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Know Your Rights
Source: El Diario
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice

Immigrant New Yorkers need Albany to deliver on housing this year

We are currently living the consequences of decades of inaction and negligence on the part of our state. All of us deserve to live in homes and neighborhoods where we have the freedom to stay and the freedom to thrive. But this is only possible if our leaders approve and invest in long-term housing solutions and provide us with a strong safety net. Yet, time and time again our leaders have ignored the pleas of New Yorkers and instead focused on addressing the needs and wants of the real estate industry and the greedy homeowners who profit from this housing crisis. The result is that thousands of people, like me, live every day in fear of losing the roof over their heads in a city that becomes more expensive every day.

I have been living in Yonkers with my family for the last 9 months. I vividly remember the first day we moved into our house. We were excited to see that our new home was beautiful, and  relieved to know that we would be living in a quiet area. What we didn’t know is that that happiness wouldn’t last. Shortly after we moved in, our landlord started treating us poorly, and things only got worse from there. Today, we find ourselves stuck in a situation where we cannot move since there is no affordable housing in Yonkers and there are no rules in place to protect us against many abuses by our landlords.

Within the first month of moving in, we received an extremely high Con Edison bill of around $300. I thought this might be a mistake, since we rented a small space. When I asked the landlord about it, he said that we lived in a more expensive county now and we should get used to it. I contacted ConEdison because the bills were still between $300 and $400. Once they investigated, Con Edison told us that it appeared to be a commercial space on our bill and that it was covering power for other parts of the house.

Upon hearing this news, my husband decided to talk to the landlord to resolve this problem. While the landlord admitted that our bill connected to the basement’s energy use, he was not willing to pay thousands of dollars to fix it. He also said that if we didn’t like it, we could leave. A little over a week later, we received a 30-day eviction notice and our last bill from Con Edison came out to over $800. Since then, we have received non-stop letters harassing us, in an attempt to get us to self-evict.

Our landlord has also used other methods to scare us away, refusing to turn on the heat. We have all gotten sick, including my daughter who has lupus. She contracted pneumonia and was hospitalized for several days. His harassment did not end there, he even called my husband’s boss, lying to get him fired from work. Most recently, he sent us a letter saying that he had informed all authorities about us, including ICE. This caused us a lot of fear and that is why we went to Make the Road New York, which informed us that the actions of our teller are illegal.

Unfortunately, tenants like myself are not protected from being evicted for no reason, and cases like mine are the norm rather than the exception in New York. That’s why we need laws to protect us, like the Good Cause Eviction law. As rents reach record highs in New York, this is a great protection renters can have right now. Good Cause gives tenants the power to challenge arbitrary or retaliatory evictions, giving a voice to tenants like me and many others who suffer in silence to fight for better conditions without fear of losing their home. Additionally, this bill requires landlords to justify rent increases greater than 3 percent. It also guarantees lease renewal for most tenants, which is currently not required by market rate landlords.

Finally, our leaders must act quickly to address the needs of working families in New York by instituting additional key safety net programs, such as health insurance and unemployment. Make the Road New York outlines smart solutions in its “Freedom to Stay, Freedom to Thrive” platform to improve the lives of immigrant, black, and brown families across New York State.

We all deserve a home where we have the freedom to stay and the freedom to thrive. Every New Yorker should have access to affordable, healthy housing, without living in fear of displacement. We need Good Cause Now.

Zuly Santoyo is a member of Se Hace Camino New York and a resident of Westchester.