The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

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Sandy News Roundup

hurricane-sandy-one-year-later

Instead of just our usual Friday News Roundup we’ve decided to take a mid-week break and note this week’s anniversary of Superstorm Sandy by collecting the great analysis and reporting of folks around the affordable housing world in one place. Get ready for the roundup…

But first, a quick reflection of our own: A year ago we were forced to relocate for 10 weeks from our home at 120 Wall Street. And today its nearly impossible to see the remnants of Sandy in the Financial District. We know this is far from true for New York’s poorer neighborhoods that Mayor Bloomberg has largely ignored during his 12 years in office — places like The Rockaways, Coney Island, Red Hook, Staten Island, Harlem and the South Bronx. In fact, there was a rally this week organized by the Alliance for Fair Rebuilding highlighting  this “tale of two recoveries.”

Colorlines has a great write-up of how Sandy disproportionately affected poor residents of NYC, noting that while the city is the world’s financial capital, it also has the largest gap between rich and poor, who were treated very differently in the aftermath of the superstorm.

The bottom line is that while Sandy didn’t discriminate our economic system surely does.  That’s why the numbers show the toxic results of what can happen when an environmental catastrophe collides with economic inequity.

In March, NYU’s Furman Center and Moelis Institute put out a full report (pdf) about Sandy’s affect on housing. Some of the key findings were that 402 NYCHA buildings with over 35,000 units housing over 80,000 residents were affected. Another 248 government-subsidized buildings with another 24,500 units were also within the “surge zone”. And finally, more central to our theme of maintaining as many units of affordable housing as possible:

Sandy affected over 800 privately-owned, unsubsidized buildings containing more than 40,000 rent-stabilized units. If these properties suffered extensive damage and need to be rebuilt, some of the stabilized stock, which is a valuable source of affordable housing, may be lost.

According to WNYC, 10,000 New Yorkers living in public housing complexes are still surviving off of the 23 mobile, temporary boilers that were provided after Sandy, but which were never replaced with permanent boilers. This has forced some tenants to get creative with how they get hot water:

To draw a bath, [Catherine Darby, an elderly resident of the Hammel Houses] has to boil water on her stove. The next step is particularly tricky, because Darby uses a walker. She places the pot of hot water on the seat of the walker, then maneuvers it from the kitchen, down the hall, to the bathroom.

There are other emergency government programs that were never followed through on. The Huffington Post has a story about nearly 300 Sandy victims who are being kicked out  of the hotels they’ve been living in for the past year while the city was supposed to be finding them affordable housing. The city failed.

Evacuees said living indefinitely in a hotel is no vacation. Many of the rooms are filled with boxes and garbage bags holding belongings salvaged from waterlogged homes, leaving barely any open floor space.

The Coalition for the Homelessness put together a list of 5 short-term needs and 2 long-term needs for that it calls on the city and federal government to enact. This comprehensive list is centered on what it deems “the biggest and most important need…permanent, affordable housing.”

As the City begins to receive billions of dollars in federal aid, it is critical that these low-income displaced families are not left without assistance, nor should they be forced to compete with other homeless and low-income families for the dwindling stock of affordable housing that currently exists. Rebuilding must be used as an opportunity to expand the availability of affordable housing for all displaced families, including those left homeless by Hurricane Sandy as well as those previously forced out of the increasingly unaffordable housing market in New York City.

And, after all that, according to Mother Jones, our city, state and federal governments are not much closer to being better prepared for the next (inevitable) natural disaster. Besides fundamentally not addressing climate change, total lack of transparency on how emergency money is being spent, and utter mismanagement of recovery spending, the actual location of the new buildings is proving to be problematic.

If it were up to him, says Bill Hooke, a senior policy fellow at the American Meteorological Society, the government would buy up the most vulnerable seaside properties and simply return them to nature. Of course, that isn’t what’s happening. “People are rebuilding like before,” he says. “And that’s a big issue.”

PS. If you’re free tonight, check out this event which looks great: Sandy, One Year Later: Sharing and Preserving Brooklyn’s Stories, Wednesday, October 30, 2013 – 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm, Brooklyn Historical Society 128 Pierrepont St Brooklyn, NY 11201. More info here.

8th Annual West Side Tenants’ Conference

On Saturday, September 21st, tenants from many walks of life gathered with organizers, attorneys, politicians, and others in the NYC housing world to talk about issues that affect them. The 8th Annual West Side Tenants’ Conference, which is run by tenant volunteers, took place at Fordham University’s School of Law at Lincoln Center.

The day started off with a free light breakfast and twenty-one information tables run by NYC organizations and political offices. Housing Conservation Coordinators gave out free tote bags filled with information on saving energy and reducing waste, maintaining a healthy environment in the home, an educational coloring book about asthma , and flyers for local free legal clinics on immigration and other issues. There were also free on-site assistance tables for issues with rent arrears, SCRIE and DRIE application help, and a representative from NYCHA present to answer questions.

The Keynote Address was delivered by State Senator Brad M. Hoylman, who talked about how essential campaign finance reform will be to working on affordable housing legislation. Before he spoke, appearances were made by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, State Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, and City Council member Gale Brewer.

Workshops throughout the day discussed varied topics such as fighting tenant harassment, demanding repairs as a tenant association, HP actions, Major Capital Increases, fighting against illegal use of a building by landlords, what affordable housing is and how to find it, and tenants’ rights concerning bedbugs. Workshops specifically targeting seniors included estate planning, housing benefits for seniors, and succession rights, and there were also specialized workshops about NYCHA, Mitchell-Lama and HUD-subsidized housing.

