Organizing Against Tenant Abuse

In New York City there is a huge demand for affordable housing; unfortunately the available affordable  housing stock doesn’t come close to matching the need for it. This issue is becoming greater and greater thanks to the lack of any new affordable developments and a continued decrease in the  existing citywide affordable housing stock. This decrease in the number of affordable units in New York City is a direct result of speculative practices by investors, developers and landlords. If a rent stabilized unit can be deregulated and the rent brought up to market value owners are able to turn a substantial profit.

Through a marriage of illegal tenant abuse and legalized rent decontrol speculators across the city have been rapidly depleting the already small number of available affordable units in NY. If a stabilized unit is both vacant and has had it’s rent raised legally above $2,500 a landlord can raise the rent to whatever they want. However, affordable housing is clearly valuable to those who need it so it’s rare to have tenants leave these units without good reason. Speculators know this and employ illegal tactics of abuse ranging from misinformation and lies to ignoring maintenance needs, and in many cases carry out renovations or construction on the building that puts the physical safety of tenants at risk as a from displacement pressure.
We came to the conclusion that one way to fight this sort of speculation and abuse was too breakdown the process of speculative abuse and rent decontrol for those tenants most at risk while simultaneously highlighting both success stories of battles against aggressive landlords and specific tenants rights as they relate to the timeline of harassment. Through discussions with our outside project partner, Cooper Square Committee, we decided that the project would take the form of a simple zine since it would be easy to produce, distribute and recreate. Basically we wanted to create something that was easy for Cooper Square to make without a lot of effort and resources and also have it be something that is easy to pass along to a neighbor once it had been read over. Brandon Kielbasas at Cooper Square was particularly interested in highlighting this marriage of legal and illegal practices as an overarching mechanism of speculative real estate as it has become the biggest issue for the rent stabilized tenants he represents.
The main challenges we faced were collecting and synthesizing all the necessary information and then distilling the legal jargon and the process of abuse and deregulation down into the simplest terms possible. The available information on tenants rights and speculation is both dense, difficult to find, and spread across many sources. We wanted to create a guide of sorts that used plain language to contextualize aggressive and abusive landlords, make tenant’s legal rights as understandable as possible and highlight stories of successful tenant battles against speculators. In this way the zine could be used as a resource and tool for rent stabilized tenants, both in knowing their rights and in how to fight back against harassment and abuse.
Moving forward the first additions that could be made to this project at a later date are translations. Spanish is probably the most needed in this case with Chinese being the next in line. There is also room to expand and add more success stories, we these as an important component as they illustrate that tenants can win against wealthy and aggressive speculators. The index of resources can be continuously updated, particularly with borough or neighborhood specific contacts for organizers or advocacy groups.
Noah Emrich
Gabriel Berrios


Urban Tactics: A Game for Tactical Community Leadership


Urban Tactics is a board game creating a community experience that allows players to develop leadership/negotiation skills and situational readiness regarding issues of land use, gentrification, predatory landlord practices, and community organizing. The game creates an environment where hypothetical situations and interactions between different players require degrees of personal decision making and negotiation skills in order to move the game forward.

These negotiations are structured to engage the players critically and facilitate understanding on how a decision that benefits some, can have adverse effects on other players; as well as creating an environment where players that are being adversely or unjustly affected can tactically organize and come together in collaboration to better a situation for themselves or others. The scenarios and interactions represent some of the real-life situations that may present themselves between different types of people, but the goal of each scenario is to allow the player to understand the wide range of possible dynamics between power, money, and community. This structure in turn creates a multi-tiered narrative that empowers players to think about scenarios and situations in complex ways; mobilizing and inspiring new possibilities in real-life situations that arise around these issues in their own lives.



The game itself can be approached from a variety of ways that affect the gameplay outcomes and define the game play possibilities. Players can chose to play from 9 different approaches, each with their own set of interactions and benefits. As an example, Let’s look at the Real Estate Developer character.

The real estate developer has the advantage of receiving a high salary, but a low number of community points. Community points represent freedom of movement and capacity to collaborate; a staple in the tool kit of communities, organizers, and marginalized groups; while money represents the power to overcome certain financial restrictions and increased ability to build; Which is more in line with the real-life advantages that a Real Estate Developer might have. Because of these attributes, the Real Estate Developer character can be played through their advantages – sometimes at the expense of other players – but in order to achieve certain things (including the win state), it becomes increasingly difficult without community support. Each of the nine playable possibilities is set up similarly with their own attributes. This system of balances guides the player in a journey of understanding why and how land issues play out while developing critical thinking and negotiation skills.

Strategically, the game is set up to allow a wide array of possibilities for negotiation and collaboration while simultaneously creating situations where other players can be adversely affected by decisions made. This mechanism is designed to give various players capacities that allow them to tactically negotiate or collaborate in different ways, much like is necessary in real-life, in order to create a variety of opportunities, structures, and interactions.


