Case Studies

Some sections in the toolkit feature a case study of the Community Development Project’s past PAR projects. The case studies ground the activities and tools in concrete examples and provide useful lessons of how organizations have used PAR to strengthen their community organizing work. Below are all of the case studies from this toolkit.

8.1 Case Study: Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) and Fees are Fraud Coalition - NYC Tenants Call for the Prohibition of all Non-Rent Fees

CASA and Fees are Fraud

Background on Organization and Issue

Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) is New Settlement Apartments’ housing organizing initiative. CASA is a community-led organization that works to improve housing conditions with neighborhood-wide campaigns focused on tenants’ rights to a safe, healthy and stable home. CASA began in 2005, out of the community’s need to improve the poor housing conditions that persist for many families in Southwest Bronx, which is densely overpopulated and underserved.

CASA organizes tenants in New York City’s poorest neighborhoods. Rent regulation exists to protect these tenants from high rents. However, CASA began to notice that landlords were creating new ways to push rent stabilized tenants out of their homes. One widespread example of such a tactic was the imposition of non-rent fees.  These fees, such as appliance fees, legal fees, damage fees, and Major Capital Improvement (MCI) rent increases, were being added onto monthly rent statements, frequently with little or no explanation. Some of the fees being imposed were legal, but many were not, and the pattern in which they were being imposed suggested an attempt to displace tenants. CASA also noticed that if tenants fell behind on paying these fees, they were often sent letters threatening eviction. Tenants, feeling harassed, often paid the fees, even when they had a right to refuse to do so. Fees added a new and significant financial burden to already-struggling low income tenants, making their housing costs increasingly unaffordable.

In order to learn more about this pervasive problem in the South Bronx, CASA wanted to find out and document how these fees were affecting tenants and ultimately to develop reforms. Targeting Chestnut Holdings, one of the biggest landlords of rent stabilized buildings in the South Bronx, CASA partnered with the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project, New York Communities for Change, and Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition to conduct research about these fees.

The result of these efforts ultimately produced two research products: the first was the creation of the report focused on Chestnut Holdings in the South Bronx: “The Burden of Rent Fees: How Affordable Housing is Made Unaffordable.”  The release of this report, which documents the types of non-rent fees that were severely burdening tenants in the South Bronx, spurred conversation about the fees issue among other housing advocacy groups and led to the creation of the Fees Are Fraud Coalition, which had a citywide reach.  The coalition, with the goal of demonstrating that fees were pervasive in other areas as well, expanded the initial research into new boroughs and buildings, and released the second research product, an addendum to the first report which demonstrated the scope and scale of the problem citywide.

WHAT…

Were the Organizing Goals connected to this research?

  • Collect data on the impact of non-rent fees on rent stabilized tenants.
  • Build a strong base of tenants who are affected by this issue, and develop tenant leadership roles.
  • Enact reforms that protect tenants against the imposition of non-rent fees.
  • Preserve and maintain affordable and safe housing and prevent displacement.

 

Overall questions did the coalition want to answer through their research?

  • What are the experiences of rent-stabilized tenants with non-rent fees?
  • What fees are tenants being charged? Have they paid these fees?  Do they experience confusion about fees?
  • What is the financial impact of the fees?
  • What are tenant stories about their experiences?

 

WHY…

Is this research useful or important for the coalition?

  • The coalition works to support efforts to preserve and protect the city’s affordable housing, and the practice of charging non-rent fees threatens to push New Yorkers out of their homes and deregulate affordable apartments.

 

WHO…

Are the Stakeholders in this Issue?

  • Low income tenants around the city who live in rent stabilized housing.

 

Was the coalition trying to influence?

  • The Division of Housing & Community Renewal (DHCR), which sets regulations on non-rent fees and has the power to audit landlords who are suspected of violating regulations of non-rent fees, but has done very little to regulate this system.
  • City and State legislators who have the power to introduce legislation that would protect tenants.

HOW…

Did CASA (and later the coalition) gather information (what methods did they use)?

  • Surveys:
    • CASA used surveys and targeted respondents living in rent stabilized Chestnut Holding apartments. They were able to gather 172 surveys.
    • The coalition then collected an additional 562 surveys from 208 buildings for the citywide addendum to the report.
  • Interviews:
    • CASA interviewed tenants living in Chestnut Holding apartments in order to gather information about their experiences with non-rent fees.
  • Collecting Rent Bills
    • CASA collected rent bills to determine how much tenants were being charged in rent fees. They gathered 196 rent bills and other supplemental materials for tenants in Chestnut Holding buildings.
    • The coalition then collected an additional 88 rent bills from 27 buildings across the City for the citywide addendum to the report.
  • Overcharge complaints: the coalition filed 48 fee related overcharge complaints with HCR’s office of rent administration. These were analyzed and categorized for the citywide report.

 

HOW…

Did Research support CASA’s organizing efforts?

  • This information led to the release of the report “The Burden of Rent Fees: How Affordable Housing is Made Unaffordable” and later an addendum to the report which included citywide data.
  • The report release garnered significant media attention, including an exclusive about the fees issue in the New York Times.
  • The report brought the issue of non-rent fees to light, and galvanized conversation among other housing organizing groups, whose members were experiencing the same issue.  As a result, CASA was able to form the Fees are Fraud coalition, which focused on the citywide impact of fees. The coalition expanded CASA’s initial research and released an addendum to the original non-rent fee study.
  • CASA and other organizations in the coalition cultivated tenant-leaders and mobilized their memberships to address this issue in various capacities, such as having tenant leaders present data at policy briefings about the report.
  • CASA developed a team of tenant leaders who guided the project and promoted tenant leadership.

 

Did research impact policy change?

