I am an architect in the design unit at the New York City Housing Authority. I’ve been here since 1999.
I started out in the private sector. I remember one project where they crammed the workers into as little space as possible while spending more time on the executive suite. That disturbed me.
“So, I decided to work in the public sector where I thought I could do more socially-conscious work.”
Before coming to the city, I worked for the Boston Housing Authority, where I was booted out because I participated in a union protest. I got a union lawyer and I was paid but didn’t get reinstated. I was in Boston for 17 years.
I am third-generation union member and a red diaper baby. My grandfather, a Romanian immigrant, was in the Fur and Leather Workers Union. Both my parents were in the Communist Party. We grew up in a household of radical ideas and history.
I was hired as a provisional Construction Project Manager at NYCHA. I took the civil service exam for CPM. I later took an education and experience test for Architect. By then, I was certified as an architect.
I came to NYCHA at a time when public housing was beginning to deteriorate. Riots were occurring in projects. The government was starting to cut funding and they were shutting down public housing around the country. Chicago and New York City are now the only cities left with big public housing projects.
Back then, you could see the cuts coming. There used to be 445 people in Local 375’s NYCHA chapter. Now we are down to 218. But they keep hiring managers. This creates a poisonous atmosphere.
Our members are hit by disrespect and stagnation. A person can work here for 30 years and retire with the same title. Many members are disenchanted. We need a step-pay plan.
As gentrification continues and apartments become less affordable, there is a big need for public housing in the city. Each night, there are 63,000 people who sleep in homeless shelters, a record. We have a waiting list of 200,000 people.
The NYCHA bureaucracy is something out of Kafka. The buildings are more than 50 years old. There’s poor maintenance. We have a huge backlog in repairs. This is death by 1,000 cuts.
I think they want to tear down NYCHA and privatize public housing. We are talking about capitalism here.
My first serious union work was with Local 375. I was elected as a delegate of the NYCHA chapter a year after I was hired. I’m now president.
I am a public housing advocate. Not everyone here is. I testify every year at NYCHA’s annual meeting at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
I have also testified before the City Council.
DC 37 has been pretty supportive of our fight to protect public housing. We’ve set up the DC 37 NYCHA Coalition, which is working against the Trump administration’s deep cuts in funding. We work with housing advocates from #NoCuts. We recently had a rally outside of NYCHA’s headquarters at 250 Broadway in Manhattan.
I’m encouraged by the greater activism at DC 37. The union recently held a forum on environmental justice. We participated in the climate change march and the women’s march in Washington right after Trump’s swearing in.
I have never had such a strong visceral reaction as when Trump was elected. This represents an acceptance of neo-fascism. That’s why I want to see the labor movement turn around. —As told to Gregory N. Heires