Santiago Giraldo Anduaga + Chris Ray

IMG_0624 Interaction Pieces

Situating Students


The scarcity of land as well as the evolution of real estate development in New York City has long been analyzed and contested.  The complicated systems that govern the land have consistently and repeatedly left many with few options for housing and/or basic human rights. This project focuses on situating students within the city’s affordability crisis by analyzing the relationship between private institutional entities and real estate development.  By using a combination of qualitative and quantitative research, as well as tracing the historical evolution of the FIRE and ICE economies, this project seeks to inform, connect and catalyze conversations to highlight the role of students within the economic housing and development system. Our posters seek to provide a holistic narrative of the urban university to illuminate the role students’ have in a seemingly invisible macro economic system.


The three-part poster presents information about the relationship between private urban universities in New York City (NYU, The New School, and Columbia included here) and the affordable housing crisis.  Each poster demonstrates a different mode of representing information: 1) narrative text and infographic illustration, 2) city maps, 3) personal responses collected from students at The New School.  The three sections are meant to be shown together in succession, but are also designed to stand alone if necessary.

The poster format provides a visualization of the relationship between New York City, private postsecondary institutions, and the students who attend these institutions. More specifically, the information presented here exposes the connections between private institutional real estate development and student financing. These visual aids are meant to act together as a catalyst for campus dialogue about university development projects, funding, and the impact on students.

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Resources of Interest 

Andrew Ross, “Strike Debt – Debt & Growth,” teach-in at the Free University, September 20, 2012. Video accessed at

Ivory Tower documentary:

John Sexton, “Fire and Ice: The Knowledge Century and the Urban University,” speech given on August 10, 2007. Accessed October 2014 at

Tom Angotti. (2008). New York for sale: Community planning confronts global real estate. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

“Where 600 College Students Live Above the Store,” The New York Times, December 31, 2013. Accessed October 2014 at

Map sources:

Pelham, N.Y, “Sanborn Manhattan Land Book of the City of New York,” Sanborn Map Company, 1976

Project by: Monique Baena-Tan, Sinead Petrasek, Zeqing Hong

North West Bushwick Community Mapping Project – Site Improvements

The North Bushwick Community Mapping Project is a dedicated web cartography project that aims to build awareness around the housing crisis specifically facing Bushwick, but also to inform other communities about urban development, gentrification and displacement in New York City.  This site improvement project aims to make the website more accessible to community leaders and new users. The goal of this project is two-fold in that its aims to improve the context of the map and the user experience of the overall website.

The map is at the core of the project, however in its former state loading, navigating, understanding and using the map seemed to be challenging. The overall website had a simple and clean aesthetic, but lacked legibility and continuity.

Bushwick Community Map_1      Bushwick Community Map_2

One goal of the site redesign is  to add a narrative to help contextualize the project within the housing crisis and to help guide new users.

The first step was to conduct an audit of the site to identify both current problems — eg: broken links, prolonged loading times, lack of responsiveness, inconsistencies in the visual design — and areas for improvement. Our initial goal was to focus on the map experience and the narrative for the user, however it became clear that there needed to be some simplification for both the map and the website.


After presenting the UI revision proposals we received positive feedback from Ziggy and NWB. Ultimately we chose to remove the year built slider and hover descriptions from the proposed UI. The reasons for this were that the year built layer is better conveyed as a choropleth map layer similar to the available FAR map layer. As one of the goals of the stories serves to introduce the various map layers we felt that the pop-up descriptions were no longer necessary and could be redundant if added.

One of the problems with the previous version of the map was how it handled loading the data layers. To improve this technical aspect a CartoDB account was created for NWB and the relevant data was imported into it. The web map now loads data from CartoDB with improved speed and interaction. CartoDB also allows for the automation of processing geospatial data with SQL so that when new, updated data is imported into the account SQL scripts can be run to correctly format it for integration with the map.

As stated previously, the prototype aims to redesign the map into a narrative text. Following discussion with Ziggy and Brigette it was agreed that narrative stories should directly relate to the map’s data layers. This serves both as a method for introducing the various map layers while making the connection to what’s happening on the ground in Bushwick with government datasets that often appear abstract and difficult to understand to the general public. Three stories introduce the map: the Rheingold rezoning, Colony 1206 and 98 Linden. These stories attempt to highlight processes that impact local communities as a way to spread awareness around issues that are being faced by residents when they are facing forces relating to hyper-gentrification and urban development.


North West Bushwick Community Mapping Project – Site Improvements

the site can be viewed live at:

the code is available at:

Chris Henrick, Gabriel Gianordoli, Daniel Mastretta and Namreta Kumar

How to find out your apartment’s rent history

For those who inquired about how to request your rental history:

Email the NY State Division of Housing and Community Renewal at or call them at 718 739-6400.

