Skip to content
Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Chronicle
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

For many, suitable housing is the impossible dream

Last July in Flushing, Amy’s landlord pounded on her door and told her she had one month to move out.

Sick in bed at the time, Amy, a Chinese immigrant who declined to give her last name, was experiencing an all-too-familiar pattern.

Last February, she was forced out of another residence, and that is how she ended up in this house on Parsons Boulevard, which had been illegally converted into apartments. Now, the owner had abruptly decided to sell.

It was Amy’s 13th home since arriving in Flushing in 1998.

Illegal conversion is just one of many issues the vast immigrant population of Queens faces as the city struggles to keep pace with population changes that have created a greater need for regulated, affordable housing than ever before.

More than 1.5 million immigrants moved to the five boroughs between 1990 and 2007 — with many new residents facing tenant harassment, illegal and overcrowded conditions and a severe shortage of affordable housing, according to a **report released this month by the New York Immigrant Housing Collaborative and the Pratt Center for Community Development.
While the new study outlines solutions, it makes clear that the city’s immigrant population — 36 percent of which resided in Queens as of the 2000 census — faces an uphill battle.
That means thousands of Queens residents like Amy find themselves in a seemingly unending cycle of moving from place to place, sometimes harassed and mistreated by landlords as they go, mired in an often fruitless search for a better place to live.
Shehab came to Sunnyside in 1993 from Bangladesh. Though he has lived in the same apartment on 40th Street for 12 years, his life is anything but stable.
Since last February, his landlord has brought him to court three times. And for years his floor, walls and ceiling have rotted, despite a court order for repair.
Shehab, a freelance journalist who also declined to give his last name, is convinced that his landlord wants to drive him out in order to raise the unit’s rent.
“There’s ample evidence that many people are just being brought to court for no reason at all,” said Seema Agnani, executive director of Chaya Community Development Corp., which focuses on issues affecting South Asians.
The recent report suggests shifting control of rent laws from the state to the city, allowing for greater regulatory measures to be passed in accordance with the city’s housing needs. For example, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a Tenant Protection Act into law earlier in the year, enabling tenants to bring landlords to court for harassment.
Even when some tenants are not harassed, they still find the search for quality affordable housing futile.
Arkadiy Yusupov sits in his Rego Park studio apartment on 63rd Drive and prays for a new home. He came to New York from Uzbekistan in 1993 and has waited for subsidized housing ever since.
“When they opened the list recently just for a few months, we were having 50 people a day come and apply,” said Christine Roland, director of housing and homelessness prevention at Queens Community House.
Though there are plans for affordable housing projects at Hunters Point South and part of the Willets Point redevelopment, most of the proposed units are geared toward middle-income wage earners.
One cost-efficient option suggested by the report is the establishment of a program that would provide tax incentives to small builders who agree to develop below-market housing projects — a proposal that could have a positive impact in a mostly low-rise borough like Queens.
Though the New York Immigration Housing Collaborative report signals an embrace of significant changes to housing policy, for many immigrants in the city, stability will still be hard to come by.
A stone’s throw away from the rattle of the elevated No. 7 train along Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside, Shehab is still stuck. “If I find a place where I can breathe and have light and have clean floors, I’d go right away,” he said. “But I don’t know where I’d go.”

**Make the Road New York contributed significant research to the report.