Crown Heights is gentrifying. Everyone knows it, but how does it actually play out on the ground? When a neighborhood gentrifies, where are the people who used to live there? (Often, those experiences are lost and made invisible. San Francisco’s Anti-Eviction Mapping Project is working to bring this issue into the public eye through sidewalk stencils.)
Along with gentrification comes harassment and illegal activity. When landlords project that property values will rise, they purchase a building for too much money, assuming they’ll make it back through the high rents that they’ll be able to charge. Unfortunately, what they don’t take into account is that many New York City buildings are rent stabilized, and that rents can’t just be raised willy-nilly. So they use other tactics: Harassment, Major Capital Improvements, Lack of repairs, Buy-outs. Anything to force long term tenants out to bring in new, higher paying ones.
In order to pay back a too-big mortgage, landlords don’t stop with the illegal activity after getting a long term tenant to move out. Instead, they illegally overcharge new tenants, often young people who are also unaware of New York City rent laws. Some landlords (like ZT Realty) overcharge unsuspecting newbies thousands of dollars. And the worst part is, they get away with it! (And they continue to buy more buildings!) This is the cycle of predatory equity when it works for landlords. Because the debt levels on these buildings are so high, if landlords were to actually abide by rent laws and respect tenant rights, they wouldn’t be able to pay back their mortgages and the buildings (like so many that we see) would fall into foreclosure.
A group of tenants in Crown Heights have begun meeting as a Tenant Union, hoping to organize and make demands to landlords, lenders, and the City. Many of the tenants have lived in the neighborhood for decades, and have been experiencing landlord harassment and decreased services, and want to speak up for their rights. Others have lived in the neighborhood a year or two, and don’t like what they’ve been seeing or are personally being illegally overcharged.
UHAB has been organizing with small, distressed buildings in this neighborhood for years, and have seen this same pattern play out over and over. We decided to team up with the Crown Heights Assembly to jump-start the Tenant Union and launch a campaign to protect tenant rights and preserve affordable housing. Join us for the third meeting of the Crown Heights Tenant Union. We’ll be meeting Thursday evening, 7:00 at 805 St. Marks (between Brooklyn and New York Ave).