The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Tag Archives: bad conditions

Evict the Landlord

Tenants and allies 1058 Southern Boulevard made this video documenting the handwork they did to bring direct pressure to slumlord Miriam Shasho. Check it out, and be sure to check out RIPPD, whose support to tenants of 1058 Southern Boulevard is invaluable.

HPD Releases FY 2013 AEP List

Each year, HPD releases a list of the 200 most physically distressed buildings in the city. These are the 200 new buildings that will enter the Alternative Enforcement Program. Because buildings are not discharged from AEP until conditions have been rectified, about 500 buildings remain in the program from previous years. You can read more about AEP in the City’s report on the first 5 years of the program, released in July 2012.

Last week, HPD released the list of AEP buildings for FY 2013. Check it out. The buildings are overwhelmingly located in low income areas of Brooklyn, Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. There are only a few properties located in Queens and Staten Island. Many of them have active Lis Pendens - the first step in a foreclosure case - indicating that distressed buildings are experiencing financial troubles.

There are some familiar addresses on the list. In 1054 Southern Boulevard, tenant leaders, are asking HPD to replace their negligent landlord with a city-approved manager (the 7A program.)  The Tenant’s Association of 3 buildings in Sunset Park are on rent strike with the assistance of UHAB and South Brooklyn Legal Services.

The Alternative Enforcement Program is an excellent example of the ways that HPD has been effective in intervening in dangerous housing situations in New York City. That’s why we were excited last month when the program was expanded to take into account underlying conditions and to enable the City to work with more buildings.

Hazardous living conditions, like the kinds identified for targeted enforcement through AEP, put already-vulnerable families at an even higher risk. It is a public health concern, a housing concern, and a human rights concern. We hope that these identified buildings will improve over the next year as HPD oversees extensive repairs.

Does This Building Look Repaired to You?

The 10 Milbank buildings purchased by Steve Finkelstein are now just 9: 2264 Holland Avenue was sold in February 2012. But the smaller portfolio hasn’t stopped Finkelstein from loading up on debt. The outstanding debt on the portfolio is now $45.5M with lender Cantor Commercial Real Estate, up from $30M with Signature Bank at the time of purchase.

According to a legally binding agreement made at the time of purchase, Finkelstein should have corrected 80% of B and C violations in the 10 buildings by October 2011.  The Westchester based landlord claims that the buildings are now managed well, repaired, and approaching full occupancy. He claims the additional debt is sustainable. We’re not sure he’s right, or that he is in compliance with the agreement executed in April 2011. Check out photos from 1576 Taylor Avenue, last night:

Tenants from the Milbank portfolio are angry, to say the least. Their landlord has pocketed an additional $15M, and they’re not getting the repairs they deserve. 1576 Taylor is riddled with water damage, electrical problems, sagging floors and leaking faucets. Many of the newly installed sinks and toilets are barely clinging to the walls already. One rent-paying tenant’s bathtub was “repaired” without a shower option. Common quotes from last night: “He’s never been in my apartment.” “He said he’d fix my apartment in the spring, but the workers left in January and they never came back.”  And, of course: “The intercom doesn’t work.” “I have things crawling in through the hole in the wall.” But Milbank tenants are resilient, and they’re organized, and they’re ready to fight back.

A Green Future for Formerly Distressed Buildings

Workforce Housing Advisers, the group that helped save 1520 Sedgwick , the Birthplace of Hip-Hop, is upping their ante in the Community Development world in the Bronx by moving beyond developing and preserving decent, safe affordable housing and starting a project that will benefit not only the tenants but the whole community in the Hunts Point area of the Bronx.

This was all started by a group of horribly distressed basically abandoned buildings located at 16, 920, 924, 928, and 935 Kelly Street. These buildings were all put in the city’s Alternative Enforcement Program (AEP) in 2007, meaning they were among the 200 worst buildings in NYC. The properties only continued to decline from there. But now, Workforce Housing stepped in, bought the debt, finished foreclosure and has begun a $16 million renovation of the properties with financing that ensures they will remain affordable in the future.

Considering their past exploits, this is merely par for the course for Workforce Housing. However, with Kelly St. they are taking a step further and initiating a project that will benefit the tenants as well as the greater community. The project is called Kelly Street Green, and its goal is to provide support for a healthy, fresh food purveyor in a commercial space in the Kelly Street buildings. The project is currently requesting proposals from interested parties, and a committee (that includes yours truly) will help determine who will ultimately run the space. The store will sell produce from local farms as well as the community garden adjacent to the properties. This project will be a huge gain for the community of Hunts Point which is often considered a “food desert” meaning it is extremely difficult for people in the community to acquire quality groceries.

Even better, as the Daily News reports, the space will be leased at a substantial discount and will receive up to $150,000 in start up grants. The person/group selected will also receive a rent free apartment in one of the buildings.

If you are interested in submitting a proposal, or just want to find out more about this project visit kellystgreen.com. We’re excited to participate in this innovative project, and are looking forward to hearing about your ideas!

Panel Discussion Holding Landlords Accountable Monday in the Bronx

On Monday, I will be joining an impressive group of housing experts to discuss current housing issues and possible solutions for holding bad landlords accountable. This forum was inspired by the recent City Limits issue,”The Phantom Landlord” (a must read if you haven’t already) which focused on one landlord Frank Palazzolo and his inexplicable ability to remain untouched despite his involvement in many, many properties where bad conditions have been disastrous and even deadly for the residents. This forum will talk about possible legislation and strategies for holding landlords like this accountable.

The discussion will be held on Monday, April 23rd at the Scala Auditorium on the first floor of the Leo Engineering Building, 3825 Corlear Avenue (a block west of Broadway, between E. 238th and E. 240th streets). Please join if you can it should be a very interesting discussion!

For more information on who the panelists are and what will be discussed check out Bronx Matters!

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