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Tenant Power: Activists March to Keep Ridgewood Liveable for All

Joseph Mulkerin Nov 23, 2016

Scores of activists gathered Saturday morning to take part in the "March to Keep Ridgewood Liveable for All." The action, organized by a coalition of local groups, was held to protest the rapid gentrification of the historically working class neighborhood which juts between the border of Brooklyn and Queens. The event was also attended by City Councilmember Antonio Reynoso and Public Advocate Leticia James.

In recent years, Ridgewood has seen an influx of luxury developments and a loss of affordable housing which has priced out many long-term residents out of the neighborhood. Raquel Namuche Pacheco of the Ridgewood Tenants Union said the marchers' goal was to "ensure that tenants know their rights, ensuring that the neighborhood learns about these luxury development projects so that we can work together to create a neighborhood-wide response to developers."

The rally kicked off at 1819 Cornelia Street. Hilda Coll-Valentin spoke of the fight she and her fellow residents have waged to stay in their building following the sudden death of their landlord this past June. Initially, Coll-Valentin said, the tenants hoped to buy out the building themselves but it was ultimately purchased by a new owner intent on displacing the current residents in favor of new, higher-paying tenants.

Coll-Valentin said the residents of 1819 Cornelia have organized and educated themselves about their rights as tenants. Thus far, they've been able to hold out. She expressed confidence that ongoing activism would help get the attention of local elected officials. "We need to make them know that we are aware and we know our rights," she said.

After Coll-Valentin spoke, the rally then moved onto 1720 Palmetto Street, a recently renovated building which stood in sharp contrast to the building at 1819 Cornelia as a casualty of gentrification. Speaking from the steps of the freshly painted brownstone, Pacheco described how rent-regulated tenants had been displaced through a loophole in New York housing law known as substantial rehabilitation which allows landlords to increase rent if at least 75% of the building's internal structure has been replaced.

The final stop was outside a lot on St. Nicholas Avenue where real estate developer AB Capstone is slated to begin construction on a new 17-story luxury apartment building on the same spot where a modest shopping center once stood.

"This is how displacement occurs," Namuche Pacheco said. "This is how people lose their apartments and this is how this community, this working class community that we've all built is destroyed."

Capstone declined to comment when contacted by The Indypendent.

Cathy Dibble, who has resided in Ridgewood for more than 40 years, spoke to the adverse effect real estate speculators have had on her community. "What I'm hearing in the neighborhood is houses are getting bought up for phenomenal amounts of money. They're pushing out tenants that have been long term and it's unconscionable."

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