2012 Excellence in Neighborhood Organizing Award Winner
Over the past three years, Brooklyn Congregations United has focused significant organizing energy on a campaign for economic justice and affordable housing. This past year, working locally in partnership with the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, and nationally with the PICO National Network, BCU was able to focus on successful policy changes at the local and national level. Locally, BCU collaborated with ANHD to introduce The Responsible Banking Act, local legislation aimed at holding banks accountable to our communities.
BCU clergy have held meetings with and key Council Members to discuss the legislation, participated in numerous press conferences, direct actions, and community education events. BCU has also committed itself to providing training to other Community Development Corporations on its model and building a broader grassroots base for this work. Nationally, BCU worked closely with the PICO National Network on “The New Bottom Line”, a successful campaign to hold banks accountable, end toxic predatory lending, and support families in their efforts to stay in their homes.
BCU’s organizing work is centered on leadership development; BCU builds power by building the leadership base of communities and mobilizing large numbers of people who are equipped to effectively address issues. BCU is committed to using best practices in community organizing while continuously exploring new and creative ways to engage diverse communities in our work. This award is in recognition of Brooklyn Congregations United’s contributions to bank accountability both locally and nationally, their commitment to leadership development and BCU’s growth as an organization.
Honorable Mention: Real Rent Reform Campaign
In 2011, the Real Rent Reform (R3) campaign, a coalition of over 70 tenant and community organizations, mounted a successful mobilization to renew New York’s rent regulations. For the first time in two decades, and after years of push-back and anti-tenant legislation, the laws were strengthened. This was accomplished through intensive organizing, as well as a persistent on the ground presence in Albany and an effective media engagement strategy. R3 is working today to build off of last year’s victories, and to push for even greater tenant protections in the 2012 legislative session
Despite the enormous variety of organizations included in the coalition, the Real Rent Reform campaign was able to push a coherent and ambitious legislative program, and achieve results for tenants. These kinds of actions were only possible because to the diversity of R3’s membership, and its active engagement in the campaign. Our panel of judges awarded the real rent reform campaign for its unwavering efforts to protect the rights of New York State’s tenants.
ANHD also wishes to recognize the following organizations for their excellent work:
Asian Americans for Equality led a successful campaign to protect the tenants of 289 Grand Street, who on April 12, 2010, suffered fire and water damage as a result of one of the worst fires in Chinatown’s history. The fire left 200 people homeless, injured 33 people, and left 1 person dead. For almost two years, the tenants association, with the assistance of AAFE, has been fighting for their right to return and have the landlord restore the building. Recently, the landlord was ordered to restore all apartments to habitable condition, a victory for all rent‐regulated tenants.
In the seventies, when the South Bronx was burning, the “Banana Kelly” area remained relatively intact due to the efforts of the newly formed group, Banana Kelly and the responsible ownership of owner-occupant Frank Potts. When several building later fell into the hands of predatory equity owners, the result was a sharp deterioration of the building conditions. In 2010, Banana Kelly teamed up with Mothers on the Move to address the problems. This project is an example of how collaboration, between community groups, the city of New York, a private investment/development group and a development company can result in a beneficial outcome.
Brooklyn Tenants United (BTU), a coalition of tenant organizations from around the borough has started a campaign to reform Brooklyn Housing court, ensuring that central Brooklyn residents are educated about and involved in the campaign. BTU is working to make the court a more accessible, just, and dignified place for tenants. BTU’s community leadership development program has transformed tenants with a list of demands into well-trained community leaders with the strategies to realize those demands. Coalition Members: Pratt Area Community Council, Make the Road New York, the Fifth Avenue Committee, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Flatbush Development Corporation, Bushwick Housing Independence Project, South Brooklyn Legal Services, and the Legal Aid Society.
In 2011, Make the Road New York (MRNY) led a successful campaign against illegal rent overcharges and for DHCR reform. In August 2011, MRNY published a report titled “Rent Fraud: Illegal Rent Increases and the Loss of Affordable Housing in New York City”, documenting the problem. MRNY believes the new Tenant Protection Unit (TPU), officially announced by Governor Cuomo in January 2012, has the potential to address the concerns raised in MRNY’s report. This new unit is the result of organizing and advocacy by both MRNY and a far broader coalition. MRNY will work to help shape the TPU and to monitor its effectiveness.
The MinKwon Center for Community Action has emerged as a leading community organization with successes in engaging marginalized individuals, e.g. recent immigrants, minorities, low income residents, limited English proficient persons, elderly and youth. MinKwon’s tenant organizing effort was born out of a critical need for organizing, education, and services for low-income, limited English proficient Korean American and Asian American communities. MinKwon utilizes multiple approaches, intensive organizing, grassroots outreach, community education, coalition-building, advocacy, and direct services, to work towards the empowerment of low-income, immigrant tenants.
In January 2011 Mirabal Sisters joined the Real Rent Reform (R3), a campaign aimed at strengthening the state rent regulation laws. Although the laws were not strengthened to the extent hoped, they were successfully renewed in June 2011. This extension mitigates the threats of displacement and eviction. Mirabal members played a direct role in the effort through organizing community forums, lobbying, public protests, street rallies, visits with elected officials, neighborhood canvassing and church outreach. Mirabal coaxed folks who are normally on the margins of the action into the center.