New York City Has Important Elections Next Year-- A Guest Post By Marni Halasa

Next year's elections in New York City may prove to be one of the most important since the Great Depression. Not only is New York City in a multitude of crises-- public health, unemployment, and housing-- our city government is failing to act in the public’s best interest. This is a similar situation facing the rest of the nation, except that New York City has historically been a progressive focal point for the country. We have a proud tradition of leading the charge on issues of social, legal, and economic reform. For example, since the turn of the last century, New York City has led the fight against political machine bosses, notably Carmine DeSapio, and, recently, Joe Crowley. As a lawyer, small business owner, and community activist, I am running for the New York City Council as an outsider of the political establishment. In 2021, that will be a very good thing. Because when you are outside, you have the innate freedom and sensibility to criticize when bad government policy hurts the public. My interest in politics began in 2011 during Occupy Wall Street. Six years later, I was asked to run for public office. In hindsight, that experience was a political education that forever changed me-- I began to see the disturbing trend of why things never change, the many obstacles to real reform, and the role of money in politics. But most importantly, I began to see how our communities never have the final say in land use decisions, for example. The fight for community control of land use has escalated to a war with the de Blasio administration, and our City Council-- supposedly a check on the mayor-- has appeared to always vote in support of gentrification, and that's been a problem, especially in District 3, the seat I'm seeking to represent. The pandemic has revealed that our Government has tolerated systemic racism, and recent elections have shown that the political parties again have a bossism problem. You would think our Councilmembers would help us through our crises, but they don’t. Look at what is happening to Soho, an iconic historic neighborhood which lies adjacent to my District. The community is dead set against a neighborhood rezoning-- which inevitably brings gentrification and secondary displacement-- but the Mayor is trying to ram it through. It does not matter that the plan did not have the mandatory Environmental Impact Study or any contractual guarantee with the developers for deeply affordable housing. On the forefront of many people's minds is that this rezoning would destroy the historic character of the neighborhood. Because this rezoning would likely lead to increases in rents, displacement is inevitable for tenants and small businesses, but the de Blasio administration does not care, since hypergentrification and upzoning is the hallmark of his housing policy. Look at what happened with the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, a constitutionally-vetted piece of legislation that would have long ago solved the crisis of small business closures by providing an affordable, long-term lease with a right to renew. Yet, it was never given an up-or-down vote in the City Council. It finally got a public hearing in 2018, though. Council Speaker Corey Johnson said he would tweak the bill, and then move it to the floor for a vote, but the vote never happened-- and the crisis of closures kept of skyrocketing. Maybe my coffee shop, Red Eye Coffee, could have been saved if the bill had been enacted in 2018. And then there’s public housing-- the last bastion for deeply affordable housing in New York City. At my district’s public housing developments of Fulton and Elliott-Chelsea, tenants are against a neoliberal scheme to put private sector landlords in charge of public housing. The scheme includes upzonings to permit infill development and the sale of air rights. Despite the protestations of residents, the City Council has refused to openly challenge the mayor's plan to privatize public housing. Much evidence has come out that the scheme, known as Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD, is used by private sector landlords to evict vulnerable public housing residents at a time when the private sector will never build low-cost housing for people earning fixed- or low-incomes. These are just the tip of the iceberg of examples of bad government policies that fail us-- over and over and over. My campaign is dedicated to strengthening the social safety. We must promulgate public policy that promotes the public good. If elected, I would create a mechanism for the community to have final say of land use decisions. Advisory community input is not enough. Instead, we must have the final approval of development. Additionally, I am also interested in pushing an economic agenda that will keep people in their homes as well as strengthen the social safety net. For too long, big money political donors from the real estate industry have controlled city planning, for example, and that needs to change. I have stated that the interests of the community must supercede, at times, if necessary, private property rights. I offer solutions like Government-issued rent vouchers for tenants and small businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic. Rent vouchers would be made payable in amounts ranging from 65% to 85% of rents. Once accepted by a landlord, the rent vouchers would then become the new legally-regulated rent, which in turn, would reset market rents. This system would eliminate any trigger for eviction. I also want to repurpose abandoned hotels and empty buildings into single room occupancies (SROs) with permanent leases for the homeless. SRO's would provide supportive services to ensure successful transition from shelters. With a new paradigm of people working from home, and 20% of our hotels never coming back, our district has an abundance of vacant space ready to be repurposed for low-income housing. My primary opponent, Erik Bottcher, has a record of displacing shelter residents from hotels in our District to hotels in other Districts, I have stood up to defend our neighbors from eviction. With nearly 80,000 people without a home in New York City, we need to stand for the solution to the homelessness crisis and not be afraid to push the powers that be that don’t have the political will. To begin to pay for my proposals, I propose a 1 percent tax on large corporations headquartered in the city, which would raise billions.

I’m fighting for all of us to take back our city. With so many crises on our hands, it’s time that we defend public housing and offer immediate economic relief, like rent vouchers. We have a huge fight ahead of us, but with the right leadership, there is hope. Communities need a final say in land use and housing policy to keep people in their homes, and to save small businesses-- all of it, which in turn will save our city. We need more of this. And this is what I’m fighting for.


Please consider chipping in what you can to Marni's campaign by clicking on the 2021 legislative thermometer above-- especially if you live in New York, which really should have better and more progressive governance.