Category Archives: Blog

Call for action: engagée #6/7 “Radical Cities”

From our friends at engagée:

Cities are a place of repression, poverty and exploitation. Within the neoliberal order, cities labelled as smart are often laboratories of policing and control, racial profiling and state violence. And yet, cities are also a prefigurative space for political struggles and emancipatory practices. From the anarchist tradition to the social movements of the 20th century, the urban may be seen as a field for interventions because of its interconnected nature and the possibilities of building autonomous networks. It is therefore not a surprise that today citizens, activists and politicians are reformulating an interest in urban and local governing. Throughout Europe and beyond, we observe new forms of government at the municipal and city level, which are experimenting with democratic practices. These initiatives tackle corporate power and increase access to common goods like water, energy, housing and healthcare, as well as oppose privatisations, cuts in public services and the closure of borders. Continue reading

Why Your Mortgage Interest Deduction Might Be Bad Housing Policy

The home mortgage interest deduction is the largest federal housing subsidy in the United States. It is also, as the sociologist Matthew Desmond wrote in the New York Times Magazine, “what may very well be the most regressive piece of social policy in America.” Because this policy is an income tax deduction, it is most valuable to people in the highest income brackets—and in particular, to those who borrowed the most money in order to buy the very most expensive homes. That is an unusual way for a government to encourage the provision of housing.mortgage-deduction

How did we end up with this peculiar social policy? Who benefits from it? And why, given its apparent disadvantages, does it persist?

The Mortgage Tax Reform Working Group met on July 15, 2017 at the Urban Democracy Lab to discuss several new research projects in progress on these questions. Three research presentations guided the discussion. The authors, titles, and abstracts of these presentations were as follows:

Joshua McCabe, “The Road Not Taken: The Politics of Mortgage Tax Relief in the U.S. and U.K.”

Abstract:

Both the U.S. and the U.K. introduced tax deductions for (mortgage) interest paid as part of their original income tax legislation. Whereas the home mortgage interest deduction (HMID) has come to be seen as an untouchable “third rail” in American politics, the British government quietly eliminated mortgage interest relief (MIR) in 2000. This paper traces the divergence in outcomes to the 1970s with an emphasis on the interaction between institutions and policy sequence. The 1974 decision of British policymakers to place a nominal cap on MIR led to substantial erosion in the inflationary decade that followed. This weakened political support, allowing successive governments to actively reduce and eliminate it between 1991 and 2000. The structure of American political institutions prevented policymakers from successfully placing a nominal cap on HMID until 1987, at which point inflation was back under control. As a result, the political cost of directly attacking HMID remains strong until this day.

Monica Prasad, “The Problem of the Wellesley Democrat.”

Abstract:

Contrary to popular perception, it is not impossible to reform the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction (HMID).  Congress has done so on at least two occasions.  The first section of this paper briefly discusses these two episodes in the context of several failed attempts to reform the HMID over the last half-century. One conclusion from this overview is that Democrats have in fact been able to reform the HMID when they have chosen to try. The second section then considers why Democrats may not be particularly interested in HMID reform today, asking whether this is because—as some commentators have speculated–demographic and partisan changes have led to a situation in which HMID reform would affect Democratic constituencies more than Republican ones.  Wellesley, Massachusetts, is an example of the kind of constituency that traditionally supports Democrats, but would be hardest hit by HMID reform. We use polling data and state and county-level analysis of election results to answer this question, but reach conflicting results: there is indeed a strong negative correlation between housing prices and Republican voting, at both state and county level.  But polls do not show income having an effect on respondents’ attitudes to HMID.

Isaac William Martin, “How Inegalitarian is the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction?”

Abstract:

Sociologists have described the HMID as a regressive subsidy for the rich, and have argued that it exacerbates economic inequality, especially inequality between black and white Americans. But just how much does the HMID contribute to inequality in America? This project presents new evidence about the incidence of the HMID from an analysis of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics that takes economic sociology seriously, by modeling alternative tax-and-transfer distributions that might be possible on the assumptions that housing markets are embedded in regulatory institutions, potentially characterized by path-dependent development, and segmented by status. I argue for a sociological approach to incidence analysis that involves comparisons among multiple counterfactual scenarios, judged on the grounds of their sociological tenability. By setting logical bounds on the parameter values considered in these scenarios, it is possible to show that the aggregate distributional effects of the HMID approach the maximally inegalitarian extreme, in the sense that almost any other way of distributing the equivalent tax revenues would reduce the inequality of disposable income. It is also possible to estimate bounds on the inequality-reducing effects of eliminating the HMID. In the simulations presented here, the effect of eliminating the HMID is shown to be, at most, a 4% reduction in selected measures of aggregate income inequality. Eliminating the HMID in favor of some more egalitarian tax and transfer policy of equivalent budgetary magnitude is not the largest egalitarian policy intervention that might be contemplated, but it is also not trivial.

