As I get ready to leave, Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) are making sure my visit ends as it started. I joined them for a protest against rent rises the day after I landed. Six months later, last Thursday I joined their protest outside Bronx housing court as they reminded people who need it that the pandemic isn’t over.
In more ways than one, this is where I came in. I was originally attracted to CASA because of their steadfast campaigning, always with their tenant membership calling the shots. Thursday’s demo had a clear demand that the protections against eviction during the pandemic, due to expire in New York on 15th January, must be renewed, along with the financial help to tenants who have lost income because of COVID.
Elsewhere, there seems to have been a sense that it’s time to move on to other issues. Perhaps the impending Omicron spike will change that? CASA’s choice of Bronx housing court as the protest site was to highlight that there are 240,000 eviction cases in the New York legal pipeline, about 80,000 of them filed in the last few months, with a large number of them targeting Bronx tenants.
The eternal landlord/tenant conflict has been the essential underscore to my time here. COVID has only served to magnify the precarious, exploitative and dehuanising impact of a housing system founded on profit, inequality and racism. Throughout my stay in NYC, CASA has been a constant reminder of this. But they were part of a magnificent, grassroots movement that culminated, on 1st September, in an extension of eviction protections that have made New York virtually eviction-free for 18 months.
I know CASA and others will continue to fight for lasting changes to keep people in their homes in 2022. But as another Bronx hero, Yogi Berra, put it, “it’s like déjà vu all over again”. The intensifying economic storm demands a proportionate political response, but there are no signs of one. The Biden administration has now publicly acknowledged that it’s shelving its sweeping social reform agenda. I find it difficult to write about this without smashing the keyboard. During my time here, there was a genuine moment of hope that the US might take a turn away from a society dictated by the interests of big corporations and the super-rich. That moment has passed and its chances of revival look increasingly remote.
The only conclusion to draw from this is that we need a completely different model, not just for housing, but everything. There are dark days ahead, but I hope to take home the fighting spirit of CASA and their clarion call – “Si se puede!”.