How Unions Can Solve the Housing Crisis

 

How Unions Can Solve the Housing Crisis

The labor movement once built thousands of low-cost co-op apartments for working class New Yorkers. It could do so again.

By Erik Forman

 


Dr. James Peter Warbasse opined in the journal Co-operation, “Once the people of New York City lived in their own houses, but those days have gone. ... The houses are owned by landlords who conduct them, not for the purpose of domiciling the people in health and comfort, but for the single purpose of making money out of tenants.” That was in 1919.

A century later, things have gone from bad to worse. A quarter of U.S. households pay more than half their income in rent. In New York City, homelessness has hit record levels.

Most activists can reel off a list of demands to address the housing crisis: rent control, community land trusts, affordable housing development. But one of the most effective strategies has been forgotten. A century ago, the labor movement in New York City planned and executed a bluntly practical solution to the problem of housing: Build it.
From the October Issue

Today, more than 100,000 New Yorkers live in apartments built by the labor movement between 1926 and 1974, mostly through an organization called the United Housing Foundation. Roughly 40,000 still-affordable cooperative housing units—Amalgamated Houses, Concourse Village and Co-op City in the Bronx; Penn South in the heart of Manhattan; 1199 Plaza in East Harlem; Rochdale Village and Electchester in Queens; Amalgamated Warbasse in Brooklyn—stand as monuments to what an organized working class can achieve. This housing provides a bulwark against gentrification and a blueprint for ending the housing crisis. Let’s look at how it all got started, how it came to an end and what it would take for labor to build again.

 

To read the entire article from the October 2018 issue of In These Times:

 

http://inthesetimes.com/features/unions-housing-crisis-labor-coop-apartments-new-york-homeless-rent-control.html

 


Erik Forman has been active in the labor movement for over a decade as a rank-and-file organizer, at the forefront of campaigns to unionize the U.S. fast food industry. He currently works as a labor educator in New York City and is pursuing a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

 

September 23 | October 2018 Issue