  • Following organizing by the coalition, using the expanded citywide findings, the State’s Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) released a factsheet regarding the legality of fees that can be charged to tenants. This served as an administrative change that limits how and when certain fees can be charged.
  • A package of state-level legislation was introduced that would curtail and increase tenant awareness of illegal non-rent fees. The findings from the “Fees are Fraud” report were cited in the memo that accompanies the legislation.

 

View the Burden of Rent Fees here.

View the addendum to the report here.

8.2 Domestic Workers United and CDP's Report: Domestic Workers and Collective Bargaining

Method Used: Survey

Background on Organization and Issue

Since 2000, Domestic Workers United (DWU), a community-based organization of 4000 nannies, housekeepers, and elder caregivers, has organized for power and fair labor standards, building a movement for change.  In 2010, DWU’s efforts culminated in a historic victory: New York became the first state in the nation to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

This new law represents a momentous advance for New York’s 200,000 domestic workers who have historically been excluded from state and federal labor laws.  These workers will now be protected by new, basic labor standards.  Despite these gains, the final version of the law did not include five critical benefits: paid sick days; paid personal days; paid vacation days; advance notice of termination; and severance pay.

Instead of passing these five benefits into law, the New York State Legislature commissioned the NYS Department of Labor (DOL) to complete a study on the feasibility of domestic workers’ collectively bargaining for these benefits.  As domestic workers are currently excluded from collective-bargaining laws, DWU wanted to document the need for the inclusion of domestic workers in collective bargaining laws and explore which models of collective bargaining would function best in this industry.  DWU partnered with the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project to conduct this research.

Below is a description of the DWU Collective Bargaining Research Project, based on the Participatory Action Research guiding framework (see Tool 2.1 and 2.2).

WHAT….

Were the Organizing Goals connected to this research?

  • To increase workplace standards for domestic workers.
  • To secure paid sick, vacation, personal days and notice of termination and severance pay for domestic workers.
  • To end the exclusion of domestic workers from the State Labor Relations Act, the law that governs collective bargaining.
  • To build the power of domestic workers.


Overall questions did DWU want to answer through their research?

  • What benefits are domestic workers in NYC receiving from their employers?
  • How do domestic workers fare in negotiating with their employers to secure benefits?
  • What challenges do domestic workers face when attempting to negotiate the terms of their employment?
  • Which models of collective bargaining would enable domestic workers to gain additional workplace rights and benefits?
  • What are the particular challenges domestic workers will face in collective bargaining?


Information did DWU need to collect to answer these research questions?

  • The types and amounts of benefits that domestic workers currently receive.
  • The number or percentage of domestic workers in NYC that currently have the benefits that were excluded from the Bill of Rights.
  • The types of agreements domestic workers have with their employers.
  • Stories from domestic workers about how they negotiate with their employers to secure benefits.
  • Stories from employers about how they negotiate with their domestic workers to set terms of employment.
  • Models of collective bargaining in other industries that could work for privately employed domestic workers.


WHY….

Is this research useful or important for DWU?

  • Internally: The research was used to educate DWU members about collective bargaining and to strengthen DWU’s base building and leadership development efforts.  It also gave domestic workers and employers the opportunity to tell their stories.
  • Externally: It was used to influence the Department of Labor’s feasibility study and to educate other elected officials and policy makers about collective bargaining for domestic workers.  It was also used to collect new data about the industry.


WHO…

Are the Stakeholders in this Issue?

The stakeholders included the 200,000 domestic workers in the U.S. and millions more across the country; the employers of domestic workers; and other low-wage and excluded workers that could benefit from the gains made by domestic workers.

Is DWU trying to influence?

The New York State Legislature; the NYS Department of Labor, the NYS Governor.


HOW…

Did DWU gather information (what methods did they use)?

DWU decided that they wanted hard numbers to make the case to the DOL and legislature that domestic workers were in need of collective standards.  DWU members conducted 500 surveys with domestic workers in order to collect information about the types and levels of benefits domestic workers receive and to document the ability of domestic workers to negotiate with their employers for benefits.  DWU also conducted a few in depth interviews with workers and employers in order to have some additional stories that could support and flesh out the survey data.

How Research Supported DWU’s Organizing Efforts

The report was released and submitted to the Department of Labor the week prior to the DOL’s deadline to complete their feasibility study.  DWU and CDP held a policy briefing to release the report where domestic workers, employers, elected officials and allies presented on the research findings and DWU’s recommendations.  When the DOL released its feasibility study and presented it to the NYS legislature, it included many of DWU’s recommendations, and concluded that Domestic Workers should be included in the right to collectively bargaining.

Click here to read the report.

8.3 VOCAL-NY and CDP Report: Stuck in the System


Background on Organization and Issue

Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL-New York), formerly New York City AIDS Housing Network ( NYCAHN), is a statewide grassroots membership organization building power among low-income people who are living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, drug use and incarceration, to create healthy and just communities. VOCAL accomplishes this through community organizing, leadership development, participatory research, public education and direct action.

New York has led the nation in reducing HIV transmission among injection drug users (IDUs) through various syringe access efforts, including syringe exchange programs (SEPs) and the Expanded Syringe Access Program (ESAP) initiative. These lawful programs, which allow properly documented participants to possess sterile or used syringes, reduce the spread of HIV and other blood borne illnesses and improve overall public health. However, for years, the New York State Penal code did not recognize the Public Health Law exemptions that allow SEP’s to operate and consequently, many lawful SEP participants were subjected to harassment, arrest or even incarceration, significantly reducing the effectiveness of these programs.

