Over 40 individuals crowded around Bobst Library on Friday afternoon to protest homelessness and gentrification in the neighborhoods surrounding NYU.
Leading the protest was long-time activist and photojournalist John Penley, a vocal East Village resident known for his opposition to real estate development and donating his photographs to the university’s Tamiment Library in 2009. After a former arrest in Charlotte, N.C., for protesting rising homelessness in America, Penley has returned to the Village with a plea. He is urging NYU to donate one of its buildings for the 2031 expansion plan toward lower income and homeless members displaced from the community.
As a first step, Penley suggested that NYU should partner with Gregg Singer, developer and owner of the now vacant CHARAS/El Bohio community center at 605 E. Ninth St., in converting the property into a space for the less fortunate.
“It could become some place where students get real life experience working with the inhabitants,” Penley said. “NYU could be a model for what universities around the world can do.”
A past member of the Navy himself, Penley noted that one out of every four veterans is homeless, a statistic from the Veterans Affairs Department.
“The general public should care [about housing] because they might be on the next list of people that get gentrified out of the West and East sides,” Penley said. “I’ve seen hundreds of people that get gentrified out of the neighborhood because they can’t afford to live there.”
In response to the rally, NYU spokesman Philip Lentz provided a statement addressing the school’s current involvement in efforts to assist the less fortunate.
“NYU’s students, faculty and staff provide thousands of hours of community service to those in need in New York City, but we leave it to those whose expertise lies in the area of serving the homeless to tend to those urban needs,” Lentz said.
“The NYU Community Fund, which is funded by donations from NYU employees, annually supports numerous organizations that assist the homeless, including, to name a few, the Bowery Residents Committee, the Bowery Mission and University Community Social Services,” he added.
Lentz mentioned that last summer NYU signed a lease in perpetuity to provide affordable housing on its property at 505 LaGuardia Place. He also said the university devotes significant resources to provide housing for its students and faculty, which aids in stabilizing housing costs in New York City.
“I can agree with [Penley] that New York City should be doing something, but I don’t think that NYU should be taking care of [housing the homeless],” said Shay Horse, a 19-year-old prospective student at NYU who was at the protest.
In an effort to raise awareness among students, Penley intends to camp out in front of Bobst Library for a month.
“In the past I have been very derogatory about students in NYU, but in this case I’m reaching out,” Penley said. “I really want to convince the students to become concerned.”
A version of this article was published in the Monday, March 4 print edition. Sofia Ferrandiz is a contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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