These biographies describe the founders and early activists of Met Council on Housing. A mostly woman-led organization, Met Council on Housing was also integrated from the beginning. Several of these women emerged from the Jewish radical tradition, and most were at one time members of the Communist Party and the American Labor Party.
Jane Benedict (1911-2005)
Jane Benedict became involved in tenant organizing during the 1950s, when her Yorkville neighbors were being evicted to make way for new luxury apartments. Jane founded Yorkville Save Our Homes Committee to fight these demolitions. After connecting with tenant activists throughout the city, she became one of the founders of Met Council on Housing in 1959. A former organizer for the Book and Magazine Guild (a trade union) and the American Labor Party, Jane was active in a wide variety of progressive struggles. In 1982 she ran for Governor of New York state on the Unity Party ticket, a coalition of community, labor and tenants’ groups. Serving as the chairwoman of Met Council on Housing for three decades, Jane played an integral role in the development of the organization and inspired decades of tenants organizers to fight for affordable housing, rent control and protection from eviction.
Frances Goldin (1924- )
A Lower East Side activist, Frances Goldin honed her organizing skills at the University Settlement Housing Clinic and in her Communist Party section. In addition to her long-term leadership of the Cooper Square Committee, Frances had multiple responsibilities within Met Council on Housing, including heading the Legislative Committee. She was also an active supporter of the squatter movement. In 1950 she ran for State Senator on the American Labor Party ticket, alongside W.E.B. du Bois. Frances also lectured at Fordham University and is a prominent literary agent.
Esther Rand (1907-1981)
A committed tenant organizer, Esther Rand founded the East Side Tenants Council during the 1950s. This local organization later became the first neighborhood branch of Met Council on Housing. Esther opposed urban renewal with the Cooper Square Committee, helping to draft the influential Alternative Plan for Cooper Square. She spoke frequently on the radio about tenant issues, hosting Housing Notebook on WBAI from 1975 until her death. A feared tenant advocate and long-time Communist Party member, Esther was known for saying “landlords are not lords of the land, they are scum of the earth.”
Bill Stanley (1904-1979)
A founding member of Met Council on Housing, Bill Stanley was a prominent Harlem tenant organizer. In addition to serving as the Vice-Chair, Bill was the main organizer for the West Side branch of Met Council on Housing. Bill worked with Columbia University students to successfully oppose the construction of a gym in Morningside Park. Bill was a prominent voice connecting the work of Met Council on Housing to the civil rights movement, and in later years often spoke of the importance of the era to younger activists.
The first Vice-President of Met Council on Housing, Bess Stevenson became a tenant organizer after defending herself in Housing Court in 1939. Bess was responsible for building a strong Harlem branch office, and later served as the chairwoman of Met Council on Housing. Bess was a respected rent strike organizer and tenant advocate in Manhattan’s Housing Court. She vowed in a City Limits magazine interview, “as long as God gives me strength, I’m going to fight ’til tenants have some rights.”
Jane Wood (1907-2004)
Jane Wood, the founder of the Chelsea Coalition on Housing, became involved in tenant organizing after witnessing the poor housing conditions in her neighborhood while canvassing door-to-door for the American Labor Party. Her Spanish language skills allowed her to develop close organizing relationships with her Latino neighbors, and all Chelsea Coalition on Housing meetings were conducted bilingually. She led the unsuccessful fight against the Penn Station South urban renewal project and was a prominent supporter of the squatter movement. Jane remained a committed tenant organizer throughout her life, at the age of 93, slept in the lobby of her apartment building in an attempt to hasten an elevator repair.