The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Tag Archives: Christine C. Quinn

City Government and Tenants Warn Speculative Buyers of the Vantage/ Lone Star Portfolio to Back Off!

Photo: William Alatriste, WNYC

Flor Matos, una de las residentes del inmueble 566, de la calle 190, que vive desde hace 29 años en el sitio, expresó sentirse muy preocupada ante la incertidumbre de no saber lo que va a pasar. “De llegarse a vender el edificio, por más de lo que vale, es casi seguro que nos van a subir la renta y continuaremos esperando para que nos reparen la calefacción.” (El Diario)

Flor Matos, one of the residents of the property at 566 W. 190th St, who has lived in the building for 29 years, said she was very concerned about the uncertainty of what will happen. “By selling the building for more than it’s worth, it is almost certain that they will continue to raise the rent and wait to repair the heat.” (Our own translation.) 

City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn

“It’s outrageous that Vantage and Lone Star would jeopardize the stable housing of hundreds of New Yorkers to turn a quick buck,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in a statement. “If these buildings are sold with millions of dollars more in unsustainable debt, tenants will be the ones who pay the price when the new owners can’t make mortgage payments or repairs. I urge Lone Star and Vantage to put tenants first and to sell these properties to a responsible buyer who will ensure the upkeep of these buildings is maintained.” (Crain’s NY)

Commissioner of HPD Matt Wambua

“We want to make sure that to the extent that these buildings are sold that they’re sold to responsible owners and that they’re sold at prices that will be responsible prices,” HPD Commissioner Matthew Wambua said. (WNYC)

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More Press is below. You can read HPD’s press release here, and please stay tuned as we continue to add press links throughout the day!

Friday News Round Up!

Friday the 13th! Avoid bad luck by reading our news round-up!

  1. Why Can’t the Bronx be More Like Brooklyn?” Adam Davidson of NPR’s Planet Money contributed to this week’s New York Times Magazine with an article about urban development in the Bronx. Economic growth in NYC has far outpaced growth in the Bronx, and it has been somewhat impervious to the gentrification that is changing Western Brooklyn and Queens. But Davidson suggests the comparison between the only mainland borough and the rest NYC is less valid than we may think.  He suggests we should be comparing the Bronx to rust belt cities like Buffalo and Detroit, cities whose growth is far more stagnant than the Bronx’s.
  2. The Bronx certainly struggles from a negative perception problem, but the northernmost borough is home many NYC gems! (If you haven’t, visit it!) Simply changing its perception doesn’t necessarily do justice to the real struggle that Bronx tenants face, as illustrated by this NBC News video inside the College Avenue buildings owned by Eli Abbott and featured on Bill de Blasio’s Worst Landlord Watch list.
  3. Chicago is challenging Obama’s Secure Communities program. In a new ordinance, Mayor Rahm Emanual has proposed barring police from turning anyone over to ICE unless they have been convicted of a serious crime or have an outstanding search warrant.  Isn’t this what S-Comm was originally intended to do, anyway?  (Not that we agree with deporting anyone with criminal records, but that’s another story.)  An article in the NYTimes cites Emanuel as saying that he plans to make Chicago the most immigrant- friendly city in the country.  Fighting S-Comm is certainly a good start.
  4. Unionized employees of Con-Edison, Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA), are striking for better wages, better pensions, and affordable healthcare.  Thirteen days ago, 8,500 union workers were locked out of Con-Edison during negotiations after the expiration of a 4 year contract.  The lockout is particularly contentious due to the on-going heat wave, which is raising the risk of power failures and endangering New Yorkers prone to heat stroke.  Christine C Quinn has voiced her public disapproval of Con-Ed’s lockout, calling on them to end it now in order to provide safe, consistent electricity to New Yorkers.
  5. On Monday morning, Amtrak unveiled plans for a Northeast High Speed Rail Line. The Atlantic Cities gives a brief overview of the history of trains in the Northeast, and describes how a high speed rail could truly impact (for the better) the smaller, struggling cities within a few hours of New York. “By shrinking the distance between vibrant urban cores and the smaller communities that lie between them,” Yoni Appelbaum writes, ” high-speed rail could spark an economic boom.” Don’t get too excited: the project is 10 years away at least.

Staying Safe in the Big City: Useful Apps for Your Smartphone

Ever gotten angry at the dude on the train who’s sitting just a little too close?  Ever felt like dinner from the restaurant down the street was not sitting well, perhaps due to rats in the kitchen?  Thanks to your smart phone and the dozens of useful apps, you need not worry anymore!

Projects such as NYC BigApps have encouraged New Yorkers to develop phone apps meant to improve the safety and efficiency of the city.   Winners of BigApps’ contest have developed apps such as “Work+” (locates good spots to work out of the house), “ParkAlly” (helps find your parked car or negotiate parking swaps), or – our personal favorite – “uhpartments” (reports nearby buildings’ housing code violations).

