Member News - Fall 2015
Member News - Fall 2015
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MEMBER NEWS - FALL 2015
The rain did not stop the Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition (STS) from gathering on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday, September 30th. Members of STS—made up of 22 tenants’ rights organizations including UHAB, legal organizations, and other affordable housing advocates —were determined to fight back against negligent landlords. STS organizers and the tenants they serve lined up behind the podium where several City Council members introduced a legislative package targeted at reforming the Department of Buildings (DOB).
These twelve bills are designed to make the DOB more effective in regulating developers and responding to reported building construction violations. This is intended to prevent landlords from using hazardous construction materials and practices to pressure tenants to leave their rent-stabilized apartments. Dubbed “predatory landlords,” these building owners have been trying to push long-term, low-income tenants out so that they can bring in higher-paying residents.
The City Council bills include a call for increased fines for violations, reliable fine collection, limits on construction self-certification, increased oversight and real-time enforcement, and an inter-agency task force. Released alongside the bills was an STS report detailing the results of surveys taken from 150 rent-stabilized tenants and the DOB records of 57 buildings. The findings show DOB’s incredible neglect in responding to tenants’ calls to 311 as well as the array of dangerous environments that so many tenants are forced to live in, due to their landlords’ unsafe construction projects. Tenants chanted in Spanish and English, holding handmade banners and signs expressing their outrage over dangerous and intolerable living conditions.
Before Council members presented their bills, several tenants shared stories of homes in turmoil from late-night construction noise, harmful dust, collapsed ceilings, and sewage from burst pipes due to massive construction in surrounding apartments — all unpunished by DOB.
By joining forces with City Council Members Margaret Chin, Rafael Espinal, Daniel Garodnick, Corey Johnson, Ben Kallos, Stephen Levin, Mark Levine, Rosie Mendez, Carlos Menchaca, Antonio Reynoso, and Helen Rosenthal, STS hopes to end landlord harassment and displacement of tenants through construction.
For more information on the work of STS and ways to get involved, visit www.standfortenantsafety.com, where you can also read the STS report on DOB neglect.
Today Umbrella House, on the Lower East Side, bears no resemblance to theabandoned city-owned tenement it was when squatters broke in and took it over in the 1980s. Converted into an HDFC co-op with the help of UHAB, it continues its metamorphosis: On October 17th and 18th, Umbrella House residents showed off their rooftop garden during the annual Open House New York weekend. This event welcomes the public into dozens of New York City’s buildings for talks and tours, giving people the chance to meet those who design, build, and preserve our city.
Completed in December 2014, the 820-square-foot rooftop garden at Umbrella House serves as a source of fresh produce for the HDFC, as well as a tool for storm water management. Residents of this shared-equity co-op are deeply proud of how they were able to build their garden and maintain it as a community.
This spring, during their first growing season, they harvested swiss chard, broccoli, onions, eggplant, okra, spinach, zucchini, basil, sugar snap peas, jalapeno peppers, tomatoes, and numerous medicinal plants.
The planting and tending of the garden is all done by volunteers and the produce is available for everyone who lives in Umbrella House.
Residents would like shareholders of other HDFCs to learn from their success. Whether your building wants to equip your roof with a garden, solar panels, or take on another building improvement project, Umbrella House residents are eager to field questions about how they raised the money, planned and carried out the construction, and the benefits of their project not only for their building but for the surrounding community.
On Wednesday, November 18th at 6:30pm at 2023 Lexington Avenue UHAB office, the UHAB Manhattan Shareholders Forum will be hosting a presentation by members from Umbrella House on their garden’s success and how HDFCs can be leaders in similar efforts.
