Millbrook Houses in Port Morris.

Op-ed: An urgent call to save public housing

The Magna Carta. The US Constitution. Common Sense by Thomas Payne. The Origin of Species by Natural Selection by Charles Darwin. Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi. The Making of Asia America by Erika Lee. The Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano. These are all books and text that have led to revolutions, the creation of nations, the understanding of nature, the history of racism, and the knowing of historical truths. Clearly, the written word matters.

Public. Housing. Affordability. Trust. Privatization. Change. These are words I have heard used frequently over the last few years. What do those words mean? I check the Oxford Dictionary, and this is what I found. Public: of or concerning the people as a whole. Housing: houses and apartments considered collectively; affordable: inexpensive; reasonably priced. Trust: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something and an arrangement whereby a person (a trustee) holds property as its nominal owner for the good of one or more beneficiaries; privatization: the transfer of a business, industry, or service from public to private ownership and control. Change: make (someone or something) different; alter or modify.

The Federal Housing Act has text that led to the creation of Federal Public Housing. I will briefly write about the history of Public Housing concerning Section 9, development conditions in community board 1 (Mott Haven, Port Morris and Melrose), and why the NYCHA Trust (The Blueprint) will not help many people in poor neighborhoods.

In 1937 the Federal Housing Act began Federal Public Housing, or Section 9. According to this Act, only Section 9 is Public Housing. In 1949 the Housing Act of 1937 expanded to include “A goal of a decent home and suitable living environment for all Americans.” In 1968, segregation was outlawed in Public Housing because of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The 1949 expansion resonates with the realities faced by many tenants.

I sit on Bronx Community Board 1. In the last four years, I have seen and advised on over 15 presentations about affordable housing. When listening to the presenters, most said the units would support people making over $40,000. The community statistics show that the area median household income is $22,000. I noticed a trend that the units were affordable for about 25% of the district’s population and that most of the units were studios and single-bedroom apartments.

I knew full well that the community has many families that need at least 2-bedroom units. Affordable for whom? Many people in the district have raised this question. From these trends, I understood that only public housing would be affordable to many people in the district. Then looking over the urbandisplacement.org and Association Neighborhood Housing Development maps, I could see that removing public housing will increase displacement in communities of color and poor people. NYCHA’s introduced the Blueprint for Change during this housing development reality and the start of the epidemic.

NYCHA introduced the Blueprint for change in 2020 when many tenants were in quarantine. I didn’t know about the proposal and learned more about it when a friend told me. I read The Blueprint (now called The Trust) bill and read the words Section 8, Tenant Protection Vouchers (This only applies to the apartment so that the tenant can leave, and they cannot use this voucher.) Bonds, invest, Loans, default, to name a few. Then later, I started hearing about RAD/PACT. Both projects get rid of Public Housing. I asked myself, is this true? Then I read again what public housing is, and like mentioned above; only Section 9 is Public Housing.

I read the Kendi book and learned about colonization, assimilation, segregation, racism, and how racism has shaped the design of Black communities. Other people of color who live in those communities faced the effects of those decisions made decades ago. Are the Blueprint or the Trust and RAD/PACT another scheme to assimilate communities with diverse cultures? I asked myself after reading that book. I saw many similarities in how development has increased inequality and still uses oppressive forces.

I attended a NYCHA information event, and the presenters promoted RAD/PACT and the Trust as the solution to NYCHA’s problems. When asked about Section 9, the response was that Section 9 would not go anywhere. So, I just sat there and saw them recommending only RAD/PAC and the Trust (the Blueprint). The options will no longer have Section 9 or will eliminate Public Housing.

So, why care about Public housing? Public means everyone will have an opportunity for growth. Low-income families will have decent homes and have access to upward mobility. That was the intended goal, with the government providing the funding for this to happen. However, when people of color started moving in, you can see that the State, City, and mainly the Federal government began disinvesting in public housing and thus created these conditions—using racist ideas and examples, like the welfare queen to disinvest in public housing.

So why go against privatization? I heard stories of youth born in the early 2000s about how most of their lives they have heard about wars, have family members in wars, economic problems, and the devastating effects of climate change. The mortgage crisis of 2008 caused thousands of people to lose their homes and money savings over their lifetime. Wall Street and banks received over a trillion dollars from bailouts over the last 15 years. Thus, anything with the name privatization worries those who live paycheck to paycheck, who are discriminated against and have no access to upward mobility.

People have said too many people in public housing; that all a person has to do is work hard and get an education. Many, through oppressive forces, have been stuck in a society that has let them down. So, this is more than preserving public housing; it is about implementing a vision to create a better society for people who have faced oppression. Public housing didn’t start falling apart until people of color moved in. All the money goes toward private entities under Section 8, and people will profit from the oppression people face.

Some people tell me, Cesar, scream it and let people know. Still, as I said, written words matter because words have transformed societies, ended civilizations, and created a new future for many in human history.

Cesar Yoc is a resident of  Mill Brook Houses. He co-founded Concrete Green, a cooperative that designs and implements projects to green the South Bronx, as well as the Bronx Institute for Urban Systems, where GIS technology and systems planning principles are used to improve the neighborhoods.

https://www.motthavenherald.com/2017/02/20/0426/ https://motthavenherald.com/2017/10/23/20210408/