SUNSET PARK – The last three months have brought a lot of changes for Marcela Mitaynes, the housing activist from Sunset Park who is running to represent her neighborhood, District 51, in State Assembly.
Mitaynes, 45, was ramping up her campaign to go knocking on doors ahead of the April primary, where she faces fellow Sunset Parkers Katherine Walsh, Genesis Aquino and the incumbent, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, whose office has been mired in controversy. The district is heavily Democratic, so whoever wins the primary, wins the seat, despite generally low primary voter turnouts.
Then the pandemic came, and like many neighbors, Mitaynes came down with COVID-19 herself. Thankfully, she recovered and regrouped. These days, rather than knocking on doors, it’s video town halls and phone calls to neighbors asking for their votes, asking how they are.
Mitaynes knows the struggle well, having been a tenant organizer for almost a decade with Neighbors Helping Neighbors. She became involved in politics as the result of a landlord, who upon acquiring her old building, turned the longtime tenants out. Losing a home of 30 years hurt, but it also led her to empowerment through local activism, helping others, and learning to both organize and navigate the power systems from the bottom up.
It also led her to frustration with the current representative, and his seeming unwillingness to stand up for the constituents who could no longer afford to live in the community.
“It is obvious that he does not care much about housing,” Mitaynes says of Ortiz. “Housing should be a human right. Housing is a human right.” The problem with housing in Sunset Park is that there is so little of it that is affordable, and even less that goes to neighborhood residents. To Mitaynes, housing is everything – it is what provides stability one needs to work, study, to live with dignity.
Having campaigned for stronger rent laws, Mitaynes believes that universal rent control should be next, and supports the Good Cause Eviction bill making its way through the legislature – ensuring that no tenant, regardless of who their landlord is, can have their rent raised unreasonably or be evicted without a good cause.
She feels very positive about the #RentStrike, and is hopeful that it can spread into a citywide movement, and that the result will be a fairer system for all.
“People have no money here. If you are out of a job, you cannot make rent. [..] The morning when it was announced that 2,000 free masks will be distributed in Sunset park, within half an hour there was a line around the block. People do not have money, they do not have the materials to make their own,” Mitaynes remarked.
The pandemic has shown to the core how flawed our current system is, she believes, hitting hardest those who were already at a disadvantage – living near the BQE with asthma (Sunset Park has some of the highest asthma levels in the city), those who are underinsured or increasingly – not seeking the care they need because of COVID-19.
When we asked how she plans to fund the universal medical care she supports, rent subsidies, NYCHA and other mandates on her agenda, Mitaynes, a socialist rather than a progressive democrat, looks to taxing the rich – whether through taxing their pied-à-terre properties, or yachts, stock transfers and more, and does not plan on compromising on the core values.
This has earned her way more endorsements than any other of her opponents. Mitaynes has, as of this writing, the support of the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, the Working Families Party, New York Communities for Change, Tenants PAC (of which she is a member), the Jewish Vote, the Muslim Democratic Club of New York, Indivisible Nation BK, Our Progressive Future, the Peruvian American Coalition of New York, New American Leaders Foundation and American Political Peruvians for Action.
Will it be enough?