Housing Rights Initiative takes a proactive and systematic approach to targeting, investigating, and fighting fraudulent real estate practices, improving the conditions of rental properties, and connecting tenants to legal support.
HRI’s data-driven model identifies rent stabilized properties where there is a high probability of systematic rent overcharges. We launch door-to-door canvassing operations across New York City to investigate the severity and type of rent overcharges and then help tenants find legal support.
HRI also works closely with community based tenant organizations to provide data assistance and to help connect their members to legal support.
Through a legal mobilization effort, HRI lays the foundation for tenants who have been overcharged and defrauded by their landlords, to seek redress and secure their rights under the law.
Aaron Carr is the founder of Housing Rights Initiative. Prior to starting HRI, he was the chief of staff for Assemblymember Blake in the South Bronx. In that role, he gained vital experience dealing with housing issues that negatively impacted the quality of life for legally defenseless families.
He saw the good, landlords appropriately managing their properties and following rent stabilization laws, and the bad, landlords exploiting the reactive housing enforcement strategies by neglecting to manage their properties and defrauding tenants.
To combat these issues, Aaron and his team took a systematic and proactive approach by going into target buildings and collecting the data needed to actuate tangible change.
These are the principals that will serve as the blueprint to HRI: target, investigate, and resolve.
Aaron received his B.A. in psychology at the University of Connecticut and has extensive experience working on campaigns at a local, city, and state level.
Kim L. Powell was born and raised in the Harlem community, located in New York City. She comes from a family of three siblings, and both her parents were born and raised in Harlem. She attended the New York City school system up until her high school years, and left New York City to at the age of sixteen to attend college at Rutgers University where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Sociology. She currently holds a Master of Science in Urban Planning from the City University of New York Hunter College, and a Juris Doctorate from CUNY School of law.
Ms. Powell is a former of member of the Board of Directors for Manhattan Legal Services, and she currently sits on the Board of Directors for Mary Walton Bethany Day Nursery Center, Housing Initiatives, Inc., and she was awarded a fellowship by the Center for Community Leadership at the Jewish Community Relations Council.
While she spent fifteen years working in the legal profession, Kim has spent the last six years working with residents and community to help address the day-to-day constant and willful neglect of gentrifiers who seek to dissipate Harlem’s existing cultural and African fabrics. As co-founder of “Buyers & Renters United to Save Harlem”;(BRUSH), a non-profit organization, Kim is committed to educating residents about the importance of fostering individual growth to slow the perpetuation of displacement and gentrification. Her organization is known for its advocacy and educational work within the community, and has a history of mobilizing tenants to help educate and address the systemic practices of displacement. This effort has resulted in tenants receiving well over two million dollars in monetary compensation against landlords.
In 2007, her organization, BRUSH, set a legal precedent when it helped to file a federal class-action lawsuit against one of the largest purported predatory real estate investors in NYC, the Pinnacle Group. The lawsuit accused the company of violating the Racketeering Influence Corruption Organization (RICO), and the New York Consumer Protection Act. This suit impacted more than 21,000 rent regulated tenants across New York City
Sarah K. Steiner, Esq. is a sole practitioner in Manhattan, with a practice principally in election law and criminal defense. Ms. Steiner represents candidates, non-profit corporations, civic associations and PACs on the legal aspects of their political activities, and advises on state and federal campaign finance law, compliance, and ethics obligations.
Her experience includes litigation as well as appearances before administrative agencies
such as the New York City Campaign Finance Board and the Board of Elections in the City of New York.
She was an Assistant District Attorney in the Office of the District Attorney, Queens County from 1987-1993, serving in the Rackets, Arson and Economic Crimes Bureau for most of that time. Prior to that, Ms. Steiner was a litigation associate at Reavis and McGrath, now known as Norton Rose Fulbright.
Ms. Steiner chaired the Election Law Committee of the Association of the Bar of the
City of New York from September 2013 to August 2016. She has twice been a member of the ABCNY Criminal Courts Committee, and was its Chair from 1992-1995, and was a member of the ABCNY Criminal Justice Operations and Budget
committee from 2000-2003.
Ms. Steiner has a BA in history and political science from the City University of New York, and is a 1983 graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. She is admitted to practice in New York, the Southern and Eastern District Federal Courts of New York, and the Supreme Court of the United States.
Afua Atta-Mensah, Esq. has dedicated her career to public interest law working to defend and craft public policy initiatives that empower historically disadvantaged communities throughout New York.
Afua currently serves as the Director of Litigation and Policy for a New York City public interest law firm, where she oversees the project’s affirmative litigation on behalf of classes and individuals in federal and state courts. Ms. Atta-Mensah also served as a Fellow at the Center for American Progress’ Leadership Institute. The Leadership Institute works to identify, equip, and advance a new generation of leaders from diverse backgrounds and communities to assume responsible roles in the development and implementation of progressive public policies. She is the mother of a three-year old daughter and a proud resident of Central-Harlem.
