In This Episode
This July 4th holiday week, DeRay shares the underreported news of the week, highlighting police harassment of Angeli Rose Gomez, mother of two children who were held hostage during the Uvalde shooting and rushed in past the police to save them. Gomez has been an outspoken parent about the police’s response to the shooting. DeRay also speaks to Leah Goodridge, a Commissioner from the NYC Planning Commission and housing rights advocate.
DeRay Mckesson: Hey, this is DeRay, and welcome to Pod Save the People. This episode is a different episode. It’s July 4th. We’re all traveling and some people are taking a break. So I’m talking about the news this week, a couple of pieces of news that really resonated with me that I wanted to share with you. And then we have an incredible guest, Leah Goodridge. She joins us to talk about all things housing. She is a commissioner on the New York City Planning Commission. And I have learned a ton from her. I didn’t know a lot about housing issues, but here we go. And, you know, this is a really interesting 4th of July, right? Because it is hard to find things to celebrate. If anything, this is a 4th of July that we should think about fighting for our rights, because it seems like they’re being stripped away left and right. Now with Leah, we’re going to cover tenant rights, zoning, cost of living, landlord abuses, and a whole lot of other things. Here we go. And my advice to this week is to just decompress. I went to Essence Fast this weekend. It was amazing shout out to the whole Essence crew. And I found myself like, not going to all the events. Like I did go out, I saw people, it was great, but it was just so cool to be in a hotel room and just decompress. I feel like I move at a million miles an hour. I’m always doing something at the house, I’m always going somewhere. I’m hanging out with people, da, da. And it was like, cool to just be still. So my advice is just be still like, just find some time to be still. Here we go.
So the news update that we have today is about policing. There are a couple of stories that I wanted to share. The first is you probably know about the mother in Uvalde who ran into the school, broke away from the police, and she rescued her two sons as the police just stood outside. And we all know what happened in Uvalde. The gunman killed a class full of kids and their teachers. And this mother though, Angeli Rose Gomez. She ran in and got her kids and defied the police, and she was briefly handcuffed outside the school. And she has continued to criticize the police for their wild mismanagement and just negligence that led to the death of so many people. Now, what you probably don’t know is that since she’s been speaking out, the police have been harassing her. And here’s what it looks like: she was pulled over for a traffic stop, falsely accused of having undocumented immigrants in her car, a police car sat outside her home for 45 minutes and flashed its lights at her and her mother as they went for a walk. She now has her kids with somebody else because she doesn’t want them to be around her anymore right now, while the police are targeting her, because she doesn’t want them to be a target. And it’s a fascinating story, is that, you know, you think about all the things that happened in Uvalde, the police chief in Uvalde, of the school system police who was on the city council, he’s resigned from the city council now–but the police just watched and listened to those kids die, and this mother broke away from the police and got her kids. And she’s been an outspoken critic ever since against the police department, and they’re targeting her. And this is what you see happen time and time again, is that the people who are willing to challenge the system get targeted by it. And I’m hopeful that in Uvalde there will be organizing that helps to just uproot all of those things. It’s like you should disband that police department because they showed you clear as day that they’re not there to protect you. That the city council, you know, when we think about a majority people of color community and a pretty much all white city council, that is just structural racism. But this story of the mother being targeted was just so wild to me. And it’s one of those things that I worry about with all of that movement stuff that happens, right, that, you know, these stories become the biggest story in the country for two days and all of a sudden nobody is checking on Uvalde anymore. But this mother is being targeted by the police in a small town. And what does that mean? So I wanted to bring that here for us to just think about, to talk about among ourselves. And the second piece of news is also a piece of news that you probably saw recently. And it is about the latest shooting, the latest national police shooting that happened in Akron. Jayland Walker, he was shot 60 times by the police after a traffic stop. The police say that it was a traffic stop and that he got out the car and ran. And they suggest that there was gunfire that you can hear in the body camera footage that led eight officers to shoot 60 bullets into him, but I think 80 bullets were total fired. Eight officers have been placed on leave. There are 13 videos from body camera footage that have been released. And thankfully, there was a new law that was put in place that made the release possible–so shout out to all the activists who fought really hard