Public Advocate Tish James’ 2016 Worst Landlord Watchlist: A Rally for Truly Affordable Housing

The sun was shining down brightly on Foley Square last Thursday, October 13th, 2016, as NYC Public Advocate Letitia “Tish” James presented the 2016 100 Worst Landlords Watchlist to a crowd of supporters. The rally included a wide range of speakers: community organizers and activists from across the city, city council members passionate about this issue, and tenant leaders speaking out about their living conditions and housing struggles. All were speaking about the desperate need for a continued fight to keep housing truly affordable in New York City.

The Watchlist shares the names of the 100 worst landlords in NYC, and two of them own buildings that house tenants UHAB organizes with. Efstathios Valiotis (Alma Reality) owns 8 buildings that appear on the list. These building have 237 units, and while there are 1,077 HPD violations recorded, this is likely far less than the actual number of violations. Nasir Sasouness had 60 of his units show up on the list, with 473 recorded HPD violations—also a low estimate.

Early on in the program, Tish James said, “We are putting bad landlords on notice that this has got to stop and that there is a team—that there is an army of individuals—who are going to stand up to bad landlords in the city of New York.” Throughout the event, chants of “Tenants, united, will never be defeated!” and “Fight, fight, fight! Housing is a right!” erupted and filled the square.

Towards the end of the program, Donna Mossman, a founding member of the Crown Heights Tenant Union, (which is supported by UHAB), spoke fervently about the Watchlist. Mossman said, “Usually when I have to speak, I do not smile. But today, I can smile. Thank you, Public Advocate, for releasing this list. The Public Advocate’s list of the 100 Worst Landlords is a reminder to landlords that you are not housing cattle, you are housing people.” At this moment, the audience cheered and applauded. Mossman continued, “The Crown Heights Tenant Union was formed in part to help tenants fight against landlords who do not provide adequate living accommodations for which we pay. The Public Advocate’s Worst Landlords List provides the Crown Heights Tenant Union, and all tenants, with a means to find their landlords and hold them accountable.”

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Donna Mossman of Crown Heights Tenant Union addresses the crowd on October 13, 2016. Photo by Nancy Torres. 

Mossman went on to discuss the new documentary, America Divided, which includes a segment about housing inequality called A House Divided and features the Crown Heights Tenant Union. “America Divided is about our community. It is about us. It is about the struggle that happens everywhere. But understand this: Crown Heights is ground zero for gentrification. We have so many different fights on our hands. Yes, they have money, but we have people power.”

During the question and answer portion at end of the rally, a reporter asked Tish James if there was more the city and city agencies could be doing. James emphasized the points that had already been made, and she solidified some specific policy pleas. James said, “Particularly, I’m concerned about individuals who are accepting cash buyouts, that they know their rights. That needs to be in writing. We need to pass the law which would give every tenant the right to counsel in housing court, we need to make sure that that is passed in the city of New York. So I would urge the mayor to come out in support of that 214, which is sponsored by council member Rodriguez. All of these issues and more, we need to work with these wonderful advocacy groups, to preserve affordable housing and to build affordable housing….We need to really look at Area Median Incomes and make them subject to zip codes as opposed to geographic areas that include Suffolk County and Nassau County and parts of Westchester…..What we need is to have a sit-down with the administration, with HPD, with the Mayor himself, to advance a platform on affordable housing in this city.”

As the crowd dispersed and Foley Square emptied out, there was an energy of determination and steadfastness in the air. Tenants and tenants’ rights organizers, advocates, and activists are fighting for their homes, and they are here to stay.

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Friday News Round Up

A quick list!

  1. On Wednesday, Governor Cuomo delivered his third State of the State address. According to the New York Times, the speech is “turn left” for the Governor, who has been seen as a pragmatic if not particularly progressive. He vehemently spoke about enacting harsher gun control laws, making further Sandy repairs, increasing the minimum wage, and extending school days. Of utmost importance to UHAB’s work is the $1B proposal to create more affordable housing.  
  2. A new sub-prime lending tactic is threatening to instigate another mortgage crisis. According to AOL News, the new lending practice allows sellers to lend money to buyers in order to purchase property. However, the buyers do not have good credit and wouldn’t have access to these mortgages otherwise. To us, this tactic seems predatory and, if not regulated, could cause homeowners to undergo foreclosure.  Let’s hope that lenders have learned something from the housing crisis…
  3. In an effort to improve conditions in apartments impacted by Sandy, NYCHA may turn apartments into boiler rooms. Many of the units in NYCHA buildings are vacant, and the boilers are placed in basements that are susceptible to water damage. While this tactic is understandable, we wonder why these vacant units aren’t being filled with displaced persons. Can’t they put the boilers above sea level and also NOT in an apartment? People need apartments around here! Every unit matters!
  4. A Manhattan Federal Court judge ruled this week that parts of NYPD’s controversial Stop and Frisk policy are unconstitutional. Police have been ordered to stop making trespass stops outside private residential buildings immediately. The highly controversial tactic has been called into question for racial profiling and infringing on civil liberties. Another bad policy bites the dust
  5. Hunts Point Produce Market provides more than half of New York’s fruits and veggies, but is considering relocating when its lease is up with the city. The State of New Jersey is wooing the major Bronx employee to the Garden State, with offers of tax breaks. Yesterday, despite rumors that a deal had been reached to stay in N.Y., Hunts Point Market has unexpectedly rejected a lease offer from the City. A move could leave the city with 4,000 fewer jobs, higher food prices, and less fresh options.

