Securing Affordable HousingApril 21, 2022
Members are coming together to make sure that working people are not priced out of apartments.
Finding and holding onto an affordable place to live has never been easy, especially when rents are rising faster than wages in many U.S. cities.
1199SEIU home care members have been facing some of the worst challenges of all. And with inflation creeping up and many agencies cutting back on hours, it is harder than ever.
Tania Arroyo, a home care worker with the R.A.I.N. (Regional Aid for Interim Needs) agency in the Bronx was no longer able to afford the rent on her one-bedroom Washington Heights apartment when she and her boyfriend split up. With the help of her Union organizer, she managed to break her lease and she was due to move into a room in her sister’s apartment at the end of March, when 1199 Magazine paid her a visit.
“ If this union were not available to me, I would never have been able to move into my apartment.”
– Tracey Ann Patterson, a home health member with Partners in Care
“I’ve been selling off my furniture and all I’m left with from now until the end of the month is my bed. The sofa is gone,” said Arroyo, who has a 19-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son living in the Dominican Republic capital, Santo Domingo, who she helps to support. “I make sure I get to visit them every year,” she said.
Recognizing that the inability to find secure, affordable housing is a problem that effects hundreds, if not thousands of members, the Union is pressing lawmakers at the national, New York State and City levels to regulate the housing market.
U.S. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke who represents District 9 in Brooklyn and is a long-time political ally of 1199, was due to reintroduce her Affordable Housing and Area Median Income (AMI) Fairness Act to Congress.
It has long been clear that something needs to change because affordable housing calculations based on AMI, have ended up putting Scarsdale in the same income category as the South Bronx. What this means is that what is considered ‘affordable’ is not based on the earnings of the average worker, as it should be. By adding much more wealthy neighborhoods to the mix, what is deemed affordable becomes distorted.
Clarke’s bill aims to cut rents in subsidized developments in New York City by more than a third.
At the New York State level, members are joining the fight to support ‘Good Cause Eviction’ legislation. During the height of the pandemic, there was a moratorium on evictions to help tenants who had lost their source of income. Since that moratorium expired this January, hundreds of thousand of people across the state are facing housing court.
The proposed legislation would expand tenant protections to currently unregulated housing, ensuring that tenants cannot be subjected to unreasonable rent increases or evicted without good cause.
As well as campaigning to change housing laws, 1199SEIU also makes sure to offer practical help to individual members who find themselves in housing need.
When Tracey Ann Patterson was working as a home health aide with the Partners in Care agency in Queens, she and her three children found herself with nowhere to go when their house burned down.
Because they lost their home in a fire, Patterson and her children were not technically considered homeless. This means they had to live in a modified NYC Housing Preservation and Development shelter because they were ‘displaced’. With fewer of these shelters throughout the city, Patterson and her children ended up in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
She and her family were tied up in further red tape when she tried to move out of the shelter and into permanent, regulated housing that she could afford on what she earned from home care.
In order to move in, she had to come up with a $1,200 deposit within one week or lose the apartment. Social services told her it would take them two weeks to cut her a subsidy check.
But with the help of a rapid loan from the 1199SEIU Credit Union, Patterson was able to get the keys to her apartment in mid-March 2020, just before New York City shut down for the pandemic.
“I’m so grateful for the union,” says Patterson, “If this union were not available to me, I would never have been able to move into my apartment.”