Organizing for Affordable Housing

 

Community Organizing for Affordable Housing: Growing the Movement One AVODAH Corps member at a Time   

As a group, Corps members visit each others’ work sites as part of AVODAH programming. They learn about the work of each organization and its role in the broader anti-poverty movement. Here, Avital Aboody writes about her site visit experience.

This past Thursday my fellow AVODAH Corps members left their work places mid-day to pay a visit to my office for the first site visit of the year. The site visit was a joint effort put together by myself, from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, and my friend, fellow tenant organizer, and fellow AVODAH Corps member, Jessie, of Tenants and Neighbors.

After a few brainstorming sessions between us, incorporating input from AVODAH alumni and current members, we came up with a jam-packed agenda intended to give the participants a crash course in the housing issues that we come up against in our daily work. We began with an introduction to predatory lending with my boss Dina Levy, Director of the Organizing and Policy Department at UHAB. She described how a large stock of multi-family housing buildings in the outer boroughs of New York City had fallen victim to rapidly deteriorating conditions and lack of basic services because of these practices.

As we transitioned to the next part of the site visit, in which my supervisor Megan and I engaged the Corps members in a brainstorming session about crafting a building campaign, I felt excited to show-case how this information can be made accessible and transformed into a plan of action!

In an effort to personalize this work even further, Jessie and I shared some quick reflections on what organizing means to us and why we’ve decided to take it on this year as our preferred mechanism of change-making. I took a moment to connect organizing to the words of one of my favorite educators, Paolo Freire, who stresses the importance of providing adults with the opportunities for critical analysis of their environment, for deepening self-perceptions in relation to it, and for building confidence in their own creativity and capabilities for action.

This ideology, reflected in UHAB by the “tenant choice” model, attempts to shift power dynamics between tenants and landlords and encourage tenants to assert themselves as critical partners in determining the trajectory of their homes. In my day-to-day work, this generally happens through a process of door-knocking and subsequent building meetings to bring tenants into the discussion and together craft campaigns to disrupt any course of action that jeopardizes their right to live safely, comfortably, and affordably. However, as much as we believe in empowerment as a necessary precursor to sustainable change in the status quo, we also recognize where this ideology falls short and sometimes doesn’t guide our campaign strategies when building needs are especially urgent.

Following a sort of “Affordable Housing 101” with Tenants & Neighbors staff, we tried to wrap up the last 15 minutes with a discussion around the painful fact that a large number of corrupt landlords in New York City are Jewish. We posed the question of whether or not we have an ethical responsibility as self-proclaimed activist Jews to hold other members of the Jewish community to higher moral standards. Unfortunately, the limited time precluded a thorough discussion.

However, the point still stands that as Jews we have a strong and proud history of organizing against injustice. And if in this modern context some of us are now blessed with more power and means, we should find ways to harness this power for good and assert that we are not exempt from participating in the struggle for more widespread collective change… and certainly not if members of our community are directly and/or indirectly involved in perpetuating oppressive systems.

I don’t know where other Corps members’ thoughts were after the site visit because when 5:00 pm stuck I ran out the door to a tenant meeting in the Bronx. But I’m hoping the critical questions will keep flowing and our engagement in praxis—reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it (to use another Freire term)—will only deepen. 

 

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