Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Could NY Lose Rent Stabilization this Year?

Every now and then I reflect on the amazing fact that I am actually surviving, living, perhaps even thriving in the most expensive city in the United States.  I am not a banker, a lawyer, or a candle stick maker.  I am a social worker.  I pay $1,100 a month for my little slice of heaven, I mean Sunset Park. And let's be real NY is not heaven by any stretch of the imagination.  (Why do we work so hard to be here?)  San Francisco is my heaven but that's a whole other story of real estate hell.  My little slice of Sunset Park is a roughly 500 sq feet one bedroom, which I am almost positive has been illegally converted.  Illegal conversions account for such a high percentage of "affordable units" in Brooklyn     (and when I worked for a certain elected official in Brooklyn and started to get too close to this issue I was also informed of this) that the Department of Buildings and the Housing Preservation Department have an unwritten directive from the Mayor's office to stay away from citing and enforcing illegal loft and apartment conversions because if they were to push everyone out of them there would be no more low wage-workers, starving artists and other needed workers left because they'd have nowhere to live and then, God forbid, New Jersey would become the new New York City.

Even with my slightly higher than average social work salary I still just barely cover all my costs. Now part of that is due to the fact that I am paying down credit card debt that I accrued from my first low-salary job out of social work school.  Proof that being paid badly is expensive. I have old friends in the welfare reform movement that say it used to be much more affordable to be poor but now because of housing costs specifically it is so much more expensive and debt-inducing to be an individual or family with low-income. So how do people even make it work?  Why don't we see so many more people on the streets. A family of three resided in my little apartment just before I did. The name on my door was "Morales." I never took it down, it stayed there for a year. My guess is that Mom and Dad slept in the living room while the child slept in the actual bedroom.  This is not an exception, this is the rule.  Multiple families are packing into one and two bedroom houses. It brings new meaning to "single family dwelling rather it's "multi-family apartment unit."   A family of three or more will live in a studio or one bedroom "designed" for one person because it's the only way to avoid street homelessness and keep a roof over their head.  No one should be homeless but there are plenty of reasons why we don't see women and children on the streets. They'll do anything to avoid the dangers of such a terrible option. And government will do anything to hide that. But take a visit to PATH in the Bronx, where all families with children have to beg to enter the shelter system on any given night and you'll see clearly the horrifying reality of homeless women and children in the richest city in the world in the richest country in the world.  And before they let anyone in they will call every friend, every next of kin begging them to take their long lost friend, cousin to sleep on their floor, couch, whatever they've got before they'll let a family into the NYC family shelter system. So the NYC homelessness policy is in cahoots with this whole system that asks families to double and triple up in already untenable housing circumstances before they'll accept them into an already terrifying journey through the NYC shelter system.  Friends and families of these women and children are actually risking their own housing by violating occupancy rules and so when they get kicked out of housing the problem is further compounded.  

In the United States, we spend most of our income on housing and yet welfare benefits and the poverty line are based on an antiquated food budget.  How unfortunate considering that food prices in this country are already artificially low due to agricultural subsidies to wheat, corn, soy, etc. (No subsidies for fruits and vegetables might I add?--but that's a blog for another day). So food stamps, welfare benefits even the very helpful though grossly underfunded Section 8 Voucher program do not go far enough to cover families real costs of living. In theory people should be paying only a third of their income on housing when in reality they are paying half or more in high cost of living cities like New York and San Francisco.  Consider this, a two parent household with both parents working full-time minimum wage jobs are only making roughly $30,000 per year and that's not even NET take home pay.  Sure this family qualifies for EITC and the Child Tax Credit and those are essential but they have to wait for that.  A more dramatic, immediate solution would be to make housing more affordable and/ or mandate a true living wage across the country that reflects actual cost of living. 

OK, let's just assume that we believe that safe, tenable housing is a basic human right and recognizing that we live in a vastly unequal society we then have to address the issue of housing costs with real, legitimate affordable housing laws and programs.   

1. In June of this year Rent Laws in NY will expire, including rent stabilization.  Please call on your elected officials in Albany to make sure they support the renewal and strengthening of rent laws in New York State.  This isn't just a downstate issue or a tenant issue.  Homeowners and cities all over New York State will be impacted. Any renter is impacted and if a renter cannot  afford to pay the landlord the owner of that building is impacted.  

