Hawkins Fasts in Solidarity with Displaced Bowery Tenants on a 3-Day Hunger Strike Calls Housing a Right, Not a Privilege, at Rally outside City Hall
New York City, May 29, 2018 – Howie Hawkins, the Green candidate for governor of New York, is fasting all day outside City Hall in New York City in solidarity with hunger striking tenants from 85 Bowery who were forced out of their building in the middle of a cold night in January.
Speaking at the 11:00 am rally this morning to launch their three-day hunger strike, Hawkins noted that “Hundreds of thousands of working-class New Yorkers have lost their homes in the last decade due to the foreclosure crisis, rent decontrol, the destruction and privatization of public housing, and harassment of tenants by landlords who want rent-regulated units vacated so they can convert them to high-rent units.
Hawkins spoke to the rally about how nine members of his extended family in Syracuse were forced out of a project-based Section 8 building in Syracuse called Kennedy Square. The project was demolished and the land handed over by New York State to COR Development in a no-bid, no-money- down deal. COR is the politically-connected developer with officers who were found guilty or facing trial for bribery, fraud, and bid-rigging in collusion with top officials (Joe Percoco) in the Cuomo administration. No affordable housing was built to replace the 409 units in Kennedy Square.
“We must end the displacement of tenants from affordable housing like Kennedy Square and 85 Bowery. Decent housing should be a right, not a privilege only for those who can afford it. That means strengthening tenants’ rights, expanding rent control, and building more public housing,” Hawkins said.
“I am not talking about the old public housing projects that isolated and segregated the poor. We should build high-quality public housing that is for middle-class, working-class, and very-low-income people alike – mixed-income, scatter-site, humanly-scaled, and powered, heated, and cooled by clean energy. It will be a program for good jobs, desegregation, and clean energy as well as affordable housing,” Hawkins said.
The 85 Bowery tenants are beginning their second hunger strike this year. They are protesting their removal by the city on behalf of landlord Joseph Betesh, who, the tenants fear, wants to replace their rent-stabilized apartment building with a luxury high rise. The hunger strikers say the city used the excuse of an unsafe staircase, which the landlord had been under a year-old court-order to repair, to remove them on behalf of the landlord.
Their first hunger strike in early February forced Betesh to acknowledge that their apartments were rent-stabilized. The De Blasio administration said it would monitor the situation. But in meantime, the tenants’ belongings in their apartments were dumped into dumpsters.
The hunger striking tenants and their supporters are demanding that Mayor De Blasio:
- Guarantee in writing a deadline by which the tenants can return home;
- Stop having City agencies evict tenants on behalf of landlords; and,
- End pro-developers displacement agenda; instead, pass community-led rezoning plans like the Chinatown Working Group plan.
Hawkins said that the $25 billion NYCHA needs to remove mold and lead paint, replace failing roofs and boilers, and make other building repairs – along with additional money for new public housing – should be raised by taxing the wealthiest 1%.
He noted that the share of the total income in New York State going to the top 1% has grown from 12% in 1980 to 30% in 2014, and in New York City from 12% to 39% over the same period.
“Most of this shift of income to the 1% has accrued to the real estate barons as rent and capital gains and to the Wall Street financiers as interest on the bigger mortgages and loans collateralized by the inflated properties. The rentier class can afford to pay more taxes so that everyday New Yorkers can afford decent places to live,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said a more progressive income tax structure, like New York had in the 1970s, would generate about $10 billion more a year. Ending the automatic rebate to Wall Street traders of the Stock Transfer Tax would generate about $15 billion a year.