The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

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Friday News Update!

What an eventful week!

  1. On Wednesday, the Gang of Eight senators put forth their bill for immigration reform.  While the bill does include many exciting pieces including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people, there are many, many, many aspects to it that are frankly quite frightening.  For example, while waiting 10 years for permanent resident status, immigrants would be barred from any means-based assistance.  This means no health care, food stamps, rental subsidy. Nothing. In addition, there will be much stricter consequences for immigrants who had been deported and return, including long stays in federal prison. More analysis of this bill in the coming weeks!
  2. Sorority girls at Indiana University decided it would be fun to hold a homeless themed party. The Jezebel article which reported the party quotes a student reflecting on the Greek community at Indiana University.  She feels that it’s

“A place where all of the rich white kids on campus can go play and indulge their racist tendencies and their classist and sexist urges without the threat of anyone catching them or punishing them.

Why is this such a recurring issue?

 

3. Yesterday, lawmakers finished discussing changes to national gun control laws and, unfortunately, the outcome was anticlimactic. Two significant amendments were made to the current law which were able to pass. The first was addressing mental health care of gun owners, and the second was penalizing states that divulge gun owner information (a seemingly digressive amendment). Other more mundane changes were made to the legislation as well which work to lessen, rather than increase, stricter regulations on gun ownership. While this is the first time in twenty years that lawmakers are revising gun control laws, the new amendments do not reflect the public’s response to the mass shootings in Aurora and Sandy Hook.

4. The big news for UHAB this week is that Dan Desloover, the Co-Director of our Organizing and Policy Department, is leaving today and heading back from whence he came: Alaska.  Dan has worked in our department for the past 9 years, and has done amazing work over in this time, most notably coining the term Predatory Equity (among other things.) We will all miss Dan, and hope to visit him soon in Juneau! 

Hope you all have a lovely weekend and enjoy the beautiful Spring weather!

Friday News Round Up

  1. Two Trees Management (David and Jed Walentas) released their (ridiculous) plans for the Domino Sugar Factory site this week. The plan still has to be approved by the city, and would require significant rezoning. City Limits has gathered several articles documenting the forgotten history of the Walentas family of developers and the Domino Sugar Factory site. Expect more on this from us next week.
  2. The Riverdale Press has been releasing a series of articles on the problem with recieverships in foreclosures. This is a very important issue that doesn’t get the attention that it deserves, particularly when so many multifamily buildings are in foreclosure and managed by receivers  UHAB and our allies have been sounding the alarm about the need for reciever reform for quite sometime. Check out this article which details several buildings in which we organize, and be sure to read the whole series!
  3. Mayor Bloomberg’s emphasis on using data to improve our city got lots of attention this week, and the attention is deserved. One of the less exciting aspects of our job (or more exciting, depending on your preference) is combing through mortgage documents and building histories online. The incredible amount of information about their homes and their cities that New Yorkers can access through the internet is revolutionary. It allows the city to improve code enforcement and building oversight, but it also informs the organizing that we do and the struggle for a more just city in an important and empowering way.
  4. Bloomberg Businessweek, on the other had, has gotten lots of negative attention for this racially insensitive and classist magazine cover. The illustration, like much right-wing coverage of the on-going housing crisis, places blame on low-income, minority homeowners while ignoring the big banks and sleazy lending tactics that are the real culprits.
  5. The Furman Center released “Sandy’s Effects on Housing in New York City,” a brief fact sheet with a self-explanatory title. They point out that the cost of Sandy will not be fully known for quite some time, and that many homeowners have not realized the extent of damage to their property. That said, their findings: 55% of people who applied for FEMA aide were renters with a median income of $18,000. People affected were older, whiter, and poorer than the city on average. More NYCHA buildings were damaged than even EXIST in any other large public housing authority in the country.

Finally, two events you should attend! Tonight, our own Dan Desloover and Brent Sharman will be participating in an Urban Homesteading Roundtable at the New School. They will discuss engaging public power to fight for new housing ecologies in the face of the housing crisis.

And if you follow our blog closely, you will know that we wrote just a few days ago about the privatization of public housing. If that’s an interesting subject to you, be sure to join Columbia and Hunter professors Peter Marcuse and Tom Angotti as they address that very subject at the Brecht Forum this Saturday.

 

Gotham Gazette: “Stopping Apartments From Making Tenants Sick”

On a cold January day, the wind funnels down Creston Avenue in the Morris Heights neighborhood of South Bronx like a river through a canyon. Buildings seem slightly closer to the street here, and the tall towers loom over the narrow street and sidewalk. A couple of teenage girls walk down the street, laughing and shoving each other.

