The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Tag Archives: The Atlantic Cities

Friday News Round-Up

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It’s finally Friday, and this week’s been jam-packed with exciting housing-related news!

1. This week, the Furman Center released the 2012 edition of the “State of NYC Housing & Neighborhoods.” The findings are dismal: Between 2007  and 2011, median incomes significantly decreased while rents rose.  Over 1/3 of the city’s residents are spending over half their income on paying the rent. To read the full report- including detailed data about the impacts of post-recession NY on the built environment, homeowners, renters, and the City’s demographics, click here

2. On Monday, the Tenant PAC endorsed Public Advocate Bill de Blasio for Mayor.  According to the PAC (as reported by the Gothamist):

Bill de Blasio gets our endorsement for his commitment (in his words) to “re-set the agenda” for a genuine progressive city government, to “de-program the Bloomberg years”; for his opposition to privatization and to government as a handmaiden to private profit takers; for his support for mandatory inclusionary zoning requiring developers to include affordable apartments in all new buildings; and for addressing the economic inequality that is driving more New Yorkers into hardship and poverty.

4. Richmond, CA is the first city in the country to use the power of eminent domain to address the foreclosure crisis. In a move that’s being opposed by banks, cities across the country are working to buy up mortgages in bulk to reduce homeowner’s debt and reduce the risk of foreclosure and displacement. In Richmond, a city of mostly black and Hispanic residents, nearly half of homeowners with mortgages are experiencing trouble with their mortgages.  To read more about this exciting program, click here

5. This week, fast food workers went on strike in 7 cities for the right to unionize and for living wages.  Terrance Wise, a fast food worker at both Burger King and Pizza Hut in Kansas City was interviewed today on Democracy Now.  He asks:

What else do we have to lose? We are already slowly dying in our day to day lives…So why not speak up, and stand up, and let the nation know that we are suffering? This is this is really a cry for help. This great nation should not turn its back on working class people that need help.

The way we see it, this campaign for living wages and the right to organize are extremely relevant to our work in tenant organizing. Housing is unaffordable because rents are high but also because wages are low.  If people are struggling to both buy food and pay the rent while working full time, something is clearly wrong.  Stay tuned for more from us on this in the next few weeks! And to continue following this exiting campaign, visit Fast Food Forward’s website

Have a great weekend!

Friday News Round-up!

Happy Friday folks!

  1. The supply of homes for sale in and around New York City has fallen drastically short of demand. According to the NY Times, there are currently 4,795 listing on the market in Manhattan — the lowest housing supply in 13 years.  The recent housing climate is attributed to the unstable market place. In 2008, when the housing bubble burst, financing for new residential projects became scarce, lending practices became tighter and equity became limited. This deterred potential buyers from selling their homes and looking for new ones. Not much has changed –with the market currently unsettled, many homeowners are still refusing to sell.  With a limited housing supply, we anticipate that gentrification trends will continue to spread farther into Brooklyn as well as Queens and the Bronx.
  2. This week, the Race and Social Problems journal released a study that investigates the correlation between income levels and neighborhood connectivity. They found that residents living in low-income, high-crime communities feel more connected to their neighborhood.  The Atlantic Cities correlates these feelings to mobility — because residents that live in low-income neighborhoods are less likely to access economic mobility and leave their community, they foster greater ties to the space.  We hope that studies like these encourage a greater investment in low-income communities.
  3. According to the NY Times, a new development in Dumbo is setting a new precedent for real estate prices in Brooklyn. Before construction started, the townhouses were bought for $4.1M, which equates to $1,345 a square foot. This “price is more than double the average per square foot of a Brooklyn brownstone or condominium.”  The townhouses are also located within the Dumbo Historic District, which was established in 2007 and protects about 90 buildings. While the developers were required to attain permission from the city, they are also constructing the buildings in such a way that preserves that feeling by utilizing the neighborhood’s industrial aesthetic.
  4. WNYC reports that during Mayor Bloomberg’s term, 214,000 of house units have been constructed and 7 of the 20 tallest skyscrapers in NYC have been build. And as result of his rezoning efforts, many more buildings remain under construction, including high rises on the West Side, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint. While Mayor Bloomberg has made instrumental in expanding New York City’s housing stock, we would like to see a greater focus on affordable housing with our next mayor. Check out the audio report here.

Diversifying Gentrification

bronzeville.Par.51185.Image.0.0.1

Is gentrification only actualized by whiteness? Not anymore.

Bronzeville, a black neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, began gentrifying about a decade ago.  At that point, boarded-up homes started undergoing construction, public housing projects transformed into high-rises, and property values began to soar. While the socio-economic status of the neighborhood changed drastically, the racial demographics remained the same- black.

When folks refer to gentrification, they imply that a place has been gradually taken from one group and claimed by another. Ordinarily, the “taken from” refers to low-income people of color, and the “taken by” refers to upper-middle class white folks.

In contrast, the gentrification of Bronzeville follows a different model.  According to an article published in The Atlantic Cities, the gentrification does not necessitate displacement, but accommodates the upward mobility of its inhabitants. The residents of newly renovated property in this neighborhood are either lifelong residents that have achieved upward mobility, or former residents that have climbed the income ladder elsewhere and have returned to their old neighborhood.

Furthermore, the area has been deemed a “Black Metropolis,” serving as a haven for black culture and history. Bronzeville was the final destination for many black folks during the Great Migration, as well as home to many blues singers, including Muddy Waters and Louis Armstrong. With such strong history, the community leaders want the neighborhood to become a quasi-tourist destination, where folks can consume black history and culture.

