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SEPTEM BER 1978 VOL. 3 No.7
Oliver Wendell Holmes:
Profile of an Organizer
Oliver Holmes, left, with tenant E. Nesbit and his daughter in front of 1239 Boston Road.
by Bernard Cohen
"You have nothing to fear about a rent strike. You have been in trouble,
and now it is time to get out of trouble. A rent strike is legal. Nobody in this
country can put you out."
The small group of tenants crowded into the neatly furnished living room
of Musette Cousins's four room apartment at 1239 Boston Road in the
South Bronx listened intently as Oliver Holmes con tinued to speak.
continued on page 13
by Susan BaldWin
To most people, it was a normal
h o t ~ slow summer day at City Hall,
workers strolling in the shadows of
the municipal building, chatting and
enjoying their luncheon break.
Other citizens who had made the
trip to this part of town did not find
the atmosphere as much to their
They were headed to the monthly
auction of city-owned (In Rem)
properties at No. 1 Police Plaza,
finding themselves running the
gauntlet of several dozen angry citi-
zens outside on the bricks who
were picketing the place and chant-
ing, "Stop the auctions, fix the
buildings, and organize!"
Once inside the auction room,
would-be purchasers lost still 'more
of the glow of daring, opportunity,
and challenge suggested to them by
the gaudy cover of the monthly
auction booklet as they read the
cautionary letter within from the
General Services Commissioner.
Here the buyers were warned that by
paying their money they would not
necessarily get their choice. The city
was asking them to remove housing
code violations from the buildings
they bought, and to swear that they
were not tax-delinquent on other
properties they might already own.
These new covenants hobbling the
free-wheeling spirit of past auction
sales have ended the days of the
continued on page 2
A UeT/ON continued
simple sale of "shipwrecked" property to the salvagers.
Why the new restrictions? It's because, despite the
auctions, the city is fast becoming the nation's number
one slum landlord, foreclosing an ever-increasing
number of properties, many of which have seen the
auction block before.
Whereas in the past a- delinquent landlord had three
years to pay real estate taxes, now after one year, under
a City Council ordinance, his holdings are seized for
nonpayment of the taxes. Problem buildings become the
city's problem that much sooner.
"There are a number of problems with the city's
auction process, and they cannot be blamed on abuse by
speculators," James Meyer, legislative aide to
Councilman Stanley Michels (D-Man.) and a member of
the Task Force on City-Owned Property, said recently.
"No matter how many restrictions the city puts on its
auction policy, it still has and will continue to have the
wrong attitude about disposing of its property. The city
is acting as a real estate broker, and that's the attitude
that has proven to be wrong ... In the long run the city
may be losing money, properties, and neighborhoods by
following these same old blind procedures and falling
into the same old traps.
"Anyone with any savvy knows that they are allowing
themselves to be deceived if they claim auctions put
properties back on the tax rolls," Meyer continued.
"The reality is that this just does not occur, and figures
to support this position were worked up in [former
Deputy Mayor John] Zuccotti's secret report. Anybody
who is knowledgeable knows that this is not true. In the
long run, everybody loses. The neighborhoods decay,
more properties decay and come back into the city's
hands, costing the city more money."
In a management audit of the old Department of Real
Estate circulated confidentially in January, 1977,
Zuccotti's report charged:
"Recent audit samples show that four years after an
auction sale by the Real Estate Department 94 per cent
of the properties sold are in tax arrears, 54 per cent are
again eligible for In Rem proceedings, 44 per cent no
longer provide suitable housing for city residents, and
25 per cent of the purchasers paid no taxes at all. The
data indicates that unscrupulous purchasers utilize in-
adequacies in the system to the disadvantage of credible
auction bidders who factor mortgage and tax payments
into their bids."
Responding to reports like this, a group called the Ad
Hoc Committee to Stop the Auctions picketed last
month's auction. Organized during the summer
months, this committee of neighborhood housing
activists has called for a halt to the auction sales on the
grounds that the city's present policy does not guarantee
that new landlords will maintain the buildings better
than the previous owners.
Citing the city's loss of more than 170,000 units of
housing between 1970 and 1975, the committee has also
pointed out that the city has no control over vacant
buildings being bought by speculators who can charge
high rents for cheap repairs or can keep these buildings
vacant for future profit.
Under the city's interim guidelines for disposing of In
Rem property-guidelines which critics claim only go
"halfway towards meeting the urgent problem of
housing abandonment and neighborhood deteriora-
tion" -all city-owned properties in designated
community board districts in Manhattan (CB's 3,9, 10,
11, and 12), the Bronx (CB's 1-6), and Brooklyn, (CB's
3,4,5,8, and 16) will be barred indefinitely from sale at
public auction.
In addition, other multi-family residential In Rem
properties within certain restricted areas will be
removed from the auction list unless their sale has been
approved by the Department of Housing Preservation
and Devefopment (HPD) or by the City Planning Com-
mission. In the restricted areas, however, the sale of
one- and two-family homes will be allowed so long as
the owner-occupant agrees to live in the building for five
According to Eli Rabineau, director of the planning
commission's division of public facilities, these
guidelines are currently being implemented by the com-
mission, but no formal vote has been taken for their
adoption as city policy.
The last and decisive word on the efficacy and
propriety of placing properties on the monthly auction
calendar is spoken by the Board of Estimate. This
board, comprising the three city-wide elected officials
and the five borough presidents, is empowered to
remove properties from the auction block by a simple
majority vote.
Board of Estimate members differ in their views of
the city's current ambiguous auction policy.
Comptroller Harrison J. Goldin supports a program
for disposing of city-owned properties that is "delib-
erately flexible," that recommends "neither universal
sales [of properties] nor land-banking," according to
his press secretary, Richard Piperno. The most practical
policy should prevail, the Comptroller believes, and
each proposal should be "judged on its merits,"
Piperno said.
Ronald Marino, special assistant to Manhattan
Borough President Andrew Stein, favors "land-banking
in those areas where there is a lot of abandonment. "
Marino, who often represents Stein at Board sessions,
explained, "The city really recoups very little at auction.
And often after one of these sales has taken place, the
city must repurchase the properties at inflated prices [as
was barely forestalled recently in the South Bronx
Development Area]. Or the city is selling to straw com-
panies or the property is being milked for tax purposes
or second mortgages .. But I think we've seen enough
of that in the city.
"Very little is gained from immediate auction sales,"
Members of the Ad Hoc Committee to Stop the Auctions provide street theatre for passers-by and potential bidders at the city's auction of
tax-foreclosed properties.
Marino went on. "I am hoping with HPD in charge of
the In Rem properties that a holding policy will be
developed for the vacant properties and that occupied
buildings will be considered for the community
management program," he concluded.
Opposing this view, Bronx Borough President Robert
Abrams "has said on a number of occasions that the
city should not be in the landlord business and that the
properties should be sold as soon as possible," asserted
Robert Castellanete, Abram's assistant.
