On the afternoon of November 18, tenants and housing advocates rallied in front of 293 and 301 Hooper Street where residents of these buildings have been living amidst eleven vacant rent regulated apartments, some of which have been empty for 6 years. This rally was initiated by the newly formed End Warehousing Coalition, which is made up of community organizations and tenant-led groups who have direct experience with the distress that can come with living in a building with several vacant apartments. Warehousing apartments is when a landlord intentionally keeps an apartment or apartments vacant. There are many reasons for this, most of which are rooted in generating higher profits for the building owners.
Simultaneously, other members of the coalition were stationed at buildings across New York State that also had units being warehoused. The coalition members as part of the rally dropped banners at these sites, which included 365 S 4th Street.
The End Warehousing Coalition’s intention for this demonstration was to call attention to how warehousing apartments exacerbates an already massive housing crisis. Also landlords often use this as a strategy to force the tenants who remain in the building to leave by neglecting repairs and infestations or using construction on the empty units to make living in neighboring units unbearable or unsafe. The vacant units might have leaks, mold, or open windows, or lack fire guard, and HPD and other city or state agencies will not enforce housing codes without an invitation from the landlord or a court warrant. “This bureaucracy leads to unsafe living conditions for existing tenants,” stated the coalition in their press release for this rally.
“Here in our two buildings [293 and 301 Hooper St] there are 11 empty apartments. As tenants we wish they would rent them because it feels insecure to have those apartments empty, but more importantly it’s unjust to have rent stabilized units sitting empty when there are so many people [in New York] who need a home,” said Carmen Gloria Carreras, tenant leader of 293-301 Hooper Tenant Associations & member of Los Sures Lucha.
COVID-19 adds another concern when it comes to calling for the end of this warehousing strategy. “Housing is healthcare” is a mantra that has been used for many years by advocates for the homeless. It was true before and that truth is ever more visceral now as we try to manage the COVID-19 infection rate. According to the HUD Annual Homeless Assessment Report for 2019 the New York State total homeless population is 92,091. There has been a noticeable increase in homeless sheltering on the streets, but with the coming cold weather and COVID-19 infections on the rise the need for available housing is obvious.
Marcus Moore, leader of Picture the Homeless, said, “New York is a place that relies too heavily on shelters while refusing to take meaningful action that would result in permanent housing. One of those vacant apartments could be my home. Instead, I am forced to choose between crowded shelters or the streets. Our state government is directly responsible for the homelessness crisis because they are not enacting common sense solutions to house the homeless. Enough with the vacancies – let’s house the people!”
The End Warehousing Coalition urges New York State to assembly Bill A9966, sponsored by Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal. This bill discourages landlords from keeping their apartments empty by imposing a fee on units that remain vacant for an extended period of time and to use money generated to fund housing vouchers for the homeless. They also support the NYC Council’s efforts to establish a registry of vacant apartments and mandate inspections to ensure maintenance of housing code.
Member organizations of the coalition include Southside United HDFC—Los Sures, UNO, St. Nicks Alliance, Los Sures LUCHA, Cooper Square Committee, Citizen Action NY, Communities Resist, Tenants Taking Control, and Stellar Tenants for Affordable Housing. Elected officials who participated in the action include Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal, Council Member Stephen Levin, Assembly Member Elect Emily Gallagher among others. Representatives from Council Members Helen Rosenthal’s and Mark Levine’s offices attended a banner drop at 50 W 97th St.