Posts Tagged ‘landlord’

Photo: Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia (United Renters For Justice) via NextCity.
A collective of Minneapolis renters, now known as the Corcoran Five, were key to winning a landmark $18.5 million class-action settlement against their landlord. Not long after, in 2020, they signed a purchase agreement for the five buildings in question and began turning them into a tenant-run co-op.

Do the little guys ever win? They do if they organize. As Evicted author Matthew Desmond reminded readers at the New York Times, ” ‘The weapons of the weak are always weak weapons,’ the French historian Lucien Bianco once wrote. It’s true. Paper flowers, homemade noisemakers: it’s not much. … But you cannot deny that that was, and has always been, a true power in American life.” 

In his 2020 article, Desmond dug into one particular organizing success, beginning his story with a Minneapolis City Council meeting that took place in May of that year.

“Vanessa del Campo Chacón rose to speak. An immigrant from Veracruz, Mexico, who ran an in-home day care from her small apartment, Chacón spoke in Spanish, and a bearded young man knelt by her side and translated. This was Roberto de la Riva, co-director of Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia (United Renters for Justice), a tenants’ rights organization that also goes by the abbreviation IX. ‘I’m hours or days from being evicted, and I don’t think the city has deemed this pertinent enough to be involved and to take responsibility,’ Chacón said. ‘We want dignified homes,’ she continued. ‘I’m asking for my daughter and for all the families that are here.’ 

“As she spoke, two other tenants approached the dais and, standing behind the council members, unfurled a huge yellow banner that read, ‘Don’t Evict Vanessa.’

“ ‘I’m sorry,’ the council president, Lisa Bender, interjected. ‘We can’t allow people to come back behind the dais.’ … She was sympathetic to the tenants, but she also had a meeting to run. Before Bender could finish, the room erupted. …

“After a bailiff escorted the tenants off the dais, Vanessa’s neighbor, Chloé Jackson, approached the lectern, pressing her hands together as if in prayer. A Black woman with plastic-rimmed glasses, Jackson was raising her teenage son, Trayvon, on the $15.69-an-hour wage she earned at the airport iStore. ‘We don’t know exactly how long any of us have,’ Jackson said. … ‘You guys get to go home tonight, sleep in the comfort of your beds,’ she said. ‘We have to wonder about this every single night.’

“This was not the first time Jackson and IX organizers had confronted the City Council. For years, Jackson, Chacón and other residents of five buildings in the city’s Corcoran neighborhood had been involved in a prolonged battle against their landlord, Stephen Frenz, and his business partner, Spiros Zorbalas. The tenants had mobilized for better conditions, resisted evictions and participated in a rent strike. They had banded together and pushed the City Council to revoke Frenz’s rental license. It eventually did, stripping his ability to collect rent. But Frenz still owned the apartments where Jackson and Chacón lived. He wanted everybody out so he could renovate and sell to the highest bidder. The tenants had another idea: They wanted Frenz to sell to them.

“Today, in the pandemic economy, millions of renters are at risk of eviction. Even the expanded provisions supplied by the CARES Act — the $600-a-week supplements to states’ stingy unemployment insurance — weren’t doing enough to shield many renting families from homelessness. … Watching this looming eviction crisis take shape, I’ve often thought of those Minneapolis tenants, whom I followed over the last year and a half. I went to report on them — the security guards, store clerks and night-shift custodians — because I wanted to see what happened when a group of tenants organized against a pair of landlords who owned hundreds of apartments generating, as of 2016, a net operating income of approximately $300,000 a month (or $3.6 million annually). Over the course of my reporting, I saw the tenants reimagine — and then reinvent — what stable, affordable housing could look like in their community. I saw them fight,” wrote Desmond in the Times, “and I saw them win.”

The lengthy article goes on to describe key players. Jackson, for example, was not always an activist. Far from it. Desmond explains how it happened gradually.

“Near the end of 2017, Roberto de la Riva knocked on Chloé Jackson’s door on 22nd Avenue South. Jackson opened the door, sighed and asked, ‘Why do you people keep knocking?’

“Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Jackson moved to Minneapolis in 2013, after the Mall of America hired her in its housekeeping department. She was 28 and had an 8-year-old son. Three years earlier, she became the legal guardian of three teenagers, after their mother, Jackson’s aunt, died. She and her boyfriend kept food on the table — she worked at McDonald’s; he was a mechanic — until all three of her cousins were out of the house. By that time, she needed a break and figured a new city might do the trick.

