Friday News Round Up

Friday News Round-Up, for stories about affordable housing and New York City you may have missed this week. This week, we’re trying it in a different format. (I.e., in prose rather than in a list.) Let us know what you think.

In the United States, homeowner ideology is so pervasive we get into serious trouble — for example, we get into a five+ year foreclosure crisis. Other kinds of living are possible. End renter discrimination! If you missed our post on the topic yesterday from us, read about it from the Atlantic Cities.

A week or two ago, this great time-lapse map of every strike in the world since 1979 shows that we are living in a time of action. So, this week in strikes: NYCHA tenants in East Harlem planned on go on a rent strike for improved conditions.  Workers went on strike for living wages in 15 cities across the United States on Thursday. We support both their fights for safe housing and to earn enough to live.

Finally, this is our last news round up before the primary on September 10th. VOTE. Bill de Blasio continues to top the polls. Read “Bill De Blasio and the Rebirth of Economic Liberalism” at The Nation. Ede Fox put out her housing plan this week, and it’s all about organizing. Vito Lopez has  been kicked out of Albany, and he’s trying to move to City Hall. Don’t let that happen — vote for Antonio Reyonoso! Christine Quinn promised to pay all workers on city projects a living wage. Campaigns across the city have focused on inequality, and what that means for New Yorkers.

Stay with us, we’ll be back next week!

Friday News Round-Up

strike

It’s finally Friday, and this week’s been jam-packed with exciting housing-related news!

1. This week, the Furman Center released the 2012 edition of the “State of NYC Housing & Neighborhoods.” The findings are dismal: Between 2007  and 2011, median incomes significantly decreased while rents rose.  Over 1/3 of the city’s residents are spending over half their income on paying the rent. To read the full report- including detailed data about the impacts of post-recession NY on the built environment, homeowners, renters, and the City’s demographics, click here

2. On Monday, the Tenant PAC endorsed Public Advocate Bill de Blasio for Mayor.  According to the PAC (as reported by the Gothamist):

Bill de Blasio gets our endorsement for his commitment (in his words) to “re-set the agenda” for a genuine progressive city government, to “de-program the Bloomberg years”; for his opposition to privatization and to government as a handmaiden to private profit takers; for his support for mandatory inclusionary zoning requiring developers to include affordable apartments in all new buildings; and for addressing the economic inequality that is driving more New Yorkers into hardship and poverty.

4. Richmond, CA is the first city in the country to use the power of eminent domain to address the foreclosure crisis. In a move that’s being opposed by banks, cities across the country are working to buy up mortgages in bulk to reduce homeowner’s debt and reduce the risk of foreclosure and displacement. In Richmond, a city of mostly black and Hispanic residents, nearly half of homeowners with mortgages are experiencing trouble with their mortgages.  To read more about this exciting program, click here

5. This week, fast food workers went on strike in 7 cities for the right to unionize and for living wages.  Terrance Wise, a fast food worker at both Burger King and Pizza Hut in Kansas City was interviewed today on Democracy Now.  He asks:

What else do we have to lose? We are already slowly dying in our day to day lives…So why not speak up, and stand up, and let the nation know that we are suffering? This is this is really a cry for help. This great nation should not turn its back on working class people that need help.

The way we see it, this campaign for living wages and the right to organize are extremely relevant to our work in tenant organizing. Housing is unaffordable because rents are high but also because wages are low.  If people are struggling to both buy food and pay the rent while working full time, something is clearly wrong.  Stay tuned for more from us on this in the next few weeks! And to continue following this exiting campaign, visit Fast Food Forward’s website

Have a great weekend!

Ridgewood Tenants and Elected Officials Speak Out!

Denise Serrano of 1821 Cornelia Street Speaks to Speaker Quinn, CM Velazquez, CM Reyna, Assembly Member Mike Miller
Denise Serrano of 1821 Cornelia Street Speaks to Speaker Quinn, CM Velazquez, CM Reyna, Assembly Member Mike Miller, Antonio Reynoso

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, City Councilwoman Diana Reyna and State Assemblyman Mike Miller, attorneys and advocates joined tenants from six extremely distressed buildings in Ridgewood, Queens on Monday of this week. The elected officials came together with the tenants to demand that Stabilis Capital Management, the mortgage holder on the properties, support a plan that will keep them permanently affordable. Tenants are suffering from leaks, mold, rodent infestation, falling ceilings, and a lack of basic plumbing, will also seek emergency repairs.

