that New York is as safe as it’s ever been and they’re fear mongering about property values, even though we know that the real estate industry is doing just fine.

[00:17:26] And so, that dynamic is in the background of everything that’s happening in Albany. And so, with that growing right wing organizing that is, happening in neighborhoods across the state, the real estate industry is capitalizing on that mood, sending mailers into communities in Southeast Queens, communities in Central Brooklyn, communities in Westchester County, in the Hudson Valley, and they are fear mongering about. the New York State Legislature is coming to seize your homes. You’re going to lose that single family home that you worked so hard to buy. You’re going to lose all the equity, you know, the government is once again coming to destroy your wealth. They are literally sending out mailer after mailer after mailer saying two things.

[00:18:13] One is that good cause is redlining, which it’s not. You know, it’s not like open up a freaking history book. Two, they’re saying that could cause is going to cause an increase in crime and they shape their message to the audience. And so in, you know, black homeownership neighborhoods, they talk about redlining.

[00:18:31] In suburban homeownership neighbors, they talk about crime. Either way, they are pitting tenants against homeowners in an incredibly effective way. And what that has done is that has created a crew of lawmakers in the state legislature, the Senate, and the Assembly, who are a sort of like right wing group that is also organizing against the pandemic within the Democratic Party to block things like Good Cause from moving forward.

[00:19:00] So the truth is, is we don’t have a veto proof majority on this policy. And we have like the thinnest of a majority. And so for us, we know, because when we go out and talk to people about good cause, we don’t lie about what it does. We tell the truth. And we know that it has 86 percent support from black New Yorkers. We know that it has 70 percent support in the marginal districts, those districts that swing Republican Democrat. But the real estate industry has done a very good job scaring people. By lying and if you have a lot of money you can lie a lot and nobody really cares And so that’s really set up.

[00:19:34] That’s what happened, right? It’s like the governor doesn’t want to do it

[00:19:37] And the industry has whipped half of the legislature into a fervor over it, and so we are in a long jam, right? It’s really polarized. I think that, like, half of the state legislature Democratic conference would, like, lie down in traffic for good cause.

[00:19:53] We have done a really good job building support for it. The other half would lie down in traffic. before they would let it move forward. And so our job as organizers is to do the hard work in neighborhoods to say like, this politics is not, the game. The game is like talking to neighbors and having those neighbors talk to their elected officials and sort of taking the temperature down a little bit so that good policies can move forward.

[00:20:15] Simon: and John, I actually realize we should define, what good cause is. can you explain to listeners what good cause, eviction is? Yeah, I think it’s best explained because we have no cause evictions right now, right? Evictions are part of the market, right? Like, it’s a product, right? So, it’s gotta move. And if we don’t have someone who’s paying or we want somebody to pay more, we’ve gotta move them out. When I say we, in the sense, I mean, like landlords, obviously not me personally.

[00:20:42] John: So I think what good cause is really designed to do is to give a legal framework that actually allows tenants the ability to defend themselves in court. Because right now, if you go, especially in Buffalo housing court, if there is any question about whether or not you have paid your rent. No other cause or no other like relationship to the housing market in your experience is going to be heard.

[00:21:04] And so right now, to me, good cause eviction is actually a reaction to the fact that we have no cause evictions, that landlords can push anybody out whenever they want, however they want. and then we have a legal framework that makes that happen. Just absolutely too easy because there isn’t this kind of right to renew or right to continue the negotiation and assume that if a tenant has paid their rent has done their all the things that they need to do, they really have no, you know, they can just end the lease and terminate the lease.

[00:21:31] And I’ve seen landlords in Buffalo literally rewrite leases. Lie about leases. I’ve literally seen them in the copy store across in the courtroom, like printing out a new fake lease just to tell someone that they’ve been evicted even when this, person actually has the original one that was signed.

