WATCH THIS FIRST!
Ok, I hope you are adequately inspired to talk about preserving some affordable housing.
That video was taken four years ago in the famous community room of 1520 Sedgwick– aka the place where DJ Kool Herc is considered by many to have launched a new music form now known as Hip-Hop. The building’s other notable distinction was to have been one of the the first housing developments built through the Mitchell-Lama program, a New York State subsidy offering that created affordable housing for low and moderate income New Yorkers.
In 2007, Real Estate in NYC was booming (or bubbling depending on your point of view). It was the height of the Real Estate market and 1520 Sedgwick became a target. Speculators were paying outrageous prices to get a hold of apartment buildings and banks were making irresponsible loans, fueling a very dangerous trend. (UHAB would come name this practice “Predatory Equity” and Sedgwick was one of the earliest victims).
Mark Karasick, a luxury commercial real-estate developer, set his sights on 1520. Later he admitted this was part of a “flipping scheme” in which he planned to deregulate and resell 4000 apartments throughout the Bronx.
The tenants were outraged, ready to organize and prepared to fight for their homes. The residents began working with UHAB and Tenants & Neighbors on a preservation campaign. Tremendous support flooded in from a number of places, but most notably from Senator Schumer,Congressman Serrano and “Hip-Hop Founder”, DJ Kool Herc (tip: if you have a morbid curiosity to watch Senator Schumer try to rap, you should click this link).
Eventually, Sedgwick was granted status as the actual Birthplace of Hip-Hop and designated as eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The residents fought hard, but greed won out and Karasick took ownership of 1520 Sedgwick, removed it from the Mitchel-Lama program, and quickly let it fall into a state of disrepair.
The Tenant Association remained strong and stayed on Karasick. Eventually, the outrageous amount of debt Karasick had loaded onto the building overwhelmed the project and Sedgwick went into foreclosure.
The tenants of 1520 Sedgwick were particularly lucky to have the on-going support of the city housing agencies, HPD and HDC. Both government agencies stayed diligent when it came to Sedgwick and both code-enforcement and emergency repairs kept the building from falling off a cliff under Karasick’s ownership.
Most significantly, when a affordable housing group stepped in an effort to get rid of Karasick and to work with tenants to bring stability and affordability back to the building, HPD and HDC endorsed the plan, committing to support the project for the long-term.
Today, shortly after 2pm, at the Bronx Supreme Court, a foreclosure was held on 1520 Sedgwick. The winner of the auction was Workforce Housing Advisers the affordable housing group who has been working with residents and HPD. The rehabilitation of the buildings is slated to start before the end of the year, and a regulatory agreement that dictates long-term affordability (not unlike the Mitchell-Lama program!) will go into effect almost immediately.
Tenants were at the auction to witness the culmination of their long, and ultimately succesful battle to save their homes.
It is difficult to adequately describe what this victory means to all those fought long and hard to preserve the Birthplace of Hip-Hop.
What comes to mind is a single word…. hope. Hope that the future for this building will be as bright as its past. Hope for the countless other buildings that have fallen victim to predatory equity that a better future might await them too.
So tonight (and probably tomorrow too) we will raise a glass to the tenants of 1520 Sedgwick and their team of supporters….they fought back and they won!
For more history of the fight to Save 1520 Sedgwick, check out the following articles:
Will Gentrification Spoil the Birthplace of Hip-Hop? NY Times May 2007
An Effort to Honor the Birthplace of Hip-Hop NY Times July 2007
City Rejects Sale of Building Known as Hip-Hop’s Birthplace NY Times March 2008
Bronx Building to be Withdrawn from Mitchell-Lama Participation NY Times August 2008
Problems Mount at Bronx Building Bought in a Bubble NY Times January 2010
Saving the Birthplace of Hip-Hop Shelterforce Spring 2010