Friday News Roundup

Another week means another Friday. And more crazy news from around the affordable housing world. Get ready for the roundup!

  1. The New York Times Room for Debate this week centered around the theme of “Housing That’s Not a Luxury” after a Times poll concluded that 8 out of 10 New Yorkers want affordable housing to be a priority. 8 contributors gave their suggestions for programs that could increase affordable housing in NY, including one from our allies at Metropolitan Council on Housing (“Strengthen Rent Regulations“) and our allies at the Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development (“Nonprofit Developers Stabilize Neighborhoods“).
  2. The NY Daily News has a feature article about the state-run Tenant Protection Unit. The article delves into one of the first investigations by the TPU against Yeshaya Wasserman, who owns a 181-unit complex in Prospect Lefferts Gardens: “”Rent would go from $600 to $2,501 a month for one apartment, then another is $800 and it jumps to exactly $2,501, one’s at $650, and it goes to $2,501,” state Deputy Housing Commissioner Richard White explained. “It was definitely cause for concern.””
  3. Tuesday was the first Mayoral Debate between the major candidates, and they spent nearly ten minutes just on affordable housing alone. Crains New York Business blogger Andrew Hawkins, did a full analysis of what each candidate said. Check it out!
  4. In the debate, Democratic nominee and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio repeated his plan for increasing affordable housing units. The Wall Street Journal got into the nitty-gritty of the feasibility of his plans.
  5. The Huffington Post has a write up on a full report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice about the major corruption and horrible conditions facing New York’s Three Quarters Houses, places that are supposed to be safe-havens for those who are recently incarcerated, homeless, and drug users.
  6. And finally, a great opinion piece by The Boston Globe‘s Yvonne Abraham comparing the way a NY-based Real Estate giant, Olnick Organization, treats poor Boston tenants and Harlem resident Congressman Charlie Rangel. Spoiler alert: the Congressman comes out on top.

That’s all for this week! Check back in next week for more stories about tenants and affordable housing.  Have a great weekend.


Will NYC Allow Non-Citizens to Vote in Local Elections?

Eric Carr

Rather than talk about yesterday’s elections (though we’ve got a lot to say), we wanted to bring up an important City Council bill that was introduced earlier this year by Queens Councilmember Daniel Dromm that could have a major impact on improving the democratic process in NYC. The bill proposes allowing non-citizen residents of New York the right to vote in local elections. Residents would need to have lived in New York City for at least 6 months, hold a legal green card, and meet any other current requirements for voter registration.

This bill’s passage makes a lot of sense.  If residents are paying taxes, sending their children to school, and are active members of society, they should have a voice in how their community is run. Duh.  According to the New York Daily News, the city has a tradition of including immigrants in voting processes. All residents- whether or not they were citizens- had the ability to vote in school board elections back when school boards were locally controlled and not run by the mayor.

Dromm points out that before 1920s, immigration laws were not in place that prevented immigrants from voting in their local elections.

For almost the first hundred and fifty years in the history of this country immigrants were allowed to vote. Originally, when you came to this country if you were a white landowner you could vote. Then women had to fight for the right to vote. Then African-Americans had to ensure their right to vote in the 1960s through the Voting Rights Act. So there has been a history in the United States of people seeking redress from their government on voting rights issues and we feel this is just another step in the logical progression of human and civil rights for people in this country.

Preach it!

At UHAB, we believe that residents should have control over what happens in their communities, and therefore we strongly support this bill.  City Council does, too.  Even though Bloomberg has threatened to veto the bill’s passage (what hasn’t he threated to veto?), the bill has the support of a veto-proof majority- 34 councilmembers.

While scores of New Yorkers  went out and voted yesterday, the bill would allow one and five more New Yorkers to vote- and in some communities one in three!  As Dromn aptly puts it:

I don’t think communities like the community that I represent, which is 68 percent immigrant, would ever be able to be ignored again by anybody running for major citywide office in New York City.

Let’s hope the bill passes soon.

Friday News Round-up!

As we culminate yet another week, we welcome the start of spring (even though it doesn’t really feel like it )! Here are a few new stories that caught our attention this week!

