Saturday, July 20, 2019

Becoming Aware of Systemic Racism in my Home Town and in my Quaker Community

I shared this reflection with my spiritual practice group that meets monthly. I found it very helpful to take time to reflect on how my life has been affected by the institutional racism baked into our society. I conclude my reflection with "queries," open-ended questions, to help stimulate reflection.

I grew up in Princeton, a town which decided to integrate its public schools in the early 1950s, I’m not sure why. Princeton University was a very white Waspy place. When Woodrow Wilson was president of Princeton, he was known for writing a history of the Reconstruction era in the South, celebrating the Ku Klux Klan. Nonetheless, Princeton took seriously Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education which called for schools to integrate in 1954.
Integrating our school system didn’t require busing since Princeton Borough at that time was a small college town of around 10,000 or so people where everyone had their place.
The rich lived on the southwest side of Princeton in an area resembling San Marino.
Next to them was the Quarry Street neighborhood, where blacks lived (since many of them had been or were servants of the rich). The famous singer/activist Paul Robeson was born in this neighborhood in 1898, and his father pastored the Witherspoon Presbyterian Church, which was founded for blacks  since they were not permitted in the white Presbyterian church. Robeson’s father was born into slavery, and his mother was from a prominent Quaker family. I knew nothing about Paul Robeson or the Quakers, however, until much later in life, since this part of Princeton history was never discussed in my classes.  I only found out about Paul Robeson when I took a  teaching job in an all-black inner city school in nearby Trenton, which I’ll say more about later.
The northeast side of Princeton was where the working class and immigrants lived (that’s where I grew up in a narrow street with the charming nickname of Pig Turd alley, right next to Gasoline Alley. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds: like Northwest Pasadena, my part of town was colorful and friendly, filled with Italians, Greeks and other ethnic groups, but no blacks.)
 The professors and professionals lived east of Nassau Street with nicer homes than ours, but not as opulent as the west siders.
Everyone knew their place in this class conscious town. But as I said,  Princeton wasn’t large: you could easily walk from one side of town to another in half an hour or less, so it was possible to integrate the schools without busing. The elementary school for whites on Nassau Street was integrated and the school for blacks on Quarry Street became an integrated junior high. As I went to elementary school, I had black teachers and black friends and was not aware that skin color was a significant factor.
At puberty, I was precocious, read voraciously and became an admirer of Dr. King and the Civil Right movement. I also became aware of systemic racism in my own integrated, but still biased school system. The junior high which I attended was in a black neighborhood and had a black principal, but it maintained a white cultural perspective. Students were “tracked” according to their ability. This was supposed to be a meritocracy, but race still reared its ugly head. I was in the top track because I did extremely well in elementary school. Those of us in the top track couldn’t help noticing that most blacks were tracked into the lower level classes. This became an issue when a new student from Britain who was black was placed in this lower level. Her father was a member of the British Academy of Science and was teaching at Princeton. His daughter attended a first-rate private school in England and was a couple years ahead of us in her education but she was placed among low-performing students, many of whom were black. It was obvious to us in the top track that this was result of prejudice and racism. We were outraged and protested, and she was placed in our top level class, much to the embarrassment of liberal Princetonians who thought their school system was free of bias. This was my first experience of systemic racism, and what it takes to overcome it.
I am grateful to Princeton for at least making an effort to integrate its public schools. I am also grateful that most Princeton University faculty kept their kids in these public schools. This is in sharp contrast to Pasadena, which had to be forced to integrate by the Federal government in 1970, and where many middle class and prominent white Pasadenans moved their kids from public to private schools to avoid desegregation.
After college, I felt drawn to teaching, so I decided to become a substitute teacher in a virtually all black inner city junior high school in Trenton. Trenton, the capital of NJ, became predominantly black during the 1940s “Great Migration” when many blacks came north from the south and whites fled to the suburbs, their homes funded by generous government loans. Today 50% of Trenton’s residents are black, 33 % are Latino, and 14% are white. In the mostly black school where I taught in 1974, almost all the students were black and it was an eye-opening experience for me. Compared to Princeton, this inner city school for blacks was terrible. The teachers mostly handed out mimeos and let students fill them out. Fights frequently broke out in classrooms among bored students.  There seemed to be very little real teaching. And in the faculty lounge, teachers often talked about which of their former students were in which jail. In Princeton, the faculty lounge conversation would usually be about which student had gone to which Ivy League school. This is when I became aware of what Jonathan Kozol called the “savage inequality” of America’s school system.
It was here that a black faculty member said to me, “Hey, you’re from Princeton. That’s where Paul Robeson was born.” To my eternal embarrassment, I said, “Paul who?” 
How could I have been clueless about Paul Robeson—a giant of justice,  and a Renaissance man who was a stellar athlete, singer, actor, and Civil Rights leader, born and raised in my home town, and educated at Rutgers, where I eventually earned my doctorate? The answer is simple: Robeson was black, and a Communist sympathizer. Princetonians ignored him until he died 1976, when they named a street after him.  In 2008, Princeton opened the Paul Robeson center for the Arts in the Quarry Street neighborhood to honor his memory, just as Pasadena honored its native son, Jackie Robinson. Just like Robeson, Robinson and his family experienced so much racism in his native city that he moved to Haarlem.
Princeton also ignored its Quaker heritage, which I only learned when I came back to Princeton in 1984 to take care of my mother. That’s when I started attending Princeton Meeting and was excited to be part of religious group that had opposed slavery and stood up for Civil Rights. I learned that in 1774, Philadelphia YM approved a statement saying that you couldn’t be a good Quaker and hold slaves. Many Quakers became leaders in the abolitionist movement and also in the Civil Rights movement. It felt good to be a Quaker.
I started a youth service program for Quaker youth with the American Friends Service Committee, which was started to provide alternative service for conscientious objectors during WWI. Today the AFSC has grown into a multi-national organization committed to social justice and has made a strong commitment o be multi-racial and multi-cultural. I recently attended an anti-racism workshop led by an AFSC staff person during our annual Quaker gathering.
Even though Quakers have a history of opposing racial injustice, most Quakers are white and we find that troubling.  Our national Quaker organization, Friends General Conference, commissioned a study to find out the true history of race relations and Quakers. In 2009 Donna McDaniel and Vanessa Julye, a white and a black woman, published  Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice.
Here’s a blurb for this eye-opening book:” This book documents the spiritual and practical impacts of discrimination in the Religious Society of Friends in the belief that understanding the truth of our past is vital to achieving a diverse, inclusive community in the future. There is a common misconception that most Quakers assisted fugitive slaves and involved themselves in civil rights activism because of their belief in equality. While there were Friends committed to ending enslavement and post-enslavement injustices, Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship reveals that racism has been as insidious, complex, and pervasive among Friends as it has been generally among people of European descent.”
I’m glad that my eyes were opened by this book, and I have come to realize that Quakers have a lot of work to do to overcome our history of unconscious racism and prejudice.
Since marrying Jill and moving to Northwest Pasadena, a racially and ethnically mixed part of our city, I have become increasingly conscious of the institutional racism in its diverse aspects, including housing. Northwest Pasadena was “red-lined” by banks, which would not make loans in this area when it was predominantly African American. Because of racial covenants, this was the only part of the city where blacks could purchase homes. Red-lining and racial covenants became illegal when the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, but racial discrimination in housing persists. Overcoming racism is an ongoing struggle. Some of the work is external, and some of it is internal. This internal work has a spiritual dimension that I would like to share with you today. That’s why I brought these “queries” to help us. Queries are open-ended questions that Quakers use during times of worship sharing to help us to listen to each other more deeply and to become more aware of what Spirit is revealing to us.  This practice can help us to become more aware of what we can do to overcome our unconscious racism.

