This statement is based on a talk at the Fight for NYCHA Town Hall at PS 33 in Manhattan, New York City on February 5, 2020.
The US had a shortage of 7.8 million units of affordable housing for very low income (7.5 million) and homeless (400,000) households and individuals in 2017, according the National Low Income Housing Coalition using US Census data. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s count had number of homeless higher, at 550,000 on any given night. The US Department of Education reported that 1.5 million school children experienced a period of homelessness during 2017.
However, one has to ask whether public housing tenants in New York City truly have a home when 80% of NYCHA residents—some 320,000 people—had periods without heat in the winter of 2017? Do they have a home when so many live with problems of lead, mold, broken elevators, and leaky roofs?
The housing crisis in America is a disgrace and inexcusable. Homelessness is increasing as rents grow out of reach for more and more people in the private market. Our political leaders, Democratic and Republican, so-called liberal and conservative, continue to advance a 50-year trend of privatization of public housing. Our local, state, and federal governments are captured by the banking, developer, and landlord interests who profit from privatization. One of those predatory real estate barons now occupies the White House.
We feel the housing crisis acutely in New York City and statewide. Over 50% of New York renters pay more than the federal affordability standard of 30% of household income. More than 25% pay more than half of their income on rent.
Homelessness has increased 36% in the last decade since Governor Cuomo came into office. New York City lost 75,000 units of rent stabilized housing in that period. As HUD Secretary, Cuomo demolished more public housing units than he built with subsidies for private development of affordable units.
That is the problem right there: the politicians in office, liberal and conservative, are captured by powerful real estate interests. For 50 years, they have been cutting funding for more cost-effective public housing and diverting housing funds to subsidizing private affordable housing units. It is much less costly for government to directly build public housing units than to try to incentivize private developers to build affordable units with tax breaks and subsidies. But privatization has been the dominant housing policy since the 1970s. Instead of building and maintaining public housing, public housing money has been diverted to Section 8 vouchers for the private market and subsidies for private developers of supposedly affordable units. The housing affordability crisis has steadily increased under this policy. Yet privatization remains the prevailing policy, even though we get more housing for our public money spent on public housing than for subsidizing the profits of private developers and landlords, .
HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program under both the Obama and Trump administration is enabling the privatization of NYCHA, the nation’s largest public housing authority, because RAD funding is far short of what is needed for the preservation and expansion of public housing, and it depends on leveraging private investors who are more interested in profits than affordable housing. Relying on the private market to provide sufficient affordable housing has never worked because more profits are to be found in upscale housing development than in affordable housing development.
Even self-styled “progressives” in office are doubling down on privatization. Mayor de Blasio’s plan to demolish public housing apartment buildings, put public housing into the hands of private landlords, and build market-rate private housing on public housing grounds will make the housing crisis worse. Combine this public housing privatization with skyrocketing rents in the private market, landlord harassment to push tenants out of rent-regulated units, and developer-friendly rezoning plans, and the working class is being driven out of Manhattan, much of Brooklyn, and many other parts of New York City.
A New Public Housing Program
As the Green Party candidate for governor in 2018, I called for fully funding the $32 billion over five years that NYCHA estimates it needs to fix its problems with lead, mold, elevators, boilers, roofs, and other repairs. We need to continue demanding that immediate funding from New York City and New York State.
Now as a candidate for the Green Party presidential nomination, I am calling for a federal crash program of public housing to not only fix and repair the public housing we have, but to make a decent home a human right by radically expanding public housing so every person in the United States has access to affordable quality housing.
I am calling for a 10-year, $2.5 trillion dollar federal program to build 25 million units of public housing that will end the housing affordability crisis. 40% of these units will be affordable for very low income people, thus creating 10 million new affordable units for very low income people. That will close the affordability gap for the 7.8 million very low income people now without affordable housing.
This public housing program is part of my proposal for an Ecosocialist Green New Deal. This full-strength Green New Deal will address the climate crisis with a Green Economy Reconstruction Program to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030. It will also end poverty and economic insecurity with an Economic Bill of Rights, including the rights to a living-wage job, an income above poverty, comprehensive health care, free public education from pre-K through college, a secure retirement, and—our issue tonight—a decent home.
Late last year, New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a Green New Deal for Public Housing Act that would commit up to $180 billion in federal spending over 10 years to upgrading 1.2 million public housing units. Their proposal is going in the right direction, but much too slowly to help the millions of people who need affordable housing now.
Public Housing for Jobs, Desegregation, and Clean Energy as well as Affordability
This new public housing program will be a jobs program, a desegregation program, and a clean energy program as well as an affordable housing program. These high-quality projects will improve the quality of life in every community in which they are built. They will be mixed-income, humanly-scaled, scatter-site, and green-building developments.
The new public housing program will be a jobs program because it will create 2.55 million new jobs, including 574,000 manufacturing jobs. You can see how we came to our estimates on costs and jobs in the Budget for an Ecosocialist Green New Deal at howiehawkins.us.
