The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Tag Archives: Stabilis Capital

State of Emergency at Stabilis-Owned 755 Jackson Ave!

Walking into 755 Jackson Ave. feels like walking into a nightmare.  The stairs which had caved in 6 months earlier remain treacherous, the sign warning tenants about asbestos on the roof remains, and tenants’ health, mental and physical,  is worsening as a result of the state of the building. Tenants, who are not being issued new leases, report a hostile and negligent management.  Tenants are fined thousands of dollars in Con-Edison bills, falsely.  It’s a mess.

The good news is tenants are organizing and they’re not giving up!  Affordable housing is a vital to New York City communities and tenants are fighting to make their homes a better place to live.  Alongside Banana Kelly and UHAB, they are petitioning the City to appoint  a 7A Administrator.  This would take the building out of Stabilis’s hands and into the hands of someone responsible.  See below for the tenants’ letter to HPD.

All too often tenants are denied their rights and unjustly evicted from their homes. Join us as we give Stabilis a taste of their own medicine and evict them!

To Whom It May Concern:

We, the tenant association members of 755 Jackson Avenue, are writing to urge an expedited approval of the 7A administrator appointment process for our building. In late November of 2013, we requested that Harry DeRienzo, the executive director of Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association, a local community development nonprofit organization, be appointed as the 7A administrator. We are grateful for your support and ask that you continue to stand with us in our struggle for safe housing.

Ever since we publicly began putting pressure on Stabilis, through a press conference on December 3rd and a series of accompanying news articles, they have made superficial fixes to our building. However, the deep structural issues that pushed us to request the 7A still remain. Our heating system does not work at the coldest hours of night. The stairs are still dangerous to walk on. In the places where Stabilis’ contractors painted, they covered over possible led paint without removing it. Many individual apartments have experienced periodic loss of water, and many have broken kitchen appliances that have not been fixed. And we know that there is asbestos on the roof that has not been removed.

Meanwhile, Stabilis has been attempting to collect rent from each apartment. However, none of the apartments have a legitimate lease, and multiple requests to receive these since the beginning of their ownership have gone unanswered. We believe that they are attempting to charge much higher than the legal rent on our rent-stabilized apartments.  All these problems take place after Stabilis ignored the building from their initial purchase in June, 2013 until the press conference in December.

Appointing a 7A administrator with all due haste would allow us, the tenants, to begin paying a fair rent and receiving the repairs that we so desperately need. We are deeply appreciative of the steps that have already been taken in the process, and we urge you to allow no further delay and begin the legal proceedings to appoint the administrator immediately.

Sincerely,

The Tenant Association of 755 Jackson Avenue

“A Dream Foreclosed”: Our Take

homes

About two weeks ago, Laura Gottesdiener released her new book, “A Dream Foreclosed” about the widespread single-family foreclosure crisis throughout the countries, particularly in African American communities.  (There was a fabulous event sponsored by Housing is a Human Right, The Cornell West Theory, and Nomadic Wax simultaneously celebrating the book and the release of an international mixtape about housing rights. Check out the mixtape’s free download here.)

While I haven’t had the opportunity to read Gottesdiener’s book yet, I do want to highlight her reporting on some of the most important, creative, and successful activism taking place in our time: moving people back into foreclosed homes.  On August 1, 2013, Gottesdiener published a powerful article in The Nation about her work in communities with widespread foreclosure.  While she recognizes that people of all ages, races and income levels have been displaced by the foreclosure, she writes that:

At the height  of the rapacious lending book, nearly 50 percent of all loans given to African-American families were deemed ‘subprime. The New York Times deemed these contracts as a ‘financial time bomb.’

In addition, she writes:

[Wells Fargo mortgage brokers] received cash incentives to aggressively market subprime loans in minority communities…Between 2009 and 2012, African Americans lost just under $200 billion in wealth, bringing the gap between white and black wealth to a staggering 20:1 ratio.

It’s too easy, as Gottesdiner points out, to see this as a militarized displacement effort by the banks. Evictions are violent, in the middle of the night, sometimes at gunpoint, involving guards literally throwing all of one’s possessions on their lawns and forcing families into homelessness.  The impact of mass displacement has major effects on communities, cities, and states.  Schools, hospitals, and crucial city programs are closing all over the nation as a result of lowering property values and community abandonment.  In cities like my hometown, Chicago, there’s been increased violence and crime revolving around empty “bank-owned” homes which aren’t being maintained or secured.  (We see this increase in crime in partially vacant buildings where drug users break in and use vacant units to shoot up all night, understandably frightening current tenants.)  As the Furman Center recently discovered, there is also a link between high incidences of foreclosure and crime in New York State. According to Gottesdiner’s reporting, while vacant homes exist in both majority white communities and majority African American communities, vacant/foreclosed homes in communities of color are 80% more likely to have a broken or boarded up building, and 30% more likely to have a broken or boarded up window.

