The idea for this project came in January of 2020 when I canvassed to collect signatures for the Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang as his delegate. Rondout Gardens is a low-income housing project located in Kingston, New York. My mother used to live nearby, so I had driven by it numerous times.
I think that the poverty here kind of separates you from the rest of the city. There’s a certain amount of shame about living here. I noticed that— it’s like the other side of the tracks, in a way literally.From Lost Rondout
But it was not until I went there to knock on doors that I understood what people meant when they said that “the poverty here separates you from the rest of the city.” After a whole row of historic buildings were destroyed in a tragic urban renewal project in the early 20th century, this project was built to accommodate residents who lost their homes in the event. Unfortunately, it became the most segregated part of Kingston, a fact that remains true today. This history is eloquently told in Lost Rondout, a heartbreaking documentary by Stephen Blauweiss & Lynn Woods (link time-stamped):
Kingston is fast becoming a hub for tech and creative professionals, and has been attracting developers for some time. As the town has transformed, Rondout Gardens, cut off from the rest with physical barriers and trapped by social barriers, felt left behind and ignored.
People who answered the door had an expression of hopelessness. But once I explained what I was there for, they showed a wary tenderness. When they grasped Andrew Yang’s policy of giving every citizen $1000 a month with no strings attached, most of them grabbed my pen and signed the petition with a seriousness that I didn’t see anywhere else. This experience left a deep impact on me.
There was a young mother with a few small children. She was too young to be completely hopeless, but I could tell she was tired and stressed. I could see, as I was talking about UBI and what that could do for her kids, she became curious. I could see on her face that she got it.
In many ways, Rondout Gardens is ideal for a basic income pilot. It is physically isolated, making it easy to visually track the change, as well as to collect data. At the same time, it’s also very tricky because extra income would jeopardize their eligibility for their assistance. And understandably, the housing authority would not want us to portray the project as desolate.
I believe there are creative ways to work around any obstacles and limitations, perhaps even leading to something unexpected and fruitful. One thing we are sure of is that whatever we do, story-sharing will play a large part.
We are in the exploratory stage of this plan, with Jennifer Schwartz Berky (see clip below), former Ulster County Legislator who was instrumental in establishing the Human Rights Commission during her tenure, as our lead advisor.
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Keiko Sono, Director