Jaron Benjamin is the vice president for community mobilization at Housing Works, an organization dedicated to ending the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS. He is currently engaged in a multi-jurisdictional campaign that encourages local government and community partnership to halt the spread of HIV in the United States.
Before joining Housing Works, Jaron was the executive director at the Met Council on Housing. The organization’s report “Tax Breaks for Billionaires” – which detailed the donation histories of real estate developers who won massive tax abatements without building affordable housing – captured headlines and its findings were used in the Moreland Act Commission’s initial report and led to a deep investigation of the relationships between New York State lawmakers and the Real Estate industry. He also served as coordinator for VOCAL-NY’s AIDS Housing Network and organized the “30% Rent Cap” campaign, which helped prevent homelessness among 10,000 low-income New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS.
Erik is currently Deputy Chief Operating Officer for Mercer Partners, a Long/Short Global Equity Hedge Fund located in lower Manhattan. He oversees day-to-day operations, works with investors.
His background includes running the field operations for a congressional race in the 23rd Congressional District, Campaign Manager of a WNY County Executive race. He was recently elected to President of the Village Independent Democrats, the oldest reform democrat club in New York City. Erik is a community organizer, and currently serves as an executive committee member on Community Board 2 Manhattan.
He is an avid Mets fan and played rugby at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where he graduated in 2013 with a degree in Political Science.
Mitch Draizin is the Founder and President of Longview Capital Advisors, Inc.. The company serves as investment and mortgage banker to New York City based real estate developers, operators and owner users. The focus is on housing, retail and light industrial projects that directly benefit the surrounding community.
• The Congressional Award Foundation, Board of Directors
• The Point Foundation, Board of Directors
• Lambda Legal, National Leadership Council
• Truman National Security Project-CNP, National Advisory Board
• National LGBT Museum, Board of Directors
• The Mayor’s Fund, Advisory Board
• Out Leadership Advisory Board
• Williams Institute, Founders Council
• Hunter College President’s Advisory Board for the LGBT Public Policy Center at Hunter College
• New Leaders Council (NLC) National Board; Honorary Chairman of the NYS Chapter
• President’s Advisory Board for the LGBT Policy Center at Hunter College
• Thalia Spanish Theater, Queens, NY, Vice President, Board of Directors
• Playworks, NY/NJ Board of Directors
• Advisor to various LGBT non for profit organizations and state and nationwide initiatives
• Mentoring young professionals in real estate finance and community involvement
• Volunteer teach financial literacy/entrepreneurship credit senior class currently at the Hunter Science High School
• Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: Speaker’s Council; Developed the DCCC/LGBT Council and directing a national LGBT outreach campaign
• Involved with various national, state and local Democratic Party initiatives and candidates
• MBA: Vanderbilt University Owen School of Management
• BA: George Washington University
Claudia has an extensive career in the government, labor, charter school and political arenas. Most recently in her role as the first New York State Director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network (NECSN) and as the National Government Relations Director for Families for Excellent Schools (FES), she oversaw its advocacy work around the state and drove campaigns focused on advancing charter school policies. She worked directly with schools across the state as well as with legislators and policymakers in Albany.
Prior to joining NECSN and FES, she served as Chief Negotiator and Chief Policy Advisor for the City of Newark in Mayor Cory A. Booker’s Administration and was responsible for setting city labor public policy, bargaining city contracts for public sector employees and building relationships with local, state and national labor unions.
In her role as consultant, Claudia played a key role in re-organizing the Outreach Department of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), 1199 Benefit Fund in New York, where she was responsible for developing and implementing systems to better service the 400 thousand working and retired health care industry workers, as well as coordinating staff development and training. Claudia also served as Executive Director for SEIU, NJ State Council in Newark, New Jersey, and as the Deputy Political Director for Local 32BJ in New York, prior to moving from Washington, D.C. where she was the National Political Operations Manager. Her political work includes the California Democratic Party’s California Coordinated Campaign, Victory 2000 & 2002, where she held the position of Campaign Comptroller—the youngest person to have such charge and later as Finance Deputy Director. She has experience managing city and statewide campaigns; and ran a Union endorsed Latino Voter Participation program in Hudson County during Senator Menendez’ Senate race and coordinated 2,000 32BJ volunteers for Mayor Bloomberg’s Mayoral race in 2005.
Claudia is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies. In 2011 she was selected as an Executive Leadership Fellow to the prestigious National Hispanic Leadership Institute; she is a former Fellow representing the U.S. in the National Democratic Institute’s Latin America & the Caribbean Program in Washington, D.C.
Michael Grinthal is the Supervising Attorney for MFY’s Housing Project and Three-Quarter House Project. Before coming to MFY, Michael worked as a housing attorney at South Brooklyn Legal Services, where he specialized in group representation and collaboration with community organizations. Michael received a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a Masters in Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, after which he clerked for the Hon. Nancy Gertner of the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Prior to attending law school, Michael worked for six years as a community organizer in cities across the country.