to make sure that the police couldn’t sit on information like this, and they actually had to, had to release it. But it’s wild because I watched the video–and you know, not everybody has to watch it, and I get people who don’t watch it–it’s really wild because what a world where a traffic stop leads to you being shot 60 times! And when you watch the video, it is, I mean, it’s clear like, it’s eight officers, they shot, like, you know, it’s one kid. What are you going to do? And the wildest part about it is not only do they shoot him 60 times–mind you, unarmed, not accused of hurting anybody, this is a traffic violation–is that they then handcuff his lifeless body. They handcuffed his lifeless body. I mean, what callousness. So when people talk about a world beyond policing, it’s like this just can’t be the best solution. And you cannot tell me that all of these, quote unquote, “professionals” thought that was the best thing to do. I mean, that is just really wild. And I actually don’t think it’s enough to put these officers on leave. I don’t think it’s enough to suspend these officers or terminate them. I also don’t even think it’s enough to press criminal charges against these officers. This is a department that I think actually should just be disbanded. Something is wrong at the root when eight officers–not one, not one outlier, not, you know, not a partner, tried to fix it–eight people shot 60 bullets at a kid running away. You got to, you got to just let that go. Like you got to let this police department go, just disband it. And I don’t know what the other answer is, but if the solution, if this is the solution to traffic, this can’t be it. So I wanted to bring those here for us to think about this week. And we will all be back together next week.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week, we welcome activists and tenants’ rights attorney Leah Goodridge to chat all things New York City housing. We covered a news story a while back on Leah’s advocacy on the New York City Planning Commission about property in New York City, and I was fascinated by her comments then and we finally got connected. She was one of two commissioners who voted no against a controversial proposal for residential towers in Harlem. The two-tower project would have brought more than 900 apartments to the city of of Harlem, with less than a third of those units classified as affordable housing. Leah wasn’t having it. Now I’m happy to finally have her on to discuss her work as a tenants. ‘Rights attorney and member of the Planning Commission. She gives us the inside scoop on what’s been going on with them the last few years, and how we can be a part of effective change to see that New York City remains accessible to folks. More importantly, she helps us think about housing in general. I learned a ton of things that I’m going to take with me in my advocacy, especially thinking about the relationship between housing and policing. You know, when you think about the housing issues, who evicts people? It’s the police. Here we go.
DeRay Mckesson: Leah, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Leah Goodridge: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, let’s start with how you got to this work. I know you first, actually, because on the podcast as a part of a new segment we covered at your lone No vote on a project in New York City as a member of the Planning Commission. And we were like, shout out to the Black woman on the Planning Commission who is telling the truth. Other people are not telling the truth. That’s how I first came across you. Then randomly, we like connected on Twitter. I was like, Oh, my goodness, we got to have her on the pod. How did you get to the Planning Commission? How did you get to housing as an issue that you were not only an expert on, but this is like your actual work? What’s your story?
Leah Goodridge: Well, first, thank you so much for having me on. I really love the podcast, and you obviously. You know, I came to this work not necessarily intentionally. I went to law school. I studied, you know, what is now controversial, critical race theory, in law school. I learned a lot about systemic discrimination and just systems of oppression. And so when I left law school, I really wanted to be a public interest lawyer. And I went to UCLA, so then I returned back to New York and it was incredibly unaffordable. It was very hard for me to find a place to live. And at that time, many of my family members had actually moved out of New York because it was unaffordable, so I became really interested in being a tenants’ rights attorney. A position opened up, and ever since, you know, it’s now been ten years where I’ve been a tenants’ rights attorney in legal services, which means that I work at a nonprofit, so I’m not a private practitioner. So, you know, I’ve been doing it for ten years, and I really enjoy it. It’s incredibly daunting work, but I feel like as a New Yorker, I get to be a part of having a say in the fact that New Yorkers are being pushed out.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, when you say a tenant lawyer, help us understand what that actually means. How do people get to you? Like, is this, like what’s the process? I think that for most people, lawyers defend people in court, that is like, where the criminal process is what people think. Is this criminal, is this civil? Like, give us the 101 lay of the land.
