Thanks to the greed of individuals and corporations who believe they have the right to not only monetize but continually increase profits on basic human necessities, owning a home or renting affordably has become out of reach for many Americans.
CBS News reported in February that home prices were surging and that there were only 250,000 homes on the market that were considered affordable for households making between $75,000 and $100,000 in annual income. This has left about 61% of American renters priced out of buying their own homes.
Inventory is also at a low with first-time homebuyers being bought out by investors and corporations who are turning them into rental properties, according to The New York Times. In turn, they are jacking up the rent.
Rents in April climbed to an all-time high up 16.7% from last year with the average rent at $1,827. But some people are fighting back.
Yet, it’s not politicians making news laws to reign in ever-increasing profits over basic necessities. It’s the people. Bronx tenants who were about to be priced out of their apartments when a new landlord bought the building are about to own that building.
And they will for the low price of $2,500 each. James Giddings purchased the 21-unit building in the Bronx’s Port Morris neighborhood about five years ago for $4 million.
When he warned residents that he was going to raise the rent, they banded together to see what they could do to fight the increase.
At the time the tenants were already paying $1,100 for a studio in 2017. The landlord advised them rent would go up between $400 and $1,000.
“We all knew that it was a sink or swim situation. It was either come together collectively as a group or be screwed over,” tenant Kevin Stone said.
The tenants learned of a city program created in the 1980s that allows residents to take control of buildings abandoned by landlords by creating a Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC).
The idea was to get funds from a nonprofit or the city to buy the building, where individual apartments would be sold to the tenant.
They’d be able to basically live rent-free after that but have to pay monthly upkeep charges. Tenants can also sell their homes.
Any vacant apartments would be sold below market value at a price the City agrees on.
The cooperative would be run by tenants who would have to undergo the required training in order to run the operation.
The process was held up by a case that would determine whether the building was rent-regulated, the pandemic’s eviction moratoriums, and cases against tenants for non-payment.
But eventually, Giddings decided to hear the tenants’ case to buy the building from him.
Tenants were able to get a low-interest bridge loan from a donor close to the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board that supports HDFCs.
He eventually sold the building at 700 East 134th Street to the tenants for $2.6 million.
Giddings told The New York Times that his expenses outpaced the rents he was able to collect.
High property taxes, the slow-moving legal process, and inflation also contributed to making him fold.
“I’m happy for the tenants (soon to be owners) and wish them success,” he said in an email.
The tenants are ecstatic too.
“[ the landlord] underestimated our ability to communicate with one other, which was his biggest downfall,” said Stone. “People will look at us, they’ll look at this building in the Bronx and they’ll just think, ‘oh, these are just mediocre people.’ But people in that building, they have full-time jobs, they’re professionals and they work. We have the ability to think on our own and we have the ability to write. We can rely on our own wits and our knowledge to get things done. Which we did.”
Each resident pitched in their talents to get the job done. One was a good writer, another a photographer, while others agreed to do research and make phone calls.
“We were so, I don’t want to say clueless, but we didn’t know what we were doing, we were just faking it until you make it,” said tenant Claudia Waterton.
Even though some tenants were allegedly offered side deals with favorable leases in exchange for dropping out of the fight, they all stuck together.
“A lot of us didn’t know what harassment meant or what intimidation meant,” said Waterton. “We didn’t realize that some of the stuff that was happening were tactics to get us to leave.”
But Giddings denies this.
“The current rents could not support the expenses let alone generate any return on the investment,” he said. “Any suggestion that any tenant was harassed is news to me. We do not harass!”
The group was also aided by tenant organizer Anna Burnham.
“If we get on this guy enough, if we do that, I feel like there’s a threshold where he’s going to want to walk away,” said Burnham. “Some tenants were fighting for their lives a lot more than others.”
Now those tenants are at ease knowing their futures are free from housing insecurity due to already affluent people trying to make a buck off of them to fatten their portfolios.
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