The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Tag Archives: 1520 Sedgwick

Fighting for the Future: Lessons from 1520 Sedgwick

This is a video from a few days ago when we celebrated the return of 1520 Sedgwick to well-maintained affordable housing for low to moderate income residents in the Bronx. This was the culmination of a long, hard-fought campaign started by the tenants with the assistance of UHAB in 2007.

I wasn’t the organizer in the 1520 Sedgwick campaign, since I joined UHAB in 2008. But because of the importance of the campaign my formation as a tenant organizer was shaped through the lens of 1520 Sedgwick.

In 2007, residents of 1520 Sedgwick reached out to UHAB and Tenants & Neighbors because they had learned that their building had been sold to a landlord who intended to remove affordability restrictions and attract higher paying tenants to make up for the fact that he over paid for the building in the first place.

Sedgwick was the iconic predatory equity campaign: strong tenants stood up to fight for their homes in a historic building known as the “Birthplace of Hip-Hop.”   Tenants, with UHAB’s support, began pushing back against their landlord. Our earliest campaign goals at 1520 Sedgwick were to keep the buildings in the Mitchell Lama program and prevent a sale to real estate speculator Mark Karasick. Help came flooding in, starting with DJ Kool Herc, the father of hip-hop who started the cultural trend in the community room of 1520 forty years ago, but soon city leaders like Senator Schumer and Congressman Serrano, to name a few, joined the fight.

It was an emotional and impressive campaign. And, despite everyone’s best efforts, we failed. Big business profiteering off affordable housing won the fight. The building was sold to Mark Karasick, who bought it with a $7.2 million mortgage from Sovereign Bank, shortly thereafter it was removed from the Mitchel Lama program. Predictably, the building began to fall in to disrepair. However, rather than becoming discouraged, the tenants remained organized and continued to fight for what they knew their buildings could be.

That’s when Workforce Housing Advisors entered the scene, with an unconventional plan to purchase the mortgage and foreclosure on the owner. The tenants were ready to pick up the fight once again, and the second time around it was not difficult to find the support of city agencies and elected officials to help with this preservation option, and the building was recovered.

This recent celebration was the official ribbon cutting, post renovation of the building. The tenants and all their supporters who helped win this campaign came out to see what all the work was for, a beautiful affordable housing complex for the residents who fought so hard for their community.

While we are grateful for the support from all the organizations and agencies, we need to take a moment and specifically thank the tenants. Their struggle and their victory has taught UHAB’s Organizing and Policy Department so much over the past five years. When they reached out to us in 2007, we were in the early stages of predatory equity and were just discovering how financial malfeasance and mortgage over-leveraging based on speculation and gentrification, impacts tenants and their homes. Now, it defines our work. We learned about foreclosure at 1520 Sedgwick; Workforce Housing’s plan to purchase the mortgage and foreclose on the owner provided the inspiration for our campaign against New York Community Bank and created the framework for the First Look Program that came out of it.

Currently, while we continue to face the fallout of the previous housing bust, at the same time we see buildings being re-overleveraged. It’s disheartening to feel that real estate hasn’t learned from the failures of speculators like Karasic. Still, I look at the 1520 Sedgwick campaign and remember the resiliency of the tenants, their refusal to give up, and it reminds me that while it’s easy to be discouraged, the present isn’t permanent and the future is worth fighting for.

We Fought Back and We Won!

Tenants celebrated a major victory at 1520 Sedgwick on Friday. After over five years of fighting, they can finally say that they have wrestled their buildings from the hands of a private equity company into the hands of a landlord that they picked, renovations are completed, and tenants are home at last. 

1520 Sedgwick is widely known as the Birthplace of Hip Hop — something that Borough President Ruben Diaz noted brought hope to the Bronx in the darkest days of the 1970s. Parties at 1520 Sedgwick, he said, gave people of the Bronx something to believe in. 

We’re inspired by the amazing preservation battle the tenants waged — and thrilled that they have been victorious. Check out coverage from the Daily News, and see the photos below via Anthony Collins Photography. 

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Friday News Round Up

It’s been a busy week here at UHAB, and the world of affordable housing is as jam-packed as ever. Get ready for the roundup!

  • Mayor Bloomberg finally announced his appointments for the NYCHA Board, adding two more tenants to the seven person board, raising tenant representation to 3. The new volunteer tenant board members are Beatrice Byrd, former tenant president of the Red Hook West Houses in Brooklyn, and Willie Mae Lewis, tenant president of the St. Nicholas Houses in Harlem; they join Victor Gonzales.
  • The city is dangerously close to ending a program that has allowed 350 refugees of Superstorm Sandy to live in hotels for the past year. FEMA will stop reimbursing the city for the costs starting on Monday, and the city currently has no official plans for the refugees other than “apply to stay in one of the city’s homeless shelters.”
  • In his weekly radio show, Mayor Bloomberg praised the income gap between the rich and poor and said it would be a “godsend” if every millionaire moved to the city. This outrageous assertion comes on the heels of the release of the Census Data from 2012 showing a 3% increase in the poverty rate of New Yorkers.
  • Don’t forget about the runoff election for Public Advocate this coming Tuesday, Oct 1st! City Councilmember Tish James will face state Senator Daniel Squadron. Tenant PAC has endorsed James as a prominent opponent of the Atlantic Yards development in her district. Don’t forget to vote!
  • It’s finally Fall, meaning that organizations are putting out newsletters and reports like its no tomorrow! Check out UHAB’s Fall Newsletter to see what the entire organization is up to. Next, make sure to read up on “The Burden of Fees: How Affordable Housing is Made Unaffordable” a report by  Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA), in coordination with the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project we featured on the blog this week. And finally, dive into the new report by the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, “Home by Home: Neighborhood Stabilization in New York City” that documents the local repercussions of the national housing crisis and highlights the work of the Center’s network of housing counselors and attorneys with thousands of homeowners struggling to keep their homes.
  • And to close out the roundup, in honor of the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at 1520 Sedgwick — better known as the Birthplace of Hip Hope — here is a clip of a news conference from back in 2007 — featuring a quick rap from Senator Schumer at minute 6:25.

Enjoy the weekend – we’ll be back at it on Monday!

New York Magazine Celebrates 1520 Sedgwick in Neighborhood Roundup!

View online at NYMag.

NY Daily News: “Birthplace of Hip Hop gets new landlord after battle to keep building affordable”

The Bronx apartment building where DJ Kool Herc emceed the world’s first hip-hop party was sold at foreclosure auction last Monday to a reputable investment group backed by the city.

Workforce Housing Advisors has vowed to fix up 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in Morris Heights, keep it affordable and build an arts and culture center in the recreation room where Herc famously pioneered the “break beat.”

The graying deejay returned to 1520 Sedgwick Ave. last Thursday with John Crotty and John Fitzgerald of Workforce to reopen the rec room and celebrate.

The room was locked and used for storage under the old landlord Mark Karasick, who bought the 102-unit building in 2008 and then went bust.

Now tenant power, government pressure and music history have saved the Bronx landmark.

“Hip-hop can solve a lot of problems,” said Herc, surveying the rec room with a nostalgic smile. “It all started right here.”

Part of the middle-income Mitchell-Lama housing program when Herc lived there, in the 1970s, 1520 Sedgwick Ave. left the program in 2008 when it was sold to Karasick.

Karasick planned to flip the building for a profit, said Dina Levy of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, an advocacy group. But he fell behind on his $7 million mortgage instead and let the high-rise deteriorate.

To continue reading, click here.

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