The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Going Green and Fighting Food Deserts in Your Building

We often describe the kind of tenant organizing that we do as “crisis organizing.” We enter buildings because they are in severe distress – financial or physical – and we organize tenants in order to create a powerful resident body that sees itself as a catalyst for solving the crisis. Ideally, these tenant associations stay vibrant long after we have left the building. In some cases, they even become co-op boards who participate in the creation of a limited equity, resident-owned cooperative and become the primary decision makers in their buildings.

There are many, many other ways to organize a building. Many of the community groups we work with are membership-based organizations that work to build tenant associations made up of individuals who identify with their particular group as a facilitator of large-scale neighborhood change. These groups are using tenant associations to build strong community associations and improve things like public safety and local schools.

And some tenant associations are actively working to bring healthier food and greener living into their homes. Anyone who has heard the tired joke “Whole Foods, more like Whole Paycheck,” knows that eating healthy access to local produce is often financially out of reach. But there are many organizations that are working with communities and even with tenant associations to actively change this paradigm.

The Corbin Hill Farm works out of Harlem with neighborhood groups to improve access to healthy, local food. They work tirelessly to make sure that their CSA is more affordable than most, and like many CSAs in New York City, they accept SNAP and EBT. Every missive sent out from the farm share is in English and Spanish to appeal directly to the communities in which they are based. They have several partnerships directly with tenant associations in and with HDFCs in Upper Manhattan to arrange for pick up locations directly in buildings. A couple years ago, Corbin Hill was featured in the New York Times for the work that they do to link low-income neighborhoods with Upstate New York farmers and fight food deserts.

This is also the idea behind Kelly Street Green, a project out of Kelly Street Restoration/Workforce Housing Advisors at the row of once-notorious buildings on Kelly Street in the Bronx. The buildings are now restored (and accepting resident applications for a few more days!) and the building owners are working to create a sustainable food project out of the property. They plan to create a community garden (that will grow produce) paired with a storefront project to increase community access to healthy food. Kelly Street Green has an open call for applications to manage the storefront as a space to combat the South Bronx’s food desert. Applications are open for just a few more days — spread the word!

Though we do “crisis organizing” around predatory equity, foreclosure and over-leveraging, there are numerous reasons to build tenant associations and fighting food deserts can be one of them. Summer is winding down, but that just means farmers are planning their crops for next season. And upstate New York is chock full of farmers. Get informed, get engaged, and use your tenant association as a catalyst for GREEN change!

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