Members of VOCAL identified syringe access and safe disposal as a priority issue in early 2008 after many reported being harassed and sometimes arrested for lawful syringe possession when stopped and searched by the police.  More than just an annoyance, VOCAL leaders suspected that the Penal Code and law enforcement practices increased the risk of HIV and HCV transmission because drug injectors may be afraid to use syringe access and disposal programs. In order to thoroughly and accurately describe the impact of current policies and practices, VOCAL members decided to conduct a research project, led by users, to document these problems and develop grassroots solutions.

 

Below is a description of the VOCAL-NY syringe access research project, based on the Participatory Action Research guiding framework (see Tool 2.1 and 2.2).

WHAT….

Were the Organizing Goals connected to this research?

  • To expand access to sterile syringes, encourage proper disposal of used syringes, and improve health outcomes for drug users in New York State.
  • To pass state legislation that would align the NYS Public Health Law with the Penal Code, more clearly ending the criminalization of syringe possession.
  • To humanize and build the power of drug users in NYS.
  • To educate lawmakers, law enforcement and other parts of the justice system about the importance of syringe access in improving public health and safety.


Overall questions did VOCAL want to answer through their research?

  • What experiences do SEP participants have with police in relation to possessing new and used syringes?
  • What impact do the practices of law enforcement have on drug users access to clean syringes and ability to safely dispose of used syringes?
  • What are the experiences of drug users with harm reduction programs?
  • How are the practices of law enforcement towards drug users related to patterns of gentrification in New York City?


Information did VOCAL need to collect to answer these research questions?

  • Stories from participants in Syringe Access Programs to document the need to expand syringe access.
  • Stories from participants in Syringe Access Programs to show the negative effect of police practices on access to syringes.
  • Secondary data about police practices and syringe access to support participant’s stories.


WHY….

Is this research useful or important for VOCAL?

  • Internally: to develop the leadership of VOCAL members by deepening their understanding of policy related to syringe access and training them in research methods; to build the base of VOCAL members through outreach; allow VOCAL members a space to tell their stories and share their experiences.
  • Externally: to educate law makers, law enforcement, public health officials and others about the impact of police practices on access to syringes and safe disposal; to get media attention towards the need for syringe access; to pass legislation reconciling the NYS Penal Code with the Public Health Law regarding possession of new and used syringes.


WHO…

Are the Stakeholders in this Issue?

  • Drug users, participants in Syringe Access Programs, public health practitioners and agencies working to decrease the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C and other blood borne illnesses (SEPs, ESAPs, etc).

Was VOCAL trying to influence?

  • Members of the NYS Assembly and Senate, the NYS governor, NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services and all NYS policing agencies, NYS prosecutors, the NYS Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the NYC Mayor.


HOW…

Did VOCAL gather information (what methods did they use)?

  • VOCAL used one on one interviews to capture the stories and experiences of Syringe Access Program participants.  This method was chosen because of the personal nature of the information that was discussed and the stigma that surrounds injection drug use.  It was also important that current and former drug users were trained to conduct the interviews, to make those being interviewed more comfortable when discussing their drug use and interactions with the police.

How Research Supported VOCAL’s Organizing Efforts

In 2010, The Syringe Access bill AB8396/SB5620, sponsored by Assembly Members Richard Gottfried and Joseph Lentol and Senators Tom Duane and Eric Schneiderman, passed both houses of the NYS legislature and was signed into law by Governor Paterson.  The bill finally aligns the Penal Code with the Public Health Law nearly twenty years after syringe access first became legal in New York, which will reduce both police harassment and unlawful arrest of drug injectors who carry new and used syringes. VOCAL members engaged in consistent advocacy to pass this bill, including regular visits to Albany.  The syringe report and the stories and data it includes were used as a part of this advocacy strategy and provided evidence of the need for and importance of this legislation.

Click here to read the report.

8.4 Right to the City National's Report: We Call These Projects Home


Background on Organization and Issue

Right to the City (RTTC) is a national alliance of membership-based organizations and allies across 9 cities, organizing to build a united response to gentrification and displacement in our cities.

This research project was conceived of and developed through close partnership between RTTC grassroots organizations: Miami Workers Center, POWER, and Community Voices Heard, —and RTTC resource groups: the DataCenter, Community Development Project and Advancement Project.

Present-day U.S. government housing policies are forcing low-income people out of their cities. Public housing, one of the last options of affordable housing for low-income people in the U.S., is being destroyed and replaced by mixed-income housing. Under this process, developers backed by government contracts and encouraged by federal legislation, demolish public housing and replace them with far fewer housing affordable to the lowest income families. As a result, hundreds of thousands of public housing units have been lost, families have been displaced, and communities and social networks have been torn apart. Additionally, as low-income housing becomes increasingly privatized, it is more difficult to ensure that affordable housing remains affordable and that private landlords do not displace low-income tenants. While this crisis threatens the health of cities, government officials and private developers continue to characterize mixed-income housing policies as progress.


Below is a description of the RTTC National Public Housing research project, based on the Participatory Action Research guiding framework (see Tool 2.1 and 2.2).

WHAT….

Were the Organizing Goals connected to this research?

  • To promote public housing as one of the last options of permanently affordable housing.
  • To shift the policy debate about public housing to include the voices of low-income community members.
  • To educate elected officials and policy makers about the real-life impact of demolition disinvestment and privatization of public housing.
  • To build power nationally among low-income community members.


Overall questions did RTTC want to answer through their research?

  • How have low-income residents been impacted by the destruction of and disinvestment in public housing?
  • What are the consequences of mixed income housing policies?
  • What is the need for public housing as a permanently affordable housing source?
  • What needs to be done to ensure public housing remains a source of permanently affordable housing?


Information did RTTC need to collect to answer these research questions?

