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Announcements

A New 596 Acres Publication: COMMUNITY GOVERNANCE CARDS For Your Groups!

28 July 2015

These Community Governance Cards are designed to help facilitate the development of healthy group dynamics and habits. Click the link to see the PDF and feel free to make your own edition. 

Published July 2015.
Design by Rachel Albetski.
First edition of 400, printed by Radix Media and bound with ring.

$12 per set, includes shipping and handling (or buy them from us directly when you see us tabling this fall for $10).

Wholesale orders of 10 sets or more are $8 each; contact paula@596acres.org for wholesale purchasing.  

Recommendations for Making the NYC Tax Lien Sale Work Better for Non-Profit Property Owners and Neighbors of Vacant and Abandoned Lots and Buildings

15 July 2015

New York City has a new Tax Lien Sale Task Force that is going to study how the tax lien sale impacts nieghborhoods for the next year. 

The Tax Lien Sale is scheduled to be reauthorized at the end of 2016. Our recommendations would help (1) preserve existing community assets and (2) give the City much-needed leverage over vacant and abandoned properties that are currently vulnerable to deed-theft and speculation.

RE: IMPACTS OF THE TAX LIEN SALE ON NOT-FOR-PROFITS AND NEIGHBORS OF VACANT AND ABANDONED PROPERTIES; RECOMMENDATIONS 

596 Acres is New York City’s community land access advocacy organization. In three years, we have helped 32 groups create new pocket parks, community farms and gardens on publicly owned vacant land. We also help protect existing privately owned community resources. We have first-hand experience of the impact of vacancy and abandonment on New York City neighborhoods due to the requests for information that we handle from neighbors of such properties through our intake and organizing staff and specifically through our work with two gardens on properties that were abandoned by their prior owners in the 1990s.

IMPACTS ON EXISTING COMMUNITY SPACES

The current tax lien sale structure puts existing community spaces at risk of being foreclosed on by private entities – threatening legacy spaces like the 1100 Bergen Street and Merrick Marsden Community Gardens.

1100 Bergen Street Community Garden in Crown Heights was founded by neighbors cleaning up vacant lots on their block in 1980s; in 1989, the lots comprising the garden were purchased by the Trust for Public Land and transferred to the 1100 Bergen Street Block Association. The Garden was likely eligible for a not-for-profit tax abatement but gardeners were never advised and they never got one. Instead, the former president of the garden association simply paid the annual property tax bills. When he passed away, those tax bills continued to be sent to his home, tax debt accrued and that debt was sold to through the lien sale. The bank that purchsed the lien note initiated collection actions that could have resulted in a foreclosure and the disappearance of the garden. To protect this historic Crown Heights space, 596 Acres worked with the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust to pay off the debt and protect the property.

The Block Association and the Trust had to raise the past-due amount and interest accrued while the debt was with the bank post-sale. This amount, in excess of $20,000, could have been forgiven by the City had it not been sold since the garden was eligible for a tax abatement. The bank, having purchased the debt for its face value, claimed it was not in a position to forgive it. Once the foreclosure was forestalled, the Block Association transferred the property to the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust, a larger organization with greater capacity for administration in February 2015.

The Merrick Marsden Association, owners of an open space in Jamaica, Queens, that has served the community since 1967, had a nearly identical close call last year that resulted in a fundraising frenzy to pay off the debt that the City sold and a subsequent a transfer of the property to the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust in January 2014.

We are proud of our work preserving these legacy spaces, but these close calls are illustrative of how the lien sale currently puts communtiy based organizations that serve their neighborhoods via properties that they own – gardens, day care facilities, community centers – are undermined by the sale of their debt.

Another Crown Heights garden is currenlty at risk: a tax lien was sold and the same recorded on June 18, 2015, against a lot owned by the inactive not-for-profit Imani Housing Development Corporation, which is in the center of the New York Restoration Project-managed Imani I Garden. Some intervention is likely necessary to make sure that ownership of the property continues to facilitate community uses, but the private bank that purchased the lien is not the right party. If tax debt against this not-for-profit entity was exempt from the lien sale, then the City could use the Third Party Transfer Program to transfer title the New York Restoration Project, the not-for-profit organization that owns the nieghboring lots to the north and south. As it stands now, the garden is at risk of being divided. 

NEIGHBORS OF VACANT AND ABANDONED PROPERTIES

Where abandoned properties with absentee owners are accruing tax debt to the City, the fact that that debt is sold to private entities eliminates the City’s ability to intervene in the abandonment and aid the local community in transforming eyesores and dumping grounds into positive resources. Vacant and abandoned properties on which no taxes are paid could be a source of properties for the creation of new open spaces and affordable housing opportunities. But when the debt is sold to private collectors, these opportunities are foreclosed while neighborhoods suffer boarded up buildings and vacant lots full of debris. 

Two community gardens we work with exist because neighbors chose to get involved where the City could not and transform dereliction into abundance: the Roger That and Maple Street Community Gardens are both on properties abandoned by their owners on which tax debt (and liens for HPD’s removal of the buildings that used to be there) were not paid for decades. Both gardens are now at risk of disappearing as private for-profit developers emerge and claim to purchase deeds from the heirs of the owners who abandoned them over twenty years ago. Had the City stepped in to collect past-due accounts on these vacant properties at an earlier moment, they could now be safely in the inventory of the Parks Department (or have been transformed into much-needed permanently affordable housing).