Leah Goodridge: All right. So let’s say, for example, you are a tenant in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, and you lost your job and you’re not able to keep up with the rent. And so now you owe about three months’ rent and you get a notice from your landlord saying that, I’m going to take you to court for eviction because you owe rent now. And at this point you don’t have any income. You’re waiting for unemployment, you’re not able to pay the rent, and you may get evicted. So you go to court and oftentimes you are referred to a legal service provider, and it’s a civil court, New York City housing court, which is distinct–there’s civil court, there’s criminal court–so you go to court and oftentimes you are referred to a free legal services attorney, assuming your income eligible. And in this case you would be because your income is very little. And that’s where I come in. And so these are the cases that I take. I represent people who are facing eviction, and I represent people who are facing eviction because they owe rent. Sometimes people are facing eviction because the landlord says that you breached the lease. The lease says you are not allowed to have a pet. The person has a dog or a cat. The landlord finds out and they take them to court. Sometimes the landlord will take a person to court because it is an unregulated private market apartment. That means that when the lease is up, the landlord doesn’t have to renew it, and so the landlord chooses not to renew it and they often start an eviction case. You know, there are a myriad of reasons why. Another type of case that I represent tenants on–and this is very common–is where they have repairs. You don’t have heat or hot water, or mold, or any other type of you know, infestations are a big issue in New York–and this is a big issue because New York City rent is expensive and a lot of people, rightfully so, get upset at the fact that they’re spending over 30% of their income on rent and then they don’t have hot water. So that’s where I come in.
DeRay Mckesson: And what do you find is like the most common? And then I want to start with the Planning Commission. But of the people that you represent is it is more of the like, got behind on my rent, got to figure out how not to get evicted? Is it more of the like the pipes are bursting and they’re not doing anything, or is it more of the pets? Or like, maybe it’s none of those three.
Leah Goodridge: I have to say, I would say it’s a little skewed because a lot of tenants are fearful of taking the affirmative step of taking their landlord to court. So I would say that almost, if I had to just make my own statistics, I would say that 80% of my clients who are facing eviction because of nonpayment have repairs. So they’ll say, you know, because it always comes up, you’re like, you know what? We’re doing all of this. We’re going to Home Base. We’re trying to get this money through rental assistance programs. And it takes weeks, sometimes months. But all of this is going on and I still have no heat. So what about that? So so oftentimes I would say repairs are a huge issue. But nonpayment’s by far are the big are, I would say, a good chunk of the cases. Another big type of case is what we call succession–it’s not like the show–it’s where, let’s say, for example, I am living with my mother in an apartment and my mother leaves. She vacates the apartment and I’m left there but I wasn’t on the lease. So the landlord then says to me, okay, you have to go. And I say, Oh, well, wait a minute, I should be able to succeed to this type of apartment because I co-resided with my mother for a number of years, and other factors. So that’s a big one, too. And, you know, oftentimes a succession issue is that a person, it’s either a spouse or a parent, but it’s often at the head of household or the person on the lease, that they died.
DeRay Mckesson: Got it, got it. Okay, take us to–I have more questions about the housing lawyer life–but how did you get to the Planning Commission? Would you just, like, knock out the cases and you met somebody and they were like, You know what, she be on the Planning Commission because she understands housing.
Leah Goodridge: Well, okay. So a number of years ago, in, I believe it’s 2018, Mayor de Blasio nominated me to join the Rent Guidelines Board. And the Rent Guidelines Board is the board that determines and sets the rate for renewal leases for rent-regulated apartments. So that’s both rent-controlled and rent-stabilized.