According to Castellanete, Abrams supports the
concept of 30 or 40 families living in a building
incorporating as a not-for-profit housing company in an
effort to form a cooperative that would qualify for re-
habilitation loan programs through HUD or the City of
New York.
"But," he was quick to add, "it costs a lot of money
to maintain these In Rem buildings no matter who is
doing it. Quite frankly, if no one is interested in the
building, then it should be put on the auction block and
put back on the tax rolls."
City Council President Carol Bellamy, questioning
the entire auction process, said of the city's current
policy, "At least they are looking at a bidder's back
taxes and are making this person sign an affidavit. I
would say that this means the city is beginning to deal
with this problem. But the question is larger. We should
be talking about how we can find more creative uses for
the land."
Cautioning that the city must worry about acting as a
"land-banker for speculators," she added, "I am
equally disturbed by planning boards making blanket
decisions about releasing land. Just to declare a mora-
torium on the release of this land bothers me. I think
rather the issue here is that the city should try to get its
house in order. "
An HPD point of view was expressed by Charles
Raymond, deputy commissioner for property manage-
ment. "I support putting a hold on sales of these prop-
erties for at least a couple of months while we will be
talking to the community boards to find out which of
these buildings can be slated for our programs,"
Raymond said.
"We will do this before we feed properties to DRP
for auction ... I am not supporting the moratorium on
auctions," Raymond declared. "When you have 6,000
occupied buildings to take care of, you can't keep them
in the public domain."
A City Council resolution calling for a moratorium
on all auction sales until January, 1979, was introduced
last April by Councilman Michels and co-sponsored by
a number of Council members who also sit on the Task
Force on City-Owned Property. Resolution 207 is still
buried in committee in the Council. Michels has
petitioned for the bill to come to the floor and has
threatened to hold public hearings on the outside if the
bill is ignored within the Council. A modification of the
bill would set a fixed term of either nine months or until
June 30, 1979, for observing the moratorium.
In the absence of any better plan, the city will hold its
monthly auction this month when 150 parcels in New
York City, Nassau, Broome, and Delaware Counties
will be sold off to the highest bidders, but the money to
be raised from this auction and previous auctions this
year will contribute only a small fraction to the city's
enormous budget.
Referring to the Department of General Services'
August report that the auction sales would net less than
$7 million this year (it has only about 100/0 of this
amount in hand), the Manhattan Borough President's
aide Marino asserted, "This is a marginal figure when
you're talking in terms of a $14 billion budget for the
city. It is a drop in the bucket, four-tenths of one per
cent ... This figure alone is indicative of the need by the
city to hold that land that is coming into its ownership
and to develop some long-range, responsible plans for
it." 0
by Susan Baldwin
Aramis Gomez, embattled assistant commissioner of
relocation in the Department of Housing Preservation
and Development (HPD), was dismissed this month
from his post after almost five years of service scarred
by bitter confrontations with community groups
fighting the tide of urban "removal."
During these years, tenant - advocate community
groups have never missed an opportunity to seek the
commissioner's removal from office whenever there has
been a change of leadership at City Hall or at the city's
housing agency.
"There is nothing further to say about this," Gomez
said, noting that "things are changing" and that
"probably community pressure and political pressure"
played some part in his dismissal.
"I have no remorse, and I feel nothing against them,"
he was quick to add. "While 1 was here, I was only
carrying out the policies for the mayor of the City of
New York . . . I am very proud of the fact that I was the
commissioner with the longest tenure in this office."
The erratic quality of his administration evidenced by
the unevenly applied rules, regulations, and rent policies
for urban renewal site tenants drew frequent criticism
from tenants and community groups alike, but Gomez
appeared to thrive on controversy. Self-assured and
straightforward in conversation, he nonetheless often
appeared to hide behind subordinates when pressed for
m e e ~ i n g s by community leaders seeking explanations for
his actions.
Although HPD officials could not officially confirm
Gomez's successor at press time, City Limits has learned
that Manuel Mirabal will assume the assistant
commissioner post.
A housing specialist with the city's Community Board
Assistance Unit since March, Mirabal served as district
manager of Community Board No. 9 in Manhattan for
a year and was an aide t%rmer Congresswoman Bella
S. Abzug from 1972 until his appointment to the com-
munity board.
Gomez, who served as one of the two appointed
members of the New York City Housing Authority
under former Chairman 'Simepn Golar, left the
authority in 1973 for the post of commissioner of
relocation at the then Housing and Development Ad-
ministration (HDA) when Joseph J. Christian became
the authority's chairman.
"Anyone who has a political job has to understand
that it is just that," Gomez said. "I was appointed com-
missioner back in 1974, and I was appointed by the
mayor, Mayor [Abraham D.] Beame, when HDA was
Aramis Gomez
still HDA ... . Beame came in Jan 2, 1974,1 was sworn
in the same day, and I stayed here through the reor-
ganization under [Administrator Thomas J.] Appleby
and [Acting Commissioner Sander] Lehrer ... And I
think Commissioner [Nathan] Leventhal has been fair
with me."
Asked to comment on his career at HDA and HPD,
Gomez said, "I think we accomplished a lot, and this is
why I am not mad. I think I did a very good job." He
also asserted that while he supervised urban renewal site
dwellings, not one boiler went unrepaired for more than
48 hours.
-"This is a very long and difficult job," he added,
"because you are a landlord and also a marshal at the
same time. But, I think if you understand that you are in
this position, it can be a very humane job."
The former commissioner explained his comments by
referring to past incidents that led to more or less happy
"I think we did a tremendous job for ERP [the city's
Emergency Repair Program] by maintaining our
shelters in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn," he
"We are especially very proud of our Regent Hotel
[West 104th Street and BroadwaYl. This is not the
greatest life when our people have to leave their housing
and move into temporary space. But this is a clean
place, and I am pleased to say that since we have been
there, there has been no fighting reported from our
He also cited his willingness to meet with tenants over
difficult housing matters and his ability within the
two years of his service under Mayor Beame to raise
more than $500,000 for the city's treasury from the
collection of rents from the urban renewal sites. He
emphasized that this was accomplished despite the loss
of more than 50 per cent of his staff as a result of the
city's financial crunch in 1975.
Since Gomez came to the agency in 1974, the powers
of the office of relocation have diminished consider-
ably. . .
When he first came to HDA, the city was stlll
embarked on a program of new construction and
development and, as a result, was very much involved in
clearing sites for new construction. . . .
It was during this phase that Gomez and hiS adrrums-
tration first became embroiled in bitter arguments with
tenacious tenants-and the community groups that
support them-who were not about to be removed from
their homes to make way for future housing plans that
did not include them.
One such community fighter is Frances Goldin of the
Cooper Square Community Development
and Businessmen's Association, a Lower East Side
Project Area Committee (PAC) that monitor's several
neighborhood urban renewal "holding" sites where
about 150 title-vested tenants still remain.
