On Friday, dozens of community members, advocates and local leaders gathered outside the vacant, six-story Holiday Inn Express on the Bed-Stuy and Bushwick border demanding that it, and hotels like it, be converted into affordable housing for the city’s homeless.

The group urged Governor Andrew Cuomo to immediately use $100 million that had been allocated for the conversion of distressed hotels into housing for homeless, and for politicians to pass the Housing Our Neighbors With Dignity Act (HONDA).

HONDA sets out the plan for the state to buy distressed hotels and convert them into permanent and safe housing for the more than 100,000 New Yorkers who are currently without a home.

Brooklynites rally for the HONDA Act outside an empty Bushwick hotel. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

At the rally, organized by Housing Justice for All which encompasses more than 80 organizations for tenants and homeless New Yorkers, community members held signs, chanted and demanded Cuomo use his “moral compass.”

VOCAL-NY Homeless Union Organizer Celina Trowell told the crowd the pandemic had an extremely damaging impact on the housing crisis that had already existed for years.

“It robbed people of their dignity, it robbed people of their opportunity for housing, it has robbed people not only of their medical safety, but of their physical safety, their mental safety,” she said.

Celina Trowell of VOCAL-NY. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

Despite sitting on a stock of almost 100,000 empty hotel rooms in the city, leaders were letting tens of thousands of New Yorkers sit in the shelter system or sleep on the streets, she said.

“If you have the privilege of turning a key at night, I urge you to say more, to do more,” she said.

“This is a life or death issue, this has to end. Housing is a human right,” she said, adding at its core the situation was a policy issue. “We are fighting together with the people who are most impacted by this issue, when we say house our neighbors you are looking at them, you’re looking at us.”

Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, who is sponsoring the HONDA bill, Bronx Assemblymember Karines Reyes, and Brooklyn Senator Julia Salazar and Councilmember Antonio Reynoso were there to support the crowd.

Salazar said the Holiday Inn Express, where the crowd gathered, had never been occupied since it was built in 2015.

“Six years this building has been sitting here useless to our community, worse than useless — taking up space that should have been, could have been, and could still be used to permanently house people.”

Brooklynites rally for the HONDA Act outside an empty Bushwick hotel. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

She said housing for the city’s homeless was desperately needed, even in the immediate vicinity of the hotel where there were shelters nearby in both directions.

“Tens of thousands of New Yorkers don’t have a permanent home right now and it doesn’t need to be this way the state can and needs to act,” she said. “We need to pass HONDA.”

Reynoso added that budgets show who the city’s leaders are and what matters to them, and at the moment what the community was hearing was police mattered more than housing.

“This is not about money, this is not about resources, these are choices that we are making through policy and through money to not take care of the most vulnerable people in our society,” he said.

“We can give people a shot at being in their own independent location just by saying go, by saying yes.”

Neighbors Together member Charlene Milligan, who was born and raised in New York, said for the first time in her life she was living in a shelter, and what she needed was the city and state to stop giving money to developers, and spend it on permanent housing for locals.

“I’ve been here all my life and it’s hard for me to get a property, I find myself in the situation where my income is not supportive of the rising of the housing situation,” she said.

“We need to fight, fight, fight.”

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Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

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