I grew up with my parents and three of my five siblings in a one-bedroom apartment in Queens, where my mother and father settled after fleeing Uganda’s civil war. Each month, I watched as they struggled to keep the lights on and pay rent with what they earned from their minimum-wage jobs as social workers. Today, the situation is far worse. Seniors and working families like mine are unable to keep up with increasing rents while affluent homeowners are made wealthier by soaring prices.
In 2018, housing was my number one issue. Now, two years later, the crisis continues as politicians allow investors to rig the housing market as they shortchange investment in affordable homes.
That’s why I’m calling for a Homes Guarantee that would ensure that every family can live in safe, accessible, and permanently affordable housing.
There are five pillars to this plan:
1. Intervene in the Housing Market to Ensure Sustainable Housing
In order to help rein in out of whack housing costs we need to keep a portion of housing permanently off the private market.
- Build 12 million units of housing — a public option that provides housing below market rates. These units are operated by non-profits through community land trusts — or even by their own residents which gives them a stake in the building’s management.
- Implement a 21st century Mitchell Lama Housing program that puts low- and middle-income residents on the path to homeownership.
- Expand the section 202 program to make sure seniors have a safe, comfortable place to live.
- Set aside a portion of housing inventory for permanent supportive housing — complete with onsite services to deal with the needs of our alarmingly high homeless population, many of which in NYC are women and children.
- Give HUD the authority to hold bad actors accountable by investigating speculators who distort the market and giving them the ability to levy vacancy taxes on unoccupied residential units in densely populated communities.
2. Recommit to Public Housing
Residents of the country’s largest public housing system — who pay rent — must be protected from unsafe living conditions.
- Fully fund the $32 billion that the federal government owes NYCHA.
- Repeal the Faircloth Amendment so that we can fund construction of new units as soon as possible.
- Empower FEMA and HUD to hold this slumlord behavior accountable by working with the state to bring NYCHA into compliance with federal housing quality standards like heating, electricity, vermin infestation, and mold within the decade.
3. Protect Renters
For years, federal programs for homeowners have been prioritized over the growing number of renters, leaving tenants with little recourse when treated unfairly.
- Balance the scales between homeowners and renters by focusing on rental assistance programs.
- Expand tenants’ rights by supporting Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’ national rent control proposal, restricting evictions, providing the right to counsel for tenants currently facing eviction, and protecting tenants from predatory lenders and landlords.
4. Keep Incomes at Pace with Living Costs
Residents should be able to share in their neighborhood’s prosperity. Therefore, federal investment should be made in programs to
- Establish worker-owned small business cooperatives and training programs so that residents can take advantage of jobs created by the development of affordable housing and other infrastructure investments that benefit growing neighborhoods.
- Support federal tax policies that encourage companies to share profits with employees to help close the massive gap between labor and capital.
5. Address the Legacy of Housing Segregation
The Homes Guarantee will address the systemic racism that has led to segregated housing and schools.
- Fund housing vouchers (Section 8) designed to be used in high- opportunity neighborhoods.
- Create a Community Opportunity to Purchase (COPA) program to help people achieve home ownership at the lowest possible cost, and give residents of these cooperatives control in how the building is operated through an elected board of directors.
- Scale lending initiatives like Washington, D.C.’s Tenant Purchase Assistance Program, which helps people purchase shares in cooperatives and gives tenants the opportunity to buy their building when a landlord decides to sell it.
- Reduce FHA rates and insurance requirements for low and moderate income households in formerly redlined neighborhoods.
- Expand programs out of HUD, like HOME and NHTF, which help with subsidies and down payments, for people who’ve been historically blocked from buying homes.