In addition to discussing these three research projects, the Mortgage Tax Reform Working Group discussed the possible implications of these preliminary findings, debated other research priorities, and engaged in preliminary planning for a panel discussion of the comparative historical sociology of the HMID that will take place at the annual meetings of the Social Science History Association in Montreal, November 2-5, 2017.

 

Ethan Earle: “Trump Is Trying to Make NAFTA Even Worse. It’s Time to Throw Sand in the Gears.”

From friend of the UDL, Ethan Earle, at In These Times:

Trump Is Trying to Make NAFTA Even Worse. It’s Time to Throw Sand in the Gears.

Many on the Left have been deeply critical of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) since before it was fast-tracked into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1994. Now, President Donald Trump’s current plan to renegotiate NAFTA is poised to make the massive trade deal even worse.

In late May, a loose coalition of civil society groups gathered in Mexico City to discuss this upcoming renegotiation. Participants included the AFL-CIO, Canadian Labour Congress and over one hundred other labor, environmental, and immigrant rights organizations from across Mexico, the United States and Canada.

The meeting produced a joint declaration opposing a Trump-led NAFTA renegotiation and marked the kickoff of the latest international campaign against free-trade deals that benefit corporations and political elites at the expense of workers, communities and our shared environment. . .

Read the rest of the article at In These Times.

Fearless Cities: A Dispatch from Barcelona

IMG_1171On the second weekend in June, hundreds of people flocked to Barcelona to discuss the idea of municipalism and radical democracy, broadly under the banner of “Fearless Cities.” This event also served to commemorate two years of progressive leadership throughout many of Spain’s city halls, including Madrid and Barcelona. Activists, mayors, city council members, academics, and NGO workers came together to explore such themes as “feminizing politics,” “sanctuary and refuge,” and “anti-corruption and transparency.” Despite these weighty ideas, the event was joyous and at times jubilant. During an opening conversation that served to welcome participants, Manuela Carmena and Ada Colau, the mayors of Madrid and Barcelona, spoke of friendship and intimacy even during our dark geopolitical moment. Indeed, despite this light tone, Trump was often in evidence. Continue reading

“Dadaab is a Place on Earth” and African Cities Week

Dadaab Is a Place on EarthProfessor Louise Harpman introduced “Dadaab is a Place on Earth” by saying: “Gallatin is a place where we ask questions that have no answers.” This week’s events did just this: asked questions not easily answerable about society, humanitarianism, displacement, home, urbanism, empire, and the built environment. Throughout Monday night’s event, Dadaab—a place that international media outlets have called “the largest refugee camp in the world”—as a city, a place, a prison, a “warehouse,” an encampment in the margins, was constructed before our eyes through the words of Anooradha Siddiqi, Alishine Osman, Ben Rawlence, and Samar al-Bulushi, the four distinguished panelists. Each of the panelists provided their own perspective on the refugee camp, lending insight into the architecture, politics, and economies of Dadaab. Continue reading

Bronx Times on “Narrating Our Neighborhood: The Melrose Oral History Project”

Check out the Bronx Times for a recent story about “Narrating Our Neighborhood: The Melrose Oral History Project,” a collaboration between the Urban Democracy Lab and the Women’s House and Economic Development Corporation:

“This partnership (between WHEDco and NYU’s Gallatin School) helped our students build strong connections with the community – who had a lot of material to share with us,” said Dr. Rebecca Amato . . . “With this project, the students instantly fell in love with the (Melrose) neighborhood – and the residents who have lived here for decades.” . . .

“You could feel and understand the presence of history here – and this was a great opportunity for the students to acknowledge the residents’ previously unknown and untold stories,” she added. “You can also feel the residents’ commitment to their neighborhood and to each other – they are very proud of where they come from.”

