Brooklyn Eviction Defense (BED) is an autonomous organization of tenants fighting against the eviction machine through direct action and collective organizing. BED came out of a coalition of tenant unions in the summer of 2020, in response to the looming avalanche of evictions created by the combination of federal and state eviction moratoriums and a refusal to cancel rent. Our work takes many forms including blockades, stoop watches, tenant association organizing, tenant support, preventive targeted outreach, data work, propaganda and political education. Find out more and get involved: www.brooklynevictiondefense.org
Brooklyn Eviction Defense formally condemns the coming end of New York State’s eviction moratorium. As an organization of tenants dedicated to fighting and stopping displacement by any means necessary, we unwaveringly oppose the resumption of legal evictions. That said, this condemnation comes with important nuances.
First: that, “eviction” is a narrow term—that many of our neighbors here in Brooklyn have been dispossessed during the moratorium by both extralegal means and through subtler violences. Through rent increases (43% of tenants below the poverty line in New York actually saw their rents increase during the moratorium’s time), refused maintenance , abject negligence, harassment, physical abuse, threats of deportation, massive capital backlogs and crumbling buildings, tenants are and have been under relentless attack. The recent fire that has so-far killed 17 people in the Twin Parks apartments in the Bronx embodies this attack in ways tragic and horrific. We stand in solidarity with the tenants and, moreover, recognize the landlord—Rick Groper, who was on on Eric Adams’ transition team (for housing!)—as a murderer with blood on his hands.
Dispossession, we know, can occur without displacement—as tenants we are perpetually dispossessed of the quality of life we deserve. As such, this moratorium has only even been a cowardly means to quell a rightfully agitated tenant class.
Second: that the moratorium and its succession of last-minute extensions have never been sufficient. We understand that evictions—particularly legal evictions as carried out by for-hire marshals—are but one of innumerable forms of dispossession that target the working class to facilitate the accumulation of capital and the hoarding of property by landlords and finance. Other forms include but are not limited to deportation, incarceration, gentrification, rent, policing, medical apartheid — all aspects of the twinned projects of settler colonialism and racialized capitalism.
What’s more, evictions—primarily illegal, but also certainly legal—have been occurring throughout the pandemic. We know this as we have been on the ground fighting them. And we know that the police, who are ostensibly there to protect tenants' rights, have often during this pandemic been accomplices to landlord brutality and attempts at displacement.
Third: that the moratorium does not exist in a political vacuum. It comes during a moment when evictions have been politically contested, as led by the tenant movement. This recent history has specific consequences for how we understand the moratorium and its looming conclusion. In the past 7 years, evictions have started to decrease. In 2016 there were 36,343 evictions executed by Marshals in New York City. Right to counsel legislation was passed in 2017 after years of grassroot pressure, promising legal counsel to low-income tenants facing eviction. Importantly, this initiative began only in select zip codes and slowly expanded. The number of legal evictions in New York dipped in 2018 to 19,970 and to nearly 17,000 in 2019. In March 2020, with the onset of COVID-19, right to counsel was de-facto expanded by the mayor to the whole city. In 2020, then, marshal-executed eviction dropped to 2,507 (though nearly all before the pandemic began); marshals have executed 245 evictions in 2021.
Of course, declining evictions are good for tenants in general, but the trend has also been good for the tenant movement. With security of tenure, more organizing is possible but this cannot just mean any sort of organizing. We cannot allow this conjuncture to be dominated by non-profit organizations whose ameliorative and reformist goals only reify the structures and relations that cause the problems they ostensibly oppose. This can be seen in the manner in which formerly radical tenant organizations have professionalized and in their reformist approach have actually become landlords and subsequently now do what landlords do—evict.
Rather we must practice politicized tenant organizing toward working class liberation. If evictions disappear but the current social relations and economic organization are maintained, then the dispossessive function of evictions—the effect of displacement and the production of impoverishment and surplus populations—will not be abolished but redistributed through, as mentioned above, the litany of other modes of dispossession (as well as novel ones yet to come) characteristic of capitalism.
Fourth: that unleashing the backlog of evictions that currently sit on housing court dockets—there are currently 223,883 eviction cases pending in New York City—will be an unequivocal act of state violence. Even if we were not still mired in a global pandemic that is killing millions with no conclusion in sight, even if that pandemic was not surging locally yet again, and even if we were not in the winter months when evictions are particularly devastating—even given all of this, the reopening of evictions would be a gruesome act of state violence, as all evictions are violence.
This is in no small part because the city’s conditions—its decrepit infrastructure, the policing of public transportation, the city’s wanton war on the poor and houseless, the ten year waitlist for NYCHA, the state of shelters, just to start—ensure that evictions are never one-off violences but rather always an acceleration of or an entry into enduring marginalization. Given how evictions target different demographics—as the looming eviction crisis will be disproportionately black, brown, and made up of women—resuming legal evictions is genocidal class warfare.
Fifth: that we join our fellow tenants from Crown Heights Tenant Union, the Democratic Socialists of America, and the Housing Justice 4 All coalition in calling for the abolition of winter evictions and the enactment of Good Cause legislation, which would prohibit no-fault evictions and expand the right to a reasonable renewal lease (thus limiting rent increases) to all buildings. These are necessary-yet-insufficient measures that protect tenants and expand our legal capacity to organize through tenant unions.
That said, we strongly rebuke the non-profits in New York who are using the expiration of the eviction moratorium to push for Good Cause without also organizing towards an extension to the moratorium. Good Cause—again, a good thing we do support—does not actually attend to the crisis that is the nearly-quarter million eviction cases currently paused in New York City. Such a gesture by the non-profits is all too typical, as their contradicting allegiances—to tenants and to their funders (e.g. capital)—causes them, at every important juncture, to value “policy wins” often over tenant wellbeing and always over actual revolutionary change.
This is not merely an intellectual distinction, or a matter of expressed politics. This distinction—between autonomous revolutionary tenant organizations and these non-profits—is that we are doing the needed work that non-profits can’t do and wouldn’t do if they could. These include physical eviction blockades, extended stoop watches, confrontations with landlords, cops, and all associated goons; lock-breaking and changing, guerrilla home repairs, immediate fundraising for tenant needs given directly to the tenant, and more. In our work, the guiding mission of revolutionary change is never set in conflict with the needs of our neighbors, rather our politics inform our willingness and capability.
Sixth: that bourgeois politicians will always facilitate, in endlessly creative ways, the accumulation of capital. No legislation from the state as currently configured will stop the cycle of dispossession endemic to the capitalist mode of production. The state will only continue to facilitate and execute this dispossession in new manners, under new guises, and more frequently through politicians who look like us, sound like us, act like us, and claim to be from our class.
Seventh: that our struggle—both to end evictions and to build the tenant movement—is but a part of the wider class struggle. As Engels wrote over a century ago: “The housing shortage from which the workers and part of the petty bourgeois suffer in our modern big cities is one of the innumerable smaller, secondary evils which result from the present-day capitalist mode of production.” Systematically ending evictions is a meaningless project without ending capitalism and reconfiguring social relations—especially those which govern how and where we live.
Eighth: that we do not need to beg politicians and the state to treat us with dignity. Rather, by organizing collectively—in our workplaces, in our buildings and neighborhoods—we can and will invert this relation. Because of our—the working class’s—organization, politicians and the state they uphold will have to come to us, will need our support, and will be subject to our—the people’s—will and discipline.
Ninth: that the resolution to the contradictions above and the misery they produce comes not through legislation or the acquiescence of sympathetic politicians but only through a revolutionary mass working class organization.
Hotline if you are a tenant in crisis: 917-982-2265