Friday News Round-up!

Happy Friday folks!

  1. The supply of homes for sale in and around New York City has fallen drastically short of demand. According to the NY Times, there are currently 4,795 listing on the market in Manhattan — the lowest housing supply in 13 years.  The recent housing climate is attributed to the unstable market place. In 2008, when the housing bubble burst, financing for new residential projects became scarce, lending practices became tighter and equity became limited. This deterred potential buyers from selling their homes and looking for new ones. Not much has changed –with the market currently unsettled, many homeowners are still refusing to sell.  With a limited housing supply, we anticipate that gentrification trends will continue to spread farther into Brooklyn as well as Queens and the Bronx.
  2. This week, the Race and Social Problems journal released a study that investigates the correlation between income levels and neighborhood connectivity. They found that residents living in low-income, high-crime communities feel more connected to their neighborhood.  The Atlantic Cities correlates these feelings to mobility — because residents that live in low-income neighborhoods are less likely to access economic mobility and leave their community, they foster greater ties to the space.  We hope that studies like these encourage a greater investment in low-income communities.
  3. According to the NY Times, a new development in Dumbo is setting a new precedent for real estate prices in Brooklyn. Before construction started, the townhouses were bought for $4.1M, which equates to $1,345 a square foot. This “price is more than double the average per square foot of a Brooklyn brownstone or condominium.”  The townhouses are also located within the Dumbo Historic District, which was established in 2007 and protects about 90 buildings. While the developers were required to attain permission from the city, they are also constructing the buildings in such a way that preserves that feeling by utilizing the neighborhood’s industrial aesthetic.
  4. WNYC reports that during Mayor Bloomberg’s term, 214,000 of house units have been constructed and 7 of the 20 tallest skyscrapers in NYC have been build. And as result of his rezoning efforts, many more buildings remain under construction, including high rises on the West Side, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint. While Mayor Bloomberg has made instrumental in expanding New York City’s housing stock, we would like to see a greater focus on affordable housing with our next mayor. Check out the audio report here.

Unionized NYC Bus Drivers Take a Bold Stance!

Posted by NYMag
Posted by NYMag 1.16.13

On Tuesday, 8,000 unionized New York City school bus drivers went on strike.The bus drivers are demanding that  once their contracts expire in June, their needs remain met.  While the contract renewal might lead to dramatic job losses, members of Local 1181 views the change as an opportunity to partake in negotiations and protect their jobs as well as their wages. 

In a press conference last night, Mayor Bloomberg stated that he plans to open bid on bus contracts to “reduce costs and adapt to a changed school system.”  What this means for the bus drivers is that their jobs are at risk, and they might be subject to reduction of wages. As Bloomberg’s plans develop and the bus system is reshuffled, unionized workers are demanding an Employee Protection Provision in their contract. This clause would grant them their current salary with their future employers.

For decades, there have been many underlying problems with the city’s school bus system. According to the New York Times, the system is one of the most expensive in the country. The city pays $7,000/year for each student to ride the bus. In contrast, Chicago spends $5,000, Los Angeles spends $3,500, and Miami $1,000. Proportionally, these prices are unreasonable.

These astronomical expenditures stem mainly from two root causes.  The first is the city’s desire to “embrace anticompetitive measures” and contract with multiple bus companies, regardless of those companies’ practices (according to that same NYTimes article).  Many of these companies, though, have partaken in unlawful practices, including organized crime and bribery.  The second problem with the bus system is that new local and federal education policies that have increased options of schools (“school choice”) and number of days in a school year. The costs of driving students longer distances for more days has resulted in $1.1 billion annually!

Much of the strike’s media coverage has portrayed bus drivers as vindictive and insensitive individuals. Undeniably, the strike has impacted many children: NPR reported that 152,000 students were forced to find another way to school in the past day. Many parents were required to take their children to school and were consequently late to work. While children and parents are definitely impacted by the strike, it is necessary to think about the livelihoods of the bus drivers and their right to organize for job security.

We at UHAB stand in solidarity with the bus drivers, and respect their organizing efforts as a means to improve their quality of life. We hope that the city upholds workers rights in this unstable and corrupt contracting system.  While we recognize that student and parents’ routines have been rattled, we also believe that the structural and financial outcomes of this strike will make up for these losses.  We hope that this strike will inspire New Yorkers to continue empowering our unions and enhancing New York City’s economy.

City Council to Pass Underlying Conditions Bill

Today, the NYC council will vote to pass a bill, sponsored by Councilmember Gail Brewer, that will force city slumlords to abandon quick fixes in favor of high quality, lasting repairs. The bill is based on the city’s relatively successful AEP program, which gives the city the power to repair problems themselves as well as collect both the costs and fees of the service.

The bill is the result of hard work and cooperation between the New York City Council and the housing advocacy community, including UHAB, Tenants and Neighbors, Legal Services and ANHD.