  • Trends in public housing policy making over the past several years;
  • Data on the need for public housing (waiting lists, economic indicators, etc);
  • Data on the displacement of residents following demolition;
  • Impact of privatization and mixed income housing on residents;
  • Stories and experiences of public housing residents;
  • Proposals from public housing residents about how to ensure public housing remains a source of permanently affordable housing.


WHY….

Is this research useful or important for RTTC?

  • Internally: The research gave RTTC National and member organizations data about how disinvestment and demolition policies are affecting residents, providing key information for campaign development. It also aided RTTC in leadership development of members, contributed to base-building activities and engaged RTTC members on the national level. The project also fostered collaboration and coalition building efforts between 15 different organizations across six cities.
  • Externally: The research results helped to shift the policy debate about public housing to include the voices of residents, a primary objective of the project. It also helped RTTC connect with public housing policy makers and participate in the national public housing debate.


WHO…

Are the stakeholders in this issue?

  • Public housing residents and other low-income community members.

Is RTTC trying to influence?

  • U.S. Congress; Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) officials; the Administration; local public housing authorities.


HOW…

Did RTTC gather information (what methods did they use)?

  • RTTC primarily used focus groups to collect qualitative data from public housing residents. The focus groups allowed RTTC to collect the stories and experiences about the impact of housing policies on low-income residents and achieve the goal of highlighting residents’ voices in the public housing policy debate.

How Research Supported RTTC’s Organizing Efforts

In 2010, RTTC National released the final report summarizing the research findings at a congressional briefing in Washington D.C. co-sponsored by Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Representative Nydia Velazquez (D-NY). The report included the voices of public housing residents from seven cities and various policy recommendations calling on Congress and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to strengthen and expand public housing.  The report received attention from several media outlets, ensuring the voices of residents were heard in the national public housing debate.

Click here to read the report.

8.5 Right to the City-NYC's Report: People without Homes and Homes without People

Background on Organization and Issue

Right to the City NYC is a local chapter of Right to the City national alliance and is composed of twenty base-building, community organizations, research groups and other allies in New York City.  The alliance aims to build a united response to gentrification and neo-liberal development policies in NYC and to a build collective movement to promote and create community-based economic development policies.

Over the last several years, during the housing boom, NYC saw the rapid development of luxury condominiums, many in neighborhoods where low-income people live.  Due to the economic crisis, many of these luxury condominiums were left vacant.  Some have been forced to stop construction because their financing has dried up, while others have been unable to sell units and are falling behind on their construction loan payments.  Despite all of this new construction, the number of housing units that are affordable for low- to middle-income families has decreased precipitously. From 2002 to 2005, the city lost more than 205,000 units affordable to the typical household.   Accordingly, NYC is left with many vacant units of housing but these units are not available or affordable to those most in need of housing.   Many of the neighborhoods where RTTC members live are full of these recently developed condos that have unsold units or are completely empty.  RTTC-NYC conducted a community mapping project to identify where the vacant condos are located; examine the current state of these condos and determine how NYC can convert these condos into low-income housing.

Below is a description of the RTTC Condo Count, based on the Participatory Action Research Guiding Framework (see Tool 2.1 and 2.2).

WHAT….

Were the organizing goals connected to this research?

  • To show number of unsold and vacant units in luxury condos in specific NYC neighborhoods;
  • To highlight number of vacant luxury units versus number of vacant units affordable to low income people;
  • To educate members of RTTC-NYC groups about type of development occurring in NYC neighborhoods;
  • To educate elected officials and media about type of development occurring in NYC neighborhoods, particularly low-income communities of color;
  • To increase affordable housing in NYC.

Overall questions did RTTC want to answer through their research?

  • What is the state of vacant and stalled residential buildings in low-income communities?
  • How are vacant condominiums and stalled construction projects affecting low-income communities?
  • What policies helped contribute to this problem?
  • What opportunities exist to convert vacant condos into low-income housing?
  • What are the most effective policy and financing options to convert them?

Information did RTTC need to collect to answer these research questions?

  • Block and lot numbers and addresses of vacant condos;
  • Size of buildings, number of units, vacancy rates and cost of units;
  • Information about the buildings developers, construction companies and financiers;
  • Background information about targeted neighborhoods;
  • Potential policy and funding mechanisms to convert vacant condos into low-income housing.


WHY….

Is this research useful or important for RTTC?

  • Internally: The condo research project provided valuable information to assist the coalition in campaign development.  The collective project also helped to strengthen the RTTC alliance through increased interaction between member groups.
  • Externally: The research helped RTTC become part of the conversation about the future development of New York. RTTC used the report and results to hold several meetings with elected officials and the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) to educate them about high-end development in target neighborhoods. Media coverage stemming from the report release educated the general public about excessive condo development and gentrification.

 

WHO…

Are the stakeholders in this issue?

  • Low-income community members that live in the targeted neighborhoods in NYC and those in need of affordable housing.

 

Is RTTC trying to influence?

  • The Mayor, City Council, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

 

HOW…

Did RTTC gather information (what methods did they use)?

  • RTTC decided they wanted to physically map the luxury condos as a way to demonstrate the rampant gentrification occurring in the target neighborhoods. Organization members canvassed and identified over 250 vacant condo buildings with an estimated 4,000 empty units.  The results were shown on maps in the final report and helped visually show the spread of luxury condos. Community mapping also engaged a high number of community members, who walked the streets of their neighborhoods, sharing ownership of the research and building buy-in for the campaign.

