The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

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“NYCB Hurts NYC” Photo Campaign Kicks Off!

An example of tenant frustrations with bad conditions- sent to us by a tenant at 2401Cortelyou Rd. Brooklyn

This past week the UHAB organizers have been running all over Manhattan and Brooklyn dropping flyers in some of New York Community Bank’s most distressed properties.  Until today, the pictures featured on the “Picture This!” section of our blog were all  from buildings that we have been working with for many months, sometimes years. But now, as we power through our research and identify more NYCB buildings in bad shape, we are reaching out to a host of new buildings and encouraging tenants to send us their photos and join the campaign against NYCB.

And the leg work is paying off! A tenant from 2401 Cortelyou Road in Brooklyn, one of ten new buildings where we distributed flyers, gave us a CD full of pictures from her building. You can see those pictures (and more!) here.

Sometimes we just slipped flyers under tenants’ doors with instructions for emailing photos, other times we ran into tenants in the hallway and explained our campaign in more depth. As expected, many of the tenants we met in these NYCB buildings were suffering with bad conditions. We plan to return to a few of these buildings to begin organizing, but we don’t have capacity to go back to all of them. Even though we might not organize in every building, we are hoping that the “Picture This!” page can serve as visual proof of the urgency of the housing crisis in NYC, and can be an importance reference point for media outlets, elected officials, and the general public.

The idea behind this flyer drop and the entire “NYCB Hurts NYC” photo campaign is this:

1. Create a wider network of tenants engaged in the campaign to hold the bank accountable

2. Expose the negative effects of predatory lending on New York City housing stock

3. Expand organizing capacity in NYC by creating a database of distressed buildings that advocate groups can use to identify new outreach

4. Utilize new media to more effectively show and tell the story of the threat to quality, affordable housing

If you would like to join this effort, please get in touch:

thesurrealestate@gmail.com or 212-479-3336

Social Media and Opportunities for Tenant Organizing!

Given that you are at our blog, I assume that you are aware that in the past six months at UHAB, we have embarked on a mission: to use social media and online networking to expand our capacity as tenant organizers in New York City. It’s been a fun experiment, and we’re all learning every day about ways to expand readership, get more twitter followers, and more Facebook likes.

While we have been tweeting away, tenants at 230-232 Schenectady Avenue haven’t been so fortunate. This 12-unit property has 287 violations, and is on the AEP list of the 200 worst buildings in the city. It’s in foreclosure, with a debt of $1.1 million and the bank is – you guessed it – New York Community Bank.

Despite their very real plight, tenants at 230-232 Schenectady have been incredibly willing to help us with our social-media project, while we help them get money out of their bank to improve conditions in their homes. If you visit Picture This, you’ll see some of the horrendous conditions that tenants live with at 230-232 Schenectady Ave.  When we described this project – to document bad conditions in NYCB buildings and create an online forum for tenants in similar situations to see that they are not alone – to tenants at Schenectady Ave, they gave us two rolls of developed pictures.

But they haven’t seen the website. While some of the tenants have computers, in the past two years, three apartments have been completely ravaged by electrical fires due to old and faulty wiring. While two of those families are back in their homes, one remains at a shelter, and none of them have been reimbursed for the huge loss of property as a result of the fire. Tenants who have computers are afraid of plugging them into their wall sockets because the high-voltage that the machines require might cause fire, and irrevocable damage to their homes and their lives. While plugging in a computer may seem like a luxury in the face of their other violations (sagging staircases and ceilings, lack of security, rodents, poor plumbing), having working electricity should be a given. Living without fear of fire should be a given. And if you have a computer, you should be able to use it ! This is 2011, and this is another way that the tenants we work with are denied the things that the rest of us have come to take for granted.

To go back to social media and tenant organizing: last week we “tweeted” that tenants in 230-232 Schenectady had been living in bad conditions long enough. We asked NYS Senator Eric Adams for his help. Today, his staff “re-tweeted” and tenants in 230-232 Schenectady have an appointment to meet with him and discuss their conditions issues, and their grievances with the bank. Let us hope it proves useful, and that tenants in this building will get some relief this summer!

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