 The following queries can be used either for personal reflection, in worship sharing or discussion.

  • How do we change to fully manifest the pure Light and answer that of G-d in everyone?
  • What is white privilege?
  • What were the times, places, situations where we had privilege?
  • How does it manifest inside each person without color and what can we do about it?
  • What are its spiritual ramifications?
  • Where does it come from and why?
  • When and how does it show itself in the wider culture? in the Society of Friends?
  • What does "a color blind society" imply within this context?
  • How does it hurt those of us without color?
  • Why and what does understanding white privilege threaten?
  • What is the down side of this understanding, (alienation/rejection from other Friends etc.) and how do we cope with this?
  • When did you interrupted racism, what happened?
  •  When did you see racism and not respond?  Why?  how did you feel?
  • Could Friends adopt a Testimony for Racial Justice with the same conviction and commitment that we accept and profess the Peace Testimony?
  •  Considering that many of our Quaker institutions were originally supported from funds gained through the slave trade (e.g. Moses Brown School) what might Quaker reparations toward African –Americans look like?
  • Considering that we are ALL living on land that was originally stolen from Indians/Native Americans, what might Quaker reparations toward them look like?
  • How can we figure out how we might be acting in unconsciously racist ways and then educate ourselves about what we might do about it?
  • How can we identify institutional racism/white privilege within our meeting, town governments, places of employment, local businesses, etc., and how might we begin to address that racism/white privilege?
  • What are its spiritual consequences?
  • How does racism affect white Quakers?
  • To what extent do white Quakers benefit from their color?
  • To what extent have white Quakers involved themselves intimately in communities of color?
  • Do white Quakers read black periodicals (e.g. Essence/ Emerge/ Ebony)? If not, why not?
  • What are the important resources that the Quaker community has to offer blacks and other people of color?
  • What does “justice” mean to Friends?
  • How does our Meeting respond to the need for justice?
  • If we disregard justice, what impact does it have on our spiritual lives and on our connection with the Divine?
  • What is the relationship between love and justice? Between living in the spirit and seeking justice?
  • If compassion is love in action, what is justice in action?
  • How does oppression dehumanize and dim the Light, both in oppressor and oppressed?
  • How do we exercise our respect for balance?
  • Do you uphold the right of all persons to justice and human dignity?
  • Do we regard our time, talents, energy, money, material possessions and other resources as gifts from God, to be held in trust and shared according to the Light we are given?
  • How do we avoid misusing people and the world’s resources with care and consideration for future generations and with respect for all life?
  •  In what other ways do we carry out our commitment to stewardship?
  •  Do you revere all life and the splendor of God's continuing creation?
  • Do you try to protect all poeple the natural environment and its creatures against abuse and harmful exploitation?
  • Do you regard your possessions as given to you in trust, and do you part with them freely to meet the needs of others?
  • Are you frugal in your personal life and committed to the just distribution of the world's resources?
  •  Do you endeavor to create political, social, and economic institutions which will sustain and enrich the life of all?

