Early Grassroots Organizing

Early Grassroots Political Action

Met Council on Housing's grassroots campaigns during the 1960s addressed issues of urban renewal, discriminatory evictions and increasing residential segregation that affected neighborhoods throughout the city.

Washington Square Neighbors flyer (1955).Washington Square Neighbors flyer (1955).

 

Urban Renewal

The founders of Met Council on Housing were brought together by their neighborhood struggles against urban renewal in New York City during the 1950s. Directed by planning czar Robert Moses, urban renewal sought to remove substandard housing and stimulate downtown economies. However, the process involved the widespread demolition of working class neighborhoods in favor of middle class housing developments. By 1959 sixteen massive projects had displaced over 100,000 people, who were disproportionately African-American or Latino. By the late 1950s "Save Our Homes" organizations across the city were successfully exposing the pain of wholesale neighborhood destruction and the role of urban renewal in perpetuating racial segregation. While opposing the destruction of neighborhoods, campaigning for the removal of Robert Moses, and creating alternate plans for redevelopment, Met Council on Housing brought together the work of organizations such as Yorkville Save Our Homes, the Chelsea Coalition on Housing, and the Cooper Square Committee.

 


Met Council on Housing publication (1964).Met Council on Housing publication (1964).

 

 

Public Housing

Public housing has always been a fundamental part of Met Council on Housing's political goals. In New York City, large-scale public housing projects contributed to the displacement of low-income families, as neighborhoods were razed for new developments. Met Council on Housing proposed a more radical solution to the housing crisis: a ban on the destruction of livable housing, the strict enforcement of existing housing codes and the construction of small-scale public housing projects on vacant land (termed "vest-pocket" housing). Met Council on Housing published these suggestions in the 1964 report A Citizens' Survey of Available Land, which documented 122 vacant sites on which low-income housing could be built without displacing residents.

 

 



Flyer for Paint-In at the apartment of squatter Juanita Kimble (1970).Flyer for Paint-In at the apartment of squatter Juanita Kimble (1970). Columbia University

Tensions between Columbia University and neighboring residents in Morningside Heights and Harlem had been simmering since the early 1950s, when an urban renewal project displaced thousands of residents north of 122nd Street. Columbia University continued its expansion into Morningside Heights throughout the 1960s, evicting tenants who were disproportionately African-American or Latino, and leading to a New York City Human Rights Commission investigation. Met Council on Housing member Marie Runyon, co-founder of Morningsiders United, led the fight to preserve low-income, integrated housing in Morningside Heights. Morningsiders United, with support from the activist organization Students for a Democratic Society, challenged Columbia University's policy of keeping apartments intentionally vacant by reclaiming these buildings and preparing them for occupancy. Met Council on Housing also worked with student and neighborhood activists to successfully oppose the construction of a university gymnasium in Harlem. 

 

 


 

Additional materials about Met Council on Housing's early grassroots organizing:

 Copy of the Title I Housing Ac of 1949 (1960).  Metropolitan Council on Housing Program for Urban Renewal (1962)    Open letter to Mayor Robert Wagner calling for the removal of Robert Moses (undated).  Flyer for a Committee to Save Our City's Homes demonstration at City Hall (1960s)

 Flyer against the Lower Manhattan Expressway (circa 1961).  

 Met Council on Housing publication Decent Housing for New York's People (1960s).  Flyer about Penn Station South urban renewal project (1960).  Pamphlet on discrimination at Stuyvesant Town (1950s).    Memo on the implementation of the Metcalf-Baker anti-discrimination law (1961).
 Committee to Save Our City's Homes demonstration on rent control and repair violations demonstration at City Hall (1963).

 

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