DeRay Mckesson: We don’t know the difference. So . . .
Leah Goodridge: I will put it, I will make it easy. I described an unregulated private market apartment before. That’s where the landlord can generally raise the rent to whatever that landlord wants to when the lease is up. In a regulated apartment, the board, the Rent Guidelines Board, let’s say your rent is 1200 and the lease is up and the landlord wants to raise it to 2500–well, they the landlord isn’t allowed to make that determination on their own. The Rent Guidelines Board sets the amount, the percentage every year by which rent-stabilized apartments can raise the rent by. So sometimes it’s 1%. You know, obviously a landlord would like it to be 20% or however high, but they don’t, it’s in the name–it stabilizes the rent, it regulates the rent.
DeRay Mckesson: Are rent-controlled and rent-stabilized the same thing? That’s because I don’t know.
Leah Goodridge: No. Generally rent-stabilized apartments were previously rent-controlled. There are less rent-controlled apartments in New York City than rent-stabilized. Generally, rent-stabilized apartments they have a lease, rent-controlled normally don’t. But it operates generally in the same manner. You know, there are other like, fuel prices and stuff that they have to pay, but the long and short of it is they’re both regulated rents.
DeRay Mckesson: So you got appointed to that board.
Leah Goodridge: Right. So I got appointed to this board. It was very contentious, very political. But I was the tenant representative because there are nine board members and two of them are tenant representatives, two of them are landlord representatives and the rest of them are called public members. They’re supposed to be neutral and in between. So I, you know, did that work for almost four years, and tenants got to know me, obviously. Elected officials as well. It’s a very front-facing role. You’re in the media a lot. And so the Public Advocate afterwards–because of my work on there–the Public Advocate, Jumaane Williams, who’s now running for governor, he nominated me to be on the City Planning Commission. So that’s how this all came about. I was on the Rent Guidelines Board and obviously, you know, it’s I think, honestly, both boards are very political. And I think that, I’m very grateful that I had the experience of being on the Rent Guidelines Board before joining the City Planning Commission, because I have to say, to just join without, you know, the experience–what I mean by that is there is a lot of immense political pressure–immense political pressure–that in my main job, nothing could have prepared me for. So it’s, you know, that’s how that that that’s how it all happened.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, tell us, what is the finding commission and why it matters?
Leah Goodridge: So, I’ll put it like this. You know, when you’re walking around New York City and you pass a building that has a card-board and you can look through and see what’s going on, and they’re building something. They’re building a residential building or any other type of building. So essentially that’s a use of land, and so any time there is a decision, particularly with housing being built and developed, most of the time it goes to the City Planning Commission, almost, most of the time it goes to the City Planning Commission. And what happens is first it goes through the Community Board. They vote on it, and then it comes to the City Planning Commission. And I’m one of about 13 commissioners. And we vote on whether to approve or reject the project. And then after that, it goes to the city, it goes to the City Council. So, you know, I’m going to give some ideas of things that come to the Commission. There was a huge Harlem development that you were talking about earlier that spanned an entire block of almost 1000 apartments, and that came through the Commission of whether to approve or deny that. And then another type of project that comes through via seating, the sheds. That’s a land use issue, where we have obviously restaurants and they’re using the sidewalk to have now open seating. That came through the City Planning Commission. Jails: there was a huge brouhaha over borough-based jails. That’s a use of land. Basically, anything that’s built generally comes through the Commission. We vote on it and then afterwards it goes to the City Council.
DeRay Mckesson: Do y’all meet a ton? You must meet a ton.