  1. The Daily News reported that Workforce Housing Advisers (WFHA) cut the ribbon on 935 Kelly Street — a property that was considered one of the most dilapidated multifamily buildings in the Bronx. Within the past few years, WFHA bought the mortgage, foreclosed on the property, and renovated the building (along with four other properties on the same block). Also, having organized with tenants in other WFHA buildings,  Kerri White, the Co-Director of Organizing at UHAB, understands the challenges involved in sealing the foreclosure. In the same Daily News article, she comments, “Workforce Housing is a responsible developer… We see them trying to do their best, but that can’t happen until they own the property and put in more money.” We congratulate the tenants as well as WFHA for sealing the foreclosure and commend the collaborative efforts in the building.
  2. New York City proposed a bill that would create an Office of the Inspector General for the Police Department. This bill is response to the recent opposition to the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk Program, which predominately targets African American and Latino folks. Such tactics prove that this program perpetuates racism. Speaker Christine Quinn has vehemently supported the bill, asserting that the NYPD needs more independent oversight.  However, Mayor Bloomberg has threatened to veto the bill, claiming that such legislation would undermine the police commissioner’s authority . Regardless, we hope that enacting such a bill would improve accountability and transparency in our police system.
  3. In Albany, elected officials are solidifying a plan to increase New York state’s minimum wage over the next three years. Currently, the state’s minimum wage sits at a low $7.25/hr., but, by late 2015, the new agreement would increase the minimum wage to $9/hr. According to the New York Daily News, lawmakers could reach a decision as early as Tuesday of next week.  While increasing the minimum wage would make many folks’ lives easier, United NY claims that the bill has many loopholes, including the exclusion of tipped workers and tax breaks for employers under 20 years old (which would favor the hiring of younger employers). The agreement is tentative, and we will keep you updated as the story unfold next week…
  4. At a National Community Reinvestment Coalition conference, Shaun Donovan, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced additional cuts to the Housing Choice Voucher program. According to Donovan, these cuts would affect 125,000 families and individuals that receive permanent housing vouchers, and 100,o00 families and individuals that live in the shelter system. While the intention of these cuts is to boost our national economy, Donovan anticipates that the aftereffects will further cripple our housing market.
  5. The housing market is making a comeback, and fast! According to the NY Times, the current national demand for housing is outweighing the supply, which had led to bidding wars and significant price increases. Many developers have been taken by surprise and, as a result, are scrambling to create more housing stock. The Wall Street Journal reported that February of 2007, new-home construction rose by 28 percent. While the market is booming again, we worry that the mortgage crisis of 2007 will resurrect itself. Stay tuned for further developments…

Have a great weekend, and we will return next weekend with more news!

Justice for Jabbar Campbell Now!

Photo: NY Daily News
Photo: NY Daily News

Jabbar Campbell was hosting a Gay Pride party in his home in Crown Heights on January 13th when police from the 77th Precinct beat him up, used anti-gay slurs, and arrested him. According to Campbell (and reported by the NY Daily News), a group of police initially stopped by the party and asked folks outside the apartment, some of whom were dressed in drag, to keep the noise level down.  About ten minutes later, another group of police appeared, attempting to open the locked door to the apartment where the party was being held.  At this point, one cop reached up (see photo above) to turn the security camera so that it wouldn’t record what happened next. When Campbell opened the door, the cops accused him of resisting arrest and beat him up until he blacked out. While he was beat up, cops called him a “fag,” a “homo” and other hate-speech.  

The Huffington Post reports:

A half-dozen partygoers witnessed the incident, and he recounted how responding officers asked whether they were engaging in “gay orgies” and “screwing each other.” Witnesses also deny the NYPD charge that Campbell was resisting, charges Supin dismissed as “trumped up.”

Eventually the police transported Campbell to Kings County Hospital where he was diagnosed with a concussion. His attorney, Herbert Supin argues that the videotape of the officer allegedly tampering with the apartment security system is the most damning piece of evidence, proving the police knew they were doing something illicit and did it anyway.

This type of violent aggression directed toward queer people of color is tragically nothing new, but horrific nonetheless.  What culture breeds this behavior?  How can our communities respond appropriately? Living in Crown Heights, I see the police of the 77th Precinct abusing and mishandling community members, almost exclusively people of color, all the time.

In October, the police of the same precinct were caught on video beating up a young, religious Jewish man in a synagogue. While 21-year-old Ehud Halvey was initially charged with all sorts of crimes including assault, possession of marijuana and trespassing, the video of the beating went viral and all charges were dropped.