To RSVP to the Shareholders Forum with special guest Umbrella House HDFC, contact Kyla Alterman at (212) 479-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to make sure your HDFC is in compliance with city housing laws? Need tips on improving your self-managed affordable co-op? Join UHAB at the 35th Annual CNYC Housing Conference on Sunday, November 15, 2015, at Baruch College. Each year, this conference, sponsored by the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums, offers an opportunity for New York City homeowners to learn about and share best practices for improving their buildings. Among the 75 classes scheduled, UHAB will be hosting three interactive workshops designed especially for HDFC co-ops:
• Ask UHAB: Governance and Compliance with City Rules, Laws, and Regulations—Co-op Preservation Assistant Director Charlotte Bell and former Associate Director Ann Henderson will address governance and compliance with codes as well as regulatory and monitoring agreements.
• Discussion Group for Small Self-Managed Buildings—UHAB Project Associate Hilary Glaus will lead a conversation about the unique challenges and benefits of small co-ops that do not use outside management companies.
• Ask UHAB: Resale, Affordability, and Resident Selection—Executive Director Andy Reicher will address sensitive issues your limited-equity co-op may be grappling with related to selection of new residents, resale prices, and maintaining affordability for current and future shareholders.
Visit www.cnyc.org to see the complete list of conference classes.
Contact Emily at (212) 479-3318 or email@example.com to register and for more information about UHAB membership and benefits.
The Task Force on City-Owned Property is a longtime coalition, nearly as old as 40-something UHAB, and just as persistent about preserving affordable co-ops in New York City. Formed in 1978, the coalition comprises city-wide nonprofit organizations, community groups, elected officials, and other low-income housing advocates. Today, the team of committed organizations continues to meet regularly and advocate for changes in policy, building maintenance, and organizing around low-income co-ops in the city.
“The Task Force has always played a watchdog role and taken on a variety of issues,” Andy Reicher, UHAB’s Executive Director, explained. Most notably, the Task Force initiated the Division of Alternative Management Program (DAMP). DAMP was born as a proposition to the city during the management crisis when the city had thousands of (still occupied but distressed) properties on its hands. DAMP is the section of NYC’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) that develops and sells city-owned property to private owners. DAMP was created to house programs such as Tenant
Interim Lease (TIL) and Community Management programs, and later the DAMP tax cap was created to provide buildings that participated in these programs with a tax benefit to keep their costs down and maintain affordability.
At nearly four decades old, the Task Force sees no signs of slowing down. The coalition has grown to include members of UHAB’s Shareholders Forums, legal service groups, and attorneys.
It continues to fight for the future of what it helped build. As Andy Reicher put it, “We want to see the existing 30,000 units of HDFC co-ops preserved among the 200,000 units of affordable housing that Mayor De Blasio has proposed, so that we can help secure better lives for another generation.”
UHAB is an active member of the Task Force, alongside other affordable housing advocates including Urban Justice Center, Brooklyn Law School – Corporate & Real Estate Clinic, Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), Goldstein Hall PLLC, Housing Conservatio Coordinators, St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corporation, Legal Aid Society Community Law Office, and Brookyn Legal
Services Corp A.
Some three decades ago, so few tenants remained in 132 West 169th Street that they could not even afford to pay the oil bill. “There were icicles in the first floor apartments as big as 100 year old trees!” one shareholder recalled. However, residents of this 24-apartment Bronx building ignored the hallway notices directing them to vacate their deteriorated rental and relocate. Instead, they chose to stand their ground and, with UHAB’s help, began the long, arduous process of saving their homes.
“When I say we suffered in this building, we suffered,” said another resident. “We were in the building two years and we didn’t have hot water, or lights. We used to burn candles on those flights of stairs out there at night, to come into the building. And we used to go across there, to the water hydrant, to get water to bring in.”
In 1983 the building entered the city’s Tenant Interim Lease (TIL) program, to prepare to convert to an affordable co-op. After four years of saving, residents finally purchased the building in 1988, when it became an HDFC co-op. Through a great deal of hard work and sacrifice, residents made sure that their building was renovated and well-maintained and managed. Today it is fully occupied.
“Co-op means working together,” explained HDFC board treasurer Bernice Walker. “Co-op means everyone puts in their two cents, and I think that this is what has gotten us this far…. Though we fight and argue and disagree.”