You need to give them your name and address including your apartment number. They will then mail or email you your rent history. Here is a suggested email:


I, <your name>, am currently renting <your address, APARTMENT NUMBER, borough, zipcode> and would like the rent history for the unit I am renting. Any information you can provide me would be greatly appreciated.

thank you,

– <your name>

Be forewarned: I just learned that if you file a complaint it may take up to TWO YEARS for it to get seen by DHCR. I spoke with an agent there on the phone today and they told me they are extremely back logged.

– Chris

Tactical Urbanism show at MoMA

Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities
November 22, 2014–May 10, 2015

Morro do Alemão, Rio de Janeiro, 2012.Morro do Alemão, Rio de Janeiro (2012) by Pedro Rivera.

This futuristic exhibition is based on the premise that in the next two decades the world’s population will reach an alarming eight billion people, of which two-thirds will live in cities, most of which will be underdeveloped and badly planned. In an attempt to circumvent the inevitable, MOMA brings together six teams of researchers and architects to develop fresh solutions for six of the world’s biggest metropolises: Hong Kong, Istanbul, Lagos, Mumbai, New York, and Rio de Janeiro. The imaginative architectural possibilities address public space, housing, mobility, spatial justice, environmental conditions, and other major urban issues. The exhibition takes over the Museum’s third floor Architecture and Design Galleries.

Thoughts on Constructing Community Through Maps? Power and Praxis in Community Mapping

As an alternative or even reaction to traditional cartography, Community Mapping offers a method of utilizing the mapping process in a democratic and transparent fashion with the goal of empowering community groups.  However CM as a practice may be problematic in the sense of how one defines terms such as “community” and how a group engaged in a CM process holds themselves accountable to being inclusive and transparent. Parker illustrates CM’s potential goals and shortcomings by relating her own research with a CM group in Portland, Oregon that created a “Green Map” of the city. Through her review of previous literature on CM and her primary research three themes of CM are identified: inclusion, transparency and empowerment. Parker stresses that at the time of the writing not enough case studies of CM exist and so the method lacks a coherent evaluative analysis. Nether the less her research offers some valuable insights.

To acknowledge the importance of CM one must first understand its relationship to traditional and normative cartography. Parker quotes the geographer / cartographer / artist Dennis Wood as stating traditional maps seemingly come from nowhere’ & ‘operate from behind a mask of seemingly neutral science.’ This eludes to cartography’s historical legacy as being outwardly objective when in fact maps were and still are used for socio-economic and political purposes (see gerrymandering, redlining, mapping drilling rights in the soon to be ice-free Arctic Ocean, or making claims to the Spratly Islands). Maps did this by obfuscating traits such as the criteria of what gets mapped, who the author(s) are, what is left off of a map and who the map is intended to serve. Taken as truthful and objective artifacts, maps were typically not questioned for any implicit subjective and political nature. Community Maps on the other hand attempt to appropriate maps for a radical agenda explicitly. The process originated from indigenous communities mapping land rights in developing countries and was later used for social justice purposes in developed countries.

Parker outlines three themes of Community Maps; inclusion, transparency and empowerment. CM strive to be inclusive by engaging a wide range of community members. However as Parker points out, they may still fall short as she shows with the Portland Green Map’s exclusion of low income residents through its members privileged status and environmentalist discourse. Transparency is made by stating what the purpose of the map is, what the criteria is for deciding what gets mapped, its motive and authorship. In other words, such maps are “self-consciously social and political.” Empowerment can be achieved through either “social or procedural change” or “building capacities or human capital for collective action.” In other words a CM can empower community members by enabling them to organize around issues such as environmental clean up or urban development.

It is interesting that Parker’s article was written just around the time of the emergence of the proliferation and adoption of web-mapping. Google Maps launched in 2005, a year before Parker’s article was published. In cartography circles the role of technology and the democratization of mapping is constantly debated, yet many of Parker’s points continue to be relevant. A proliferation of open-source software for mapping is readily available as well as the OpenStreetMap project, a world wide participatory mapping project. However, one could still argue that there is a high barrier to entry for learning and using these technologies which may discount the argument that they are making mapping and cartography more of a democratic process and medium.

In Collaboration with NWMC, Daniel, Gabriel, Chris and Namreta

In order to create a more efficient communication method for organizations and housing interest groups working within and outside of Bushwick  we will work to improve the current NWBC website’s interface and user design.

As we suggested in our presentation much of the website lacks context and by understanding the information and the needs of the community we hope to develop a narrative and build a better experience. We each have specific interests in developing a stronger narrative, but as our feedback suggested it is important for us to narrow out focus to the audience of this community and lend our perspectives to those solutions.

We had developed the following loosely structured timeline:

Week One: Visual Language – “Landing Page of Maps,” i.e. contextualize map when you first open it; Merging visuals from the newsletter and the website

Week Two: UI – Developing User Interaction of Maps; Wireframe website

Week Three: UX – Use case scenarios

However after the feedback we received, our next steps are to meet with the NWBC group again to further discuss and develop the website’s functionality strategically on their narrative interests and their development goals.