apap118
New York State Modern Political Archive
Collection ID: apap118

United Tenants of Albany, 1972-2001

Collection description

Summary

Creator:
United Tenants Of Albany
Abstract:
The United Tenants of Albany is an association dedicated to improving housing situations for Albany's low to moderate income families and businesses with safe, affordable living and working space.
Extent:
3.12 cubic ft.
Language:
English and English
Preferred citation:
Preferred citation for this material is as follows: and Identification of specific item, series, box, folder, United Tenants of Albany, 1972-2001. M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York (hereafter referred to as [shortened name]).

Access and Use

Conditions Governing Access:

Access to this record group is unrestricted.

Terms Of Use:

The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions, but the legal determination ultimately rests with the researcher. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Head of Special Collections and Archives.

Background

Scope and Content:

The records of the United Tenants of Albany document its founding and record its daily activities as a non-profit organization campaigning for the rights of tenants in Albany from 1972 to 2001. This records group contains the correspondence, meeting minutes and agendas, news clippings, press releases, newsletters, reports, testimonies and publications related to tenants' rights issues in Albany that the UTA actively supported. Among these issues are: affordable housing, effective housing code enforcement and rent control. This collection has been divided into five series: Reverends Dan and Francis Potter, Frank Romeo, Administration, Meetings, and Subject Files. The Subject Files series makes up the bulk of the UTA's papers.

The subject file concerning the UTA's campaign for the effective enforcement of Albany's building and health code is especially comprehensive. These records cover the years from 1971-2001 and concern the many facets of the code violation problem in Albany County. There are letters from the UTA to Albany's legislature, letters from tenants describing code violations in their buildings, the actual inspections of the buildings and letters from landlords. This subject group also contains many photographs documenting the severity of the code violations found within the buildings in question. The photos have been filed along with the inspection reports of the buildings.

While the series concerning Dan and Francis Potter and Frank Romeo would logically fit into the effective code enforcement subject file, they have been placed into their own series as they were filed separately from the rest of the effective code enforcement documents. This is most likely because these two cases represent some of the most important UTA victories. While the Potter series contains documents that cover the entire history of the case, the Frank Romeo series is limited to the affidavits and evidence from the slander case Romeo brought against the UTA. It contains very little about Romeo's code violations and does not contain any documents noting the outcome of the court case.

The subject file concerning the UTA's protest against several Albany County banks is surprisingly limited. While the UTA's efforts to enact legislation to change the loan practices of many banks was considered a very important action, only a fraction of the existing papers documenting the protests are actually filed among the UTA's papers. The bulk of the records about the UTA bank protest are found in the Affordable Housing Partnership and Capital Affordable Housing Funding Corporation (AHP and CAHFC) collection. They were most likely filed amongst the AHP and CAHFC's papers because the UTA's bank protest was a major factor in the organization's creation.

Much of the collected papers of the UTA consist of news clippings about issues that concern this organization. Since their mission statement calls for members to work to improve the living conditions of tenants in Albany, it was crucial that they keep abreast of the most current news on the subjects of rent control, effective code enforcement, tenant's rights and affordable loans. These news clippings cover the years from 1972 to 1999. The clippings have been filed along with the other documents on their corresponding topic. Oversized articles have been filed in an oversized box, but are arranged by topic. While the news clippings do cover a wide span of time, good portions of them have been separated from their dates and sources. When possible, the dates have been approximated given the information in the article. News clippings without dates and sources have been filed at the back of the folders.

This record group also includes a run of the UTA's newsletter UTA News from 1985-2001 and several of their fliers noting the day and time for their events. These provide dates for upcoming meetings and news on the many projects that the UTA has been involved with over the years.

Finally, the UTA collection also contains the group's administrative and organizational records. It includes the minutes and agendas from the UTA's meetings from 1980-2001, copies of its certificate of incorporation from 1984, several drafts of its mission statement and explanations of its organizational structure. Several of the drafts of the mission statements are not dated, thus it is difficult to tell when they were created.