“There was always a core of people to keep things going, who wanted to maintain the building if they could,” added board president Howard Brown. ”We had so many things that happened to us that brought us eventually together and…kept us together.” These residents went through hardship, but they found a way to help themselves to a better future.
Heating season (October 1st to May 31st) is upon us, the time when maintenance costs can become a real burden on HDFC co-ops. Most of us know some of the things we can do to keep our buildings’ fuel costs down during the fall and winter: Turn thermostats down to 68 degrees, health permitting, wear wool socks and plenty of layers, drink hot beverages, use blankets and small space
heaters, put hot water bottles in beds, and use the oven to cook instead of the stove so it warms the house at the same time. But there are other things you can do, both in your individual apartments and as a building community. Remember, if everyone reduces the amount of heat they use, it helps keep everyone’s maintenance costs low. So be conscientious!
Here is a heating season checklist that many HDFCs have found useful:
1) Check your boiler. Before the real cold sets in, have your heating system inspected and, if necessary, tuned up. Is your boiler operating at its best? A dirty burner or a cracked heat exchanger causes improper burner operation, making the equipment operate less safely and efficiently. Fixing these problems up front could save you hundreds of dollars.
2) Maintain your building’s heat. Make sure it is being distributed evenly. Talk to fellow shareholders. Are some apartments so hot that people are keeping their windows open, while others have shareholders wearing coats indoors? If so, have your heating system evaluated as soon as possible by calling your boiler company and requesting a boiler tube cleaning or a Combustion Efficiency Test.
3) Caulk the cracks. Have your building invest in a caulking gun. This way, residents will easily be able to seal any cracks and crevices (such as around door and window frames and entry holes for telephone and cable wires) that are letting the cold weather inside.
4) Cover your windows. Locking your windows may not be enough to ensure that cold air doesn’t invade your apartment. Thick window curtains and drapes can help keep the cold out and the heat in. In a pinch, cover your windows with inexpensive fleece fabric, blankets, flannel sheets, or even clear plastic.
5) Don’t forget those doors. Warm air is always lost under doors. So installing a door sweep or a draft-stopper bought inexpensively at any hardware store can help keep your apartment warm. You could even add a curtain over the door.
6) Maintain your radiators. Make sure that you do not have furniture blocking your radiators and absorbing the heat meant for the rest of the room. Keep your radiators free of dust, since any amount of dirt on top of them will absorb some of their heat. One trick to prevent heat loss is to use heat-reflective aluminum foil behind the radiator to direct heat back into the room.
7) Cover bare floorboards. You can lose as much as 10% of your apartment’s heat through your bare floorboards (especially when there are cracks between them). Rugs are your best friends in cold winter months.
For more tips, visit
Keep an eye out in January for notices about UHAB’s Oil Assistance Program with CITCO, which helps participating HDFC co-ops collectively save more than a million dollars each year.
For many shareholders, the history of affordable housing in New York City is a personal story. David Calvert, for instance, is among those residents who experienced firsthand the struggles and triumphs of the early days, when homesteading was at the center of the housing movement that he and others say, “really did transform our city.”
Mr. Calvert became interested in housing during the late 1970s when he was facing horrendous conditions. “I needed a new place badly. I was living in a rat-infested, roach-infested, cold water flat in East Harlem. The city was the landlord, and it was such a bad apartment they wouldn’t even charge us rent,” he recalled. So he and his wife, Theresa, joined a group of people who had done something that would be unthinkable today: They had taken over a vacant building and become squatters. At the time, he explained, this was a viable option: “Anyone in New York in the late ’70s, early ’80s could see thousands of abandoned tenements, almost all city-owned. The city was foreclosing on hundreds of buildings every year.
A small group of activists had identified a 10-unit building that was down to only two occupied apartments and they took it over in 1978.”
Half of the block was vacant then, and it was lined with dilapidated buildings. But when others saw what Mr. Calvert and his neighbors were accomplishing at 212 West 105th Street, more homesteaders began to follow suit. With the assistance of UHAB, The 105th Street Homesteaders was formed and seven adjoining tenements were also completely renovated and transformed into affordable co-ops.