 

How Research Supported RTTC’s Organizing Efforts

RTTC-NYC released the preliminary findings during a rally in Brooklyn, launching their campaign to convert vacant condos to low-income housing.  After extensive secondary research, RTTC-NYC then released a full report and conducted a tour in Harlem of several vacant condos, highlighting the exorbitant prices, the length of time on the market, and the significant tax arrears owed to NYC.  This event garnered much press and gave RTTC hard numbers to take to elected officials and push to convert the condos into affordable housing.   The policy research also enabled RTTC to come up with several scenarios for converting condos into low-income housing and eventually led RTTC to hone in on Community Land Trusts as the focus of the Alliance’s campaign.

Click here to read the report.

8.6 New Immigrant Community Empowerment's Report: Dreams and Schemes in Queens, New York

Background on Organization and Issue

New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) is a community-based, non-profit organization that works to ensure that new immigrants can build social, political and economic power in their communities and beyond.
Every day, immigrants in New York City struggle to find work, support their families, and understand their immigration options. In this process, many seek assistance from a variety of services and businesses targeted at immigrant consumers. Aware of the vulnerability of new, primarily undocumented immigrants, many businesses, and individuals target and prey upon this community. Of note are the practices of Immigration Service Providers/Immigration Attorneys and Employment Agencies, services and institutions that defraud the community..
In recent years, members of NICE have consistently reported negative experiences with these providers, prompting NICE to investigate, analyze, and develop solutions. In order to gather evidence for NICE’s campaign for better regulation and oversight of these predatory services, NICE and UJC developed a participatory action research project to document this problem.


Below is a description of the NICE Immigrant Consumer Fraud Research Project, based on the Participatory Action Research guiding framework (see Tools 2.1 and 2.2).

WHAT…

Were the Organizing Goals connected to this research?
  • To document predatory, substandard and fraudulent practices of services targeted at new immigrants in Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona, Queens.
  • To highlight the gaps in government enforcement and oversight of services targeted at new immigrants.
  • To improve government enforcement and increase regulatory standards for immigrant service providers/immigration attorneys and employment agencies targeted at new immigrants.
  • To empower community members to access better services and understand their rights as consumers of these services.
  • To improve the lives of low-wage, newly arrived immigrants by curbing predatory, substandard and fraudulent practices and services in their communities.


Overall questions did NICE want to answer through their research?
  • How are the lives and economic well being of new immigrants impacted by predatory, substandard, and fraudulent services?
  • Why do new immigrants use these services?
  • What are the current practices of services targeted at new immigrants, such as Immigration Service Providers and employment agencies?
  • What are enforcement and regulatory shortfalls for services targeted at this community?


Information did NICE need to collect to answer these research questions?

  • Relevant laws and regulations governing immigration service providers/immigration attorneys and employment agencies.
  • Primary data through mystery shopping visits about how businesses present their credentials and services to consumers.
  • Secondary data about businesses and individual providers to support the data from mystery shopping.
  • Stories from new immigrants about being the victims of consumer fraud.
  • Data on the immigrant population in the Jackson Heights, Corona, and Elmhurst neighborhoods of Queens, New York.
  • Stories about the effect of consumer fraud on new immigrants.


WHY…

Is this research useful or important to NICE?
  • Internally: to develop the leadership of its members through their direct participation in the research; to strengthen their Immigrant Consumer Justice campaign by gathering data and creating a report that can support the campaign goals; and allow NICE members to share their stories and experiences.
  • Externally: to educate New York City and State government officials about the effect consumer fraud has on the community as a whole, and immigrants in particular; to get media attention towards the need for more regulation and laws governing immigration service providers/immigration attorneys and employment agencies; to pass legislation clearly defining, and more effectively prohibiting, the unauthorized practice of law; to advocate for amending existing law to prohibit the charging of advance fees to only the most vulnerable, low-wage workers.


WHO…

Are the stakeholders in this issue?
  • Immigrants seeking to adjust their immigration status and find work.

Is NICE trying to influence?
  • Members of the NYS Assembly and Senate, NYS Attorney General, NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, County District Attorneys, NYS Bar, The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and the Executive Office for Immigration Review.


HOW…

Did NICE gather information (what methods did they use)?
  • NICE used mystery shopping to document how immigration service providers/immigration attorneys and employment agencies routinely violate the law and how this leads to new immigrants being the victims of consumer fraud. The mystery shoppers, predominantly immigrants from Mexico and Ecuador, used assigned scenarios to pose as customers seeking services. Each was paired with an observer who looked for signage and credentials and collected literature and business cards. Upon completion of the visit, each shopper-observer pair documented their interactions on a standardized form designed to evaluate providers’ compliance with relevant laws and regulations. NICE also used secondary research, surveys, focus groups, census analysis, and legal research in their data collection process.

Did research support NICE’s organizing efforts?

 

In 2012, NICE released the final report summarizing the research findings and policy recommendations. The report detailed the extent to which consumer fraud affects immigrants. The release was attended by over 80 people community members, academics, the press, New York City Council member Daniel Dromm, and representatives from various city, state, and national government offices, including: US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, NYS Senators José Peralta and Jose Serrano, NYS Assembly Member Michael DenDekker, NYC Council Members Leroy Comrie, Julissa Ferreras and Jumaane Williams, the New York Attorney General, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and the Manhattan District Attorney.

Did research impact policy change?

In December of 2016, Governor Cuomo signed the Justice for Jobseekers Bill into law, after years of advocacy work by the Justice 4 Jobseekers campaign, led by New Immigrant Community Empowerment. The bill seeks to prevent fraud in employment agencies by providing stricter licensing and practice procedures, and avenues for enforcement.

 

Click here to read the report.

