The Day After, By Guest Blogger Donna Mossman

This post is written by Donna Mossman, an organizer and member of the Crown Heights Tenant Union.  Donna has been with CHTU since the very beginning and has been a constant presence at the Rent Guidelines Board hearings and votes this year — she wrote this the day after the final vote, one week ago today. For more information about CHTU, visit http://www.crownheightstenantunion.org.

1% increase for a 1 year lease and a 2.75% increase for a 2 year lease.  A 0% Rent Freeze is not far behind!

This was thanks to the excellent work of the Crown Heights Tenants Union, other tenant groups, and tenants from all over NYC who took a united stand, refused to be bullied and banded together.

Donna Mossman testifying at the Brooklyn RGB Hearing on June 18th.
Donna Mossman testifying at the Brooklyn RGB Hearing on June 18th.

A 0% Rent Freeze Victory is not far away. Kudos to all who fought a good fight! For those politicians who stood by the tenants, you must work harder to garner the support of your colleagues.

This is the lowest rent increase in the history of the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB). Hearing how rents were raised in past years unfairly and the financial burden it placed on tenants was heartbreaking. But we found out that this new RGB Chair is not afraid of a 0% Rent Freeze. We found out that she has three allies on the board who want to stand for tenants. They heard our Stories of Suffering and had compassion for tenants and understood the hardship that high rents are costing tenants. One of CHTU’s demands is for a 5 year rent freeze.  This demand may seem unthinkable and unreachable to some — but think about where your rent is going to be in 5 years if we don’t fight for it.

We all have to work harder this year. Each and every person who attended the RGB hearings in 2014 must vow to bring one new person to the next round of hearings. We will travel to Albany and we will fight to strengthen the rent laws, and in 2015 we will be back, and our numbers will be doubled.

We are already scraping the bottom of the barrel to pay our rents and without a rent freeze next year, there will be no bottom left to the barrel.

This is a victory for all tenants because this year, even as we still have to dig in our pockets to pay our rents, even as we still have to scrimp and save, even as we still have to worry about a place to live, we remember we were not pounded and crushed with a 7.75% hike like last year.

We know if a 0% percent increase is not put in place next year, the homeless rate in NYC will be greater than any other time in NYC’s history. We know what we have to fight for, and we know what we can achieve together.

We are thankful but still fearful.  We are fearful but hopeful. We are hopeful that next year the RGB will make a bold statement and render a righteous vote, and deliver a 0% rent increase.

It’s Crunch Time: We Need a #RentFreeze!

There are certain moments when you simply have to ask yourself, “Wow. Is this really happening?”

When the NY Daily News reported that the Rent Stabilization Association was putting out advertisements advocating that New Yorkers support a rent increase, I experienced one of those moments as I tried to get my jaw off the floor.

This is no small time advertising push. This is a six-figure ad buy that will cover the costs of over 700 TV and Radio ads ahead of the June 23rd final Rent Guidelines Board vote. The Rent Stabilization Association, which claims to represent the 25,000 landlords of rent-stabilized buildings in the city, is as the Daily News put it so eloquently: “trying to do the impossible — convince New Yorkers that the rent is too damn low.”

via NYDaily News
via NYDaily News

These same landlords who refused to make repairs or keep the heat on in hundreds of thousands of rent stabilized units across the city are now spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to persuade their tenants that they deserve a pay raise.

These same landlords that over-leveraged countless buildings and took sledgehammers to apartments when doing “repairs” in order to harass tenants out of their homes are telling us to pay up!

As we tell every tenant association that we work with, power comes in two forms: Organized money and organized people. Clearly the Rent Stabilization Association has organized money — since they don’t use it on repairs and services for their tenants, they have to use it somehow, right?

But we have organized people.  For the first time in recent memory, the RGB — the Mayoral appointed board that votes on how much the rent should change from year to year in rent stabilized units — is having hearings in the outer boroughs and in the evening so that working people can have their voice be heard.

This past weekend, nearly over 300 tenants in the Bronx and Brooklyn marched for a Rent Freeze, gearing up for the upcoming few weeks of hearings. Tonight is the first one, in the Bronx at Hostos Community College! (A full schedule is below.)

Never in RGB’s history has it voted for a Rent Freeze. And with the May 5th preliminary vote of a 0-3% increase, for the first time in history, a Rent Freeze is within reach! Its up to us to grab it.

The landlords are scared. Over time they’ve grown used to the rents going up every year — now that this is under threat, they are coming out swinging, doing everything they can to stop this movement. They’ve had their allies at REBNY pressure Mayor de Blasio to walk back on his campaign promise to support a Rent Freeze. They’re now putting hundreds of dollars into a campaign to convince tenants that they don’t pay enough in rent. You better believe they will be at these hearings, claiming that they’re barely getting by with the rents being what they are now.

We’ve got to fight back.

