Leah Goodridge rattles off facts and figures on Black homeownership and displacement around town without pause. But the renowned tenant rights lawyer, who also serves on the NYC Planning Commission, is less confident when asked about where she’s eaten her favorite meal.
Thankfully for Goodridge, her parakeets abruptly chime in with a caw-cophony of chattering and screeching, saving their bird mom from finishing her unavoidably controversial answer. At least initially. She ultimately votes with a ranked-choice ballot of New York City, California and Barbados, where one side of her family is from.
There’s no winning answer for Goodridge, whose scholarship and curiosity took her all over the world. The Brooklynite hails from Brownsville and attended Vassar College, where she studied abroad in Cuba and the United Kingdom. She started projects on teen girl empowerment in the Dominican Republic after graduating, went to Los Angeles for her UCLA law degree, and lectured in Malta as a Fulbright specialist.
Yet the globetrotting Goodridge is ironically one of the few remaining in New York City from her family today.
“This is what I speak up on the commission—the fact that Black families and residents are being pushed out,” she said. “Sometimes it is framed as simply Black residents moving down south, but I always push the question, the why. It happened in my own family. I’m one of the very few people who are still here, most of my family moved down south, and for the reasons that many other Black New Yorkers are [moving]: You can’t afford to buy a home here.
“Housing affordability [is] driving a lot of this. You can work here, sometimes even work for the actual city government and still not be able to afford a home here.”
So Goodridge works as a legal services attorney, assisting New Yorkers with low incomes for no cost in the field of tenant law over the past 11 years. She’s currently at Mobilization for Justice. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams appointed her to the NYC Planning Commission in 2021.
The commission largely deals with housing, and since this is New York City, most proposals Goodridge and her colleagues handle are about rentals. So the most affected are, naturally, renters.
“I think that it’s really important to have someone on the commission who works directly with tenants and knows their concerns and the structural barriers that are impacting them,” said Goodridge. “When you’re a tenant rights attorney, you see that literally every day. It doesn’t just stop at the rent [being] too high—deeper questions come into play, like families having an issue [finding] an apartment. These are questions that I ask. If there are [more] one bedrooms and studios, that means that it’s gearing towards a certain demographic that are not families. It is really important to be able to have housing that accommodates families who want to stay in New York.”
But she’s the first and only tenants rights lawyer on the commission. Goodridge says she’s learned to speak up when advocating for Black New Yorkers, even at the expense of “uniform standard of professionalism.” She often advises people of color not to quietly weather the racism storm at work, whether that means speaking up, filing complaints or suing their employers. Her essay titled “Professionalism as a Racial Construct” for the UCLA Law Review, detailed how the legal world weaponizes workplace decorum against nonwhite people in the field.
“This drives a lot of my conscience about the work on the commission,” said Goodridge. “I don’t pouch what I have to say. I’m a lawyer, so I know how to get things across in a very direct way. I am not going to not speak up and not engage in conversation about this for the simple fact that it angers or frustrates some people, which it does…saying that people are moving out of New York City is one thing.
“But really talking about the fact that it is a disproportionately high percentage of people of color, especially Black people, it needs to be spoken about in terms of what it is, which is racialized displacement.”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.