Thursday, February 07, 2013

MySpaceNYC Responds to Crown Heights Assembly



Back in November, the Crown Heights Assembly led a protest outside the Franklin Avenue office of real estate firm MySpaceNYC. A few weeks ago, the concerns and critiques the Assembly outlined in November received a more extensive airing in the much-discussed article "The Ins and the Outs: a look below the surface in gentrifying Crown Heights," published by Narratively. The accusations in this article (MySpace declined to comment), along with plans for additional actions by the Assembly outlined in leaked meeting minutes last week, led MySpace to reply with a cease-and-desist letter, reproduced above, which they shared with Brooklynian yesterday afternoon (scroll to the bottom for the original link).  

The text of the Assembly's leaked meeting minutes (referred to in the letter above) are as follows:

Escalation strategy:

  1. Ourspace Blogroll to Document/build the story of Our Space. A blogroll that represents the stories of people who have come through CHA meetings; Documentation of MySpace research, Goldman Sachs property buy, what else?
  2. Have some people go undercover – go to MySpace, check out some houses, and run through the demands, subtly, ask for rent histories, etc. Then have them document their experience.
  3. Smear their brand: Adbust their logo
    Stickerbomb Franklin a week before ”Action”
  4. Next action: Flyering on the day of (across the street?) encouraging people to jump on the phone right away and phonejam for a day. Disrupt their business – 100 people pledge to call again and again.
    And then, drop worst rental histories on doorsteps at end of day?
  5. Follow-up covert “occupy” action – on a given day, or 4 people a day for 2 weeks, have 20 people go through whole process of looking at apartments, seem interested in a particular spot, then at last minute, pull out demands and say we're not interested unless you will do these things. (video this somehow? Or tape record)
  6. Our Space Block Party (or at Brower?) with anti-gentrification theme, housing information, lega; information tables, etc in summer

ILFA is not an attorney, so I'll allow those with more extensive knowledge to weigh in on the finer points of this back-and-forth. At the extremes, it's clear that vandalism is illegal, and equally clear that accusing a business of promoting gentrification and displacement on the internet is not. 

I'm also inclined to refrain from extensive comment in the interest of hearing what readers have to say about these competing documents themselves, but suffice to say that two different visions of community (and community leadership, and community interest) are at play in this contest. MySpace makes money in real estate and gives a chunk of that back to support community groups and their initiatives including the Kids Day and the MLK Day Clean-Up effort. The Assembly couldn't care less about MySpace's charitable giving; they want to change real estate business practices through social pressure and direct action. The MySpace model is one in which successful businesses take the lead in the communities where they operate; the Assembly's is one in which those businesses are held accountable by the community. 

This all raises big, broad questions: Who or what constitutes a community, and what are its boundaries (are they geographic, demographic, voluntary, etc)? Who speaks on behalf of community interests (and decides what these interests are)? What responsibilities do individuals have to others in the neighborhoods where they live and work, and how are these responsibilities enforced, if they are? The answers to these questions, it seems to me, are a big part of what's at stake in this ongoing debate. 

32 comments:

  1. Accusing a business of promoting gentrification on the internet is not, to my knowledge, criminal in New York. If FALSE accusations are made about tenant harassment, etc. it may be actionable as defamation. But stating true facts and then opining on their implications for the neighborhood would not.

    The issue that people seem to be taking with MySpace is not that only it has a different view of a merchant's role in the community, but that (in the view of some) it appears to want to proactively change the entire community into something different than it is. This is a little different than retail merchants simply profiting from demographic changes, and the proliferation of new retail in turn encouraging those changes. A residential real estate firm has a lot more power to effectuate direct changes through its marketing and business practices, because they actually determine who lives where. Apart from any tenants who may have actually been affected (I have no knowledge about this), I think this is why MySpace is attracting so much reproach.

    It's great if they are contributing to neighborhood causes, but if people view them as simultaneously trying to drive certain people out and lure others in, they are not going to ingratiate themselves with the current populace. I was rather surprised that they did not comment for the Narratively article, given that they are clearly at least somewhat concerned about their image. I have to imagine that they regret that now that it has gotten so much circulation (and because it turned out to be so balanced).