Earlier this year, when the community groups were
pressuring Mayor Edward I. Koch for Gomez's
removal, Goldin said of the self-professed landlord and
marshal "Gomez and his policies have to be treated as
a and the aim of this totality is to destroy
borhoods. We fight and we continue to fight agamst
him and all his ilk because if they had their way, these
communities that we live in and call home would have
been wiped out a long time ago.
"I know Gomez 25 years, and I know what he and his
allies have been doing . . . is fronting for the big real
estate dealers .. . who are involved in the worst crime of
all-making money off the backs of the poor, threaten-
ing them with rent increases, and throwing them out on
the street if they don't pay."
Responding to news of Gomez's dismissal, she said,
"I think it's great and long overdue. Too long have we
had to live with a lot of policies that were stimulated out
of idiocy and bad management and judgment.. Maybe
now things can be reversed ... I consider this move to be
a start." .
Goldin and other Gomez foes were asked to outhne
qualifications for the relocation position and found
them not easy to define.
"I think the citizens should have something to say
about the position, especially groups that have had
experience with relocation and all its side effects,"
Doris Rosenblum, president of the Stryckers Bay Neigh-
borhood Council, the PAC that oversees sites that
house about 50 title-vested tenants in Manhattans's
West Side Urban Renewal Area.
Manuel Mirabal
Commenting on Gomez's tenure as relocation com-
missioner, Rosenblum said, "As you know we had
many problems with him, and I can't say that I am
unhappy about his going . .. But, I am also
surprised. When I heard several months ago about hiS
demotion and paycut, I thought it would be soon."
During Leventhal's major reorganization of HPD last
spring, Gomez was dropped from deputy
of relocation to assistant commissioner, and orgamza-
tional changes were made within that department, the
most notable being the removal of management and
maintenance responsibilities for city-owned buildings
from the relocation division to the newly created Office
of Property Management headed by Deputy
Commissioner Charles Raymond.
"A number of Gomez's problems became worse when
he tried to raise the rents on the urban renewal sites up
to $22.50 per month," Rosenblum explained. "People
just thought that was too much and fought it hard but
lost in court. What's strange is that we still haven't been
billed for it [the rent increase], but I guess something
will have to be done."
According to Commissioner Raymond, an equitable
arrangement for settling this lawsuit over rent increases
must be worked out with the tenants.
Commenting on Gomez's departure from office, he
added, "I think he worked very hard. He is a very
decent person."
Speculation on Gomez's termination centered on the
role that Deputy Mayor Herman Badillo may have
played in it, perhaps by refusing to do anything to
rescue his old friend from the ouster demanded of the
new HPD regime by Gomez's persistent and finally
persuasive critics.
"I think the people have the right to complain and
fight for the best they can get," he concluded. "I don't
blame them, and I do know that one of the major
problems I faced that made me unpopular was that I
had to raise the rents .. . But, I still go out of here with
my head very hIgh."
A new grandfather, Gomez plans to return to private
life at 689 Columbus Avenue. He has no other immedi-
ate plans. 0
Preparing for the solar wall. On the scaffolding are Ted Finch of ETF,
designer of the project, and Freddie Cadrera CUANDO supervisor.
Photo by Jane Wholey.
Solar Wall
On the Lower East Side, a large pane of fiberglass is
being bolted to the south wall of an abandoned building
that has been taken over by a youth service organization
called Cuando (Cultural Understanding and Neighbor-
hood Development Organization).
The "solar wall heater", combined with thermal
shutters, will warm a third floor gymnasium, which
hundreds of youths have used for the past four years
without any heat. The building is at 9 Second Ave.
The wall heater is a passive solar system which
collects and radiates heat without the assistance of
expensive plumbing and pumps which go into active
systems. It was paid for by a $4,000 grant from the
National Center for Appropriate Technology. ETF said
the wall will generate the amount of heat that would be
produced by $200 worth of fuel oil per year and will pay
for itself in 15 years.
Neighborhood teen-agers and CUANDO staff built
the wall themselves.
The grant is part of a larger sum awarded to a
coalition of Lower East Side community groups for
development of a recycling center, community gardens,
greenhouses and aquaculture tanks to grow fish for
local consumption.
A 4O-kilowatt windmill will soon be installed on the
shores of the East River at Hunts Point to provide
alternative power for converting solid waste into rich
soil for the South Bronx.
New York City's first intermediate-sized windmill will
belong to the Bronx Frontier Development Corp.,
which has turned a three-acre junkyard into a compost-
ing center to transform 50 tons of waste per day into .
humus. The enriched soil is given free to other
community organizations for creation of gardens and
The windmill, expected to be operational in
November, will generate enough electricity to empower
eight blowers to aerate the compost piles, heat and cool
a construction trailer and run drying ovens, typewriters
and lights. Surplus electricity will be fed back to
Consolidated Edison and credited to Bronx Frontier's
The windmill was paid for by a $34,000 grant from
the federal Community Services Administration. It is
expected to achieve a first year savings of $4,500 and
pay for itself in less than 10 years, according to the
Energy Task Force.
The two-year old Bronx Frontier Development Corp.
was co-founded by Irma Fleck, an amateur gardener
with 30 years of organizing experience in the
community, and Jack Flanagan, who is on leave of
absence from the New York City Police Department.
ETF is a federally funded organization of architects,
engineers and educators providing technical assistance
to low income community groups with alternative
energy projects. D
Peoples Housing Network has announced the begin-
ning of its Fall School for Organizers. For the first time,
the School will be held in upstate New York as well as
New York City.
Ten classes will be offered weeknights at 6 pm in
Manhattan, beginning Thursday, September 21. Five
classes will be offered in Albany and Schenectady on
Saturdays and Thursday evenings; the first of these will
be October 14.
The School for Organizers is designed to train staff
and volunteer members of housing groups in the process
of community organizing and in the specifics of housing
programs and issues such as redlining, rent control and
sweat equity homesteading. Instructors include PHN
staff and experienced specialists from other organiza-
For information about schedule, content and fees:
New York City Capital District
Roger Hayes/Michael McKee Laurie Holland
Peoples Housing Network Peoples Housing Network
115 East 23rd Street 401 Craig Street
New York, N.Y. 10010 Schenectady, N.Y. 12307
212/533-5650 518/370-1880 D
ANHD's 13-week seminar series on neighborhood
planning and government and private housing and loan
programs begins September 20.
The sessions will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the
YMCA. McBurney Branch, 215 West 23rd St., Room
202, in Manhattan. The space has been donated by the
. For further information call Anne Hartwell at 674-
7610. D
HPD recently launched the Tenant Interim Lease
(TIL) program in an effort to create a legal management
option .. for the tenants living in tax-foreclosed, city-
owned (In Rem) buildings around the city.
With the expectation that many tenant groups
applying for an interim lease will have little or no prior
self-management experience, HPD is requiring that
each interested group take a management training
course during the first month of the lease.
Under a $141,000 contract with the city, the Urban
Homesteading Assistance Board will offer the first
course early in October, covering building management,
record keeping and accounting. The accounting
manuals for the course will be available to any tenant
The course will be followed up with visits to tenant-
managed projects to provide further training and
technical assistance.
