A coalition of housing groups is planning to camp out to pressure Gov. Andrew Cuomo to stop the growing problem of homelessness and take action to protect renters.

The groups involved include some of the most active in New York City: Alliance for Tenant Power (an umbrella organization of eight other groups including New York Communities for Change, Make the Road NY, and others), Community Voices Heard, Vocal-NY, Citizen Action of New York and Manufactured Housing Action. They’re going to erect what they’ve called “Cuomoville” outside Gov. Cuomo’s office to demand action.

In the most recent state budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo touted a new program to provide desperately needed affordable housing. However, under the name “Affordable NY” it also included a revival of the controversial 421(a) tax credit to developers who build affordable housing. In the Facebook event for the action, the groups decried that program:

For too long Governor Cuomo has been selling out tenants. He’s given a $2.4 billion tax break to developers so they can pretend to build affordable housing while in reality they kick out low and middle-income New Yorkers, who are predominantly people of color.

They also claim that the program will really benefit families who make more than $100,000 a year, rather than helping the over 80,000 homeless New Yorkers. As they see it, “Cuomoville” is just a taste of the increased homelessness if Cuomo’s policies continue.

What’s the strategy?

No one thinks that Andrew Cuomo is going to see the protests and instantly reverse course. However, this kind of action has a multi-pronged, longer-term goal:

  1. Get media attention for the issue. The hope of any big protest is that reporters cover it (as we are right now). If there’s no media coverage, no one outside of a small circle of activists will know it happened and elected officials won’t be motivated to do anything. While their previous protests didn’t get much attention, this larger action might be more attention-grabbing.
  2. Scare politicians. While a single action isn’t likely to move the needle, the fact that these groups are getting people to sleep outside (admittedly, over the summer, not winter) is a sign that they’re committed to this fight. They see their previous protests as being the trigger that forced Cuomo to finally take action and expect a larger presence will push him and other politicians to do more about homelessness so that the protests don’t continue.
  3. Force Cuomo to accommodate them before he runs for President. Right now, much of Cuomo’s posturing is about building a Presidential run. (See his recent declaration against Congressional Republicans). He doesn’t want angry activists telling Iowans and New Hampshire voters about how he cozied up to rich real estate developers while something close to a hundred thousand New Yorkers went homeless.
  4. Demonstrate action to their members and other activists. While no one wants to admit it, much of what organizations do is about showing their donors, volunteers, and supporters that they’re doing a great job. Micah Sifry recently described it as the “activist hunger games” and there are a lot of nonprofit and political groups competing. They all want more attention and more money and the way to do that is to show that they are the group best able to convert a person’s desires into real change.

Cuomo’s response

Gov. Cuomo’s spokesperson pushed back, calling this silly theatrics, in a statement to the Daily News: “Silly theatrics aside, no governor in history has done more to protect and create more affordable housing than this one — that’s just a fact”

They pointed to a tenant protection unite he created and the state’s current spending on housing. Cuomo also signed rent law extensions that protected renters, though advocates say they didn’t go nearly far enough (in part because the IDC-Republican coalition controlled the Senate with Cuomo’s implicit support).

The protesting organizations dispute those accomplishments, arguing that the Governor dragged his heels on spending for supportive housing to help the previously homeless with additional social service, and moreover the money will only create six thousand units, less than a third of the total need.

VOCAL-NY’s co-Executive Director Jeremy Saunders fired back: “Governor Cuomo continues to call the state’s recent investment to end homelessness historic. What he does not say is that more New Yorkers have entered the shelter system across the state than ever before in our state’s history, a 41% increase in his first four years in office.”

Want to get involved?

See VOCAL’s Facebook post with information about how to get involved:

Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein

Posted by Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein

Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein is the founder of ShakingNews.

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