Three Borough Pool Press Conference

A few weeks ago, tenants from all across New York City came together in front of City Hall to demand that the Three Borough Pool, a group of 44 buildings in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, be taken over by a new, responsible owner.

The current owners (David Kramer, Normandy Real Estate, Vantage Properties, and Westbrook Partners) failed at paying their mortgage, landing all of the buildings in foreclosure. They’ve also failed at maintaining the buildings, resulting in horrific living conditions in apartments. If the lender, LNR, sells the buildings to a responsible developer who commits to rehabilitating the buildings and including tenants in decisions about their homes, this foreclosure can be an opportunity to preserve the nearly 1,600 units of rent regulated housing that are at stake.

UHAB created this video from our footage of the press conference. Follow the link at the end of the video to watch the tenants’ full speeches!

Advertisements

We Need More Resident Control of Our Neighborhoods!

After years of organizing in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, a few things have become all too clear. Tenants are being forced out of their homes and communities in order to make room for higher paying tenants.  Landlords skimp on repairs, force tenants into buy-outs, ask tenants to switch neighborhoods to another one of their buildings, and renovate buildings while lowering the quality of life for longer term residents.

The end goal is, of course, landlord profit. In NYC, the rent on a stabilized apartment can be raised about 4 to 7%, depending on the length of the lease, and what the Rent Guideline Board determines for that year.  If a tenant moves out, however, rent can legally be raised 20% through vacancy decontrol, plus 1/40th of the amount spent of “rehabilitating” the unit. When the legal rent hits $2,500 and a tenant moves out, that unit is forever out of confines of rent regulation laws and landlords can charge whatever they want!

Essentially, there is lots of money to be made by convincing long term, low paying residents to move out of a neighborhood.

We see this happening all over New York City.  In Queens, tenants in 6 buildings in foreclosure with Stabilis Capital are being falsely charged with nonpayments. In Upper Manhattan, tenants are charged fees in addition to their rents (washing machine fees, air conditioning fees, etc.) Eventually, those fees add up and a once-affordable apartment suddenly becomes unaffordable. Even in the Bronx, where we imagine most low income housing is located, areas are becoming unaffordable for current residents.  A recent article in Crains NY highlights the problem of gentrification in the Bronx, particularly in Highbridge and along Grand Concourse. Tenant, Lucia Davis, told Crains that “You’d think you could afford to live in the Bronx…But the prices are going up, and a lot of people are moving out.”

And of course in Brooklyn, especially in the neighborhood of Crown Heights, we’ve seen landlords use every tactic under the sun to force out long term residents.  What’s the solution?  Organize! We need to band together to fight for the following changes:

