How Neighbors in Oswego, NY took their Neighborhood Back. 

In the Spring of 2012 neighbors had had enough. A large, 4-unit apartment on their street had been purchased by an out-of-town slumlord from Monroe, NY. He tore down an adjacent home and paved over the lot for parking. Cars were spilling out haphazardly all over, including the grass where he was not permitted to use for parking.


The condition of the apartment declined rapidly, and even an early spring fire forced a brief evacuation of the tenants -- with smoke billowing out all over the neighborhood.



By early 2013 neighbors, many of whom eventually went on to form the Oswego Renaissance Assocation (ORA), went to the zoning board to close him down. An outgoing city councilor managed to revoke his use of public space and the concrete pads in front of the apartment were removed and restored to green space. In response, the slumlord appealed to the zoning board to expand his parking lot to include the entire side yard. Another fight. Over a dozen neighbors showed up in opposition, defeating the measure at the zoning hearing.  

Illegally parked cars spilling onto lawns in 2012

And following that victory, one of the neighbors bought several trees that the city planted in the new tree lawn along the front of the apartment.

But what happened next was remarkable.

The slumlord, having lost the seas of asphalt that enabled him to pack dozens of tenants into a slum, foreclosed on the property.

By late 2013, the winds in Oswego were beginning to change.  Pathfinder Bank, Oswego's locally owned bank, repossessed the property. They reached out the then-nascent ORA --- and the neighbors -- about who would be the right buyer for the neighborhood.

By early 2014, a local landlord with a strong reputation named Brian Klefbeck was chosen for the property. After meeting with the neighbors through the ORA, Mr. Klefbeck decided to go for strong, market-rate apartments that would strengthen the neighborhood. With renewed confidence in the neighborhood, dozens of neighbors on the street - including Klefbeck -  participated in ORA's Renaissance Block Challenge. They began investing and dramatically improving the neighborhood. This, in turn, gave greater confidence to Klefbeck to go even farther.

The apartment was amazingly restored. The shoddy vinyl removed and the historical details brought out.  And because the new apartments were high quality, they commanded stronger rents, and the need for the excessive parking evaporated. 

 The side yard that use to be overflowing with illegally parked cars was landscaped into a decorative garden.

Today the apartment is filled with good neighbors that strengthen the neighborhood. One hangs flower boxes off a 2nd floor balcony, while planting flower along the foundation of the front of the historic property. Another is a local legislator who many people know.

And since that time, the house next door was completely rehabbed and sold to a person who moved into Oswego from out of state. And several major improvements throughout the neighborhood have been attracting new homebuyers. And in just 3 years the neighborhood is a very different place.

This is a story about a little street with a big heart. About neighbors that wouldn't let it go. About a landlord who had a vision,  and local institutions that understand the virtuous cycle of growing value. And how, when neighbors, institutions, and landlords work together everyone can win.