What Cuomo’s “Women’s Equality Act” means for Housing Justice

Photo by Crain's Insider
Photo by Crain’s Insider

On January 9, Governor Cuomo gave his 2013 State of the State address. In the speech, he meditated on the hardships of the past and aspirations for the future. One important piece of his speech was when he declared, “We passed marriage equality. Let’s make history again and let’s pass a Women’s Equality Act in the State of New York.”  Then, he proceeded to outline ten-points under a theoretical Women’s Equality Law.

Of those was Number 6: “Prevent landlords from denying housing to qualified tenants based on the source of funds, Section 8 families.”

Currently, female-headed households make up 76 percent of all housing choice voucher recipients. While these vouchers have been made available to many low-income female heads-of-household, they are not always accepted.

In the state of New York, landlords are not mandated to accept federal housing vouchers. According to The Torch, the state government pushed for a  law that would mandate landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers in 2010. However, then-Governor Paterson vetoed the bill, claiming that the law would force private companies to comply with public programs.  He also asserted that implementing such a bill would place an unreasonable financial burden on the state.

While Governor Paterson’s veto did stop the passage of this state law, a local anti-discrimination law surrounding Section 8 had already passed in New York City. In 2008,  Local Law 10 made it illegal for landlords to deny tenants housing based on their source of income. (According to this law, Section 8 is a source of income.)   This law was upheld in October between Short v. Manhattan Realty Inc., where Manhattan Realty Inc. was penalized for denying Keith Short housing because he received a housing subsidy through the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA). Such cases calls into question the leverage that local laws have over state laws, as well as the fine line between free market and institutionalized discrimination.

The organizers at UHAB applaud Governor’s Cuomo’s attempt to improve access to housing through the lens of women’s rights. However, we still have some questions — “How is Cuomo defining women?” “Is he including transwomen as well as ciswomen?” “What about other representations of gender?” We hope that the passage of a Women’s Equality Act does not render some women invisible nor perpetuate discrimination against folks whose gender identity defies the male/female binary.   With the promise of Local Law 10 expanding beyond the confines of New York City, we hope for greater acceptance of housing vouchers and the end to discrimination based on gender.


Friday News Round-up!

With another week behind us, we enter the last month of the year. With the apocalypse potentially in sight (according to those who wrongly read the Mayan calendar and Britney Spears’s “Till the World Ends” video), I’d like to culminate the events of November.

  1. Under-appreciated fast-food workers are taking a stand! Yesterday, workers from major fast-food restaurants throughout New York, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and Domino’s, went on strike. The workers have two demands: the right to unionize and higher, more sufficient pay.   Workers at the McDonald’s on Madison and 40th were the first to strike. 14 of the store’s 17 employees that were scheduled to work were found outside chanting, “Hey, hey, what do you say? We demand fair pay!”  This is the largest action against fast-food restaurants in American history.  At UHAB, we stand in solidarity with these workers and hope that their demands are met. Stay tuned for more on this as the fight continues to develop.
  2. For the past nine years, the “fellow grannies” have stood at the curb of Fifth Avenue every Wednesday protesting America’s seemingly never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But this past Wednesday, they have put down their signs and discontinued their rallying… for now. The group of activists, comprised of women in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s, have only missed two Wednesday protests (one of which was the Wednesday after Hurricane Sandy). Now that the Iraq war has ended and the Afghanistan war is dwindling, the activists feel compelled to leave their Fifth Avenue post and engage in different campaigns.  The “fellow grannies” are a testament that if one can withstand the inevitable challenges and, in turn, disillusionments of activism, justice can be a lifelong pursuit.
  3. Not only has Sandy ruined the homes of thousands of New York and New Jersey residents, it has also exposed hazardous and expensive sewage issues.  Most of the region’s sewage plants are located in areas close to sea level, making them vulnerable to flooding. To safeguard against future storms, the plants must raise motor and electrical equipment above water levels, waterproof circuitry, and build more levees and dams. The storm also exposed the insufficient treatment of sewage, which was elucidated by feces spewing from burst pipes. Governor Cuomo estimated that more than $1.06B are needed to fix the problems. As New York and New Jersey continue recuperating from the onslaught of Sandy, we hope that the cities make structural (not band-aid) improvements to those entities that could have lessened the destruction of the storm.
  4. And, South Korea has continued pursuing legal action against our favorite predatory equity group, Lone Star Funds. The goverment accused Lone Star Funds of stock manipulation in 2003. While the Texas-baed company claims that they have been pursuing “an amicable resolution,” South Korea has resisted their offers, causing the corporation billions of euros.  After an eight year battle, Lone Star Funds has begun arbitration. Like the tenants living in buildings where Lone Star Funds holds the debt, we praise South Korea for holding their ground and not succumbing to the group’s manipulative tactics.

Good Friday, good weekend, and good week ahead!

Friday News Round Up!

ImageLike last Friday, we’re bringing your articles from the web that we found interesting or relevant to the work that we do. 

  1. The Community Service Society released a report on the cost burden on rent for low income New Yorkers. The most commonly accepted definition of affordability is that housing costs do not exceed 30% of total household income. That’s why Section 8 recipients pay 30% of their income on rent, and their voucher covers the remaining cost. (Curious about why 30%? Learn more here.) According to the Community Service Society, though, low-income New York City tenants pay nearly 49% of their income to landlords, up from 45% six years ago.
  2. The Martin Prosperity Institute released a graphic map (shown above) that demonstrates the number of newly naturalized American citizens per large metropolitan center; Richard Florida at The Atlantic Cities commented on this at The Atlantic Cities in an article, Melting Pot Cities. New York City tops the list in sheer numbers: of all new citizens, nearly 15% live in New York City. (Miami, however, has a highest amount per capita number of new citizens at 998 per 100,000 people.) New York City lags, however, when it comes to opportunities for immigrants. Boston, D.C., and San Francisco show the highest number of immigrants working in high skilled labor. We need to continually work on developing opportunities for life-sustaining employment for New York’s immigrants! (Read more: Florida has long argued that our immigration policies are much too strict; that our tight controls on immigration hold society back.)
  3. It’s been HOT. City Room at the NY Times tells us just how hot. Thursday’s record breaking temperatures reached 97 degrees. Heat waves in cities are dangerous; the Center for Disease Control estimates that nearly 700 people die each year from heat related illness, but in a terrifying statistic they also estimate that by the year 2050 that number will have jumped to between 2,000 and 5,000 due to climate change. In his book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, sociologist Eric Klinenberg described how social forces determined fatal outcomes in Chicago’s 1995 heat wave. (We really recommend it.) It’s no surprise that low income residents, isolated in run-down buildings in high poverty neighborhoods are at a much greater risk for heat-related death. His book also reminds us of the value of a tenants association, in providing strong support networks that can help in times of crisis!  
  4. Despite support from Mayor Bloomberg and widespread support from law enforcement, Governor Cuomo’s attempt to decriminalize marijuana has been struck down by Republican state senators. WNYC reports that the lack of support was likely due to political pressure from the State Conservative Party, who vowed not to support any Republicans in upcoming races who voted for the bill. The bill would take a tremendous burden off law enforcement, and combat the disproportionate number of arrests in the Black and Latino community due to Stop-and-Frisk policies. Governor Cuomo has indicated that he is not looking for partial reform; bill supporters remain committed to passing the legislation this year.

That’s all for today! Have a great weekend and we’ll be back on Monday!