RECOMMENDATIONS

Our recommendation is that the following properties should be excluded from the tax lien sale and instead, where appropriate, routed to the Third Party Transfer program:

·      All occupied properties owned by not-for-profit corporations. Not-for-profit corporations hold property in service of their missions, whether the provision of community services, like day cares and community gardens, or affordable housing. When such organizations fail to pay property taxes or apply for appropriate tax abatements and their debt is sold to private entities for collection and potential foreclosure, key community services are unnecessarily placed at risk. The tax lien sale allows properties acquired through charity and public money to become private properties when buyers of the tax debt foreclose. To protect community gardens and open spaces, when making this change, the statutory definition of “occupied” should include “in use as a community garden or open space.”

·       All unoccupied properties, including vacant residential and commercial properties and vacant lots. Unoccupied properties, held empty by speculators or for lack of development resources, are critical resources that could be used for affordable housing and other important public uses. When these properties accrue unpaid tax debt, and that debt is sold, the City gives up its power to intervene to transform these wasted spaces into positive use. Rather than allowing such properties to lie fallow and accumulate more debt, leaving holes in neighborhoods, the City should use its resources to facilitate the transfer of these properties, via TPT, to responsible non-profit owners who can use these properties for the public good.

Our recommendations are also incorporated into the New York City Community Land Initiative’s recommedations for reform of the tax lien sale with a broader view to preserving and creating crucial affordable housing and open space in New York City neighborhoods; they are included here as an attachment. You can download a PDF here. 

What Do We Do With Our Land? -- annotating community land stewardship on the Lower East Side for the New Museum IDEAS CITY Festival

30 May 2015

“Gaining our freedom is, in the first place, ripping off a few acres from the face of a domesticated planet.” - Attila Kotanyi and Raoul Vaneigem, “manifesto of unitary urbanism”


Invisible structures and invisible histories make cities as we know them, see them, smell them and dig in their soils. On the occasion of the Ideas City Festival, hosted by the New Museum, 596 Acres, Deborah Berke Partners and GRT Architects invite you on a tour of tax lot lines, leases, settled court cases, City-agency jurisdiction assignments, histories of organizing, memories of long meetings, cleared garbage heaps, community land trusts and New Yorkers struggling and succeeding to create and control the space of the City, together.

 

You can see a PDF of the printed map we handed out at the festival here.

 

Elizabeth Street Garden is the only green oasis in the Little Italy and SoHo neighborhood. The Garden, open to the public by volunteers, provides a beautiful sanctuary for local residents and workers. The site was transformed from a derelict lot into a garden in 1991 when Elizabeth Street Gallery leased the site from the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

In June 2013, neighbors came together to preserve the Garden permanently as a unique public green, open space. The community learned the Garden resides on city-owned land and in conjunction with the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area rezoning, the City committed to build housing on the site. In 2014, Community Board 2 passed a resolution supporting the permanent preservation of the Garden, in its entirety, as a NYC Park.  

Since then, Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden has grown a volunteer base of nearly 400 people, established a nonprofit corporation, staffed and opened the Garden to the public year round and programmed more than 150 free public events—including gardening and educational programming for adults and children, wellness programming such as yoga, tai chi and meridian tapping, and an annual Harvest Festival attended by more than 2,000 neighbors.

 

Currently, the Garden has no protections as an official NYC park, garden or open space. The City can recognize its importance and protect it by transferring the land to the Parks Department. What can you do?  Volunteer ONE hour a month to keep the Garden open for all!  Email volunteer@elizabethstreetgarden.org.

El Jardin Del Paraiso, situated between E 4th and 5th Streets and Avenues C and D in the Lower East Side, was created as a green space by local residents in 1981 out of series of abandoned lots, some owned by the City and some owned by private entities. Homesteaders, gardeners, artists, religious leaders, the Junior League, and the principal of P.S. 15, worked together to advocate for the expansion and preservation of the garden as a permanent park. The group convinced the City that El Jardin was perfectly situated to become a new park for the Lower East Side in a part of the neighborhood badly served by the existing green spaces. The city condemned three adjacent privately owned lots that formerly divided the space during the 1990s using eminent domain, making the park whole.

 

The lots that El Jardin is on were transferred to the jurisdiction of the Parks Department in 1999 but have not yet been officially mapped as parkland; they also have buildable floor area and are zoned as residential land (R8B). The buildable area could be transferred as development rights to be used elsewhere or eliminated if the City officially maps El Jardin as parkland. Today, El Jardin Del Paraiso provides recreational green space for a diverse community to gather, and hosts a broad program of educational and garden events. In 2012, the park joined the neighborhood coalition LUNGS (Lower East Side Neighborhood Gardens), urging the city to officially create a Community Garden District in the Lower East Side and permanently preserve the remaining gardens in neighborhood.

In 2012, residents of the Lower East Side gained access to two parcels of city-owned vacant land near the corner of Stanton and Attorney Streets and created the Siempre Verde Garden. The parcels are in the inventory of Housing Preservation and Development. The lots had previously been a garden in the 1980s and 1990s. 596 Acres, New York’s community land access advocacy organization, had posted signs on the rusty fences surrounding the lots announcing that the land was publicly owned and that (re)creating the garden was possible. Neighbors who saw the signs connected with one another through 596 Acres and organized to get an interim use license through the New York City Parks Department Green Thumb program. Siempre Verde provides an inclusive recreational open space in an otherwise densely developed area.