With the completion of the first round of vesting of
between 8,000 and 10,000 In Rem buildings in
Manhattan and the Bronx, the city expects the Brooklyn
vesting will most likely contribute an additional 10,000
properties to the ever growing list by the end of the year.
Up to 250 city-o.wned, tenant-occupied buildings will
be admitted into the TIL during the program year which
began September 1.
After a period of proven management capability,
tenant groups can enter into negotiations with HPD to
obtain a long term lease agreement with an option to
purchase t h ~ building.
In the event that the residents of a building have not
organized as a tenant association or are not sure if their
building is eligible for admission into the TIL program,
what follows are a few pre-application procedures that
the potential self-management group should pursue.
Find out the In Rem status of the building in question
by visiting the tax collector's office in the local borough.
The tenant representative should be aware of the Block
and Lot number of the building. Ask to see the current
ledger which will provide the following essential
information (ask the clerk to assist you if you have any
trouble locating this information): (1) Check for the
amount of back taxes owed on your building and also
check to see if it is listed INREM ACTION NO.--------.
If this is the case, your building may soon be city-
owned; (2) Check for an indication of a 15B agreement
between the landlord and the city and the date of said
agreement; (3) Check to see if the property is listed as
"title-vested" (foreclosed) and the date vested. If this is
the case, your building is city-owned.
Once a building becomes listed In Rem, the landlord
has eleven months to reach a 15B agreement with
the city. The 15B agreement allows the landlord to pay
15 per cent of the tax debt while the remainder is spread
out in a series of payments over a period of up to six
years. This particular arrangement offers the landlord
the opportunity to redeem the property if he is so
inclined. During this ll-month period, it is crucial that
the tenant group or its representatives monitor all
information recorded about the building so as to find
out as soon as possible if a 15B agreement has been
If your information search reveals that the building in
question is In Rem or title-vested, inform the tenant
body in your building and move to organize as a tenant
organization. (By this point your landlord has obviously
lost interest in the building and your organization will
be crucial to a return of vital services in the building).
Each building provides its own unique problems.
Once the tenant body is organized, get in touch with
your neighborhood tenant association to get assistance
in forming a unified building strategy.
A minimum of 60 per cent of all tenants in your
building must sign a petition expressing the desire to
enter into the TIL program.
If tenant groups are interested in the TIL program,
they should telephone William Smith, head of HPD's
Direct Sales program, at 566-6975, or write to him at
HPD, Room 8160, 100 Gold St., New York, N.Y.
10038. D
A $1.5 million program to provide part-time employ-
ment for 400 ex-offenders in neighborhood service
projects is expected to begin in October.
The goal of the jobs program, sponsored by the Vera
Insitute of Justice, is to provide an immediate source of
income to recently released prisoners while they seek
secure, permanent employment.
Participants will earn $3.50 per hour for up to 75 days
of work over six months, or an average of three days a
week. They will work in supervised teams of eight to ten
on neighborhood improvement projects.
Work will be available on a first come, first served
basis to anyone over 18 years of age returning to New
York City from a city, state or federal prison. There will
be no restrictions on criminal record, but each work site
will be carefully monitored.
Vera Institute is working with many community
organizations to develop suitable projects. Suggested
activities include lot clearing and planting, housing
renovation, cleaning and painting of community
centers, demolition, building facade painting, curb cuts
for the handicapped and park redevelopment.
For further information, call Joseph Stillman at
986- 6910. D
by ~ r n a r d Cohen
The wheels are turning for a new round of public non-profits had opposed.
service employment jobs in New York City amid strong Although the entire CET A program came under criti-
signals from Congress that sharp limits may be placed cism, the sharpest arrows were aimed at Title VI public
on the size and nature of this valuable but not-so-popu- service employment, designed originally as a counter-
lar and politically vulnerable program. cyclical measure to rapidly absorb those people who
Legal notice soliciting proposals for CET A (Com pre- were thrown out of work temporarily during a down-
hensive Employment and Training Act) Title VI swing in the economy, and to phase down once the
projects in 1979 appeared on Sept. 7. The deadline for unemployment level dropped.
submitting applications to the city's Department of Many believe that growing resistance to government
Employment was set for Sept. 29. spending-the so-called "Proposition 13" mentality-
With existing contracts expiring between December is fueling the opposition to the program. CET A was
and March, New York City was expecting approxi- initiated in 1973 when national unemployment was at
mately 11,000 CET A VI public service employment jobs 4.5 per cent. As the economy slid into a recession and
for next year. Of these, 3,700 to 4,000 would go to unemployment nearly doubled, CETA was greatly
community-based organizations and other non-profit expanded in 1976 to meet the demand for a larger
sponsors whose programs in housing, health, human government role in the creation of jobs. The federal
services and other fields serve needs beyond what the budget for CETA has risen from $1.5 billion in 1974 to
city is financially capable of providing for. $10 billion in 1978, and $11 billion was proposed for
However, turmoil in Washington over renewal of the 1979. A major contributor to the expansion was the rise
CET A program for four more years has made it impos- in public service employment (PSE) jobs from 200,000
sible to be certain about projections. While Congress is ($440 million) to 725,000 ($6.2 billion) over that
not yet finished with the CET A legislation, the House of period.
Representatives has already acted to cut tens of thous- "There is a feeling that the [Title VI] program ought
ands of jobs from Title VI, lower the wage levels and to be wound down, that projects that are not efficacious
limit the length of time individuals can stay in the should be dropped," an aide to Sen. Jacob Javits who
program. has followed the CET A debate closely said. "It was
Criticism of CET A was so strong during debate in the intended to be a temporary employment program."
House last August that sponsors of the legislation took The tenor of the debate in the House indicated hostil-
the unusual step of pulling the bill off the floor to avoid ity toward public service employment on the part of
any further erosion of the program. many members.
In the Senate, the authorizing committee was less "The history of the program is replete with evidence
hostile, but the budget committee knocked $1 billion that public service employment is the least effective,
out of CET A, half of it from public service employment most costly and most abused program of CET A," Rep.
(Titles II and VI). Joe Moakley, D-Mass., said.
