Hundreds of tenants and activists for renters and the homeless marched from the New York Public Library to Park Avenue and 63rd Street last night, where Governor Andrew Cuomo was getting an award inspired by Robert Moses from a contractors association, in a demonstration against what protesters said was Cuomo’s failures on affordable housing and the state’s homelessness crisis.
A coalition of affordable housing activists from across New York State, the Upstate/Downstate Housing Alliance, held last night’s rally to call on the governor to fight to make sure the state’s expiring rent-stabilization laws were renewed and strengthened and to invest more in affordable and supportive housing across the state. In addition to the activist organizations on scene like Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change and the New York Democratic Socialists of America, gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial candidates Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams showed up to speak in front of the library, which was packed with protesters, commuters leaving their offices at the beginning of the march, and tourists walking through the Bryant Park area.
Williams blasted Cuomo and his primary opponent Kathy Hochul for not showing up to the rally, with his theory being that there weren’t enough “millionaires and billionaires in the crowd. The only people in this crowd are the people they have failed for eight years,” Williams said, pinning the statewide lack of affordable housing on Cuomo and Hochul. Nixon promised the crowd that as governor, she’d expand rent-stabilization laws across the state– not just in New York– and to every apartment building with six or more units. She also vowed to end the ability for landlords to raise rents through major capital improvements (costs landlords can pass on to tenants after making a building-wide upgrade such as a new boiler or heating system) and vacancy bonuses (the ability for landlords to tack a 20 percent rent hike on to a vacant rent-stabilized apartment). Activists have blasted both as loopholes that landlords use to take units out of the rent-stabilization program.
From the library, the march proceeded along the sidewalks until Park Avenue and 46th Street, when the crowd spilled into the street and marched in the road towards 583 Park Avenue, where Cuomo was being honored by the Building Trades Employers Association with their Robert Moses-inspired “Master Builder” award. Members of the march expressed disappointment and frustration with Cuomo’s handling of New York’s increasing numbers of homeless people and housing policies they said enriched private developers at the public’s expense.
“I’m 67 years old, and in my neighborhood, Brownsville, people are being thrown out because they can’t afford the rent,” said NYCC member Norman Frazier. “They’re building, but it’s not affordable.”
“There’s over 89,000 New Yorkers sleeping in shelters right now and that happened under Governor Cuomo’s watch,” Jason Walker, a Bed-Stuy resident and member of Vocal-NY, told Bedford + Bowery. “We’re here to hold him accountable and demand a comprehensive approach to the housing and homelessness crisis.”
Amy Blumsack, the director of organizing and policy at soup kitchen and community organization Neighbors Together, said that “we see affordable housing as the main crisis that people are struggling with in this city right now, so we’re here calling on Governor Cuomo to do more.” Blumsack said she was frustrated with Cuomo pledging but not actually delivering millions of dollars for affordable and supportive housing, a longtime gripe activists have had with Cuomo as the state’s housing crisis has gotten worse.
When the march reached the building hosting the awards gala feteing the governor, activists stood and chanted in front of a larger police presence that tried to keep the activists confined to the sidewalk. At least one demonstrator was handcuffed for sitting in the middle of the street on the corner of Park and 63rd. Taunting him with chants of “Andrewwww” and the much blunter “Fuck this guy,” the marchers managed to stick around until the governor left the event through the front door, drawing boos and chants of “Shame” from the crowd.
At least one activist in the crowd pointed out the dissonance between what they were marching for and the wealth surrounding them on both sides of the street. “Your work doesn’t pay your rent anymore, how can that be? In America, the richest country in the world,” said Washington Heights resident Karen Braga. “We’re on Park Avenue, it’s disgusting.”