Leah Goodridge: We meet a ton. A ton! We meet twice a week, every two weeks. And generally the meetings, I mean, the shortest meeting I think has been an hour, but they can go on for like 4 hours. And, you know, generally each week, or every other week there’s a hearing, people come and testify. But yes, it’s very time-intensive.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, I’d love to know how you’re, you already knew a lot about housing before you became on any of these boards. You were already doing this work as a lawyer before you on the Rent Board. I’d like to know how your understanding of the housing issue and what you think the issues, are has grown or changed now that you’ve been able to see it from all sides. You saw it as a tenant advocate, now you see it as essentially a policy maker. You know, you’ve seen it in the two biggest ways you can do it in New York City. Do you still see the issue the same, or are you like, Wow, I used to think this and now I understand this better? Are are you’re like, Whoa, this is more of a crisis than I used to think it was?
Leah Goodridge: It’s the latter. It’s more of a crisis, and I used to think it was. And I have to be blunt and honest here: I think doing the work is like, Okay, I can see why everyone’s moving to Atlanta. Okay. All righty, then. You know, so, let me just give you a few statistics to explain what I mean. So about 70% of New York City residents are renters. So we are a renter city. There are a lot of other places in the US where most people are homeowners–that’s not us. About 40% of New York City residents are what’s called rent-burdened. That means that we spend over 30% of our income on rent. And why wouldn’t we? Because in Manhattan, currently the median rent is $4,000. Tenants in majority Black zip codes are three times more likely to be evicted. Before the pandemic, LatinX residents were the most likely to be threatened with eviction. 50% of the head of household in homeless shelters are Black. Again, that’s 56%. Nationwide, 40% of homeless people are Black–we’re only 13% of the population. So for me, housing justice is racial justice. I’m getting to see exactly how gentrification happens, and who it impacts, and it’s overwhelmingly people of color.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
DeRay Mckesson: What can we do about it? And what, I want to ask you, because you are on the–you’re not on the Rent board now–but I just saw the Rent Board, I think I saw that the Rent Board increased the rates.
Leah Goodridge: Yes.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: I don’t really know about the details, and I’m hoping you do.
Leah Goodridge: Yes. So what can we do about it? I’ll explain first what the rent guidelines and then I’ll say what we can do about it. You know, the Rent Guidelines Board for the first time in nearly a decade increased the rent to its highest level. So right now, one-year leases will be increased by 3.25%, and two-year leases will be increased by 5%. Generally, for the last nine years, it has been anywhere between zero and 2% for one-year leases. So it is a big jump. And I think as a tenants’ rights attorney, one of the main things I see is even a 50%–I’m sorry, not a 50%–a $50 increase in rent, it means a lot. It accumulates and it results in people not being able to pay it, and then they face eviction, or they have to move. They’re displaced in some other facet. So it’s huge. You know, what can we do about it? When I was a tenant rep, I worked alongside tenant organizers and there is a coalition called the Rent Justice Coalition, and there are lots of tenant-organizing groups across the city. And they work really hard. They run the city. They run the city. They are challenging the mayor. They meet with elected officials. You know, they work really hard to push an equitable agenda for tenants in New York City. And so I think the first thing of what can we do is, one of the things you can do is join one of those coalitions, be a part of them. It helps so that you know what’s going on. And then you can also be part of the movement. Another idea when people ask me, what can you do–community boards play a huge role. Like I mentioned before, the City Planning Commission, a lot of things go through the community board. So whenever you see these luxury housing developments going up, your community board very likely had to vote on it. So being part of the community board. And if you don’t have time, because obviously a lot of people work, at least join the listservs so that you know what’s going on. So, you know, the third thing I would say is hold your elected officials accountable. When you see that luxury development is going up in Harlem and the city council voted on it and let’s say they voted to approve or reject it or whatever, you want to call your elected official and ask, What was your vote on this and why? Most elected officials have a constituent services person. They can talk with you, they can meet with you–but hold your elected, hold your elected officials accountable. Call them. Ask them how they feel about certain issue. Tell them how you feel about it. And so I give all of these various ideas because obviously, you know, not everyone has time to say, you know, join a board or join a coalition. But the second step from that is you can be a part of knowing what’s going on. You can put in a five-minute call to, Elected X, Y and Z and say, How did you vote on this and why?