This morning, Speaker Christine Quinn and Councilmembers Gail Brewer, David Greenfield, and Robert Jackson expressed their support for this bill in a press conference at City Hall.  In arguing for the bill’s passage, she told the story of Kymm Moore, a tenant that formerly lived at 836 Faile Street — a building UHAB has been organizing for over a year. 836 Faile Street was in foreclosure for several years when private equity company Stabilis Capital Management purchased the mortgage, presumably hoping to make a quick buck.

While living at 836 Faile St., Kymm suffered from recurring leaks and mold. Because of the recurring  nature of these problems, the City Council believes that passing this bill will successfully eradicate these issues. Both Speaker Quinn and Councilmember Brewer noted that the program will lessen the cost of housing code violations for New York City tax payers, by reducing costly inspections and providing the City with stronger tools to collect fees.

Last month, the New York Daily News visited tenants at 1507 St. Johns Place and spoke with them about their views on the measure. While tenants are hopeful that the bill will improve the quality of repairs, 1507 St. Johns Place, like 836 Faile St., is in foreclosure. The bill does not address how it will hold non-owner receivers responsible for the same repairs as landlords. In New York City, multifamily buildings continue to face foreclosure in startlingly high numbers, and the overloaded Supreme Court means many buildings stay in foreclosure for several years. It is necessary that the City of New York hold receivers and banks responsible for housing conditions as well as landlords.

Stay tuned as more articles come out about this exciting measure today! We’ll be posting them here.

City Council to Push Owners for Core Repairs,” Wall Street Journal

“City Council Demands Landlords Fix Underlying Conditions in Apartments” NY1

“City Council Pushes Bill for Housing Fix” WNYC

“Council Wants To Force Landlords To Fix ‘Underlying Conditions'” Gotham Gazette

“NYC Landlords Must Fix Problems Under New Law” The Epoch Times

“New NYC Law Puts Increased Pressure on Slumlords to Make Needed Repairs,” NYDN

City Government and Tenants Warn Speculative Buyers of the Vantage/ Lone Star Portfolio to Back Off!

Photo: William Alatriste, WNYC

Flor Matos, una de las residentes del inmueble 566, de la calle 190, que vive desde hace 29 años en el sitio, expresó sentirse muy preocupada ante la incertidumbre de no saber lo que va a pasar. “De llegarse a vender el edificio, por más de lo que vale, es casi seguro que nos van a subir la renta y continuaremos esperando para que nos reparen la calefacción.” (El Diario)

Flor Matos, one of the residents of the property at 566 W. 190th St, who has lived in the building for 29 years, said she was very concerned about the uncertainty of what will happen. “By selling the building for more than it’s worth, it is almost certain that they will continue to raise the rent and wait to repair the heat.” (Our own translation.) 

City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn

“It’s outrageous that Vantage and Lone Star would jeopardize the stable housing of hundreds of New Yorkers to turn a quick buck,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in a statement. “If these buildings are sold with millions of dollars more in unsustainable debt, tenants will be the ones who pay the price when the new owners can’t make mortgage payments or repairs. I urge Lone Star and Vantage to put tenants first and to sell these properties to a responsible buyer who will ensure the upkeep of these buildings is maintained.” (Crain’s NY)

Commissioner of HPD Matt Wambua

“We want to make sure that to the extent that these buildings are sold that they’re sold to responsible owners and that they’re sold at prices that will be responsible prices,” HPD Commissioner Matthew Wambua said. (WNYC)

More Press is below. You can read HPD’s press release here, and please stay tuned as we continue to add press links throughout the day!

Friday News Round Up!

ImageLike last Friday, we’re bringing your articles from the web that we found interesting or relevant to the work that we do. 