[00:21:45] And so we need a legal framework that allows us to, to deal with that. And honestly, more legal defense for tenants across the state to be able to, to use it. And I want to bring that back to like what the housing market is designed to do and who it’s for, because that is like the real question. Is that home?

[00:22:00] For that person is that home for an investor and for the landlord. And I think that good cause allows and it’s something that’s so essential upstate because our, our courts are, they’re eviction mills, right. That are run by landlords. And this is like the first of many lines of defense that I think that we’re going to need in order to combat this at a local level and also be able to build more power.

[00:22:22] Cause right now it’s really scary and really hard for people, especially in, Markets as small as Buffalo where there just is not enough housing, the idea of fighting back against your landlord about challenging them about the warranty of habitability and, and the conditions that people are living in.

[00:22:36] That can’t happen unless there’s actually a legal way for people to fight these battles. And I think that’s what good cause does practically.

[00:22:43] Simon: Got it. And Julian, can you give us a sense of some of like the, details of what the good cause eviction bill that the N-Y-C-L-U supports would, would do?

[00:22:52] Julian: Sure, Simon. You know, good cause eviction is pretty straightforward. to be clear, I think, like, there’s a narrative that, like, if good cause eviction passed, no one would ever be able to get evicted ever and people would just stay in their homes which is, completely inaccurate.

[00:23:08] So good cause eviction In particular, like it pushes back on, unjust evictions from landlords, you know, whether it be that they want to raise the rent or they don’t like the way, you play your music evictions happen for many different reasons.

[00:23:24] And we just want to really define the terms of those addictions in particular. I think the other thing and, you know, see a trophy to jump in good cause eviction also does include a cap on run increases. Because, in a place like New York City, there are tremendous amount of protections as, it’s as good as it’s gonna get, you know, I think outside of New York, of the New York City metro area places like Western New York, it’s sort of like the wild, wild west, right?

[00:23:49] And I think this is not the end all be all to be clear, but this will give a tremendous protection. To fight back against landlords who want to push people out, you know, just for profit, but also particularly around rent increases in particular, the last thing I’ll share is that, you post a more term ending and sort of like the pandemic winding down to the extent that it did folks are running creases.

[00:24:12] That were just unmanageable. And so I think this will help. balance that out a little bit.

[00:24:17] Simon: makes sense. And, see if I could just ask, is there a particular percentage rent that, You would be able to charge around, an increase, rather, year that would count as like, a fair, or reasonable.

[00:24:27] Cea: Yeah, so I want to be like, really clear about what the bill actually says too. You know, it says that there is no prohibited rent increase. No rent increase would be prohibited under the bill. Under the bill, the landlord could raise the rent, to whatever they want. If they fall behind on rent.

[00:24:46] And they end up in court because of a non payment case. The tenant falls behind on rent and ends up in court because of a non payment case, which happens all over the place. The tenant could look back for a year and say, well, I’m behind on rent because my landlord raised the rent an unconscionable amount.

[00:25:01] And then the judge would say, well, how much did you raise the rent? Was it unconscionable? And this bill would provide guidelines. For what is considered in that case to be conscionable or unconscionable. And that’s why, like as John mentioned, we think that this bill really requires a strong statewide right to counsel program to be fully effective. What the bill says is that any rent increase that is 1. 5 times inflation would be considered unconscionable. Um, There are also other ways that get around that one point, which, you know, this year is about eight percent. There’s other ways a landlord could get around that. You need to put on a new roof, You can add the cost onto the tenant’s rent.

[00:25:39] You need to fix the boiler. Same thing applies. Your taxes go up. Same things apply. So there, there’s a lot of ways in which, you know, if your costs legitimately go up, you can bring that to the judge and you can say, Hey judge, like, yeah, I did raise the rent, but I had to, cause I had to keep my property in good quality. So that’s how Good Cause works in other states that have it, California, Oregon, New Jersey. It really just allows tenants to defend themselves in court. It’s allows for negotiation between landlords and renters. If, my landlord is going to raise my rent 500, I can say, Hey, I really can’t afford that.

