May 1, 2020
MEMO to the FY21 Budget Negotiating Team of the NYC Council
RE: Stabilizing NYC work during CoVid 19 crisis
During this unprecedented crisis and shelter-in-place order, SNYC Coalition groups have been a life-line for thousands of NYC families. Over the last 5 years, we have created & strengthened vast networks of tenant associations across the city. These families now turn to us as trusted, multilingual community groups uniquely positioned to let them know about their rights and connect them with resources they may not otherwise know about, or be unable to access.
And now more than ever, our groups continue to fight to make sure NYC families can stay in their homes and be safe. Organizers and attorneys are speaking with hundreds of tenants about their rights and resources they can access. Organizing is essential to keep communities safe and to address the unjust impacts on the communities we organize.
Our coalition has pivoted to meet tenants’ needs, including but not limited to the following work: wellness checks, surveys to assess what our communities need, delivering food, connecting parents to educational resources, advocating for emergency repairs, assessing peoples’ ability to pay rent, understanding the CARES Act, helping people apply for unemployment, translating and explaining information from the City on how to prevent Covid-19 and what to do if you are sick, doing census outreach, listening, learning and grieving.
We have also been working with tenant associations facing illegal construction and other unsafe conditions and getting emergency repairs from the City. Mass homelessness, lack of access to health care, childcare, and other consequences of a loss of income have already emerged as some of the longer term threats and challenges we expect our community will face in the coming year. SNYC is uniquely positioned to drive the fight to protect NYC families from mass eviction and compel landlords to make repairs so homes are safe for our families to live in.
Below are some of the activities and outcomes undertaken these past six weeks:
TakeRoot Justice, City-wide: Attorneys and paralegals have made dozens of calls to our clients and in response to inquiries coming in through the hotline. Many tenants report having lost their jobs and are unable to pay rent. We provided guidance on applying for unemployment, rental assistance programs, various tenant rights issues and explain the Eviction Moratum. Takeroot Justice lawyers have recently appeared on the record at court hearings via Skype and are working with two buildings in serious disrepair.
Housing Conservation Coordinators, Manhattan: Along with doing check-in calls to our members and providing assistance with housing and other types of issues, HCC has been working to transition our tenant meetings online. For example, at 126 West 83rd Street, they have had two tenant association conference calls. The tenant association distributed a survey to assess tenants’ ability to pay rent and sent a letter to management to ask them to work with them to find a solution for those who lost income and are unable to pay. They are also working to address the cleanliness of the building and lack of heat and hot water, which are ongoing problems that have only become more urgent due to COVID-19.
Flatbush Tenant Coalition (FTC): Flatbush, East Flatbush, and South Crown Heights have amongst the highest rates of COVID-19 cases in the city. In an informal survey of FTC families, approximately 70% have lost more than half of their household income and approximately 50% were not able to pay April 2020 rent. Food insecurity; lack of access to technology and not having the tech-savvy needed to access basic resources/benefits are now the main immediate challenges. In just a few short weeks, FTC has already:
- Checked-in by phone with over 100 at-risk seniors and families, and connected more than 60 families to emergency grocery delivery and income support
- Remotely prepared 10 families at 180 E 18th St Brooklyn 11226 to file an emergency contempt motion in housing court against their landlord who has still failed to make repairs after a fire made them homeless more than year ago. The motion will be filed remotely by Brooklyn Legal Services in the coming week so tenants have a home to shelter in.
- Organized a Facebook Live Tenant Town Hall with the Right to Counsel Coalition to spread the word about tenant’s rights during this crisis, including the eviction moratorium and the closing of housing court. The event has now been viewed more than 5,000 times. Our staff has reached hundreds more community members by calls and through social media to spread the word.
- Encouraged more than 3,000 community residents to complete the census, with approximately 900 families confirming that they have submitted their response. (We used phone calls, Hustle texts, and our e-newsletter.)
- Remotely trained over a dozen tenant leaders to use Zoom so they can continue to spearhead our fight to cancel rent and obtain rent relief and then held a Zoom training on Rent Impairing Violations.
Impacct Brooklyn: Utilizing an on-line intake form on Impacct’s website, tenants are able to set up appointments with organizers for help. Recently, Impacct assisted a constituent who was being defrauded of his security deposit, first month’s rent and being charged additional fees while trying to lease an apartment. They obtained half of his money to date and are confident in the negotiations that they will get the rest of the money returned.
