Orthodox Slumlords and Their Tenants

Landlord May Be Only Jew a Low-Income Tenant Knows

Renters’ Remorse: Tenants protest unsafe living conditions in New York City.
Courtesy of Urban Homesteading Assistance Board
Renters’ Remorse: Tenants protest unsafe living conditions in New York City.

By Elise Goldin

Published April 20, 2013, issue of April 26, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

I am a Jewish tenant organizer. This is not so unusual. Jews have been organizing ourselves and others since we left the Old World for New York City’s slums. We created labor unions when we lived in tenements on the Lower East Side, and we continue to organize today, often in partnership with other communities, around fair food, just immigration policies, domestic workers’ rights and countless other issues.

These days, however, being a Jewish tenant organizer sometimes means organizing against other Jews. In my role at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, in New York City, I often encounter Jewish slumlords dressed in Orthodox garb with tall hats and sidelocks.

I work in several buildings in the Bronx and Brooklyn where the tenants are almost exclusively low-income people of color. When I see a religious Jew outside a building I’m working in, I often assume that he is the owner or that he works for management, and I wait around and try to talk to him. I don’t like to make these assumptions, but then again, I’m usually right.

I work in buildings that are in foreclosure and swept up in the cycle of predatory equity. Developers pay enormous sums for low-income rent-regulated housing, hoping they can turn a profit. Often, either the new landlords harass tenants into leaving or they buy them out so that they can raise the rent.

But for a variety of reasons, in recent years some developers haven’t been able to transform the buildings as quickly as they anticipated. These predatory landlords eventually have trouble paying their massive mortgages, and so they skimp on repairs and maintenance, creating unlivable conditions for the existing tenants. All too often, these buildings fall into foreclosure, only to be purchased by a new developer who will continue this cycle.

UHAB watches this happen over and over again in buildings all over the city, particularly in areas that are targeted for gentrification. We view foreclosure in these distressed buildings as an opportunity for tenants to organize and to have a say in who buys their building next. Ideally the new owner will be responsible, make the much-needed repairs and commit to maintaining the building’s affordability for current tenants.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.