Biographical / Historical:

Roger and Maria Markovics founded the United Tenants of Albany (UTA), a non-profit organization dedicated to providing Albany's low to moderate income families and businesses with safe, affordable living and working space, in 1971. Originally fielding calls from low income tenants searching for better apartments, the focus of the UTA's work soon shifted to improving the conditions of apartment dwellers. This organization was officially incorporated in 1973. Originally operating out of Providence House, a crisis and referral center in South Albany that no longer exists, the group received a grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development of $40,000 that allowed the organization to obtain an office of its own and expand its staff in 1974.[1] The mission statement for the UTA reads, "The overall goal of United Tenants of Albany, Inc. is to improve the living conditions of tenants, both in terms of the rights of tenants as human beings and in terms of physical housing conditions. To achieve this goal, the primary purposes of UTA shall be: To promote and maintain tenant's rights in all housing situations; To stop the displacement of tenants from sound housing; to upgrade and improve inadequate or deteriorated housing conditions; to stimulate the development of more low and moderate income housing; to increase opportunities for tenants to have ownership control of their housing; and to preserve the long term affordability of housing."[2]

The UTA is governed by a board of directors comprised of 7-12 members in good standing. Membership in the UTA is open to all those who agree with the aforementioned mission statement. The by-laws of the UTA call for at least one yearly general membership meeting and an election meeting. The officers consist of the chairperson who presides over meetings and appoints committees, the vice chairperson who acts in the stead of the chairperson when he or she is absent, the secretary who records the minutes of all meetings and the treasurer who oversees the financial affairs of the UTA.[3]

The UTA is concerned with providing affordable and safe housing. Allying itself with other housing organizations such as the New York State Reinvestment Alliance and the New York State Tenant and Neighborhood Coalition, the UTA attempts to provide solutions for problems facing the tenants of Albany County.

One of the major issues that the UTA addresses is the widespread problem of housing code violation. Slumlords who collect high rents and contribute little to the upkeep of their buildings create substandard living conditions that endanger the lives of tenants. The UTA, along with the Coalition for Effective Code Enforcement attempts to combat the problem of code violation through letter writing campaigns to Albany County's government, articles and letters to the editor in the Capital District's major newspapers and the Code Violator of the Week/Month/Year program that brings notorious code violators to the attention of Albany County's government and the public.

Dan and Francis Potter owned several buildings in downtown Albany, most of which were found on Clinton St. Under their ownership, these buildings fell into disrepair. Dan Potter stated that he and his brother merely wished to improve the impoverished Clinton St. neighborhood. He blamed the tenants themselves for the dilapidated nature of the buildings and claimed that the expenses were wildly out of his economic reach and therefore the renovations necessary to bring the buildings up to code were impossible. Yet representatives of the UTA and his tenants classified him as a typical absentee landlord. This case was especially high profile given the fact that Dan Potter was the head of the United Church of Christ in Manhattan and his brother Francis was also a well-respected Methodist minister.[4]

Frank Romeo was another property owner who the UTA campaigned against. He was found guilty of several counts of code violations, rent gouging, tax evasion, intimidation and assault and battery during the 1970s. Romeo's buildings in Downtown Albany were allowed to fall into disrepair as he collected rent from his tenants. Several of Romeo's tenants refused to pay rent until the code violations were corrected, which resulted in Romeo suing his tenants. While Romeo was seen as a sympathetic character by Albany's legislature and a 1976 poll showed that 95% of Romeo's lawsuits were decided in his favor, there were a few instances where the defendant was able to turn the ruling in their favor through a countersuit. One such case was Romeo vs. Lundy in 1972. The court ruled that Romeo had to pay Vivian Lundy to correct the code violations in her apartment.[5] In 1975, Frank Romeo sued the UTA for defamation of character stating that the article written by the UTA sullied his good character. The statement, "Frank A. Romeo was making collections in the company of a dog and two thugs" was the central complaint in this case.[6] Claiming that this article caused great injury to his credit and reputation and that his real estate business was irreparably damaged, he sued the UTA for two million dollars.