Michael “Ziggy” Mintz is a computer programmer, GIS teacher, housing activist, and an expert on NYC data. He received his MSc. in Urban Planning at University College London and currently teaches GIS at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
Ziggy is a self-taught programmer who believes that computer programming can be an vital tool for social justice. His housing research projects would not be possible with the support of The Learning Collective (http://thelearningcollective.nyc), an organization of activists who teach each other to code.
In 2014, with other community organizers, he helped launch the Bushwick Community Map (http://BushwickCommunityMap.org), a project that displayshousing and planning data in an accessible way. He continues to regularly do data analysis and research for grassroots organizations, lawyers, and non-profits. If there’s a housing data question you have, Ziggy will be happy to help.
Carmen G. Rivera currently serves as the Assistant Vice President of Communications & External Affairs for VIP Community Services, Bronx NY. Carmen served on the Board of Directors of VIP Community Services for 35 years, where she served as its Chair for 20 years. Ms. Rivera is an active community organizer and activist who facilitated a myriad of community partnerships throughout her 42 year history with the organization.
Ms. Rivera was born in Bayamon, in Puerto Rico and is the third of six children. Her bilingual and bicultural background provided her with sensitivity to the plights of the influx of immigrants and those with language barriers. She began a career of volunteerism; most notably at her local parish of St Anthony’s where a local priest (Rev. Father Robert Banome) helped to nurture her thirst for spiritual ministry and activism. These ecumenical efforts helped to propel the Bronx leaders into providing housing for the poor, food for the hungry, and treatment for those suffering from chemical dependency. Ms. Rivera became a leader in provision of those services in her community.
Her community leadership has spanned decades. Carmen has served on Community Board 9 for seventeen years, and held a post on the Executive Committee for nine. Ms. Rivera also served for 14 years as Housing Chairperson. Ms. Rivera honorably served as parish trustee for 18 years, and President of Parish Council for Church of St. Anthony. Ms. Rivera serves as a mentor and leader to young girls ages 7- 18 years. She provides spiritual mentorship and community projects to create future Latina leaders. She also serves as a member of the Executive Committee of Discovery for Justice Coalition, a nonprofit organization that advocates for criminal justice reform.
Her early professional career was in Publishing. Carmen was employed as the National Sales Manager at Bookazine a Book Wholesaler, later becoming National Trade Sales Manager at Lectorum/Scholastic Publishing marketing Spanish books nationwide. Carmen was a member of the American Library Association, American Bookseller’s Association, and a member of Reforma, supporting the needs of Spanish speakers through library services. In 2009, Carmen was honored with the first Lifetime Achievement Distinction providing services to the Latino community.
Her most important role is the matriarch of her family. Carmen is mother to Yolanda & Jeanette and grandmother of three: Jasmine, Destiny, and Brandon. She is great grandmother to Hailey and Dominick. Ms. Rivera is a proud resident of Bronx, NY for 54 years and has resided in the same home for 45 years. She is an avid reader who enjoys culinary arts and travel.
John is a lifelong Bronx resident who understands the importance of education and the great need to eliminate achievement disparities in schools. He previously served as Constituent Services Manager in the NYS Assembly and worked in the South Bronx where he was responsible for managing the district office, overseeing constituent services, and community outreach. He now continues his service to underserved communities as the NYC Advocacy Manager where he works with schools, parents, and elected officials. In this role, John advocates for the thousands of children attending charter schools, to ensure that all children have the opportunity to attend an excellent school. He is a founding board member of a charter school planning to open in The Bronx in 2017.
Natalie Webb received her BA in politics and psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and her JD from CUNY School of Law. During law school Natalie specialized in impact litigation, including assisting on cases challenging police brutality and extraordinary rendition. Since 2012 Natalie has focused on the right to housing, working with non profits in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan on behalf of low income tenants and homeowners to prevent eviction and foreclosure. In 2014 Natalie worked with non profits in Cape Town advocating for adequate housing and social services on behalf of residents in the informal settlements and temporary relocation areas. Natalie currently is a staff attorney in the Housing Unit at MFY Legal Services.
Kerri White is currently the Director of Organizing & Policy at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB). Ms. White joined UHAB in 2008 as an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer after graduating from Northern Arizona University with a BA in International Affairs. She currently supervises a staff of seven organizers who educate and empower residents city-wide to have a voice in their buildings. Additionally, she oversees UHAB’s policy agenda, using the Organizing team’s grassroots experience to develop legislative and administrative suggestions at the City, State and Federal level to protect low and moderate income residents.
Since 1973, UHAB has been helping New Yorkers with limited means become part of their own housing solutions by empowering low- to moderate-income residents to take control of their housing and enhance their communities by creating strong tenant associations and lasting affordable co-ops.