Fighting for affordable housing in Queens
THE ONGOING struggle for affordable housing in New York City shifted to the Hollis neighborhood in Queens on April 21. Residents of this working-class community, joined by activists across the city, held a forum on housing and a subsequent march to protest a wealthy owner who continues to leave six buildings abandoned.
For nearly 20 years, Hollis residents, the majority of whom are Black, have had to contend with the negligence of the buildings' owner Rita Stark and a city government that does nothing to stop such negligence.
With this case, like so many others, the priorities of city officials are unmistakably clear--the availability of affordable housing for the poor, working poor and middle-income workers is kept limited, while wealthy individual like Stark get their way on every question.
While homeowners in Hollis who actually live in those homes pay thousands of dollars a year in maintenance and taxes, Stark has provides no maintenance for her buildings and pays taxes at her convenience. The carelessness of Stark and her partner in crime, City Hall, has resulted in numerous safety code violations that have rendered the buildings uninhabitable--and an eyesore that has demonstrably reduced the value of other homes in the neighborhood, as one speaker explained at the April 21 forum.
The day's events were organized by Holls residents who formed a group last year called the 99% Club. The club is led by Mark Chapman, a reverend at the Hollis Presbyterian Church and has made a goal of getting something done about abandoned buildings that could serve the community. It is made up of people who have spent a majority of their lives in the area and want to see it remain a vibrant, healthy community.
Working alongside Chapman and the 99% Club for the April 21 events were people from Occupy Queens, Organizing for Occupation (O4O), Take Back the Land and New York Communities for Change.
At the forum, residents talked about the suffering they have gone through as a result of the crisis. The panel also included housing activists Lani Rachman of O4O, Rob Robinson of Take Back the Land and Frank Morales of O4O. Each spoke about methods of resisting the power structures responsible for creating massive disparities of wealth and housing.
After the forum, there was a march to the buildings, where others were encouraged to speak out.
Although the numbers were small, with between 50 and 70 people participating in the day's events, demonstrators felt bolstered by this example of grassroots organizing. As the land barons, real estate speculators and political elite continue to wage war against working people, the bond between those who face oppression will only grow.