MEDIA ADVISORY: HUNDREDS OF CROWN HEIGHTS TENANTS RALLY, MARCH FOR HOUSING JUSTICE

This Saturday the tenants of Crown Heights are taking to the streets o tell their landlords that they are fed up with the cycle of displacement and rent overcharges! Tenants will be rallying with elected officials before marching through the neighborhood — stopping at some buildings with the worst landlords — and then ending with a picnic!

Please join us for ANY part of the day.

Media Advisory for June 7th, 2014

Kerri White: (212) 479-3371 // (520) 507-5863 (c)

Joel Feingold: (608) 201-9345

Hundreds of Crown Heights Tenants Rally,March for Housing Justice

Crown Heights Tenant Union, elected officials, and housing advocates call for strengthened tenant protections to end displacement and systematic rent overcharges.

WHO The Crown Heights Tenant Union (CHTU), a new alliance of long-term residents and recently-arrived tenants who have joined forces to fight displacement, harassment, and the rapid loss of affordable housing in Crown Heights. The CHTU will be joined by State Assembly Members Walter Mosley and Karim Camara and housing organizers from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board.

WHEN Saturday, June 7th 2014, 12:30 pm

WHERE Dr. Ronald McNair Park: Eastern Parkway and Washington Avenue

WHAT Rally and March to end landlord tactics that displace long-term, working-class residents — and to call for meaningful tenant power over affordable housing in one of New York City’s most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods.

WHY Recent data shows that New York City faces a severe housing crunch, and that the cost of renting in New York City is sky-rocketing. This problem is particularly profound in Crown Heights, where the real estate industry is seeking to profit from rising rents through harassment and displacement of long term residents and illegal overcharging of newcomers. The Crown Heights Tenant Union is using a collective bargaining strategy to push back against these unethical and at-times illegal tactics. CHTU demands include: a five-year rent freeze, a ban on common methods landlords use to vacate rent regulated buildings and convert them into luxury apartments, and radical strengthening of State tenant protection laws. On Saturday, June 7th, the Crown Heights Tenant Union will be calling on BCB Capital Management, Pinnacle Realty, and TGB One Associates, among others, to comply with these demands through a legally binding agreement.

Advertisements

Reflection on Crown Heights Tenant Union Rally by Donna Y. Mossman

The following was written by Tenant Leader and Crown Heights Tenant Union organizer, Donna Mossman.  Her piece is a reflection on the rally held on February 28th in front of 1059 Union St.

donna

 

We decided it was time to FIGHT! We decided we were not going to take it anymore.

We gathered in front of 1059 Union Street, a property owned by BCB Properties, Inc.

We had more than 25 buildings represented throughout the Crown Heights area.

It was freezing cold that Friday morning, but our hearts and our souls were on fire.

When I looked to my right and looked to my left, I saw people of different shades, people of different religions, and people of different economic means. I saw those who could afford the newly renovated apartments and those who could not.

There were approximately 75 of us but in my mind there were thousands. We were there to represent ourselves, we were there to represent each other but we were also there to represent those who did not join us but was joined with us in spirit.

We cheered and we chanted and we were heard.

We had Media Coverage because we are standing up to the injustice that is being inflicted upon the tenants in Crown Heights. We also stand up for all tenants, in all neighborhoods.

BCB Properties, Inc., tried to stop us. They asked HPD to ask us to call off the Rally, and HPD responded with HELL NO!

A tenant called me, shocked and dismayed that the night before our Rally, BCB put up the frame work for scaffolding. For no other reason than to TRY and stop us.

As the Rally heated up, the workers turned the corner with a flatbed truck full of planks of wood to finish the scaffolding to stop our Rally.

We then huddled together in unison.

One of our members spoke to the workers and they refused to cross our picket line. There is strength in having a union.

We then taped our posters to the poles of the scaffolding. Thank you BCB for providing us with a message board.

This is our Victory Celebration.

The owner of my building called me the Monday after the Rally.

The Superintendent of my building has spent 3 days so far in my apartment. The windows have been fixed; silicon caulking has been used to seal long abandoned cracks.

We decided it was time to FIGHT! We decided we were not going to take it anymore.

When I looked to my right and looked to my left, I saw people of different shades, people of different religions.

There may have been 75 of us but in my mind there were thousands.

JOIN US! AND THERE WILL BE THOUSANDS OF US.

 

The CHTU meets every 3rd Thursday of the month at the Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation at 727 Classon Ave.  

