The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Social Media and Opportunities for Tenant Organizing!

Given that you are at our blog, I assume that you are aware that in the past six months at UHAB, we have embarked on a mission: to use social media and online networking to expand our capacity as tenant organizers in New York City. It’s been a fun experiment, and we’re all learning every day about ways to expand readership, get more twitter followers, and more Facebook likes.

While we have been tweeting away, tenants at 230-232 Schenectady Avenue haven’t been so fortunate. This 12-unit property has 287 violations, and is on the AEP list of the 200 worst buildings in the city. It’s in foreclosure, with a debt of $1.1 million and the bank is – you guessed it – New York Community Bank.

Despite their very real plight, tenants at 230-232 Schenectady have been incredibly willing to help us with our social-media project, while we help them get money out of their bank to improve conditions in their homes. If you visit Picture This, you’ll see some of the horrendous conditions that tenants live with at 230-232 Schenectady Ave.  When we described this project – to document bad conditions in NYCB buildings and create an online forum for tenants in similar situations to see that they are not alone – to tenants at Schenectady Ave, they gave us two rolls of developed pictures.

But they haven’t seen the website. While some of the tenants have computers, in the past two years, three apartments have been completely ravaged by electrical fires due to old and faulty wiring. While two of those families are back in their homes, one remains at a shelter, and none of them have been reimbursed for the huge loss of property as a result of the fire. Tenants who have computers are afraid of plugging them into their wall sockets because the high-voltage that the machines require might cause fire, and irrevocable damage to their homes and their lives. While plugging in a computer may seem like a luxury in the face of their other violations (sagging staircases and ceilings, lack of security, rodents, poor plumbing), having working electricity should be a given. Living without fear of fire should be a given. And if you have a computer, you should be able to use it ! This is 2011, and this is another way that the tenants we work with are denied the things that the rest of us have come to take for granted.

To go back to social media and tenant organizing: last week we “tweeted” that tenants in 230-232 Schenectady had been living in bad conditions long enough. We asked NYS Senator Eric Adams for his help. Today, his staff “re-tweeted” and tenants in 230-232 Schenectady have an appointment to meet with him and discuss their conditions issues, and their grievances with the bank. Let us hope it proves useful, and that tenants in this building will get some relief this summer!

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