Saturday Night Live cast member Michael Che has decided to weigh in on New York City’s public housing crisis by coordinating a comedy benefit show this Friday, where he’ll play Michelle Wolf and a”secret lineup of comics.” The 35-year-old comic, who went from selling his own T-shirt designs on the street to instructing himself stand-up humor, frequently jokes about gentrification, racism, and other issues plaguing the city.
Che grew up in the New York’s public housing system on the lower east side of Manhattan, where he passed time in places such as the Alfred Smith Houses, which had some of the highest crime rates in the 80s. Decades of overlooked deterioration in public housing has piled up into an estimated $32 billion in repairs, and the town is facing the possibility of a federal government takeover at the end of the month.
The proceeds from Che’s show and also an allied online fundraiser (which raised over $23,000) are going into the Fund for Public Housing non-profit, which supplies services for New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) inhabitants. The town’s 600,000 NYCHA residents frequently lose heat and warm water in winter. And as the online fundraiser points out,”this year 35k inhabitants are that amount is forecast to go up” It could be herculean for the event to truly make a dent in the city’s enormous repair wants, but it’s provided an opportunity to shed light on the conditions that officials are trying to address.
In a New York Times interview on Wednesday, Che opened up about what public home was similar to when he was a kid. “You go without heat. You go without food. You go without doorknobs. You go without everything,” he explained. “Elevators don’t work. There were oil and grease within the lifts to keep graffiti off, but then you couldn’t touch the wall” He added,”My whole family’s from public housing, so you believe all elevators smell like pee. You merely think that’s the way it is.” Some of Che’s family members still reside in public housing today.
He also touched on how much worse it had been in the 80s throughout the city’s crack-cocaine epidemic. “You remember the people sleeping out. You recall the murders of men and women in their teens and 20s, individuals making tons of cash who weren’t making tons of cash the day before. It is a really familiar story.” From the Alfred Smith homes, the building’s own NYCHA manager told the Times in 1988 that taxpayers were”afraid to answer their apartment doors since they do not understand who is knocking.”
NYCHA home was not always that way though. As a stunning NYT photo essay laid out in July, it had been a selective desirable solution for middle-class households prior to the 1960s. But once constraints were eased to be inclusive and low-income minorities stuffed the jobs, they became linked to offense and lacked appropriate investment in the city. Now, Mayor De Blasio is hoping to negotiate a plan to fund NYCHA together with the U.S. lawyer’s office before their next court date on January 31 to avoid a HUD takeover. City Hall warned by enabling the federal government to take over in the Trump era, it might result in HUD downsizing public housing altogether.
“I want people who really want to be there and really help,” he said.
“It’s important to keep in mind how close we are, most New Yorkers, from needing public assistance and from demanding public housing,” he added. With a chilly winter underway, possibly the event and Che’s outspokenness will lead to more attention to the overlooked communities that are as much a part of the town’s identity as large institutions like SNL.
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Written by Joseph Santiago