Read the full article here.

Welcome to the Occupation: Squatting and Resistance from Berlin to New York

On Monday, April 17th, The Urban Democracy Lab and Deutsches Haus at NYU presented a panel, “Welcome to the Occupation: Squatting and Resistance from Berlin to New York” to discuss urban precarity, squatting, and urban social movements. Panelists included cultural anthropologist Amy Starecheski, writer/activist and former squatter Frank Morales and Associate Professor in Human Geography Alexander Vasudevan. Geographer Pierpaolo Mudu moderated the event. Continue reading

Fight for the Living City: A Multigenerational Conversation

Fight for the City FlyerFrom our friends at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU:

Fight for the Living City: A Multigenerational Conversation
Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU
Tuesday May 16th 6:30pm – 8:30pm
Eventbrite RSVP
Facebook Event

How can New York City activists and organizers collaborate and learn from each other across generations and neighborhoods? What can we do to preserve our work and create living, breathing archives that empower our communities and extend our efforts? Fight for the Living City is a moderated conversation about the importance of utilizing the lessons of past organizing campaigns to inform our present and future practices.

Organized by the curators of the ongoing exhibition Lost Streets: Seward Park’s Fight for Housing Justice, this gathering will use the five-decade battle over the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area as a jumping off point to engage with issues of housing justice, cultural activism, police violence, worker’s rights, and what constitutes real “quality of life” in working class and immigrant communities across the city. Continue reading

On “Black Palestinian Solidarity in an Age of Struggle”

blackpalestinesolidarityThis past weekend I watched J.Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only. It is a short 2016 documentary that consists of J.Cole rapping songs from his most recent album of the same name, spliced with footage from his travels through Greensboro, Alabama, Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Ferguson, Missouri. From the documentary two scenes stand out. The first is when J.Cole’s house is raided by a SWAT team because his neighbors suspected him to be a drug dealer. Ten heavily armed officers, with rifles and bulletproof vests, bang down his front door and shift his security cameras so their actions will remain unseen. The second scene shows J.Cole attempting to find Mike Brown’s memorial. He runs into Mike Brown’s older cousin, who chauffeurs him to the memorial. These two experiences highlight themes of racial discrimination and government militarization. More interesting that the documentary itself was considering J.Cole’s experiences and these themes alongside the February panel “When I See Them, I See Us: Black Palestinian Solidarity in an Age of Struggle,” part of NYU Gallatin’s Black History Month. Continue reading

Review: Economic Crisis and Democracy in Brazil – A Talk by Dilma Rousseff

A_presidente_Dilma_Rousseff_durante_cerimônia_contra_o_impeachment_em_31_de_março_de_2016Brazil is a nation of great political turmoil. From the dark years of the military dictatorship to continuous corruption and failed economic policies, Brazil is as famous for its political struggles as it is for caipirinhas. On Wednesday, April 12th, impeached President Dilma Rousseff gave a talk at The New School about economic crisis and democracy in Brazil.

Dilma Rousseff was the first female president of Brazil from 2011 until her impeachment in 2016. An economist, politician, and member of the Worker’s Party (PT), she won the democratic election with 54 million votes. But as any president of a nation, Dilma’s politics are highly contested and divide millions across Brazil. While she is popular for programs like Luz Para Todos (Light For All), which made electricity widely available, she is highly criticized for corruption, such as her involvement in the Petrobras scandal. Her alleged hiding of budgetary deficits to win re-election in 2014 and poor economic policies that contributed to severe recession led to her impeachment in 2016, putting “dracula” Michel Temer, as one person in the Audience called him, in the Presidential seat. Continue reading

Report on UDL Teach-In: Gentrification

With dramatic shifts like rent hikes, sprawling urban redevelopment, and tenant displacement occurring throughout the world’s cities, the Urban Democracy Lab’s Student Advisory Board hosted a teach-in at the Gallatin student lounge on March 21st pertaining to the topic of gentrification. In order to unpack the term that is so frequently discussed by both academics and urbanites all around the world, the Student Advisory Board hosted a panel featuring NYU Wagner Professor Jewell Jackson McCabe, Gallatin Professor and Urban Democracy Lab Associate Director Becky Amato, and Gallatin Junior Anamika Jain. Aree Worawongwasu of the Urban Democracy Lab Student Advisory Board moderated. Continue reading