"Both [House and Senate] budget committees are Another House critic quoted 1977 U.S. Department
assuming a phase-down in enrollment" because of a of Labor figures that 80 per cent of CET A VI workers
more conservative mood in Congress toward expensive were found to have a high school education or better,
government social programs, a staff member of one of two-thirds were male and only 20 per cent were non-
the committees said. white-all to say that the more employable, rather than
"The delay in and of itself is obviously an impedi- the less employable, are benefitting from the program.
ment to sound planning," DOE Commissioner Stanley Rep. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., who offered the
Brezenoff said, warning that the proposed changes successful amendment to scale down the program from
co.uld have a serious impact on New York City's 725,000 to 660,000, said, "It is wasteful. It is infla-
economy. Brezenoff told City Limits that the city faces tionary. It directs money away from those who are most
the loss of 5,000 CET A VI jobs if current efforts to in need of employment."
scale down the program are successful. He cited the The charges leveled against PSE were that it has been
strict time limit on participation as a particular blow to marred by overspending through mismanagement and
New York's program. fraud; it has failed to reach those most in need, espe-
On another front, DOE has placed new size limits on cially the youth; it has not moved participants into
CET A proposal packages submitted by groups of non- unsubsidized private sector jobs; it lacks training and it
profit sponsors and has given other city agencies new has been used as a slush fund for local governments to
review authority over their projects, a step which the subsidize their existing payrolls rather than to create
new jobs, a glorified revenue sharing process known as
New York City, for example, used CETA VI funds to
rehire 3,076 municipal workers in 1977-78, according to
the Employment and Training Planning Council, a city
advisory body.
Defenders of PSE say it is a very important tool for
meeting the nation's commitment to full employment
and that many areas of the country are still reeling from
the loss of large numbers of jobs (New York City had 10
per cent unemployment in 1977 and 8.8 per cent last
July); that publicity over a relatively few abuses far
exceeded their r ~ a l significance; that the program has
been reformed to better target jobs to those most in
need and to curtail misuse, and that further restrictions
will only cripple it.
Some supporters say that Congress itself is largely to
blame for the abuses that have occurred (the one most
often cited was the use of CET A funds for a nude
sculpting program in Miami) by pushing through a
rapid buildup of the young jobs program without also
instituting the necessary management controls.
"While PSE has been the most abused area in CET A,
it has provided thousands of Americans with work
experience and job history, while at the same time
providing valuable services to many communities," said
Rep. Harold C. Hollenbeck, R-N.J., said during the
House debate.
More recently, an aide to Rep. Ted Weiss, D-N.Y.,
who argued that reducing CET A salary levels would
have the effect of disqualifying all but the most menial
jobs from the program, pointed out that New York
City lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs
since 1970 and added, "This program has to operate in
the real world."
By the time the CET A re-authorization bill was with-
drawn on August 9, the House had approved the follow-
ing changes:
-a $1 billion cut in budget authority for CET A VI.
Sources said the resultant job decrease from 725,000 to
660,000 will be less drastic than sponsors of the budget
cut intended because of some confusion over figures.
-a $10,000 ceiling on the federal contribution to
CET A wages and a reduction in average salary from
$7,800 to $7,000.
-elimination of automatic upward adjustments for
high-wage areas such as New York City or for increases
in the cost of living.
-limit of 20 per cent on wage supplementation by the
local sponsor.
-limit of 18 months for participation in the program
and tighter eligibility criteria.
The House action means that the maximum salary for
a CETA VI job for the next four years will be $12,000,
and there will have to be a great many jobs in the $6,000
range in order to satisfy the $7,000 average.
The danger is that the CET A wage will be comparable
to the minimum wage by 1981, said Ronnie Kweller,
head of the CET A Project at the Center for Community
Change in Washington. "It will be a farce to talk about
creating meaningful jobs that will lead to jobs in the
private sector," she said. "It is unrealistic to think you
will have a quality program."
The Senate has approved a CET A re- authorization bill
that would allow a $15,000 maximum salary through
upward adjustment and supplementation and would set
the average at $7,800. However, the bill would limit
participation to one year.
The final shape of the program awaits further action
by the House, followed by a conference committee to
work out differences in the bills. Final approval before
the September 30 expiration of CET A is considered
doubtful. The alternatives appear to be a continuing
esolution that would fund programs at the current
evels or a supplemental appropriation.
New York City has been told to submit a three-month
plan to DOL to carry through the first quarter of the
federal fiscal year.
Laurel Eisner, a spokeswoman for the city's coalition
of CET A VI non-profit sponsors, said a drop in avail-
able jobs "would have a terrible impact on the volun-
tary sector," adding that "we could effectively use
10,000 jobs."
According to the Employment and Training Planning
Council, non-profit organizations applied for 27,672
CET A VI positions on 1,632 projects in 1977. Of these,
approximately 4,900 jobs were funded.
In addition to the possible loss of jobs, non-profit
sponsors are very concerned about DOE's decision to
give outside city agencies veto power over proposed
The coalition is worried that outside review
may lead to delays, particularly for projects that touch
several city agencies; may open the door to politicking,
and may limit the kinds of projects that will qualify,
depending on the criteria used by the city agency.
"Some agencies might not approve an innovative
proposal," one non-profit sponsor said. "They may
prefer to see an expansion of what they are already
At City Limits press time, a meeting was scheduled
between the Housing Preservation and Development
Department and representatives of community-based
housing organizations to work out an agreement on
DOE has also set a minimum of 100 jobs and a
maximum of 300 jobs for packages submitted by non-
profit sponsors grouped together under one umbrella.
The new limits are likely to reduce the size of many
projects and raise a number of other policy questions
for groups that do not currently fit the new parameters.
Expected new federal limits on length of participation
may cause transition problems for many organizations.
It took National People's Action a year and several
months to get a meeting with HUD Secretary Patricia
Roberts Harris. When the encounter finally took place
on August 16, the most powerful government housing
official in the nation made a number of concessions
which left NPA leaders mildly hopeful.
Specific agreements were reached, after hours of
discussion, regarding the Community Development
block grant program, Urban Development Action
Grants and other HUD programs.
The meeting resulted from a June 5 sit-in by 200
housing activists who occupied the Secretary's Washing-
ton D.C. office.
NP A is an alliance of neighborhood groups primarily
from the Midwest and Eastern seaboard states and is
based in Chicago.
At this first meeting, Harris agreed to establish a task
force comprising HUD officials, NPA representatives
and local government officials to evaluate HUD's
monitoring of the community development program.
This concession came after Harris insisted that her
regional and area staff members are doing a good job of
monitoring, with neighborhood leaders from 12 eastern
and midwestern cities countering with examples of
laxity and malfeasance by these offices.
"She kept saying that Congress had not given her the
authority to do what the groups wanted her to do," said
Dave Duncan of Binghamton, who attended the
meeting as a representative of the New York State
Tenant and Neighborhood Coalition. "She kept saying
that she wanted the same things that we did but she
didn't have the staff to do the monitoring."
Ed Gorman of Binghamton's West Side Neighbor-
hood Organization said of the encounter, "We're not
interested in what she says or thinks. It's what she does
that's important. This money could do for the urban
community what the Marshall Plan did for Europe after
the War, and it's a crime what the city is using it for."
The Secretary also agreed to provide technical assist-
ance to neighborhood organizations seeking help with
developing UDAG proposals and to negotiate the defi-
nition of "neighborhood projects."
NP A and others have criticized HUD for spending
too much UDAG money on industrial development and
commercial revitalization at the expense of projects to
benefit neighborhoods.
In addition,Harris agreed to reopen more than 50,000
claims from persons who bought defective FHA-
insured homes between 1968 and 1976. HUD will work
with NPA to develop a plan to aid these homeowners
who face foreclosure on their FHA-insured properties.
