Crain’s New York Business: “Sold! Birthplace of Hip Hop Beats the Rap.”

A Bronx building famed for its role in the origins of the musical phenomenon escapes the clutches of a “predatory equity” scourge the tenants feared would lead to its demise.

Read more at Crain’s New York Business.

 

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Occupy Wall Street: Our Perspective

Two weeks ago, Occupy Wall Street formed as a group of unidentified youth with unclear demands, poor media attention, and with no support from local New York politically left groups.  Mostly it was an inconvenience to us at UHAB, with Wall Street blocked off to prevent protesters from getting too close to the NY Stock Exchange.  Rather than dissipate with time and rain and mass arrests, the protest has grown in bodies, energy, and perhaps even credibility.  Following the infamous occupation of the Brooklyn Bridge that led to over 700 arrests, Occupy Wall Street has become a force to be reconciled with.

What are their demands?  Who is organizing it?  How long will they stay out there?  Walking down Broadway past the protesters, one can hear the snickering of bankers and corporate folks.  “They’re just mad because they can’t get jobs” I heard one banker laugh to a friend.  “They say it’s a movement.  A movement,” joked another.

But to me, the exciting part of Occupy Wall Street is that it is a movement- and a growing one.  The organizing structure of the protest is through a General Assembly, in which anyone is able to speak their minds, participate in the consensus decision making process, or join a working group.  Rather than begin the protest with a list of demands and top-down strategies, Occupy Wall Street is working on forming its demands collectively, and in the meantime allows people the opportunity to experience real democracy.  Art supplies, a library, the constant flow of free food, and donated tents and sleeping gear is readily available to any and all who enter the plaza.

Over the past week, celebrities such as Cornel West, Russell Simmons and Susan Sarandon have shown up to demonstrate their support for the protest.  The labor and left movement is also begining to back the protest, lending experience, local knowledge, as well as more concrete ways to show solidarity against corporate greed.  Today protesters are joining the Teamsters Local 814 to show support for the unionized art handlers who have been locked out of Sotheby’s for 8 weeks while struggling to negotiate for improved conditions.   New York teachers this weekend participated in a “grade in” in which teachers from all over the city went down and graded papers in the plaza to show their solidarity with the protest.

As an organization that works against banks with irresponsible lending practices like New York Community Bank, UHAB understands Occupy Wall Street’s stance against corporate greed.  Through our organizing, UHAB envisions a type of world other than one where banks and wealthy investors profit while damaging communities.  Unions, immigrant rights groups, and other politically left groups of New York are putting their energy behind Occupy Wall Street, and are organizing a march on Wednesday at 4:30 from City Hall to Zuccotti Park.  We will be there marching!  Will you join us?

To follow the movement, visit www.occupywallstreet.org. To see the faces behind the protests, visit wearethe99percent.tumblr.com.

MEDIAPOCALYPSE features Surreal Estate Organizer Elyssa White

MEDIAPOCALYPSE’s  most recent video stars The Surreal Estate’s own Elyssa White! MEDIAPOCALYPSE is an emerging new media project to celebrate and inspire community work and grassroots activism. In this video, Elyssa highlights the importance of tenant organizing in the ongoing struggle for fair and affordable housing.

Here, Elyssa reaches out to tenants who live in what has come to be known as the “Milbank Portfolio,” a group of 10 buildings in the Bronx that were bought out of foreclosure by Steve Finkelstein earlier this year. Tenant Ruben Vidal discusses the conditions issues associated with predatory equity and his & his neighbors’ continuing struggle with speculative landlords.

Special thanks to Nina Reyes Rosenberg of MEDIAPOCALYPSE for her support!

Predatory Equity: An Introduction

The Organizing and Policy department of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board works to enable the preservation of tens of thousands of units of affordable housing that are currently at risk as a result of “predatory equity.”

Predatory Equity is a phenomenon that exists in many US cities when private equity investors acquire and substantially overleverage rent restricted housing (rent-stabilized, Mitchell Lama, Section Eight) for the explicit purpose of removing regulation, raising rents, and displacing low and moderate income families. This problem has intensified as market conditions have changed and investors have been unable to realize their anticipated returns. The predatory equity buildings that we identify and work with have been starved of maintenance and services, resulting in a severe decline in physical conditions.

The national and local predatory equity crisis that we fight requires concerted intervention on the part of local, state, and federal governments to ensure that low-income communities maintain their right to live in safe affordable housing. Our work is at the forefront of innovative policy solutions which lead to opportunities for the preservation and recapture of this housing stock as affordable through transfers to tenants and tenant endorsed non- profit housing providers.


To tackle this problem, UHAB employs a number of tools:

  • We track and monitor the 70,000 units in our internal database for changes in conditions, loan performance status and ownership;
  • We provide direct technical assistance to a minimum of  eight active portfolios of overleveraged buildings, and assist residents in advocating directly with local and state agencies to support preservation proposals ;
  • We empower tenants at a grassroots level by providing information and leading collective brainstorming about ways to identify and pressure strategic targets;
  • We work with elected officials and housing agency staff to identify a minimum of five lenders and Special Services who can be pressured to negotiate preservation sales of at-risk buildings and portfolios;
  • We work with state and city legislators to explore expanded foreclosure legislation that would give individual city governments the authority to regulate private foreclosure auctions to ensure buyers are qualified and purchase prices are supportable;
  • We seek to negotiate with lenders to assist with preservation outcomes.

While UHAB has had substantial victories, we still have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us in order to create systemic solutions for the preservation of the housing stock affected by the threat of Predatory Equity. We continue to do this work in attempts to make lenders and landlords more accountable and transparent so that ultimately, we will be able to provide programmatic solutions, additional capital resources, and coordination among housing agencies, tenants, elected officials, and advocates to successfully deal with this problem.  For updates, read more here.