A just recovery

MEMO to the FY21 Budget Negotiating Team of the NYC Council 

RE: Work during CoVid 19 crisis & FY21 projections

MEMO to the FY21 Budget Negotiating Team of the NYC Council

RE: Work during COVID-19 crisis & FY21 projections

Dear Council Speaker Johnson and the New York City Council Members of the BNT,

                  Thank you for your fierce advocacy for a just budget and leadership during this difficult and time. The City Council’s strong moral stance to fight for discretionary funding for community and safety net programs is inspiring and needed. Thank you also for your continued support of Stabilizing NYC. The investment the Council has made since 2014 supporting tenant organizing and community organizations has never felt more important or impactful.

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 that provide a wide range of services, are most uniquely positioned to inform tenants about their rights, connect them with resources they may not otherwise know about, or be unable to access and make direct referrals to the right agency or organization.

Since the crisis hit, organizations and attorneys have created mutual aid networks and wellness phone banks across NYC reaching at least 12,000 families to provide information on their rights as tenants, which has been a shifting landscape, and providing all matters of service, including resources, protective personal equipment, and referrals. We have connected tenants directly with food banks and food delivery, bereavement resources and funeral expenses, and much more. We documented these activities in our earlier memo on Stabilizing NYC work during COVID-19 crisis, demonstrating that we are on the frontlines and organizing is essential to keep communities safe and to address the unjust impacts on the communities we organize.

While we are still recovering from the pandemic, mass homelessness and displacement loom on the horizon. Housing court re-opened this week allow landlords to begin new case filings and universal eviction moratorium is set to expire soon.  We expect a massive flood of eviction cases as families struggle to pay their rent. Article after article, as well as our own experiences with our tenants, report that at least 750,000 families in NYS (According to research by legal service providers) have not paid rent since this crisis began. 

 Increasing legal support alone will not be sufficient. In order to get the rent relief needed and navigate bureaucracy, tenants must continue organizing to fight for legislative changes and to fight collectively against evictions and holdovers they now face.   We know the rush to push out low-income communities of color will be led by the unscrupulous and speculative predatory equity corporations. Stabilizing NYC targets predatory equity landlords who also don’t maintain their buildings, make repairs, or provide services. It will be these same bad actors who will receive the most bailout money, as predicted by University Neighborhood Housing Program. The Wall Street Journal ran an article titled “Real-Estate Investors Eye Potential Bonanza in Distressed Sales” and tenant leaders and organizers need to be ready to protect NYC’s affordable housing stock and lead the advocacy efforts to provide critical relief.

We need community leaders to advocate and drive government policy that gives relief to the most vulnerable and ensures they will not be displaced or evicted by the thousands. We need to use this moment to highlight the current disrepair and negligence of predatory equity landlords, prevent mass displacement, and ensure the buildings remain affordable and are taken out of the speculative cycle altogether.

 Housing justice is racial justice. Decades of government disinvestment in communities of color has been exacerbated by redlining, speculation, and overleveraging. Landlords continue to benefit from systemic racism by going unpunished, face little accountability, and are rewarded for their negligent behavior. Landlords wield power over communities through denial of services, neglect repairs, illegal construction, etc and are rarely held accountable by city and state agencies. In the past few decades, landlords have seized wealth and doubled it with guaranteed increases from the RGB and loopholes in state rent regulation law. Our work as Stabilizing NYC will continue proritizing and empowering tenants to fight for their rights in the courts and the street (social distancing of course); analyzing landlord behavior and trends; working on fair and reformative housing and lending policies; building new models of community ownership and preventing eviction that will preserve the communities we cherish as a city.

We urge you to preserve our $3 million initiative funding in FY21 so that, together with you, our organizations and vast tenant networks can lead this fight against the threat of homeless and displacement that NYC now faces on an unprecedented scale. Now more than ever, we must continue to advocate together to ensure NYC families can remain in their homes, communities, and be safe.

Sincerely, 

Stabilizing NYC

Asian Americans For Equality, Inc.
Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association, Inc.
Catholic Migration Services, Inc.
Chhaya Community Development Corporation
CAAAV- Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence
Cooper Square Community Development Committee, Inc.
CASA- Crenulated Company, Ltd., The d/b/a New Settlement Apartments
Fifth Avenue Committee, Inc.
Flatbush Development Corporation
Good Old Lower East Side, Inc.
Housing Conservation Coordinators, Inc.
Mothers on the Move & the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center, Inc.
Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, Inc.
ImPACCT Brooklyn (Pratt Area Community Council, Inc.)
St. Nick’s Alliance Corporation
Urban Homesteading Assistance (U-HAB), Inc.
Woodside on the Move, Inc.
Met Council Research and Educational Fund, Inc.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Inc.
Community Development Project d/b/a TakeRoot Justice

Our Work in Crisis

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.

