The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Tag Archives: tenant leadership

NY Daily News: “Birthplace of Hip Hop gets new landlord after battle to keep building affordable”

The Bronx apartment building where DJ Kool Herc emceed the world’s first hip-hop party was sold at foreclosure auction last Monday to a reputable investment group backed by the city.

Workforce Housing Advisors has vowed to fix up 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in Morris Heights, keep it affordable and build an arts and culture center in the recreation room where Herc famously pioneered the “break beat.”

The graying deejay returned to 1520 Sedgwick Ave. last Thursday with John Crotty and John Fitzgerald of Workforce to reopen the rec room and celebrate.

The room was locked and used for storage under the old landlord Mark Karasick, who bought the 102-unit building in 2008 and then went bust.

Now tenant power, government pressure and music history have saved the Bronx landmark.

“Hip-hop can solve a lot of problems,” said Herc, surveying the rec room with a nostalgic smile. “It all started right here.”

Part of the middle-income Mitchell-Lama housing program when Herc lived there, in the 1970s, 1520 Sedgwick Ave. left the program in 2008 when it was sold to Karasick.

Karasick planned to flip the building for a profit, said Dina Levy of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, an advocacy group. But he fell behind on his $7 million mortgage instead and let the high-rise deteriorate.

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Week #1 as a Tenant Organizer

Working as a tenant organizer involves a lot of acronyms.  This is the most important lesson I have learned so far in my first week of training as a tenant organizer with UHAB.  HCR, HUD, CMBS, AEP, even UHAB itself are swirling in my brain in a massive linguistic confusion.  Coming from Chicago, I moved here to New York City to participate in “Avodah: the Jewish Service Corps” like many other UHAB organizers before me.  In addition to working, I will be participating in programs on issues of social justice and Judaism, and will have an enriching and insanely busy year.  After college, I spent a year on the move: traveling in Israel/ Palestine, learning Spanish in Guatemala, and living in a multi-faith, social justice oriented retreat center.

This first week of training has been an overload of information on subjects which I haven’t really taken the time to learn before.  The crew of knowledgeable organizers at UHAB has been training me on everything from how banks and mortgages work, how to run a meeting, to UHAB’s campaign history and where the best lunch spots on Wall Street are located.  Hot topics like rent regulation in New York City and Predatory Equity are slowly beginning to make sense to me.

On my second day of training, I went to sit in on a tenant leader meeting at Putnam in Harlem, run by UHAB and our partner Tenants and Neighbors.  Three buildings in this unit are potentially facing submetering, which would put the heat and electricity in each individual tenant’s bill, rather than a standard sum in tenants’ rent.  These apartments currently have no way to control their heat temperature, but can only turn their electric heat system on and off.  On top of that, the apartments also tend to have poor insulation, and so submetering could substantially raise tenants’ rents.  Luckily, the buildings have strong tenant leaders who are motivated to have a loud voice in this process.  As a first example of an organizing meeting, this meeting of leaders illustrated to me a best case scenario in how organized buildings with committed leaders can look.

Walking around my new neighborhood of Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, I have started to take note of the housing there, wondering what type of buildings and what type of rent regulations or subsidy programs are in place.  I hope this experience will help me develop a more critical framework for understanding housing and the way politics in New York City, how to be an effective organizer, and how to write bomb blog posts.

Elise

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