In an exciting move, tenants will be appearing in bankruptcy court with the help of pro bono counsel Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, LLP and Queens Legal Services to advocate for their right to safe and decent housing.

“As a resident of 1821 Cornelia St., I am concerned about the future of these six buildings,” said Tenant Leader Denise Serrano. “I grew up in Williamsburg, and thanks to rising rents my family was forced to move. I raised my children in this building, and on behalf of myself and my neighbors, I do not want to see that displacement happen again here.”

Stabilis’s purchase of the mortgage notes on these six buildings mirrors a recent trend wherein companies, armed with private equity money, acquire debt on regulated rental properties. The properties are often severely physically distressed due to years of foreclosure, and are often located in New York City’s gentrifying neighborhoods. Tenants and advocates fear that these acquisitions closely resemble speculation in the market before 2008, when private equity firms purchased large portfolios of rent-regulated apartment buildings, leading to foreclosure and mass deterioration of the housing stock. This week, tenants, elected officials, and organizers are calling on Stabilis Capital Management to break with this pattern and support the transfer of the properties to a non-profit developer who would provide extensive physical rehabilitation while keeping the properties affordable in perpetuity.

Tenants, who have been organizing for several months, have asked CATCH – a non-profit that practices mutual housing – to try and to take over their buildings.

“These buildings must be transferred to an owner who will rehabilitate them and keep rent affordable,” said Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. “Tenants have suffered enough already because of poor managerial decisions.”

“I’m here today to support my constituents and neighbors who have been suffering from these horrific and unimaginable living conditions for over five years,” said Assemblymember Mike Miller. “I support the transfer of these properties to a non-profit developer who would provide the necessary repairs while keeping the rents affordable.”

“Stabilis must repair these buildings or sell them to a good developer who will” said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “Whether these homes are in foreclosure or bankruptcy court, Stabilis’ obligations to provide services to tenants remains the same.  I want to thank Congresswoman Velazquez, Councilmember Reyna, UHAB, Legal Services, HPD, and especially all of the tenants for their hard work to save these homes.”

“Today, after months of discussion, organizing, and legal advocacy, we are able to stand before Stabilis and tell them: ‘We have a plan.’,” said Councilmember Diana Reyna. “We have a plan that will put an end to five years of undignified living conditions, that will ensure that the future of these families remains in the buildings they call home, and that will not undermine Stabilis’s business model. We are calling on Stabilis to include the tenants in any agreement to ensure that these properties are up to code and in the hands of those who live in the buildings.”

We can’t keep letting these vicious cycles sent buildings deeper into distress. Whether they live in a building in foreclosure, a building in bankruptcy or not, all tenants have the right to safe, decent housing,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. “When properties get this bad, we need everyone to come to the table – including banks and lenders – to put them back on sustainable tracks. Tenants deserve nothing less.”

“The blight and distress of these properties is not only hazardous to the well being of the families who live there, it also threatens the stability of the surrounding neighborhood,” said HPD Commissioner Mathew M. Wambua. “We are resolved to use our resources and enforcement tools, such as those in the Alternative Enforcement Program, to keep the pressure on negligent landlords and owners to ensure that these tenants get relief and the quality of housing that they deserve. We thank our elected officials for their partnership and support in working to end the cycle of overleveraging and distress that has plagued these buildings.”

 “The tenants in these six properties have suffered at the hands of predatory equity groups for long enough,” said Kerri White, Director of Organizing and Policy at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board. “These buildings need to be transferred to a responsible developer with the capability of renovating them while keeping rents affordable for the residents. We will do anything in our power to reach this outcome, whether its demanding Stabilis work with HPD on a preservation sale, or advocating through the bankruptcy court, the tenants will keep fighting for what they deserve.”

Friday News Round-up!

Another week gone! And just two more days until we get to go back to work fighting for affordable housing!