The conference was hosted by eleven local organizations and seven NYC politicians. One of these organizations, the West Side Neighborhood Alliance, is made up of tenants in Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, and the Upper West Side. Their campaigns focus on tenant rights and protections, permanent affordable housing, increasing quality of life, and neighborhood-wide issues such as rezoning.

We applaud everyone who put energy into creating and executing this conference for the people of the West Side. It was well attended, and the tenants who came out learned useful information and were connected with valuable resources. Centering a conference around one neighborhood or group of neighborhoods can contribute to a sense of pride and unity in the tenants who live there. UHAB and Crown Heights Assembly are experimenting with this concept of neighborhood-wide organizing as we collaborate on the Crown Heights Tenant Union in Brooklyn. Here’s to the power of information, and how it can be used for positive change in our neighborhoods.

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!

Stop and Frisk: “Reform” Debate Continues

As a result of powerful organizing and strong city-wide coalitions, Stop and Frisk has become one of the major issues that Mayoral Candidates have been forced to address.  Democratic mayoral candidates who did not seem critical enough of NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policies suffered in the election. Earlier this summer, the courts ruled that the way the NYPD has implemented Stop and Frisk is unconstitutional.  In attempt to improve police practices, Judge Scheindlin appointed an independent monitor and mandated that certain groups of police in high-crime areas must wear cameras. While we view this court ruling as a moral victory, we remain skeptical about how Stop and Frisk can remain in place in a just way.

Bloomberg and the NYPD are doing everything in their power to maintain Stop and Frisk as it is, and challenge the court’s ruling. This week, the union representing NYPD sergeants filed paperwork to appeal the court ruling, as well as to demand a seat at the table to help decide how the reforms will be implemented.

On the one hand, this seems fair- it’s their jobs and they’ll have to be the people carrying out the reforms. Just like we support teachers being involved in education reforms, perhaps police need to be involved in this process.  But when you dig deeper their role in conversations around reform becomes murkier- the NYPD sergeants are the very people who have been carrying out the unconstitutional practices. What’s more, they clearly do not believe that the program needs reform- which is why they are working to appeal the ruling.  If they don’t believe in the need to change their practices when those practices are clearly damaging, why should they have a seat at the table?

Stop and Frisk greatly impacts our work at UHAB. The tenants we work with are almost exclusively people of color, and Stop and Frisk policies (as proven over and over again) disproportionately impact communities of color. As a result, neighborhoods are deeply affected- from the way that people view the police and safety, to the way that they feel monitored and policed in their own homes.

Even “Operation Clean Halls,” the Stop and Frisk for privately owned apartment buildings, was deemed unconstitutional. But so little has changed. The NYTimes reports that:

Judge Scheindlin excoriated the Police Department for persisting in making illegal stops and arrests outside private apartment buildings — even after prosecutors had pointed out that they were wrongful.

There is a similar class-action lawsuit in the works claiming that stops in NYCHA buildings are discriminatory:

One resident, the president of a public housing leadership group, testified that life for families harassed by stop-and-frisk policies in their own apartment buildings was like life in a “penal colony.

Last week, Picture the Homeless  screened its new film “Journey Towards Change: Victory Over NYPD Profiling.”  According to Picture the Homeless’s website, “this short film includes interviews with our members, glimpses of activists in action, and reflections on what we’ve achieved and how much work we still have to do.”  To check out the film or get involved with Picture the Homeless’s work around Stop and Frisk, contact Shaun Lin at shaun@picturethehomeless.org.


Friday News Round-up!

  1. Federal sequestration has taken an excruciating toll on the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). According to Crains’ New York Business, the cuts will impact 650,000 New Yorkers that utilize the agency’s apartments and Section 8 vouchers. NYCHA will reduce payments for its 95,000 recipients, leading to less rental subsidies and, in turn, higher rents for low-income tenants. And, (featured in another Crain’s New York Business article), of the 6,000 new Section 8 vouchers that the city intended to distribute this year, zero will be given out. Additionally  the cuts will severely impact NYCHA’s workforce, resulting in a hiring freeze, furloughs, and possible layoffs. We hope that the city finds some way to turn this unfortunate reality around…
  2. At the 13th Annual New York State Supportive Housing Conference, Mayor Bloomberg announced his new commitment to supportive housing as part of his new Housing Marketplace Program. Crain’s New York Business reported that he would seek to prequalify developers to build supportive housing on city-owned land. This initiative would aim to double the development of supporting housing, building 1,000 units of supportive housing per year. And, this new strategy would require developers to pay rent to NYCHA , which will offer the agency needed support given the reality of the sequester. While Bloomberg’s housing plan has both created and preserved 15,000 units of affordable housing, more creative ideas, such as these, must be implemented to ensure that every New Yorker has a place to call home.
  3. In an effort to prevent yet another disaster, like Superstorm Sandy, from reeking havoc on our city, Mayor Bloomberg has devised an unprecedented plan to build numerous levees, flood walls, and bulkheads along the coasts. According to the NYTimes, the plan will cover 250 miles of coast and initially cost $20 billion.  To cover the costs of this endeavor, the city will utilize both federal and city funds. While this plan is incredibly ambitious in terms of time, money and labor, it will hopefully prevent another disaster from impacting the city in such a catastrophic manner.
  4. This week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Urban Institute released a report entitled, 2012 Housing Discrimination Study: Housing Discrimination Against Ethnic and Racial Minorities. The work elucidates an unfortunate truth: housing discrimination against people of color is alive and well. Unlike previous forms of discrimination, the report illustrates that these practices exists in more subtle manifestations. For instance, real-estate agents show fewer housing options to people of color than equally qualified white folks. We hope this report will make discriminatory housing practices more visible and, in turn, reduce their frequency.

Have a great weekend!

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