The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Tag Archives: Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street: Our Perspective

Two weeks ago, Occupy Wall Street formed as a group of unidentified youth with unclear demands, poor media attention, and with no support from local New York politically left groups.  Mostly it was an inconvenience to us at UHAB, with Wall Street blocked off to prevent protesters from getting too close to the NY Stock Exchange.  Rather than dissipate with time and rain and mass arrests, the protest has grown in bodies, energy, and perhaps even credibility.  Following the infamous occupation of the Brooklyn Bridge that led to over 700 arrests, Occupy Wall Street has become a force to be reconciled with.

What are their demands?  Who is organizing it?  How long will they stay out there?  Walking down Broadway past the protesters, one can hear the snickering of bankers and corporate folks.  “They’re just mad because they can’t get jobs” I heard one banker laugh to a friend.  “They say it’s a movement.  A movement,” joked another.

But to me, the exciting part of Occupy Wall Street is that it is a movement- and a growing one.  The organizing structure of the protest is through a General Assembly, in which anyone is able to speak their minds, participate in the consensus decision making process, or join a working group.  Rather than begin the protest with a list of demands and top-down strategies, Occupy Wall Street is working on forming its demands collectively, and in the meantime allows people the opportunity to experience real democracy.  Art supplies, a library, the constant flow of free food, and donated tents and sleeping gear is readily available to any and all who enter the plaza.

Over the past week, celebrities such as Cornel West, Russell Simmons and Susan Sarandon have shown up to demonstrate their support for the protest.  The labor and left movement is also begining to back the protest, lending experience, local knowledge, as well as more concrete ways to show solidarity against corporate greed.  Today protesters are joining the Teamsters Local 814 to show support for the unionized art handlers who have been locked out of Sotheby’s for 8 weeks while struggling to negotiate for improved conditions.   New York teachers this weekend participated in a “grade in” in which teachers from all over the city went down and graded papers in the plaza to show their solidarity with the protest.

As an organization that works against banks with irresponsible lending practices like New York Community Bank, UHAB understands Occupy Wall Street’s stance against corporate greed.  Through our organizing, UHAB envisions a type of world other than one where banks and wealthy investors profit while damaging communities.  Unions, immigrant rights groups, and other politically left groups of New York are putting their energy behind Occupy Wall Street, and are organizing a march on Wednesday at 4:30 from City Hall to Zuccotti Park.  We will be there marching!  Will you join us?

To follow the movement, visit www.occupywallstreet.org. To see the faces behind the protests, visit wearethe99percent.tumblr.com.

“Sen. Schumer, Christine Quinn Push Feds To Pressure Bank That Owns Shoddy Housing”: The Village Voice

As published in the The Village Voice by Elizabeth Dwoskin

Image courtesy of The Village Voice

A consequence of our sucky economy: The city estimates that around 125,000 housing units will go into foreclosure over the next two years.

In many cases, owners (including banks) are trying to unload these buildings, and while they wait, living conditions deteriorate drastically for tenants, with landlords racking up housing code violations for lack of heat and hot water, for toxic mold outbreaks, leaky roofs, and rodent infestations.

Conditions have gotten so bad, in some cases, that city officials have taken a lot of flak from advocates (and from journalists), and these buildings have become PR problems for the city. And so, over the past year, officials have been playing a bigger role, by being a middleman between tenants, banks, older landlords and prospective ones.

Today, city and state officials, and Senator Chuck Schumer, took things a step further by asking the federal government to force a big bank that owns many foreclosed and distressed properties to come clean about their finances and sell the properties to a responsible buyer.

New York Community Bank is one of the most active providers of loans to landlords that buy multi-family dwellings in the city. According to the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, the bank controls the mortgages on 34 foreclosed buildings, which are home to 800 families. 328 buildings that are owned by the bank and home to 6,000 families are in very shaky condition: they have more than three hazardous health and safety violations per apartment. Until recently, the bank owned five properties that were on the city’s worst buildings list.

Last month, Mutual Housing Association of New York, a real estate company that has the support of the city’s housing agency and tenant advocates made a bid to buy the 34 foreclosed properties. According to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, New York Community Bank turned the company down, saying the offer was too low.

Schumer, along with Quinn and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, say that the FDIC — the federal agency that supervises financial institutions — should force New York Community Bank to come clean to buyers about the actual state of the finances, living conditions, and repairs needs of the buildings. Though no one has said it outright, the implication here is that the bank is fudging the numbers to make the distressed buildings more attractive to a higher bidder. The other implication is that the city has not had the pull with the bank that it would have wished.

The New York pols say that what they are asking for is well within the power of the federal agency. Because many of these mortgages were securitized by Wall Street, and are therefore implicated in the wider economic crisis, Schumer and Velazquez had inserted a section into the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill — passed by Congress last summer — that makes the federal government take some responsibility for the problem of distressed mortgages on multi-family dwellings, which afflict big cites like New York.

Schumer said today in a press release: “Here is a perfect example for the FDIC to take into consideration as they help build a framework for this program. The message here should be clear: residents of affordable buildings throughout the City should not be the victims of never-ending cycles of overleveraged gambling by predatory equity investors.”

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