The gardeners are in the midst of efforts to make the garden whole by having the City acquire a privately owned lot that divides the two garden parcels. This could happen through a purchase, a condemnation via eminent domain or a donation from the owner of that parcel. The development company that owns that lot is simultaneously campaigning to have the City parcels that the garden is on transferred to itself for new housing construction. The gardeners have so far been successful in preventing City approval of the developer’s plan and instead getting the local Community Board to unanimously request that the garden parcels be transferred to the Parks Department’s jurisdiction, where they will be more likely to be protected by state public trust doctrine. The City has not yet heeded the Community Board’s request; the lots continue to be sites of speculation and insecurity while the garden thrives.  

The Cooper Square Committee (CSC) is a non-profit organization of Lower East Side residents preserving and developing affordable housing, community and cultural spaces. CSC formed in 1959 to fight the City of New York’s Cooper Square Slum Clearance plan, one of the first of the over 150 Urban Renewal Area Plans created and adopted for NYC’s “blighted” neighborhoods. The City plan was to bulldoze the buildings, move the residents and start over with a higher income population living in a less densely populated neighborhood. The CSC succeeded in resisting that plan and forced the City to adopt a their alternative plan, aimed at keeping the neighborhood racially, economically, and culturally diverse instead. The adoption of the community plan prevented the displacement of several thousand people as well as the demolition of over 300 buildings. In 1991, CSC created the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association (MHA), now managing nearly 400 low-income cooperative apartments. The MHA owns the 21 buildings that these apartments are in; the Cooper Square Community Land Trust owns the land beneath the buildings and leases to the MHA on a renewable 99-year term. The mission of the Community Land Trust is make sure these 21 lots are used for affordable housing for low and moderate income people; covenants in the deeds to these lots give the Community Land Trust oversight power over the renter, the MHA. Residents own shares in the MHA that give them access to their units. This balanced system is the tool that CSC has used to permanently preserve affordable housing on some of the most expensive land in NYC.

City Council Member Inez Dickens Asks HPD Commissioner to Save Harlem Gardens

25 May 2015

Harlem City Council Member Inez Dickens wrote a letter on Thursday, May 21st to Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been asking for active community gardens operating under "interim use agreements" in her district to be removed from the list of sites offered to developers for $1 at this time. Her letter is here

These gardens have been included Request for Qualifications addressed to the development community. The lots that the gardens are on are being offered for nominal $1 transfers (free!) to become development sites.


Icon inez_dickens_community_gardens_support_2015.pdf (72.0 KB)

We're Hiring a Community Land Access Program Organizer!

20 May 2015

Since 2011 596 Acres' Community Land Access Program has helped 32 groups transform vacant, City-owned pieces of land into community resources. Our online mapping tools makes information about public property available and easy to understand. We also engage neighbors by hanging up signs up on the fences and work with them to help realize community control over spaces.  As the organizer, you'll play a key role in helping neighborhood groups navigate the process of accessing land. Here's what you’ll do:


Program Management

  • Coordinate, collaborate, and strategize in tandem with Executive Director

  • Work closely with 596 Acres advisory committee, both as a staff support and strategic partners

  • Manage volunteers

  • Support development of organization’s programmatic work plan

  • Work with the Executive Director, governance board, staff and members to develop and evaluate organizing strategies

  • Generate new program ideas and work with staff and board to implement and carry out programming related to the organization’s priorities

  • Write the weekly News From the Acres

  • Develop print and web materials as needed

  • Foster a team-oriented, supportive, accountable work environment at 596 Acres

 

Outreach

  • Hang signs on fences of vacant lots City-wide

  • Lead workshops for various community based organizations and neighborhood groups

  • Table for 596 Acres at community events

  • Support and initiate relationship-building and cultivate meaningful collaborations with community leaders, local politicians, and community-based organizations

  • Represent the organization with local and state government officials, in the media, and with private organizations

  • Use social media as outreach and organizing tool

  • Help complete a summer outreach project to visit 7 community boards in districts with the highest concentration of vacant, public land to share information about 596 Acres' work, current neighborhood land access organizing efforts, and district-specific maps

 

Land Access Advocacy Organizing

  • Support the organizing efforts of local land access advocates around NYC by monitoring website activity and following up with active organizing groups regularly

  • Process and respond to new intake within 48 hours

  • Maintain our email-oriented database with extreme attention to detail

  • Stay current on process of application for license and leases through relevant city agencies for community use

  • Liaise with city agencies and intervene in direct community outreach when needed

  • Help complete a summer outreach project to visit 7 community boards in districts with the highest concentration of vacant, public land to share information about 596 Acres' work, current neighborhood land access organizing efforts, and district-specific maps

  • Facilitate monthly general meetings

Here's what we're looking for in an applicant

  • Extreme comfort with email and filing

  • Experience in and commitment to bottom-up organizing, grassroots leadership, and collective decision-making

  • Comfort with responding to email immediately within regular working hours

  • Comfort with flexible organizing schedule to accommodate community event needs

  • Willingness to travel throughout the five boroughs

  • Familiarity with City government processes (and willingness to learn more about them!)

  • Demonstrated ability to work in multi-racial, multi-lingual settings

This is part time (21 hours per week) position with benefits. Pay is $24,000 per year (negotiable if you do not want to take advantage of the benefits package). Our office is in Gowanus, Brooklyn; regular office hours are required.


To apply, submit a cover letter and resume to organizers@596acres.org by Wednesday, May 27th at 12 pm.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Brooklyn Gardeners Protecting Their Plots, In Court

03 May 2015


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Supporters of Maple Street Garden hold up a sign at Maple Street Garden: “Gardens are worth Saving!” Photo via 596 Acres.