Historic Win for New York Tenants

This is wonderful news!

"Historic Win for New York Tenants" Pennink/AP Photo

Activists with the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance occupying the capitol to demand legislators pass a “universal rent control” bill to strengthen tenants’ rights, Albany, New York, June 4, 2019

On June 14, the State Legislature in Albany passed a bill that will profoundly change the tenor of life in New York City. The law—known officially as the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, but dubbed by its advocates “universal rent control”—strengthens tenant protections for the city’s nearly one million privately owned, rent-stabilized apartments. For many of the 2.4 million New Yorkers who live in those apartments, gone is the threat of hired harassers defecating in the hallway, shouting at the window, banging on the door, of mid-winter heat cut-offs, surprise rent hikes, and “lost” rent checks, of apartment lockouts and leases bought out under duress, of health-ruining construction debris and spurious housing court dates. 

The release from distress for thousands of people facing the prospect of displacement will ripple through the city. With the passage of this bill, the lament that has become a cliché—that New York has lost its soul, that it offers no space for the unconventional, that it is home only to the rich and ruthless—will be significantly less true. 

To understand the majesty of the new law, consider the fact that about 800,000 people—more than twice the number who live in New York City’s public housing—have immediately been freed from a looming threat of eviction. These are tenants who paid what was known, somewhat deceptively, as “preferential” rents. Owners of rundown buildings in the city’s poorest neighborhoods charged less than the regulated rent, rather than have the apartments go empty. In recent years, when the neighborhoods became fashionable, landlords levied accrued annual increases, sometimes doubling rent from one lease to the next. Unable to pay the increase, long-term leaseholders were forced out, paving the way for owners to deregulate the apartments for a new class of tenants who could pay whatever the market could bear. Now, those retroactive increases are illegal.

Crucially, the law eliminates the rent threshold ($2,744.77 per month as of 2019) at which apartments could be deregulated in perpetuity. As long as landlords had a goalpost, a specific number beyond which their apartments would be deregulated and earn top dollar, they found a way to get there. Now there is no magic number; regulated apartments will remain regulated, no matter the rent. One of the main loopholes that helped landlords reach that goalpost has also been eliminated; the so-called vacancy bonus that granted a 20 percent rent hike when tenants moved out. In addition, the law caps at 2 percent the amount owners can increase rent for common improvements, such as replacing a boiler, fixing the stairs, or painting the lobby; previously, it was 6 percent. And it limits the amount that may be passed on to tenants for work done on individual apartments. Owners routinely padded the cost of improvements, using fraudulent receipts that far exceeded the actual cost. There was almost no oversight of this practice; the amounts were simply submitted to the state and rent hikes approved. Between 2007 and 2019, at least 20 percent of New York City’s affordable housing stock was lost. 

These are tedious numbers and rules—the small print, as it were, that dictates the fates of millions. But the suffering the old regulations caused was enormous. Without these loopholes, the incentive for landlords to harass, unjustly evict, or even offer to buy out long-term tenants no longer exists. Peaceful relations with tenants are where the economic rewards now lie. 

Revolutionary at it seems, the Housing Act of 2019 represents simply a return to where the law was in 1997. That year marked the beginning of an erosion of tenant rights that continued during successive legislative sessions for more than two decades—“knocking the market off its axis,” as Benjamin Dulchin, the executive director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, told me. For years, this erosion—designed in the capitol’s chambers and conference rooms—generated little publicity. Two thirds of New Yorkers rent their apartments, but tenant laws, with their serpentine clauses and contingencies, have tended to fly low on the radar of voters’ interests.

Before 1997, owners of rent-stabilized buildings could expect a 6 percent return on their investment in the form of steady rent, plus reasonable appreciation of the value of their properties. With the exception of a few criminal landlords who made life hell for their tenants, and a brief market collapse in the mid-1970s, the business functioned well. Big developers concentrated on the construction of luxury rentals, condos, commercial spaces, and hotels that were not regulated, leaving older residential buildings to small and mid-sized players. The risks of new construction were greater but so were potential profits; as a result, New York had two coexisting but separate real estate markets.

