Eight Brooklyn activists are finalists for The David Prize, a $200,000 cash award for individuals and ideas working to create a better New York City. Among them is Bedford-Stuyvesant based housing advocate Velvet A. Ross.
Named for billionaire real estate developer David C. Walentas, who is best known for transforming Dumbo into one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods, The David Prize provides unrestricted funding for leading voices and actors fighting for a better New York City and rights for its residents. Brooklyn Paper is profiling each of the eight finalists from Brooklyn before the winner is announced next month.
Ross was living in the Bronx and serving as a member of the local community board when she was illegally evicted from her black mold-infested apartment and became homeless.
“I started getting really sick,” Ross said. She found shelter through an acquaintance in Red Hook, where she currently works. “Brooklyn was saving grace for me from all of the stress that I was living with in the Bronx. And there was so much opportunity for me to basically […] recreate myself. I got connected with the community. They basically took me in and helped me get into the voucher program to get back on my feet.”
The Walentas family has been criticized for contributing to an accelerated gentrification which ultimately displaces low-income local families. The David prizes, financed by the Walentas Family Foundation, come “no strings attached,” as the organization’s website states, with the confidence that the winners will invest the money to improve their work and their impact.
Erika Boll, the executive director of the prize program, said that a board of advisers had sought applicants who could benefit from increased visibility.
“We hope that this prize will catalyze their work in a real way,” she said.
Now, Velvet is a member of a handful of groups supporting recipients of housing vouchers, who are commonly discriminated against by landlords and real estate companies. She is even a founding member of one, UnlockNYC, a tech nonprofit majority-led by women who have experienced housing discrimination due to having rental assistance vouchers.
Ross worked with Mayor Eric Adams and his administration on housing plans and the Section 8 program, which supports low-income families to rent homes in the private market.
“People who were directly impacted by housing discrimination, including me, we were involved in the process, the governing process that dictated what would happen to others in the same situation,” she said. “And we are still ongoing.”
Her soon-to-be launched podcast, “Her Housing” will provide a discussion around the intersections of race, gender, class and housing.
If Ross is chosen by The David Prize committee as one of the winners, she will invest the funding into an eviction fund to provide “financial help to support families who have gotten evicted until they’re able to get the next step,” she said.