Bertha Lewis (47169)
Bertha Lewis Credit: Contributed

One of New York City’s last resorts for housing moderate income and poor New Yorkers is under threat, and all New Yorkers need to stand up to protect it. It is an institution that serves hundreds of thousands of people.

It’s the New York City Housing Authority, and its very existence, as well as public housing across the country, is on the line.

For instance, here in New York City, NYCHA is an indispensable part of New York City, housing more than half a million people, representing one in 14 New Yorkers. The apartments NYCHA oversees provide crucial housing for our poor New Yorkers who have been priced out of the city’s housing market. Public housing residents are working families and by and large they are the city’s low-income “poor people.” They include teachers and nurses, letter carriers and police officers, entrepreneurs and small-business owners. As much as anyone else, they deserve an affordable place to live.

When I was a young Black girl growing up in South Philadelphia, we called our neighborhood exactly what it was, a ghetto. Ghettos don’t just appear out of nowhere, they are created through city planning. Whether it’s disinvestment of services or of businesses, or a lack of tax base that leads to neglect, these communities become labeled as blighted, and soon the government steps back in with eminent domain to revitalize the area.

This process has been known as “urban renewal,” and I experienced it in my neighborhood growing up. It didn’t take us long to come up with a more accurate name for this program: “negro removal.” That was my experience of HUD long ago, and that has been my experience with HUD under Trump.

We should all be alarmed by plans floated by the Trump administration over the future of public housing in our city. This administration casts a long dark shadow over NYCHA, and that shadow is known as HUD. The proposed HUD takeover of NYCHA through the process of “receivership” would mean that all major decisions regarding the 170,000 NYCHA apartments would be made by HUD Secretary Ben Carson and his advisors.

We’ve already seen what federal receivership looks like in public housing authorities across the country. Allowing someone as inept and incompetent as Secretary Carson to take over NYCHA with such a lack of experience and expertise would result in similar outcomes to the following takeover examples:

The Trump administration took over the Housing Authority of Alexander County in Cairo, Ill., in 2016. Only a year later, they announced they were closing Cairo’s two largest public developments, displacing 400 residents, most of them Black. Meanwhile, those in mostly white developments were allowed to stay in place.

In 2017, Carson determined that the East St. Louis, Ill. housing authority’s 30 years of receivership had been a success. However, only three weeks before Carson’s declaration, HUD inspectors found more than 5,400 violations in the system—more than twice as many violations as there are public housing apartments in the city.

This year, the Trump administration evicted every single resident of the Wellston Housing Authority of Wellston, Mo., because HUD itself could not manage maintenance costs.

Under this administration, federal “receivership” is simply another way of saying “negro removal.” Another way of saying destroy and displace hundreds of thousands of tenants in New York City and across the country.

Secretary Carson and President Trump are not willing to repair or invest in public housing. They fundamentally oppose the very idea of public housing, so why would they take over NYCHA? To destroy it.

When a patient is sick, a doctor is called in. In this case the doctors are Trump and Carson. Their diagnosis? To kill the patient to save it.

Robert Moses killed neighborhoods to “save” them. We cannot allow history to repeat itself. We say no, not only to Carson and Trump, but also to Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio. A pox on all their houses.

They are responsible for starving, neglecting, defunding and choking the life out of public housing. They must come together because they are all responsible. They must not only take responsibility for the revitalization of NYCHA but also make an unwavering commitment to all public housing across this country.

Bertha Lewis is the founder of The Black Institute.