Contrary to the New York real estate industry’s propaganda, reducing evictions and strengthening affordable housing protections actually reduces crime and violence.
As the New York legislature and governor engage in a high-stakes power struggle over the coming year’s budget, some voters in Flushing, Queens, among other neighborhoods, are finding strange fliers on their doorstep, warning them that a proposed measure to protect tenants from eviction was backed by “a group of self-professed socialist politicians” and “will devastate housing in New York.” The flier, printed by “Homeowners for an Affordable New York” also warned, “These are the same folks that caused crime to skyrocket with their bail reform law.”
Only one fact on this flier is true: “Good Cause Eviction,” which would protect tenants from losing their homes by preventing landlords from refusing to renew leases without good reason and includes some insurance against unreasonable rent increases. It was first introduced by socialist state senator Julia Salazar and is embraced by other socialist legislators in the senate and assembly. After organizing by housing groups, the New York City Democratic Socialists of America (NYC-DSA), and other progressive organizations, Good Cause is now supported by a majority in the state legislature, despite millions spent on deceptive fliers like the one making the rounds in Queens.
The name of the group on the fliers sounds wholesome enough — few are more politically venerated in America than the homeowner. But it’s also misleading. “Homeowners for an Affordable New York” is an Astroturf group created by large real estate companies who own many other people’s homes. This group is less interested in crime or public safety than the fact that Good Cause Eviction would make it harder to evict tenants for common greedy reasons like raising rents and making more profits.
In fact, if these “homeowners” cared about bringing down crime in New York City, they’d support Good Cause Eviction. A study from Cornell University found that spikes in evictions in a given neighborhood are associated with spikes in crime.
The Cornell report, “No Shelter, No Safety,” found that forcing people to relocate frequently disrupted their families and communities, weakening social ties and social cohesion. Such alienation also gives people less reason to respect their communities and organize politically to fix problems in the area — and more reason to act out.
A 2022 Ohio study found that evictions led to more burglary and auto theft. Philadelphia research has linked it to higher homicide rates, too, even more alarmingly. Evictions, if unaddressed, stand to make New York’s crime problems much worse. The Cornell study recommended, as a public safety measure, that policymakers set a high priority on keeping New Yorkers in their homes, singling out Good Cause as one key reform for accomplishing this.
Such data suggest the anti-socialist fliers distributed by the real estate industry are not only ignoring the evidence on eviction and crime — they’re also wrong about New York’s 2019 bail reform law, which has been studied extensively and found to have nothing to do with the pandemic-era spike in violence.
Nonetheless, over the next week, we will probably hear more from these “homeowners,” in a classic bit of grassroots fakery from local plutocrats. Last year, according to a report coauthored by Public Accountability Initiative, Housing Justice for All, and Community Voices Heard, the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) and other large lobbying firms representing some of New York’s biggest real estate companies created folksy-sounding, seemingly grassroots groups in order to fight tenants’ rights and affordable housing measures like Good Cause Eviction: “Taxpayers for an Affordable New York,” “Affordable Rent for All,” and “Homeowners for an Affordable New York.” (It’s like when big polluters passed legislation called the “Clear Skies Initiative” to insure they could continue filling the heavens with smog, unimpeded.)
These front groups’ names evoke the average struggling family, but that family’s interests — affordable rents, strong tenant protections — exactly oppose the real estate industry’s political agenda. The lobbying groups hide behind these mom-and-pop names because most people wouldn’t be that sympathetic to the woes faced by moguls and tycoons. The average portfolio size of the board members of these lobbying firms is over seven thousand homes. Some own over thirty thousand. Sure, they’re “homeowners,” but they’re not grandma renting out an upstairs room. Maybe they should rename the group “New York Thousands-of-Homes Owners.”
REBNY has even bragged about the fliers and advertising they’ve created as “Homeowners for an Affordable New York,” touting it as “one of our largest public relations campaigns” ever.
But why the misleading messaging on crime? At first glance, it might seem strange, given that mass incarceration isn’t directly profitable to REBNY’s members. But there are a couple good reasons. If you’re a huge New York real estate company looking to make more millions, you don’t want Good Cause Eviction, and you don’t wish the socialist movement well. Inflaming fears about crime is a time-honored way to demonize humane, progressive reforms and push ordinary people to the Right. Best of all from REBNY’s perspective, attacks on bail reform obscure the real solutions to crime like strong housing protections, which will indeed take money out of Big Real Estate’s pockets.
So don’t believe the “Homeowners’” fake-activisty hype. Strengthening affordable housing in the state of New York — and everywhere else — won’t be good for real-estate developers’ bottom lines, but it will make everyone else safer.
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