  1. UHAB in the news! Kerri White was interviewed on BronxNet’s OPEN TV, Cea Weaver and Elise Goldin were featured on WBAI’s Global Movements, Urban Struggles alongside the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, and the Queens Courier covered last week’s rally against Stabilis Capital at Bankruptcy Court! Some more press is expected in the next few weeks, so stay tuned!
  2. Another mayoral forum: ANHD and its member organizations hosted a mayoral forum on affordable neighborhoods at Calvary/St. George’s on Tuesday. The candidates agree on lots of things. Anthony Weiner still doesn’t support rent regulated tenants (or for that matter, appear to really understand what rent regulation is.) John Liu had the most exciting proposal of the night when he suggested that the city should penalize building owners with a lot of violations by limiting their ability to purchase new housing. Christine Quinn didn’t attend the event.
  3. The City Council overrode Mayor Bloomberg’s veto on paid sick leave, and the policy is now law. Crain’s New York gave us some breathtaking insight that Quinn’s decision to allow the vote to come to the council floor was motivated by politics. Duh.
  4. The Joint Center for Housing Studies released their 2012 report on the State of the Nation’s Housing, and the evidence is that as incomes go down and rent goes up, its tough to afford housing! Read the fact brief.
  5. Tenants from buildings owned by Chestnut Holdings, a major Bronx landlord, are protesting over harassment and extensive fees. Housing code violations, the tenants say, are not their biggest problem. Just goes to show that you can fix up a building to code without doing the real work that makes a property a nice place to live. Keep following the Chestnut campaign as residents fight for better conditions, affordability, and freedom from their predatory landlord!

Friday News Round-up!

Your weekly news round-up from UHAB Organizers!

  1. On Thursday, the Rent Guidelines Board held a hearing to debate rent increases for rent stabilized units. Mayoral candidates Christine Quinn, Bill de Blasio and John C. Liu attended the debate and vehemently opposed the increases. Currently, rent stabilized apartments increase 2 percent when tenants sign a one year lease and 4 percent when tenants sign a two year lease. However, the board is now proposing a 3.25 to 6.25 percent increase for a one year lease and a 5 to 9.5 percent increase for a two year lease. At a time when affordable housing in New York City is scarce , such increases would exacerbate the problem. The Board will reconvene next Thursday to vote on these increases. Stay tuned as this story unfolds!
  2. As the mayoral election nears, Housing First, a coalition comprised of 35 affordable housing groups in New York City (including UHAB), is compiling a list of recommendations for the next mayor. Anticipated to be released next Friday, the proposal will outline an eight-year plan to create and preserve an additional 150,000 units of affordable housing.  The plan also includes a new deputy mayor position that would oversee the collaboration of housing and homelessness agencies. As seen with Mayor Bloomberg’s affordable housing plan, this proposal will hopefully have great influence over the next mayor’s strategy to increase the number of affordable housing units in the city.
  3. On Wednesday, a study was published, claiming that CitiGroup, Bank of America, JP Morgan, and Wells Fargo have been violating the terms of the $25B national mortgage settlement that was made last year. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, 2 of the 49 state prosecutors that brokered the deal, have been instrumental in evaluating the banks’ progress and elucidating their shortcomings. The most common problem is “failure to notify homeowners of any missing documents in their modification requests within five days of receipt.” While the report insists that some progress has been made in terms of communication, much has yet to be done in order to fully meet the agreement’s expectations.
  4. Yesterday, the New York State Assembly passed the Women’s Equality Act. Introduced by Governor Cuomo, the bill works to end discrimination and inequality based on gender. The bill’s stipulations include: achieving for pay equity, ending sexual harassment in the workplace, and combatting housing discrimination for survivors of domestic violence. The most contentious part of the bill is the abortion component, which protects women’s freedom to choose. Now, the Senate will debate and vote on the bill, and we shall see how this piece of legislation impacts gender equality in New York state and beyond. For UHAB commentary on the bill, check out this older post.
  5. An “affordable” apartment building in Chelsea, built on NYCHA land and subsidized by a variety of city agencies is now open. Income restrictions are nearly $200,000, and rents for a 2BR are nearly $3,500. Not very affordable if you ask me, or if you ask the New York Observer.

553 E. 169th Tenants Deserve Better!

Photo taken March, 2012 at 553 E. 169th St.
Photo taken March, 2012 at 553 E. 169th St.

553 E. 169th Street is a 18 unit building located right in the middle of the Bronx. It’s not necessarily easy to recognize — it lacks a building number, and is smashed between another building and a restaurant. But, right now, the building is the source of a tense argument between Valley National Bank and housing advocates, including UHAB.

The property was in foreclosure for many years, and during that time it fell into extreme disrepair. Right now, it’s listed as one of the 200 worst buildings in New York City. We’ve written about the building many times before on The Surreal Estate, and it was also featured in an article on The Atlantic Cities.