DeRay Mckesson: Is there anything that people can do? I’m like looking at all this stuff now because I, you know, you’re teaching me about the Rent Guidelines Board, and those do seem like dramatic increases. Is it is it lost? Like, are we, like can the council do something? Is this just it is what it is, or do we have to wait till next year? Like, can we . . ?
Leah Goodridge: With the Rent Guidelines Board it is an “it is what it is.” You know, and I want to say, this is who you vote in the office. A lot of these decisions are based on who you vote in the office. These decisions are set by the administration. And so, for example, right now, one of the wedges that’s happening in the housing justice movement is, Okay, well, then we need to have rent increases because of small landlords, right? And so that’s something that, for example, the mayor has said more than once. And then when you look at the actual data, the reality is that the majority of New York City landlords are corporate landlords. They’re not small mom-and-pop landlords. And so if you’re going to impact 2 million people based on data that isn’t really accurate, that’s problematic.
DeRay Mckesson: Can the council–in my quick research and you know this better than I do–the council made the RGB, right, the Rent Guidelines Board.
Leah Goodridge: There’s a specific rent stabilization law that created rent stabilization, then we have a board. There has been–before you get to the question–there has been some question of whether–and I was just talking about this yesterday with a fellow, former board member–of, okay, well, maybe we should scrap the Board, maybe the New York City Council should be making these decisions. I’ve got to be honest with you–I don’t know. You know? And I say I don’t know because I’m on the City Planning Commission and most of the developments that go through, the luxury developments, the city council voted to approve them, so I don’t know what would be so different if they were voting on rents.
DeRay Mckesson: And my understanding of the Rent Guideline Board is that it’s slated towards the mayor. Right?
Leah Goodridge: It is definitely, the mayor, regardless, you know, it’s supposed to be a neutral board. I was on it for four years. I’m still obviously in touch with a lot of the folks there. I just testified. It’s not neutral. And that’s part of the problem. It’s not. If you–
DeRay Mckesson: We fix that, right? We could have two people appointed by the speaker. We could do something that offset the mayor’s absolute authority.
Leah Goodridge: Yes. And that’s how the City Planning Commission is. I, like I said, I’ve been appointed by the Public Advocate. Then there are some that are appointed by borough presidents. Then there are some that are appointed by the mayor. So there are different parties that are appointed by different elected officials. So that is an option.
DeRay Mckesson: Yeah, we should think about that. Maybe I’ll call the Rent–I was googling and I couldn’t find a person to reach out to at the Rent Justice Coalition. if you know somebody . . . ?
Leah Goodridge: I will. It’s a huge group. I’ll certainly, I’ll shoot you an email with the information. But they do have a website, but it’s large, it’s about 20 different tenant organization groups. That’s why it’s called coalition. It’s Crown Heights Tenants Union, you know, it’s Met Council, it’s Casa in the Bronx, it’s Woodside on the Move–and I’m also naming these organizations to shout them out as well, because I have to tell you, they do amazing work. Every year, they gather hundreds of tenants and they pack, you know, they have the Rent Guidelines Board. And if those tenants weren’t there, if no one came, these increases would be much higher. There wouldn’t be any accountability, because there would be a feeling of, well, no one would be upset, no one’s watching us. So when those tenants go in and they shout, you know, “Shut it down”, or “What do we want–a rent freeze” as the answer, it makes a huge impact. It makes a huge impact on the Board.
DeRay Mckesson: What do you say to the people who are like, you know, landlords are struggling, whether they’re companies or not, right? That COVID was hard on everybody. That’s what, I’m asking you, because this is what I heard. I heard this idea that when we freeze rant, it’s just displacing the burden, and will bankrupt landlords. You know?