2. Put an end to Vacancy Decontrol! This loophole allows for any unit that goes beyond $2000 per month to fall out of rent stabilization and is then subject to the whims of the market and out of touch landords and management companies.  This is where long time community residents are pushed out and wealthier people move in and instead of contributing to the life of such a neighborhood they displace the history of a whole community. This is one of the biggest weapons of gentrification.  

3. Let's protect Mitchell-Lama housing and preserve invaluable Section 8 vouchers. 

These are my musings for now. I am home sick with a yucky cold so I thought I'd share this with whoever cares to read it.

Monday, February 7, 2011


The love we make in community stays with us wherever we go.  With this knowledge as our guide, we make any place we go a place where we return to love. - bell hooks  This speaks to me as to how we live and create community where ever we are, where ever we find ourselves.

So I am trying to save money by making even more food at home. For a single, white female in New York I already make more than the average SWF, according to my Jamaican friend and former co-worker. And I quote, "I have never known a white girl in New York that actually cooks."  I am happy to be her first.   

I had two friends over for dinner, one on Saturday and another on Sunday and it was delightful. Making dinner and breaking bread together is something that always creates, strengthens and reinforces community.  I made sweet and spicy collard greens.  They were "hella" good as we say in San Francisco.
Stem and cut up the collard greens into very thin slices.  Saute olive oil, onions, and crushed red pepper for about five minutes on medium to high heat. Throw the collards in the skillet, once they wilt add 1/2 cup of warm vegetable broth and a tablespoon of sugar (or less) and cover until water evaporates. This is yummy, hearty, green goodness. If you are serving more than two people I recommend that you use at least two bunches of collard greens because they dramatically reduce in size.

I also baked tofu in canola oil, soy sauce and garlic. 400 degrees for 25-35 minutes. Hella easy. Who said making tofu was hard? I used to say that until I found this recipe from The Moosewood Cookbook.. I've still been trying to plan a pilgrimage to Ithaca to visit the restaurant. Anyone want to go when the weather gets better?  The Moosewood cookbooks form the foundation of all my cooking.

I did go out to eat once this weekend, for a little social work school reuion-- to the scrumptious Stone Park Cafe on 5th Avenue and 3rd Street in Park Slope. Sunday Brunch is one of  my favorite things to do in life. I had the cheese grits with a poached egg on top--no shrimp.  Very good, everyone enjoyed their meal.  I struck up a conversation with one of the staff and turns out he was from San Francisco and we knew some people in common. I always feel closer to home when that happens.  
All this food consumption requires working out, which I've been doing a decent amount of thankfully.

Speaking of working out and consumption I just realized that I spend the same amount on coffee every month that I spend on gym membership. This is frightening especially because I brew my own coffee every morning but the amount of coffee I buy while at work per month is still the same amount I pay to work out at the New York Sports Club.  So this doesn't even count the rougly 2 1bs of Fair Trade, Guatemalan Coffee that I buy at Gorrila or the Park Slope Food Coop.  This is embarassing and I am going to change that this month. I looking at my entire budget and this is one area where I have no excuse.  Now fortunately my alcohol budget is zero and here in NYC I am sure that many bar flys and other drinkers far exceed the cost of a gym membership. 

I snapped this image on my iphone right after New Years and have to share it. There are so many possible captions.

They might drink and drive but they don't litter! Thanks for keeping New York City Clean!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Supremacy of Conscience

"Ultimately, when a bishop stops pretending to be a doctor, the whole community benefits." 
- Jon O'Brien 

