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NYC Tenants Fight Many Forms of Displacement, Find Community

Over the past week, tenant groups around the city have rallied in defense of their rights. Read a collection of their stories.

Amba Guerguerian Mar 31

Related reading: Eviction Thwarted: Brooklyn Community Successfully Mobilizes to Defend Family Facing Removal From Their Home

Housing advocates warned that Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to lift the state’s COVID-19-induced eviction moratorium on Jan. 15 would lead to a flood of eviction filings against vulnerable tenants. This in fact is happening. While the eviction moratorium didn’t put a total end to evictions, and some landlords were filing illegally anyway, it helped. Since it expired 10 weeks ago, there have been over 14,000 evictions filed in NYC, according to data from Princeton University’s Eviction Lab.

One recourse tenants can still take to avoid eviction is to file an Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) application with the state. Once they do so, they cannot be evicted until it is accepted or denied. If accepted, eviction is stayed for a year. Some landlords who cannot technically evict tenants due to ERAP filings have been trying to get rid of them through battles of attrition.

In East Crown Heights at 2284 Atlantic Ave., owned by Ashu Venture Corp, Dain Whyte’s ERAP application was accepted in December, but his landlord won’t receive rent arrears from the state until he fills out his part of the application, which he refuses to do. Instead, he bribed Whyte $3,000 to move, has broken into his apartment while Whyte was sleeping and continues to send eviction threats. From October to January and from mid-February to mid-March, he turned off Whyte’s hot water. “It’s hard to catch a bucket of water, warm it up in the kettle every time I want to bathe,” he said. Whyte also sent The Indypendent copies of a lease on which he alleges his signature was forged by the landlord.

In Midwood, Brooklyn, James Harris is being evicted from the apartment he’s lived in for 48 years, despite the fact that the landlord has allowed a bedbug infestation to ravage the building.

In East Flatbush, Rosemarie’s landlords have been pursuing a harassment campaign against the 65-year-old tenant since she reported a flood in her apartment. This includes tampering with her belongings, shutting off utilities, blasting music all night and spreading feces around her bathroom. “I didn’t say anything after the first flood, but after the second one, I called 311,” Rosemarie told The Indypendent. “I can’t sleep at night. I can’t use the bathroom, the toilet. I have to do everything in a bucket or a bag.” Beginning March 21, eviction defenders led a stoop watch at Rosemarie’s apartment on Lenox Rd. and E 42nd St. that lasted thirteen days and resulted in a decrease in harassment. 

Today, supporters attended a rally in front of Rosemarie’s apartment. “We’ve demonstrated our presence and we are making a formal declaration to the landlord that we have people set up who can arrive if you start harassing Rosemarie again,” says Harry of Brooklyn Eviction (BED) Defense, the group that organized the stoop watch. BED is a coalition of tenants that supports those facing eviction, harassment and housing insecurity and that fights “against the system, not for it.”

In Bushwick, the six-unit building at 309 Menahan St. has 291 open HPD violations; 46 are “immediately hazardous.” A rat-infestation-caused odor persists through the building, which tenants say is making them, including children, sick. When Wayfinder purchased the property last year, tenants received buyout offers. In response they formed a tenants association, Menahan Street Tenants, to fight to remain in the rent-stabilized building. The website for Hirshmark Capital — a private equity firm tied to the building’s ownership — reads: “We are aggressive in purchasing properties that allow us to implement a value-add approach, by increasing rents, renovating the property or altering the financial structure, both debt and equity.” 

On March 26, Menahen Street Tenants with the support of the Ridgewood Tenants Union rallied in front of the building. They led a call-and-response protest chant: 

I will stand with my neighbors/ To fight for better conditions/ I will knock on my neighbor's door/ And invite them to join the fight/ If I am at risk of eviction/ I will seek help right away/ I will fight back with my neighbors/ So that we can all remain in our homes

State Senator Julia Salazar (D,WF-18), whose district encompasses Bushwick, attended the rally. She said that of all the buildings in poor conditions she has toured, 309 Menahan is the worst. “Let me tell you, having gone inside and toured and witnessed the conditions myself — if you went through this building with your eyes closed, you would still know because of the stench that permeates the entire building. You would know with your eyes closed that this building is full of sickness and injustice,” she said. 