Another important issue addressed by the UTA is the provision of affordable housing for low-to-moderate income families. They tackle this issue by buying and renovating foreclosed properties for resale at affordable prices and providing mortgages and loans at low prices.

One of the UTA's most important actions was to affect how banks in Albany County awarded bank loans. Members of the UTA were of the opinion that large banking corporations such as Fleet, Key Bank, NORSTAR and Chase/Chemical did not have the interests of all inhabitants of Albany County when they announced plans to merge with and buy branches of smaller banks. The banks were found to be extremely prejudicial in their loan practices because there were many active loans in affluent areas, while low income populations such as those found in upstate New York were vastly under-serviced.

From 1985 to 1995, the UTA, along with the New York State Reinvestment Alliance, staged a series of protests under the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), an act designed to allow for the submission of such protests to bank regulatory agencies. The efforts of the UTA also aided in more equity in the awarding of loans. They were able to bring the issue of bank discrimination to the attention of the State Government through a letter writing campaign and bank protests. Their efforts brought about important banking legislation to provide low-to-moderate income customers with better banking service. The Banking Legislation Act of 1994 was introduced to the StateLegislature by Herman D. Farrell and ensures access for low-income families to lifeline loans that provide free checking and savings accounts for the consumer, low minimum opening deposit fees and reasonable returned check fees. It also gives the consumer the ability to protest any unfair banking policies.[7]

To further aid in providing affordable loans for low-to-moderate income families, the UTA created the Affordable Housing Partnership (AHP) and its financial branch the Capital Affordable Housing Funding Corporation (CAHFC) in 1989. This organization acts as a forum for the discussion of strategies for funding programs to aid under serviced populations and as a mortgage and loan company that provides loans at severely reduced rates.

Another area of interest for the UTA is rent control. In the 1970s, over 10,000 people were displaced from their homes in downtown Albany during construction of the Empire State Plaza (then called the South Mall). As a result, many landlords raised rents knowing that these people were a captive audience and would have to pay exorbitant rates. Motivated by this influx of homeless and exploited people in Albany, the UTA began campaigning to amend existing laws so that rent stabilization programs, which already existed in other areas in New York, would cover Albany County's population. One important law that the UTA was able to amend was the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974 that places a cap on apartment rents during times of war or other emergencies when landlords would attempt to gauge tenants desperate for housing.[8] After a long legal battle that spanned the years 1974 through 1984 the UTA was finally able to convince legislatures in the New York State government to amend existing rent control legislation to include Albany County in New York's rent control program through January 2003.

Not only has the UTA been instrumental in providing the tenants of Albany with better living conditions but they have also served as the basis for several related organizations that work on behalf of low-income families. These include the Capital District Community Loan Fund, founded in 1985, the Albany Community Land Trust, founded in 1987-1988 to prevent speculators from buying buildings for high priced projects, and the NYS Coalition of Mobile Home Owners, founded in the 1980s. They have also been affiliated with the Albany Area Housing Opportunity, founded in the mid 1980s, the Albany Planning Coalition, founded in the early 1980s, the Affordable Housing Partnership and Capital Affordable Housing Funding Corporation founded in 1986 and 1989 respectively and the NYS Tenants and N eighbors Coalition, founded in the early 1970s.[9]

Acquisition information:

All items in this manuscript group were donated to the University Libraries, M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, by Roger and Maria Markovics of the United Tenants of Albany in July 2001.

Arrangement:

This collection has no series.

Processing information:

Processed in 2012 by Sarah Campbell.

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Restrictions:
Access to this record group is unrestricted.
Terms of Access:
The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions, but the legal determination ultimately rests with the researcher. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Head of Special Collections and Archives.
Preferred citation:
Preferred citation for this material is as follows: and Identification of specific item, series, box, folder, United Tenants of Albany, 1972-2001. M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York (hereafter referred to as [shortened name]).