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.”

nancys-photo-of-donna
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.

Stabilis Press Conference

Here is  a video with footage from the Stabilis press conference and building tour on December 3rd. Letitia “Tish” James, who will become our Public Advocate in just a few days, spoke beautiful words of solidarity with the tenants. Tenants spoke about the hardships and appalling conditions they have endured while living in a building with a negligent landlord. Then the tenants lead a tour of the apartments to show some of these conditions. Please watch and share!

That’s a Wrap – The Report from the Primaries

After months and months of campaigning, primary season is finally over. While the federal government shut down on Tuesday, NYC held the run off election for Public Advocate. Letita “Tish” James won, and with a lack of a Republican challenger, she became the first black woman to be elected to city-wide office. So, the dust has finally settled. Its time to take a quick peek into how the best tenant rights advocates did!

Our friends over at TenantsPAC endorsed candidates up and down the ticket with a great success. TenantsPAC endorsees receive three key things from TenantsPAC: a public endorsement, tenant-based fundraising, and plenty of on-the-ground Get Out The Vote effort. An overwhelming majority of TenantsPAC endorsees won their primary races.

Here is a  list of endorsees that move ahead to the general election on November 5th, where the chances of victory are extremely high.

City-Wide Offices

  • Mayor: Bill De Blasio
  • Public Advocate: Tish James

Manhattan Offices

  • Manhattan Borough President: Gale Brewer
  • City Council: Mark Levine
  • City Council: Helen Rosenthal
  • City Council: Benjamin Kallos
  • City Council: Corey Johnson

Queens Offices

  • City Council: Daneek Williams

Brooklyn Offices

  • City Council: Antonio Reynoso
  • City Council: Carlos Menchaca

There is little doubt that all of these candidates will take office in January and be incredible advocates for tenants. This election has been a fruitful one for progressives hoping for an about-face from the past three terms of New Liberalism under Mayor Bloomberg. Some TenantsPAC candidates, like Letitia James, Gale Brewer, and Bill de Blasio, have been crucial allies in the fight to protect affordable housing for many years. More allies means more success, which for us means more affordable housing units in New York. We’re looking forward to working with them in the coming years.

Friday News Round Up

It’s been a busy week here at UHAB, and the world of affordable housing is as jam-packed as ever. Get ready for the roundup!

  • Mayor Bloomberg finally announced his appointments for the NYCHA Board, adding two more tenants to the seven person board, raising tenant representation to 3. The new volunteer tenant board members are Beatrice Byrd, former tenant president of the Red Hook West Houses in Brooklyn, and Willie Mae Lewis, tenant president of the St. Nicholas Houses in Harlem; they join Victor Gonzales.
  • The city is dangerously close to ending a program that has allowed 350 refugees of Superstorm Sandy to live in hotels for the past year. FEMA will stop reimbursing the city for the costs starting on Monday, and the city currently has no official plans for the refugees other than “apply to stay in one of the city’s homeless shelters.”
  • In his weekly radio show, Mayor Bloomberg praised the income gap between the rich and poor and said it would be a “godsend” if every millionaire moved to the city. This outrageous assertion comes on the heels of the release of the Census Data from 2012 showing a 3% increase in the poverty rate of New Yorkers.
  • Don’t forget about the runoff election for Public Advocate this coming Tuesday, Oct 1st! City Councilmember Tish James will face state Senator Daniel Squadron. Tenant PAC has endorsed James as a prominent opponent of the Atlantic Yards development in her district. Don’t forget to vote!
  • It’s finally Fall, meaning that organizations are putting out newsletters and reports like its no tomorrow! Check out UHAB’s Fall Newsletter to see what the entire organization is up to. Next, make sure to read up on “The Burden of Fees: How Affordable Housing is Made Unaffordable” a report by  Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA), in coordination with the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project we featured on the blog this week. And finally, dive into the new report by the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, “Home by Home: Neighborhood Stabilization in New York City” that documents the local repercussions of the national housing crisis and highlights the work of the Center’s network of housing counselors and attorneys with thousands of homeowners struggling to keep their homes.
  • And to close out the roundup, in honor of the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at 1520 Sedgwick — better known as the Birthplace of Hip Hope — here is a clip of a news conference from back in 2007 — featuring a quick rap from Senator Schumer at minute 6:25.

Enjoy the weekend – we’ll be back at it on Monday!