Affordable Housing’ Should Mean Housing for All

A few months ago, my friend and neighbor invited me to go with her to a meeting at the Church of the Good Shepherd on Broadway and Isham Street in Inwood, a couple of blocks from where we live. She said she was very concerned about the rezoning proposed for the Inwood area. 

I had heard about school rezoning, but really knew very little about neighborhood rezoning. To say the least, I was quickly schooled on the topic from different speakers who were eloquent and knowledgeable. I was hooked, and felt I needed to learn more about the rezoning project in my neighborhood and make up my mind on how I felt about it. More than that, I wanted and needed to know how local politicians felt about the proposal. 

I continued to attend numerous meetings and listened to my neighbors make personal declarations on how they were affected by high rents. Many spoke of experiencing harassment from landlords. I also listened to local politicians, who spoke of growing up or living in the area, and said they supported the project. Right away I realized that what my neighbors wanted—or better yet, needed—was not aligned with the local politicians, who supported the rezoning. 

My family and I have lived in the Washington Heights and Inwood community for 40 years. Some of us moved away. The rest of us stayed, because this is home to us. We are comfortable and feel safe living here; this is the place we know best. We’ve seen some changes over the years, but in the past they were more gradual, more organic, if you will. 

The changes we are experiencing now are tied to a systematic process that pushes people out in order to allow others to take their place. People are not leaving Inwood and Washington Heights because they want to live somewhere else. Instead, they are leaving because they cannot afford to stay here. Landlords want to ride the gravy train, and politicians make decisions that affect families and their homes. Families get separated when the children grow up and get a job, but can’t afford an apartment where “mami and papi” live. My sister can no longer afford an apartment on her own in this area, so she is forced to live with our mother.

The need for affordable housing is great for working people. When I say “affordable housing,” I mean rent prices that are comparable to the salaries of people living in that community, especially those making minimum wage. When the term “affordable housing” is used by politicians and developers, it is steeped in politics and greed. We need to reclaim the term and redefine it so it represents the basic needs of the hard-working people of this community. 

The community came out to two rallies and several meetings to make sure their voices are heard loud and clear. My neighbors and I want to hold elected officials accountable for the decisions they make on behalf of the people in this community. We understand the importance of being involved in a process that will affect our lives. The Inwood community is ready to fight for housing for all, and not just for some.


Gladys R. Hechavarria is a teacher active in the Northern Manhattan Is Not for Sale Coalition.