A large solidarity group is supporting Maple Street Community Garden in its fight against eviction. At the last hearing in Housing Court on April 1st, 2015, a group of approximately two dozen supporters stood in solidarity with the gardeners from Maple Street, who are currently preparing for their next appearance in court on May 4th, 2015.


Maple Street Garden at 237 Maple Street in Prospect Lefferts Gardens is threatened with demolition by the current owner of the property, Housing Urban Development LLC (HUD LLC). The private developer has a name that sounds like a federal agency, apparently chosen to cause confusion, and a history of subprime lending and irregular title transfers. The principals behind the LLC are brothers Michael and Joseph Makhani. Both have been previously convicted of forging notary signatures and of a foreclosure scam in Queens. On April 6th, 2011, HUD LLC acquired the property from Brooklyn LLC (BK LLC), another LLC they set up. Since the Makhani brothers first acquired the property in 2003 under the name BK LLC, it has been sitting vacant and filling with garbage. The home that used to be on the lot burned down in 1999, a few years after its elderly owner who had lived there since 1968 passed away, apparently leaving no will and no heirs. After the fire, the house had to be demolished by NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development at public expense.  


In 2012 residents, led by the Maple 3 Block Association, organized and transformed the once trash-strewn vacant lot into a multipurpose garden and community space.


“The gardeners converted an abandoned, trash-filled empty lot into an attractive green space that is open 24/7 for anyone who wants to come in and enjoy it,” says Tom LaFarge, an active Maple Street gardner. “The city needs more places where its diverse population can meet for collaborative work and relaxed conversation.”

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Maple Street Community Gardeners, and joined by supporters to hear their story during an Endangered Gardens Bike Ride organized by 596 Acres and Public Space Party on April 18th, 2015.

Photo via 596 Acres.


On September 23rd, 2014 representatives of HUD LLC tried to put a sudden end to this successful community project.

“A crew of workers came in with a truck and began to dismantle the garden, getting as far as wrecking one raised bed. An alert neighbor called the cops, who came at once and stopped the destruction,” recalls Mr. LaFarge.


The Makhani brothers arrived on-site and the police demanded to see proof of ownership, but the papers they produced were inadequate, according to the police officers. The Makhanis and workmen left.


On October 18th, 2014, the gardeners found a notice in the garden, signed by an unidentified HUD LLC signatory, and entitled “TEN DAYS NOTICE TO LICENSEE TO VACATE." That notice was the beginning of a battle that is now playing out in two different Kings County Courts. The gardeners are standing their ground against the attempts by the Makhani Brothers to illegally evict them.


On Monday, May 4, the Gardeners will appear in Housing Court to continue to resist eviction. HUD LLC is kept from interfering with the property until the case is resolved.  Simultaneously, the gardeners and Paula Z. Segal, Maple Street gardener’s attorney and founder of 596 Acres, are working with elected officials to initiate a potential condemnation.


Simultaneously, they are filing a motion to intervene in an action in Kings County Supreme Court in which HUD LLC is seeking an order declaring them the proper owners of the property.


“Even though HUD LLC is aware of the gardeners presence, some their names, how to locate them to summon them to court, and that they will be impacted by the outcome of the suit, they failed to include them in the Supreme Court quiet title action,” says Paula Z. Segal, the gardeners attorney. “They are moving ahead against only the deceased former owners and heirs that they have never been able to locate. This is sneaky and we are now asking for the court’s permission to enter the case as well since its outcome will clearly affect the gardeners rights in relation to the lot that the garden is on.”


Cheryl Everett and Beverly Lewin, two homeowners in East New York who are also currently involved in a lawsuit against the Makhani brothers, came to Maple Street Garden’s Housing Court case on April 1 in support of the gardeners. Under the name H.P.D. LLC - incorporated with the same initials as the City agency “Housing Preservation and Development” - the Makhani brothers sold the properties and worked directly with a lender who provided subprime mortgages to homeowners in East New York. The houses were built with various defects, including, but not limited to, cracks in the foundation, inadequate insulation, leaky roofs, inadequate sized sewage pipes, warped flooring, undersized heating pipes to boilers and risers, and ceilings separating from walls due to moisture from leaky roofs. Facing foreclosure, 15 of them filed a lawsuit against H.P.D. LLC in 2008; the case is still in litigation in Kings County Supreme Court.


“The Makhani brothers made that purchase sound like a good deal, they tricked me into signing. The mortgage turned out as a balloon mortgage that I can’t afford, they should have never offered it to me in the first place,” says Cheryl Everett. “After the agreement was signed and problems became obvious, it was impossible to get hold of the Makhani brothers, they just took off.”


There are currently several gardens under threat. Among the supporters at Maple Street Garden’s last Housing Court appearance were organizers from Bushwick’s Eldert Street Garden, Jason Fischman and Kim Anderson, who currently are in a similarly precarious situation.


“For those of us without a private garden, community gardens are all we have,” Kim says.  “When we work in our community gardens, we take back our fundamental right to work the land, and call a piece of earth our own. And we do it together.”


Eldert Street Garden has been active since 2009 on a vacant lot that was donated to a non-profit daycare for the use of a children’s garden. Five years after having transformed the once derelict lot into a flourishing garden, mysterious workers showed up to clear the property. The garden property has been transferred to a private developer without the consent of the New York State Attorney General's office.


“The question is whether the sale was legal at all,” says Kim. The law states that any time a non-profit transfers its assets, the Charities Bureau of the Attorney General's office needs to approve the transfer for consistency with the nonprofit's mission and purpose.


