New Orleans In the year that I have traveled back and forth to England and Scotland, in talking to organizers, advocates, and activists involved in housing, there is no single issue of Prime Minister David Cameron’s brutal austerity program that continues to provoke more outrage and opposition than the so-called “bedroom tax” imposed on social housing in the United Kingdom or what we call public housing in the United States. Having been so thoroughly schooled on this issue, it was a shock to see a piece mildly buried on the 24th page of the New York Times heralding that the bedroom tax has come to New York City housing units in the time of progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio. Worse, the pictures accompanying the article were not of massive protests, but of sad, forlorn tenants. WTF?!? This is a foreign import that has to be stopped on the order of killer bees at the Mexican border, Chinese carp in the Great Lakes, and NAFTA all over North America.
The main difference between New York City and the United Kingdom is that most of the 9000 tenants being slammed in the city are in section 8 housing where their rent is subsidized in privately provided housing units. Otherwise this blunt sword is swung about the same way as the Cameron government imposed it. The only real difference in a subtext to the coming Scottish independence vote is that the Scottish Parliament had resisted and added a number of other delays and exemptions mitigating some of the impact, and allowing some local councils wider discretion. Here we have a local “council” or city government embracing the horror!
The NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development “declared more than 9000 households ‘overhoused.’ Such tenants were told to move to smaller, less expensive apartments or, if they chose to stay put, to be prepared to pay a higher rent in most cases because their subsidy would shrink.” Remember the “higher rent” would have been on top of the 30% of their gross income already being collected. The bedroom tax is the coercive demand that such desperate tenants pay more for what they already have.
This is not a thoughtful public policy or response to fiscal issues, but a blunt instrument in NYC, just as it was in the UK. Two people living in a two bedroom apartment must shoehorn into one bedroom, regardless of gender, relationship, age, or disability. One of the exemptions approved in Scotland considers the problems of live-in home health aides and space for wheelchairs, breathing and other medical equipment, but not New York which is strictly following the Cameron playbook. The new policy in New York seems to affect almost one-third of the units the agency administers.
But, here’s what was even more shocking to me. This is not even a new policy in New York City, but a rollout of a bedroom tax that NYCHA, the New York City Housing Agency has already been administering in public housing projects, where singles go to studios and two-person households to one-bedroom spaces, come hell or high water.
Now, I’m worried and will have to find some time for some quick calls and research and get back to you ASAP. Did New York City import the UK’s Conservative Party program or did Cameron shoplift it from New York City on some jaunt abroad? And, if this was an artifact from Mayor Billionaire’s time, why is Mayor Progressive de Blasio sitting still and silent for this? Or, horror and shame, what if this huge issue in the United Kingdom in the United States has been just something that we rolled over and allowed to happen?
The Times talks about lawsuits, but, sadly, that seems way too little and way too late, when a humane policy for lower income working families in publicly supported housing should have been a basic human right.