[00:26:10] I also think it’s unconscionable. And it, and it opens up the conversation in a way that right now the conversation does not open. Right now the conversation is, this is how much your rent’s gonna go up, and like, tough luck if you don’t like it. And as, as John pointed out housing quality is also very bad.

[00:26:26] So what’s happening is people are being forced to leave poor quality housing into worse quality housing. If you call your landlord to try to get repairs, you get served with an eviction notice, there’s a tremendous amount of retaliation. And so people are getting served with high rent increases, if they try to negotiate to stay in their homes, they get evicted, and then they end up sort of in a place that’s both more expensive and in.

[00:26:48] In poorer shape, and that’s, true in a lot of the Western New York and upstate New York cities and it’s true in, Queens too so, that’s why we think that this bill is just so, so, so important, we think it’s about leveling the playing field and opening up the opportunity for tenants and landlords to have like A conversation with one another about what is going to keep the housing in high quality and, safe and stable in the home. Um, you highlight, something there, Cea, that I know, John, you also touched on. John, can you talk about another prong of, what you folks are pushing for, which is a right to counsel, Julian, I’ll turn to you, as well. I’d like to get your thoughts, but first, John, can you talk, as he was just alluding to, to the need for tenants to be able to have a lawyer when they’re in housing court and, facing possible eviction?

[00:27:37] John: Absolutely. Also I’ll say one thing I forgot to say is if anybody who’s listening to this wants to talk about the relationship between redlining and our housing market and the lives of tenants. If you want to open a book, I would love to talk to you about it. I will give my number out, talk to you for hours about that.

[00:27:51] Cause I know most people aren’t going to read, but I think the right to counsel is so important because housing market like judges, at least in Buffalo and a lot of upstate cities are basically making what I call four o’clock courts. It’s like. You, the whole goal of the court is to get as many cases as you can through every single day and then, you know, there’s some nice legal services organizations that, you know, will have a short conversation with folks before they go into their eviction hearings and basically walk them through their evictions, potentially negotiate for some extra time.

[00:28:21] Just so they can possibly find another place and not be homeless. But ultimately if you have a law, you need lawyers, right? If you have a gun, you need bullets. And so I think that these two things have to work in parallel. Because ultimately if there is, you know, if we have this legal framework, how do you use it?

[00:28:38] And I think that’s particularly important because a lot of evictions also happen through intimidation. And through retaliation and so just the idea that every tenant knows that they have rights and I always use the analogy like we all watch law and order like I could kill somebody and I get a lawyer but if I couldn’t pay my rent or if I lived in a terrible place and I spent my rent money on heaters and canned milk because my fridge doesn’t work because of electrical issues.

[00:29:04] Then I don’t get a lawyer. I get a conversation with a legal services agency and I appreciate those agencies But there’s just no way that they can handle the capacity of these cases And it’s like the more money is made in the housing market and the more Advantageous the federal government makes it to be a landlord the more these cases are gonna happen and the harder life is gonna be for the average person and if you’re living your life going To work every day You don’t have time to read housing policy and also show up to a court with a landlord and a judge and hearing officers.

[00:29:33] We’re all set up to help move you out. So I think it’s incredibly important that these things work in parallel and that we actually have a full tenant bill of rights. And ways for people to exercise those rights and also prevent the absolutely brutal retaliation because of the commodification of housing.

[00:29:51] Many of the landlords in Buffalo don’t actually care about. The conditions of that building. I’ve seen landlords literally to get someone out, cut the heating systems and the pipes in the basements just to get people out because they’re just planning to sell that home. Right? And that’s what commodification does is it actually means that often landlords don’t even have an interest in the condition of the property they own, which I think is an assumption that a lot of people don’t really understand like how much that impacts people.

[00:30:17] Especially with the conditions upstate. And so if we want to be able to effectively use good cause and we don’t want to get to the point where we can like collectively bargain as tenants, like we need lawyers and we need laws to work together.