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    Replies
    1. The Narritavely article is a disgrace to journalism. The authors published rumors as fact and provided no follow up information to accounts their sources said they heard or know of. Let's also not forget the authors of the Narritavely piece suggested that "the Jews" of the area are all a part of an "underground mob" ????????????????? The Narritavely piece should not be involved in this story or conversation in any way.

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    2. I disagree. The reporters quoted an individual's reference to "Jews" but certainly did not endorse her perspective. And I did not see any rumors reported as fact. To the extent the piece reported anything not directly represented by a named individual, it carefully avoided assuming a factual basis. Part of the subject matter of the article was differing community perspectives on trends in the neighborhood, which could not be accomplished without reporting on what people are saying, whether it is true, false, or in between. MySpace apparently chose not to take the opportunity to voice their own position by commenting.

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    3. The authors published a quote from a misguided individual suggesting that "the Jews" of the area are a part of an "underground mob." By printing that, and not following it up with "Narratively was unable to confirm that these allegations are true" is negligent and in turn, an endorsement.

      About your "it carefully avoided assuming a factual basis," how about this portion of the piece (which we should call fiction at this point)

      "The fact that many real estate agencies that do business in the neighborhood happen to be Jewish-owned injects another level of ugly ethnic animosity into the debate."

      The authors do not cite how they know this to be "fact." Furthermore, you will find no city that breaks down property owner statistics by religion. This is negligent. I'm surprised the authors have jobs.

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  2. Clearly MySpace (and their attorneys) have never heard of the Streisand effect: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect They may not be trying to 'hide' information but the point remains that by going on the attack they are simply going to bring more negative attention to themselves.

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  3. I worked for MyspaceNYC and have seen the absolute worst of the worst. They have moved tenants in with lies about projects being completed. Talk to the residents of 662 Park Pl where they were told their apartments would be ready to move in and ended up not having gas for heat or cooking. This was in the dead of winter!!! When approached about this Guy Hochman simply stated, "Well I don't own the building so you need to talk to him." Forgetting the fact that it was his company just a short time ago that gladly took their money and assured them that the apartments would be ready. Lets talk about their other project on Prospect and Bedford which ended up being such a disaster that all the first floor units ended up having their bottom floors flooded. Once again Guy Hochman couldn't take any responsibility for his companies lies. These are just 2 of 100's of examples I have witnessed myself.

    I have seen countless examples of deposits being kept after future tenants refused to move in due to the building not being completed. They continue to prey on new Brooklyn residents or students who want to be in the Franklin Ave area. While single handledly making sure as he has stated, "the black element is moved out." When MySpaceNYC came to Franklin Ave they had the opportunity to become a role model business, however the owners greed has led to a toxic culture which has employees working in fear. This man has made all his employees sign waivers that after being hired at MySpace they can't work in the Brooklyn real estate market, for fear of being sued. He owns property on Franklin Ave and will soon be opening a Humus restaurant on our street as well a he continues to find new ways to leach of this community when he himself lives in Long Island.

    I myself can't believe I allowed myself to be apart of this terrible company and once I realized what was going on I immediately left. Guy has everything in layers all his minions answer to 2 managers (Benny, Luie) who then get their marching orders from Guy himself. When the protest was going on they just had employees not bring in clients to that office, just move the paperwork to Bushwick. He also didn't have the heart to engage these protestor in dialogue. Instead deciding to take a personal day.

    Please call him to express your dissatisfaction. It's going to take a community effort to make this man realize he can't continue to treat people in this fashion.


    Guy Hochman
    347-306-8902

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Talk to the residents of 662 Park Pl where they were told their apartments would be ready to move in and ended up not having gas for heat or cooking. This was in the dead of winter!"
      ...Anonymous, why would that be the real estate company's issue? This would be an issue to take up with the building's management.

