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1,000 march against rent increases in New York City
The struggle for housing

By Sarah Hines | June 16, 2006 | Page 15

NEW YORK--Chanting "Vivienda decente para la gente" and "They say rent hike, we say rent strike!" more than 1,000 Black and Latino tenants from Harlem and Washington Heights marched more than 70 blocks to demand affordable housing on June 10.

A feeder march of more than 200 from Harlem that began with a rally at Marcus Garvey Park joined with Latino residents in Washington Heights to take a stand against exorbitant rents and the expansion plans of Columbia University.

"Today was a special day because tenants from central Harlem and Upper Manhattan have marched together to say to the landlords, 'Hell no, we won't go!'" said Nelly Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council. "We know that if we don't work together, if we don't stand together, none of us will have a home, none of our children will have a future. Black and Latino unity--that is the only way we are going to beat back the landlords."

Residents are demanding reductions in rent and trying to halt what activists are calling "Hurricane Columbia," the expansion of Columbia University into an area of West Harlem known as Manhattanville. Columbia's plans would displace hundreds of low-income residents and build a government-funded biotech laboratory in a residential neighborhood.

New York City's Black population is declining for the first time since the draft riots during the Civil War, according to the New York Times. The Times study found that most Blacks leaving the city leave the region altogether, especially for southern states, and that most leave for economic reasons, particularly the high cost of housing.

SEIU/1199 and dozens of religious, tenant and community organizations helped to build and lead Saturday's march.

"This rent increase affects everyone," Marlene Petty, vice president of 3333 Broadway's tenants' association, told Socialist Worker. "I live in one of the biggest housing developments in the city with over 3,000 people, and we're on the verge of being displaced. People have had to move because the rent is so high...You just can't do that to people. We aren't going without a fight."

This is the first march for affordable housing in Harlem and Washington Heights in several years. It seems that the immigrant rights movement is giving confidence to people to organize and protest around the issue of housing.

During the housing march, participants borrowed a popular chant--"Nos quedamos y no nos vamos!" ("We're here, and we're not leaving!")--from the recent immigrant rights protests.

"Immigrant rights and gentrification are connected because both are attacks on working-class people," said Emmanuel Santos of the Mirabal Sisters, one of the organizations that built the march. "I think people are going to feel more confident after this. People are angry and today they had an opportunity to show their anger and saw the possibility of uniting in struggle."

Housing-rights activists plan to mobilize for an upcoming hearing of New York City's Rent Guideline Board, appointed by Mayor Bloomberg to make recommendations on what the rent increases should be for rent-stabilized units.

Activists are also gearing up for a protest later this month that will target Pinnacle, a major landlord in Washington Heights that is raising rents drastically while leaving facilities neglected.

Michele Showman contributed to this report.

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