Homelessness-Gentrification a NY-Santa Fe Problem. But We Have Options

Homeless children, homeless vets, homeless women, homeless individuals who are working full-time, but can’t afford a place to live. It happens in NYC, it happens here in Santa Fe. How can we end this shameful heartbreaking reality? Join us Oct 29 when the conversation begins.

Almost nothing moves me to tears more easily than the thought of a homeless child and while my heart goes out to the child, I also feel unspeakably sad considering the thoughts of the mother and/or father of that child, the combination of shame, fear, and helplessness that must live in that heart.  But the shame felt by those parents should be shared by all of us. How have we come to allow this kind of tragedy to occur? Most of us are but a medical emergency away from financial desperation. And while most do not dwell upon that reality, it simmers in the background, always. But for good fortune, I could be begging friends and family for help. In the wealthiest country in the world. In a very comfortable city, comfortable at least for some. The video at the end of this blog captures how desperate life on the streets can be for a child and their family and at the end of this blog we have information about our film screening and Community Conversation on Oct 29.

In researching this piece, I googled ‘homeless children, Santa Fe’ and found this Reporter article. It is not about a child; it is an achingly personal piece written by a 50-year old woman who but a year prior had been a homeowner, business owner and in a permanent, stable relationship. Now all of that is gone. Reading this article is a good place to start our conversation about gentrification, affordable housing and homelessness as it first and foremost makes painfully clear the slippery slope on which almost all of us live, our privilege seemingly insulating us from the horrors that others suffer, daily. Click here to read this powerful piece. PLEASE, don’t skip past the article because you know it will be painful, it is beautifully written and we need to face these realities if we are ever going to mount the internal resolve to address them.

In New York City it isn’t just a tale of two cities like we find here in Santa Fe, but two entirely different, utterly surreal realities. From a very thoughtful Truth-Out report: “The New York metropolitan area is one of incredible contradiction. It simultaneously contains 33 of the richest 100 suburbs in the country, as well as the single poorest congressional district in the country. The Yankees play baseball just down the street from apartments devastated by careless landlords who fail to provide heat, cooking gas, or proper extermination services for the Bronx’s pervasive rat problem. All of this is just a 15-minute train ride into Midtown, one of Manhattan’s centers of finance and shopping.”

In New York, the scope of the problem is mind-numbing. A 2017 Coalition for the Homeless report found that homelessness had reached to the highest levels since the great depression with over 61,000 homeless individuals, 23,000 of them children. And in NY there is a distinctly racial element as almost 60% of those homeless are black and over 30% are Latino.

In New York, widespread homelessness stands in stark relief to obscene wealth. “Supertall skyscrapers have started to mark New York’s skyline. Four-thirty-two Park Avenue carries the most notoriety. When construction completed, condos went on sale at a price range of $7 million to $95 million. About 80 percent of the units have sold. But instead of simply existing as a scar along the skyline, 432 Park Avenue exemplifies the reality of homelessness in New York in vulgar detail. The tower sits mostly empty. Its purpose as a condominium is neither to house people nor is it even an occasional vacation home; its purpose is to be money storage for the wealthiest of the world. Now, instead of potentially losing millions if assets are frozen in their home countries, the rich can instead pump that money into New York City real estate, content to never call that apartment a home.” Down the elevator and outside 432 Park Ave, you can turn the corner and find a withered face, their empty cup, and a scribbled sign illustrating an entirely different reality.

How do we tolerate this? Here in Santa Fe, we also have vacant apartments and homes, hundreds. A place for a wealthy businessman from Chicago to visit once or twice a year, maybe to buy expensive art the International Folk Art Festival or to hear an aria or two.  Some cities are exploring options to generate funds to build more affordable housing. “Vancouver rolled out an “Empty Homes Tax,” imposing a 1 percent tax on residences left vacant for at least six months. Other cities imposed similar measures, with Paris taxing second homes at 60 percent. Assuming an average price of $10 million for each apartment at 432 Park Avenue, a Vancouver-like 1 percent tax would generate an additional $10.4 million for New York City.” With political will, there are strategies that can address this tragedy. Click here to read more about NYC homelessness.

As this New Mexican Op-Ed describes, a growing coalition is organizing locally to discuss ways to address the housing crises here in Santa Fe. Click here to read the Op-Ed. There are opportunities here in Santa Fe with the SF University of Art & Design and the planned mid-town development to do something impactful, something moral, something important. Retake wants you to join this conversation. On Sunday, Oct 29, from 3-5pm at 1420 Cerrillos, we are screening two powerful documentaries produced by Norman Lear, one focuses on gentrification and homelessness in NYC and the second features Rosario Dawson and focuses on the water crisis in Flint, MI. Both illustrate the gross indifference to the vulnerable that is all too common in our capitalist society.

Retake leadership screened the first documentary this weekend and can only say that it puts a very, very human face on how greed in America translates into profound human suffering. After the screening we will initiate the first of many community conversations, this one facilitated by Kathy Sanchez, Tewa Women’s United Social Justice Manager and Miguel Angel Acosta Muñoz, a community educator/organizer. The conversation will tie the implications of policy decisions in NYC and Flint to our own crisis with a 1% rental vacancy, empty condos and second homes and hundreds of homeless and our vulnerability to a Flint-like water crisis due to the growing plume of radiation threatening our aquifer. They will also initiate discussion of what we as individuals and what Retake as a community might be able to do to address these twin crises.

Click here to get to our events and opportunities page with more on the screening and the conversation that will follow and a link to RSVP via Facebook.  If you do not use Facebook, you can RSVP by emailing us at volunteer4retake@gmail.com. If the blog hasn’t moved you to come to this screening, watch the 2 minute video below and then, please RSVP. This is step one on a journey to justice, but we can only get there if we link arms, form community and make it happen.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne


Categories: Capitalism, Economic Justice, Community & Economic Development

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5 replies

  1. I like what a Thom Hartmann listener who had dealt extensively with homelessness said concerning the long term homeless (paraphrasing): If they are on the street, give them a shack to live in. If they live in a shack, give them an abandoned building to live in. If they live in an abandoned building, give them an apartment. If you take them straight from the street to an apartment, they will surely fail.

    Of course, this does not apply to someone or family who just lost their home. But, keep in mind to treat both groups differently.

  2. EUROPE LEADS THE WAY and Santa Fe is small enough to use a “commons” for renewal and the “new”! Ghent Belgium is so inspiring—Imagine the Santa Fe Art and Design vacancy with this kind of creative and practical renaissance “for people”!


  3. MORE “COMMONS”, more cooperative housing owned by the residents, more collaborative efforts to transform so many public facilities into renewed relevant and economically viable “commons”; change the “I” to the “WE” and all can benefit and have beauty and a vital economically sustaining city for its residents…..and tax second houses by visitors at a rate that benefits the the city housing market …


  4. HOMELESSNESS is not an isolated piece of the pie to be addressed as an “issue” all on its own…it is one part of a dysfunctional system that defines housing as primarily a profit engine for the landowner, the builder, the realtor, and the buyer…..there is no master plan for all the components that make up a healthy city housing strategy: affordable (a misused word), low income (quite shaming words), market rate, second homes for those who come and enjoy the weather and then fly away and pay little for the privilege, and homelessness…these are all pieces of the pie and if Santa Fe, in fact America, had a master plan….there is room for all to thrive…based on a system of well being rather than people becoming the bottom rung of those who thrive in the “housing INDUSTRY:]”—again Europe thinks it through and commons is not a distasteful concept…….

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