[00:30:30] Simon: Got it. And, Julian, anything to add there?

[00:30:33] Julian: Yeah, I mean, I guess I’d share that, like, at the root of, the statewide right to counsel legislation, it’s really about shifting the way the housing courts and the courts in general operate. Right. I think that, in New York City in particular, right, we have housing courts where, any tenant throughout the five boroughs would, go to a particular housing court.

[00:30:52] And there’s a lot of different resources, but in other places, and especially in outside of the city. sometimes there are judges that have, like, no expertise or experience on housing law, period. Sometimes they’re not even lawyers, right? So, I think it’s sort of trying to ensure that, like, obviously folks stay in their homes and in like, in New York City, the law was passed.

[00:31:14] It’s been quite effective at 84 percent of folks have been able to stay in their homes since the passage of that legislation in New York and tomorrow’s, but, you know, I think this brings some uniformity to be ensuring that, Tenants are not just gonna sort of like self evict, for example, right?

[00:31:31] And courts and the judges would have to notify and verbally articulate that folks have this right and their cases will not move forward until they’re assigned an attorney. it’s not your attorney for 2 seconds when you talk to them before your case which the governor has provided some funding for some sort of legal representation pilot program in Western New York. But it’s, not quite full legal representation throughout the process. And exactly what this legislation will do.

[00:31:58] Simon: And Julian, there are, like statistics around, how effective, and how important, having a lawyer in in court is right.

[00:32:06] Julian: Yeah, I mean, as I mentioned, I think it might be 2020 or 2021. So since the Rights to Counsel program, particularly in New York City, it was passed in 2017. It was, fully implemented to be, you know, accessible to anyone. Who’s who’s applicable, I believe, in 2021 and, it’s been quite effective in keeping folks in their homes, bringing down addictions.

[00:32:28] I will say that legal service buyers are swamped with cases and there’s been, you know, sort of a directive of how many cases is enough. Quote unquote, I think that changes, you know, New York City, it’s one thing and other other municipalities folks are seeing more or less cases.

[00:32:45] But it’s been quite effective. I think, you know, the coalition was pushing. This is really thinking through about, you know, training capacity and creating a pipeline and working with. legal service providers and working with law schools to create pipelines to ensure that, We have folks who, know the stuff and can sort of push back on, the landlord’s attorneys and even the judges as necessary. Right. And so, yeah, and I, just wanna underscore a point you’re making here, which is, that, a right to counsel, for anyone, a right to a lawyer, to anyone who’s facing eviction is important. but that right can’t just exist on paper. It has to be funded. so that, just because somebody says, yeah, you, you have a right to a lawyer, but, we can’t provide you, one because, the, cases are too high and, sorry, you’re, you’re out of luck, even though technically we’re supposed to provide you with one.

[00:33:29] Simon: So I want to move into a question about. the supply focused proposals, that the governor has, proposed, uh, you know, she wants to create 800, 000, units, over the next 10 years. And she basically frames the housing problem as one of supply too many people, not enough homes.

[00:33:51] John, I know you mentioned. the fact that say in, in Buffalo, there aren’t enough homes for, people. and I would imagine that’s true in New York city but I’m just curious. if you feel like there is a supply issue, but it’s just not the whole issue.

[00:34:07] Obviously we’ve been talking about a lot of non supply side related issues, but I’m just curious if you think that’s just a total red herring or, or if that’s a part of the issue, but not the whole.

[00:34:16] Cea: A few days ago, New York City released its housing vacancy survey, which is a survey that’s done every few years by the division of housing or the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to sort of understand what’s going on in the New York housing market. And it’s a really tremendous.

[00:34:33] Resource that tells you all sorts of things about housing quality, about rent burden, about renter characteristics, landlord characteristics, etc. And what they found is that the stock of available apartments is the tightest it’s ever been in 50 years. In the 50 years of the survey, it’s the tightest it’s ever been.