Despite the eventual success of these steadfast residents in turning around their neighborhood, the journey was never easy. Drug dealers had to be faced down. Street crime was rampant. They had to negotiate with city government and complete renovations on a sweat-contractor-sweat basis, employing a combination of resident “sweat equity” and professional labor. “We had to do a gut renovation on our apartment over a period of six months before we could even move in,” Mr. Calvert continued.
“My wife and I, every night, were coming here straight from work. On weekends we had building workdays to upgrade the public hallways, basement, and fire escapes; on weeknights everyone worked on their own apartments. It was a beehive of activity in those years. It was all about housing. If you know anything about the local movements in New York, the housing movement has always been active, and during that period, it was the top concern in our communities. Getting a decent place to live was worth all that effort.”
Thirty-five years later, new arrivals and visitors to 212 West 105th Street are immediately indoctrinated by the old-timers so that they will know and appreciate the history and contribute to the community spirit. The sense of community that carried these residents through their toughest times is the strength and beauty of this co-op’s story. As Mr. Calvert put it, “People get the feeling right away that this is a shared environment, that the only way it works well is if everybody contributes to it.”
After a brief summer break, UHAB’s Shareholders Forum is back to meeting once a month in both Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Forum was created in December 2014 to bring together HDFC shareholders from across the city to tackle the most important issues that these limited-equity co-ops face. The Forum strives to create a strong co-op community, where HDFC residents can look to one another for support and discuss their concerns in a safe space. Engaging shareholders in facilitated conversations leads to taking collective action that will benefit all affordable co-op residents.
The creation and preservation of HDFCs is at the heart of UHAB’s mission, but in order to provide assistance to the HDFC community, we need to hear directly from shareholders. Only you have the power to ensure the future success of your HDFCs. So add your voice to the Shareholders Forum to help continue to improve your building and your neighborhood.
At previous Shareholders Forums, we focused on the specific issues that have brought affordable co-op residents to these meetings and what we can do to help and support each other. At the Forum this year, we plan to tackle problems such as structural challenges, the responsibilities of board members and other shareholders, when and how to take legal action in your building, how to support the needs of elderly shareholders, and much more. Please come to our next meeting:
• Brooklyn Shareholders Forum – Wednesday, December 9th, Location TBA.
• Manhattan Shareholders Forum - December 16th (always the third Wednesday of each month), 6:30pm-8pm, 2023 Lexington Avenue
To RSVP for the next Forum or to sign up for future events, contact Kyla at (212) 479-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org and leave your name, building, borough, and phone number.
Maintaining affordable housing in New York, one of the most expensive cities in the nation, has been an often overlooked and little understood challenge for more than a century. “Affordable New York: A Housing Legacy,” an exhibition running through mid-February at the Museum of the City of New York, explores the long history of how activists, reformers, and policy makers helped create and transform below-market housing for city residents. It also examines current and future housing initiatives designed to promote justice,
diversity, and stability across the city.
Since UHAB is co-sponsoring the accompanying event series held at the museum, shareholders and other friends are invited to purchase discount tickets: $10 per seminar (instead of $16) using the code RENT. Mark your calendars for these upcoming discussions:
Designing Better Affordable Housing, Tuesday, December 1, 6:30 pm – With Jean-Louis Cohen (New York University) and Theo Prudon (Prudon & Partners and Docomomo)
Housing a Growing City, Tuesday, January 19, 6:30 pm – With Seema Agnani (National CAPACD), Purnima Kapur (NYC Department of City Planning), Ritchie Torres (Council Member), Sarah Watson (Citizens Housing and Planning Council), and Ingrid Gould Ellen (The Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy)
Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods, and Communities, Thursday, February 4, 6:30 pm – With Sam Marks (LISC New York City)
For more information or to register, visit http://www.mcny.org/affordableny
We hope to see you at one of these special events.
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