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Real Affordability for All, Where “All” Means 10% of the U.S. Population

September 3, 2014

I learned from Lynn Lewis, director of Picture the Homeless, that the “Real Affordability for All” coalition was unhappy that members of Picture the Homeless, such as myself, were shouting things like “Define affordable!” and “Income-targeted housing” at a press conference at City Hall a few months back. Lynn said that she doesn’t share their concern and did not disapprove of my actions. RAFA ignored all PTH recommendations the one time when PTH was brought to the table. In the room at the time I was told this were two Picture the Homeless staffers, another member of Picture the Homeless who is also living in a shelter in spite of a master’s degree, a staff member of an elected official, and a CUNY professor, who went to a more recent RAFA rally in Harlem. I don’t know about the staffers, one of them too young to have finished college, but everyone else in the room holds a master’s degree or higher, and the professor said that the only reason he could afford to live in RAFA’s idea of “affordable housing,” which is the same as Andrew Cuomo’s, is by virtue that his wife is a physician.

Why does Real Affordability for All fight for housing that is affordable to people who have physician’s incomes? If more people understood that that is what “Affordable” means based on federal definitions, RAFA would get no support. They don’t like that the fact that the one time they invited PTH to the table, that PTH members have refused to endorse anything they’ve done because RAFA has refused to strike “temporary” from their housing subsidy requests on the grounds that it’s “winnable.” Picture the Homeless’s position has consistently been that temporary rental subsidies don’t work. Maria Walles (who needs special thanks, because she is the one who actually made the ask before Gilbert Taylor and the Department of Homeless services to give people more than a day’s notice of shelter transfer–she was very pleased to find out that I had gotten such) had the Work Advantage subsidy, and her family is back in a shelter because the jobs she and her husband had were not enough to pay rent on their own, and thus, were a revolving door back into the shelter system. That seems to be their approach when it comes to so-called “affordable housing,” which is catering toward the middle class, which is now down to only 10% of the U.S. population. Based on Cuomo’s definitions, two homeless people with master’s degrees, a staff member of an elected official (with a master’s degree), and a college professor (with a Ph.D.), do not qualify as middle class, but the physician does. The definition of affordable housing is based on the Area Median Income (AMI) which was invented by Andrew Cuomo when he was director of Housing and Urban Development at the federal level. The area median income for a family of four for the New York City area is $80,000, while the average income of a family of four in Manhattan is $53,000. When the government says “affordable housing,” 90% of it is affordable to people making $60,000 or more, which excludes highly educated people in respectable positions, or qualified for respectable positions. (The other homeless person with a master’s degree at the table was Arvernetta Henry, a retired schoolteacher, while yesterday, I was interviewed for a $25 an hour position as a copywriter for CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System).) Affordable housing is not built for people like us because Cuomo intentionally skewed the averages by including Rockland and Westchester Counties, while those counties get exemptions from being figured into their affordable housing, yet they still impact us for some perverse reason. Most people who consider themselves “middle class” are really “moderate income” by official definitions, while “middle class” is defined as people making above $120,000 a year, a figure most of us would consider to be “upper class” and not even “upper middle class.”

Those of you in New York, please vote for Zephyr Teachout in the primary election. She is the only one with enough of a base to defeat Cuomo in the primary election. If you vote for Cuomo, the lame duck will unquestionably remove bans from fracking and make sure there is no housing that anyone making below a physician’s income can afford. A vote for Cuomo is a vote for hydrofracking, so as far as I’m concerned, if you care about these things, and you vote for Cuomo in either the primary or general election, you are part of the problem and have waived your right to complain. If Zephyr Teachout does not win the Democratic primary, I will be voting for Howie Hawkins (Green Party) in the fall. I may be homeless, but I am a registered voter, and the Board of Elections has my new address–I got my transfer notice last week and I vote. The only year I didn’t vote since becoming old enough was 2003, and only because I had been in the city only two months and didn’t know enough about local politics to vote in any particular way.

One Comment
  1. Picture the Homeless has asked me to clarify that the views expressed here are mine and not that of Picture the Homeless.

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