“In Minneapolis, she found a $625-a-month, one-bedroom apartment in the Corcoran neighborhood, within walking distance of the Lake Street light-rail stop. Giving her son the bedroom, Jackson slept in the living room by a pinkish-orange salt lamp and an 8-by-10-inch photograph of her mother. Jackson took a series of jobs, finally landing at the airport iStore, where she was working full time when de la Riva knocked on her door. As its assistant manager, Jackson woke up at 2:30 each morning; got breakfast ready for her son; fed her cat, Kitty; and hopped on the light rail to the airport, arriving at 3:40 a.m. to open the store.

“When Jackson first moved in, she found her landlord, Stephen Frenz, to be fairly responsive. But seeing the condition of the units inhabited by her neighbors, many of them undocumented immigrants, changed her perspective. Jackson often pulled out a bucket or two to catch the leaks. But to sit at a neighbor’s table for coffee, she often had to step over some half-dozen buckets. Many units had roaches and mice, filthy carpets. (Frenz told me that Jackson’s leak and those of other tenants were mended and that tenants’ lack of cleanliness caused the pest infestations.) ‘I felt so bad,’ Jackson remembered. ‘These are people who didn’t know English, and I felt like this man was taking advantage of them.’ …

“Jackson began warming to the idea of buying the properties. She had long tried to avoid this path, hoping to live a quiet life. But haltingly at first, then all at once, Jackson was becoming, as they say in the movement, ‘politicized.’ “

I can’t cover the whole Times article here, but I recommend anything Matthew Desmond writes. I do want to share this part this part of the story for Mother’s Day: “On May 18, Jackson was sitting in her apartment, on a Zoom call with other IX organizers. In the middle of their meeting, several organizers received a simple text from Eddie Landenberger of Land Bank Twin Cities. It read: ‘We closed.’ Landenberger’s text let everyone know that they had finally done it. They had bought the Corcoran Five.

“The tenants yelled and whooped. …

“ ‘Why’s everyone screaming?’ Jackson’s son, Trayvon, asked, coming out of his bedroom. He was 16 now, handsome and half a foot taller than Jackson.

“ ‘Son, come here,’ she said. ‘We closed on the buildings.’

“ ‘Oh, Mom,’ he said, reaching out in embrace. ‘I’m so proud of you.’ ”

The Times article is here. For a version of the story without a firewall, see reporter Cinnamon Janzer at NextCity, here.

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Photo: Avi Werde on Unsplash.
“Rental properties,” notes Living on Earth, comprise more than a third of U.S. housing stock, [and] 40% of the U.S.’s rental housing stock faces risk of damage from climate disasters.”

When I was first visiting retirement communities, I noticed that the heat was turned up high. I asked in one place if residents could control the temperature in their rooms, and the answer was no. I thought about that when I heard today’s story. Renters have little control over the temperature in buildings and no say at all about efficiency steps to counter global warming.

Host Steve Curwood at the radio show Living on Earth introduced a recent show on the topic.

“CURWOOD: There will soon be funds and programs for homeowners to take climate action by installing solar panels and energy efficient heat pumps. But renters typically use a third more energy per square foot than homeowners because landlords often don’t get a financial return on installing expensive upgrades to improve insulation and HVAC efficiency. …

“But there are ways for people living in rental housing to go greener, save energy costs and guard against heat waves and other climate related risks, says Todd Nedwick the Senior Director of Sustainability Policy at the National Housing Trust. He spoke with Jenni Doering.

“DOERING: We want everyone to be able to play a role in mitigating the climate crisis. [Landlords] don’t always have that clear incentive to do so. So what kinds of carrots, or sticks for that matter, can help prod building owners to reduce their energy consumption?

“NEDWICK: [There] are incentive programs out there, utility energy efficiency programs, for example, that will help to offset the cost of making building upgrades. Those are really important resources for building owners, especially owners of affordable housing, where there really is very limited cash flow to actually pay for the upfront cost of some of these upgrades. And we’re also seeing policies like building energy performance standards, which basically require building owners of poor performing buildings to make upgrades to reduce energy use of the buildings. So we are seeing both carrots and sticks. I think what works most effectively is when you combine the two. So, if you’re going to have a building energy performance standard and require building owners to make upgrades, especially in affordable housing, providing resources to the owner to actually pay for some of those costs is pretty important.

“DOERING: And how do those incentives and standards work? Are they at the local level, the state level, the federal level?

“NEDWICK: [Standards] are typically at the local or state level. … There are several cities that have implemented building performance standards, and Maryland just became the third state that adopted a building performance standard statewide. And then for the incentive programs, typically those programs are at the utility level. So it’s utilities that are providing those incentives to their customers. However, state public service commissions really make decisions that impact the utilities’ motivation to provide those energy efficiency programs. Input from residents, from affordable housing providers, is really key to designing these programs in a way that’s truly equitable. …

“One opportunity for renters is community solar. We know that renters can’t control the installation of solar panels on their building, but they can access community solar, which allows residents to basically purchase solar generation from a solar community.

