Have you ever considering being a tenant organizer? Still not totally sure what we actually do all day?
Well, lucky for you, the sleepless nights of pondering about organizing are over! Today I’m going to walk you through the ups and downs and the ins and outs of my work schedule from last week. I admit that this was not a typical week, and I apologize if I shatter your idealized view of organizing, but at least you’ll get a snapshot of some of the challenges. Cheers to reality checks! Get your Unlimited Metrocard ready because we have a long journey ahead of us…
Monday July 11– The week begins with a quick flyer run in Brooklyn. 266 Malcolm X Blvd is a short bus ride from my house and it’s only 9 units so I’m thinking I’ll be done and on my way to our Wall Street office in no time. But of course, what’s a Monday morning without a little drama? While flyering, I run into a tenant who questions why I even bother when nothing is improving and no one cares. She’s desperately trying to find a new apartment and I’m desperately trying to make tenants fight for the one they already have. And there we are, locked in this dance, mutually sympathetic yet unable to help each other achieve our opposing goals. A bit deflated, I finally get to the office to plow through a to-do list before my evening meeting in the Bronx. The meeting is at 1055 Grand Concourse, a building I’ve written about before. We are filing an HP Action against the landlord to deal with repair needs and this meeting is going to be our first in-person encounter with the lawyer that we’ve been communicating with by email and phone for months. My co-organizer and I are very excited. Fast forward: the lawyer’s a no-show and the tenants don’t do much better on attendance. Not the worst meeting, but still nothing much to write about. So I won’t.
Tuesday July 12-Ah, the hour and a half long morning commute to the Bronx! I drop off the flyers at 2239-41 Creston, try to ignore the discomfort of being covered in sweat from climbing 8 flights of stairs, and then attempt to get into the building across the street that I recently discovered is under the same ownership as 1055 Grand Concourse (yes, the building from the previous night). No luck, but I did get a resident from the building on the phone for a good conversation, in which she warns me of what we can expect to see from the landlord, Steve Finkelstein.
Wednesday July 13-9:30am (early for organizers) we are in court in Downtown Brooklyn. The tenants from 230-232 Schenectady are with us hoping for some justice today. Three hours later, our attempt to get New York Community Bank to front some money for critical repairs is shut down. The best we get is a promise from the management company to do their job and a future court date in September. It’s a real blow to our anti-NYCB campaign. Later in the office I’m starting to feel that not all my efforts are in vain when I get calls back from several elected officials who I called to invite to the meeting at 266 Malcolm X. A representative from State Senator Montgomery’s office confirms her attendance and a few hours later there were are. Just me and the representative. No tenants. No support from the representative either. Eventually two tenants show up, but they are just as disinterested as the representative. Rough night.
Thursday July 14– I make a pit stop in Crown Heights to return some documents to tenants and then run to the office for just one hour before I have to jump on the train to meet tenants at 1255 Longfellow in the Bronx. The Longfellow tenants have an appointment with Bronx Legal Services to do intake and affidavits (this is the fifth building attempting to sue a lender for repair money during foreclosure). I meet the tenants only a bit behind schedule and go with them to the lawyers’ office. It’s pretty smooth sailing, especially given the fact that tenants who were scheduled to go earlier in the week forgot to show up. From there, I wander around the Bronx in search of food before my meeting in another Bronx neighborhood. Bad lasagna and some coconut water later, I begin my meeting at 2239-41 Creston Ave. After a quick round of reminder door-knocking, the tenant turnout is still relatively low, in stark contrast to the posse of “other interested parties” present at this meeting. The session is jam-packed with speakers including the Housing Specialist from Councilman Cabrera’s office, a doctor from Bronx Lebanon Hospital, the mortgage holder, and tenant organizers. To understand what doctors have to do with tenant meetings, see my previous post here.
Friday July 15– I’m spending the whole day in the office, exhausted, and picking up pieces from a hectic week. I didn’t describe the conversations taking place in the office in between all this running around, but trust me, some solid learning and new ideas came out of all these set-backs. For one, we are thinking more about how to use the public health angle to expose the evils of predatory equity.
So is organizing rewarding? Effective? When you zoom in on one week like this it seems questionable. But when we zoom back out and think about how much ground we are able to cover and the plethora of different strategies we employ to push tirelessly against powerful actors, it definitely seems worthwhile.