NPA anticipates additional meetings with Harris.
Peoples Housing Network of New York State is coordi-
nating the upcoming meeting which will deal with such
tenant issues as public housing, subsidized housing, and
HUD's pre-emption of local rent controls. For more
information, write to Peoples Housing Network, 115
East 23rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10010, or telephone
212-533-5650. 0 .
Alberto Fuentes, left. and Francisco Cameron, both 16, show the colorful mural at 251 East 119th St. which ten East Harlem students
designed and painted this summer under a special program for youth. The mural is the final artistic touch for the complete sweat equity
rehabilitation of the 23-unit building.
by Margaret Gillerman
Part II of a two-part series
Gathered in the doorway of 92 St. Nicholas Ave. are: front, left to right, Alex Franklin, Elizabeth Lemon (STRESS), Florence Fauntleroy,
Enid Gobern, Laura Batey, Ken Ferrin (STRESS); rear, Lillie Wright, unidentified, George Morgan. Photo by Margaret GiILerman
The saga of a group of elderly tenants who seized
control of their apartment building from the landlord
began two years ago under familiar circumstances for
Harlem. The tenants had no heat or hot water. Their
home at 92 st. Nicholas Ave. was in dangerous disre-
pair. The landlord had threatened to abandon.
In September, 1976, Leopold Altman, agent for the
Gerjo Realty Co., owed $65,000 in back taxes on the
building. The tenants owed him, he said, $13,600 in
back and current rents.
At first, tenant Laura Batey worried about what
would happen if the landlord walked away. "What
worried me most was what would happen to all the
good, paying tenants-most of us senior citizens on
Social Security," she said. "We didn't want to have to
go out in the cold and find new places to live."
Another tenant, Enid Gobem, said she was angry
"that those who were paying had to suffer because of
those who weren't.
"But I can understand why they didn't pay," she
said. "That Altman, he wouldn't do nothing for us. He
wouldn't paint. He wouldn't plaster up holes in the
ceilings or walls or fix floors or bad plumbing. He
wouldn't put glass in the front door. All he wanted was
that rent."
Late in September, Altman sent the tenants a letter
asking for rents: "I am very sorry that you're not receiv-
ing elevator or hot water service. In order to get these
things fixed, it will cost me approximately $4,000. If I
were to get a better part of the rents owed me, I would
be able to make the repairs immediately. If I don't
receive the money, I'll be compelled to layoff the help
and call it a day."
Mary Scott, who manages Altman's books, said 92
was a money-losing building and would have been so
even if all the tenants had paid rent. She blamed rent
control, a 300 per cent increase in fuel costs that year
and a doubling of fire insurance rates. The rent roll
would not bring in enough income to cover upkeep or
emergencies, she said. But the tenants would later prove
her wrong by providing basic maintenance with signifi-
cantly less than the complete rent roll.
By the time Altman's letter arrived, Mrs. Batey and
some of the other tenants already were considering a
rent strike. They didn't think they should be paying for
services they were not receiving. Mrs. Batey said the
tenants could run the building better themselves.
But as soon as Altman notified the tenants he was
leaving, problems began. The tenants in 4B were so
angry they dismantled water pipes, turned faucets on
full blast, and flooded the building from the fourth
floor to the first.
A second problem came from Consolidated Edison in
the form of a letter in early October: "Your landlord
has not paid Consolidated Edison. We will have to turn
off service unless payment of $9,549 for utility service
and a deposit of $420 is received."
The next day Mrs. Batey and three friends marched
down to Con Edison with $1,000 they had collected
from tenants and managed to win a temporary delay.
But, the lights went out one night anyway, and in a
candlelight session the tenants decided to seek help for
their many problems. They went to STRESS Compre-
hensive Housing Service, a HARYOU-ACT delegate
Agency on West 116th Street in Harlem.
STRESS workers searched through city records for
building violations at 92 and inspected each apartment.
They found exposed electric wires, raw sewage, rats, a
broken boiler and gaping holes in the floors of ten
apartments. The findings were conclusive: 92 st.
Nicholas Ave. was in an illegal, life-threatening state of
disrepair. The estimated cost of bringing the building up
to code standards exceeded $36,000.
By the end of October, 1976, 22 of the 32 tenants were
paying rents to the Tenants Committee escrow account
and Chester Wright had been elected chairman of the
The rent strike continued for seven months without
any action taken by the landlord. The tenants used their
collective rents to make repairs and maintain basic
services-managing the building in the way a court-
ordered 7-A administrator would have. They contracted
with plumbers, carpenters, electricians, plasterers,
painters, locksmiths and glass installers.
Elizabeth Lemon and Marian Hansen of STRESS
maintained detailed banking and accounting records on
all activities and set up a complaint and repair schedule.
The tenants avoided some of the common problems of
self-management-lack of technical and business exper-
tise-because they were guided by STRESS. Volunteers
from around the neighborhood did heavy odd jobs for
the tenants.
The Tenants Committee met every week through the
winter. Mrs. Batey said the worse conditions got out-
side, the more people started coming to the meetings.
Between October and March, expenses totaled
$6,548. During those months the Tenants Committee
collected $9,460 in rents. Rental income should have
been $4,492 each month. Rent in arrears by March
totaled $25,437, including what was owed to Altman.
"A lot of tenants wouldn't pay at first because they
said it was illegal, which it was in a way, and that we
weren't bonded to collect the rents, which we weren't,"
Mrs. Batey said. "Some would say, 'You're not the
landlord. What gives you the right to take my money?'
"So I say, 'To be real frank, you're not paying rent
because you never pay rent to nobody.' ... we just took
what we could get and spent it wherever it was needed."
Of the 30 to 32 tenants, an average of 16 or 17 paid
rents each month.
Florence Fauntleroy, another longtime tenant, said
she "figured we could put all our rents together and use
that for repairs and everything would be just fine. But it
wasn't that way. It was one of them very cold, cold
winters." And winter came early.
Pipes burst, the roof leaked and icy water flooded the
building. Inside, water pressure was so low that water
hardly ever reached the upper floors. Some days tenants
had to bundle up and walk to a nearby fire hydrant to
collect water in pails.
Heat was off and on from September through
November. Finally, the tenants went to the city's
Emergency Repair Program for assistance. To insure
continuous heating after that, the Tenants Committee
signed a contract with the city for oil deliveries.
Blit the contract gave no assurances the boiler would
continue working-and it didn't. Mrs. Batey
remembered. "Oh, there would be those nights, and
we'd hear the wind and see the icicles hanging off the
roofs across the street, and then the boiler would break.
And I was always afraid the older ones, the sick ones,
wouldn't last 'til morning."
One bitter night Mrs. Batey had to knock on every
door and collect money to pay a boilerman. Some
tenants refused to pay; but others pitched in the Social
Security checks and the boilerman agreed to come.
In January, a working crew from Operation Open
City repaired the roof at 92 and insulated the windows,
doors and boiler. The tenants knew then they could
survive the worst-the winter-without a landlord.
