Friday, May 18, 2007

UNYTE: A NEW VOICE FOR ALL TENANTS THE UNION OF NEW YORK TENANTS DECLARES “WE SHALL NOT BE REMOVED!”

UP FRONT News May 17, 2007
Published by Tom Weiss
Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham
“The paper that can’t be bought and can’t be sold.” www.tomsupfrontnews.blogspot.com

UNYTE: A NEW VOICE FOR ALL TENANTS THE UNION OF NEW YORK TENANTS DECLARES “WE SHALL NOT BE REMOVED!”

“New York is under assault from developers and landlords. Our legal rights have been eroded, loopholes have been exploited and there is little or no regulatory oversight. Af- fordable housing that sustains communities is rapidly disappearing. We are in crisis We are losing our rights and protections. Landlords and developers have organized; so must we.”

The above constitutes, in summarized form, the raison d’etre of the Union of New York Tenants, or UNYTE, a New York City-based grassroots organization open to all tenants and supporters in New York State. While there is hardly a shortage of tenant advocacy organizations in New York, the fact is that landlords and developers, who contribute heavily to the campaign coffers of politicians of most political parties, are on the offensive. Gentrification and over-development are rampant. While there are occasional victories, such as the demise of the West Side Stadium venture, major giveaways to the rich, such as the new Yankee Stadium gift to George Steinbrenner, which has meant the deaths of two City parks, not to speak of many other ills to be visited upon the South Bronx, persist. Once working class neighborhoods such as what is now called Tribeca are now playgrounds for the rich. The Lower East Side of Manhattan is being transformed from a multiethnic melting pot into a seething cauldron of resistance to the tsunami of luxury development there. There are similar situations in all the boroughs and in
various communities outside New York City. We are ruled by a billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg and a development-friendly City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn who are diligent about fining parking violators but allow developers to plunder the treasury via tax abatements and other favors.

And, while there are many dedicated tenants rights activists, we have been victimized for decades by so called, essentially self-appointed “leaders” like the reportedly right wing-linked Mike McKee and his pal in the lofts Chuck Delaney. It is Mike McKee who, aside from his other duplicities, is to an important degree responsible for the continuing existence of the biggest loophole of all, the loophole that allows landlords to obtain rent increases without “opening their books.” As first reported in UP FRONT News, it was Mike McKee – along with Delaney and a few others – who collaborated with the real estate lobby in repeated killing the oft-introduced in the past Flynn-Dearie Rent Protection Act, which, had it been enacted (a real possibility since its State Senate sponsor, John Flynn, was a Republican) would have required landlords to open their books to justify rent increase demands, aside from providing other protections to residential tenants. McKee, who has made a career out of denouncing Republicans en masse and cozying up to real estate-compliant Democrats (rendering himself almost hopelessly compromised when it comes to effective pro-tenant lobbying) spouts a slick pseudo-left populist line before tenant audiences. When asked about his reported links to the right wing think tank,

the Manhattan Institute, McKee is as silent as Dick Cheney when questioned about his hunting accuracy. Any collaboration with McKee, who controls Tenants & Neighbors and has major influence in Julie Miles’ Housing Here and Now, is bad for tenants.

For a number of months a number of independent minded and concerned tenant activists, including Rob Hollander of the Lower East Side Residents for Responsible Development, and Monte Schapiro, a tenant in an East 5th Street building being beleaguered by a loophole-hungry landlord, have been cobbling together a true grass roots tenants union. Out of a series of meetings in recent weeks, UNYTE has been born.

UNYTE’s literature focuses on all sorts of realities: loopholes, double-talking poli-
ticians, statistics showing how New York City is becoming a playground for the rich and a network of ghettoes for everyone else, incompetent and corrupt government agencies,
avaricious loophole-exploiting lawyers, etc., etc., etc. – and the need to organize.
UNYTE’s slogan should resound. “We shall not be removed!”
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