[00:34:52] There’s a housing supply problem at the lowest income levels. I think like 80 percent of low income renters are rent burdened, people are living double to triple up and in places that they still can’t afford. So there’s like a definitely a supply problem when it comes to sort of the lower end of the market. But there also is a supply problem at the higher end of the market. For apartments that rent over 2, 400 a month to, you know, affordable to middle class families and middle class families need a place to live too. There’s a supply crunch there too. It’s the lowest vacancy rate it’s been in years.

[00:35:22] And so I think it’s without a doubt our housing policies have contributed to a supply problem. I think that’s really about, tax policy that incentivizes market reconstruction, that makes rental apartments too expensive to build. It’s about single family zoning in the New York City suburbs.

[00:35:41] It’s about the fact that we, like, New York City is a city of islands, basically. There’s, like, not a lot of places to go. But, yes, there’s a supply problem, and I, and I do think that Tenant protections and housing supply go hand in hand.

[00:35:53] John: Well, I just want to say like, there’s a supply problem, the way that like, You know, my son has a video game problem, like, the supply problem was created, right? Like we eliminated public housing. Affordable housing essentially is a tax break that does not guarantee anybody more than, you know, like a few years of affordability.

[00:36:11] And so the federal government and state local governments have followed suit, have been on this like 40 year kick of like actually eliminating The supply of public housing, because when it comes to supply and demand, the goal of the housing market is to raise the price of housing. Right? Also raise the amount of property taxes that communities are receiving.

[00:36:31] And so, yes, there is a supply problem, but that supply problem has been manufactured by the very people who keep saying there’s a supply problem. And so, if we continue to do this, and then also, the supply is not even. Right. As he said, there’s a cast, the supply at the top and the impact of what that means and the choices you have.

[00:36:48] And so there’s an assumption that lands so much in housing court that like people have a choice. It’s like, Oh, well you chose to live here. So just choose to live somewhere else. And that’s like the attitude of the courts and a lot of people in the system. And the reality is there is. very low supply for low income folks.

[00:37:05] There is a low supply, especially in Buffalo of like quality housing. And then there’s 7, 997 vacant properties that the city of Buffalo is holding, and there’s been a public policy of the federal government and local governments holding back potential supply to drive the price up. And so like, we have to really sit with like, what is money worth? The U S housing market is worth 35 trillion. That’s enough for every American to live in a 400, 000 home. And yet we have chosen to eliminate. One supply in favor of another supply, and then we have vacant buildings because a building is an investment and mortgage backed securities and all of these other things mean that building 100 million buildings that are full of investors mean that like you don’t actually need rent in order for that thing to be profitable if over the next 10 years, the price is going to skyrocket because the people who could invest Actually orient us to like a healthier relationship to supply.

[00:38:01] Keep saying we need some more supply and giving the supply to investors instead of people who need places to live.

[00:38:09] Simon: And, and when you say investors there, John, you’re talking about people say, who have a home as an investment property, they might not even live there but they’re basically thinking of their home, not as a place to live, or they’re thinking of a apartment as a something to invest in, not necessarily something to to live in.

[00:38:25] John: I’m actually talking about a real estate investment trusts. I’m talking about Steve Mnuchin who took over our treasury and made

[00:38:32] the federal government a playground of subsidies for landlords and Wall Street investors. I’m talking about mortgage backed securities. But if you are invested in the stock market, if you’re invested in Blackstone and these huge corporations that have really kind of consumed all the property in America and around the world There are so many ways that like a building can be used as a tool of investment and a tool of appreciation of value without any relationship to tenants.

[00:38:59] And then you also have the sub problem. Like Cea was saying of all these folks who come into black and brown communities and are green lining. Right? We had this era of redlining and blockbusting where white people were moved out of communities because people said, Oh, the black people are coming in.