  1. Rent Freeze: the RGB is gearing up to determine how much rent stabilized rents should be raised.  Mayor de Blasio ran on a platform calling for a rent freeze, and we agree!  Rents are too high and too unaffordable for NYC tenants.  Until wages are going up, rents should be frozen.
  2. Displacement Free Zone: About 10 years ago, Fifth Avenue Committee established a displacement free zone within a 100 square blocks of Park Slope. Ben Dulchin, then Director of Organizing, explained:
    “We developed a systematic campaign where we marked out a 100 square block center of the neighborhood and put up posters all around saying, ‘This is a displacement free zone. Different set of rules here. If you’re a landlord in this neighborhood and you’re kicking out tenants because you want to triple the rent, we’re going to target you,” says Dulchin. “We’re going to get so much publicity that we hope that we not only win in some cases, but that we proactively keep away those landlords who would evict people and then raise rents, before those landlords even come to the neighborhood.” We need to declare the entire City a displacement-free zone.
  3. Education of tenant rights: Tenants are given rights by law, but those rights are only recognized as much as tenants themselves enforce them.  If a landlord refuses a rent regulated tenant a lease, that tenant should know that it his/ her right to a renewal lease. Without that knowledge and confidence to speak up, there is greater risk of displacement.  Through tenant associations, tenant unions, block associations, and workshops, we can educate ourselves and our communities about our rights so we each feel empowered to collectively enforce them!
  4. Repercussions for landlords who are breaking the law: Time and time again we encounter landlords who are just not following the law.  They don’t do repairs. They harass long term residents.  They even abandon buildings for months at a time.  And what justice do we have?  Lawsuits take forever, and are not even successful all of the time.  We need a better system to hold landlords accountable and stop them from continuing to profit.  For example, a landlord licensing law would prevent known bad actors from continuing to purchase new property.  Why should a landlord who has 3 buildings in AEP be allowed to purchase new rent regulated property?  That ain’t right!
  5. Raise the Minimum Wage: If we expect tenants to pay rents that are continuously going up, minimum wage also needs to go up.  More and more, low income tenants are paying enormous percentages of their income on rent, and eventually their housing situations, even rent stabilized housing, will be unaffordable to the majority of New Yorkers.  We need to raise minimum wage in NYC to reflect actual cost of living.   In the short run, workers should be able to earn what they are owed and not forced into doing things like working off the clock (Read about wage theft here.)
  6. Keep organizing!  Form a tenant association, join a community group!  If you live in Crown Heights, come out to our next meeting of the Crown Heights Tenant Union on April 17th at 7 pm at the Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation.  For more concrete assistance with organizing, check out our resources tab, and feel free to write to us at thesurrealestate@gmail.com

Press Release: Organized Bronx Tenants Visit Housing Court to Demand Freedom From Harrassment

On Wednesday, April 17th tenants from the 1058 Southern Boulevard Tenants’ Association and their allies outside of Bronx Housing Court demanding that their landlord immediately discontinue unjustified housing court cases against the residents.  The tenants are being supported by their Councilmember, Maria del Carmen Arroyo, the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, and the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center.

In January, tenants made their landlord, Miriam Shasho, aware of their plans for file a 7A action. If successful this would remove the building from the landlord’s control. Since that time, organized tenants have felt harassed at the hands of their management company, including threats of eviction, unlawful refusal to renew leases, and summons to housing court. Following the rally, tenants who have received non-payment petitions will join together to answer their cases before a judge.

In addition to bringing their landlord’s tactics into the limelight, tenants are hoping to draw attention to the systematic inequalities within the Housing Court. Tenants often lack representation and as a result are shut out of the complex and alienating Housing Court process. According to a new report released by CASA and UJC, tenants are frequently even denied their right to go before a judge, signing confusing stipulations in the hallways rather than in a courtroom.

“The tenants from 1058 Southern Boulevard have been brought to court over and over again. Our building is in terrible condition and we desperately need repairs. We didn’t have heat or hot water all winter. We feel our landlord is harassing us and we would like the court to recognize these tactics are unfair and harmful to tenants.” said Lisa Ortega, representative of the Tenants Association.  

Tenants in this 55 unit building have lived side by side with housing conditions that threaten their health and safety for years, including no heat and hot water, black mold and mildew, severe leaks, rats, and roaches. The building was recently entered into HPD’s Alternative Enforcement Program, an aggressive enforcement tool reserved for the city’s 200 most distressed properties.

“Once again, I congratulate the tenants of 1058 Southern Boulevard for their diligence and efforts to ensure the owner of 1058 Southern Boulevard provides quality and safe housing,” said Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo. “In their latest efforts, they have joined forces to answer the landlord’s claims that tenants owe rent and in most cases, they do not owe back rent.  I support the tenants in their efforts and will continue to work with them to ensure the owner is held accountable for improving the deplorable conditions of the property.”

 

“We have seen buildings where landlords employ harassment tactics to try and discourage tenants from organizing,” said Kerri White Director of Organizing and Policy at UHAB. “The tenants of 1058 Southern Boulevard know their rights. They will stand up for their homes and families, no matter what obstacles they may have to face.”