In Midwood, Brooklyn, James Harris is being evicted from the apartment he’s lived in for 48 years for $2,176 in back rent, despite the fact that the landlord has allowed a bedbug infestation to ravage the building. Harris works at a fruit stand near his apartment on Quentin Rd. and 16th St. at one of the exits of the King’s Highway subway stop on the Q train. As people pour down from the platform, many stop to say hello to Jimmy or buy some fruit. (Give him a visit if you’re in the area!)

At 567 St. John’s Pl. in Crown Heights, another building has fallen into disrepair. The building’s tenants, represented by the Crown Heights Tenants Union, are asking supporters to call HPD and demand that Landlord Gerard Tema be removed from the building’s ownership. Tema has neglected to take care of rats, roaches, collapsed ceilings and lead paint in the eight-unit building. 

A group of tenants at the Lower East Side’s Knickerbocker Village complex, made up of 1,590 apartments in 12 buildings, are rallying to stop the sale of their homes to L+M Development Partners, fearing the developer’s takeover will lead to evictions. According to Concerned Tenants of Knickerbocker Village, the group that has been leading the opposition to the sale, over 900 residents have signed a petition against the move.

The number of tenants in the Bronx facing eviction without an attorney in housing court increased more than 900% in less than a month, reports Gothamist. In the last few weeks, the Office of Court Administration increased the number of eviction cases each judge hears. Because cases are moving so quickly, tenants’ right to free legal counsel is being ignored, say tenant advocates. On March 28, Community Action for Safe Apartments, a Bronx-based tenants group, hosted a protest at Bronx Housing Court to demand fair eviction trials. Dozens of supporters attended, with tenants groups city-wide present. 

Because Bronx eviction cases are moving so quickly, tenants’ right to free legal counsel is being ignored, say tenant advocates.

Shirley McNeill, an elderly tenant at 400 Clinton Ave. in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, died last month after slipping on broken floorboards in her apartment that, according to BED, landlord GC Clinton LLC had been unwilling to repair. Now, the company is refusing to offer Brenda McNeill, the deceased’s daughter, a lease to her mother’s apartment. She grew up in the home. There will be a speak out at the building in support of Brenda on Saturday April 2 at 2 p.m.

At NYCHA’s Red Hook East Development, tenants are experiencing neglect common in New York City’s Section 9 buildings due to perpetual underfunding over the past 40+ years. “The tenants have suffered through hazardous and unlivable conditions because of structural leaking and utter disrepair. Walls bubble with still water; mold and asbestos pepper bathrooms and kitchens. Jerry-rigged drain apparatuses, of tin trays and plastic tubes, are regular features of apartments down the B and D lines in 797 Hicks,” wrote BED in a March 25 press release. On March 26, Red Hook East tenants held a rally at the building demanding immediate repairs, temporary relocation and transparency from NYCHA.

Residents to Preserve Public Housing (RPPH), a public housing residents-led coalition that advocates for adequate funding, improving quality of services and increasing residents’ decision-making authority, held a rally to demand more state funding for NYCHA on March 25. According to the Community Preservation Corporation, around $48 billion is needed just to attend to NYCHA repairs across the five boroughs “And none of that addresses NYCHA’s operating cost deficit,” reported the Gotham Gazette in October.

Meanwhile, plans to gradually privatize NYCHA continue advancing. Slumlord C+C Management recently took over Harlem River Houses from NYCHA. This means that the tenants who live in the complex’s 574 apartments now fall under Section 8 low-income housing rules, which do less to shield tenants from eviction than Section 9. According to 2021 data from NYCHA, more than 20,000 of its tenants live in privately-managed apartments. Mayor Eric Adams has vowed to put more of NYCHA’s 168,000 apartments under private management. Harlem River Houses tenants have protested the changeover and pointed to the danger that privatization poses to nearly 550,000 NYCHA residents. 

Evictions too occur to those that do not have sturdy walls. On March 25. Mayor Eric Adams announced that he would remove homeless people from the makeshift shelters they’ve created on city streets. According to city officials, as of March 30, the city had removed 239 out of an estimated 244 encampment sites located mostly in Manhattan. “I was horrified, I just couldn’t believe it. It’s like out of a dystopian movie,” an onlooker told AMNY. This comes after the same mayor sent extra cops into the subway stations to rid them of houseless people, pushing homelessness into the streets. 

•   •   •

While the above instances are horrifying, and standing up against landlords and politicians is daunting, The Indypendent is aware of these situations because tenants are fighting back. If you would like to be connected to your local tenant association or union, call us at 917-426-4856 or email amba.indypendent@gmail.com.

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