This Monday, the City Council, along with Real Affordability for All (a coalition of primarily nonprofit organizations) announced its support for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed housing plan. They are expected to vote in favor of the plan next week. For those who aren’t familiar with the proposal, please refer to our previous post: MIH and ZQA: de Blasio’s Trojan Horse
“MIH and ZQA will allow for more rapid ‘up-zoning’ (i.e. the ability to build larger and more profitable kinds of developments) across the entire city. As part of the deal, developers will be forced to make a certain portion of their developments ‘affordable.’ Politicians only like to talk about this ‘affordable’ component, when in fact MIH and ZQA have very little to do with affordable housing and are really aimed at generating profits. To garner public support for this plan, the DeBlasio administration has devised a very savvy and insincere media campaign: it aims to create 200,000 affordable housing units over the next decade. What DeBlasio doesn’t tell us, however, is how many housing units will become unaffordable as a result of the gentrification brought on by MIH and ZQA. Undoubtedly, the gentrification that results will lead to rapid rent increases in neighborhoods across the city – the 182,000 residents living in East New York, for example, are guaranteed to see their rent increase across the board if rezoning passes in their neighborhood.”
We understand that this plan will be devastating for the entire city. So why in the hell did a coalition of social justice nonprofits help to facilitate the plan’s approval?
The Hidden Role of Large Nonprofits
Real Affordability for All describes itself as “New York City’s most powerful housing coalition,” aiming to “address homelessness, NYCHA, the preservation of existing affordable housing, and the development of new affordable housing.”
The coalition had originally planned a demonstration and even threatened acts of civil disobedience against the proposal, all of which it ultimately postponed because of “progress” in the negotiation process with the Mayor. This week, RAFA has canceled all future protest relating to MIH/ZQA and instead has officially come out in full support of the proposal, declaring it a victory for low-income New Yorkers:
One of the main concessions leading to RAFA’s endorsement of MIH/ZQA was the alteration of the Area Median Income requirement to include more low-income residents (which we know will do nothing to stop gentrification). Another major aspect of their endorsement was an agreement by the Mayor’s office to engage in a study on housing affordability. Are we expected to believe that a study will actually lead to anything?
What we see here is the usage of social justice language and the implementation of tactics such as civil disobedience by very powerful organizations in order to appear as if they represent the interests of working class residents. The result: A potential mass housing movement is co-opted, and dissent is dismissed for a few bread crumbs as people who don’t know any better follow these large organizations like lambs to the slaughter.
This is what large nonprofits do. They’re structured in a self-serving way which places focus on growth and forces them to meet the conditions of funders and donors. They can’t upset the status quo. Instead of opposing legislation outright, they’ll say “if you pass this legislation, it needs to include X or Y.” The result, in this case is gentrification and displacement going unopposed – their advancement is even seen as a victory. For anybody who knows the implications of MIH/ZQA, the passage of this plan is far from a victory.
The Solution is Easy
By allowing career activists and opportunists to lead the anti-gentrification movement from the helm of powerful organizations, we relinquish our agency. Gentrification and displacement will continue until we come together as a community and lead our own movement from within our neighborhoods. When we do, we will stop it and we will reverse it. We will win!
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NOTE: We want to be clear that we do not know which of the RAFA coalition organizations pushed for this compromise deal with the Mayor, and also that we do not believe ALL nonprofit organizations are guilty of co-option. We recognize the important work done by many of the city’s smaller nonprofits, and we would never discredit or delegitimize that work.