Roger That Garden in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, is also fighting against its eviction as a result of a recent sale of the property to a private developer, TYC Real Estate. The successful garden and thriving community space opened in 2009 on a lot that sat vacant for several years after a derelict building was torn down in 2006. Last year, TYC Real Estate purchased the deed for $10 from the man who used to own and operate a hardware store on this lot before abandoning the buildings.   


Eldert Street and Roger That have already survived their own attempts at illegal eviction through lock-outs meant to stop the gardeners from gardening. Even though the illegal locks have since been removed, they still remain threatened.

What connects these gardeners is their struggle to retain to access to land that they have worked so hard to restore to useful life on behalf of their communities.


The Maple Street Community Garden case is on Monday, May 4th at 10:30am, 141 Livingston Street, Room 603, Brooklyn.


Contact: Paula Z. Segal, Esq. (646) 276-3865

More pictures available upon request.


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Photo via 596 Acres.

 

596 Acres-Inspired Project Launches in Montreal!

28 April 2015

Lande unveils its collaborative map of Montreal's vacant land

Created in September for Je vois Montréal, Lande (previously named Urburb), launched this week their first tool to facilitate the repossession of vacant land by Montrealers: the collaborative platform http://www.landemtl.com, allows residents to track down vacant land in their neighbourhood and demonstrate their interest in participating in the transformation process.

Vacant land: a vast potential for residents

According to the City's data, in 2010 there was 25 square kilometers of vacant land in Montreal. This is equal to the surface of 32 Botanical Gardens. These spaces have the potential of becoming collective gardens, parks, or recreational areas in order to enhance the quality of life in Montreal's central neighbourhoods.

The objective: form groups of neighbors and help them with their project

Thanks to the new collaborative platform, Lande connects neighbors that want to contribute to the process of transforming public or private vacant land. Lande can then help the group transforming the space with their questions regarding the regulation related to the land, negotiation with the owner, and communication. The objective of the non-profit organization is to reduce all obstacles that stand in the group's way in their project of transforming their vacant land into a collective garden, park, or recreational area.

A Land Access Advocacy Network

Lande is part of an active network of land access facilitators. Lande has benefited from the consultation of 596 Acres, the pioneer organization in land access advocacy. In the past, 596 Acres has help bring to life similar initiatives in Philadelphia (Grounded in Philly), Los Angeles (LA Open Acres) and New Orleans (Living Lots NOLA).

A long-waited and winning initiative

At Je vois Montréal, bringing together leaders from various backgrounds and aiming to breathe new life into the city, Lande is committed to facilitate the transformation of 5 vacant lots by 2017. The creation of the collaborative platform is the first step towards the realisation of this commitment.

At écoHackMTL 2014, Lande was awarded with the Food System Prize for it's potential to create durable food systems, as well as the People's Choice Prize.

About Lande

Lande facilitates the repossession of vacant lands in Montreal by residents for permanent or temporary usage. The organization helps reveal the potential of these spaces in order to enhance the quality of life in Montreal's central neighbourhoods.

 

Information:

Andréanne Maltais: 514 887-0078

info@landemtl.com 

Photo bank:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/131366549@N07/


 

We're Hiring an NYC Community Land Access Program Organizer!

27 April 2015

Since 2011 596 Acres' Community Land Access Program has helped 32 groups transform vacant, City-owned pieces of land into community resources. Our online mapping tools makes information about public property available and easy to understand. We also engage neighbors by hanging up signs up on the fences and work with them to help realize community control over spaces.  As the organizer, you'll play a key role in helping neighborhood groups navigate the process of accessing land. Here's what you’ll do:


Program Management

  • Coordinate, collaborate, and strategize in tandem with Executive Director

  • Work closely with 596 Acres advisory committee, both as a staff support and strategic partners

  • Manage volunteers

  • Support development of organization’s programmatic work plan

  • Work with the Executive Director, governance board, staff and members to develop and evaluate organizing strategies

  • Generate new program ideas and work with staff and board to implement and carry out programming related to the organization’s priorities

  • Write the weekly News From the Acres

  • Develop print and web materials as needed

  • Foster a team-oriented, supportive, accountable work environment at 596 Acres

 

Outreach

  • Hang signs on fences of vacant lots City-wide

  • Lead workshops for various community based organizations and neighborhood groups

  • Table for 596 Acres at community events

  • Support and initiate relationship-building and cultivate meaningful collaborations with community leaders, local politicians, and community-based organizations

  • Represent the organization with local and state government officials, in the media, and with private organizations

  • Use social media as outreach and organizing tool

  • Help complete a summer outreach project to visit 7 community boards in districts with the highest concentration of vacant, public land to share information about 596 Acres' work, current neighborhood land access organizing efforts, and district-specific maps

 

Land Access Advocacy Organizing

  • Support the organizing efforts of local land access advocates around NYC by monitoring website activity and following up with active organizing groups regularly

  • Process and respond to new intake within 48 hours

  • Maintain our email-oriented database with extreme attention to detail

  • Stay current on process of application for license and leases through relevant city agencies for community use

  • Liaise with city agencies and intervene in direct community outreach when needed

  • Help complete a summer outreach project to visit 7 community boards in districts with the highest concentration of vacant, public land to share information about 596 Acres' work, current neighborhood land access organizing efforts, and district-specific maps

  • Facilitate monthly general meetings

Here's what we're looking for in an applicant

  • Extreme comfort with email and filing

  • Experience in and commitment to bottom-up organizing, grassroots leadership, and collective decision-making

  • Comfort with responding to email immediately within regular working hours

  • Comfort with flexible organizing schedule to accommodate community event needs

  • Willingness to travel throughout the five boroughs

  • Familiarity with City government processes (and willingness to learn more about them!)