The questions is: Will you be there to show the RGB otherwise? Will you share your story about what a Rent Freeze would mean for you and your family? If you don’t want to testify, will you be there to support your fellow tenants as they give their testimonies?

We need each and every single person to show up and show the RGB that we need a Rent Freeze!

Below is a list of the coming hearings the RGB is hosting. We’ll be at them all. Will you join us?

If you can’t make it in person, you can still be involved by calling the Mayor (212-788-3000) and Deputy Mayor (212-788-8510). You can also participate on twitter, by tweeting at them using the #RentFreeze (@BilldeBlasio, @DMAliciaGlen, @MMViverito)! 

Thursday,
June 12, 2014
Public Hearing
(Public
Testimony)
Repertory Theatre of
Hostos Community College/CUNY
450 Grand Concourse
Bronx, NY 10451
Map & Directions
Campus Map (Repertory Theatre is located in Building C – East Academic Complex)
Agenda
5:00 – 8:00 P.M.
Monday,
June 16, 2014
Public Hearing
(Public
Testimony)
Emigrant Savings Bank Building
49-51 Chambers Street
(between Broadway and Centre Street)
New York, NY 10007
Map & Directions
2:00 – 6:00 P.M.
Wednesday,
June 18, 2014
Public Hearing
(Public
Testimony)
Brooklyn Borough Hall
209 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Map & Directions
5:00 – 8:00 P.M.
Thursday,
June 19, 2014
Public Hearing
(Public
Testimony)
Queens Borough Hall
120-55 Queens Boulevard
Kew Gardens, NY 11424
Map & Directions
5:00 – 8:00 P.M.
Monday,
June 23, 2014
Public Meeting
(Final Vote)
The Great Hall
at Cooper Union
7 East 7th Street
at corner of 3rd Ave. (Basement)
New York, NY 10003
Map & Directions
6:00 P.M.

 

We Need to Organize, People! By Guest Blogger, Keisha Jacobs

This post is written by Keisha Jacobs, an organizer and member of the Crown Heights Tenant Union.  Keisha acted as MC for Saturday’s march and picnic where the CHTU targeted several landlords to sign onto the CHTU demands.  For more information about CHTU, visit http://www.crownheightstenantunion.org 

keisha1

Hello and welcome. Welcome everyone. I’m so glad to see all of you here this afternoon. We are here today to show our solidarity as long standing tenants and new residents against the negative changes in our Crown Heights community. Predatory practices by banks, landlords and building management are forcing rent stabilized tenants out and overcharging new residents.

The stack of small injustices, the clerical mistakes on your rent receipt the administrative errors like cashing your rent check late. The miscommunication, repeated unreturned messages. Come on folks! You know that it looks like. They say they’re coming to FINALLY fix your sink. You take a valuable the day off only to have them never show up. Or the ceiling in your bathroom that’s coming down around your ears, but you see workmen fixing your new neighbors apartment because they pay twice as much as you do.

These things are not just oversights. It’s not incompetence.  It’s not mismanagement. This is not just a simple screw up.  It’s systemic. It’s tactical. You are being targeted.

There are speculators betting on our neighborhood, people. The predatory equity practices by the banks have placed a gamble on our homes. Our landlords have huge mortgages on the buildings we live in. Values set by appraisers using some arbitrary figures of which your rent controlled or rent stabilized apartment is not a factor. In order to cover their bets, your apartment needs to bring in a higher price. So to make up the difference they skimp on services. No heat or hot water for days during the coldest times of year. Major infrastructure items like plumbing, furnaces or water heaters don’t get repaired or replaced. The lobby and halls haven’t been painted in a decade. And repairs in your apartment go undone. All the while we are being dragged back and forth to housing court in an effort to evict us, or being harassed, or offered paltry buyouts to move us from our homes.

We need to organize, people. This is organizing. Get your neighbors together and if you haven’t already get your rent history and start your tenant association and join us.

On June 18 we will be at the Brooklyn rent guidelines board meeting at borough hall and we DEMAND A RENT FREEZE! We are here to fight. Enough is enough. Hands off our homes!

Join tenants from all over Brooklyn at Borough Hall on June 18th from 5:00 to 8:00 to demand a rent freeze!  If you’d like to travel with the Crown Heights Tenant Union, we’ll be meeting at 6:00 at Franklin and Eastern Parkway.  

RGB: We Need a Rent Rollback!

Picture1

Every year, the Rent Guidelines Board votes to decide how much, if any, rents can increase. According to the law, the RGB can make “rent adjustments, if any.” The board is NOT required to raise rents – but with a Real Estate Lobby in New York that’s like Big Oil in Texas (powerful!) that’s exactly what they’ve done. For the past 12 years, under Mayor Bloomberg, landlords made money hand over fist while wages went down, unemployment went up, and working class New York City tenants struggled to get by.

