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Photo of Giselle Martinez by Gabriela Avila
Photo of Giselle Martinez by Gabriela Avila

Sueño Americano

Housing as a basic human right and justice

Interview with Giselle Martinez, Newburgh City Councilwoman

Por Gabriela Ávila
February 2023
Recently, the non-profit Alternative Community Development Fund, The Leviticus Fund, noted in a report on the housing situation in the city of Newburgh that less than a third of its residents own their homes and approximately 60% of the population is in a pressing situation due to excessive rental costs.
Giselle Martínez, councilwoman for District 1, has focused a large part of her work on finding ways to transform this situation, which mainly affects minority groups, such as Afro-Americans and immigrants from different Latin American countries.

A little over a year after taking office, Giselle comments that she and her family know this situation first-hand, “In my childhood, we went through many difficulties. My dad worked day and night in the fields and later as a welder. My mom worked in hotels and cleaning houses. My parents are from Puebla, like most of the Mexicans in Newburgh. Despite the enormous effort of my parents throughout their lives, we do not have our own home”.

He adds, “Approximately 31% of the population of the City of Newburgh lives below the poverty line. 21% of African American residents and 31% of Latinos are poor, percentages that are too high considering that 60% of the population is of Hispanic American origin.” For this reason, promoting low-cost housing is a priority for the councilor, since “they charge between 1,200 and 1,500 dollars for a room. That is too much and even more so for immigrant families, mainly single mothers and the working community that receives low wages. 

He adds: “I would like to lower the cost of housing and promote its acquisition to make this basic human right affordable for the entire population. And in particular for the immigrant community that has lived here all their lives.”

The situation is critical because he affirms “They are taking us out of the places because we cannot pay the rent and that is not right. We are an important part of this community.” She considers that "this situation is the result of the inequalities generated by discrimination based on ethnic origin, the lack of resources and opportunities to develop upward mobility in terms of housing, transportation, and employment that must be worked on transversally and simultaneously to increase the quality of life in our city.

City Council Martínez is a 23-year-old young woman, but with extensive experience in politics, both at the local and state level. In 2020, he graduated with honors with a BA in History and Political Science from Mount Saint Mary College thanks to the Higher Education Opportunity Program, which helps students from underserved communities and provides them with academic and student support. 

In her third year of undergrad, she interned with the New York State Senate Session Assistance Program, where she worked as an aide to Senator Jessica Ramos, learning how to write and pass laws at the state level. “In that period, the Senator created a law for farmworkers in the state of New York and I was in the whole process. I learned that you have to give back to the community the different resources and information that you generated to help as many people as possible.”

She previously interned for US Representative Sean Patrick Maloney and currently works with Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson as a constituent liaison dealing directly with Newburgh residents. 

Giselle is pursuing a master's degree in public administration at Baruch College and hopes to attend law school in the future as she aspires to be an immigration attorney. In the meantime, he continues to fight to find ways to achieve equity, well-being, and social justice for the residents of his hometown of Newburgh through key issues such as affordable housing access and ownership, the expansion of public transportation, the promotion of free public Wi-Fi for the entire population, broad access to mental health services, further development of public spaces, with cleaner streets and parks, greater fairness in the criminal justice system, and the declaration of a climate emergency. 

*Translated into English by Waleska Brito
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