More recently, an HPD approved affordable housing developer – one with the skills to stabilize extremely distressed housing at no cost to tenants – put in a bid for the property. Hoping to correct the severe financial distress, the bid requires that bank to swallow a significant loss. Valley National Bank is unsurprisingly reluctant — they did not originate this loan, and they don’t want to pay for another bank’s mistake.

The catch is that Valley National Bank has a loss share agreement with the FDIC. Following the financial crisis, the FDIC compelled VNB to take over Liberty Pointe Bank. In exchange for absorbing Liberty’s bad assets, the FDIC agreed to take on 80% of the losses VNB suffered as a result. The FDIC, a government entity, supposedly answers to tax payers — i.e., tenants. Even though VNB will only be responsible for 20% of the discount given the bank remains reluctant.

Up until this point, Valley National Bank has been open to working with tenants, organizers and advocates at this building. While tenants certainly appreciate this, all the good-faith negotiating that VNB has done up to this point won’t matter very much if 553 E. 169th Street is simply sold to the highest bidder. As they say — the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Valley National is a small bank, but they still hold $16 billion in assets, have a market value of $1.9 billion, and in 2012 boasted a net income of $143.5 million. $125,000 is a drop of the bucket to the bank, but it will improve the lives of the 18 families who live at 553 E. 169th Street exponentially.

We have been working with elected officials to express to both the bank and the FDIC the importance of not repeating the mistakes of the past by overleveraging this building again. We hope they listen.

New Yorkers March to Denounce LGBTQ Hate Crimes

Photo by Macey Foronda. Featured on BuzzFeed

Yesterday, a rally was held in the West Village to honor Mark Carson who was murdered Friday evening as a result of a hate crime. While walking through the West Village with a friend, Carson was confronted by Elliot Morales.  Morales made homophobic remarks such as, “Look at these faggots” and “What are you, gay wrestlers?” Despite trying to walk away and avoid an altercation, Morales followed the two men, pulled out his .38-caliber revolver and shot Carson. He died shortly after.

To show respect for Carson and denounce the recent hate crime against the queer community, thousands of LGBTQ folk and allies gathered in the West Village and marched from the steps of The Center to the site of the shooting. Chanting “We’re here, we’re queer!” and “Homophobia has got to go!” the voice of the queer community echoed down Greenwich Avenue and up through 6th Avenue. Speaker Christine Quinn, the first openly gay Speaker of the New York City Council, and Edie Windsor, the plaintiff of the Supreme Court same-sex marriage case, joined the march. After a slew of violent hate crimes within the past month, this march reestablished the visibility and, in turn, power of the queer community in New York City.

The West Village has been portrayed as a haven for queer folks. Home of the Stonewall Inn and the inception of the gay liberation movement, LGBTQ folk from across the country have come to the West Village either seeking refuge from hate crimes, in search of community, or to pay tribute to those who have fought to stop violence. Unfortunately, there has been a resurgence of hate crimes in the West Village. According to the Anti-Violence Project (AVP), six hate crimes against LGBTQ folk have been reported within the past week in New York City. The following are a list of three incidents reported by the New Yorker:

… a gay man and his partner were beaten up outside Madison Square Garden after a Knicks game, another gay man was attacked and beaten on Christopher Street, and a gay couple was beaten after leaving a pool hall on West Thirty-second Street.

With Pride month fast approaching, these weeks serve as a point of reflection to assess how much progress has actually been made in terms of LGBTQ rights and safety in our country. One of the signs held at yesterday’s protest read, “Marriage means nothing if we are being gunned down.” While much emphasis has been placed on the Federal Supreme Court ruling on the Marriage Equality Act, much more needs to be done to stop homophobic prejudice, discrimination, and violence in New York City and throughout the country.

While it might appear as if this rally has little to do with our work in housing and organizing, look again. As we’ve discussed before on the blog, discrimination in housing against LGBTQ folks is alive and well in our country and our city.  Through organizing, we need to ensure that everyone who lives in our city feels secure enough in demanding that their rights be met- whether it’s housing conditions, marriage, or the right to walk down the street in safety. We at UHAB admire the powerful organizing that has taken place in response to the recent hate-crimes, and plan to support that organizing effort as long as it takes.

If you or someone you know has experienced a homophobic hate crime, please contact the Anti-Violence Project at (212) 714-1141.