Safe, affordable housing is disappearing across New York City and the Northwest Bronx has become the last resort for low income tenants from Queens to Washington Heights. Once they arrive, most are still spending 50% or more of their income on rent every month. Hundreds of families from around the city are moving into an aging housing stock just to stay afloat but are unaware of their rights as tenants. Many landlords, looking to raise rents by constantly moving tenants in and out, consistently harass tenants and allow living conditions to deteriorate. The majority of the buildings we organize have problems with heat and hot water, vermin, plumbing and electrical failure. We find that building-wide system repairs to broken elevators, pointing, roofs and boiler rooms are constantly needed but never provided. Tenant’s health and safety is also constantly at risk as well whether it be from asthma triggers like mold, mildew and vermin inside apartments or dangerous gang activity and drug trade in buildings and the larger community. Residents also face increasing rents through Major Capital Improvements (MCI). Intended to help landlords pay for major repairs like window and elevator installations or roof replacements, tenants often face back-to-back MCIs with little to no visible improvements.
In the past five years the NWBCCC has also begun to look at the foreclosure crisis and how it affects multi family unit buildings as well as homeowners in the area. We have organized over 20 multifamily unit buildings that were in foreclosure as well as provided resources and support to local homeowners in foreclosure. Our work has focused on connecting tenants and homeowners around the issue of foreclosure because both groups have been devastated by the irresponsible practices of big banks and the federal governments fear of regulating them. Our Milbank Foreclosure Campaign was the first of its kind to focus on foreclosures in multifamily buildings, win millions of dollars in repairs and restructure the debt owed on the group of buildings to help a more responsible owner take over ten of the thirteen buildings. Below is a comprehensive piece on the campaign:
The NYC Department of Housing and Development initiated the Proactive Preservation Initiative because of the work of the NWBCCC Housing Committee on the Milbank Foreclosure Campaign. For over a year, Milbank tenants in foreclosure organized meetings, prayer vigils and direct actions to bring light to their horrible living conditions. HPD stepped in and not only made immediate repairs in the Milbank buildings, but worked with tenants to negotiate the responsible sale of their buildings to a better landlord. Because of the Milbank campaign and the PPI, the city has a mechanism for working with tenant leaders and neighborhood organizations for the identification of buildings in the program. By showing how organized tenant associations can help provide access to apartments for inspectors as well as provide intelligence on the building and its owners, organizing buildings are prioritized by HPD. Below is the press release commemorating for Mayor Bloomberg and HPD’s launch of the PPI in the Northwest Bronx:
On the ground, our housing work revolves around training and supporting tenant groups to take on their landlords so that they can win the repairs and services that they are paying for. Below is one example of a recent tenant association in action:
Tenants from 2490 Davidson Ave and 20 West 190 St. together with the NWBCCC held a press conference outside 2490 Davidson Avenue to bring attention to the appalling conditions in both buildings. Conditions included collapsing ceilings and walls, mold, vermin, deteriorating bathrooms and discrimination and harassment against the Latino tenants, many of whom are Mexican or Dominican. Immediately after the press conference, tenants marched and took over the office of their landlord and demanded a meeting and a signed repair agreement. Within a week, they received both. Major plumbing and electrical repairs in the buildings were made, as well as major roof repair work that eliminated much of the water leaks, mold and paint chipping on walls and ceilings. Two new bilingual secretaries, installed security cameras and fixed the entrance doors to both buildings. It was another reminder that when working together to tell a common truth, regular people can take power. This scenario has been repeated multiple times over the past year and a half with various tenant associations. These are some of their stories:
2710 Bainbridge Avenue: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xifN1NUokps