President Barbara Bowen’s email message about affordable housing, with its invitation to participate in an affordable lottery for units in StuyTown, caused both laughter and outrage among a group of eight people gathered in the history department at the Graduate Center.
Twenty-eight hundred dollars for a single person apartment is not “affordable” to the PSC membership; it is an insult. It adds up to an awesome $33,600 a year, representing 40 percent of the stated income threshold for lottery participation of $84,150 pretax income.
And $84,150 pretax may be about enough to afford the rent on one of these units while also paying for taxes, health insurance and health costs, student debt, professional costs and maintaining a decent standard of living – presumably without significant annual savings – as a single person. But the stated qualification range of $84,000 to $110,000 is well above a reasonable definition of “middle income” in this city. It is well above the median income of PSC members.
If the offered “affordable” rent is currently “below market” in a city with a median household income of $52,223 in 2014 (down from $55,307 in 2008), then this only highlights the problems with our present economic system and housing market.
Given that, our union has no business legitimatizing the developers’ insulting idea of what constitutes a middle income, or what ranks as affordable to New Yorkers. The role of a real workers’ union concerned with its members would be to take the lead in organizing, making allies and engaging in a broad-based, long-term fight to improve on this intolerable state of affairs.
In our city and metro area, literally millions of people go through hell just to meet the rent. A high proportion of us, nevertheless, live in substandard conditions. Certainly the majority of PSC members, who cannot enter this affordable housing lottery, also suffer.
We are gobsmacked that the union has chosen instead to provide the public relations fig leaf for the developers who have converted Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, historically working-class housing projects, into yet more luxury housing for the rich.
Nicholas Levis, Graduate Center
High rents and low pay
l On February 21 and 22, I received emails from our union president, Barbara Bowen, informing me of a contractual opportunity to “participate in a lottery for a small number of below-market rental apartments in Manhattan.” The units are part of Peter Cooper Village, which was recently purchased by the world’s biggest landlord, private equity firm Blackstone. The city gave Blackstone $221 million in tax breaks, loans and more; and in exchange, the owner agreed to keep a small number of apartments stabilized at alarmingly high rents. Apparently, a few of those apartments were set aside for public-sector union members.
A two-bedroom “affordable” apartment for PSC members rents for $3,400 per month. According to the Furman Center’s most recent “State of New York City Housing and Neighborhoods” report, that’s actually higher than the median asking rent in neighborhood. For this two-bedroom apartment to be considered affordable, a PSC member would have to make $136,000 per year. As a graduate student and teacher with one of CUNY’s best funding packages, I make just $25,000. A vanishingly small number of highly paid professors could actually afford this housing, while the vast majority of PSC members struggle to find affordable homes and shelter.
Remind me again why we rushed to endorse Mayor Bill de Blasio?
Samuel Stein, Graduate Center and Hunter College
President Barbara Bowen responds: I fully understand that the apartments in the lottery are not “affordable housing.” I referred to them as apartments at below-market rates. The rents offered through the lottery are indeed 20 percent below market rates – that’s an index of how inflated rates are in this period for that area of Manhattan. The apartments in the lottery are also rent-stabilized, meaning that there are controls on whether and by how much rents can be increased each year.
The union leadership also recognizes that many of our members’ salaries are below the range required for participation in the lottery. I understand that it can be angering to hear of opportunities that are out of reach.
But the PSC membership is large and diverse, and we have no way of knowing what members’ total household incomes are. We sent the notice to the entire membership because we did not want to make any assumptions about the financial choices members would be in a position to make. Several PSC members have reported that they entered the lottery and were delighted with the opportunity. We will continue to provide information to members about housing opportunities as we are informed of them.
While the lottery is open to people other than union members, it was created as a result of negotiations with the de Blasio administration, in response to advocacy by the New York City Central Labor Council and several local community groups. The negotiation secured the agreement to reserve fully 40 percent of the apartments in the development for occupancy at below-market rates and on a rent-stabilized basis. Without union and community advocacy and negotiations by the city, all of the apartments would have been offered at market rates, most likely without rent stabilization.
The PSC leadership recognizes how urgent the issue of truly affordable housing is for our members, especially for adjunct instructors, new faculty and many professional staff members. We have met with the mayor and with CUNY management in efforts to create housing opportunities that would work for many more of our members. We will continue to work hard on the issue, one of the most difficult in the city.
No to anti-BDS laws
As a distinguished professor at CUNY, I feel ethically obliged to support boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) – the nonviolent international strategy opposing the Israeli occupation. I also am faculty advisor to Students for Justice in Palestine at the College of State Island, one of nearly 50 chapters growing on both private and public American campuses across our nation, uniting students from a wide range of backgrounds in the struggle for human rights. The State Senate passed two bills that would strip public funding for university groups that engage in BDS activity.
As a teacher, I believe in interactive societies, in which every person has equal access to self-determination, which is achieved through opportunity and free expression. The current Israeli state daily subjects Palestinian students, workers, intellectuals, artists, farmers and average citizens to severe repression, state violence, and deprivation of basic rights of movement, organization and participation in structures of governance. In particular, Palestinian students in Israel are subjected to a separate and underfunded educational system, and Palestinian students in the occupied territories and areas under siege are obstructed from pursuing their interests in a sane and safe structure of daily life.
These facts are being masked by a smokescreen that labels realistic description of actual conditions as “hate speech” – this is a ploy, manipulating the vocabulary of abuse to hide the aggressive and violent actions of the Israelis. Palestinians, who are falsely depicted as “dangerous,” are actually endangered, and deserving of world support, which we are morally compelled to provide by supporting the boycott.
Sarah Schulman, College of Staten Island
The math blames Stein
In regard to the letter written by David Laibman (Clarion, March 2017) regarding blaming or not blaming third party candidates for the election of Trump, he is incorrect.
In Wisconsin, the 31,000 votes Jill Stein received would have given Hillary Clinton 10 more electoral votes, because she would have won that state. In Michigan, the 51,000 votes Stein received would have given Clinton the state. That’s 16 more electoral votes for Clinton bringing her to 258 and Trump down to 280.
In Pennsylvania, Stein won 49,941 votes, and Clinton lost by 44,292. The 20 electoral votes she would have won would have given Clinton 278 and Trump 260, enough for a Clinton victory, and no worries for people who rely on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Affairs, abortion rights, union rights, public education and so many other things that it is too depressing to go further.
Yes, I’m sorry to say Jill Stein was the cause and I do blame her, just as I did Ralph Nader in 2000. Of course, would the people who were Stein supporters have voted at all? Nobody can say, but I hope that all those who voted for Stein are happy with the outcome that they determined. To go further, so many people stayed home for a variety of reasons, not least of which because they just “didn’t care for any of the choices.” People who think elections don’t matter are fools, plain and simple.
Alan J. Greenhalgh, Borough of Manhattan Community College