Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation is a community-based, nonprofit organization serving the Washington Heights and Inwood neighborhoods of upper Manhattan. NMIC provides legal services and community organizing for affordable housing, and promotes economic self-sufficiency through adult education and workforce development. NMIC works to support the community through social services, health education, and domestic violence intervention.
In Manhattan, many low income communities have been pushed out for ‘redevelopment’. This gentrification results in negative impacts to the local community that are hard to fight, and has few viable solutions. People that are displaced due to rising rents and corporate buy outs face a long list of potential difficulties ranging from eviction on a person’s record, to an uptick in police calls within existing communities and a lack of affordable housing. Additionally, unsympathetic bureaucracies such as institutional racism, community disenfranchisement, and income inequality, among other challenges, make it difficult to find ongoing support.
With loan support from the state of New York, NMIC faces these challenges by supporting tenants to buy their buildings from landlords and turn them into housing cooperatives. They contracted TESA to develop classes that facilitate the process of transitioning renters into confident owners. Over the course of 18 months, TESA designed workshops to build knowledge around what comes with being an owner of a housing co-op, from board management to democratic meetings and conflict resolution.
In this project, TESA worked with NMIC on revamping their existing workshop program from the ground up to provide tenants with a new series of workshops, and support models aimed at building long-term plans inclusive of housing cooperative training. TESA and NMIC wanted to engage residents and support building knowledge as they turned a privately-owned apartment building into a housing cooperative, a form of ownership in which the tenants collectively own the building in which they live.
Keeping the integrity of NMIC’s original workshop content, TESA structured the new curriculum to be more participatory and centered around participant experiences, modeling the process of democratic ownership and control. Taking this approach runs counter to the processes of displacement and gentrification while empowering participants to stay in their homes.
NMIC and TESA collaborated diligently to provide curriculum that fit a variety of reading levels, language proficiencies and schedules. The aim was to facilitate a participatory curriculum built on collective knowledge and life experiences. When the curriculum is centered on the participants’ own knowledge and experiences, it is then culturally relevant and builds upon skills and knowledge that resonate.
We also worked with NMIC to help facilitate an effective board, create conflict resolution tools, and develop roles and responsibilities for the members.
Here’s a list of sessions that TESA designed for the project:
TESA Collective was very excited to work with NMIC on this particular project and we’re especially inspired to see communities mobilizing and taking collective power into their own hands. We support building a more democratically run society and are very proud to be a partner in the greater process against displacement.
Image via flickr user Zachvs.