Leah Goodridge: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s a difficult conversation to be had. What I would say to that, though, is that the burden shouldn’t be pushed on tenants. Tenants are not employees, so the burden shouldn’t be pushed on tenants. One of the main complaints has been, What about the taxes? What about other prices that landlords have? The costs? And most of the costs are, you know, that are complained about our property taxes. Okay. So then what about advocating for those to be lower from the city? Why is the first mechanism there to have tenants pay more because of higher property taxes? So, you know, that’s where I question, if the result and the resolution always has to be that tenants have to pay more money. Salaries aren’t going up. I mean, you know, and that’s the thought process on the Board. I think, you know, we’ve heard a lot of, well, you know, this shouldn’t be pushed on landlords. Then what about advocating for employers to increase salaries? And that was part of the mayor’s housing plan, by the way. The mayor recently released his housing plan. It was a long-awaited plan that tenant advocates were very anxious for. And I think the number one part that I was looking forward to reading about was how to address rent burden. And one of the ways that the mayor put in his housing plan was that salaries would be increased. Now, I have some questions about that. That sounds great, obviously, but my main question is, how would the city do that? Let’s say if you work at a private employer and you don’t work for the city or you don’t work for an institution that’s funded by the city, how exactly would the city increase your salary? I can understand if there are going to be vouchers, but that’s not what this said. So, you know, I, it is a lot of putting the burden on tenants who are the most vulnerable. The other thing to recognize is that you don’t lose when you have property in New York City. Property values go up. New York City is one of the best rental markets. The rent prices are already higher than they should be. We had years of inflated rent prices. We’re talking, the reason why those rents under de Blasio were much lower were to balance the fact that years before, under Bloomberg, under previous mayors, under Giuliani, they were 10%, 8% often times–just very inflated rates. That led to a lot of people being pushed out. It led to the current homeless population amplifying. And so, you know, now here we are. We’re trying to balance the system that we created. And when I say we, I mean New York City, not the tenants.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, you also wrote in Teen Vogue about building neglect. Can you talk about building neglect, and why you think it’s an issue that we should talk about more?
Leah Goodridge: Yeah. I mean, you know, it really, the Bronx fire that–so first of all, in January of this year, 17 people were killed in a residential Bronx fire. And the primary place where I’m helping tenants are, is the Bronx. And so that really affected me greatly. And it just, you know, reminded me, and a lot of other tenant advocates, that this is a systemic issue. It’s not just that buildings are, you know, catch on fire anywhere. It is disproportionately in low-income areas. And so let’s look at that one, for example. You call, you know, 311 for example, and you have them come. Now, I can tell you right now, if you don’t have any heat and you have a housing inspector come and let’s say, for example, because it’s the dead of winter and you have your oven on or you have an electric heater, you know, when the housing inspector comes, they say, Oh, well, it’s hot. And you’ll say, okay, well feel the actual radiator, it’s not, I have this on because I’m freezing. And they’ll say, Okay, well I’m sorry, I have to wait until the temperature goes down because I can’t, they take the temperature in the room even if they feel the radiator and it’s clearly not working. So that’s one thing that happens. The other thing is that there is a lot of intimidation and harassment. So if–and this I’ve seen this very frequently–if you want to report your landlord, a lot of people don’t do it, because they fear that the landlord is going to retaliate against them. And obviously that’s illegal, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. It happens very often. And the people who are most vulnerable are people of color, especially when we look at the intersection of race and immigration. If you, landlords tend to go after, and have used the fact that some residents are undocumented. Some have even reported and used Child Protective Services. And so it’s, it’s always a, it’s always a gamble. And I think that a lot of tenants recognize that, and that’s why a lot are reticent to use that mechanism. But we’re here to help them, and we’re here to fight against the retaliation.
DeRay Mckesson: Where can people go to stay in touch with what you’re doing? And what should, if people want to read, you know, I think about housing as something that I don’t know super well, I’m learning–is there like a place that people should start?