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    2. Ohhh yeah your right when the agent tells the future tenants that everything will be done upon move in, and said agent is supposed to do a full walk through before move in and none is done. Then what can this person do. They have no home to go back to since there moving out and have no choice but to move in. How can Myspace claim no responsibility they just lied to this client through out the whole process. Yes, the property management company be should be responsible as well. Thats where Myspace could help by holding these companies responsible for the way there clients are treated. However, Myspace instead takes its money and runs. Take a look at Elcorno Martin in the top 10 of worst landlords in Brooklyn. All the statical data on this owner can easily be obtained through the NYC complaint site. Guess who the exclusive company he hires to list his apartments is, Myspace. Over their time of working with him he has raised his rents over %200 yet his complaints have gone thorough the roof. Has Myspace ever help him accountable for any of his action. Nope.... They have only allowed him to make more money and lined their pockets as well.

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    3. Who moves into an unfinished apartment without a final walk through? I am not taking sides in this matter but that sounds like poor judgement on the renters part--if you see an unfinished space, you need to view the completed apartment before you sign anything or put any money down. That just seems like common sense to me.

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  4. Hey Anonymous,

    You should get in touch with the Crown Heights Assembly. I bet they would love your testimony.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No need. He already is. As are you I'm sure! #blindleadingtheblind

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    2. Actually not part of the Crown Heights Assembly. Just a concerned person who would like to see more of us organize against these types of business practices, but it sounds like your okay with them operating unethically. #stopcommentingLehamnBrosemployee

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  5. What is the Assembly? What are their motivations? Who founded it? How do they make their money? Who are they affiliated with? None of these questions are answered in their web site and their desperate want to take down one of the few real estate companies in our area is questionable at best. Point is, the Assembly seems super sketchy and lets all find out more about them before we comment on their "work."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sometimes citizens concerned with unethical and unscrupulous practices form citizens groups to address their concerns. These groups don't make any money. They are motivated only by what they see as the common good. In this case, that common good isn't "taking down" a real estate company, but asking that company to do business with a modicum of decency and transparency.

      CHA is one of these "citizens groups." They are affiliated only with the individuals who freely choose to associate with them. In fact, you, Liz, can associate with them! In fact, you could be a member of the Crown Heights Assembly!

      Did it occur to you that they make no money and expect none? That citizens act voluntarily with no promise of reward to achieve social change?

      Delete
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  7. The Assembly probably has some flaws, but threatening to sue and not doing any sort of press to explain their position seems shady from MySpace. There is something unethical going on there.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Liz-
    The CH Assembly is a local offshoot of Occupy Wall Street.

    They are not making any money, and are motivated by a sense of justice.

    Whether this motivation is being constructively targeted, or they understand the scope and nature of the forces involved are my questions.

    Good motivations alone do not make one effective. Groups that use poorly thought out methods and select the wrong targets, lose potential allies.





    ReplyDelete
  9. The Crown Heights Assembly is a group of local folks that meet together and try to work on projects and campaigns that will increase justice and good citizenship. They're working really hard to be an inclusive, diverse group -- holding meetings in the eastern part of Crown Heights, offering childcare at meetings, reaching out to already established groups and churches. They're not making any money, they're not "affiliated" and they're certainly not nefarious.

    If you believe in their goals (social justice, giving neighbors a voice in the workings of the neighborhood) maybe go to one of their meetings. That's the only way to influence the strategy.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Rather than try to influence the Assembly, one could also simply join an existing group that has methods and targets you identify with....

    It is a big city. A lot of existing orgs already have good strategies.

    http://www.actorsfund.org/others/pdfs/NY/Tenants_Rights_Organizations_New_York.pdf

    http://www.ag.ny.gov/sites/default/files/pdfs/publications/Tenant_Rights_2011.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  11. It seems that alot of people have alot of time on their hands...

    ReplyDelete
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  15. Let's be honest here: MySpace has ZERO interest in the existing community in Crown Heights (or any other neighborhood) or helping any of the people that live(d) there. They have ONE goal, and that goal is to make money on real estate transactions, however they can. The best thing they could possibly hope for is that the majority of the existing residents leave and a whole swatch of wealthy buyers and renters move in instead (Williamsburg Jr.).

    I question what little community involvement they do have, or donations they make, as they are more than likely small scraps thrown out to so they can see "Look! See! We care about the community!!"

    The CHA is a local, unaffiliated group with little to work with, trying to find effective ways to combat a business with incredible finances behind them who is clearly unconcerned with the future of Crown Heights (or again, any other neighborhood where they might bribe shady landlords into selling their buildings).

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