Community members in Crown Heights and the LGBTQ community are organizing around the terrifying display of policy brutality that this represents. Last Monday there was a march from Jabbar’s home off Utica Ave to the 77th Precinct to demand justice.  This coming Saturday, there will be an event titled “Know Your Rights!: An LGBTQ Safety Night” and press conference with various community organizations to raise awareness about safety and rights of the LGBTQ community. For more information about this event, click here.

Events such as this one illustrate the ongoing need to use the power of community organizing to question and upend the toxic relationships between groups perceived as powerful (the police) and those marginalized (LGBTQ people of color).  We see these dangerous power assumptions taking form in landlord/tenant relationships when landlords or banks attempt to take advantage of low income renters. We believe that organizing is intrinsic to  asserting the power of communities, and are inspired by the strong organizing efforts around Jabbar Campbell’s case.

We hope that from those efforts, the 77th Precinct can learn their lesson.

Friday News Round-Up!

Needless to say, this has been an eventful week– not only at UHAB, but throughout the country! Here are some of the prominent stories:

  1. Romney eloquently belittled 47% of the country this week! Mother Jones leaked a video that featured Romney claiming that 47% of the country is “dependent on government” and believe that they are “entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.” What Romney fails to realize is that most people don’t want to rely on government, but due to many more complex forms of marginalization and injustice, they need government subsidies to help. He also overlooks the fact that the “47%” do contribute to society– while the contribution is not in the form of income tax, it is in the form of payroll tax.  Interestingly, most of the “47%” folks pay a higher percentage of their income tax than Romney: “Among the American who paid no federal income taxes in 2011, 61 percent paid payroll taxes—which means they have jobs and, when you account for both sides of the payroll tax, they paid 15.3 percent of their income in taxes, which is higher than the 13.9 percent that Romney paid.” Perhaps Romney should do some more research before he makes such accusations next time…
  2. This past week marked the 1 year anniversary of the Occupy movement, started right here on Wall Street.  After some exciting days of protest, folks have organized a Free University! Over 130 workshops have been scheduled between September 18th to the 22nd, ranging from “Take Back the Land” to a “Strike Debt” workshop series to “Occupying Language.”  To us at UHAB, this has been one of Occupy’s greatest strengths: generating conversation about activism and alternative ways of structuring our world.  To participate in the final days of Free University NYC and to learn how to reconnect with that movement that once made you want to quit work and live in the street, check out the schedule of workshops here.
  3. Yesterday, the New York Daily News released a story asserting that New York is a great place to find quality affordable housing. In New York City, many tenants receive Section 8 vouchers which allows tenants to “pay one-third of their income as rent.” The article illustrates the “top 5” Section 8 apartments in NYC, including spaces in West Harlem, Union Square, and the Bronx, and expresses that there are an additional 93,000 available Section 8 units in the city. However, there is an 124,000 person waiting-list to receive this government subsidy and the government is threatening to cut additional funding to this program. Our hope is that they offer more Section 8 vouchers in homes that look as good as these!

These are just some of the stories of the week! We’ll return next week with more news. Have a great weekend!

“How to End the Cycle of Homelessness”…A Work in Progress

The NY Daily News published an opinion article today about the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness‘ newly released report titled “A New Path: An Immediate Plan to Reduce Family Homelessness.”  This report establishes a framework to confront homelessness in New York City, advocating for a multiplicity of paths to obtain permanent, stable housing.  The report lays out three tiers, or tracks, that families would be placed in based on need.  The first tier would be to place families straight into affordable housing, presumably helping them locate the housing and assisting with rent.  The second tier would be to locate housing, but also help with employment opportunities and other basic social services.  The third tier would be most similar to a shelter, only renamed “Community Residential Resource Centers” in which families live in the center and receive intensive job training, education, counseling, and assistance with child reunification.  Ideally, according to the report, these centers would also function as resources for the neighborhood at large.

While we at UHAB don’t deal directly with issues of homelessness, the majority of buildings we work in have at some point provided housing for New Yorkers in the Work Advantage program.  Sadly, we have witnessed heartbreaking stories from tenants who were in the program but whose benefits have been cut, leaving them with no options but to wait for the marshal to evict them.  The termination of Work Advantage for thousands of New Yorkers has not only effected individual families, but entire buildings.  Once the city stops paying a tenant’s rent, a landlord has less income to make repairs or continue paying a mortgage.  Buildings, as a result, more easily fall into states of disrepair, impacting the lives of all tenants and the larger community as well.

