Ballantyne Garden Apartments on the Southside of Syracuse has always been notorious for terrible housing conditions and aggressive property managers. Because of Ballantyne’s reputation, The STOP! Coalition — Syracuse Tenants Organizing for Power — has begun working with tenants to organize a tenants’ association to stand up to the complex’s management.
Tenants have revealed just how hideous the property and its management are. The Coalition canvassed the complex and held a pop-up event just outside the property, discussing housing conditions with tenants and setting goals to fight back in the most powerful ways.
While organizers were speaking to tenants outside of the apartment complex, the property manager Jackie Kowaleski, accompanied by an armed security guard, ordered the Coalition members off the property. Despite the fact that tenants have a legal right to organize an association and to work alongside activists in doing so, the property manager relied on a combination of outright lies and intimidation to drive the tenant organizers away.
“The property manager told us that she supported our mission and that the management wasn’t a slumlord,” Liam Hines, a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation and a STOP! Coalition organizer, explained. Immediately after Kowaleski made this statement, the security guard demanded that the group leave the premises, placing a hand on his holstered weapon to signal violence if the activists did not comply.
Several days later, tenants who spoke to STOP! Coalition organizers reacted strongly to Kowaleski’s assertion that management was “not a slumlord.” Tenants laughed bitterly at this comment and shared stories of rodents, insects, and trash unaddressed in the complex, despite calls to management. Though tenants were angry, they also mentioned fears of retaliation from management, including evictions or further abuse.
Activist Kayla Johnson visited with tenants of Ballantyne Apartments. These tenants showed Johnson insulting and offensive letters sent to them by management. In these letters, management refused to deal with the disgusting housing conditions and threatened eviction.
The property manager wrote in a mass letter to tenants, “If you see bugs in your apartment, how about cleaning it?? Most of you don’t work and live like pigs … AS FOR THE GARBAGE IN THE HALLWAY, WE WILL NOT BE REMOVING AN [sic] LONGER.” The letter further went on to threaten tenants with calls to Section 8 to deny the tenants further rent money as well as to the Department of Social Services to sabotage tenants’ ability to access public assistance and SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). In yet another letter to the entire complex, Kowaleski listed the names of every tenant behind on rent along with the amount of rent that the tenant owed.
For too long, slumlords in Syracuse have acted like managing apartments is a source of passive income with no real work required to maintain the properties. Slumlords, like the management of Ballantyne Garden Apartments and Jackie Kowaleski, abuse and mistreat tenants because they assume the tenants have no means of fighting back. But a new movement in the city is beginning to take hold and tenants will rise up together and demand an end to terrible living conditions, evictions, and abuse from landlords!
What do we do when our homes are under attack? Stand up, fight back!