As tenant protections were weakened, however, older residential buildings became more profitable. Banks and private equity groups with large pools of investors’ money took notice, identifying the regulated sector of New York’s housing market as an undervalued asset class. Multi-unit buildings got bought up at prices that had been unheard-of only a few years before: prices based not on the rent the buildings produced, but on the rent they would produce after lower-paying tenants were dislodged and their apartments deregulated. The East Village and the Upper West Side in Manhattan, and South Williamsburg in Brooklyn, were some of the first neighborhoods to be transformed by this practice.

In 2010, it began to extend to other parts of Brooklyn, as well as to the Bronx, Queens, and Washington Heights in northern Manhattan, where the majority of New York’s working and middle class resides. Mayor Bill de Blasio unintentionally exacerbated the situation by rezoning low-income neighborhoods for higher density housing. The city offered developers attractive tax breaks if they made 20–25 percent of their new units affordable. This seemed fine in theory, but the policy lured thousands of new market-rate renters to precincts most would not have considered moving to, pumping air into the speculative bubble that was forming around older regulated properties.

By 2015, New Yorkers were witnessing the grim spectacle of thousands of low-income families being displaced deep in the outer boroughs. “Witness” may not be the right word—this crisis was largely invisible; the displaced would slink away, stay with relatives, or rent a couch somewhere or be absorbed into the city’s vast shelter system, which was stretched beyond its limits. Parents lost their jobs. Children, moved by government agencies to motels and shelters on the furthest outskirts of the city, stopped attending school. 
When I wrote about this in The New York Review two years ago, the tenant protection laws that were passed in June seemed unimaginable. Eight Democratic senators had formed what they called the Independent Democratic Committee (IDC), siding with Republicans on legislation, annulling the Democratic majority and conferring the role of powerbroker on Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was able to use their votes to advance a real-estate industry-friendly agenda. Between 2000 and 2016, the industry contributed $83 million to elected officials in Albany. Cuomo himself received millions in campaign donations. The sense that Albany was owned by the real-estate lobby had become so entrenched in voters’ psyches that it seemed it would never change. 
Then, in 2016, a real-estate developer who seemed to exemplify everything that had gone awry in the city was elected president. New coalitions formed as voters began paying more attention to housing and local politics. In 2018, six of the eight IDC senators were defeated by candidates less inclined to capitulate to Cuomo. Several legislators, either succumbing to public pressure or obeying a personal principle, declared that they would refuse to accept money from real-estate groups. To watch the machinery of one of the most corrupt state houses in the country breaking down was an extraordinary spectacle.
An activist named Cea Weaver played an important part in the passing of the new rent law. I first met her in 2015 when she was organizing beleaguered tenants facing eviction in Central Brooklyn. The movement seemed of little political consequence at the time; twenty, thirty, at most fifty, people would show up at actions at Borough Hall or in front of besieged apartment buildings trying to draw attention to the displacement crisis. Weaver at first appeared shy and self-effacing, but there was a determined brilliance about her that broadcast itself in the form of rushed, lucid analyses of urban politics and history. 

Weaver grew up in Rochester. By the time she moved to New York City in 2010, when she was twenty-one, she was already “politicized,” in her words, by the debt crisis that led to the foreclosure on 7.8 million homes nationwide between 2007 and 2016. Many of those foreclosed homes were scooped up at distressed prices by huge equity firms like Blackstone that now rent them.Institutional investors now own more than one in every ten single-family homes in the United States, an all-time high, and that number is rising. The country is moving away from home ownership.

Weaver calls it “a societal shift.” Young people who grew up middle-class, as she did, aren’t thinking about buying homes. “It’s not in their plans or mindset like it was for previous generations,” said Weaver. “No one I know can or would want to carry a mortgage on top of their student debt and health insurance premiums.” Nationwide, 82 percent of renters say renting is more affordable than owning, up from 67 percent a year ago. The rise of middle-class renters has altered the political landscape, and Weaver is aware of the complications it presents, especially in New York. The protests of black, Latino, and poor white renters had been falling on deaf ears for decades. “It would be naive to ignore the fact that our victory is because of the activism of white millennials,” a constituency that is listened to, she said. 

At the same time, middle-class millennials have been part of a development that was pushing out long-term renters, whose parents and grandparents had been barred from home ownership by redlining and exclusionary federal mortgage policies, consigning them to live as perpetual tenants in the urban margins—until those margins became desirable and evictions began. Animosity for gentrifiers in low-income neighborhoods was inevitable. But they were also natural allies, as Weaver saw it—especially when the gentrifiers found themselves being rent-gouged in shabbily renovated apartments where toilets overflowed and pipes burst in the walls and ceilings.

In 2017, Weaver helped create a network of tenant groups across the state called Housing Justice For All. Expanding the movement to rural New York, suburbia, and upstate cities tested her belief that the shared plight of “the renting class” could reach further than New York City. For two years, she drove all over New York bringing existing tenant groups together and organizing new ones. “There was resistance at first. Distrust,” she told me. Most renters outside New York City have no legal protection, and are subject to rent hikes, as well as so-called service fees, penalties, and eviction, at their landlords’ whim. “How do you make a bunch of people in Long Island or Buffalo believe a movement for tenants in New York City is going to make a difference for them?” Weaver asked. “People suspect they’re being used for leverage. And for good reason, if you look at history.” 

