…everything can change, so the song goes. Well, things have certainly changed here in the past 24 hours and since I wrote this rather gloomy post four days ago. It’s a good reminder of how volatile politics can be, but also, that progressive movements must be ready to seize those moments.
Two things happened last night. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) renewed, with some conditions, the nationwide ban on evictions, which lapsed on Saturday, until October 3rd. Around the same time, an official report was released about New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo, who is accused, by several women, of predatory sexual behaviour, leading to widespread calls for his immediate resignation.
This completely changed the atmosphere at a protest of NYC housing campaigns that had already been called for this morning outside the Governor’s office in mid. Manhattan. Based on my recent experiences, I hadn’t expected a big turnout or a very optimistic mood and was unsure whether targeting Cuomo was a good idea. I was wrong on all counts. Suddenly, housing and political justice combined and become “the story”, reflected in the large media presence at the demo and a renewed confidence that significant concessions can be won to help keep people in their homes.
There are still major obstacles ahead. President Biden has already conceded that the Supreme Court may over-rule the latest eviction moratorium if and when the landlord lobby goes legal. That could take some time, but would probably produce a seminal moment when any doubt about where the US State’s sympathies lie is removed and 7 million Americans, 15% of all renters, are thrown to the wolves.
The $45 billion programme of relief that was supposed to help tenants owing rent has been badly mismanaged and this is where Governor Cuomo comes back into the frame. Only 1% of New York State’s $2.4 billion rent relief package has been allocated, incompetence that people at this morning’s protest lay at his door. They point out that he has been more concerned with trying to save his own political career, than save people’s homes. Attention was drawn to his pet-projects, which have not suffered similar funding delays and the fact that he has used public resources to promote his book about the COVID crisis. As one speaker said (and with due care needed in making this point), Cuomo has been abusing the 20 million people who live in New York State for years.
Obviously, his political adversaries (many of whom spoke at today’s protest) smell blood, but what might only be their short-term political calculation can be harnessed to win longer-term reforms. It is very noticeable that the CDC, in effect, has renewed the eviction moratorium on health grounds. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that losing your home is bad for people’s health. But to have this acknowledged in this way, can provide important lessons and examples for future struggles eveywhere.