Housing Conservation Coordinators operates in the Clinton District/Hell's Kitchen neighborhood in Manhattan, located on the West Side between 34th and 72nd Street, from 8th Avenue to the Hudson River. Since its founding in 1972, HCC has been devoted to preserving the character of Hell's Kitchen, and guaranteeing that high-quality affordable housing remains in the neighborhood. Each year the organization helps more than 4,000 individuals and families by preventing evictions, educating them about their rights, weatherizing their buildings, and ensuring that they can continue to call this community home. In 2014 HCC extended it's catchment area to include the Upper West Side to 100th Street. Although the challenges faced by residents have varied over the past fifty years, HCC has been able to adapt to changes in tenants' needs, continuing to provide valuable legal and technical services, and expert tenant and community organizing.
1970's: Disinvestment and Neglect
In the 1970's New York experienced a financial crisis that had citywide effects on housing. In Hell's Kitchen, the result of the troubled economy was disinvestment on the part of landlords and management agencies. Many landlords abandoned their buildings; others harassed and intimidated their tenants. Because of landlord negligence, neighborhood residents struggled with frozen pipes, fires set deliberately, and lack of heat or hot water; one elderly tenant froze to death in her apartment.
In response, tenants and other community members worked together to put an end to the corrupt practices of negligent landlords and improve apartment conditions throughout the neighborhood. HCC launched a technical training program that taught tenants how to operate and repair a boiler. These classes enabled tenants in abandoned buildings to take control of the provision of some of their most basic needs, reclaiming power from their neglectful landlords. The City began to seize buildings whose landlords were not tax-compliant and, with the Tenant Interim Lease Program (TIL), offered the tenants of seized buildings a chance to purchase their building, rather than being provided with another landlord. HCC helped tenants organize and apply for the program. After tenants qualified, HCC helped them transition to becoming active shareholders of their new low-income cooperatives called Housing Development Fund Corporations (HDFCs).
HCC also aided the community in negotiations with the City over zoning regulations. Many residents of Hell's Kitchen wanted to maintain the low-rise and diverse character of their neighborhood. In 1972, Housing Conservation Coordinators worked with tenants and the City to established a special zoning regulation called the Special Clinton District. The zoning limited the height of buildings, prohibited demolition of residential buildings, provided for new affordable housing, and protected tenants against harassment.
HCC's work in the 1970s continues to pay dividends today: hundreds of neighborhood residents have maintained their affordable apartments in HDFCs, our technical training classes continue to educate tenants and managers about safe, affordable ways to maintain boilers and other facilities, and the Clinton Special District protects the heart of Hell's Kitchen from harassment, demolition and inappropriate development.
1980's: Defense and Offense
By the end of the 1970's, tenants in the Hell's Kitchen had more control over the quality of their housing than ever before, thanks to pro-active government initiatives and the help of HCC. But the struggle for tenants' rights was far from finished. In the 1980's, the City tried to increase the cooperative purchase price for the HDFCs in Hell's Kitchen. HCC and local residents responded with the “$250 for Clinton and Chelsea Too” campaign. By informing tenants all over the city that prices could be raised for HDFCs in their neighborhoods next, HCC transformed the neighborhood-based struggle into a successful city-wide fight.
Today, there are more than seventy low-income cooperatives in Hell's Kitchen, purchased either from the City or directly from private landlords with HCC loan funds. HCC continues to work with many of the HDFCs, providing technical support, legal services, low-interest loans, and technical training.
The 1980's were also a time of expansion for HCC. While preserving the successful organizing component, the organization also began a Weatherization Program in 1981. Weatherization is the process through which buildings undergo renovations to improve energy efficiency and reduce operating costs. This is made possible by the installation of new heating systems, refrigerators, windows, roof insulation, at no cost to residents. Since its inception, HCC's Weatherization Program has assisted a number of the HDFCs and other low-income properties by improving the quality of housing without rent increases.
