The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Tag Archives: work advantage

836 Faile St: Still Dealing with Same Old Thing, but Tenants Continue to Organize!

Mural in Hunts Point, Bronx

Mural in Hunts Point, Bronx

836 Faile St. is located in Hunts Point in the Bronx.  This neighborhood has been historically cut off from the rest of the city, suffering from extreme environmental injustices as a result of the highway that runs through it and the high levels of pollution from buses and trucks.  There is also amazing activism and organizing taking place out of organizations such as The Point and BAAD.

When I first visited 836 Faile St. (it was in foreclosure with Astoria Federal Savings Bank), I didn’t know what to expect.  The neighborhood’s reputation made me nervous to see what type of conditions the tenants were living in and sadly, when I arrived at the building, it was a pretty frightening scene.  Tenants complained of not having consistent heat/ hot water, horrible rat infestations, a lack of a live-in super (which is against the law), and an aggressive landlord.  Even more, tenants told us the water in their apartments had to be filtered or boiled, otherwise it made them sick. Seriously? In New York City?

Asher Neuman was and remains the landlord of the building, even though it was in foreclosure for years, and it is still uncertain about who will be the owner moving forward (he filed bankruptcy but now it appears he has withdrawn his case). At the time when we started organizing, the Work Advantage program had just ended.  People were being evicted left and right.  Asher Neuman was aggressive about eviction, and there was a real sense of fear in the building that they could be next. He would threaten tenants that if they called 311, they wouldn’t receive any repairs in the future. Mr. Neuman would choose favorites and repair exclusively their apartments, while ignoring others.  (All these tactics continue today).

In March of 2012, Stabilis Fund II, a private equity company, bought the debt on the building from Astoria.  When I spoke to Joe Tuso from Stabilis Fund, he admitted to me that someone had simply driven by the building to make sure it existed.  No one had stepped foot inside the building to see the atrocious conditions tenants were living in- clearly Stabilis Fund II is about making money, not about stabilizing and preserving affordable housing for tenants.

Currently, 836 Faile st. has 127 violations in 36 units, though probably only a third of the units are occupied.  Tenant leaders have been evicted, other tenant leaders have moved out, but many dedicated tenants remain and are committed to organizing and improving their living situation.  Tonight, we will be meeting with tenants and filling out papers to file a group HP Action against MHM Equities, Asher Neuman’s entity which owns the deed to the building.  Stay tuned for continued organizing efforts against Asher Neuman and Stabilis Fund II!

What’s Going to Happen with Work Advantage?: Enter Round Three!

There’s a fight going on, and no one is ready to back down.  It’s between New York Legal Aid (on behalf of participants of the Work Advantage Program) and the City of New York, specifically the Department of Homeless Services.  As you may be aware, the city has cut funding for Work Advantage, a program which assists in the participants’ transition from temporary homeless shelters.  Through the program, participants pay a portion of their rent and the city pays the rest, directly to the landlord.  In order to qualify for the program, participants must meet certain requirements such as an income maximum and need to work at least 20 hours a week at minimum wage or above.

The question Legal Aid won’t drop is whether the city can legally cut the program and cease to pay current participants’ rents, or if it had entered into a legally binding contact with the participants and the landlords to continue paying rent for the remainder of the lease.  The city has argued several times that, no, there was no contractual agreement.  They claim the program was simply a social benefit program that could be dropped at any time.  Legal Aid disagrees.  And the fight continues…

It isn’t hard to understand how messed up cutting Work Advantage is.  New York City’s most vulnerable populations living in homeless shelters benefitted from the program by leaving the shelter system and getting back on their feet.  They were guaranteed that if they found an apartment in their price range, the city would subsidize it for one at least one year, and two if they continued to qualify. Cutting the program will lead to countless evictions, forcing this population right back into the shelters.