Cooper Square Committee (CSC), Manhattan: Growing economic uncertainty among our constituents, coupled with existing shelter-in-place orders, has highlighted the current importance of safe, secure housing. To address these needs, CSC has expanded their tenant counseling, with a focus on supporting tenants facing rent arrears. They perform frequent wellness checks, particularly with vulnerable populations. CSC also used tenant meetings to discuss & develop personal support structures within buildings and across landlord coalitions; two of these large multi-building coalitions, ICU (ICON Realty) and TTC (Madison Realty Capital), were initially developed through SNYC. Their organizing remains crucial as we continue to organize around our SNYC targets and have several active building campaigns they are running remotely including 120 E 4th St. (Westminster City Living, Jared Kushner). There, CSC is helping tenants fight back against illegal construction and ongoing harassment by one of the East Village’s largest and most notorious landlords.
Organizers from Chhaya, Catholic Migration Services and Woodside on the Move in Queens have shifted to remote organizing with the ZARA Tenants Coalition, one of the largest TAs in the City, built through SNYC resources. They have outreached to over 200 tenants, finding many people unemployed and unable to navigate the assistance programs they could qualify for. The organizers are connecting those tenants with services and providing on-line supprt. Though remotely organizing, tenants are active in the campaign to cancel rent and are preparing for the legal action to win rent forgiveness, combat harassment, illegal fees, repairs and fraudulent rent increases.
CASA, New Settlement, Bronx: Since the closure of the CASA office on Friday March 13th, SNYC organizer Em has been actively organizing with tenants that live in buildings owned by Abdul Khan, the 4th worst landlord in NYC, and Yechiel Weinberger. Here is one story for the 6 buildings Em is active in via remote means.
At 1515 Selwyn Avenue, there has been inconsistent heat and hot water since March 31st. This is especially concerning because tenants are unable to take the necessary precautions such as washing their hands with warm water or showering to ensure they are not contracting the covid-19 virus. Tenant Leaders have engaged their elected officials and HPD to notify them of the problem. City Council Member Gibson and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams have reached out to HPD on behalf of the tenants. They also created this video and filed an emergency motion in housing court with Bronx Legal Services. Heat and hot water have not been entirely restored in the building, so tenants are continuing to fight and are considering a May 1st rent strike.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Brooklyn: Working with Council Member Menchaca Office, organizers created a survey assessing community members’ needs and resources during the crisis and translated it into Spanish. They have reached more than 80 tenants from the SNYC tenant associations they are working with. A steady stream of tenants are calling NHN for help. On these calls, they are provided with information on different services including internet services, guiding tenants to get medical service due to COVID 19 and advocating for the maintenance of tenants’ essential services such as heat, and electricity and gas. They are working on creating virtual workshops for facebook live and youtube and are aiming to reach 300-400 tenants for the surveys. A copy of the survey can be found in the google folder of materials for the Budget Hearings.
Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), Manhattan: GOLES has been counseling tenants by phone and using social media to inform local residents about organizers’ continued availability and to share important resources. GOLES has also been making thousands of wellness calls to local residents, most of them low-income seniors, to ensure they understand their rights (e.g. the eviction moratorium) and make any necessary referrals for benefits, and mental health. They connected hundreds of residents to either local school meals, nearby pantries and soup kitchens, or to enroll them in the city’s home meal delivery program. GOLES has also been delivering food directly to vulnerable local residents, in partnership with the Manhattan Borough President, CM Rivera and AM Epstein, and launched a weekly webinar on critical housing issues.
Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB), Brooklyn: UHAB’s organizing work is centered in East Brooklyn (Brownsville, East New York, East Flatbush). During this time, the UHAB organizing team has made over 100 check-in calls with members, connecting many with legal support and other resources. Our SNYC organizer JohnAugust is also working with three tenant associations: 1616 President Street which is organizing towards a rent strike if they do not get rent relief from their landlord, 575 Herkimer Street which is working towards filing a 7A, and 1805 Pitkin which had organized to file an HP action and tenants are now deciding the best strategy for getting crucial repairs made during this crisis. Additionally, through UHAB’s member-led group HOPE (Housing Organizers for People Empowerment), they are holding bi-weekly video calls with 8-12 tenant leaders and organized a housing justice virtual town hall on April 23rd that was attended by over 50 East Brooklyn tenant members.
Mothers on the Move/ Mary Mitchell Center, Bronx: Using their now empty storefront office to safely pack groceries, they have been delivering 150 bags a week of uncooked food to seniors every week. SNYC tenant leader Barbara Brown from 2103 Honeywell Ave receives 25 bags to distribute to the seniors in her building. They have been delivering between 500-800 prepared meals to tenants in the Bronx, that covers Council Member Salamanca Torres Gibson, Levin and Ayala Districts. Organizers are also calling members daily asking what resources they need and connecting them to those resources. Below see a picture of the grocery bags ready for delivery, shot from Director Wanda Salamon’s phone