In mid-January, the tenants voted to take action to
make their self-management legal. Attorney Harold
Kaplan, working with Community Legal Offices,
suggested they initiate a 7-A proceeding to strip Altman
and Gerjo Realty of any claims to rents. Under Article
7-A, the court replaces the landlord with an adminis-
trator approved by the tenants. This administrator then
collects rents and uses the funds for repairs, fuel, utili-
ties and maintenance.
A successful 7-A action would give the tenants of 92
legal backing to take three important steps: evict non-
paying tenants, rent the 34 vacant apartments in the
continued on page 15
HOLMES continued
"All we're interested in doing is getting this building
functioning. You are the victims of this man's greed
because you have given this man your money, and your
children are falling out of windows or freezing in
winter. Your money will bring safety and heat in the
winter, and right now it's not.
"We can do anything we want to as long as we're
together as far as this building and getting things done
are concerned."
Oliver Wendell Holmes is a housing organizer. He
was named for the 19th Century physician and writer
and father of the famous Supreme Court justice because
of his mother's interest in literature. At age 53, after
many years as an insurance salesman and a hospital
therapist, Holmes has found a new profession, and he
has immersed himself in it.
He spends his days and many of his nights talking like
this to tenants who are so despairing about their living
conditions that they think they are ready to bypass their
landlords and begin their own action to improve their
That, of course, is a major decision. Most residents of
poor neighborhoods know little about their rights as
tenants and have well-founded fears about being
evicted. They don't understand their own power to
demand services from their landlord. They don't know
they can collect the rent themselves and open a bank
account. They don't know they can pay to have the roof
repaired or an intercom installed. They don't know
much about going to court.
Holmes is attending the meeting at 1239 Boston Road
at the request of the tenants. Seven of the building'S 18
occupied apartments are represented. The tenant in an
eighth sends word that she supports the others but
cannot attend this meeting.
"If we can get 10, we can go," Holmes tells t h ~
group. "Every name I'm taking down I expect to see at
the next meeting. Speak to your neighbors and tell them
what it's about. See if you can get the super and his wife
on your side. We don't want to alienate anyone. I will be
with you every step of the way, no matter what time of
the day or night."
In meeting with the tenants of this and other
buildings, Holmes adopts a number of roles and
carefully avoids others. He stirs them up, needling them
about their living conditions. "I begin to agitate them. If
they don't show any anger, I make them angry. If they
don't get mad, they are not going to move, and the next
thing you know they have a social club."
He explains how to prepare for a rent strike,
including making one last effort to negotiate with the
landlord; how to keep records, determine repair
priorities and contract for services. He explains about
available city programs and legal procedures. And he
scolds them when internal squabbling hampers the or-
ganization or tenants fail to carry out agreed upon
plans. "We will not go to court until all the back rents
are paid," he told one group of tenants recently.
Holmes says his job is to capture the frustration that
infects all the tenants as individuals and convert it into a
constructive mass energy that can be used to restore
badly deteriorated housing into habitable shelter.
At the same time, he stresses, it is essential that he
maintain his identity as an organizer. His objective is to
help tenants develop their own leadership so they do not
become dependent on him. It is a somewhat shadowy
role, more akin perhaps to a steering wheel than to a
"I'm not there to hold their hands. I make them do
everything that needs to be done. I stand back and let
them carry the ball. If they don't do what is needed, it
won't get done. I can help them get essential services,
but primarily it has to come from them."
One of the things Holmes says when he goes into a
building is, "I don't have to be here. If I am madder
than you, I have no right to be here at all."
Holmes is one of three housing organizers with
the Alpha Housing Corp. in the Melrose - Morrisania
section of the South Bronx. They were hired last March
under the Comprehensive Employment and Training
Act (CET A) program and work from an office in St.
Augustine Church.
Most of Holmes's days are taken up with visiting
buildings, contacting city agencies about problems,
receiving tenants who come into the office and filling
out paperwork. Most of his evenings are spent meeting
with tenant groups in various stages of development.
Tenant leaders frequently call him at home at night to
ask his advice on pressing matters.
Typical of the buildings he is working in are 615 East
168th St. and 1239 Boston Road.
The apartment house at 615 East 168th St. is a 6O-unit
building with courtyard entrance. The tenants were
without heat and hot water last winter because of a
broken boiler. Rain and snow leaked into top floor
apartments through the broken roof. The plumbing
needed repairs. Many of the tenants have been paying
excessive electricity bills, and they suspect someone is
tapping into their meters. In June, plaster from the
ceiling collapsed onto a bed where a child was sleeping.
Problem tenants moved into the building by the
landlord have been causing problems. And the owner, a
Molly Kosheff, told tenants she had given the building
to the superintendent.
About 20 tenants formed an association and began
pooling their rent last April. They took photographs to
document code violations. In June, they paid $1,125 to
repair the boiler. A short time later, a city water main
broke and the basement of the building was flooded,
costing the tenants another $500 to repair the boiler
motor. They later had the roof repaired.
Holmes said he received a report in August that the
building had been taken over by the city for nonpay-
ment of $44,000 in real estate taxes over four years.
He said the tenants have been able to make some
improvements but that internal dissension over such
things as paying rent to their association and repair
priorities interferes with their effectiveness. "They are a
good group, but not as good as they could be," he said.
At 1239 Boston Road, tenants are still in the
formative stages of organizing. Here too there was very
little heat last winter and the roof leaks. There is no
front door or intercom. There has been a series of
burglaries in the building and tenants are very worried
about security. The window frames in many apartments
are rotting and the fuse box in Mrs. Cousins's apartment
is a fire hazard. A number of mailboxes are broken. The
superintendent has another job and is not available
during the day.
The owner, Aron Taylor, is rarely seen, except when
the rent is due. "He has an uncanny way of remember-
ing rent dates," says Genevieve Scott, a longtime tenant
on the first floor.
Holmes reminds the tenants that cold weather is on its
way and that they must sign up as many of their
neighbors as they can for the association. He tells them
they must select a leader, and they choose Mrs. Cousins.
They schedule another meeting for the following week.
Alpha Housing Corp.'s three housing organizers are
working in about 15 buildings in a 35-block area of
rundown housing in the South Bronx. To get started,
they distributed leaflets to apartment buildings and
local organizations. As a result, Alpha received many
inquiries,and tenants began coming to the office to find
out more. Often their stories were similar, said Holmes,
quoting the tenants: "I have a problem. My landlord is
ruining the building. The roof leaks. The whole place is
Holmes sends them back to their buildings armed
with complaint sheets and tells them to call a meeting.
At that meeting, he asks tenants what kinds of problems
they have and begins talking to them about forming an
association. "You listen to what they say and take the
lead from there," he says. In general, women are more
active than men, he adds. "The men come at first to
hear what others have to say, then they send their
Holmes lets the tenants know that a rent strike is legal
as long as they follow prescribed rules, such as setting
up a bank account, collecting the rent themselves and
keeping receipts for all expenses paid for out of the
strike fund. It is also important to pay back rent into the
strike fund, he says, so that there are no arrears when it
comes time to go to court. "The law says you must be
able to account for every dime because it is the land-
lord's. We've got to be straight. In order to point the
finger at anyone, you've got to be straight."