  • Demonstrated ability to work in multi-racial, multi-lingual settings

This is part time (21 hours per week) position with benefits. Pay is $24,000 per year (negotiable if you do not want to take advantage of the benefits package). Our office is in Gowanus, Brooklyn; regular office hours are required.


To apply, submit a cover letter and resume to organizers@596acres.org by Wednesday, May 27th at 12 pm.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: New Yorks Ride Bikes to Connect Gardens Under Threat

13 April 2015

Saturday, April 18, 2015, 2-6pm (detailed schedule below) 

Join Public Space Party, the New York City Community Garden Coalition and 596 Acres to ride to small gardens and community parks that add essential depth to New York City’s open space network and are in danger of losing their land to private development: Maple Street, Roger That, Eldert Street, Children's Magical, Siempre Verde, and Elizabeth Street. These gardens need community support in asking the city to move their land from the private market into the public inventory where they belong. They are small, community spaces that serve as multi-purpose community living rooms year round.

The ride begins under the arch at Grand Army plaza at 2pm. The first stop is at Maple Street Community Garden in Prospect-Lefferts. Maple Street garden was formed in 2012 by the Maple 3 Block Association and community members who transformed a trash-strewn vacant lot into a multipurpose garden and community space. The lot had been vacant and collecting trash for over a decade since its most recent resident and owner passed away and her home burned down. 

As Ali Jacobs, 31, an active member who lives on Sterling Street stated, “Our neighborhood is beautiful, but very short on public land.  Our garden has no gate nor lock, it is accessible by the entire neighborhood, and is used heavily by children and adults as a common outdoor space.”

The Maple Street Community Garden is being threatened with demolition by Housing Urban Development LLC, a private development corporation with a history of subprime lending and irregular title transfers. Gardeners are resisting eviction by appearing in Housing Court and urging the City to condemn the property and transfer it to the Parks Department (next court appearance is May 4, 2015 at 10:30am at 141 Livingston Street, Brooklyn in room 603).

The next stop is Roger That garden, a community space in Crown Heights, Brooklyn that stewards native plants, grows edibles, and maintains community compost. Roger That garden is currently under threat of development by a real estate developer who purchased the deed to the land, subject to hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax debt liens, for $10 from the man who used to own and operate a hardware store on this lot before abandoning the buildings. The developers have attempted to illegally evict the garden through a lock-out.

Roger That can be saved if the City invokes eminent domain and buys the property to preserve it as a Parks Department garden. Eminent domain has been used to create New York’s parks and open spaces dating at least back to 1807. Prospect Park, Central Park, the Ocean Parkway Greenway and Astor place are just a few of the over 350 condemnations for the creation or preservation of parks and open spaces that have been recorded in New York’s county courts. 

The ride will then move on to Eldert Street Garden in Bushwick, a space that was established on vacant lot in 2009. Elder Street offers vegetable plots, educational programming for kids and adults, composting, and a welcoming public space where folks can relax and connect with the natural world.

Kim Anderson, one Eldert Street garden steward, says, “For those of us without a private garden to grow in, or a forest to walk in, community gardens are all we have. When we work in our community gardens, we take back our fundamental right to work the land, and call a piece of earth our own, no matter how small. And we do it together.” 

The lot that the garden was on was donated to a local charity organization for use as a children’s garden; its recent transfer to a private for-profit corporation is under investigation by the New York State Office of the Attorney General. The gardeners are asserting their rights as tenants under New York City law and continuing to grow in the face of bullying by the developer. They are asking that the City halt all construction permits to the property and acquire it for transfer to the Parks Department.

From Bushwick riders venture into Manhattan to visit Siempre Verde garden, 2 small parcels of public land on Attorney and Stanton Streets that were reinvigorated by neighbors in 2012 who responded to signs posted by 596 Acres. The garden parcels are divided by an 18-foot parcel owned by a private developer who has put forward a proposal to purchase the City-owned properties and use all three as primarily luxury housing. The gardeners are asking that the City transfer the existing garden lots to the Parks Department for preservation and acquire the private parcel to make the garden whole. 

"We are essentially animals so having access to nature provides creature comforts, soothes the savage soul and regenerates the weary spirit,” says Ann Lee, of Siempre Verde Community Garden. “Gardens are a place to pause and respite from the grind of concrete cities. Gardens are the future for urban people."

The fifth stop on the ride will be Children’s Magical garden, founded in 1982 by community activists with the mission to create a safe space for the neighborhood’s children to play in and learn about nature. They have been tirelessly serving their community for 30 years, and have been fighting development since May 2013, when a portion of their garden was destroyed by a developer who claims to own the land despite doing nothing with the property for decades.

Finally, riders visit Elizabeth Street Garden, located on city-owned land on Little Italy’s Elizabeth Street. The Garden, open to the public by local volunteers, provides a sanctuary for residents in an otherwise dense and tightly packed neighborhood. The site has a long history as a public school, gathering place, and playground, before it was transformed into a garden by Elizabeth Street Gallery in 1991. In June 2013, neighbors started a campaign to  permanently preserve the Garden as a New York City park but the City has not yet transferred the land or indicated that preservation is a priority. The garden continues to operate with a revocable lease and has been suggested by elected officials as a site for private housing development.

