A Semester in NYC Housing Activism – Told Through Photos
Over the spring semester, I participated in Hamilton’s NYC program focusing on labor, migration, and reform in the city. During my time, I worked closely with Housing Justice for All, a coalition of over 80 housing organizations across New York State fighting for tenant protections, unhoused people, and the belief that housing is a fundamental human right.
The photos compiled below are from my experience with HJ4A, meeting with legislators, activists, and everyday tenants at the front lines of housing politics. While the media spotlight often leans toward legislative fights in Albany or bureaucratic battles, the heart of housing advocacy lies in the work of organizers and activists in their day-to-day struggles, protecting tenants and community members from unfair and exploitative practices of the housing market.
This year, Governor Hochul promised to address housing in New York’s state budget. While progressive leaders and organizers fought to push the governor’s plan in a direction to address the rent crisis and the eviction crisis, the broken nature of Albany’s budget process failed to make any meaningful changes. Although the budget is now over, without addressing housing, the work of the people I followed continues to make a difference for thousands across New York.
Community solidarity is critical for protecting against illegal actions by landlords. In Queens, South Asian and Indo-Caribbean tenants banded together to create DRUM, a mutual aid organization representing and standing with tenants facing abuse. In late January, I joined one of their protests after a landlord shut off the water supply of a tenant who called code enforcement for a non-functioning heater.
Evictions are spiking across New York. Unlike neighboring states such as New Jersey, landlords are not required to renew leases to good-standing tenants. These “no-fault” evictions make it difficult for tenants to request repairs or report abusive practices, as they face retaliation by losing their homes. To fight back, tenant advocates coordinate eviction protection protests, support community members as they go to court, and provide a platform for people to advocate for policy change. I participated in one of these protests for Fidele Albert, who has faced months of landlord harassment.
Education is another crucial role tenant activists play in housing organizing. Policies like Good Cause, which would protect renters from unfair evictions, need to build community support if they have a chance of passing statewide. At a town hall in Williamsburg, I joined Senator Julia Salazar and Assembly Member Emily Gallagher as they met with community members to answer questions and raise support for the bill as New York’s budget season was heating up.
March was the last and most important month for New York's budget negotiations. As housing advocates fought to include policies like Good Cause, I found myself in the middle of a massive rally at the doorstep of the Governor's NYC office. Dozens of tenants gathered in a show of solidarity and to pressure Governor Hochul to protect renters.
March didn't just see rallies in NYC. On the 21st, over 500 people gathered in Albany's Legislative Office Building in a show of strength and size of the tenant movement. We heard speeches from supportive leaders, knocked on the doors of legislator offices, and climbed the "Million Dollar Staircase."
After March came and went, and with no final budget for the state in sight, housing activists needed to bring more allies for our progressive causes. In Astoria, Queens, we were proud to have Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stand with tenants not only to speak publicly in support of Good Cause but also to bring national attention to our organizing.
My last trip to Albany was bittersweet. While electeds stood firm on their support for tenant protections, the state budget that we were working towards didn't deliver nearly enough to address the housing crisis facing both NYC and the state. However, in capturing the drive and passion of both representatives and activists, I realized that the fight for better housing in New York didn't end but was just beginning.