Check out these SNYC groups for more! St Nick’s Alliance; Banana Kelly Improvement Corporation; Fifth Avenue Committee; AAFE; Flatbush Development Corp; CAAAV; Met Council; NWBCC

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 

Icon Realty Tenants Applaud Attorney General’s Settlement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE : Monday, October 2, 2017
CONTACT : Rini Fonseca-Sabune • 646-459-3010
Icon Realty Tenants Applaud Attorney General’s Settlement
Tenants rejoice as Icon settles with AG and City Council passes 12 Stand for Tenants Safety bills
to strengthen tenants’ rights and end construction-as-harassment.
New York, NY – Icon Community United (ICU), the organized tenants of ICON Realty Management
owned buildings, cheered last Wednesday as Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, along with Governor
Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, announced a settlement between ICON and the Tenant
Harassment Prevention Task Force . This settlement requires the real estate company, headed by
Terrence Lowenberg and Todd Cohen, to correct building violations, conduct construction safely in
ICON-owned buildings, and pay $500,000 to New York City and New York State.
ICON tenants across the East Village, Lower East Side, and Brooklyn have dealt with widespread issues.
Tenants of 128 2nd Ave., 445 E. 9th St., 57 2nd Ave., 222 E. 12th St., 522 E. 9th St., 56 W. 11th St., and
other buildings have experienced issues such as:
● Extended cooking gas outages
● Disruptions of essential services
(heat, hot water, etc.)
● Numerous lawsuits brought
against tenants
● Mix ups with rent payments
● Intensely disruptive construction
● Lead contamination
● Obstructed entry ways
For years, tenants have alleged that ICON has worked to remove rent regulated tenants and conducted
construction in careless ways. Yesterday, the Attorney General’s office reached an agreement with ICON
which requires them to adopt policies and procedures to prevent future violations and safety risks. This
includes clearing all building code violations, implementing “safe construction practices,” providing
tenants with abatements for periods when essential services are disrupted, and establishing a tenant
liaison and independent monitor to ensure ICON’s compliance with the agreement. Per the settlement,
ICON will also pay $300,000 to the State of New York and over $200,000 in penalties, fees, and costs to
New York City’s Housing Preservation & Development and Department of Buildings.
On the same day that this settlement was reached, City Council voted to pass the 12th and final bill from
Stand for Tenant Safety’s legislative package, which will create a Real Time Enforcement unit within the
Department of Buildings (DOB). This unit will dramatically cut DOB’s response time to complaints filed
by tenants, eliminating the ability of property owners to do work recklessly and without permits. ICON
tenants see both developments as huge, and incontestably linked, victories for tenants. The ICU feels
these victories would not have been possible without organized tenants having come together to force
these issues.
Icon tenants from various neighborhoods around New York City weighed in with their opinions about
the the settlement and the new legislation:
“ Thank you Attorney General Schneiderman, Gov. Cuomo & Mayor De Blasio for working with
tenants to put a stop to the odious treatment and displacement of tenants in rent regulated
buildings,” said Susan Pillay, a 35-year resident of 441 E. 9th Street, East Village. “Landlords
have a responsibility to comply with safe construction practices, and we are hopeful that both
the A.G.’s decision – coupled with new laws to curb landlords’ use of construction-as-harassment
– can lead to a better relationship between tenants and landlords, thus ending the intolerable
disruptions caused by unsafe construction, dust, debris, and lack of essential services.”
“Not long after Icon purchased our building in 2013 we suffered one indignity after another –
from the elevator being made inoperable, to the loss of all gas to the building for nearly two
years, to the lead dust proliferation that our building, which has a number of children, infants,
and elderly people, endured. It felt as though ICON was putting tremendous pressure on
tenants to leave. Ultimately, they succeeded in dislodging several tenants by what looked like a
tenant harassment strategy. Simultaneously the remaining tenants endured yet another cycle of
demolition and construction as they worked on those newly vacated units,” said Jeffrey
Houlihan, a 26-year resident of 56 W 11th Street, West Village. “We were also not surprised at
all to learn that the owners would be willing to file false statements with DOB in order to
expedite this process.”
“I applaud the Attorney General’ s decision and success with holding ICON accountable for their
recurring construction practices. Since ICON purchased the building I live in, I have experienced
the gamut from, multiple ceiling collapses to extensive water damage, due to mismanaged work
by ICON. Incessant construction dust, and inordinate noise and vibrations, were the norm” said
Teri Aderman, a 33-year resident of 295 DeGraw Street, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. “However,
with the recent actions of the Attorney General , and our City Council, I will remain hopeful that
ICON will employ more stringent methods in upcoming construction/demolition activity.”
“ We join tenants across the city applauding the Attorney General actions with ICON.
Construction as harassment is an issue that affects tenants in North Brooklyn in daily basis,” said
Rolando Guzman, Deputy Director of Community Preservation at St. Nick’s Alliance. “Several
ICON tenants in North Brooklyn had to deal with excessive dust, disruption of essential services
due to aggressive and disruptive construction in their buildings. The actions of the Attorney
Office sends a clear message to landlords in New York City: no more construction as
harassment.”
“We applaud the Attorney General and City Council for taking these monumental actions. They
were prompted by a huge groundswell of tenant organizing around these issues,” said Cooper
Square Committee’s Director of Organizing Brandon Kielbasa. “Issues in Icon Realty buildings
were widespread and egregious. This settlement is a very important milestone; however it is not
the end of the campaign. Tenants intend to utilize the settlement to its fullest extent. The ICU
will remain vigilant.”
About Icon Community United
Icon Community United (ICU) is an association of tenants living in properties owned by Icon Realty in
New York City that aims to empower tenants and fight harassment.
Stabilizing NYC
Stabilizing NYC is a coalition comprised of fifteen grassroots neighborhood-based organizations, a
citywide legal service provider and a citywide housing advocacy organization who have come together
to combat tenant harassment and preserve affordable housing for the New Yorkers who need it most.
This project combines legal, advocacy and organizing resources into a citywide network to help tenants
take their predatory equity landlords to task for patchwork repairs, bogus eviction cases, and affirmative
harassment.