Friday News Round-up!

As we culminate another eventful week at UHAB, we’d like to leave you some of the highlights of the week.

  1. Newly published census data illustrates that The Bronx population has grown within the past year. Prior, population numbers dropped significantly from year to year. (About 20 years ago, the population in The Bronx dropped by 20,000 residents per year.) Now, more folk are not only moving into The Bronx, but they are staying in The Bronx as well.  This changing trend is, in part, a response to the lack of affordable housing available in Manhattan and Brooklyn. As time progresses, we are confident that similar trends will continue to emerge.
  2. Months after Hurricane Sandy, homeowners allege that they are still waiting for insurance companies to process their flood insurance claims and, in turn, reimburse them with needed funds to recuperate from the storm. According to the Real Deal, 11,000 out of 57,000 claims are still unresolved. And, the state’s finance department found that New York banks were holding 6,600 checks amounting to $208M. With Hurricane Sandy nearly 5 months behind us, its imperative that FEMA and other government agencies offer homeowners the compensation they need to rebuild their lives.
  3. According to officials, NYCHA is actually AHEAD OF SCHEDULE in their goal to remove the backlog of repair needs by the end of 2013. This has advocates worried that the repairs are shoddily done, in an effort to take care of quantity over quality. The nation’s largest housing authority is at significant risk due to the sequester, as nearly half of its budget comes from the federal government.
  4. Gentrification is continuing to infiltrate Brooklyn. The NY Times published an article illustrating that, like Williamsburg, Boerum Hill, and Park Slope, the neighborhoods of Crown Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and Bushwick are undergoing significant demographic and, as a result, geographic transformations.  Similar to the changes in The Bronx, affordable housing in the neighborhoods closer to Manhattan have become scarce. As a result, folks are moving deeper into Brooklyn, transforming the market value of rentals and demanding trendy cafes and restaurants. As neighborhoods gentrify rapidly, the need to preserve affordable housing has become dire.
  5. On Saturday, Kimani “Kiki” Gray was killed by police in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Police allege that the teen was armed and, as a result, they opened fire for protection. Community members are enraged by the police violence, insisting that this was an act of excessive force rooted in racist ideologies. As a response, community members have held a candlelight vigil in protest for the past three evenings. According to police, the protest turned violent and 46 people were arrested. This is one of many acts of police brutality that have gained significant attention within the past few years. Our hearts go out to Kimani’s family and friends.

We will return with more news next week as we welcome the arrival of spring (March 20th)!

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Friday News Round Up!

Friday the 13th! Avoid bad luck by reading our news round-up!

  1. Why Can’t the Bronx be More Like Brooklyn?” Adam Davidson of NPR’s Planet Money contributed to this week’s New York Times Magazine with an article about urban development in the Bronx. Economic growth in NYC has far outpaced growth in the Bronx, and it has been somewhat impervious to the gentrification that is changing Western Brooklyn and Queens. But Davidson suggests the comparison between the only mainland borough and the rest NYC is less valid than we may think.  He suggests we should be comparing the Bronx to rust belt cities like Buffalo and Detroit, cities whose growth is far more stagnant than the Bronx’s.
  2. The Bronx certainly struggles from a negative perception problem, but the northernmost borough is home many NYC gems! (If you haven’t, visit it!) Simply changing its perception doesn’t necessarily do justice to the real struggle that Bronx tenants face, as illustrated by this NBC News video inside the College Avenue buildings owned by Eli Abbott and featured on Bill de Blasio’s Worst Landlord Watch list.
  3. Chicago is challenging Obama’s Secure Communities program. In a new ordinance, Mayor Rahm Emanual has proposed barring police from turning anyone over to ICE unless they have been convicted of a serious crime or have an outstanding search warrant.  Isn’t this what S-Comm was originally intended to do, anyway?  (Not that we agree with deporting anyone with criminal records, but that’s another story.)  An article in the NYTimes cites Emanuel as saying that he plans to make Chicago the most immigrant- friendly city in the country.  Fighting S-Comm is certainly a good start.
  4. Unionized employees of Con-Edison, Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA), are striking for better wages, better pensions, and affordable healthcare.  Thirteen days ago, 8,500 union workers were locked out of Con-Edison during negotiations after the expiration of a 4 year contract.  The lockout is particularly contentious due to the on-going heat wave, which is raising the risk of power failures and endangering New Yorkers prone to heat stroke.  Christine C Quinn has voiced her public disapproval of Con-Ed’s lockout, calling on them to end it now in order to provide safe, consistent electricity to New Yorkers.
  5. On Monday morning, Amtrak unveiled plans for a Northeast High Speed Rail Line. The Atlantic Cities gives a brief overview of the history of trains in the Northeast, and describes how a high speed rail could truly impact (for the better) the smaller, struggling cities within a few hours of New York. “By shrinking the distance between vibrant urban cores and the smaller communities that lie between them,” Yoni Appelbaum writes, ” high-speed rail could spark an economic boom.” Don’t get too excited: the project is 10 years away at least.