8.7 Case Study: New Settlement's Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) Report: Tipping the Scales in Bronx Housing Court

Background on Organization and Issue

Every day, about 2,000 tenants go through the doors of Bronx Housing Court. Few tenants understand the Housing Court process and even fewer (less than 10%) have legal representation to help them navigate it. Since more than 98% of landlords are represented by lawyers, this creates an uneven playing field. Not surprisingly, Bronx Housing Court issues about 40,000 warrants of eviction each year, the most of any borough. In response, New Settlement Apartments’ Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) launched a campaign to reform Housing Court to make it easier for tenants to navigate. CASA is made up of community members who work together to improve the living conditions in the neighborhood and maintain affordable housing through collective action.

Below is a description of the CASA Housing Court Reform Research Project, based on the Participatory Action Research guiding framework (see Tools 2.1 and 2.2).

WHAT…

Were the Organizing Goals connected to this research?

  • To document the experiences of tenants in Bronx Housing Court and the challenges they face.
  • To evaluate judges in Bronx Housing Court.
  • To develop skills and leadership of members.
  • To build the base of members in our organization.
  • To educate Housing Court personnel and elected officials about the challenges tenants face in Housing Court.
  • To develop recommendations to make Housing Court a place for tenants to access justice.

Overall questions did CASA want to answer through their research?

  • What is it like to be a tenant in Housing Court?
  • What are some of the challenges tenants face in Housing Court?
  • How does having a lawyer impact the outcome of a tenant’s case and their overall experience in Housing Court?
  • How do individual judges run their courtroom in Bronx Housing Court and how does this affect tenants?
  • How do tenants and landlord lawyers interact in Bronx Housing Court?


Information did CASA need to collect to answer these research questions?

  • Relevant laws and regulations that govern Housing Court polices and personnel
  • Primary data about tenants’ experiences in Housing Court through surveys and focus groups
  • Secondary data about the average tenant in Housing Court
  • Court data on the number of cases, types of cases, number of evictions, etc
  • Data and stories on the impact of flawed Housing Court polices

WHY…

Is this research useful or important to CASA?

  • Internally: to develop the leadership of its members through their direct participation in the research; to strengthen their Housing Court Reform campaign by gathering data and creating a report that can support the campaign goals; to increase CASA membership; and allow CASA members to share their stories.
  • Externally: to educate the public and elected officials about housing court; to get media attention towards the need for better court policies and resources for tenants; to put pressure on Court officials to improve policies; to pass legislation to reform Housing Court.


WHO…

Are the stakeholders in this issue?

  • Bronx residents in Housing Court (most of whom are low-income women of color).


Is CASA trying to influence?

  • The Office of Court Administration, Chief Justice Lippmann, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Fern Fisher, Bronx Supervising Judge Jaya Madhaven and Bronx City and State elected officials.


HOW…

Did CASA gather information (what methods did they use)?

  • SURVEYS: CASA collected surveys from over 1,000 Bronx residents in an interview-style format during early summer 2012. Most of the surveys were collected from tenants that were at Housing Court, but some of the surveys were collected at CASA events and meetings.
  • JUDGE OBSERVATIONS: CASA members randomly chose a sample of five Resolution Part judges to observe three times in order to collect quantitative and qualitative data about what actually happens in courtrooms and to identify differences between various courtrooms.
  • FOCUS GROUPS: CASA conducted three focus groups (a total of 25 tenants) to collect stories about what it is like to be a tenant in Housing Court, including interactions with judges, hallway deals, why tenants are in Housing Court and landlord harassment tactics.
  • POLICY DEVELOPMENT: CASA partnered with academics, lawyers and housing advocates who served as advisors to CASA members’ during their policy development stage. The advisors provided key insights into legal, legislative and political challenges and opportunities. This guidance enabled CASA members to make informed decisions and develop strong, comprehensive policy recommendations.


Did research support CASA’s organizing efforts

  • Since the research commenced, CASA’s membership has increased and new leaders have emerged. Several members now have research expertise in analyzing power structures, drafting surveys, collecting surveys, conducting focus groups, and analyzing data. CASA is using the final report to meet with elected officials and Court staff and are already gaining traction on their campaign goals. The overall research process and final report only helped to solidify CASA’s position as a leader on Bronx Housing Court issues.
  • In August of 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the Right to Counsel bill into law, which allows low-income tenants universal access to representation in housing court. CASA and the Right to Counsel Coalition, formed after the release of Tipping the Scales, will now focus on the enforcement of this bill, which will be implemented over the course of 5 years, by zip codes; the coverage will be universal by 2022.

Click here to read the report.

8.8 Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision: Policy Platform

Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision

Background on Organization and Issue

In May of 2014, the Mayor’s office in New York City released a detailed housing plan with the goal to build and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next ten years. This would occur largely through the rezoning of 15 neighborhoods to facilitate construction of new housing. Later that year, it was announced that part of the South Bronx, along Jerome Avenue, had been selected as a neighborhood being studied for rezoning.

The area selected by the City is mostly industrial and commercially zoned land. It is also in the poorest urban congressional district in the country, where the average income for a family of 4 is $25,000. Given the history of harassment and exploitation of tenants in this area and because most residents are severely rent burdened, many community members were concerned that rezoning and construction would lead to displacement.

Fearing displacement and loss of neighborhood identity and culture, community members and organizations came together over the next few months to form the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision, in order to develop a platform for rezoning in the South Bronx that is led by community needs rather than by developers seeking profits. Through town halls, community visioning sessions, and surveying community members, the coalition involved over 1,500 community members who were able to give their input into the process. The Coalition came up with four principles to guide the rezoning process:

  1. Strong anti-harassment & anti-displacement policies for residential and commercial tenants
  2. Real affordable housing
  3. Good jobs and local hire
  4. Real community participation

The result of these efforts was the creation of a policy platform which outlines how the principles chosen by the community to guide the rezoning process could be translated into actionable mechanisms. This policy platform has helped mobilized community members to campaign for community-driven rezoning that would favor the needs of community members already living and working in the area to be rezoned.

