Organizing in Isolation:
The Post-pandemic Landscape

In many ways, Covid-19 launched a period of global self-reflection on what community means. Faced with isolation, organizers were forced to reflect on the fundamentals of organizing. As Elizabeth Yeampierre of UPROSE explained, so much of organizing depends on being present in the communities that, by definition, it cannot be done from behind a desk.

At the same time, the need for organizing and development became more important than ever. Minority communities faced unequal health impacts and housing insecurity compounded by the economic toll of losses in blue collar jobs. It became critical to have amenities and services within walking distance, yet we realized many communities lacked these assets.

Across the country, mutual aid efforts popped up in response to the slow deployment of traditional safety nets. The communal kitchens and food pantries came out of a grassroots response to solving the problems at a local level instead of traditional charitable sources. From Woodbine NYC in Ridgewood, Queens to East Brooklyn Mutual Aid in East New York, Brooklyn, local residents organized, donated, and supported efforts to directly deliver goods that became inaccessible due to the shutdowns. Some of these mutual aid groups expanded beyond delivering these goods to supporting local tenants against eviction and connecting residents with healthcare services.4 5

East Brooklyn Mutual Aid Volunteers. 2022.
Image: Kelvin Taitt via the Brooklyn Paper

The Housing Crisis

The pandemic had fundamental impacts on the housing market in general. Tenants’ rights protections were enacted at the height of the shutdown, but these protections were hardly applicable to those who were already living in precarious housing conditions. 

While some positive movements like Right to Counsel expanded to cover tenants city-wide in 2021, other protections like moratoriums on evictions were lifted and there was an overall return to the pre-pandemic status quo. Except, the supply-chain issues caused by the pandemic significantly altered the cost of housing further exacerbating the housing crisis of the last decade.  

According to Freddie Mac, we were short 3.8 million units of housing in 2022 nationwide, while three-fifths of the country did not own their home. Households that owned their home had a median wealth of over $300,000, while renters  had a substantially smaller median wealth of $4,000. Similar trends of inequality can be observed in other demographic statistics relating to racial, education, employment, and marital status.6

The Tenant Protection Act signing at NYC City Hall. 2019.
Image: Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development

New Activism

Despite major successes in fighting disinvestment in the past, poverty and inequality persists. According to Ron Shiffman, co-founder the Pratt Center, community development organizations need to adapt to a new world driven by immigration, displacement, and climate change, compounding the issues of rising inequality. 

In face of this era of challenges, we have entered a new moment of racial and housing justice organizing. Since the George Floyd protests of 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement opened up more opportunities to acknowledge the interconnectedness between access to healthcare, the housing crisis, and our deep-rooted racial history. Students, blue-collar workers, and young professionals alike have been activated to challenge these systemic conditions in a social landscape familiar to those who witnessed the genesis of community development and organizing in the sixties and seventies.


  1. Matthew F. Gebhardt, Race, Segregation and Choice: Race and Ethnicity in Choice Neighborhood Initiative Applicant Neighborhoods, 2010-2012 (2014) ↩︎
  2. Melanie Breault, Moving Beyond Place-Based Community Organizing (2019) ↩︎
  3. Charles Lane, “Right to Council in NYC not only dodged cuts but gained $20 million in new budget,” Gothamist (2023) ↩︎
  4. “Organizing for Survival in New York City: Report from Ridgewood, Queens,” Commune (2020) ↩︎
  5. Arden Sklar, “A Year and a Half Into Pandemic, NYC’s Mutual Aid Movement at a Turning Point,” City Limits (2021) ↩︎
  6. Neil Bennett, Donald Hays, and Briana Sullivan, “2019 Data Shows Baby Boomers Nearly 9 Times Wealthier Than Millennials,” United States Census Bureau (2022) ↩︎