And, of course, there’s the trillion dollar coin. Have a good weekend!

Friday News Round-up!

With another week behind us, we enter the last month of the year. With the apocalypse potentially in sight (according to those who wrongly read the Mayan calendar and Britney Spears’s “Till the World Ends” video), I’d like to culminate the events of November.

  1. Under-appreciated fast-food workers are taking a stand! Yesterday, workers from major fast-food restaurants throughout New York, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and Domino’s, went on strike. The workers have two demands: the right to unionize and higher, more sufficient pay.   Workers at the McDonald’s on Madison and 40th were the first to strike. 14 of the store’s 17 employees that were scheduled to work were found outside chanting, “Hey, hey, what do you say? We demand fair pay!”  This is the largest action against fast-food restaurants in American history.  At UHAB, we stand in solidarity with these workers and hope that their demands are met. Stay tuned for more on this as the fight continues to develop.
  2. For the past nine years, the “fellow grannies” have stood at the curb of Fifth Avenue every Wednesday protesting America’s seemingly never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But this past Wednesday, they have put down their signs and discontinued their rallying… for now. The group of activists, comprised of women in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s, have only missed two Wednesday protests (one of which was the Wednesday after Hurricane Sandy). Now that the Iraq war has ended and the Afghanistan war is dwindling, the activists feel compelled to leave their Fifth Avenue post and engage in different campaigns.  The “fellow grannies” are a testament that if one can withstand the inevitable challenges and, in turn, disillusionments of activism, justice can be a lifelong pursuit.
  3. Not only has Sandy ruined the homes of thousands of New York and New Jersey residents, it has also exposed hazardous and expensive sewage issues.  Most of the region’s sewage plants are located in areas close to sea level, making them vulnerable to flooding. To safeguard against future storms, the plants must raise motor and electrical equipment above water levels, waterproof circuitry, and build more levees and dams. The storm also exposed the insufficient treatment of sewage, which was elucidated by feces spewing from burst pipes. Governor Cuomo estimated that more than $1.06B are needed to fix the problems. As New York and New Jersey continue recuperating from the onslaught of Sandy, we hope that the cities make structural (not band-aid) improvements to those entities that could have lessened the destruction of the storm.
  4. And, South Korea has continued pursuing legal action against our favorite predatory equity group, Lone Star Funds. The goverment accused Lone Star Funds of stock manipulation in 2003. While the Texas-baed company claims that they have been pursuing “an amicable resolution,” South Korea has resisted their offers, causing the corporation billions of euros.  After an eight year battle, Lone Star Funds has begun arbitration. Like the tenants living in buildings where Lone Star Funds holds the debt, we praise South Korea for holding their ground and not succumbing to the group’s manipulative tactics.

Good Friday, good weekend, and good week ahead!

Statement on Expiration of Rent Laws: Extension Not Enough, Time for Senate GOP to Support Tenants

From the Real Rent Reform’s Campaign Mary Tek:

“It remains the position of the tenants that state rent laws must be strengthened and not simply extended. The laws that expired last night were weak, and were contributing to the erosion of affordable housing. Yesterday, a temporary extender law failed to pass the Senate. For the Senate Democrats who voted against this extender because extension is not enough, we thank them and we stand with them in this position.

“For the Republican Senators who continue to oppose stronger rent laws, especially Senators Marty Golden and Andrew Lanza, who represent thousands of tenants, know this: a straight extension is not enough. The public supports stronger rent laws, to protect tenants and preserve affordable housing. Your games of brinkmanship and blame will not work. The senate majority has taken millions from New York City landlords, and is now doing their bidding – and they are putting the homes of 2.5 million New Yorkers at stake. The people of New York see through your charade and they will not stand for it.

“It is up to all state senators to support stronger rent laws. And it is up to Governor Cuomo to use his leadership to make this happen. The Governor has said he plans to call the Senate into extraordinary session until they pass stronger rent laws. The tenants support that effort. We need stronger rent laws now.  The future of affordable housing in New York City and suburban counties rides in the balance.”

Join rent-stabilized tenants and housing activists in Albany!

Thursday, June 16 at 10:00 AM: 95 and Broadway, contact Mario Mazzoni at Metropolitan Council on Housing at mario@metcouncil.net.

Friday, June 17 at 8:00 AM: 2-4 Nevins St, contact Pete Nagy at New York Communities for Change at pnagy@nycommunities.org.

Monday, June 20 at 10:00 AM: 95 and Broadway, contact David Obele at Coalition for the Homeless at dobele@cfthomeless.org.