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Know Your Rights
Source: times herald-record
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice

Westchester young people like me need Albany to deliver on housing this year

Arriving home from middle school, I remember seeing my mother pacing through our apartment, walking back and forth filled with anguish. Once again the landlord had raised the rent, and she did not know how she was going to pay. He had threatened her, saying if she couldn’t pay, then we would have to leave. The reality is that we have been living in an affordable housing crisis for far too long and if nothing gets done to fix it, it will only keep on getting worse.

As tenants in an apartment in Westchester that’s not rent-stabilized, my mom and I have no protections. No right to a renewal lease. No protections from a huge rent increase that could land us on the streets.

Albany has the power to address our affordable housing crisis. Last year, Gov. Kathy Hochul walked away from the negotiating table when housing bills were being debated and left New Yorkers at the mercy of massive rent hikes that go unchecked. With this legislative session having just begun, families like mine need the governor and legislative leaders to deliver on real housing solutions.

Faced with that rent hike, my mother dipped into her savings and was able to pay the following month’s rent. Since then, I barely see her because she works two jobs to make sure that we have a roof over our heads. I help when I can, but I go to school full-time and only have a temporary part-time job. What is happening to my mom and me is also happening to many more tenants across the city and state. Albany leaders can put an end to this frustration and injustice.

Every New Yorker deserves to live in an affordable, safe home without having to worry about whether they will be displaced. My family and approximately five million tenants like us in small buildings have no protections against unjust evictions. The Good Cause Eviction bill would allow tenants like my mother and I to organize for the living conditions we deserve, and protect us from excessive rent increases that are often the equivalent of an eviction notice.

New Yorkers across the state have witnessed how the state’s response to the continued affordable housing crisis and the arrival of new New Yorkers has been woefully inadequate. Rent and other basic necessities have increased to unprecedented levels. Today, one in three NYC households spends half their income on rent and there are nearly 90,000 homeless people as of this fall. Displacement and homelessness levels have not been this high in New York State since the Great Depression.

For the past eight years, I have called Westchester my home and I hope that my mom and I can stay here–and that one day I can afford a place of my own. But, as I look into the future, the way our current system caters to the rich and leaves working-class people like me to fend for ourselves unprotected, I don’t think that will be possible.

Make the Road New York has launched “Freedom to Stay, Freedom to Thrive,” a policy platform centered on core policy solutions that the legislature should pass, in this legislative session, to deliver for working-class communities of color and ensure a better future for young people like me. The platform focuses on the need to take action on truly affordable housing and raising taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers and corporations to invest in communities. It also highlights the need to expand immigrant health care access through Coverage for All legislation and increase access to unemployment through the Unemployment Bridge Program.

Hochul cannot continue to cater to real estate big shots who use our homes as ATMs–squeezing hard-earned dollars from us by raising rents, refusing to make basic repairs, tearing neighborhoods apart, and making people like my mother work as a domestic cleaner until her hands are worn-out. Hochul, Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Speaker Carl Heastie and legislators across the state need to step up and address the persistent inequities and work to improve the lives of working families across New York State. My mother and I, along with every New Yorker deserve the freedom to stay and freedom to thrive in the place we home.

Maria Jose Pastrana is a 19-year old Westchester resident and member of Make the Road New York.