Eye Witness News Releases Investigative Report on New NYC Affordable Housing Stock

Yesterday, Eyewitness News released an investigative report on conditions in newly built affordable housing.  These buildings were constructed  as a result of Mayor Bloomberg’s big push to develop 165,000 units of affordable housing in the city.  Unfortunately, the housing stock has been proven to be architecturally unsound and dangerous to live in as a result of mold and leaks.

In each one [building], Eyewitness News found the dreams of working families to live comfortably drowned out by leaks.

“Water was actually pouring down as we came in to check apartment, had to be a main pipe that broke,” said Hermer Perez, a resident.

“So, whenever it snows or rains you can’t use your bedroom?” Hoffer asked.

“Yes, that’s it,” the resident said.

“You should be able to sleep in your room,” Hoffer said.

“I know,” the resident said.

“All the water came through cracks in ceilings and it was like it was raining in here,” said Erika Martinez, a resident.

The leaks have damaged new units that rent for up to $1,500: warped window sills, water stained ceilings, and mold.

As tenant organizers, we regularly see atrocious conditions like the ones described here.  The difference is we generally work  with tenants suffering in old, rent-stabilized apartment buildings which have been caught up in the process of predatory equity and as a result severely neglected.  What is shocking in this case is that there is no excuse for such malfunctioning architecture- the buildings are brand new!

No one says it better than Lantanya Rentas, a resident of one of these buildings in the Bronx.

“This is a brand new building?” Hoffer asked.

“Yes it is,” said Lantanya Rentas, a resident.

“What do you make of that?” Hoffer asked.

“A cheap job, fast work, they just wanted their money I guess,” Rentas said.

To read the report, click here.

NY Daily Post: “Absentee Slumlord in the Bronx Forced to Cede Control of Fordham Building in Big Victory for Tenants”

Tenants in a battle with their perpetually absent landlord claimed victory on Wednesday when a judge ruled that a housing advocate take over the slum.

“We feel good,” said 4619 Park Ave. resident Jose Benitez with a smile across his face. “We feel like the responsible people are finally gonna come in and do what they need to do.”

Bronx Housing Court Judge Jerald Klein transferred control to John Reilly of non-profit Fordham Bedford Housing Corp. from alleged slumlord Luigi Capriglione and his son, Salvatore Capriglione, who failed to make proper repairs on the dilapidated building or collect rent for months.

Capriglione was absent at the final hearing, but his lawyer made a last-ditch attempt to save him.

“(Capriglione) is now managing the premises properly and…making sure repairs are done,” said Alfred Greenberg, to which Klein replied, “Too little, too late.”

The building is infested with roaches and mice, and has defective doors, broken windows and water leaks. There has been no heat or hot water for weeks at a time.

The building porter, Samuel Almonte, allegedly stabbed Benitez one night, and Almonte was arrested last week for second-degree harassment of other tenants, among other charges.

To continue reading this article, click here.

The New York Observer: “Word Up! Hip-Hop’s Birthplace Gets New Mortgage on Life!”

The hallowed ground on which “b-boys” and “b-girls” first found their groove will be saved from (a non-allegorical) wrecking ball crew.

1520 Sedgwick Avenue in The Bronx is often referred to as “The Birthplace of Hip-Hop” owing to the musical sound that was pioneered by DJ Kool Herc (nee Clive Campbell) in the building’s recreation common room during the late 1970′s.  Mr. Campbell’s music influenced other progenitors of the hip-hop scene, including Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa, who made their way to the Morris Heights section of the Bronx to attend parties at 1520 Sedgwick, before bringing Mr. Campbell’s DJing style back to the more Southern boroughs.

Read more at the New York Observer.

The Real Deal: “Bluestone sells former Ocelot Bronx portfolio for $17.6M”

The real estate investment firm the Bluestone Group, which denied for months it would unload a six-building portfolio of once severely distressed Bronx properties, sold the package for $17.6 million, a source close to the deal said.

The sale closed yesterday as part of a bankruptcy case filed by the former ownership company BXP 1, controlled by investor Susumu Endo. The buyer was Anthony Gazivoda, owner of Gazivoda Realty, a prominent landlord in the Bronx Albanian community, an employee at Gazivoda said. Gazivoda himself was not immediately available for comment.

Bluestone, led by principals Eli Tabak, Ari Bromberg and Marc Mendelsohn, purchased the defaulted notes on the six properties, with a face value of $13.15 million, for about $10 million in June 2010, according to city property records.

Tabak, speaking for Bluestone, declined to comment on the sale.

Bluestone, formed in 2006, has been an active player in the distressed real estate market, especially through note purchases.

The Bronx units were in terrible condition in 2010, with Crain’s reporting in July last year that there were 2,936 housing code violations on the buildings’ 260 units, or 11.3 violations per unit. Yesterday there were 334 housing code violations, or 1.3 per unit, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development website shows.

Read more at The Real Deal.