The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Tag Archives: uhab organizing

7A Program Fades from Relevance, to Tenant Dismay

Yesterday, tenants gathered at 755 Jackson Avenue with newly elected Public Advocate (takes office January 1st) Letitia James to demand that the owner of their building, Stabilis Capital Management, walk away from the property. (Read about it in the Mott Haven Herald.) Tenants are hoping that Harry DiRienzo of Banana Kelly be appointed as a 7A manager of their building. The property is extremely distressed and effectively abandoned. That the city would appoint a 7A administrator for this building seems like a no-brainer.

However, tenants have reason to be wary. In order to secure a 7A, they have a long fight ahead of them. Last year, tenants from 1058 Southern Boulevard traveled from their homes in the Bronx to Mill Basin to evict their landlord. They were living in serious slum conditions: fuzzy black mold coated the walls of their apartments, their ceilings leaked and it was so cold inside the building that the water leaks froze. One apartment was so terrible that a reporter visiting the building to cover the tenants’ fight began to cry.

Tenants at 1058 Southern Boulevard were hoping to “evict” their landlord through the same 7A program. Unfortunately, the City and the Housing Court did not heed their plea, and slumlord Miriam Shasho still runs the building. (The building eventually got repairs though the City’s Alternative Enforcement Program, but the repairs are patchwork the building is already returning to a state of squalor.)

This morning, City Limits published an article detailing this same experience, but at different buildings, in the Bronx. In the buildings profiled by City Limits, the failure to bring a 7A action baffles even HPD. The 7A program is an amazing opportunity for organized tenants to hit landlords where it hurts the most: in their checkbooks. However, if the City and the Courts are unwilling to invoke this power, it takes a serious tool away from tenants. City Limits talks about how this changed:

In earlier years, when judges ruled in favor of 7As for troubled properties, landlords frequently stayed out of the way and new managers made critical repairs. Owners may even have been glad to have someone else worry about their building. But now, because of the sweeter financial prospects of most Bronx buildings, landlords don’t want to hand their profitable properties over even temporarily. So it takes an even greater push from activists and HPD, particularly when judges seem more reluctant to rule in favor of 7As when buildings that could benefit from the designation are not part of a community crisis.

Tenant leader Lisa Ortega of 1058 Southern Boulevard speaks of her experience fighting for a 7A bitterly:

Its quite obvious that Judge Klein is on the side of the landlords. Landlords with long histories of neglect to buildings are allowed to do and giving financial help and incentive. If a parent neglect or abused their child, the court would remove them immediately. Slumlords control the health and well-being of some of the city’s most vulnerable populations — Why is this not the same for them??

Lisa mentions an important point, one that UHAB has been fighting legislatively for some time. A landlord licensing program could prevent bad landlords and negligent property managers from buying up extremely distressed housing and treating like an ATM. How could something like that work? Only qualified developers would be able to purchase housing that meets a certain level of physical distress. The 7A program could be expanded, and automatic: one’s license to manage property could be immediately revoked if building’s level of distress meets a certain threshold. If a restaurant owner is serving up unsafe food, the Department of Health shuts them down immediately. Bad landlords are allowed to keep their property no matter what psychological or physical warfare they are taking out on their tenants. This doesn’t make sense.

Make sure to check out the article in City Limits, and stay tuned!

Talking Community Land Trusts with Talking Transitions

talking transitions

Monday, while many of us enjoyed the day off for Veterans Day, dozens of people got together to dialogue, brainstorm, and plan for the New York they’d like to see created.  And this wasn’t a one-time-thing. Through a forum call Talking Transitions, New Yorkers are gathering together to address issues from drug policies to community art to property taxes. According to their website:

Talking Transition is an open conversation about the future of New York City. Join New Yorkers online, in the streets, and in a new meeting place on Canal Street to help shape the transition to a new mayor. The election may be over, but you can continue to make your voice, your question, your idea, and your neighborhood heard.

A few of us from UHAB attended yesterday’s panel and community conversation on affordable housing, organized by New York Communities for Change.  Participants on the panel were people directly affected by various housing issues in the city: Someone currently living in the shelter system (from Picture the Homeless), a HASA tenant living in supportive housing (VOCAL-NY), and a woman in poor conditions facing harassment from her landlord (Make the Road Bushwick).  After listening to powerful stories which tackle the crux of the housing issues in NYC, we, the audience, got a chance to collaboratively brainstorm ideas to change the system.  The room was divided into subsections, each facilitated by a different organization specializing in the topic. The groups included: ending the homelessness crisis, preservation, and new development.