For more information on the Crown Heights Tenant Union, pleasevisit https://www.facebook.com/CrownHeightsTenantUnion

 

Tenants Unite To Address Gentrification

Everybody’s talking about gentrification. The term has been on the receiving end of a lot of positive press from NY Mag and NPR. On the other side of the debate, some activists in Philadelphia are trying to get the United Nations to consider gentrification a human rights violation. And just this morning, the NY Times wrote about several cities that are using progressive tax abatement programs to fight gentrification.

On Friday, February 28th, over 75 tenants from across Crown Heights  gathered outside 1059 Union Street, a building that is home to 34 families and owned by BCB Properties, to protest the cycle of displacement and rent-overcharges. The demonstration announced the creation of the Crown Heights Tenant Union (CHTU), a resident led effort to demand community control over housing in Crown Heights.

Crown Heights (along with nearby Bedford Stuyvesant and farther north Bushwick) is ground zero in the struggle over gentrification in Brooklyn. The neighborhood is rapidly changing. According to Spike Lee,

Then comes the motherfuckin’ Christopher Columbus Syndrome. You can’t discover this! We been here…I mean, they just move in the neighborhood. You just can’t come in the neighborhood. I’m for democracy and letting everybody live but you gotta have some respect. You can’t just come in when people have a culture that’s been laid down for generations and you come in and now shit gotta change because you’re here? Get the fuck outta here. Can’t do that!

Lee’s criticism is as valid as it is impassioned, and to us it demonstrates just how high emotions run when you speak about gentrification in Brooklyn. And the ensuing outrage reflects how difficult gentrification is to talk about. Obviously gentrification so painful because of it’s associations with displacement, fractured neighborhoods, and disintegration of an close knit cultural community. In lamenting the cultural disrespect that new neighbors can display, Lee neglects to make a structural criticism of the capital processes that drive gentrification, and he neglects to give listeners an idea about how neighborhoods can fight it.

That’s where the CHTU comes in. The CHTU is using an inclusive and resident driven model to identify the true drivers of gentrification (hint: brokers and real estate capitalists who use their power as landowners to re-brand neighborhoods to middle/upper class tastes), and then, to fight them.

CHTU uses the slogan “Unite and Fight” to signify the importance of long-term tenants and newer tenants coming together in solidarity against the cycle of displacement and rent-overcharges. A tenant-driven effort to get landlords across the neighborhood to agree to a list of demands, the CHTU believes that homes are for people, not for profit. Demands range from a five-year rent freeze to prioritizing repairs in old apartments over renovations in new apartments to limiting the ability of landlords to pressure tenants to leave via buyouts.

CHTU understands that the problem is systematic. As Michael Powell wrote in the NY Times a few weeks ago, “This is New York City in the age of real estate as oil wells. To speak of gentrification as a house by house renovation march is not to do this justice. This is turbo-charged, developed plotted, bank fueled, quite intentional and difficult to mediate.”  

The story of gentrification in Brooklyn is far from complete, and the good news is that there are many tenants who are working hard to write themselves into the history books. Tom Angotti, the Director of Hunter College’s Center for Community Planning and Development, recently wrote up a list of “5 Things You Can Do About Gentrification in NYC.” It boils down to two things: talk to your neighbors, and organize — the more than 75 tenants who rallied outside 1059 Union Street on Friday in the freezing cold weather can attest that the CHTU is doing both.

Donna Mossman of 1159 President St. puts it best:

Our neighborhood and buildings are undergoing major construction but the work being done is not for the long standing tenants. Our message to our landlords is clear: this is our home, we still live here and we are not leaving.  

//////

Join us at the next CHTU General Membership Meeting!
March 13, 7pm
727 Classon Ave (the Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation).

2014 Alternative Enforcement Program List Released

It is a strange suspense that tenant organizers feel once a year, as they scroll down the new list of buildings being added to HPD’s Alternative Enforcement Program (AEP). Inevitably, our eyes scan the list for buildings we work in. And when we do see addresses we recognize, we are torn between disappointment that the buildings are in such bad shape, and hope that this might give us some leverage to improve conditions.

The Bloomberg administration created the Alternative Enforcement Program as a way for the department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to identify the most distressed buildings in the city and enforce the necessary corrections. As well as the total number of violations, HPD looks at the severity of the problems, which are categorized as A (non-hazardous) B (hazardous) C (immediately hazardous) and I (court ordered to correct, or order to vacate). Once a building enters the program, it is inspected for violations and the owner has four months to do sufficient repairs. If they do not satisfy the requirements by then, they are subject to fees and liens against the building. In some cases, HPD will do the repairs themselves and send the bill to the owner.