As the time to vote on the bill approached, Weaver began spending half her time in Albany. It took her weeks to grasp even an imperfect sense of how the place functioned. The tenants’ movement had its allies among lawmakers on the inside, but the cabal of legislators in their state house was inscrutable to an outsider. Who has an old grudge to settle? Who can be counted on? Who’s talking to whom? The bill’s prospects were constantly shifting, subject to furtive arrangements and unrelated deals.

The housing movement’s influence depended on the number of supporters it could mobilize—but when to call a rally and where to apply pressure were difficult to gauge. Knowing which lawmaker’s office a busload of protesters should swarm for maximum impact was of critical importance. “I can’t get a thousand demonstrators to the capitol based on what some senator told me,” said Weaver. “It wouldn’t work.” Her aim was to shift public opinion. What she needed to get the bill passed were masses of tenants marching over what she called “the moral crisis of rents and evictions,” which “has nothing to do with senators’ internal relationships in the chamber. It’s based on their relationship to their constituents, and to the broader public.”

Movement organizers chose June 4 for their day of “mass action,” ten days before existing rent laws were to expire and the new bill was scheduled to come up for vote on the Senate floor. Advocates descended on Albany from across the state, including tenants from the trailer parks that house many of New York’s rural poor, for whom the bill contained a protective clause. For a few hours, the rally had the feeling of an occupation. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate majority leader, had yet to commit to the bill, and protesters planted themselves in the halls in front of her office, as well as those of Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie and Governor Cuomo. They filled the capitol’s grand central staircase, scattering fake $100 bills imprinted with the faces of the governor and various landlords and developers. Sixty-one protesters were arrested, as they intended, for disorderly conduct. 

A few hours after the action ended, Stewart-Cousins announced that she would support the bill. Furious, and betting that senators would fail to muster enough votes to pass it, Cuomo challenged them to go it alone and removed himself from negotiations. But his abdication left the real-estate industry without its most powerful ally. The tenants’ movement now had the daylight it needed. Weaver and others heard from some legislators that they were startled by the protests, and were unsure of how strong the movement was or what stunt protesters might pull next. With Cuomo pushed aside, the legislators wouldn’t have him to blame if the bill got rejected. And they had seen, in November 2018, what became of colleagues who made “the wrong moral choice”: they were voted out of office.

Weaver believes Cuomo was outmaneuvered. “He’s still smarting from the defeat of his IDC. He can’t accept his diminished power.” Whatever the reason, it appears to have been a strategic withdrawal: by disengaging himself from a political battle he must have realized was already lost, Cuomo avoided unwelcome headlines and further damage to his public image as the invincible power-broker.

The following day, June 5, the real-estate industry staged its own rally at the capitol. An assortment of groups representing landlords and developers attempted to argue that the bill would hurt the working class: by eating into the profits of property owners, it would cost boiler repairers, maintenance workers, and doormen their jobs. One of the groups behind the rally, Alliance for Rental Excellence, had hired the lobbying firm led by Cuomo’s former campaign manager. A few dozen demonstrators showed up at the rally. According to The New York Times, “one landlord spoke, followed by an employee of an oil company. Then the event was over. It lasted ten minutes.” Caught off-guard, landlords had been too slow to make the transition from private donors and out-of-view lobbyists to popular campaigners in the war for public opinion.

On June 11, three days before the vote, Heastie and Stewart-Cousins announced that they had hashed out a deal to approve the bill. Rent-stabilized tenants in New York City would not be the only beneficiaries. Trailer-park owners, who had the right to raise rents at will, were now restricted to increases of 3–6 percent per lease. Park residents typically own their manufactured homes, as trailers are called, but not the land they sit on, with its water and electrical hook-up lines. The homes are planted on cinderblock foundations and are not mobile, except at considerable expense. Tenants were at the mercy of the owners of the parks.

In addition, rent stabilization, which had been illegal outside of New York City, now can extend to every municipality in the state, if mayors or a majority of council members in those cities choose to approve it. The sole criterion is that the rental vacancy rate be below 5 percent, in which case, as in New York City, properties with six or more apartments that were built before 1974 may be regulated. This gives local officials, and by extension local voters, a power over their housing stock that they didn’t have. This is exactly the kind of statute that California, with the highest number of homeless and the most severe shortage of affordable housing in the country, failed to pass in a 2018 referendum.

Hours after Heastie and Stewart-Cousins announced their agreement, a handful of the city’s most prominent developers called Cuomo, pleading with him to veto the bill or find some other way to block it. Cuomo advised them to call their legislators if they wanted to do something about it. Two days later, the bill passed by a vote of 95–41 in the Assembly and 36–26 in the Senate, and Cuomo signed it into law.