These types of apps are nothing new (relatively).  In 2010, the NYTimes reported on an app which encourages victims of street harassment to record their experiences and location, serving as a tool to discourage harassment and empower New Yorkers break the silence surrounding street harassment.   Emily May, executive director of Hollaback told the Times that:

“The Internet speeds everything up,” Ms. May said. “If we as activists can’t get the Internet to speed up social change, then we’re not doing our jobs.”

City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn recently gave the Boreum Hill based non-profit $20,000. The increased access to internet for New Yorkers, particularly though smart phones, allows for a new type of monitoring of crime and harassment, as well as allowing us to be better informed about the type of neighborhoods we live in.  We can be empowered to take more of a part in recording and staying informed about the spaces we inhabit and what is going on in those spaces.

The Stop and Frisk App, developed by the NY Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) was released this week, and designed to keep tabs on the controversial NYPD program. An NYCLU analysis has reported that:

Out of 684,330 stop-and-frisk stops, 87% percent of those stopped in 2011 were black or Latino, and nine out of ten persons stopped were not arrested, nor did they receive summonses.

The app’s main purposes are to:

Record: This allows the user to film an incident with audio by simply pushing a trigger on the phone’s frame. Shaking the phone stops the filming. When filming stops, the user immediately receives a brief survey allowing them to provide details about the incident. The video and survey will go to the NYCLU, which will use the information to shed light on the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices and hold the Department accountable for its actions.

Listen: This function alerts the user when people in their vicinity are being stopped by the police. When other app users in the area trigger Stop and Frisk Watch, the user receives a message reporting where the police stop is happening. This feature is especially useful for community groups who monitor police activity.

Report: This prompts the survey, allowing users to report a police interaction they saw or experienced, even if they didn’t film it.

The app will be used as a way to document publically where Stop-and-Frisk is occurring, how police are conducting themselves during the process, and engage the larger community in the monitoring process.  As organizers working in buildings with tenants who are almost exclusively people of color, Stop-and-Frisk (and its partner program Operation Clean Halls) certainly impacts the tenants we work with and the general safety of the community.

We at UHAB call for an end to Stop-and-Frisk in New York City!  In the meantime, this app (like many of the other innovative apps meant to improve NYC) is a great way to engage the community in holding the city and the police force responsible for its racist policies.

Affordable Housing: Apply Online!

About 4,000 affordable apartments financed by New York City become available each fiscal year, and about 160,000 people enter lotteries to live in them. These apartments are typically owned by private developers – usually community groups or development sponsors – and to enter these lotteries, New Yorkers who meet the low income requirement have to mail a paper application to each developer of each building they are interested in applying for.

Like many public welfare programs, applying for affordable housing in New York City can feel like something out of the Dark Ages. In an era where the internet and computers streamline nearly everything, Food Stamp records, for example, are still hand written and kept in file folders at local offices. It would be kind of endearing, in an obsolete way, if it didn’t make so many peoples’ lives so difficult.

Starting this morning, though, applicants seeking to rent or buy an apartment in Westwind Houses in East Harlem or Richmond Place in Queens will be able to create user profiles and submit applications online, at http://www.nyc.gov/housingconnect. By the Fall, the program will have expanded to include all new affordable housing development projects financed by NYC.  Applicants will be able to create an online profile and submit it to as many site specific lotteries they wish, simply with the click of the button.

Of course, this is a vast improvement over the previous system. City Council speaker Christine C. Quinn told the New York Times,

“It will open up a system to more New Yorkers, and create the potential for more New Yorkers to access housing out there in the five boroughs,” she said. “They say you have to be in it to win it, and we’re trying to create the chance for more New Yorkers to be ‘in it’.”

However much of an improvement this change is, it is also important to be mindful of growing issues of inequity in internet access. First, the internet is not nearly as ubiquitous as we might think. According to a New York Times article, “The New Digital Divide,” the United States (the country that invented the Internet) ranks 12th in the world among developed nations for wired internet access at home. Though 93% of households making over $100,000 access the internet at home, 40% of those making below $25,000 a year do. (And who do you think is applying for affordable housing?) In African American and Hispanic households, 55% and 57% of families have wired internet at home. Though paper lotteries will still be available for those without access, it remains to be seen how these will be integrated into the broader, online system.

Perhaps more importantly, this change reminds us of just how far we have left to go. If it does what it hopes to do, and I think, digital divide aside, it will, more people will be encouraged to apply for affordable housing.  This means that even more than 160,000 people will be applying for just 4,000 spots each fiscal year. It makes the fact that the promised affordable housing development at Atlantic Yards and Willets Point has been pushed back indefinitely even more shameful. The ongoing cycle of overleveraging and foreclosure in rent regulated multifamily housing presents an additional threat to the city’s affordable housing stock. Though these buildings are not city subsidized and are not in the lottery system, their existence provides affordable homes to hundreds and thousands of people, and losing these units through predatory equity would put even further strain on the system.

The bottom line is we need more affordable housing in this city, not less, and I expect that this program will highlight this fact.

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