Below is a description of the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision’s participatory action research and community engagement process based on the Participatory Action Research guiding framework (see Tools 2.1 and 2.2).

WHAT…

Were the organizing goals connected to this research?

  • Build a strong base of residents who will be affected by rezoning, and help develop leadership roles within the coalition’s steering committee;
  • Develop a community-driven vision for how rezoning in the South Bronx can be inclusive and transparent;
  • Develop concrete policy recommendations related to the rezoning rooted in the needs and priorities of low-income Bronx residents;
  • Ensure that those impacted by the rezoning have a voice in shaping the future of the community.

 

Overall questions did the Bronx Coalition want to answer through their research?

  • What are the hopes, needs and concerns of residents and business owners in the Bronx?
  • What do low-income people of color that live in the South Bronx want to see happen to their neighborhood?
  • What are the principles that should guide rezoning according to community members in the Bronx?
  • What are the mechanisms by which community residents can protect low-income people of color and ensure that neighborhood changes benefit these residents?

 

WHY…

Is this research useful or important for the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision?

  • Historically, rezoning processes in New York City have led to real estate speculation, displacement of long-time residents and gentrification. As the poorest urban congressional district in the country, low-income Bronx residents are particularly vulnerable to these forces. The research arms the coalition with concrete data and specific policy recommendations that they can use to organize and advocate for their community during and after the rezoning.

 

WHO…

Are the Stakeholders in this Issue?

  • Low-income people of color, rent stabilized tenants, union workers, and small business owners in the South Bronx in danger of being pushed out of their neighborhood.

 

Is the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision trying to influence?

  • The Mayor’s Office, specifically the Department of City Planning (DCP) and the City Planning Commission (CPC), the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Bronx Community Boards 4 and 5, the Bronx Borough President, the City Council, particularly the City Council Speaker and Council Member Vanessa Gibson, all who have some degree of power into the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process.

HOW…

Did the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision gather information (what methods did they use)?

  • A community forum and four community visioning sessions, each of which was attended by 100-150 community residents. Residents were able to give input and brainstorm solutions to problems in the community;
  • Over 500 surveys were collected about people’s concerns and hopes for rezoning;
  • Surveys of auto workers that own and work in the area slated for rezoning;
  • Background research about policy mechanisms and land use policy in other neighborhoods across NYC and across the country.

 

Did Research support the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision’s organizing efforts?

  • The Policy Platform condensed the priorities and recommendations of the community;
  • The visioning sessions and surveys educated and mobilized community members around the rezoning process;
  • The platform was released at a large public forum with over 700 community members;
  • Several items from the platform are being used to develop organizing campaigns to win concrete protections or improvements for community members.

8.9 Stand for Tenant Safety

Stand for Tenant Safety

Background on Coalition and Issue

The Stand for Tenant Safety (STS) Coalition is a group of tenants’ rights and legal service organizations working with low-income communities in New York City on issues of construction in buildings occupied by tenants.  Members of the coalition noticed that landlords were conducting gut renovations and other major renovation projects in occupied buildings, where many of the tenants lived in rent regulated units. Landlords were systematically using construction as a way to push tenants out of rent stabilized housing, pressuring tenants to take buyouts to make way for tenants that will pay higher rent.

The entity responsible for responding to tenants’ complaints about construction is New York City’s Department of Buildings’ (DOB). The DOB had been slow and ineffective; tenants had a hard time navigating the DOB system and rarely got their problems solved by the DOB.

In order to learn more about the experiences of rent regulated tenants with this issue, the coalition wanted to collect information about the effects of long term construction on rent regulated tenants, and whether the resulting conditions constituted harassment. The coalition partnered with the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project to conduct research about the experiences of rent regulated tenants in rent stabilized buildings.

The coalition produced the “Stand for Tenant Safety” report about their findings from the research, and used the report to support a package of legislative bills that would strengthen the NYC Department of Building’s ability to address reckless construction in buildings.

WHAT…

Were the Organizing Goals connected to this research?

  • Explore how major construction has impacted the health, safety, and well-being of tenants in rent-regulated New York City buildings.
  • Document the extent to which major construction in rent stabilized buildings constituted harassment.
  • Determine whether DOB’s website, documents, and policies were accessible to tenants that were in need of assistance.
  • Generate data that will support the passage of legislation to curtail tenant harassment through construction and improve oversight and customer service of Department of Buildings.

 

Overall questions did the coalition want to answer through their research?

  • What is the experience of rent stabilized tenants undergoing major construction? Would any of these experiences constitute tenant harassment?
  • During major construction, are landlords of rent stabilized tenants complying with current housing maintenance code and other applicable codes?
  • Is the DOB adequately & effectively enforcing the laws that protect rent regulated tenants?
  • Do these laws sufficiently protect rent regulated tenants in buildings undergoing extensive construction?
  • Is the DOB website accessible to tenants (including those with limited English proficiency)

 

WHY…

Is this research useful or important for the coalition?

  • The research supported a legislative package of 12 bills proposed by the coalition in order to implement systemic reforms within the DOB.

WHO…

Are the Stakeholders in this Issue?

  • Rent regulated tenants experiencing  construction as harassment.

 

Was the coalition trying to influence?

  • The New York City Council, Mayor’s Office, and the Commissioner of the Department of Buildings.

HOW…

Did STS gather information (what methods did they use)?

