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Churches United for Fair Housing

Stories of Impact

A crowd of organizers gather for a protest. A middle-aged woman wearing a white shirt yells into a bull horn while a young person with curly hair holds the speaker.
Courtesy of Churches United for Fair Housing

In 2009, when a private developer attempted to rezone a portion of Brooklyn’s Broadway Triangle – the neighborhood nestled between the borders of Bed-Stuy, Bushwick, and Williamsburg and the former home of the Pfizer company headquarters – those living there knew that this would only deepen the racial disparities and segregation already present in the area.

“There were people across the street from where the rezoning was happening who were just booted out from applying to affordable housing because they didn’t meet the requirements,” Brayan Pagoada recalled. As a response, community members came together to fight for their right to stay in their neighborhood, eventually stopping the rezoning altogether.

A number of the churches that were involved in the Broadway Triangle organizing efforts wanted to continue this work around housing justice. They formed Churches United for Fair Housing (CUFFH), a grassroots advocacy organization made up of individual and institutional members dedicated to fighting for tenant rights, safe housing, and lobbying for community-centered housing legislation.

A crowd of protesters gather in a government building holding signs that read "Read Estate Headquarters" and "CUFFH." A Latinx man wearing a reflector vest and a VOCAL-NY sweatshirt leads the group in chants.
Courtesy of Churches United for Fair Housing

With thirteen years of organizing under its belt, CUFFH is devoted to bringing about systemic change around housing that requires a shift in how we think about the issue completely. One of CUFFH’s main challenges has been combating housing corporations: “They just see people as profit, they don’t see them as human beings,” said Pagoada, who is CUFFH’s Director of Organizing.

In spite of these seemingly immovable forces, CUFFH’s efforts have yielded many tangible results: Over the years, CUFFH has lobbied in Albany, canvassed to encourage voter registration, and supported undocumented communities by connecting them to immigration law services and Know Your Rights trainings. Recently, CUFFH helped to pass the LLC Transparency Act, which requires property owners to disclose identities in public databases. “So many people in our communities were trying to apply for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, but they didn’ even know who their landlord was,” Pagoada explained.

Regardless of their income, social housing will create stability for everyone. We demand to house everyone, stop gentrification, end homelessness, support tenant rights, and build social housing. Brayan Pagoada, Director of Organizing

Of course, bringing as many people of all ages into the fair housing movement is key to achieving further liberation. CUFFH works closely with Bushwick’s Academy of Urban Planning and Engineering, encouraging its high school students to mobilize around housing justice through workshops, movie nights, and participation in youth councils.

Brooklyn Org has supported many of CUFFH’s efforts to increase youth engagement in their work – one of CUFFH’s members who participated in BKO’s grantmaking advisory council now sits on the CUFFH board as its youngest member. Pagoda themself was a member of a BKO grantmaking advisory council, informing the distribution of over $7 million to nonprofits across Brooklyn. Through support from Brooklyn Org, CUFFH was also able to take a group of 100 people, many of whom were young advocates, to the 2023 People’s Convention in Philadelphia. There, they worked on their federal campaign for green social housing, which pushes for publicly owned and publicly managed property.

Much of CUFFH’s coalition building takes place in the churches involved with the organization, who lend out their spaces for folks to gather. “The housing crisis is dividing communities and building unnecessary senses of competition,” Pagoada said. In light of this, CUFFH dares to ask: “How do we create coalitions? How do we build to sustain ourselves?”

An older Latinx woman holds up her fist passionately while carrying a CUFFH sign. She is wearing a beige sweater and a white beanie.
A group of people are holding up signs in front of a building.

Presently, CUFFH’s sights are on holding landlords more accountable and making sure that housing is safe to live in. They’re looking into lobbying for a bill around landlord licenses that not only requires individuals to have a license to rent out properties, but provides trainings on the basics of property rentals, such as regulations around water, winter heating, and more. CUFFH also hopes to increase the certificate requirements for corporations that own more than 20,000 properties in the city.

When Pagoada thinks about the future of New York City housing, he wants it to be greener and more social. This housing will put community sustainability first: it has childcare covered by rent, gardens where tenants can grow produce, cars for everyone to use, and a system that provides a safety net for those who may fall behind on rent. All of this could be possible if and when CUFFH acquires its own housing, which would be developed to meet climate justice requirements. “Regardless of their income, social housing will create stability for everyone,” Pagoada said. “We demand to house everyone, stop gentrification, end homelessness, support tenant rights, and build social housing.”

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