Predatory Equity destroys opportunities for families in New York to live in well-kept, safe, affordable housing.  This reality makes us skeptical of new programs which address homelessness, but don’t provide preservation plans or proposals for creation of new affordable housing.  One cannot go without the other.  Our question is in what buildings and neighborhoods will families be placed?  What ensures this program to be more sustainable than the Work Advantage program? Until the threat of continuous loss of affordable housing is quelled, we feel this plan will not be successful.

Maybe it’s time to ask homeless people themselves what services they want…Picture the Homeless,  a grassroots organizing group of homeless folks demanding respect and human rights, have a lot to say on the matter.


To read more about the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness report, click here.

To read more about Picture the Homeless’ recent action in response to a recent NY Post article, click here.

NY Daily News: “Determined West Farm Tenants Band Together to Fix Up Neglected Bronx Slum Building, Work to Form Co-op”

The New York Daily News  reported on an amazing group of tenants today. The tenants at 943 E 179th street, have shown amazing resilence in face of a seemingly hopeless situation. Their building has been in foreclosure for several years, the owner has disappeared, and the court appointed a receiver has yet to step foot in the building. This is what abandonment looks like in New York today. With nobody around to make repairs or take responsibility many tenants in this situation either leave or are forced to live in horrific conditions. The tenants at 943 decided to take a different rout. They’ve been collecting their own rent for several months which goes into an account under the Tenant’s Association, and they have been using it to make their building livable again.

The residents still have a long way to go. They want to become a Co-op because  after years of poor management, they feel that no one will look after the building better than themselves. After seeing what they’ve done so far, it would be hard to disagree with them. Check out what the Daily News has to say about these tenants:

From New York Daily News: Jacqueline Rodriguez and fellow tenants Jose Luis Alameda (left) and Marcelo Alameda at 943 E. 179th St.

Some tenants in slum buildings with rats and leaks stop paying rent. Others move out, complain or ask for handouts.

But when their Bronx tenement crumbled due to landlord neglect, the tenants at 943 E. 179th St. banded together to collect rent and make repairs.

Now they boast new kitchen cabinets, refrigerators, stoves, walls and floors, and they could become homeowners soon.

With help from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, the tenants hope to buy their beloved West Farms building outright and form a co-op.

Department of Housing Preservation and Development officials harbor concerns about tenants performing renovations without permission rather than letting the city force landlords to make repairs.

But Jacqueline Rodriguez and her neighbors were tired of waiting.

“Most of the people here have been here a long time,” said Rodriguez, tenant association president. “They don’t want another landlord. No one is going to take care of the building better than the people who live here.”

Tucked between E. Tremont Ave. and the Bronx Zoo, 943 E. 179th St. began to deteriorate in 2007, after a Hamptons-based landlord purchased the four-story walkup, said Rodriguez, 32, a recreational therapist who grew up in the building.

Broken pipes and windows went unmended and cockroaches swarmed to the slum. The 9-unit building still has 248 open housing code violations. It entered foreclosure in 2008, with Lehman Brothers holding the mortgage: a nightmare scenario, said Kerri White, UHAB organizer.

“There were no repairs at all,” said Rodriguez, 32, a mother of twin infants. “We suffered without hot water for six months and without heat for months…You pay your rent and you don’t know where the money is going.”

The tenants found out about the foreclosure in 2010, when they were instructed to pay their rent to Con Edison via city marshals. Their landlord owed the utility $38,000, Rodriguez said.

The revelation spurred Rodriguez and her neighbors to form a tenants association and corporation. They opened a bank account to hold their rent in escrow.

In five months under the new system, the tenants have used their rent money to remodel several kitchens, buy new appliances and hire an exterminator.

“When I got here there were roaches and rats all over, in every crevice,” said exterminator Major Meyers of Complete Enterprize. “Now there are minimal issues.”

Several tenants who boast carpentry skills have donated their time and Rodriguez has taught some English to neighbors who speak only Spanish. The building “feels like a family” now, she said.

HPD has completed $80,714 in emergency repairs, and helped with boiler oil.

The building
–controlled by
Lehman-affiliated mortgage holder 745 Special Assets LLC
, and Aurora Bank
— could head to foreclosure auction soon.

But the tenants and UHAB are negotiating to acquire the slum before that occurs, White said.

Buying the building and founding a co-op will be difficult, but longtime tenant Juana Almanzar is up for the challenge, she said.

“I like it better with us in charge,” said Almanzar, 52. “I want to own my home.”

Read more: