Catching Up With Jimmy McMillan

Jimmy McMillan’s performance in a gubernatorial debate in October 2010 sealed his status in New York political lore and cemented a six-word slogan into our vernacular. Today, he is fighting to hold on to his apartment from a nursing home in Queens.

Adi Talwar

September 30, 2022: James McMillan III, founder of the Rent Is Too Damn High political party. Mr. McMillan Is currently residing at a VA health facility in St. Albans, Queens.

This story has been updated since original publication.

Exactly 12 years have passed since Jimmy McMillan, then-candidate for governor, sat on the debate stage at Hofstra University and seared a six-word slogan into our vernacular.

McMillan’s famous phrase went viral that night—earning him immediate Saturday Night Live treatment—and continues to live on in endless memes and timeless headlines by capturing a fundamental fact of life for millions of New Yorkers then and now: The Rent Is Too Damn High.

About two-thirds of New York City’s nearly 9 million residents rent their apartments and more than half of them spend at least 30 percent of their income on housing, an arrangement that means they are considered rent-burdened. The problem is only growing: Asking rents have risen faster here than any other large city in the country, according to a recent analysis of Zillow data by City Comptroller Brad Lander.

Median rents have spiked in every borough, reaching historic highs after a pandemic-induced plunge at the higher ends of the market. But low-income tenants saw no such COVID breaks. For them, the rent never stopped being too damn high.

So what does McMillan think about all of it?

“The rent really was too damn high,” McMillan, 75, said on a gray afternoon late last month. “And I knew it was going to get worse.”