Community Op-Ed—Honoring Dr. King’s Legacy by Fighting for Fair Housing

This week, we celebrate the life of one of our greatest American leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This is a moment to honor his accomplishments, but it’s also an opportunity to reflect on what he fought for and to carry his legacy forward. We must find new strength to continue his work by breaking down barriers and building true equality — here in New York City, and all across this nation.

That means fighting for fair housing and building a city where working people can afford to stay and thrive. This is one of the major issues that Dr. King fought for during his lifetime and it remains urgent in 2024. 

Many forget that Dr. King called out discriminatory practices by landlords and realtors who were keeping Black Americans out of certain neighborhoods. He also advocated for the Fair Housing Act to make those discriminatory practices illegal. This landmark legislation was finally passed by Congress the week after Dr. King’s assassination. 

Here in New York City, we have much to be proud of about our civil rights record. But there is a dark side to our history that has yet to be reckoned with — a deep legacy of discrimination and segregation that we must dismantle in order to finally build more housing and create an equitable city. 

New Yorkers are still living under zoning laws written more than 60 years ago. Many who pushed for these laws aimed to promote racial segregation. As a result of these laws, New Yorkers of color have suffered from a housing crisis for decades. Costs are too high, and too many parts of our city are “off limits” to housing opportunity. This is a direct cause of gentrification and soaring rents, and it’s driving New Yorkers away from family, community, and jobs. These outdated and unfair zoning laws must be changed, and they must be changed now.  

That’s why our administration has put forward our “City of Yes for Housing Opportunity” proposal, which will promote new housing in every neighborhood. And it is why we’re calling for action in Albany this session to deliver the housing affordability New Yorkers need.  

Our “City of Yes” plan delivers on the promise of the Fair Housing Act. It calls for every neighborhood to carry its fair share of the housing crisis. It will pave the way to converting unused offices into houses; help families add space for parents, children, and caregivers; and give our houses of worship the flexibility to use their property to build homes and generate income. 

When we came into office two years ago, we had a mission: protect public safety, revitalize the economy, and make this city more livable for hardworking New Yorkers. Making our city more livable means building more housing for more people, especially people of color. 

We delivered on that promise by creating the second-highest number of new affordable homes in one year, and the highest number of homes for formerly homeless New Yorkers. Using CityFHEPS vouchers, we have connected more New Yorkers than ever before to permanent housing, made record investments in improvements at NYCHA developments, and established the NYCHA Trust to unlock billions more for repairs.

For so many New Yorkers, this is personal. I know what feels like to live without the security of housing. I grew up on the edge of homelessness. My siblings and I had to take trash bags full of clothes to school because we didn’t know where we would sleep the next night. That’s no way to live. You cannot plan for the future if you are worried about today. 

We cannot say “no” to our neighbors and our fellow New Yorkers. We must be a “City of Yes”: “yes” in my backyard, “yes” on my block, “yes” in my city. We must say “yes” to housing opportunity, and we must continue Dr. King’s legacy through action, not just words. 

Together, we can build a fairer, more equitable New York City. 

Mayor Eric Adams

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