We found two buildings whose tenant associations we work with on the 2014 AEP list: 1253 Franklin Avenue in the West Bronx, and 1159 President Street in Crown Heights. We also work with tenants (alongside PACC) in 1059 Union Street, also in Crown Heights. 1059 Union Street and 1159 President Street are both owned by BCB Properties: a landlord the newly formed Crown Heights Assembly Tenant Union has opted to target.

Brooklyn took the lead with 103 new buildings added to the program, 27 of which are in Crown Heights. The list continues with 55 buildings in the Bronx, 19 in Manhattan, 10 in Queens, and none in Staten Island. Only 187 buildings fit the requirements to enter the program this year instead of the usual 200, but according to The Observer, HPD cautions against reading too much into this.

The Observer article begins with a contrast between these distressed buildings and the luxury NYC housing that seems to exist, unscathed, in a separate realm – recalling Mayor De Blasio’s “tale of two cities” theme. As we wait to hear the mayor’s  appointments for several HPD positions, we hope this will be a new chapter in the enforcement of building maintenance and repairs, which is a crucial part of preserving affordable housing stock. We will be fighting on President Street and on Franklin Avenue for the owners to take responsibility for their buildings and provide decent, safe homes for tenants.

If you live in an AEP building or just want to learn more, check out these resources:

AEP Frequently Asked Questions

AEP office:  (212) 863-8262

UHAB Organizers: News Round-Up

We’re firing on all cylinders here at UHAB and the media is taking notice! There has been so much going on that we thought we’d give a quick summary of the articles that we’ve been featured in.

UHAB is one of the most established institutions when it comes to affordable housing in New York City. We work citywide on housing issues that run the gambit from limited equity cooperatives to building strong tenant associations and addressing multifamily foreclosure, and we’ve been around since 1973. For that reason, we’re uniquely suited to speak to some of the myriad housing issues that low income New Yorkers face.  Last week we were quoted in two articles written about the current affordability crises.

The New York Times wrote a broad piece about housing affordability in the city, focusing on those who bought apartments decades before the neighborhoods became “desirable.” Some of the people in the story claimed succession rights, like Josh Schaffner, who pointed out the insanity behind it all:

“What other 25-year-old keeps a file box of every statement, every tax return?” Mr. Schaffner said. “I felt like I had been working toward something and I’d finally won it, which is a weird feeling to have, because it’s a place to live — it shouldn’t be something you win.”

Our Executive Director, Andy Reicher, made the broader point that those who stood by their buildings through the hard times and helped usher in a new era in their neighborhoods are now the ones who are feeling the most pressure to leave their homes.

“These were the buildings where the front lights were on, the door was locked,” said Andrew Reicher, the executive director of Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, an advocacy group. “They helped spur the redevelopment of neighborhoods, and now that the neighborhoods are gentrifying, they are the only affordable buildings that are left.”

The Nation Magazine had an analysis of whether or not Mayor de Blasio will be able to follow through with his promise of 200,000 new or preserved affordable housing units.  They made the point that much of it comes down to who the new Mayor appoints to the Rent Guidelines Board, which sets the rate of increase for rent-regulated units in the city and has the power to institute a rent freeze. Our very own department’s Assistant Director, Cea Weaver, chimed in:

“Coming off the Bloomberg years, any appointees who are committed to rent stabilization and do not simply represent real estate interests would be an improvement,” writes Celia Weaver, the assistant director of organizing and policy at the Urban Homesteaders Assistance Board, in an e-mail. She’d be happy just to see RGB hearings in the outer boroughs. And she adds: “It’d also be great if the RGB prioritized things beyond operating costs in determining increases. In the last few years rent has continued to climb while wages have stagnated, and the RGB should take that into account.”

Democratic inclusion and resident controlled housing are fundamental to UHAB’s mission. That’s why, in the Organizing and Policy department, we translate these broad policy struggles (gentrification, rising rents, etc.)  to real campaigns, where we fight alongside low income New Yorkers in distressed or otherwise at-risk housing.

As we’ve talked about on this blog before, our biggest organizing campaign right now concerns a portfolio of 42 buildings with nearly 1600 units stretching across the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. The New York Daily News gave it a great write-up  last week, delving into the nitty-gritty details of tenant harassment by the managing company, Colonial Management and the danger of refinancing on the mortgage.

