On December 15, the Interfaith Center of New York (ICNY), together with the Office of New York City Comptroller Brad Lander and housing advocates , virtually hosted the 40th Rabbi Marshall T. Mayer Retreat.
In his keynote address, Lander began by pointing out the persistent racial inequality in the housing crisis, pointing out that the crisis is both an economic and community problem. According to Lander the issue is: “There is no federal housing policy.”
As NYC continues its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, one of the major challenges has been finding affordable housing. As a result of this, rents have continued to skyrocket.
According to data from Lander’s office, asking rents in August were 19% above those in August 2021.
Lander believes the crisis can be alleviated in three ways. First: doing more to protect tenants and prevent evictions.
Lander said this can be done by establishing “good cause eviction protections,” ensuring tenants have rights to counsel, and continuing the CityFHEPS voucher program. Additionally, Lander’s office released a report on August 30, calling for the establishment of the “Basement Resident Protection Law.”
This law would do things such as: mandate and provide funding to owners for the installation of basic safety measures such as carbon monoxide and smoke detectors; establish basic rights and responsibilities for basement-dwellers and owners, including the requirement to provide basic services and the legal right to collect rent; and immediately protect basement-dwellers from harassment, eviction, and the denial of essential services.
Next: providing more affordable housing units. For Lander, this is primarily about ensuring “sustainability, affordability, and the love of community.” The NYC Council report released in December 2020, under former City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, details a collective comprehensive plan to accomplish this.
Last: providing social housing, which would be guaranteed to those who need it. Lander believes faith institutions played a key role in this, especially during the pandemic.
Elements of this concept include promoting social equity, protecting housing from market forces, and allowing residents to have control over their housing, according to the November 2022 report on social housing by the Community Service Society.
Housing advocates also weighed in on the conversation, placing emphasis on the fundamental view that housing is a human right. For them, the sacredness of home comes from their faith.
In the first panel, panelists placed emphasis on building community and advocacy. “Housing doesn’t often facilitate community or relationship building. Segregation still exists in it, and that facilitates disconnection, Rev. Peter Cook, Executive Director of the New York State Council of Churches, stated. “Churches need to focus on building community,” he added.
Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper, Co-Founder of Bricks and Mortals and Rewired Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church, echoed Cook’s sentiment. “Advocacy is essential.” Schaper also advocated for accessible housing. “If we could normalize accessible housing, it would really be a community builder and reduce pressure on housing.”
Annetta Seecharran, Executive Director of Chhaya CDC, who is from Guyana and is of Hindu faith, pointed out that housing advocates have an “untapped power of influencing policy.”
Following the panel, the first workshop, on developing affordable, accessible housing, began. Panelists agreed on the importance of awareness and education.
Rev. Dr. Terry Troia is the President, and CEO at Project Hospitality, which serves the hungry and homeless in Staten Island. She claimed that it’s important to have passion when dealing with vulnerable populations such as disabled and homeless people, as well as those who have substance abuse issues.
Rev. Alisa W. Cupid, the Program Director of Allen Women’s Resource Center, agreed with Troia’s sentiment. She added that her organization is also working with developers to develop housing for survivors of domestic violence.
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