En Español Know Your Rights
Source: Bushwick Courier
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

A Vigil for their Homes

With the Rent Control Board hearings looming, Make the Road
Members gathered for a vigil outside the Bushwick Playground near
Putnam Avenue where a number of row house apartments are being removed
from rent-stabilization protections.

“This is a vigil to raise
awareness in the community about the need to save rent-stabilized
apartments,” said Elsa Jimenez, a Make the Road member and resident on
Putnam Avenue.

The vigil, held last Thursday, consisted of
speeches, refreshments and a sidewalk dance party designed to get
community members from Putnam Avenue to join the festivities and learn
more about the Rent Control Board hearing, and MRNY lobbying efforts.

Several
organizations sent representatives to the event, including Neighbors
Helping Neighbors in Sunset Park, St. Nicholas NPC in Williamsburg, and
the Bushwick Housing Independence Project (144 Bleecker Street).

“Basically
Bushwick is a hot market with real estate, and landlords are harassing
tenants in order to make over apartments and make a profit,” said Angel
Vera, a housing organizer with Make the Road
. “On this block, they have
been successful.”

Although there are hundreds of locations in
Bushwick where buildings are being removed from rent-stabilization,
Make the Road chose the Putnam Avenue address because a number of its
members live on the blocks between Irving and Knickerbocker avenues.

“I’m
worried that rents are going to be higher,” said Gladys Puglia, a Make
the Road
member and the emcee of the vigil. “They were $600 and we’re
going to lose [the apartments] and they will be out of the program.”

According
to Puglia and other tenants in the building, the landlord, Russell
Suriel, had been harassing longtime tenants to leave units at 1420 and
1418 Putnam Avenue, even offering an elderly couple $10,000. Other
people claiming to be the landlord of the buildings have come by the
building offering money to other tenants. Suriel, the landlord of both
buildings, could not be reached for comment.

“They were offered
$3,000 in advance and $7,000 if the apartment was in good condition,”
Puglia said. “[The elderly couple] didn’t want to move, they were
paying only $500. The woman was taking medication. In the end, they
lost the apartment, they moved and are living somewhere else with
relatives.”

Puglia will be attending the Rent Control Board
hearings in June and organizing other Make the Road Members to lobby
elected officials to enforce tenant harassment and rent-stabilization
housing policies.

Make the Road staff invited staff from
Assemblymember Vito Lopez’s office to attend the vigil, but they were
unable to come due to a scheduling conflict. Earlier this month, the
State Assembly passed a nine-bill package of housing legislation, of
which two measures would keep apartments protected under rent
stabilization or rent control and reduce the percentage by which rent
would be increased upon vacancy to a limit of ten percent. The bill is
being debated in the state Senate.

“Vito supported it. It’s a good bill,” said Vera.

While
housing legislation and the results of the Rent Control Board hearings
will likely be finalized next month, tenant organizer Kennedy Rivera
was encouraged by the show of support for an issue he knows well. The
Bushwick Housing Independence Project works with individual tenants in
Bushwick to help them fight landlords who are urging their
displacement, often from rent-stabilized apartments.

“We need to
keep up the rhythm,” Rivera said. “If you do it once, it doesn’t
matter. This should be done more, not just when it needs to be done, so
that people can open their eyes to this issue.”