Rents will continue to go up. Indeed, to compensate for the new law, the Rent Guidelines Board will likely be more inclined to levy larger annual increases on tenants than they have in recent years. Regulated buildings will continue to make money. Their value will appreciate over time, as it has throughout New York City’s history. Tax break for rental properties remain generous, and landlords will still be allowed to raise rents for capital improvements, but at a tamed, more reasonable rate. There is no scenario, other than a nationwide economic depression, in which New York City landlords have an incentive to degrade their investment by willfully letting their properties run down. Some private equity funds and leveraged buyout firms that were in the process of driving out tenants to deregulate their properties under the expired law will take a haircut. In light of the new rules, they probably overpaid for their buildings. But they specialize in risk, and in this case their risk analysis was wrong; their capital will migrate elsewhere.

The Real Estate Board of New York, the leading trade group of landlords and developers, has come up with an estimate of the amount of money in tax revenues the new law will cost the city: $2 billion. The estimate is probably inflated, but the assessed value of some buildings will certainly be corrected. Even if it is accurate, however, it seems a reasonable expense balanced by the public benefit of protecting 966,000 affordable homes and 2.4 million tenants. This seems especially true if we compare it to the nearly $6 billion that New York’s taxpayers sacrificed for the construction of Hudson Yards, the luxury shopping and apartment complex on the far west side of midtown Manhattan, or the $8.2 billion the city is surrendering to encourage the construction of 80,000 new affordable apartments under Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan.

REBNY’s estimate also appears not to factor in the savings the new rent law will afford. The Housing Act of 2019 will do more to stem the rise of homelessness in New York City than any measure taken in recent years. It effectively ends profit-driven displacement, relieving the city of the expense of having to shelter and care for those former tenants.

Another collateral benefit of the new law is that De Blasio’s housing plan will be far more effective. City-supported development of market-rate apartments in low-income neighborhoods will no longer spur a speculative bubble in those neighborhoods. The new affordable units that the mayor’s program creates will add to a stable stock of regulated housing, rather than try to make up for a disappearing one. Poor districts will have residents of different incomes, which will bring, as the middle class inevitably does, more investment from the city for schools, parks, street lamps, and mass transit. The outer boroughs will be more economically integrated, less isolated and cut off from the city’s prosperity. If New York’s high-end luxury property market slows down in coming years, as some developers fear, it will not be because of this law. The Housing Act of 2019 protects low-income renters and middle-class gentrifiers alike, rather than pitting one interest group against the other.

When I congratulated Weaver a few days after the bill was passed, she gave a stunned laugh. She reminded me of a performer humming with otherworldly energy after a draining show, in a state of disbelief at what had just transpired. “I still haven’t absorbed it,” she said. After a pause, she added, “We didn’t get everything we wanted. A provision to make eviction more difficult was dropped, and the capped increase for improvements fell short of our wish to eliminate such increases entirely. We weren’t able to recapture the units that had been pushed out of regulation, during this awful run, this siege I would call it, of the past six or seven years. And we didn’t win regulation for buildings with fewer than six apartments, which are especially prevalent upstate and in parts of Brooklyn and Queens.” 

Still, there was no denying the enormity of the tenants’ victory. Holtermann-Gorden/Sipa USA via AP Images
An earlier tenants’ protest in Albany, New York, May 14, 2019 July 16, 2019, 7:00 am

Thursday, July 11, 2019

How do we ensure decent and affordable homes for everyone?