“As cities become more dense and our economy shifts toward sharing, gardens serve as 21st century community centers where neighbors get to know each other the old-fashioned way while enjoying shared backyards,” says Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden President Jeannine Kiely. “Neighborhood green spaces have great value and make cities livable.”

“The social rate of return for community gardens takes place in countless forms,” noted Benjamin Shepard, of Public Space Party.  “We call for the city to support open space, recognizing the multiple benefits of green space in world facing increasing temperatures and climate chaos.”

 “The City needs to take a more active interest in the fates of these properties and affirmatively act to preserve the institutions that New Yorkers love,” says Paula Z. Segal, director of 596 Acres and attorney for the Maple Street, Roger That and Eldert Street gardens. “This isn't about housing versus gardens. This is about living in a City that places the needs of people who live in neighborhoods above the potential for others to make money off those neighborhoods.”

 

Ride Schedule

Riders will meet under the arch at Grand Army Plaza at 2, leaving at 2:10 PM sharp.   

2:15-2:30pm

Maple Street Community Garden

237 Maple Street between Rogers and Nostrand, Prospect-Lefferts, Brooklyn

Contact: Tom La Forge, (917) 400-2187

Web: maplestreetgarden.org

 

2:45-3:30pm

Roger That

98 Rogers Avenue at Park Place, Crown Heights, Brooklyn

Contact: David Vigil, (646) 643-9623

Web: rogerthatgarden.org

 

4-4:30pm  

Eldert Street Garden

315 Elder Street between Knickerbocker and Irving, Bushwick, Brooklyn

Contact: Kim Anderson, (917) 623-6408

Web: eldertstreetgarden.blogspot.com

 

5-5:20pm

Siempre Verde Garden

189 Stanton Street, Lower East Side, New York

Contact: John Donahue, jdonahue00@hotmail.com

Web: svgarden.org

 

5:20-5:35pm

Children’s Magical Garden

129 Stanton St, Lower East Side, New York

 

5:40-6pm

Elizabeth Street Garden

204-208 Elizabeth Street, Little Italy/Soho, New York

Contact: Jeannine Kiely, (917) 297-4475

Web: elizabethstreetgarden.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: City Line East New York Gets a New Garden thanks to Organizing by BACDYS and 596 Acres

09 April 2015

East New York, Brooklyn

The Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services (BACDYS) Corporation of East New York is celebrating the creation of a new community garden at the corner of Forbell Street and Glenmore Avenue, East New York, Brooklyn. After signing a lease with the MTA to utilize the space in March, BACDYS teamed up with New York Restoration Project (NYRP), whose Gardens for the City program will bring materials and manpower to transform the space into a community garden from April 14-16, 2015. Volunteers will join to complete the initial construction on Thursday, April 16 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

This space is familiar to anyone who has ever taken the A train to Rockaway - it is the roof of the train tunnel just as the train comes out and was originally designed as parklet. Fenced over 20 years ago, it was an eyesore created a dangerous blind corner for many years.

"The corner was full of garbage and rubble. It smelled. It was really ugly looking and people were afraid to come close," says Misba Abdin, President of the BACDYS board, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1982.

For over two years, 596 Acres helped BACDYS organize, connect with resources, and negotiate a lease with the MTA. MTA hosts other gardens on its property throughout the boroughs; 596 Acres recently supported the creation of Smiling Hogshead Ranch in Long Island City, Queens, and Q Gardens in Ditmas, Brooklyn. These three MTA-owned sites are just a few of the 32 community spaces that 596 Acres has helped neighbors create since their program began in early 2012.

"We could have never done this without 596 Acres," says Mr. Abdin. "They helped us figure out who we needed to talk to and bring all these great organizations together to make this garden real."

"It's amazing to be able to really feel the multiplier effect of our success across the city, to take what we learn in one neighborhood and transform it into success elsewhere," says Paula Z. Segal, attorney and director of 596 Acres. "Each campaign we work on is unique and we're pleased to have launched so many independent land stewards in such a short time!"

"As a long term resident of this community I am extremely overjoyed with the reality of the project rising from paper to a life form," says Darma Diaz, BACDYS co-founder. "This garden will be heaven sent for both seniors and youth who have no place within the community to enjoy a green environment."

The garden is designed by pro bono architect Wendy Andringa of GreenLab Studio in collaboration with Grain Collective. Materials for the garden construction are being donated by Build It Green and New York Restoration Project.

“This has been a great team effort - 596 acres has worked tirelessly to keep the transformation moving forward,” says Ms. Andringa. “I'm glad I could participate in the process - to see the Forbell green space finished will be so rewarding!”

"What we find fascinating is this grassroots movement by community to adapt and transform many of these unused urban open spaces," says architect Runit Chhay, Grain Collective. "As a professional, this is a great opportunity for us to support the community who have taken on this herculean task and we are grateful to be part of this."

“We’re thrilled to bring NYRP’s Gardens for the City resources, including staff, tools and materials, to help in this effort,” said Rebecca Fitle, NYRP Regional Engagement Manager. “This collaboration is a reminder of the importance of mobilizing. Together, we can empower the community, and each other, to transform green spaces into beautiful, accessible oases for the public to use for years to come.”