However, this aspiration hasn’t been achieved. The Atlantic Cities article attributes the lack of “ethnic consumption” to the space’s “historic ‘blackness’ … overwhelm[ing] any sense of its identity as a neighborhood on the way up.”  Bronzeville illustrates the arduousness of escaping cycles of racial stereotyping and, in turn, inequality. This unique species of gentrification in Bronzeville is as much about the upward mobility its lifelong residents as it is about the resistance white folks have about moving into a stereotypically black neighborhood.

Loretta Lees, Tom Slater, and Elvin Wyly’s text, Gentrification, identifies similar patterns of change in New York City. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Harlem Renaissance transformed Harlem into a historical and cultural haven.  In the 1980s, Harlem was met with an influx of more affluent black folks who wanted to partake in the historical relevance of the space.  As a result, racial divides did not emerge, but class divides did.  The emergence of upper-middle class black folks “paved the way for accelerated gentrification by the wealthier, white middle class that followed…” While the same trends have not manifested in Bronzeville yet, the probability that they will in the future is quite high.

The gentrification of black neighborhoods by wealthier black residents is quite complex.  The issue calls into question notions of ethnic consumption and appropriation of black culture. While the article acknowledges that these Bronzeville gentrifiers are current or former residents that have achieved upward mobility, it does not illuminate the displacement of those that have not achieved similar economic success.   As gentrification continues to run rampant in Chicago as well as New York City,  it is necessary to preserve the affordability of neighborhoods while dismantling pervasive, racist perceptions.

Friday News Round Up!

ImageLike last Friday, we’re bringing your articles from the web that we found interesting or relevant to the work that we do. 

  1. The Community Service Society released a report on the cost burden on rent for low income New Yorkers. The most commonly accepted definition of affordability is that housing costs do not exceed 30% of total household income. That’s why Section 8 recipients pay 30% of their income on rent, and their voucher covers the remaining cost. (Curious about why 30%? Learn more here.) According to the Community Service Society, though, low-income New York City tenants pay nearly 49% of their income to landlords, up from 45% six years ago.
  2. The Martin Prosperity Institute released a graphic map (shown above) that demonstrates the number of newly naturalized American citizens per large metropolitan center; Richard Florida at The Atlantic Cities commented on this at The Atlantic Cities in an article, Melting Pot Cities. New York City tops the list in sheer numbers: of all new citizens, nearly 15% live in New York City. (Miami, however, has a highest amount per capita number of new citizens at 998 per 100,000 people.) New York City lags, however, when it comes to opportunities for immigrants. Boston, D.C., and San Francisco show the highest number of immigrants working in high skilled labor. We need to continually work on developing opportunities for life-sustaining employment for New York’s immigrants! (Read more: Florida has long argued that our immigration policies are much too strict; that our tight controls on immigration hold society back.)
  3. It’s been HOT. City Room at the NY Times tells us just how hot. Thursday’s record breaking temperatures reached 97 degrees. Heat waves in cities are dangerous; the Center for Disease Control estimates that nearly 700 people die each year from heat related illness, but in a terrifying statistic they also estimate that by the year 2050 that number will have jumped to between 2,000 and 5,000 due to climate change. In his book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, sociologist Eric Klinenberg described how social forces determined fatal outcomes in Chicago’s 1995 heat wave. (We really recommend it.) It’s no surprise that low income residents, isolated in run-down buildings in high poverty neighborhoods are at a much greater risk for heat-related death. His book also reminds us of the value of a tenants association, in providing strong support networks that can help in times of crisis!  
  4. Despite support from Mayor Bloomberg and widespread support from law enforcement, Governor Cuomo’s attempt to decriminalize marijuana has been struck down by Republican state senators. WNYC reports that the lack of support was likely due to political pressure from the State Conservative Party, who vowed not to support any Republicans in upcoming races who voted for the bill. The bill would take a tremendous burden off law enforcement, and combat the disproportionate number of arrests in the Black and Latino community due to Stop-and-Frisk policies. Governor Cuomo has indicated that he is not looking for partial reform; bill supporters remain committed to passing the legislation this year.

That’s all for today! Have a great weekend and we’ll be back on Monday!

The Atlantic Cities: “What Happens to a Foreclosed New York Apartment?”

230 Schenectady Following Devastating Fire

230 Schenectady Following Devastating Fire

Today The Atlantic Cities is featuring an article, “What Happens to a Foreclosed New York Apartment Building,” that features UHAB organizers! Check it out!

The article highlights a particular building, 553 E. 169th St. in the Bronx which exemplifies how conditions deteriorate while a building is in foreclosure.

In August of 2011, 553 East 169th Street had 84 code violations. Now, it has 285, ranging from broken window guards to peeling lead-based paint. And research suggests deteriorating buildings like this can even drag down a whole neighborhood.

Weaver’s organization has been working with the tenants here and in other buildings in the city to find responsible new owners (perhaps the tenants themselves?) and to push banks into taking financial responsibility for maintaining these places in the meantime. A lot of these buildings originally went into foreclosure, even though they house rent-paying tenants, because they were overleveraged at the height of the housing boom by speculators who hoped to drive out rent-regulated existing tenants in favor of newer ones who could be charged much more.

We’re excited that this blog – which follows issues facing cities nationwide – is tuned into how tenants suffer when buildings fall into foreclosure!

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