There’s a new boss in town, and there’s a new RGB. (Read about de Blasio’s progressive appointments to the RGB here, and here.) This means that tenants are closer to winning a fair deal from the RGB than we have been in over a decade! But now is not the time to stop fighting.

Join UHAB and tenants rights groups from across the city at the RGB’s preliminary vote on Monday, May 5th at 5 pm at 1 Bowling Green. Let’s hold de Blasio to his campaign promises, and pack the room with tenants demanding justice.

WHAT:  ROLL BACK OUR RENTS @ RGB Preliminary Vote
WHEN:  Monday, May 5 at 5 PM
WHERE: U.S. Customs House, 1 Bowling Green 
 
For more information, contact the Real Rent Reform campaign at 718-864-3932.

We Demand a RENT FREEZE!

There is a routine that is all-too familiar to New Yorkers living in rent stabilized apartments. Every year or two,  depending on your lease, rent goes up. Every year, the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) sets a percentage that the landlord can raise rents by. (This year it’s 4% for a one year lease and 7.5% for a two year lease.) No one asks tenants if they got a raise that year, or if their grocery bill has mysteriously gotten lower. Crucially, no one asks what services are like in the apartment buildings. Rents can go up and up and up, based on a city wide price index, while building services go down.

This year, tenants are demanding an even more radical change — at a rally on Thursday, we are calling for a RENT FREEZE.

Over the past few years, rent has gone up way faster than income in New York City. Landlords are spending less and less on building maintenance, something that shows in building conditions. Tenants are not getting the services to justify the rental increases they are facing, and they don’t have the income to support it either. At a time of apocalyptic homelessness in New York City, we need to keep more people in their homes — we don’t need to make homes more expensive than they already are!

Tenants have historically demanded more input in the rent setting process: something that UHAB believes would lead to truer and deeper affordability. Last year, the RGB didn’t even hold public hearings in the outer boroughs, prompting tenant advocates to hold an alternative “People’s RGB,” demanding more tenant input in the rent-setting process.  Candidate Bill de Blasio met with the People’s RGB, and joined tenants in their call for a more fair process, and even said he would support a rent freeze. Now the candidate is mayor — a mayor whose administration understands that so so many rent stabilized tenants can barely afford rent as it is. The decision the rent guidelines board makes this year will either push low and moderate income tenants towards evictions, or help them stay in their homes. Join us in calling on the administration and its appointees to stand with tenants!

Thursday, at 9AM at 1 Centre Street — near City Hall — to rally outside the first RGB meeting of the new administration to demand a rent freeze! 

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!

Victories on Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Leave!

The fight for housing justice is not in a vacuum: There are many economic, social, and political forces at play when thinking about how to preserve our city’s affordable housing.  When a tenant is working a minimum wage job without sufficient benefits, how can that person sustain their family while paying over half their income towards rent?  In NYC, this is all exacerbated.  We live in an expensive city, and the housing market deals with huge influxes of wealthy gentrifiers who raise the value of housing constantly. It’s a mess!

Our very own Cea Weaver, the assistant-director of UHAB’s Organizing and Policy Department, was quoted yesterday in the Nation’s series on the first 100 days of Mayor de Blasio, touching on these very issues.  How can wages remain  low while the Rent Guidelines Board continues to raise rents on affordable housing year after year?

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.

But as  the same article notes: rent doesn’t cause income inequality, income does. And higher income would make it infinitely easier for working class New Yorkers to afford sky-high rents. While national momentum to raise the minimum wage is high these days, it’s as hard as ever to pass anything legislatively in Washington.  For this reason, President Obama announced today that he will issue an executive order to raise federal worker’s salaries to adhere to a $10.10 minimum wage!

This will tangibly impact thousands of low-income workers, particularly those who work minimum wage jobs on army bases.  Over 600 economists recently signed on to a letter suggesting that a $10.10 minimum wage nationally will help the economy, as well as bring 5 million people out of poverty.  To support raising the minimum wage on a national scale to $10.10, sign this petition.

In other news, Newark will pass a law ensuring 5 sick days per year for all private- sector employees, including in food care, child care, and direct care services, industries that have historically been left out of some labor laws.  The paid sick leave trend is expanding: Newark is the eighth city to pass a this type of law, and many more bills are working their way through local legislative systems.  No one should have to choose between their health and their ability to pay their rent or support their family.  In one of their first moves at the helm of the City, Mayor Bill Del Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark Vivierto announced their intention to expand New York’s paid sick leave law by requiring businesses with 5+ employees to provide sick days. While business owners fret, experience from other cities shows that paid sick leave bills work extremely well.

Paid sick leave and an increased minimum wage directly impact tenants we work with, and their ability to pay their rent, and remain healthy and employed. So let’s keep the momentum going on passing these progressive bills!

Finally, we wanted to give a quick shout-out to folk-legend and activist, Pete Seeger, who passed away on Monday.  His radical politics got him in trouble time and time again but never strayed from his values.

“My job,” he said in 2009, “is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.”