This is quite possibly my favorite quote of the decade.   Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice made this remark in response to the controversy that ensued after a doctor performed an emergency abortion for a woman at  St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. She would have died had the procedure not been done.     
"St. Joseph’s committee of ethicists employed both reason and compassion when they made their recommendation on this sad case of a woman whose pregnancy was literally killing her. Both the mother and the fetus were dying. If the mother died, this pregnancy could not be brought to term. Only the mother’s life could have been saved."  Excerpted from Jamie L. Manson's column "Grace on the Margins" in The National Catholic Reporter   
 As a result Bishop Olmstead of Phoenix informed St. Joseph's Hospital, which many still question his authority to have done so, that they could no longer call themselves "Catholic."   
Bishop Olmstead isn't enjoying much public company from his brother bishops on this situation but the US Catholic of Conference Bishops are still doing their part for women's health.  On September 17th, 2010 the USCCB hand delivered a letter to the US Department of Health and Human Services
stating, " that in our view prescription contraception as well as chemical and surgical sterilization are particularly inappropriate candidates for inclusion under mandated "preventative services" for all health plans."    
So here's how I see it, the USCCB is of course entitled to make their opinions known, thanks to free speech, and they have the authority to make and enforce the rules and laws as it pertains to the realm and domain of the Catholic Church in the US. This is part of their real authority and function as Bishops but their actual authority goes no further than these limits and boundaries. And while they also have the right as we all do to practice a religion thanks to the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment, the rest of us are also constitutionally protected by any attempt to make laws that reflect a particular group's religious beliefs. We have the Establishment Clause to thank for that. "The Establishment Clause prohibits the government from passing laws that will establish an official religion or preferring one religion over another." -US Constitution
What's especially disconcerting to me is that bishops and others claim that this isn't about religion at all but about women's health, racism and the environment. *

Why am I not convinced? Not at all, not a shred. It is hard for me to imagine that today's US Bishops are mobilizing on behalf of women's health--that they got all Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and said, "we're going to write a letter to the president because we're worried about women, racism and water pollution."  It would be funny if it weren't sad.  They are plain and simply using and exploiting these issues to advance their rigid, dogmatic beliefs about women's reproductive health--a matter which they know absolutely, positively nothing about.  We promise. 

This isn't to say that there aren't some beautifully written pastoral statements from either the US Bishops or the Vatican, but in my thirty years as a witness to Catholicism in the US I haven't really seen the US Bishops model a strong commitment to any of these things.  I see it in regular ole priests and women religious, and in lay persons.   And I am proud and honored to know them and to have been taught by them in my sixteen years of Catholic education.  I wouldn't have lasted as a Catholic for as long as I did if it weren't for those Catholics that I saw actually living out Catholic Social Teaching, the Gospel Works of Mercy.  Let's not also forget the Catechism "Supremacy of Conscience" teaching to live according to one's own conscience.   I've included the "Wo" to make it inclusive, (which Catholic women have to do all the time.  Some would rather be included at the outset so they don't show up for a party they weren't invited to, or they decide to leave the party when they realize they weren't invited in the first place).  I digress, this is another strand for another blog for another day.  Back to the Catechism and the Supremacy of Conscience: 

Paragraph 1782 "(Wo)Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. "He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters."  Catechism of the Catholic Church from 

Perhaps I'll get a letter from some Bishops telling me that I can no longer call my conscience Catholic.


Monday, January 17, 2011

A New Blog for a New Year

"We have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights, an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society..." MLK Jr. May 1967

As some of you know my last blog was about my sister getting married, "Beth Getting Married," alluding to the movie "Rachel Getting Married." I'll leave you to ponder what the title of this blog alludes to and I'll give you hint, "Russian existentialist."

Since Beth got married I haven't blogged at all so I've decided to start again.   As one Ani DiFranco song goes, "... just 'cause I'm here and I'm real."  I will primarily explore the following themes: Food, Home and Place, (what does it mean to live and contribute to a community that you didn't grow up in),  Religion and Spirituality ( what does this even mean now?), Sexuality, Politics, and the politics of these topics.  So I am trying to cover a lot but fortunately I'm not a perfectionist so I can aim high, come out low and not mind all that much.  I really just want to try and make some sense of this life. I hope you'll humor me.
Union Square

One thing I know for sure is that I ache for California, especially during Winter,  and so I hope to blog myself back there but in the meantime I want to blog myself into enjoying the amazing, dynamic, vibrant city where I currently reside.  In so doing I hope to find a way to be as content as possible where ever I find myself. 


Last night I made this recipe:  Tempeh and Eggplant Pot Pies:

I didn't know what "ramekins" were before this and I don't have them so I just used a regular  ole 9 inch  loaf pan and it worked out quite well.  One day I'll graduate to using ramekins but I'm just not there yet. 

 Today I'll be making a vegan Apple Crumble, adapting Anna Thomas' recipe "Farmhouse Apple Crumble," that I found in Love Soup.  Mine will be called "Urban Apple Demolition." I'll post pictures and recipes next time. 
-Martin Luther King Jr. Day