This is a message that I am bringing to Pacific Yearly Meeting, our annual Quaker gathering, at Walker Creek
Misty, a formerly homeless woman now housed in supportive housing, recently
joined our GPAHG team and is sharing
 her vision of how to end homelessness, using our GPAHG logo
Ranch. This is a distillation of some of the best practices for ending homelessness. 
My wife Jill Shook and I have formed a nonprofit called Making Housing and Community Happen that helps organize and educate people to advocate for affordable and homeless housing. Using a faith-rooted approach similar to that of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, we organize congregations to advocate for affordable and homeless housing policies at the local level.
Addressing homelessness has been a long-standing and deeply felt concern of mine for decades. As an AFSC youth coordinator, I organized youth to make sandwiches to give to homeless people living on the street. My wife Kathleen of blessed memory (a Methodist pastor) and I were involved in a hot meal program at her church that fed nearly 100 people each month. Over the past couple of decades I have come know many homeless and formerly homeless people personally. Jill and I currently have a formerly homeless man living in a back house in our home who helps us maintain our home in exchanged for free rent. Here is some lessons we have learned:
Direct service is a first step towards solving the homelessness crisis. Providing much needed food, blankets, and temporary shelter alleviates suffering, but doesn’t end homelessness. What ends homelessness are homes. A homeless woman said to me just yesterday, “We like getting food given to us, but we’d prefer to be able to make our own food in our own kitchen.”
Housing First: Evidence shows that the best practice for ending homelessness is Housing First, which provides permanent supportive housing (PSH). Instead of temporary shelters, people experiencing chronic homelessness are given secure, affordable housing along with supportive services. In our city, 95% of those in PSH stay housed. Some have become effective advocates for PSH.
Homelessness Prevention. One of the best ways to reduce homelessness is to prevent it from happening in the first place. A large church in our city spends over $70,000 each year to provide emergency funds for people on the verge of being evicted so that they can stay in their apartments.
 Another important tool is Rapid Rehousing, getting people back into housing as quickly as possible before they become traumatized living on the street. The longer people are on the street, the harder it is to get them housed and self-reliant.
Using church land and facilities.. Claremont Meeting is an excellent example of using their facility to provide shelter and supportive services to homeless people. Family Promise is a nation-wide program in which a dozen or so churches work together and let homeless families stay in their facility for a week at a time while case workers help them to find jobs and permanent housing. These programs provide services that help people to become housed. Some churches have excess land, or may have declined in numbers, so they allow affordable housing developers to build on this unused land, at no cost to the church. Jill’s book Making Housing and Community Happen describes what churches have done to create permanent affordable housing. She also provides background on theology, policy and organizing techniques to help congregations to develop affordable/homeless housing.
Affordable Housing. Providing people with affordable housing helps keep them from falling into homelessness. The fast-growing homeless population consists of seniors, and most of them become homeless because of fixed incomes and rising rents. Our current homelessness crisis began when federal fund for affordable housing was slashed during the Reagan administration, and every  administration since then has cut back HUD funding. The need for affordable and homeless housing is so great that Union Station, the homeless service provider in our city, has hired a full-time advocate. We work with him and advocates from United Way in a city-wide campaign to build support for more affordable housing in our city.
Empowerment and Accompaniment. Serving homeless people meals provides an opportunity to get to know our homeless neighbors and also to invite local homeless service providers and “housing navigators” to help them to become housed. Some homeless service providers are equipping and training homeless and formerly homeless people to be advocates and share their powerful stories with decision makers. Empowerment/accompaniment is a model that Jill and I use in our work. We value our homeless friends as partners and allies in the struggle for housing justice.
If you’d like to learn more, contact Anthony Manousos at and/or go to:


Monday, July 8, 2019

California’s homeless community college students park overnight in school lots

“My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.”–Isaiah 3:18
Jill and I have been concerned for some time about the problem of homelessness facing nearly 20% of community college students. We’ve seen and talked to homeless community college students who were hanging out in our neighborhood. We know a dean at PCC who is doing what she can to address this problem. Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions, apart from more affordable housing. So it’s heartening to hear that a bill is being considered by the state legislature that would allow community college students to sleep in their cars overnight in school parking lots. This isn’t an ideal solution but it’s a step in the right direction. We’d like to see a caseworker assigned to students facing homelessness who could help them to be housed.
Homelessness has come to California’s public colleges, just as it has to every other institution in the state. In the community college system, a recent report found that 19% of nearly 40,000 students surveyed had been homeless at some point during the previous year. Some community college campuses have food banks, and all are required by law to make showers in their athletic facilities available to homeless students. But few of the 114 community college campuses offer housing to any of their 2.1 million students, let alone homeless ones.
So Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto) has come up with a creative idea: Why not let homeless students who live in their cars park overnight on campus? Although that’s not a solution for homelessness, it would offer a short-term fix for homeless students with cars who are already working on a long-term answer — getting a college degree to broaden their options and increase their earning power.

California just added baby teeth to its housing laws

They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.”–Isaiah 65:21
Jill worked very hard to help the city of Pasadena to craft one of the best Housing Elements in the state. The HE sets guidelines so that cities can meet their housing goals for different income levels, based on the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). Currently cities are required to plan to meet these goals (through zoning and other means); they aren’t required to actually meet them. And if they don’t plan for these goals, there are few consequences. The Governor’s latest bill provides some teeth-the LA Times calls them “baby teeth”–to enforce these laws. This is a baby step in the right direction. We need laws that will encourage people to “build houses and inhabit them” rather than prevent housing from being built in order to preserve the “character” of a city.
In January, not even a week into his new job, Gov. Gavin Newsom made a big, bold threat to cities that have stalled or shirked their responsibility to build enough housing to meet their community’s needs.
Don’t build housing? You won’t get state transportation dollars, the governor warned.
Six months later, Newsom is settling for a more incremental, but still necessary, change. The Legislature is expected to sign off this week on a bill that would allow a judge to impose steep fines — up to $600,000 a month — on cities that willfully flout the state’s “fair share” housing law, which requires that jurisdictions plan and zone for enough market-rate and affordable housing to meet population growth.
Note one big difference: Newsom originally wanted to hold cities responsible for actually producing enough housing to meet state goals. The compromise with the Legislature merely requires them to plan for enough housing.