“Renters can have control over, for example, improving the lighting in their unit, using more efficient lighting like LED, as well as talk to their landlord and encourage their landlord to participate in some of these energy efficiency incentive programs. …

“DOERING: A lot of sustainable changes like weatherization, even some energy efficiency measures, may come with a significant upfront price tag. What resources are available to help landlords make these upgrades?

“NEDWICK: [Many] utilities offer energy efficiency rebate programs, which helps to defray some of the costs of the building upgrades. There’s also financing that can be available, a lot of green banks develop targeted financing programs for affordable housing, which provides the upfront resources that building owners will need. …

“Some programs [require] as a condition of receiving funding to make building upgrades, landlords have to keep rents affordable, they have to agree not to raise rents as a result of the upgrades that are being made to the building. … If 100% of the cost of the upgrades are being provided through these programs, then there should be very little increase, if any. …

“DOERING: Given that 40% of the US’s rental housing stock faces risk of damage from climate disasters, that’s according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, how is this set to impact renters? …

“NEDWICK: In this country, we spend so much more funding on disaster recovery than we do disaster preparedness. And we’ve found that particularly rental housing, the disaster recovery funding often doesn’t reach renters and owners of rental housing. Typically, disaster recovery programs allocate funding based on the extent of the economic disruption from a climate event. And so that often correlates with higher property values. As a result, a lot of the disaster recovery funding, especially through some of the FEMA programs, really don’t reach affordable housing residents and owners in an equitable way. …

“The Inflation Reduction Act included a $1 billion program specifically targeted to the HUD housing stock that will allow building owners to invest both in the energy efficiency of the building as well as improve resilience. So we are really happy to see that level of investment and that targeted approach to addressing affordable housing.

“There are also programs in the Inflation Reduction Act that will provide rebates to both single family owners as well as multifamily building owners to encourage building owners to invest in energy efficiency, as well as converting existing fossil fuel burning equipment to all electric. [In] Washington, DC, where I’m from, buildings account for 75% of greenhouse gas emissions. So we’re not going to address climate change if we’re not addressing the existing housing stock. You know, climate policy is housing policy.”

More at Living on Earth, here, where you can listen to the show if you’d rather. No firewall.

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Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
“You’re free to be yourself here and grow in so many ways,’’ said Phedorah, a worker at More Than Words. Boston landlord Stuart Rose is supporting the nonprofit with low rent in Boston’s pricey South End.

I’ve often thought how a charitable landlord could give new life to a town where empty storefronts are proliferating. Of course, a landlord needs to make a living like anyone else, but supporting artists or worthy causes when he has many buildings can increase the value of all his properties.

Stuart Rose is a landlord offering low rent to a charity, and it isn’t even in a decaying neighborhood. He is really just doing good.

Rose is supporting More than Words, “a nonprofit social enterprise that empowers youth who are in the foster care system, court involved, homeless, or out of school to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business.”

Megan Woolhouse writes at the Boston Globe, “Raise a toast, the former Medieval Manor, boarded up for more than a year, will come to life again as a sprawling used bookstore with an unusual social mission.

“It will be run by More Than Words, a nonprofit whose employees are youth from troubled backgrounds who often live in foster homes and homeless shelters.

“Moreover, the owner of the building on East Berkeley Street elected to give More Than Words discounted rent instead of giving in to the tide of gentrification washing over this corner of the South End. The five-story brick building is surrounded by some of the most expensive new real estate in the city, with its neighbor, the Troy, charging as much as $4,600 for a unit.

“ ‘This is 100 percent the convergence of everything right in the world,’ said Jodi Rosenbaum, who founded More Than Words 13 years ago. ‘You don’t see that very often.’ …

“The building has been owned by Stuart Rose for decades, who agreed to lease Medieval Manor’s former space to More Than Words at below-market rate for 13 years. Rose declined to be interviewed, saying through a spokesman that he didn’t want to be ‘knighted’ for his good deeds. …

“More Than Words describes itself as a social enterprise, and provides on-the-job training for youth who have faced problems in court, at home, or in school and struggled to find work. More than 70 percent of its youth have been involved with the foster care system and 40 percent in the courts. The teens also receive intensive case management working with counselors, who help them work through issues and identify goals. …

“The first-floor space will need a significant renovation after decades as a bawdy haven for Renaissance meals. More Than Words has launched a $5 million fund-raising campaign, and Rosenbaum said Liberty Mutual has already donated more than $1 million after its chief executive, David Long, visited the facility.”

Read about all the plans at the Globe, here. There’s more on the youth program here. It’s a great organization, and I can say on the basis of numerous visits to the storefront in Waltham, you’re sure to find a good book there.

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