Election of officers should take place quickly and
tenants should draw up a list of needed repairs. All
transactions with the landlord should be confirmed in
Sometimes a landlord will steer clear of the tenants
association, but sometimes he or she will try to sabotage
it with a number of devices, according to Holmes. One
other problem is how to maintain the enthusiasm and
the momentum of the tenants association after some
critical problems are addressed and a certain
contentment sets in. "It has to be continual, not here
today and gone tomorrow," Holmes says. A landlord
who makes a few selective repairs is only "handing them
a crumb and taking it back."
A common question for Holmes is how a tenants
association made up of one-third to one-half of the
tenants can shoulder the responsibility for running the
building. Asked that question by the tenants at 615
recently, Holmes replied that while they should be
recruiting more members, they had little choice but to
stick together and persevere. "You are not going to
move downtown to 59th Street. If you've lived here for
30 years, you've paid for the damn building by now."
As an organizer, Holmes is frequently a sounding
board for the anger of tenants who intensely dislike how
they have to live. It is nothing personal, as the
representative view of one tenant at 615 will attest.
"He is helping us an awful lot," said Betty Young,
who has lived in the building for 35 years. "He is very
interested in us.He comes to our meetings and gives us
information and advice. Other than that" we wouldn't
know which way to go."
Holmes says he loves his job. Beyond his interest in
meeting people, Holmes takes special pleasure from
serving this particular constituency. "I've had many
jobs, but I've never had anything with my own people.
I've never known the feeling of teaching my own, and
it's one hell of a feeling." D
published monthly by tho: Association of Neighborhood Housing
Developers Inc., Peoples Housing Network, Pratt Center for Com-
munity and Environmental Development, and the Urban Home-
steading Assistance Board.
Editorial Office: 115 East 23rd Street, New York, New York 10010
(212) 674-7610
Editor ............................ .. ........ Bernard Cohen
Assistant Editor .... . ........... . ............... Susan Baldwin
Contributors ............................... Michael McKee
George Brzozowski
Design and Layout .............................. Louis Fulgoni
Copyright 1978. AU rights reserved. No portion or portions of this
journal may be reprointed without the express written permission of the
This issue was funded partly by Chemical Bank.
HUD has given conditional approval to the city's
$41.1 million plan to manage and repair tax-foreclosed
buildings despite questions over whether this use of
Community Development funds met federal guidelines.
HPD officials were fearful that the centerpiece of
their plan to treat the growing number of In Rem build-
ings would be upset by a negative ruling, but on August
30 HUD approved it as a special, emergency use of CD
Under the special regulations of the interim assistance
or emergency category of the CD regulations, however,
the city must comply with the following conditions:
(1) The city must submit a draft plan no later than six
months from the grant approval date specifying its
plans for assuming the maintenance and management of
these city-owned properties without the help of CD
funds within a 12-month period. HUD also requires that
the city submit a draft plan for the disposition of these
In Rem buildings" over a reasonable period of time. "
(2) The city must use non-CD funds to "reduce the
Community Development-funded portion of mainten-
ance and management costs this year. "
(3) The Mayor must submit a letter to HUD within 45
days of the grant approval date confirming that an
emergency housing condition exists in New York City.
There can be no expenditure of CD funds until HUD
receives this letter.
According to Frank Torres, program manager at
HUD's area office, CD monies would not normally be
available to fund this emergency maintenance and
repair program because it does not qualify as rehabilita-
tion under the federal regulations.
Approval of the $30.5 million housing, rehabilitation,
and maintenance CD block grant, which includes
funding for such programs as Community Manage-
ment, Participation Loan, Article 8A, and Sweat
Equity, was granted on the condition that the city
submit a plan and time schedule for placing each
Community Management building currently in the
program on a "self-operating basis within a reasonable
period of time." Community Management is scheduled
to receive $14 million of this block grant. 0
7-A Continued
building and draw up leases. Mrs. Lemon wanted a 7-A
for another reason: fire insurance.
Eighteen of the 32 tenants in the building-more than
the one-third required by law-signed the court peti-
On March 15, the tenants had their day in court.
The judge named Mrs. Batey administrator, effective
March 25, and she asked to serve at no fee. She told the
other tenants that the Tenants Committee should be the
final authority in all decisions.
More tenants listened to the TenantS Committee after
self-management was legal. More came to meetings and
more started paying rent. Rental income in April
reached a record high of $5,371, including some back
rents. Expenditures were nearly $4,000.
The tenants placed a $13,500 bond to assure the court
of Mrs. Batey's integrity and took out fire and liability
insurance. Then, they began their court-ordered tasks of
making repairs listed in the 7-A petition.
"We started fixing things faster than ever," Mrs.
Fauntleroy remembered. "We cleaned apartments and
rented them out, painted, plastered, got plumbing fixed
in our apartments. We had more confidence."
Unlike most tenant groups, the tenants of 92 had a
surplus that month.
One month and two days after the 7-A went into
effect, and seven months after the tenants first started
to repair their deplorably run-down apartment building,
their 7-A suddenly ended. A man rang Mrs. Batey's
doorbell to tell her the city was taking title for non-
payment of real estate taxes and the Division of Real
Property (DRP) would henceforth manage the building.
The Tenants Committee called an emergency late
night session to decide what action to take. Wright
drafted a letter to the housing commissioner, telling
him: "We protest the recent [ATTEMPTED!] takeover
of our building. We have witnessed the deterioration of
city-owned buildings in our neighborhood, and the
city's poor management. We refuse to condone any-
thing less than what we ourselves have provided in this
building for the last seven months. We will not fall
victim. We will hold our rents in escrow and continue as
in the past."
In effect, the tenants decided to wage a rent strike
against DRP because, as Wright said, "Everybody
knows the city is the worst landlord in the world."
Today the rent strike is more than a year old. For
more than a year, the tenants have searched for a way to
prevent outside buyers or managers from taking over
their home.
Last July, the tenants submitted Articles of Associa-
tion to the city as the first step toward acquiring an
interim management lease. The lease would make self-
management legal again and would allow them to
receive technical assistance from the city.
Morale at 92 St. Nicholas Ave. is high. The grand old
granite building stands now on a block busy with new
The story of the tenants of 92 st. Nicholas Ave. is not
unique. Around the city, tenants such as Mrs. Batey are
saving buildings that a Civil Court judge once described
as "uninhabitable in accordance with civilized standards
of decency." 0
Adapted from a research article written by Margaret
Gillerman while she was a student at the Columbia
University Graduate School of Journalism in 1977-78.
City Limits
115 East 23rd Street New York, N.Y. 10010
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Oliver Holmes
Aramis Gomez
Article 7-A
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