An African American Perspective on America's Housing Crisis, and How the White House is Addressing It

Jill and I live in a neighborhood that was once predominantly African American and now has become gentrified, with Latinos and whites replacing many of the long-term African American residents. Approximately one quarter of African American residents have left our city in the past 15 years, largely because of soaring housing prices. We know only too well how hard it is for African Americans to purchase and keep a home. That’s why we are sharing this article written by Charlene Crowell and published in the July 4th issue of the  Pasadena Journal, a locally owned and operated African American newspaper. It presents a perspective worth keeping in mind: our nation’s housing crisis has had a much more severe impact on the African American community than on whites because of policies that are either racially biased or don’t take into account the historical legacy of racism in our country. As people of faith, we are called to treat all people without “partiality” and to make sure that everyone is treated fairly, regardless of skin color, socio-economic background, or ethnicity (see Galatian 3:28 and James 2:1).
A Harvard report finds that only 36% of all consumers could afford to buy their own home in 2018. With higher priced homes in 2019, the affordability challenge worsens.
“It is equally noteworthy that once again this key report shares how consumers of color continue to face challenges in becoming homeowners, noted Nikitra Bailey, an EVP with the Center for Responsible Lending. “According to the report, only 43% of Blacks and 47% of Latinos own their own home, while white homeownership remains at 73%.
“This 30% disparity deserves further examination and proportional remedies,” continued Bailey. “Greater access to safe and affordable credit, better fair housing enforcement, preservation of anti-discrimination laws – including disparate impact – can play a role in eliminating homeownership gaps. Further, as the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are publicly debated, a renewed commitment to serve all creditworthy borrowers must be embraced.”
Calvin Schermerhorn, a professor of history in Arizona State University’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and author of The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism, 1815-1860, holds similar views to those expressed by Bailey. In a recent Washington Post op ed column, Schermerhorn addressed the historic disparities that Black America continues to suffer.
“One-fifth of African American families have a net worth of $0 or below; 75 % have less than $10,000 for retirement,” wrote Schermerhorn. “The enduring barriers to black economic equality are structural rather than individual…. “Escalators into the middle class have slowed and stalled, and the rung of the economic ladder one starts on is most likely where one will end up.”
On the same day as the Harvard report’s release, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that establishes a new advisory body that will be led by HUD Secretary Ben Carson. A total of eight federal agencies will work with state and local government officials to remove “burdensome governmental regulations” affecting affordable housing.“Increasing the supply of housing by removing overly burdensome rules and regulations will reduce housing costs, boost economic growth, and provide more Americans with opportunities for economic mobility,” stated Secretary Carson.
If Secretary Carson means that local zoning rules favor single family homes over multi-family developments is a fundamental public policy flaw, he may be on to something. However, this focus misses the crux of the affordable housing crisis: Wages are not rising in line with increasing housing costs. And now, after the housing industry continues to cater to more affluent consumers, while many older adults choose to age in place, the market has very little to offer those who want their own American Dream, including some who are anxiously awaiting the chance to form their own households.
Builders have historically, not just of late, complained about the time it takes to secure permits or the series of inspections that must be approved during construction and before properties can be listed for sale. What is missing from this new initiative is a solution to the financial challenges that average people face.
It was scant regulation and regulatory voids that enabled risky mortgage products with questionable terms that took our national economy to the brink of financial collapse with worldwide effects. Taxpayer dollars to rescue financiers while many unnecessary foreclosures stripped away home equity and wealth from working families.
Time will tell whether new advisors and proposals remember the lessons from the Great Recession.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Housing Justice: Decent and Affordable Housing for All is Possible, Si, Se Puede!

I gave this PowerPoint presentation today at ICUJP's Friday Forum and was very grateful for the positive response. I was able to connect with a Methodist pastor who want us to help raise awareness about homeless housing and advocacy in the Methodist community.

Par of my talk was livestreamed. You can see it at: Video of ICUJP Housing Justice Presentation

I also have posted 10 Solutions to Our Nation's Housing Crisis You can read them by scrolling down to the end of my presentation.

I was impressed today what journalist Robert Scheer wrote about the moral challenge of homelessness. His words definitely apply to Pasadena, where the disparities in wealth are acute and where the City Council is considering building million dollar condos and a deluxe hotel in the civic center on top of the Julia Morgan YWCA, right next to Centennial Place, where 140 formerly homeless people are living. We want this site to be used for homeless housing and public use and are mobilizing the community to save our civic center from Mammonization. 

     Scheer, who has lived in California most of his adult life, sees the question of how we approach homelessness amid blatant affluence as one that gets to the core of our humanity.
     “The fact of the matter is, we’re kind of in this Dickens world of London,” Scheer says. “We have extreme wealth in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and points in between. And yet we have the most abject misery.
      “I do want to encourage people to realize that we are actually talking about a notion of what is civilization,” he adds. “I think that you can’t be a city of the future, which is what L.A. advertises as, [unless you are] welcoming to people who all look different ways, come from different backgrounds, have different skill sets, different employment opportunities.”

To find out how you can influence national housing  policy, check out:

At the California state level, check out: