Opening of Headquarters for Community Voices Heard's Campaign for Stable Homes
On Thursday, January 18th, Community Voices Heard (CVH) officially cut the ribbon at the grand opening of their new Ossining office space. The office will serve as the headquarters of CVH’s Campaign for Stable Homes for the next 6 months.
Community Voices Heard members and their allies have been pushing for affordable housing and rent stabilization—the Emergency Tenant Protection Act (ETPA)—in the village of Ossining since 2015. Rising housing costs and luxury development have posed a threat to the diversity and stability of Ossining residents and communities throughout the region.
In their determination to gain stable homes for themselves and their neighbors, Community Voices Heard member-leaders have opened a temporary office to serve as a headquarters for tenant organizing and leadership development in the village of Ossining.
“We launched this campaign in 2015 because we were tired of being forced to decide between feeding our families and paying the rent. We were tired of not knowing whether we still have a place to call home tomorrow, and we were tired of not being able to do anything about it. Since then we have built power with residents, allies and institutions who stand with us in our mission. In 2018, we plan to work together to make history in Ossining. At the top of our agenda for 2018 is to pass rent stabilization. This would be the first step towards building a more stable community,” said Sheila Vereen-Massengale, a member-leader of CVH and an Ossining resident.
CVH members were joined by several key leaders who have pledged to stand with them in the campaign for rent stabilization and affordable housing. Among them were Pastor Shaun Ellison Jones, Star of Bethlehem Baptist Church; Father Ed Byrne, St Ann’s Catholic Church; the Maryknoll Sisters, Rev Cooper Conway, St. Paul's and Trinity Episcopal Churches; Carola Bracco, Executive Director of Neighbors Link; Lindsay Farrell, Executive Director of Open Door Medical Centers; and Audrey Gelfand, Chair of Ossining-Briarcliff Indivisible.
“The opening of this office in the political heart of Ossining represents a true commitment on the part of Community Voices Heard. We are not just committed to the ETPA campaign and ensuring that Ossining becomes one of the other nineteen towns, villages and cities in Westchester that have rent stabilization, but it is also a testament to our ongoing investment in building equitable communities across Westchester,” said Afua Atta-Mensah, Esq. Executive Director of Community Voices Heard.
In attendance from the Ossining Village Board were Deputy Mayor John Codman, Trustee Omar Herrera and Trustee Quantel Bazemore. “This is amazing. I’ve been with CVH since the very beginning,” said Trustee Quantel Bazemore, a former CVH member-leader and current CVH ally. “We started this fight three years ago to look at how we can stop displacement here in Ossining. If we are a diverse community and we believe diversity is our strength, how do we ensure that? And at the heart of diversity is the housing issue. CVH has worked to set the standard of what prosperity looks like in this community. I want to congratulate CVH on their opening. Thank you for continuing to hold our feet to the fire to make sure we come through. I believe a lot of the things we set out to do in November of 2015, we will actually see happen this year.”
“That’s the big thing here—human dignity. A lot of of the time, we are ashamed of where we live because we can’t afford to do better. It is my prayer that with CVH’s help, with everyone in this community’s help, that we can make a difference, we can make a change,” said Pastor Shaun Jones of Star of Bethlehem Church.
“Given the reality here in Ossining, we are very much in need of rent stabilization. Our village must support families who are in need and can't afford rents going sky-high,” said Father Edward Byrne of St Ann’s Catholic Church. “I believe Community Voices Heard is an excellent organization to bring people together around crucial issues for our community.”
“The Elias Foundation has been giving grants to CVH for 12 years and has been funding community movement and building groups in Westchester since 1999. With the Elias Foundation’s grantmaking, we are working to build power to achieve social and economic change. Thank you CVH for your powerful, effective hard work, and congratulations on opening this new campaign headquarters in Ossining. We’re looking forward to working together toward more rent stabilization and affordable housing in Ossining and communities throughout Westchester,” said Polly Whithers on behalf of Jackie Mann from the Elias Foundation, a member of the sponsoring committee.
“We are proud to stand with members of Community Voices Heard so that everyone who lives here has stabilization of rent prices and increases and protections from unfair housing practices. We have learned, through our partnership with Community Voices Heard, that we all want to live in a vibrant, safe, and thriving community where we respect and want diversity of all kinds. It is what makes us great,” said Audrey Gelfand, leader of the Ossining-Briarcliff Indivisible Chapter, who is leading the charge to organize homeowners in support of rent stabilization and affordable housing.
At the office opening were several high school student members of Community Voices Heard who have joined the Campaign for Stable Homes.
“When I was in middle school, I didn’t like where we lived. I asked my mom if we could move. She told me to do research and find a new place for us. I looked and looked and could not find a single thing we could afford. I have joined Community Voices Heard to advocate for the Emergency Tenant Protection Act as a first step to create a more stable community. This will positively affect many of my high school peers, their families and all of Ossining. I’m advocating for support of ETPA to help save not only thousands of homes for people who live here, but to save the community we have here in Ossining,” said Veronica Levin, a youth member of Community Voices Heard and student at Ossining High School.