In addition, it is widely known that the shelter system is overcrowded, inefficient, and expensive.  Cutting funding for Work Advantage to bring more into the shelter system is not an efficient use of resources –  it is more expensive to maintain the shelters than to pay subsidies.  According to Steve Banks, attorney-in-chief for Legal Aid,

This certainly seems like a case in which the city loses when it wins, since it will have to pay far more to shelter these families and individuals than by continuing to make the rental payments.

Another consequence of program cuts is that when landlords stop receiving city money and begin evicting tenants, they will lose a significant amount of  money needed to maintain the building and pay back their mortgage.  This result increases the likelihood of foreclosure, impacting not only the remaining tenants but also the rest of the neighborhood.

Legal Aid appealed for a third time this past week, and is awaiting an expedited court decision.  Again, their argument is that the city entered into a legally binding contract with the Work Advantage participants and the landlord guaranteeing they will pay a portion of the rent for one to two years.  They argue, among other points, that:

  • It has been argued that the program merely provides social benefits, but city this is not sufficient because the city enters into social benefit contracts with other programs. (page 9)
  • A contact involves an offer, and acceptance of the offer, and a provision of terms.  Participants signed “an agreement,” which is an understanding of terms (also signed by the landlord and a representative from DHS).  The agreement stipulates that the city will pay a portion of the rent directly to the landlord for at least one year every month, and two years if the participant qualifies. (page 8)
  • In exchange for guaranteed rental payments by the city, landlord ceded control of who lives in a Work Advantage apartment to the city. If a landlord is forced to evict a Work Advantage tenant, the landlord has two options.  He must agree to return money paid by the city after the eviction or house someone else that the city places from Work Advantage for the remainder of the lease.  This agreement cedes responsibility for who is living in the apartment to the city, therefore entering the city into a contract with the program. (page 17)

To learn more about Work Advantage tenant’s legal options, see Legal Aid’s handout in English or Spanish.  And stay tuned for more information on the upcoming court decision!

“How to End the Cycle of Homelessness”…A Work in Progress

The NY Daily News published an opinion article today about the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness‘ newly released report titled “A New Path: An Immediate Plan to Reduce Family Homelessness.”  This report establishes a framework to confront homelessness in New York City, advocating for a multiplicity of paths to obtain permanent, stable housing.  The report lays out three tiers, or tracks, that families would be placed in based on need.  The first tier would be to place families straight into affordable housing, presumably helping them locate the housing and assisting with rent.  The second tier would be to locate housing, but also help with employment opportunities and other basic social services.  The third tier would be most similar to a shelter, only renamed “Community Residential Resource Centers” in which families live in the center and receive intensive job training, education, counseling, and assistance with child reunification.  Ideally, according to the report, these centers would also function as resources for the neighborhood at large.

While we at UHAB don’t deal directly with issues of homelessness, the majority of buildings we work in have at some point provided housing for New Yorkers in the Work Advantage program.  Sadly, we have witnessed heartbreaking stories from tenants who were in the program but whose benefits have been cut, leaving them with no options but to wait for the marshal to evict them.  The termination of Work Advantage for thousands of New Yorkers has not only effected individual families, but entire buildings.  Once the city stops paying a tenant’s rent, a landlord has less income to make repairs or continue paying a mortgage.  Buildings, as a result, more easily fall into states of disrepair, impacting the lives of all tenants and the larger community as well.

Predatory Equity destroys opportunities for families in New York to live in well-kept, safe, affordable housing.  This reality makes us skeptical of new programs which address homelessness, but don’t provide preservation plans or proposals for creation of new affordable housing.  One cannot go without the other.  Our question is in what buildings and neighborhoods will families be placed?  What ensures this program to be more sustainable than the Work Advantage program? Until the threat of continuous loss of affordable housing is quelled, we feel this plan will not be successful.

Maybe it’s time to ask homeless people themselves what services they want…Picture the Homeless,  a grassroots organizing group of homeless folks demanding respect and human rights, have a lot to say on the matter.

 

To read more about the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness report, click here.

To read more about Picture the Homeless’ recent action in response to a recent NY Post article, click here.

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