Leah Goodridge: That’s a good question. So where can people go? I am on Twitter mostly, and that’s where I post updates about what’s going on in the housing world, in mostly in New York City, but generally, I do post about nationally what’s going on. Today, I just posted, for example, you know, there’s often this question, Oh, well, if it’s too expensive in New York City, then why don’t people just move? And so they do. They’re moving. They’re moving to North Carolina. They’re moving to Florida. They’re moving to Texas. And then when, you know, they move there, then what happens there? Those places are already facing gentrification. And with the new influx of residents, landlords and developers are then further increasing those rents and those home prices. And so what happens? So to answer the question, my Twitter handle is leahfrombklyn and I’ll spell that out. That’s l e a h f r o m b k l y n –So that’s my Twitter handle. You can follow me there for information. The place to start, I would honestly say the tenant organizing groups, they often have a wealth of information. So if you are in Brooklyn, if you’re in Crown Heights, there is the Crown Heights Tenants Union. If you’re in the Bronx, there’s Casa. If you’re in Manhattan, there is Met Council. If you’re in Queens, there is Woodside on the Move. There is Ridgewood Tenants Union. So they’re all over. They’re all over.
DeRay Mckesson: On two questions we ask everybody. The first is, what do you say to people who feel like they’ve done everything they were supposed to do and the world hasn’t changed in the way they wanted it to? They emailed, they called, they listened to you, they listened to me they voted, they texted, and the world still not great. What do you say to those people?
Leah Goodridge: It’s a hard question because I face that a lot. And I would say that honestly, half the battle is to know that there are more people out there fighting for you than you might think. I recently posted on Twitter because I knew that a lot of people were going to be upset about the Rent Guidelines Board vote. So I posted about the people who are out there fighting. And there are a lot. It’s not just the tenant organizers, it’s policy people. And so, you know, we’re here and we’re fighting. And we know that a lot of people are tired and ready to give up, especially over the last two years–this isn’t just a pandemic of health, and it’s not like racism just began, but it’s certainly been amplified. And, myself included, a lot of people, are just sort of almost over it and over the system. But we’re still here and we’re still fighting, and things will, we do believe that things will change, albeit maybe it will be slower than we want. But with so many people pushing. I have hope.
DeRay Mckesson: What’s the piece of advice that you gained over the years that stuck with you?
Leah Goodridge: Hmm. That’s a good one. I would say build your own circle. That’s helped for me. Build your own support network. And so, you know, when you asked me the first question, basically for folks who feel, and rightfully so, jaded–I feel that way often, and then I hop on the phone and I talk to another person who is involved. A lot of my friends are like me, in social justice or doing social justice work, and it’s helpful to be able to talk to someone else when I’ve had a day when I feel jaded, and they provide support to me. I tell you what, June of 2020, I was ready to just pack it. I was like, I’m going to Ghana. I’m done. I am done, you know? And what got me through it was when I had a bad day, I called my friend, and they would say, No, girl, we’re going to get through this, we’ve been in this country too long, you know? And then when she or he or they’d have a bad day, I tell them the same. So the support network is key. And, you know, and I’ve built it. Some of it is family, but a lot of it is people that I have introduced in my life as family.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom.
Leah Goodridge: Boom!
DeRay Mckesson: We consider you a friend of the pod and can’t wait to have you back. I learned about housing and we’ll bring you back on to keep teaching us about the things that we don’t know, the things that we should be paying attention to. And now you have giving me a new project to learn more about the rent guidelines stuff. Because I’m like, This is crazy!
Leah Goodridge: It is crazy. It is, it’s wild. It’s definitely wild. And uh, but we’re fighting it, and we certainly have our work cut out for us. But that’s what we do.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else, and we will see you next week. Pod Save the People is production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by A.J. Moultrie, and mixed by Veronica Simonetti, and executive produced by me. Special thanks to our weekly contributors, Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles Johnson.