Tenant activists fight each other over vouchers

Socialist Cea Weaver, NYCHA leader Melanie Aucello exchange barbs on Twitter


Tenant organizer Cea Weaver waded into housing policy talk on Twitter and found herself in deep water with the president of a NYCHA tenant association over rental vouchers.

Weaver, campaign coordinator at Housing Justice For All, started things off Saturday afternoon by tweeting a thought about rental vouchers within a larger thread on what issues her organization prioritizes.

“It’s not really the vouchers’ fault that they subsidize real estate,” Weaver wrote. “They could be a stable operating subsidy for social or even public housing, and that would be a good thing.”

The next morning, Melanie Aucello, president of the tenants association at a NYCHA development in Kips Bay, jumped on the tweet to call it a “piece of sht ‘hot take’ about vouchers.”

Through her work with Fight For NYCHA, Aucello has championed ending the Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD, which allows private developers to manage NYCHA buildings using federal Section 8 vouchers instead of traditional — and less reliable — public housing funding. Fight For NYCHA argues that RAD puts money in the pockets of private landlords at tenants’ expense.

“This is the same real estate industry that aims to deregulate rents and to fight the enforcement of tenant protections,” the site reads.

Aucello invoked a line from Rep. Nydia Velazquez to counter Weaver’s support of vouchers.

“NYCHA or any agency or city government should not be in the business of selling public housing,” Aucello wrote. (The Housing Authority retains ownership and control of developments in the RAD program, which has been embraced by the de Blasio administration.)

Weaver diverted the conversation back to a broader discussion. Asking Aucello to table the NYCHA talk, Weaver elaborated that federal funding, such as Section 8, could help organizers convert vacant or distressed hotels into housing for the homeless.

Cea Weaver and Melanie Aucello (Twitter)

Cea Weaver and Melanie Aucello (Twitter)

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“It’s not about selling NYCHA at all — it’s abt more subsidy for the operation of housing that serves low income people,” Weaver tweeted. As things stand, Weaver said, vouchers generally equal a subsidy for private developers.

“My point is it doesn’t have to be true,” she wrote. “They could, in the long run, in a different property regime, subsidize social or public housing.”

Then the name-calling started.

Aucello dubbed Weaver a two-faced liar and alleged she previously pushed vouchers under the Blueprint for Change, a proposal that would have transitioned all NYCHA units not covered under RAD or a sister program, PACT, to the Section 8 voucher program. The move would have effectively ended public housing in the city, Gotham Gazette reported.

A Blueprint for Change bill was shelved in May by the state legislature.

To back her statement, Aucello linked to a Fight For NYCHA page that said Cea Weaver had negotiated with state legislators for approval or support of Blueprint with minor conditions. However, the linked page did not cite the source of that information.

Weaver responded that Aucello may have been conflating the Blueprint with Housing Justice For All’s push for the Housing Access Voucher Program, a state-funded companion to Section 8 that would extend housing vouchers to homeless New Yorkers. The bill is sitting in the state Senate’s housing committee.

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Fight For NYCHA’s Twitter account then stepped into the ring, accusing Weaver of gaslighting Aucello.

“Are you saying Melanie doesn’t know what she’s talking about?” it tweeted. “Is that what you’re saying?”

Weaver backed off: “No absolutely not!”

The tiff points to larger fissures within the tenant advocacy movement, if not also the hostility Twitter can exhume, even on a holiday weekend.

In a tweet posted on Monday, Weaver seemed to have had her fill.

“this weekend for labor day i left new york politics twitter (work) and joined housing discourse twitter (leisure) and like i desperately want back into NY politics twitter please god let me back,” she said.