Investors are buying up scores of foreclosed single family homes all over the country making money by renting them out to families, often the very families who were displaced because of the crisis.  Sound familiar?  Investment companies here in New York City like Seryll LLC or Stabilis Capital are also buying up cheap multifamily homes in foreclosure with what we believe to be intentions of flipping the buildings for more money or displacing long-term tenants.

Groups are organizing throughout the country to shift that national consciousness and assert that rather be a commodity, housing should be recognized and treated as a human right.  With this framework, organizers are working to move homeless and displaced families back into vacant homes, fight evictions, and increase community engagement in “reclaiming” a neighborhood.  And they’re doing it successfully.

A few months ago, New York Times magazine published an incredible article  featuring J.R. Flemming and the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign.  This group of organizers is working with community support to rehabilitate homes and move families into them. Publicly.  Using a combination of legal strategy and action (what City Life/ Vida Urbana in Boston terms “the Shield and the Sword”), these groups are taking over abandoned homes.  Edward Voci, an attorney working in Chicago with Occupy our Homes and the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign argues that the

legal justification for the home takeovers comes not from adverse possession but from an exception in the Illinois trespass statute that exempts someone from prosecution if he or she enters an abandoned and unoccupied property and “beautifies” it. Voci admitted that his reading of the trespass law had never been tested in appellate court. But he said, “Putting a family in an abandoned building, ridding an area of blight, if that’s not beautifying, I don’t know what it is.”

In New York City, rent regulated tenants living in foreclosed multi-family buildings are supposed to be protected from displacement through laws such as always having the right to renew a lease and only having specific rent increases, no matter who buys the building.  However, in buildings across the city (and this is particularly true rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods like Crown Heights or Ridgewood) tenants are often displaced through less-than-legal means.  Predatory landlords and private equity companies by buildings for cheap with hopes of flipping the building or displacing residents to bring in higher paying ones.

We hope that we can contribute and learn from incredible housing organizers all over the country to ensure that housing is available and affordable for all.

“BREAKING: Tenants Officially Submit Creditor Claim in US Bankruptcy Court”

Bathroom, 1894 Cornelia

Bathroom, 1894 Cornelia on 8/21

This morning, after several months of preparation, tenants at six buildings in Ridgewood, Queens entered Bankruptcy Court to make an official claim against their landlord, Steven Kates. Because of poor, inhabitable conditions, tenants are asserting that their landlord owes them money, as well as insisting on emergency repairs and relief. 

As a result of organizing efforts leading to pressure being put on both Stabilis Capital (the lender) and Dafnonas Estates (the management company), repairs are getting done.  Holes have been patched, smoke detectors have been installed, walls have been painted.  Still, much is yet to be done. Katrina, a pregnant woman residing in 1894 Cornelia, for example, lives with an enormous hole in her bathroom (pictured above) which rains water every time the upstairs neighbor takes a shower.  Worried about mold effecting her unborn baby’s health, Katrina is afraid to step foot in that section of the apartment.  Why are the walls being painted in this building while Katrina is forced to live with emergency conditions?

Through bankruptcy court, tenants hope to force Stabilis and Dafnonas to the negotiating table and have a conversation about long term building preservation. Katrina and her neighbors have identified CATCH, a mutual housing nonprofit developer, as a group they would like to own their building. (From conversations with their attorneys, UHAB knows that Stabilis is not interested in long term ownership.)

The buildings are located in Ridgewood, Queens, which the New York Times has declared the new place for young Brooklynites to move. For this reason, Stabilis probably hopes to make a lot of money flipping these properties.  Young hipsters (gentrifiers), who normally are willing to pay higher rents, are being pushed out of Brooklyn and across the border into Queens. As so often happens in situations like this one, long term tenants, like the ones in the 6 Stabilis Buildings, are feeling the squeeze. As tenant leader Denise Serrano told us a few weeks ago:

 I grew up in Williamsburg, and thanks to rising rents my family was forced to move. I raised my children in this building, and on behalf of myself and my neighbors, I do not want to see that displacement happen again here.

When blogs like Brooklyn Mag are posting articles with the headline, “Should we all give up and move to Queens?” they should be aware that Ridgewood is not an just an affordable enclave for young artists, it’s home to many people — many people who are not, to put it mildly, “giving up.”

So Long, Asher Neuman!

faile

Tenants at 836 Faile St. have not had it easy. Like many buildings facing foreclosure, it’s taken several years for any change to occur in a situation where change is desperately needed. In addition to dangerous living conditions (some pictured above), tenants have faced harassment from their landlord, Asher Neuman. Tenants related stories of supers who chase them with machetes, and tell us how Neuman refused to make repairs if they call 311 to report building violations to the city. Almost all the tenants in the building have had to fight evictions, and are not always successful: about 1/2 the units are vacant. The building currently has 138 HPD violations.

Recently, an article was published about 836 Faile St. in the Hunts Point Express illustrating the condition problems in the building. Neuman’s response to the paper:

In an email response to questions from the Express, Neuman wrote, “I don’t know of any hazardous conditions that exist in the building,” and that “repairs have been done to every complaint that has been reported to the office.”

