This weeks readings were useful in identifying both neighborhood issues in terms of property speculation, and tactics that can be implemented on a community organizing level to create or preserve long-term affordable housing in New York City. Land speculation is a topic that arises a lot in New York, especially in the Lower East Side, where some of the most successful organizing around affordable housing preservation has taken place with the Cooper Square Committee (CSC) and Rehab in Action to Improve Neighborhoods (RAIN) organizations.
These organizations were created by tenants who’ s rent controlled homes were being threatened by the predatory practices of profit-driven speculative landlords. These landlords seek to drive out rent stabilized tenants from a purchased building, renovate the spaces to break away from the rent stabilization agreement, then re-lease the spaces at market rate. Harriet Putterman, organizer and board member of the Cooper Sq. Committee states that land speculation follows a 3 stage pattern over the course of 6 months to 2 years.
The 3 Stage Pattern of Land Speculation
1. Acquisition: The speculative landlord tries to drive out existing tenants through aggressive tactics like creating fake ‘notices of non-renewal’ and other misinformation tactics to intimidate tenants who do not know their rights.
This is a crucial stage for tenants because the quicker people get organized, the better chance they have of keeping their homes. This is the stage where tenants can organize themselves or reach out to larger tenant organizations.
2. Renovation: Landlords aim to legally raise the rents above $2,500 so they can bring the units out of rent stabilization through costly renovation. Landlords often hire unlicensed workers, and implement aggressive tactics such as working inappropriate hours, tearing holes in walls, and compromising air quality in further attempts to drive tenants out.
There is a huge gap in tenant protection during this stage. Often, the HPD will not get involved with a claim against the landlord if the building is in a stage of mass construction; and the DOB, who is supposed to regulate construction issues, will not deal with tenant harassment. Successful claims can be filed with state Homes and Community (HCR) but is a complicated process that must be done early and with a fair amount of effort to achieve any results.
3. Management or Mismanagement: Speculators either manage the building long-term to build a portfolio, or sell the property. Managing speculative landlords are less likely to harass tenants. they are preoccupied with filling the units and moving on to other buildings. Mismanaging speculative landlords are usually understaffed and ineffective at managing a building. Harassment often continues at this stage, but organized tenants can take actions such as filing HP actions in housing court to demand repairs or better services.
As we saw in Furman Center’s Subsidized Housing Information Project (SHIP), 62,000 (27%) of the 233,900 unit affordable housing stock is no longer subject to affordability restrictions with many more slated to be removed from affordability programs in the near future. This is happening because many of the government affordable housing programs only last between 15-25 years. Very few programs create permanent affordable housing in the city. As a result, communities such as Cooper Square began to explore the idea of Community Land Trusts (CLT) to take their homes out of the speculation market, and create permanent affordable housing.
Rooted in the 1960’s civil rights movement, CLTs seek to create permanent affordability by separating ownership of the land from ownership of the buildings. A community based non-profit land trust seeks to acquire ownership of the land forever and leases the land to the MHA, while the buildings belong to a community mutual housing association who leases the property to tenants long term. In this way, the control of the housing stock belongs to the community operated organizations and removes the building from the mainstream market. CLTs such as the Cooper Square Land Trust have effectively created long-term affordability, but face many challenges in expanding such programs throughout the city. Finding ways to incentivize private property owners, and acquiring land in the over saturated real estate market of new York City are only a few of the challenges facing this model of housing.
What are the necessary steps that can be taken by community members being faced with aggressive speculative tactics throughout the various stages and situations?
What are the challenges with the various existing models of city-backed affordable housing? How could the CLT model rethink affordability in the city, and how could such a neighborhood specific program work when applied city-wide?
See you all Wednesday!
Santiago + Michael