URGENT UPDATE: Solidarity With Louis Flores!

 

Background Info On Louis’ Case

 

Louis’s Landlord is Rosalind Spodek, the widow of Leonard “Dracula Landlord” Spodek. Louis’s Landlord still does business with Herbert Donner, Dracula Landlord’s former business partner. Together, they run ADI Management, which has been the target of an unrelated Federal civil rights complaint, and they manage apartment buildings that have been in the news over allegations of violations that have caused at least one death.All across New York City, Housing Court is exploited as a tool that Landlords use to cause displacement of long-term tenants. Join us, as we stand together against unscrupulous Landlords

Louis’s Landlord began the nonpayment case after the Landlord refused to cash one month’s rent check and before Louis paid the next month’s rent. Refusing to cash rent checks as a pretense to sue tenants is against the law, but no regulator holds unscrupulous Landlords accountable for such violating tenants’ civil rights. The Landlord now wants to collect legal fees from Louis after the Landlord was responsible for prolonging the Court case by denying Louis key documents he needed, included a copy of his renewal Lease. At this court hearing, the judge will decide whether Louis will be made to pay legal fees to the Landlord’s attorney, even though they played a role in dragging out this Housing Court case. The Landlord is demanding over $5,000 in legal fees. This is so unfair.

Because the Landlord commenced the rent collection petition based on a false pretense, for other legal misconduct (like never serving the Rent Demand as required by law), and for never having made repairs that were revealed in Court filings, the Landlord should not collect any legal fees.

The judge, who will hear the motion on Tuesday, is Queens Housing Court Supervising Judge John Lansden. Judge Lansden has been described as “pro-Landlord.” By joining us on Tuesday, you can bear witness to way that Judge Lansden runs his courtroom. We need to make sure that Judge Lansden does not get another term as a Housing Court judge. Louis has blogged about his Housing Court case, and you can read more about how Judge Lansden has acted to benefit the Landlord : https://beforeitsgone.co/stories/PYHRYz.

We have to build up a network to support all Queens residents, who get dragged into Queens Housing Court by unscrupulous Landlords.

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Anthony Bourdain and the “Inevitably” Changing City

Earlier this month, Anthony Bourdain of the award-winning CNN travel series Parts Unknown took his viewers on a journey through Queens. Over steaming bowls of thenthuk (Tibetan hand-pulled noodle soup), tamales, and Korean food that is “more authentic than food in K-town,” Bourdain engaged locals in conversations about the future of Queens. For some of his interviewees, Queens is still a place where immigrants can “make it,” rising from rags to riches to live the American dream; but for others, the future is far less certain.

In true Bourdain fashion, he starts his conversations with street vendors. The street vendors of Queens provide their communities with meals which create a sense of “home away from home.” They also operate as extra eyes on the street, keeping their neighborhoods safe, and serve as unorthodox community spaces where locals can share updates from their lives and discuss current events. If all goes well, these street vendors will save enough to open up storefronts, providing a more financially secure future for the next generation. But Parts Unknown highlights that the path to ownership and financial stability for immigrants is often fraught with perils.

After losing her job in the world trade center after 9/11, Evelyn Coyotzi became a tamale vendor to support her family. Despite the popularity of her lovingly hand crafted tamales, the business struggled. She was arrested 15 times because, like thousands of other vendors, she could not get a license.

There are 20,000 street vendors in NYC, but only one in five vendors actually have a license because of an outdated NYC law from the 1980s which caps the number of street vendor licenses to 4,200. Vendors who can’t get a license face a tough choice: face hefty fines and arrests or enter the black market where vendors pay above-market prices to “rent” the rare city-issued licenses. According to the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a permit that costs just $200 annually from the city may go for $25,000 on the black market.

Parts Unknown elevates one policy solution in an interview with Sean Basinski of the Street Vendor Project. The Street Vendor Modernization Act would double the number of street permits across NYC over a seven year-period starting on March 1, 2018. This is an important step, but does not fully address the issues that street vendors and other immigrants face as they seek to maintain their foothold in Queens.

As neighborhood demographics have been changing in Queens, there has been a push to get street vendors—even those with licenses—off the street. “If you get higher rents, nicer buildings, they’re not going to want a street cart out front,” said Bourdain. Working class people are also finding it harder to afford rents which have soared—so much that the average Queens resident spent over half their income on rent in 2016.

One of Bourdain’s interviewees brushes off these changes as the “story of New York”, implying that demographic shifts and displacement are inevitable. He misses the point.  Gentrification is never an accident. Gentrification happens when policy makers and developers deliberately collude to advance policies which benefit those with capital over poor and working class communities. In Queens, we see this through:

Collectively, these gentrification schemes will raise property values, while pushing out the street vendors and immigrants who Bourdain rhapsodizes in Parts Unknown. To truly protect Queens as a diverse and vibrant borough where working class people can thrive, we must fight for much more than just the Street Vendor Modernization Act; we must push for a comprehensive set of policies which put a break on the run-away luxury developments in Queens, while protecting those who are most vulnerable to getting pushed out of their homes and businesses by unscrupulous measure.