1990's: A New Role for HCC
A boom in the real estate market, which began in 1990‘s and continues today, has caused a wave of new concerns for Hell's Kitchen residents, and resulted in a shift in HCC's role in the neighborhood. Instead of landlords abandoning their buildings, many developers want to take advantage of the increasingly lucrative housing market and the proximity of Hell's Kitchen to midtown Manhattan. The revived interest threatens the low-rise, residential, and diverse nature of the neighborhood. Residents who have lived in Hell's Kitchen their entire lives feel they are being pushed out of their homes by high-rise, luxury apartment buildings. Because many of the apartments in the area are rent-stabilized, the incentive created by housing market conditions also leads to increased instances of tenant harassment as landlords try to force out their rent-stabilized tenants.
As concerns in the neighborhood have become less about landlord neglect and more about gentrification and inappropriate development, HCC's has altered its role accordingly. In the realm of legal and technical services, including weatherization, this has meant that HCC provides the same services in different circumstances. In the past, our attorneys represented clients who were fighting to make landlords repair their apartments, instead of abandoning the building. Now attorneys help defend the homes of many rent-stabilized residents from landlords trying to force them out in order to rent to higher paying tenants, or to switch the building from affordable to luxury housing. HCC has also joined with community members in fighting developers whose plans are not consistent with the existing characteristics of the neighborhood.
2000 to 2017: Victory and Expansion
The beginning of this new century brought expansion to HCC in order to meet the complex needs of the West Side community. The legal services component has grown exponentially over the past 2 decades, with attorneys and advocates helping protect safe, decent and affordable housing in the neighborhood. The organizing component has also grown, allowing HCC to take the lead in helping West Side residents shape the future of the broader community. In the early 2000’s HCC worked with local elected officials to fund a complete renovation of the 10th Avenue storefront office, providing a more durable, professional space for the organization to carry out its services.
During these critical years, HCC was at the forefront of battles to protect the affordability and character of the West Side community. In 2004 and 2005, HCC was pivotal in the fight against the West Side Stadium and for affordable housing in the Hudson Yards rezoning. HCC joined with community leaders and elected officials to form the Hell's Kitchen/Hudson Yards Alliance, a coalition that defeated the stadium, advocated for a more balanced development plan, and continued to influence the plans for the West Side Rail Yards in Hell's Kitchen South.
The victory over the development of the West Side Stadium, expanded HCC’s community organizing even further, engaging with issues such as phony demolition, illegal hotels, and tenant harassment. Issues that remain paramount today as developers continue to skirt the laws and displace tenants. In 2006, HCC brought together more than 40 community leaders to launch the West Side Neighborhood Alliance (WSNA), a membership-based group that brings neighborhood residents into positions of leadership and decision-making for our community organizing division. Today, community organizing joins legal services, tenant organizing, and weatherization as one of HCC's core services we offer West Side residents.
2017 to Present: HCC's Continued Fight
In 2017, New York City passed the first ever Right to Counsel law that provided an attorney to every income eligible tenant facing an eviction. As one of the providers in Manhattan Housing Court through the Right to Counsel program, HCC has been instrumental in supporting tenants throughout the city who are at risk of eviction.
While the legal component is growing to provide representation in Housing Court to tenants facing evictions, HCC Organizers were embroiled in major city and statewide campaigns on issues around the Rent Stabilization Laws which were due to sunset in 2019. After years of organizing and campaigning for protections, we saw a major victory in the passage of the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019. Through the passage of HSTPA, we won the following for tenants statewide: Rent Stabilization now covers the entire state and makes it much harder for landlords to deregulate apartments. The “Vacancy bonus” has been eliminated. “Preferential rents” are now permanent. Landlords are now much more limited in what they can charge for building wide or apartment level improvements. Protections that apply to all tenants: against evictions, exorbitant security deposits, and burdensome fees. However, landlords continue to find ways to circumvent the laws and HCC continues to be at the forefront of the fight for Housing Justice for the West Side residents.