"I am proud to support and celebrate the creation of this new garden," says City Council Member Rafael L. Espinal, Jr., who represents the 37th District. "Community gardens are vital to building a healthy and vibrant community, as they eventually become pillars in the community bringing residents from various backgrounds together. I would like to thank the Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services Corporation of East New York, 596 Acres, and everyone that came together to make this garden a reality.”

http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3042060001/
http://596acres.org
http://bacdys.org
http://www.nyrp.org
http://www.greenlabstudio.net
http://graincollective.com

Sanitation Commissioner Responds to Council Member Reynoso on Disposition of HPD Land Developed as Gardens and Compost Sites

26 March 2015

On January 26, 2015, Council Member Antonio Reynoso sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Sanitation, asking to have El Garden and the other seventeen active community gardens on the Housing Preservation and Development Request for Qualifications list inviting developers to propose to build housing on these same sites removed from the list.

You can see the original letter here and a map we made of the impacted sites here. Yesterday, Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia responded: 

"It is my understanding that the lots identified in the RFQ are not deemed final sites approved for development. At this stage NYC HPD is in an exploratory phase of screening... but none of these sites are being offered for sale." 

You can read her letter here

 

 

Intern With Us: Spring 2015

25 February 2015

 

596 Acres is seeking an intern who can work with us 10 hours per week for 10 weeks, March 31 - June 4, 2015. 

Your tasks will include putting up signs on vacant lots, helping us transition our online tools and generally helping us improve the work that we do with focus on the New York City Community Land Access program. Here's an unsolicited review from a former intern (now our NYC Organizer). 

This Spring we will be updating our Spanish-language materials; we are looking for an intern who is biligual and proficient at written translation.

This is an unpaid internship, though we would love it if someone else was paying you! In the past, we have worked with the East New York Farms! Externship program (that intern's reflection is here). 

You will be working out of our office at Spaceworks (540 President Street) in Gowanus, Brooklyn on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can make your own hours and there will be opportunities for field work or research on the weekends and in the evenings.

Comfort with navigation in parts of NYC you have never visited (even if you've been nearly everywhere) is key. Willingness to talk to strangers and learn how to do tasks on the computer are equally important. 

Please send a resume and a letter of interest. Include a picture of a place your neighborhood where participation by people who live or work close by could help make it better. 

Application due by 5:59p.m. on Friday, March 20, 2014, to organizers@596acres.org with the subject 'Spring 2015 Intern Application.'

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams Asks Mayor to Save Gardens

23 February 2015

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams wrote a letter on February 23 to Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been asking for active community gardens operating under "interim use agreements" to be removed from the lists sites offered to developers for $1 at this time. His letter is here

Eleven Brooklyn gardens have been included in a Request for Qualifications addressed to the development community. The lots that the gardens are on are being offered for free to become development sites.


Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer Asks Mayor to Save Gardens, Preserve Land for Community Land Trust

12 February 2015

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer wrote a letter on February 10 to the Mayor and Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been.

She supports gardens staying where they are and the use of precious public land to for community needs: specifically, to transfer to the New York Community Land Initiative's partner community land trust in Manhattan, the El Barrio Community Land Trust. The original letter is here

Six Manhattan gardens have been included in a Request for Qualifications addressed to the development community. The lots that the gardens are on are being offered for free to become development sites.

 

Council Member Robert Cornegy Asks Mayor to Save Gardens

10 February 2015

Council Member Robert Cornegy read the below statement on the City Hall steps this morning. Council Member Cornegy has five gardens in his district that have been included in a Request for Qualifications addressed to the development community. The lots that the gardens are on are being offered for free to become development sites. 

"Good Morning, all. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak today. This is actually the first public statement I have made about HPD’s inclusion of community gardens on the list of development sites, so you’ve shown a lot of faith by giving me the mic. I’m pleased that we have the mutual trust that makes that possible.

There was a reason I didn’t speak out immediately following HPD’s publication of the list of development properties in January, even though there were more gardens listed in my district then any other. I wanted to take the time to try and understand HPD’s decision making. There’s no doubt that the 36th district needs more truly affordable housing. And it’s a good thing that HPD is acting on it commitment to construct a small number of units for affordable home ownership. I was open to an explanation that demonstrated the absolute necessity of using the garden sites. I asked for a full explanation, but that’s not what I’ve received.

Specifically, I asked that HPD share the objective criteria used to determine which vacant lots were appropriate for inclusion in this RFP. Shockingly, they have shared NO criteria. And I asked that HPD provide me with a map of list of all the city-owned properties in the district of every size, to show that these much loved garden sites were somehow uniquely appropriate. Again, HPD chose to share nothing.

Yesterday, HPD informed me that it is “evaluating” the decision to include the 16 gardens in the RFP but they STILL would not share any information on the factors in this reported re-evaluation or the original selection. Is it fair for all of these deliberations to be happening only among HPD’s staff? NO!

This refusal to be transparent and engage in anything resembling a collaborative decision-making process is extremely problematic. Frankly, I don’t think there’s any excuse for it. HPD’s secrecy is putting both the gardens’ members and elected officials in an unnecessary position and today, I’m speaking out to reject their false dichotomy.

We live together in community. We garden together in community. And our communities deserve gardens and high, quality truly affordable housing. Our communities deserve a process that respects their deep level of engagement with our city government and with one another.  We refuse to be excluded in a way that pits these two goals against one another.

Unless HPD demonstrates that these garden sites are uniquely appropriate for development, I will stand with you against their destruction. And if I am convinced that the loss of the gardens cannot be avoided, I will share all the information I have to explain that decision, support gardening and greening in other ways and fight to ensure that the sacrifice is worth it, because the housing produced is high quality and accessible to average families in the district.

I thank you for your dedication to the gardens, to one another and for your advocacy."