Some new construction gleams incongruently on one side of the street, but most of the other buildings on this block are much older, with a foregone elegance still barely visible in the stonework and tiles.

Yet inside these buildings residents complain of deteriorating living conditions. On a survey tenant after tenant writes of mice and cockroach infestations, peeling paint, broken toilets, inconsistent heat and hot water, and a front door with no lock. “The hallways smell like urine” writes one.

Tenant Johannie Burdier says the building was poorly maintained, dirty, and sometimes simply scary. She tells of a former building manager who, she says, took money from people in exchange for access to sell drugs from inside the building. A resident for seven years, Burdier lives in the building with her aunt and her eleven year old daughter. She says for much of her time there they were lucky if there was heat or hot water in the apartment.

Another resident, who works the night shift, writes that they were frequently robbed in the unlocked building entrance. “Always, always, always, they assault us and take our money and our things in the doorway. Why?” asks the tenant, writing in Spanish, “Why is there no lock on the door or security camera?”

These complaints are more than an inconvenience. Constant anxiety, prolonged exposure to molds, unchecked vermin and inadequate heat and hot water – all these things make people sick. The vast majority of people living in failed buildings are low-income and uninsured. When they get sick, they go to the hospital. And the city is left holding the bill.

Read More 

SH*T NY SLUMLORDS SAY

Enjoy!

GOTCHA: Rude, Ignorant Del Shah Manager Blogs About Her Thoughts

Do you ever wonder what your landlord thinks of you? Do you feel like you need proof  that all of this “Predatory Equity” stuff is related to the fact that maybe, some landlords just hate  poor people?

Well, here’s your answer. It’s a bit dated, but thanks to organizer Kerri White, this document has resurfaced.

Inane, inappropriate, unprofessional, and discriminatory – here are some ugly tidbits of the Del Shah Capital perspective from building manager Maria Luisa’s blog.

“Ok so I am a property manager or like an onsite manager that makes sure that the super and the maintenance guys are doing their job, we are getting paid by the tenants and making sure everything is running smoothly. Oh and one more thing I work with Section 8 and Welfare so if you know ANYTHING about the then you will understand why I HATE this building!”

“Anyways so I get funny tenants coming to my office everyday with complains like:

I have no heat!

I have no hot water!

My toilet is running – please not smart comments on that one cause I can think of a million! LOL

My light is out!

Pesticide and rodents!

I get it all!!!! I also have crazy people who are one day going to drive me insane because I see them everyday with their complains. They complaing about EVERYTHING! I mean they have sort of a right to….Now why do I say sort of?! Because THEY DON’T PAY THEIR GOD DAMNED RENT!!! They come into MY office with their hair done and nails done but they can’t pay their $160 portion of the rent! Oh and lets not talk about Christmas how everyone got presents but they can’t pay their rent! And they have the nerve to take US to court because they “supposedly” dont’ pay their rent because of broken things in their house that we took care of in less than a day but they still aren’t paying the rent. Wow must be GREAT to be them! Oh and calling Section 8 or welfare?! Forget about it! They never pick up and when they do ATTITUDE! That’s why I LOVE being a BITCH at my job….why?! cause unfortunately you have to lower yourself to their level in order for them to understand you. Crazy right?!

That’s just a little part of my day but it’s very entertaining at times. I have even gone and knocked on people’s doors and I SWEAR TO GOD that one man answered the door in his fucking tight ass thong looking boxers. He only had that on not even slippers and every question we asked him his response was “I DUNNO.” I felt like slapping some answers into him! He had a huge pot/beer belly and some crusty looking toes! I couldn’t help but notice this! lol

This is why I say WOMEN please please please please please marry a guy who is going to support you and not depend on some government program to pay your rent! It’s a disgrace to the hispanic community how some of these hispanics live here. I want to run out of this building most of the time but it’s amazing how these peopel LOVE living like this. Have a nasty apartment can’t pay the rent but are driving the car of the year! There are actual people who really need this help and some of the people here disgust me!”

Del Shah is one sketchy company.  In fact, organizer Dan Desloover and I just began organizing in one of their buildings on 1314 Seneca Avenue in the Bronx.  What skeezes us out the most (apart from the truly appalling conditions in the building) is Del Shah’s purchasing practices. When Del Shah buys buildings, first they buy the building using a non-profit called “The African American Parent Council” before they transfer the deed to themselves.  Yes, this definitely smells funny, and this blog post by their building manager is an excellent reminder that these negligent landlords aren’t just lazy – they have bad intentions too.

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