  • Short survey: The coalition collected about 150 surveys in English, Spanish, and Chinese in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Leaders and organizers targeted buildings owned by bad-acting landlords, and surveys were collected via door-to-door outreach and at events and meetings.
  • Interviews: Leaders and organizers conducted 4 interviews in order to collect qualitative data about how construction has personally affected tenants’ lives. The tenants were from the surveyed buildings.
  • Secondary data: Researchers used the DOB website to look up complaints, violations, fines and permits for the surveyed buildings that were undergoing major construction.
  • Legislative review: Legal partners reviewed the legal definition of harassment in order to determine whether construction constituted harassment. Research was also done on the current legal landscape in order to draft the legislative bill package.

Did Research support STS’s organizing efforts?

  • The survey project provided opportunities to base build and educate community members. Leaders working with the survey developed outreach skills and a deepened understanding of what constitutes tenant harassment.
  • The data collected through the research was written into a report, presented to the New York City Council and used in the coalition’s organizing and advocacy for passage of the 12 bill legislative package.

Did research impact policy change?

  • Following the release of the report, the coalition partnered with NYC Council members to introduce 12 bills that would strengthen the NYC Department of Building’s ability to address reckless construction, including:
    • Int 0939-2015: This bill increases fines for landlords who do construction work without a permit;
    • Int 0960-2015: This bill establishes a Construction Bill of Rights for tenants requiring landlords to inform tenants about the type of construction being done and how long it will take; any services that may be affected (such as loss of hot water) and how the landlord will address those; and information about where tenants can call if they have any issues during construction;
    • Int 0924-2015: This bill requires the DOB to issue orders to correct underlying conditions in a building when tenants are ordered to vacate due to unsafe or unfit conditions; this curbs possible incentives for landlords to keep buildings unsafe as a method of forcefully removing tenants.
  • By the end of 2017, the City Council passed all 12 of STS’s bills and Mayor Bill de Blasio signed 11 of them into law. The bills significantly increase protections for tenants against landlord harassment, by increasing tenants’ ability to take abusive landlords to court, as well as measures that will curb dangerous and unsafe construction.

 

Read the report here, and coverage of legislative wins in City LimitsEast Village Patch, and Curbed New York.

8.10 CAAAV Report - No Access: The Need for Improved Language Assistance Services for Limited English Proficient Asian Tenants of the New York City Housing Authority

Background on Organization and Issue

CAAAV is a pan-Asian community-based organization working to build the power of low-income Asian immigrants and refugees in New York City. One of CAAAV’s emerging campaigns involves organizing Asian residents in public housing, which is managed by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

 

While conducting outreach in public housing, CAAAV organizers noticed that Limited English Proficient (LEP) Asian tenants in public housing were having trouble communicating with NYCHA, specifically due to issues of language access. Since NYCHA is responsible for handling repair issues, rental payments, emergency management, and more, it was troubling that Asian tenants identified language access as a primary issue, despite NYCHA’s official policies and procedures for providing interpretation and translation to LEP tenants.

 

CAAAV partnered with the Community Development Project in order to identify NYCHA’s shortfalls in providing language access and the associated impact on Asian LEP tenants.

 

WHAT…

Were the Organizing Goals connected to this research?

  • Identify the biggest issues and greatest needs of Asian tenants in public housing.
  • Develop recommendations for NYCHA based on the  issues and greatest needs of Asian tenants.
  • Build a base of Asian public housing residents as members of CAAAV, as well as develop leaders in public housing.

 

Overall questions did CAAAV want to answer through their research?

  • What existing data is there about Asian residents in NYCHA housing?
  • What are existing NYCHA language access policies that impact Asian residents?
  • What are the biggest issues and needs facing Asian NYCHA residents?
  • How are Asian residents already involved in organizing efforts and/or support systems?

WHY…

Is this research useful or important for CAAAV?

  • To build a base of Asian tenants in public housing.
  • To determine NYCHA’s shortfalls in addressing the language access needs of LEP tenants.
  • To strengthen CAAAV’s campaign to reform NYCHA.

WHO…

Are the Stakeholders in this Issue?

  • LEP Asian tenants living in public housing

 

Was the coalition trying to influence?

  • The Mayor’s Office and NYCHA’s chair and CEO

HOW…

Did CAAAV gather information (what methods did they use)?

  • Surveys: CAAAV surveyed 221 NYCHA tenants in 14 public housing developments in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island about their access to interpretation and translation, experiences with repairs and maintenance, and language access needs. Surveys were conducted in Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin, and Bangla.
  • Interviews: CAAAV conducted targeted interviews with members who were NYCHA tenants, to inform tenant profiles for their report. Interviews were conducted in Korean, Mandarin and Bangla.
  • Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) Request: A FOIL request was submitted to NYCHA in order to gain access to relevant data regarding NYCHA’s language services.  The FOIL request was drafted following an extensive analysis of NYCHA’s language access policies, and the request was crafted to solicit information that NYCHA claimed to be tracking.  Over 1,000 pages of documents were received in response.
  • Legal Research: Research was done to investigate NYCHA’s legal obligation under federal, state and local laws to provide language assistance for LEP residents of public housing.

 

Did Research support CAAAV’s organizing efforts?

  • Developed the leadership of its members, and of Asian public housing residents who are not already members, through their direct participation in the research.
  • Generated data to support existing campaign goals and identify new ones, develop leaders, and strengthen multi-racial public housing organizing.

 

Did research impact policy change?

  • In conjunction with the report release CAAAV and CDP also met with officials from the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and NYCHA to discuss and advocate for the recommendations in the report.
  • CAAAV and CDP convened a call with representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to discuss issues of language access as they relate to public housing.
  • With the help of Congress member Nydia Velasquez, Mandarin and Cantonese were implemented as automated language options in NYCHA’s resident calling center.