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Organizing Campaigns

Studying social change efforts can help leaders and organizers understand what has worked (or not worked) in the past
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Receivership granted in Cincinnati at Puretz properties

Tenants who live in HUD subsidized apartments controlled by the Puretz family in Cincinnati won a court victory this past Friday when Hamilton County Common Pleas court agreed to appoint a receiver to take over management of these troubled propertiesCincinnati Enquirer reports "Five low-income apartment buildings declared public nuisances after more than 1,800 code violations were found will be placed into receivership. Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Beth Myers made that ruling Friday at a hearing. Myers is expected Monday to name a receiver who will take control of the buildings, receive rent money and ultimately use that money to make repairs." Receivership is one of the remedies under ORC 3767, Ohio's Nuisance statute, which can be used by tenants and communities when property owners are failing in their duties to prevent dangerous conditions. At the Puretz buildings, a roof collapsed and tenants have mold, bugs, and a lack of security. 

One key to success of the Puretz tenants has been the involvement of their strong tenants organization, staffed by Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. Legal services attorney Nick DiNardo told RHINO "Josh Spring and the Homeless Coalition interns did an excellent job organizing the tenants in this case. We had 10-15 tenants show up for court today. Their organizing work allows us to spend more of our time doing legal work, so it is a great cooperative effort. You can quote me on that if you want." The multi-year efforts of the Puretz tenants in Cincinnati shows that organizers who can help tenants stick together and support one another are essential to long term success in the courts or at City Hall.

Nick DiNardo from Cincinnati Legal Aid reports:
"Cincinnati Legal Aid, working with the City of Cincinnati, the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and HUD had a huge victory in court today.  Judge Beth Myers agreed to appoint Jodi Ridings of Milhaus Management as the Receiver for more than 600 units of Project-based Section 8 housing in Cincinnati.  Puretz Enterprises of NY/ NJ purchased these properties two years ago and quickly ran them into the ground, failing to make even basic repairs or provide for safety or professional management at any of the properties.  The lenders have agreed to provide both reserve funds and additional funds for capital improvements to the Receiver so that the Properties can be stabilized.       
Virginia Tallent was lead counsel in the case, assisted by Stephanie Moes, Amanda Toole and myself.  Mark Manning with the City of Cincinnati Solicitor’s office originally filed this case and has worked cooperatively with Legal Aid to protect the tenants and abate the public nuisance at the Properties.  Dan Burke, Regional HUD director and Bill Lane, HUD Assistant General Counsel, attended the hearings and were extremely helpful in directing the HAP payments to the Receiver and preventing the abatement of the HAP contracts.
This was a true team effort, resulting in the preservation of hundreds of affordable units, and most importantly stabilizing the housing situations of over 1000 vulnerable low-income tenants in our city.  Congratulations to all."

February 2, 2016 
Tenants hopeful 'new day' awaits troubled apartments 

  HCV tenants displaced in Columbus

About 30 tenants at Bryden House in Columbus learned in December that their rental agreements were being terminated with a 30 days notice. Tenants called Columbus Legal Aid for help. The Columbus Dispatch reports that "The owner of the Bryden House apartments on Columbus' Near East Side is ending the leases of a number of elderly, low-income tenants, leaving many wondering why and struggling to find a place to live in the dead of winter." Tenants and advocates believe that these seniors and disabled households may be just the first wave of terminations as the property owner shifts to a more affluent tenant base. According to an anonymous source: "Old Town East gentrification is making its way east, and it could be that the new ownership wants those particular units empty so that they can renovate them and rent them out at a higher rate." Throughout the news coverage of the story, the theme that echoes that the terminations are not illegal, just wrong. Advocates need to ask: what could make it right? 

At Bryden House, tenants didn't start thinking about an organized effort until after termination notices had been issued. The lack of tenant organizing assistance in mid-Ohio presents a problems because legal service programs cannot do the organizing directly. Earlier this month, RHINO featured the on going litigation around a water shut off at Marion's DK Trailer Park. Despite court victories, park residents are abandoning their (im)mobile homes to move elsewhere because they have not been organized. Without some unity, the best that residents can hope for is, like the Bryden House tenants, more time to move. 

One reason the Bryden tenants might have been afraid to get organized is the fear of termination. In contrast, the Puretz tenants have "just cause" lease protections because their properties are Federally subsidized. "Just cause" means that the lease automatically renews unless the tenant violates the lease or the landlord-tenant law. Tenants without "just cause" protection (including Housing Choice Vouchers households) have to rely on the weak retaliation protections in the Ohio Landlord-Tenant Law (ORC 5321.02). In light of the fact that Columbus is already one of the most economically segregated cities in the country, the City of Columbus could enact "just cause" protections for tenants to prevent involuntary displacement in the future. 

Another angle in the Bryden case is the fact that Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) released the owners of Bryden House from a deed restriction that required them to rent to low/moderate income tenants. The termination notices to Bryden tenants came just a month after the deed restriction was lifted. Advocates should be questioning use restriction releases by OHFA, especially where the release will result in gentrification. As a Federal grantee OHFA has a duty to "affirmatively further fair housing." Since the Bryden foreclosure, the issue of "planned foreclosure" has emerged as a potential threat to the preservation of affordability in Tax Credit properties.

January 31, 2016 Columbus Dispatch Bryden House tenants move out as eviction deadline arrives 

February 1, 2016. More from OHFA
OHFA reports that the foreclosure at Bryden House extinguished the affordability covenant in the deed and that OHFA's action to release the deed restriction just confirms that fact.

February 3, 2016 Columbus Dispatch Former Bryden House advertising for college-age tenants
"After giving termination notices in December to an unknown number of residents — most of them elderly and some with disabilities and using federal housing vouchers to help pay the rent — the owners running the Near East Side apartments are now marketing them as the West Bexley Apartments.  The building at 1555 Bryden Rd. is less than a mile from Bexley. 'Come see our newly renovated units,' says the ad on Craigslist. 'We offer the amenities you deserve. We are conveniently located just minutes from Downtown, Columbus State, Franklin University, Capital and CCAD. 'The ad pitches amenities such as a new fitness center and a “business center with Wi-Fi coming.' The one-bedroom, 401-square-foot rooms are being rented for $495 a month. The building has 152 units."