It will be a desegregation program because it will be mixed-income, like public housing is in Europe. Mixed-income public housing will help reduce the race and class segregation in New York State that is the highest in the nation.
It is time to return to public housing to provide affordable housing, but this time we must do it the right way by building high-quality, humanly scaled developments where low-income, working-class, and middle-class people all live together in public housing developments. We want build high quality developments that any city, suburb, or town will want because it will be a positive addition to their community.
The old large-scale public housing projects concentrated poverty and segregated minorities. It concentrated poor people of color in housing projects that are often isolated from jobs, public transportation, grocery stores, educational institutions, and other resources, services, and opportunities. By mixing households across income levels in the new public housing, it will desegregate housing by economic class and by race because race and income stratification correlate to a significant degree.
In many European countries, public housing is available to all income groups and typically provides well over 20% of all rental housing, keeping rents in the whole rental market affordable. In Germany, rents are typically 10%-15% of income, well below the US affordability standard of 30% that fewer than half of Americans enjoy. In Finland, three-quarters of residents are eligible for public housing. In Vienna, 60% of renters live in municipal and cooperative public housing. In the U.S. by radical contrast, public housing accounts for less than 1% of all housing units.
Mixed-income housing will cost the public treasury less because the rents will be scaled to income and the higher income residents’ higher rents will partially cross-subsidize the lower rents that low income people will pay.
This public housing program will also be a clean energy program because the renovations of existing projects and the building of new projects will be done with green building designs. They will produce much, and sometimes more than, the clean energy they use through solar and wind power and heat pumps for heating and cooling. They will also fight global warming by capturing greenhouse gases through carbon-sequestering building materials and living roofs and walls.
New public housing developments will be located in cities, suburbs, and rural towns to redevelop our cities and towns into walkable communities that are more energy and resource efficient. The public housing program will be coordinated in our ecosocialist Green New Deal with the development of light-rail trolley networks to provide easy mobility from relatively dense walkable public housing developments to all sections of a city.
Because public housing operates at cost for public benefit, not for private profit, it is less susceptible to pay-to-play corruption between politicians and government officials and the developers and landlords seeking contracts and public subsidies for private profits. Building maintenance expenditures are based long-term maintenance, not short-term investor profits. The staff are union workers with job security, not property managers whose job security requires keeping costs low and profits high for absentee landlords. The new public housing will provide more security to tenants, who will not be subject to landlord whims because we will increase tenant democracy in public housing developments and authorities.
How to Pay for It
Where are we going to find $32 billion for NYCHA repairs and $2.5 trillion for a federal crash program for public housing expansion?
We can find the money through more progressive taxation, new federal priorities, and borrowing to make the needed upfront investments. Much of the $1.25 trillion in annual US military spending should be shifted to meeting human needs like a decent home. Over the long run, rents scaled to tenant incomes will partially offset ongoing operational and debt service costs.
For the 10-year, $2.5 trillion federal public housing program I propose, I refer readers to my Budget for an Ecosocialist Green New Deal for a discussion of how to raise the revenues need for the public housing and other programs in that Green New Deal.
Here we’ll focus on what we can do in New York State. With more progressive taxation, New York State can easily generate over $30 billion more in revenue a year, more than enough to cover the 5-year, $32 billion NYCHA renovation program, a large expansion of public housing developments, and many other needed programs in education, health care, and infrastructure, including crucially needed clean energy infrastructure to address the climate crisis.
The Fiscal Policy Institute has a list of progressive tax reforms and their estimated revenues.
If the state went back to the more progressive personal and business income tax structure it had in the 1970s, it would generate over $10 billion in additional revenue a year.
The state should close the carried interest loophole for state income taxes, which allows hedge fund managers, private equity investors, venture capitalists and certain real estate investors to treat ordinary income as capital gains, which are taxed at a lower rate. That would bring in $3.5 billion a year in additional revenue.
The state should update the income tax brackets to reflect today’s income distribution with much higher incomes in the multi-millionaire and billionaire class. The income tax should be progressively graduated up these new higher income brackets from a few million to tens of millions of dollars. One proposal along these lines estimates it would bring in an additional $2.3 billion a year.
The state should stop rebating the Stock Transfer Tax to Wall Street traders and keep that revenue, which has been between $6 billion to $16 billion a year in recent years. The revenue varies with the volatility of the stock market, but it is always significant.
The state should cut many of the various forms of corporate welfare, which costs the state about $4 billion a year.
The state can generate another $1 billion a year by enacting a state surtax high-dollar pass-through income from LLCs and unincorporated business vehicles in order to recapture some of the 20 percent deduction granted by new federal tax cuts to pass-through business income.
The state can generate another $1 billion a year through a clawback tax on the unproductive federal corporate tax cuts for the publicly-traded companies that receive tax breaks under the new federal tax law if those companies do not create jobs or raise pay of workers.
What I just laid out comes to over $30 billion a year in additional revenue in New York State
Finding the money is not the problem. The problem is building the political will to do it.