Here are a few ideas to stop gentrification in Queens:

  1. Pressure your local Council Member to stop land-use changes that favor corporate and luxury developer interests over poor and working class people. In NYC, most major land-use change requires a community-review process in order to move forward. While local community boards can weigh in on these decisions, their opinions are advisory-only. City Council on the other hand has the power to stop a land use change, and City Council almost always defers to the local Council Members. That is why we are demanding that our local Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer oppose three major developments which we know will hurt our community: Long Island City Core Rezoning, Sunnyside Yards, and BQX trolley(Read more on the community-review process here). Pressure your local Council Member through direct calls, participation in protests, signing petitions(like this one), and gaining allies to join you in your cause. This strategy is particularly effective during election season, when Council Members are afraid of losing votes.
  2. Push for policies that prevent displacement of renters and businesses. Some neighborhood changes do not have to go through the community-review process. For example, a developer could build a luxury condo “as-of-right” on privately owned land which meets the height restrictions of the existing zoning code. But this could still have a major impact on the community. Once neighboring property owners recognize that the “neighborhood is changing” they may also raise rents in their buildings to take advantage of the market. Even property owners in rent stabilized buildings can use strategies such as intimidation to vacate apartments and “major capital investments” to push rents higher than the percentage set by the rent guidelines board. Proposed anti-displacement policies such as the Citywide Certificate of No Harassment and Small Business Jobs Survival Act could go a long way to protect the most vulnerable renters and small businesses in a speculative market.
  3. Demand genuine community-based planning. For the long-term survival of our communities, we must go beyond the whack-a-mole strategy of fighting each gentrification scheme which crops up; communities must be able to put forward their own, alternative plans which are enforceable by the city. Technically a community-based planning process exists, but too many roadblocks mean that these plans usually only come to fruition in whiter, wealthier communities. According to section 197-a of the 1989 New York City Charter, community boards have the right to put forward their own community-based plans. Yet out of more than 100 community plans that have been put forward in the last half century, only 13 have officially been approved as “197-a plans.” As Hunter Professor Tom Angotti explains in Zoned Out! Race, Displacement and City Planning in New York City we must radically rethink the way community planning works in New York City. That starts with vesting more decision-making authority in community boards; guaranteeing that every community board have a full-time trained planner who is knowledgeable about community-based planning; and holding community boards accountable to principles of social justice as too many boards openly discriminate on the basis of race and ethnicity and fail to engage all corners of their neighborhood.

To learn more about how to get involved in building a movement, reach out to us at QueensAntiGentrification@gmail.com.

 

Hey MAS! What are you doing in the name of Jane Jacobs?

Last week, dozens of grassroots organizations and passionate citizens came together to demand the Municipal Arts Society to reevaluate their Jane’s Walk criteria, and halt the controversial developer-led Friends of the BQX Jane’s walk which was scheduled for Friday, May 5th.

The Queens Anti-Gentrification Project instigated a letter campaign, which was joined by Queens Neighborhood United, Queens Not 4 Sale, Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network, the authors of Zoned Out, Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus, UPROSE!(who also led a protest) and many others who called and sent their own letters to the Municipal Arts Society which hosts the annual Jane’s Walk celebration in NYC in honor of legendary community activist Jane Jacobs.

The Friends of the BQX canceled their walk, and the Municipal Art Society released a public statement in which they wrote: “we welcome your feedback that perhaps Jane’s Walk should be a more selective event. We are happy to discuss that suggestion with our international partners in planning next year’s festival.” This is a victory for all who believe that Jane’s Walk should be led by community organizations that live true to Jane’s philosophy of equity and social justice.

In order to get MAS to follow through on their word, we must collectively hold MAS accountable in creating a selective event that prevents luxury developers from appropriating Jane’s name. Let MAS know that if they are going to truly live up to their mission to uphold “community-based citizen planning” they MUST develop criteria to vet Jane’s walk leaders, even if it means a smaller event in 2018.

What is a Jane’s Walk?

Jane’s Walks are “Citizen-led walking tours towards community-based citizen planning” according to the official website. They are held each year in memory of community activist and writer Jane Jacobs who devoted her life to fighting community-killing urban renewal plans. Famously, when she learned that urban renewal czar Robert Moses was planning an expressway to cut through her beloved Washington Square Park, Jane did not stand by quietly: she organized alongside her neighbors, and was even arrested in a public hearing for her vocal opposition. If she were alive today, there is no doubt about what she would’ve done—she would protest the Friends of the BQX and repudiate MAS for allowing them to promote their luxury trolley in her name.

Why do we oppose the BQX?

The Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) is a luxury streetcar that would line the waterfront from Astoria to Sunset Park. According to its supporters, the system’s cost would be offset by tax revenue siphoned from an expected rise in property values along the route—in other words, through gentrification. This not only endangers working class renters, but also some of the few remaining manufacturing zones along the planned trolley route. A trolley would create significant pressure for rezonings that favor residential development which is far more lucrative than industrial companies. Express bus lanes would result in comparable improvements in commute time for a fraction of the price, according to Columbia University’s lead transportation David King—without causing gentrification.

If the BQX hurts working class people and manufacturing companies, who benefits?

A private real estate developer, Two Trees Management, conceived the BQX proposal and formed a nonprofit, Friends of the BQX, to support its realization. Its board of directors includes developers like Tishman Speyer, The Durst Organization and Rudin Management. Developers with existing or planned developments along the trolley route, like Park Tower Group, Alma Realty, Toll Brothers and Brookfield Properties, have donated a combined $245,000 to Mayor de Blasio’s now-defunct nonprofit, Campaign for One New York.

What can you do?

  • Send MAS a message demanding that they never again allow developers to appropriate Jane’s Walks for their profit-motivated schemes. MAS must develop criteria for selecting Jane’s Walks leaders, and that criteria should be informed by members of the community. Contact MAS President Elizabeth Goldstein directly at egoldstein[at]mas.org. For additional staff contacts and phone numbers, see the MAS directory.
  • Sign this petition and demand that Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer say no to the luxury trolley that would run through his district. Although Jimmy has expressed concern over the developments, he has yet to express his unconditional opposition, insinuating that it is too early in the planning phases. As vigilant community members we know that this is false. The time to fight community-killing plans is now—not when the City rams a fully baked plan through the community review process.

For Further Reading:

∙         Developers along planned streetcar route donate to de Blasio (NY Daily News)

∙         The Streetcar Hustle (Jacobin)

∙         De Blasio’s Trolley is on a Collision Course with the City’s Manufacturing Sector (Crains) 

∙         Critics say de Blasio’s proposed streetcar will do more to boost real estate values than improve transit (Crains)

Response to JVB Regarding the April 20th Queens March Against Gentrification

First and foremost we want to again extend our deepest condolences to Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and his family for their recent loss. We know that family and community is everything. That is why we unanimously agreed to cease all activities for the weekend after our march to give space for healing. And it is also why we must continue our work to protect our neighborhoods.

This is an open response to a letter which Jimmy’s aides disseminated at the April 20 Queens March Against Gentrification, where nearly a dozen grassroots organizations and 75 residents gathered to demand Jimmy’s opposition to three mega-developments planned for West Queens: the BQX Trolley, Sunnyside Yards development and Long Island City Core rezoning.

In his letter, Jimmy claims to share our “concerns” about these plans which he admits would do “more harm than good”; however, he refuses to unequivocally oppose these projects, implying it is too soon to act on these plans.

Hunter College Urban Studies professor and author of Zoned Out! Sam Stein has a message for Jimmy in solidarity with our neighborhoods:

“Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer claims that “the truth is none of these proposal are even close to being enacted.” That’s true—planning takes a long time, and there’s a big gap between when plans are announced and when they’re implemented. But the fact remains that there is no time like the present to take a strong stand against them. Once plans get codified, debate is confined to the margins of policy—exact ratios of inclusionary zoning, precise Area Median Income ranges, street-level transit routes, and so on. If the plans under consideration are fundamentally bad for working class residents, then these types of negotiations hardly result in the scale of changes necessary to make a difference.  Once plans are brought to ULURP [the Uniform Land Use Review Process], they almost always pass in one form or another.

During his 12 years in office, Mayor Bloomberg’s City Planning Commission initiated 123 rezonings; 122 of them succeeded. The sole exception, the Kingsbridge Armory, fell apart at the last minute due to failed labor negotiations. Every single other one passed in some form or another, and often quite consistent with their initial proposal. More recently, Mayor de Blasio has initiated several rezonings, but most of them have floundered before going through the formal ULURP process. In Flushing, for example, oppositional signals from the councilmember lead DCP to withdraw their proposal. Once these plans move farther along in the process, they take on a great deal of institutional inertia and are quite difficult to stop.

The plans proposed for western Queens [the BQX, the Long Island City Core Rezoning and Sunnyside Yards Development] are a threat to long-term working class residents and new immigrants alike, and the time to fight them is now.”

Jimmy also requested a meeting with organizers of the march, and we must publicly decline this invitation. We firmly believe that dialogue between elected officials and their constituents should be public—not behind closed doors where corruption breeds. If Jimmy is genuinely interested in hearing the concerns of community, we invite him to participate in a meeting/ forum to dialogue with endorsers of this campaign, that is open and public, for all concerned residents to see.

Again we would like to thank everybody who supported and participated even in the smallest ways in this campaign thus far, and encourage everybody to continue fighting together. We will defend our neighborhoods!