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!

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