“I would like to see these landlords sell the buildings to someone who cares,” said Benjamin Warren, a 35-year resident of 1521 Seridan Ave. in Claremont [in the Bronx]. “Someone who can keep them affordable.”

If the landlords are to be believed, that doesn’t appear likely.

The firms that own Warren’s building and the others in the pool say they’re on the verge of closing a new loan that would enable them to maintain their ownership. Tenants and housing advocates say that would be a disastrous outcome.

“It’s simple: We don’t want the banks to finance a slumlord,” said Warren, 72. “We can’t force the owners to sell. What we want is to stop the banks from refinancing the current plan.”

Then on Monday, Bronx News 12 covered a Tenant Association meeting with three of those buildings on Franklin Avenue that featured their new Councilwoman, Vanessa Gibson who came out to hear from tenants about overt harassment tactics and utter neglect of the buildings. Check it out to see some great VIDEO of the meeting and tenants!

We’ve also been working closely with the Crown Heights Assembly and Pratt Area Community Council to create a Tenant Union in order to fight displacement of long-term tenants (as we’ve written about before as well!) We’ve been working alongside tenants in 1507 St. Johns Place and 1059 Bergen St since their buildings were in foreclosure last year. The two extremely distressed buildings  were purchased — while in foreclosure and against tenants’ wishes — by Barry Farkas: principal of Vasco Ventures.  Since purchasing the properties, he has aggressively tried to push existing tenants out. Vasco’s website (which opens to a quote from robber baron Andrew Carnegie) says they acquire properties with “maximum potential for growth in value.” That’s landlord-speak for “push out rent regulated tenants and destabilize the building.” The New York Daily News wrote about some of his ugly tactics in Harlem, mentioning “The landlords also own at least one of two buildings in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where tenants have formed a coalition to fight similar conditions including a collapsed ceiling.” Its not all that surprising that  Farkas is buying housing in Harlem in addition to Crown Heights, as the neighborhoods rival each other for most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods in New York City.

All this media coverage is a crucial aspect to putting pressure on slumlords and keeping New York City affordable. We’re going to win these fights, one article at a time!

Fighting Jewish Slumlords Isn’t Anti-Semitic PLUS A RALLY!

The Jewish Daily Forward published an article today written by UHAB Organizer Elise Goldin called “Fighting Jewish Slumlords Isn’t Anti-Semitic.” Inspired by the inflammatory media attention around slumlord Menachem Stark’s murder, she writes about the ways that religious Jews too often appear in NYC’s shady real estate business:

Through my work, I do a great deal of research to try and untangle the mess of who owns what property and who’s connected to whom in the real estate industry. And it’s not easy. Take 199 Lee Avenue, an address in the religious Jewish part of Williamsburg. It’s connected to literally hundreds and hundreds of distressed buildings. Entities with an address at 199 Lee touch all sides of any real estate deal — as owners, mortgagers, brokers — and it’s nearly impossible to connect the address to an actual person.

This Wednesday, we’re holding a tenant action in the neighborhood of Borough Park with tenants from 230 and 232 Schenectady in Crown Heights. The buildings are in some of the worst condition we at UHAB have ever seen: unbelievable leaks, ceilings caving in, and two electrical fires since they’ve been in foreclosure.  Back in 2012, tenants actually won their organizing campaign:  an non-profit group, MHANY, purchased the mortgages on the buildings with the goal of finishing the foreclosure and becoming owner.  Unfortunately, the foreclosure process has moved at a glacial speed and even though MHANY holds the mortgages, no real work can be done until the foreclosure is finished.  While tenants continue to live in dangerous conditions, the owners of the building are further stalling the foreclosure by marketing the buildings with hopes of paying off MHANY and making some money off the top.

Wednesday morning, we’re gathering to protest real estate broker, Sanford Solny, in front of his office in Borough Park to tell him and his investors to back away from this deal and let foreclosure case finally come to an end. This is an action to preserve affordable housing in Crown Heights, and to assert that tenants, not banks and landlords, should be determining what happens to their homes.

Every minute that Sanford Solny and his slumlord investor friends continue to treat these buildings like gambling chips, tenants continue to suffer. Join us in telling them to back off! 

When: Wednesday, January 15th, 11 AM
Where: 3811 13th Ave, Brooklyn

Questions?

Contact us at thesurrealestate@gmail.com or 212-479-3358

Crown Heights Tenant Union To Meet This Thursday

Photo: San Fran.'s Tenant Union
Photo: San Francisco Tenant Union

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).