[00:39:12] So sell high and get out of here and we’ll, we’ll get you into these again, federally backed mortgage supply properties in the suburbs. Now the opposites happen where everybody’s saying, you know, move into these communities take out these loans, take out these mortgages.

[00:39:25] Everybody needs to own a home and everybody needs to have an income property. Right? So you have these two forces that are. Continuing with every single transaction to drive up the price of housing and also to organize more landlords and more people who are interested in being a part of a class of people that control other people’s housing.

[00:39:42] And if you look at the state legislature, a lot of these folks are saying these things because they’re actually landlords, because they benefit from these policies and the policies that the way that they are, and I think, you know, I used to frame Donald Trump as the developer in chief, but like, I don’t think we realize how much it’s very clear that like the oil industry and the military industrial complex have taken over politics.

[00:40:01] I don’t think people are clear enough. About how much the real estate world has taken over politics and how much the U. S. government since 1934 has been about creating a racial wealth gap and producing white wealth and organizing people to be a landlord class against other people. Because that is actually how our economy works.

[00:40:21] And if you look back to 2008, I keep saying it, you saw how much. Mortgages and the rents that pay those mortgages are really the only real thing in this economy. And so I think it’s really important to name those things that this isn’t just like a crisis or a mistake. But right, this is an active machine that we are trying to like re engineer to give everybody the value, right?

[00:40:44] Because if it’s, if the housing market’s worth 35 trillion, why are there homeless people? Why in the richest country in the history of the world, right? Are we not able to provide it? It’s because we’re providing to investors. and not the people who actually need housing.

[00:40:58] Cea: Yeah, I mean, I think that the truth is that when we allow the market to be the thing that is driving development, for the reasons that John has laid out really eloquently, the problem is, is that the real estate industry both isn’t going to build in New York City unless they’re making, like, Really crazy luxury rents, but they’re not going to build in Buffalo either or in Syracuse either because they’re going to be like that place is divested and we’re not going to build here unless we can speculate to get really crazy luxury

[00:41:26] rents. And so there’s like, a crisis of like sort of like land values, where market is just not going to produce anything other than luxury housing no matter where you are. whether you’re in like the Central of gentrifying brooklyn or if you’re in, you know, post industrial western, new york We end up facing the sort of same problems because the core of the problem is real estate speculation. We recently, last week or two weeks ago introduced a new model for how you could do this, a social housing development authority that really is about having the state drive the production of housing, return to Things like public housing or the Mitchell Lama programs of the past where you’re building housing for very low income people and working class people, public housing for everybody, controlled by renters, that can be counter cyclical.

[00:42:15] It has just as much power to build in Brooklyn as it does to build in Syracuse or Buffalo or Utica.

[00:42:22] And we think that this idea is really exciting, because it doesn’t expect a private equity style return. I mean, John is talking about companies that are expecting 20%, 30 percent return on their real estate, right?

[00:42:33] That is not a normal return. Real estate should be something like a pension fund. You should expect like a 2 percent return or a 3 percent return. And that money can be reinvested back into the public sector and we can expand. High quality public sector housing. You could think about it like a giant land bank.

[00:42:51] A land bank is a tool that governments use to take blighted property, blighted property, you know, of course they’ve made it blighted property, and bring it back into sort of productive use. What if a land bank’s goal wasn’t just to get buildings back onto the tax rolls and sell them to the highest bidder, but the land Our goal was to buy distressed housing to rehab it and upgrade it and keep it permanently affordable for residents and keep the equity that that generates within the community.

[00:43:19] So we think it’s a really exciting model introduced by Emily Gallagher in the State Assembly and Cordell Clear in the State Senate and are excited to start campaigning for that over the next coming years. It’s a bold idea, but it’s, it’s a good one.

[00:43:32] Simon: Excellent. Julian or John?

[00:43:34] John: Yeah. So I work on the national level and we’re really working to eliminate the federal subsidies that ensure that there’s always profit in the housing market and really drive them to tenants there are a whole class of buildings where the federal government is, you know, Financing the building.