  1. The Community Service Society released a report on the cost burden on rent for low income New Yorkers. The most commonly accepted definition of affordability is that housing costs do not exceed 30% of total household income. That’s why Section 8 recipients pay 30% of their income on rent, and their voucher covers the remaining cost. (Curious about why 30%? Learn more here.) According to the Community Service Society, though, low-income New York City tenants pay nearly 49% of their income to landlords, up from 45% six years ago.
  2. The Martin Prosperity Institute released a graphic map (shown above) that demonstrates the number of newly naturalized American citizens per large metropolitan center; Richard Florida at The Atlantic Cities commented on this at The Atlantic Cities in an article, Melting Pot Cities. New York City tops the list in sheer numbers: of all new citizens, nearly 15% live in New York City. (Miami, however, has a highest amount per capita number of new citizens at 998 per 100,000 people.) New York City lags, however, when it comes to opportunities for immigrants. Boston, D.C., and San Francisco show the highest number of immigrants working in high skilled labor. We need to continually work on developing opportunities for life-sustaining employment for New York’s immigrants! (Read more: Florida has long argued that our immigration policies are much too strict; that our tight controls on immigration hold society back.)
  3. It’s been HOT. City Room at the NY Times tells us just how hot. Thursday’s record breaking temperatures reached 97 degrees. Heat waves in cities are dangerous; the Center for Disease Control estimates that nearly 700 people die each year from heat related illness, but in a terrifying statistic they also estimate that by the year 2050 that number will have jumped to between 2,000 and 5,000 due to climate change. In his book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, sociologist Eric Klinenberg described how social forces determined fatal outcomes in Chicago’s 1995 heat wave. (We really recommend it.) It’s no surprise that low income residents, isolated in run-down buildings in high poverty neighborhoods are at a much greater risk for heat-related death. His book also reminds us of the value of a tenants association, in providing strong support networks that can help in times of crisis!  
  4. Despite support from Mayor Bloomberg and widespread support from law enforcement, Governor Cuomo’s attempt to decriminalize marijuana has been struck down by Republican state senators. WNYC reports that the lack of support was likely due to political pressure from the State Conservative Party, who vowed not to support any Republicans in upcoming races who voted for the bill. The bill would take a tremendous burden off law enforcement, and combat the disproportionate number of arrests in the Black and Latino community due to Stop-and-Frisk policies. Governor Cuomo has indicated that he is not looking for partial reform; bill supporters remain committed to passing the legislation this year.

That’s all for today! Have a great weekend and we’ll be back on Monday!

Operation Clean Halls: a Violation of the Fair Housing Act?

A federal lawsuit filed last week by the NY Civil Liberties Union, the Bronx Defenders, and LatinoJustice PRLDEF against NYPD’s “Operation Clean Halls” is all over the news this morning. This program allows landlords to request a police presence in privately owned apartment buildings (like ones that we at organize) to check ID’s and dissuade criminal behavior.   The program is part NYPD’s larger “Stop and Frisk” policy in which police stop “suspects” to check for illegal substances or activities. It is widely believed that the “Stop and Frisk” program disproportionately target people of color.  An article in the Atlantic Cities reports that “some 84 percent of the people stopped in 2009 were black or Latino; those groups represent 53 percent of the city’s population.”

What does it mean for tenants to have a police presence in their building?  A Bronx tenant told a WYNYC reporter her experience in a building with police presence. Fawn Bracy is a named plaintiff in the case:

I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched police throw my son and his friends up against the wall, and I have to run downstairs and just keep running and running and stopping them from harassing these kids for just sitting in their own courtyard where they live at.

The lawsuit points out ways Operation Clean Halls infringes on tenants’ constitutional rights.  The Fourth Amendment protects us against unreasonable searches and seizures, and plaintiffs claim this is in direct contradiction with what is takes place New York City apartment buildings (people’s homes) as a result of Clean Halls.  The First Amendment guarantees us the right of freedom of assembly. Many tenants feel threatened and discouraged from gathering by intimidating police presence. Jacqueline Yates, Bronx tenant, describes her experience with the program in the same WNYC article:

You get to the point that you don’t feel like a human being. I got family members that don’t send their kids over because they’re scared they’re gonna be stopped.

Plaintiffs in the case are also arguing that the city is in violation of the Fair Housing Act because the program disproportionately impacts people of color.

In almost all the buildings we work in, tenants voice their concerns over lack of security. Strangers come in and out freely, and many buildings have an active drug presence. Parents are worried about unsafe environments for their children. Some tenants have asked us, as an organizing tactic, to help them work together to force their landlord to implement Clean Halls. It is important, when debating Clean Halls, to recognize the complexities of programs like this which attempt to increase security and make buildings safer for tenants who live there.  It is important to recognize that security is something desperately wanted by many community members. However, according to tenants lived experiences, Operation Clean Halls has not been effective or helpful in discouraging crime. It does not provided that needed security nor does it protect tenants. As WNYC reports,

The intentions of the Clean Halls program are good. But the problem is that the level of trust between the minority community and the NYPD has been damaged again and again over the years. Incidents like the death of Ramarley Graham, an unarmed black teenager who was followed into his building and shot dead in his own bathroom as he apparently was trying to flush a baggie of pot down the toilet, confirm people’s worst fears about what the police are capable of doing. And the NYPD’s stubborn insistence that there is no problem, that they’re just trying to make people safer, can’t change the fact that for many people, they are a source of fear, intimidation, and routine humiliation.

We believe that this lawsuit provides space to have a reinvigorated conversation about building and community security. Hall Monitor programs and Neighborhood Watches have been known to work, but there needs to be larger policy shifts which don’t function though racial and gender discrimination. How can we actually hold the NYPD and the city accountable for the racist implications, and how can we create safe neighborhoods in new, creative ways?