Fighting for Affordable Housing

Guest Commentary

Volume CIV, No. 7/8July, 2004

Denis M. Hughes, President
New York State AFL-CIO

The term “affordable housing” has been misused and misunderstood for many years. Although most associate the desire for affordable housing with poverty, the need for quality, lower-cost housing affects an increasing percentage of working people of a wide range of incomes and experiences. In fact, it is a problem that affects many of the members of Local 802.

The need for quality affordable housing affects many New Yorkers in many different ways.

There are people in their 20’s and 30’s who have had to move back home with their parents just to make ends meet.

Many families around the state are forced to remain in rental housing because the working adults are unable to afford mortgages on quality homes.

Other members commute long distances because the only affordable homes they could find are hours and hours away from where they work.

According to Dr. David Muchnick, an expert researcher in urban development with the firm Sustainable Resources, “In the New York metropolitan area, 53 percent said affordable housing was a problem issue — higher than unemployment, health care, crime, and pollution.”

The crisis is especially acute for retirees, younger workers and single parents. The lack of housing production, declining vacancies in existing housing, and rising housing costs without comparable increases in income each contribute to the struggles faced by these populations in their desire to secure and maintain owner property.

The availability of affordable rental housing is also limited across the state, reducing the options available to working people.


Many union members across the state are dealing with this challenge. Since it affects so many of our members, finding solutions to the crisis in affordable housing for the working people of New York is a major initiative of the New York State AFL-CIO.

We have compiled two studies on the need for affordable housing.

Our first examined the crisis on Long Island, and the second analyzed the living arrangements of those in the Hudson Valley.

By exploring the gap between housing costs and family income, we are striving to construct an accurate assessment of the critical housing burden in our state.

In order to accurately assess where the greatest needs lie, we continue this important research in other regions. We are getting the background information about where we stand but much more work needs to be done.

The state AFL-CIO is, in collaboration with the leadership of many of our affiliates, developing a wide reaching strategy to mobilize organized people around this issue.

To that end, we convened a conference in May to start the discussion around the ways in which the New York labor movement can begin to address our members’ needs around housing. We were able to discuss the issue in real terms and begin to brainstorm the ways in which our affiliates can start to address the issue locally and work together to accomplish statewide change.

The only way we can achieve success, however, is for all of us to work together and agitate for change. We need to build a movement that allows working people to unite around the issue of affordable housing.

It is time for us to bring this critical issue to the forefront of our collective agenda. All of us must work together, statewide, to bring about the changes we want to see.


As we jumpstart this campaign, I am calling for your participation. I want to hear your story. What difficulties have you faced in your search for affordable housing? How challenging has it been for you to maintain your home? What obstacles have you overcome by responding creatively to your need for quality shelter?

We are collecting the housing experiences of working people throughout the state so that we can assess where we stand, how we have faced the challenge, and how we can most effectively use our collective power to affect statewide change that benefits all of us in our desire to secure affordable housing. Your stories are enormously helpful in our desire to make the strongest possible case in Albany for the needed change in direction regarding housing.

On behalf of the members of the New York State AFL-CIO, I thank you for your union activism and your hard work. I look forward to working with you as we struggle together to improve the living conditions of the working men and women of New York State.

E-mail your story (under the subject line “Affordable Housing”) to Janella Hinds, Public Policy Director, at or mail your letter to her at the New York State AFL-CIO, 50 Broadway, 35th Floor, New York, NY 10004.