New York’s newest neighborhood is the creation of luxury condo developers and feckless politicians, and it is populated by an increasing number of homeless people and others who cannot afford to live here.
Its name? “Cuomoville.”
The name was coined by roughly eighty housing advocates who marched through midtown traffic Wednesday to camp out on the Third Avenue doorstep of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office.
For three days and two nights, the encampment is meant to evoke the “Hooverville” shanty towns of the Great Depression as well as the activism of the Occupy Wall Street movement to protest the governor’s pro-developer policies that continue to displace New Yorkers across the city.
“We are calling the governor out on his terrible housing policies,” said Delsenia Glover, campaign manager for the Alliance for Tenant Power, one of the groups that marched. “We’re calling him out because homelessness has escalated more than 60 percent since he’s been in office; we have 88,000 sleeping in shelters [across the state] every single night.”
The state’s plan to build more shelters, Glover added, is only more proof that the state expects the homeless population to grow.
Glover, of Harlem, lamented that because of rising housing costs, “people who grow up in the neighborhood can’t live in the neighborhood anymore.”
Cuomoville protestors have a series of demands, including stronger rent laws, an end to the developer tax break known as 421-A, more funding to the New York City Housing Authority, and a comprehensive plan to end homelessness across New York State.
Protestors also wanted to highlight the correlation of the luxury development boom and tenant harassment by landlords to rising homelessness.
Renata Pumarol, deputy director at New York Communities for Change, hears daily about the hostility that low-income tenants face in developing neighborhoods.
“All sorts of harassment you can think of, we’ve heard,” she said, including landlords’ efforts to deregulate rent-stabilized apartments to using apartment building renovations as an excuse to kick tenants out.
City Councilman Jumaane Williams briefly stopped by the encampment to lend his support.
“The state has a lot more power that they’re not really exercising — particularly Cuomo,” Williams said. “[Cuomo] has the power to sway the legislature in a way that he isn’t. [The city is] doing some things so I want to give some credit, but it’s a struggle. When there’s monied interest involved, it’s always a struggle pushing back.”
Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, called the encampment ”silly theatrics” and said “no governor in history has done more to protect and create more affordable housing than this one — that’s just a fact.”
He added that the Cuomo administration has strengthened rent protections, created a $20 billion five-year affordable housing plan, and put $2.5 billion in anti-homelessness funding in this year’s budget.
Meanwhile, in Cuomoville, there was singing and dancing as the sun began to set. Twenty-five activists who planned to spend the night then unrolled their sleeping bags.
Jose Diaz, who currently stays in the Barbour Hotel, a shelter for homeless New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS, said that he was tired of the empty talk from politicians and the bureaucratic obstacles that are keeping him from finding a permanent home.
“We got a situation here,” Diaz said. “This homeless crisis, it’s going to get a lot worse. We’re going to have a ton of bodies sleeping on the sidewalks — bodies of children with their parents.”