[00:43:52] The landlord is not putting up their own money. Honestly, they didn’t have to do it for really good credit. There are programs that are literally giving 0. 5 percent interest loans for the first five years to landlords to purchase buildings. And it’s also like these people don’t want to be landlords.

[00:44:08] There’s just such a financial incentive. if I could buy a 20 million building and I don’t have to pay anything and I can collect rent for five years, like why wouldn’t in a business owner or investor do that? And so we really want to address on both sides, the way that the federal government and federal funding dictates.

[00:44:24] What the market looks like, and we are all being dictated to by the landlord class. And we want to ask the question, you know, just for this one program, what would 150 billion look like in the hands of tenants around the country? Because right now we have tenants that are living in buildings that are paid for by the federal government and they’re not even using the maintenance budget.

[00:44:45] Because the whole point is to buy a building basically for free and then sell it off and not really care what happens to the tenants. And so I think that, you know, if we’re going to have a robust social housing program, it’s going to need money and it’s going to need the resources to maintain it long term.

[00:45:00] And traditionally the money in this housing system has come, you know, from the federal government and even at the state level and at the local level, it is still federal policy that dictates what happens. How that’s used so it’s our goal to kind of rewrite those systems over time and to find tenants who are interested in owning and controlling their property and make sure that our federal government is giving them the same opportunity that they are giving landlords and real estate investment trusts.

[00:45:25] Simon: And, the last question I have for you all is just, people who have listened to this episode who, are convinced by your pitch to, join the fight for the various, pieces of legislation and policies What can they do? to help?

[00:45:39] Julian: Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of things. I think for starters you can start knocking on your neighbor’s doors. I think that’s probably. step A in getting a sense of like what’s happening in your building, in your neighborhood, on your block, in your borough trying to get a sense of who are some of the local groups civic groups, formal organizing groups, etc.

[00:45:58] And I will say too, like, I mean, I see a source show shoutouts of the Carpenters, I mean, I actually believe in Carpenters, local 926 in Brooklyn, but, there are many folks who are in organized labor to the extent that we can move labor to be more actively engaged. But also too, I mean, I think like, to what we alluded to earlier, I think uh, you know, calling up your elected officials and putting the pressure on them. we are have been doing targeted lobby days and are hoping actually to do a particular one dedicated on the Buffalo delegation in particular.

[00:46:24] Pushing your electeds and making the case on like why they should be supporting these bills. And pushing back on any of the rhetoric around, these are no good or these are, not supporting, other proposals. I think that’s also at the heartbeat of what folks can, you know, do immediately.

[00:46:39] Cea: Yeah, if you go to our website, I couldn’t agree more with what Julian shared. The best thing that you can do is talk to your neighbors and if you need support in talking to your neighbors, you can reach out to us. Info at housingjusticeforall. org will hook you up with a tenant organizer in your neighborhood, and talk you through the first steps that you need to build a community association or a tenant association where you live.

[00:47:00] If you don’t want to organize a tenant association or a community association, Association. There’s still plenty that you can do to support the movement. If you go to our website, www. housingjusticeforall. org, you’ll find a little fancy tool there that you can use to call your state representative and let them know that you support common sense tenant protections like Good Cause and like Right to Counsel. Our state representatives need to hear from you. They need to hear from their constituents about why housing stability is so important. If you’re a homeowner and you support tenants rights, you should call them and tell them that because your voice counts twice as much and we need allies who are property owners.

[00:47:38] If you’re a renter, Call them and remind them that you matter, that you vote too and that they should be passing policies that will help stabilize our whole neighborhoods, renter protections are good for everybody. Nobody does well, homeowners don’t do well when our neighborhoods face intense turnover, when our schools don’t have stability in the classroom, and so these are public policies that are good for everyone, whether you rent or whether you own, and, and please do, you know, get involved.

[00:48:04] Thank you for having us.

[00:48:11] Julian: Thanks Simon.

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