The article goes on:

Tenants dispute that. An electrical fire broke out in an apartment on the sixth floor last winter, where Joanna Paulino lives with her six children. “The fire marshal did state that the fire was caused due to the wiring,” she said. “I sleep with a fire extinguisher next to me now”. The super and porter were supposed to fix the ceiling afterwards, Paulino said, but the new wires were left exposed for months after the repairs. “He started getting mad at me when I requested a licensed electrician,” she said.

Because the building is in foreclosure tenants have the opportunity to fight for new ownership. They’ve asked Getz Obstfeld of Community Development Inc. to buy the building; he’s indicated that if he is successful he would rehabilitate the property at little-to-no cost to tenants and keep the property affordable for the long-term. Stabilis Capital immediately rejected his offer at 836 Faile Street as being too low to justify a real response.

But through it all, tenants kept organizing. And now, things are starting to turn around.

After two years of being in foreclosure court a receiver was finally appointed to manage their building. Asher Neuman no longer has the legal right to manage the building or collect rents, and for tenants, this is a huge victory. In response to the receiver appointment, tenant Carmen Flores writes:

There’s a lot of emotions going on, I’m trying to wrap my head around everything that just happened but I have to keep my eye on the prize & that’s Getz and repairs.

After hearing from Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, who both have been publicly supporting the 836 Faile Street Tenants Association, Stabilis Capital Management reached out to Getz Obtsfeld to have a conversation about his offer.

We hope that positive changes continue to come for tenants living at 836 Faile St. We still have a long fight ahead of us, but it’s nice to appreciate the small victories along the way. As Joana Paulino eloquently states:

Never stop fighting for what you know is right. The rewards are amazing.

 

Queens and Bronx Tell Stabilis Capital What They Need for their Buildings!

Tenants have been trying to get their voices heard by Stabilis Capital, the mortgage holder on their distressed buildings in Ridgewood, Queens and Hunts Point, Bronx (among others).  Stabilis has been purchasing mortgage notes on buildings like these throughout New York City, and it’s time to determine what their plans are for the buildings.  Will Stabilis take responsibility for the mortgages they’ve purchased?  Will they ensure that the the next owners of the properties will be more responsible than the last? Or will they sell the buildings to the highest bidder, with no concern for the tenants who currently suffer in unhealthy living conditions?  

Tenants from Ridgewood and Hunts Point have written to Stabilis to express who they want to be the next owner of their buildings.  In both cases, tenants demand that a major rehabilitation is completed, and the buildings remain affordable for current residents.  We hope that this meeting is productive, and that the tenants’ voices will be heard!

Here is the letter from tenants from Hunts Point:

We are tenants living at 836 Faile St. As you may be aware, our building is in foreclosure and is in horrible condition. There are currently 146 violations recorded with HPD on 36 units, and over 1/3 of the building is vacant. We suffer with rats, mold, leaks, plumbing issues, bed bugs, and more. Tenants are reluctant to call HPD due to the threats of the landlord and the workers towards us.   

We are writing to ask that you sell our building to an HPD approved developer with the experience and commitment to rehabilitate our building. We are working with Getz Obstfeld from Community Development Inc. who has made an offer to you for the building.  He has completed a scope of work, is working with HPD, and has detailed plans to bring the building into good condition.

We cannot continue to live like this. Our neighbors and children suffer from asthma, which is only worsened by the rats and mold. We live without adequate security and feel unsafe in our own homes.  Please sell the building at a responsible price to a developer who will preserve our homes for the long term.

Here is the letter from tenants in Ridgewood, Queens:

We are tenants living at 1821 and 1896 Cornelia Street, 1726, 1675 and 1673 Woodbine, and 18-14 Linden Street. As you are aware, the mortgage on our building is severely overleveraged, the owner is in bankruptcy, and conditions in our homes are terrible. There are currently over 550 HPD code violations on the 36 units. We suffer from rats, mold, leaks, and both negligence and harassment from the management company. The few repairs that have been made have mostly come from HPD intervention.

We are writing to ask that you sell our buildings to an HPD approved developer with the experience and commitment to rehabilitate them. Because we are have maintained our buildings on our own for so long, we have identified a mutual housing group which would allow our Tenant Association to remain involved and in charge of the buildings. We are working with Ken Wray at Community Assisted Tenant Controlled Housing (CATCH). CATCH has completed a Capital Needs Assessment of our properties and has determined they need over $2 million in repairs to keep them habitable and affordable for the long term.

We cannot continue to live like this. Our neighbors and children suffer from severe health problems, which are only worsened by the rats and mold. One of our members is suffering from cancer and associated chemotherapy treatments; the conditions in our homes threaten her weakened immune system.

We understand that you are meeting with our elected officials on Monday, July 1st to discuss your plans for these buildings. We sincerely hope that CATCH’s forthcoming offer will be on the agenda.

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