The UHABers at the event attended the inspiring group discussing Community Land Trusts, an exciting proposal to create permanently affordable housing and community controlled land.  Basically, City Council would pass legislation allowing for the creating of a CLT, a nonprofit organization run by communities.  The CLT would acquire land and the community would have control over how that land is developed and maintained.  Our group, facilitated by Picture the Homeless, gave a popular-education style rundown of what community land trusts are and how folks could become involved with making it a reality.  UHAB has been involved with the discussion of land trusts because we believe that neighborhoods and buildings should be controlled by those who live there. One way that the land trust could acquire land would be through coops opting to donate the land under them to the trust (not the building itself).  UHAB, of course, has access to hundreds of HDFC’s who care about the preservation of affordable housing and community control.

Not only did we walk away inspired by the possibilities of a Community Land Trust, but we also were amazed at Talking Transitions and the power of intentionally coming together to envision a better New York. Check out more on the Community Land Trust Initiative here  or here and Talking Transitions here.

“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.”

Rezoning of Crown Heights West to be Voted on Imminently

land_use dcp_proposed_zoning

The ULURP process to rezone West Crown Heights began in March and culminates soon in a vote (if you don’t know what ULURP is, check out CUP’s informative workshop).  The 55 block area impacted by the zoning proposal (according to the City’s website) “is generally bounded by Atlantic Avenue, Pacific, Dean and Bergen streets to the north; Nostrand Avenue to the east; Eastern Parkway to the south; and, Washington and Grand Avenues to the west.” If it passes, the change in zoning would place building construction guidelines intended to “preserve neighborhood character” by limiting the the size and style of new developments.  The rezoning also includes inclusionary zoning, meaning there would be incentives to build a certain percentage of affordable units for every market rate development.

According to the Crown Heights Assembly, a group of activists working against displacement in Crown Heights, this re-zoning proposal does not do enough to protect the interests of long term residents of the neighborhood. CHA has been distributing a petition calling for 2 amendments to the rezoning:

1. Adopt Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning, a policy that guarantees a certain percentage of affordable units in new developments under a rezoning.

2. Establish an anti-harassment area which requires the City to look into whether harassment occurred when it receives demolition requests and penalizes landlords who harass tenants.

The UHAB Organizing Department supports CHA’s efforts to amend the current zoning proposal.  Over and over again, we see very scary and real harassment of long term tenants in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, especially Crown Heights.  Currently, we are working in several small buildings in the neighborhood where the landlords are offering long-term, rent stabilized tenants “buy-outs,” meaning tenants are asked to accept money and leave.  Landlords do this so that they can raise rents through “vacancy decontrol” when new tenants move in. We’ve also seen landlords refuse to work in long-term tenants’ apartments.  Instead, the only work being done  is to renovate the vacant units.  This tactic is, again, intended to bring in higher paying tenants and ultimately displace long-term residents.  These types of activities are predatory, and, like CHA asserts, there should be more severe penalties. CHA suggests creating a City program designed to pay special attention to harassment in the neighborhood, particularly when new construction is proposed.  This could work.  We also think that the creation of a landlord license which would prevent known predatory landlords from continuously purchasing new buildings could also work.  It’s clear that with the rapid gentrification in the neighborhood, there does need to be some intentional shifts to ensure long term residents can live harassment-free in their homes. 

Be sure to stay informed of what happens in the upcoming vote! Sign the CHA’s petition here and read their fact sheet on the rezoning here.  And stay tuned for more news about gentrification, harassment, and activism in Crown Heights!

UHAB & NYC Tenants Want to See You In Court!

peopleJoin us as we raise our voices in front of Bankruptcy Court. Let private equity firms know that ‘Housing Is a Human Right!’ 
This Wednesday, June 19, Tenants from Queens and the Bronx, along with advocates and community members will be rallying against the private equity company Stabilis Capital Management.In Stabilis-controlled buildings in the Bronx and Queens, low income tenants are suffering from unlivable conditions. In order to preserve affordable housing, tenants are demanding that Stabilis sell their homes to responsible owners NOW!

Join UHAB & Tenants from Across New York City in Telling Stabilis:

Affordable Housing is a Human Right!

WHAT

Rally against Stabilis Capital Management.

WHEN

Wednesday, June 19th, at 10:00 AM

WHERE

Steps of Bankruptcy Court

1 Bowling Green, Manhattan.

(4/5 to Bowling Green, 1 to South Ferry, J/Z to Broad Street, R to Whitehall.)

 

 

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