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Know Your Rights
Source: AM New York
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Nabe Groups Battle to Save Affordable Apartments

Decrepit apartments and cramping are a common trend among the city’s
immigrant families struggling to afford housing, particularly in
gentrifying neighborhoods.

In a city that is losing about 60,000 affordable units a year, everyone
in New York is feeling the pinch, but immigrant communities can be a
little more vulnerable, affordable housing advocates said.

"In some immigrant communities, tenants are more vulnerable to being
pushed out illegally because they may fear being reported to the
authorities or they may be unfamiliar with the rules," said Tom Waters,
Housing Policy Analyst, for the Community Service Society, a
anti-poverty group.

Landlords have been known to charge exorbitant fees or allow units to
rot to force out low-income immigrant tenants so they can boost the
rent for new tenants, advocates said.

Neighborhood groups are on the front lines in the battle to retain
affordable housing, tackling the threats in New York’s historically
immigrant neighborhoods by buying up buildings, confronting corporate
landlords and educating tenants about their rights.

Here’s a look at how three neighborhoods are dealing with the problem.

El Barrio

Filiberto Hernandez, 34, has had to wait months for his leaky bathroom
ceiling to be repaired. He said he fights his landlord, but some of his
neighbors do not know their rights and end up moving out.

"The landlords are rich, multi-millionaires, and then there are many
poor people in El Barrio without resources," Hernandez said.

Landlords in East Harlem have been trying to force their low income,
immigrant tenants out by letting apartments fall apart and later
charging higher rents in the gentrifying neighborhood, advocates said.

For the past four years, Movement for Justice in El Barrio has fought
one particular landlord, forcing him to repair hundreds of units in 47
East Harlem buildings before he sold the properties last year. Now the
group, comprised of about 400 tenants, is battling the units’ new
owner, Dawnay, Day Group.

Movement for Justice recently sued Dawnay for charging tenants for
repairs or appliances they were never given. Dawnay did not return
calls seeking comment.


Chinatown recently saw the price of buildings with five or more units
skyrocket higher than any other neighborhood in the city, boosting the
cost of these properties by 42 percent from 2005 to 2006, according to
an NYU survey released last month. As luxury condos are increasing,
affordable rent buildings are being demolished, advocates said.

"We’re bleeding existing affordable housing everyday," said Thomas Yu
with Asian Americans for Equality, which began an affordable housing
program to combat the problem.

The group buys up apartment buildings, refurbishes units and rents them
to lower-income residents for $1,000 a month or less. So far, the
program has preserved 90 affordable units with grants funding and
financing through long-term mortgages. Yu’s group hopes to purchase
another 70 apartments.
Asian Americans for Equality is fundraising to defray repair costs,
which can reach up to $50,000 a unit. The group hopes that their
efforts also will work to combat severe overcrowding that can be
prevalent in the immigrant community.


Residents in the neighborhood, like Gladys Puglla, say they often have to fight landlords to repair anything.

The native-Ecuadorian, who has lived in her apartment for 10 years, has
gone without electricity in half of her apartment for more than three
months until the city forced her landlord to fix it. She’s now fighting
her landlord for charging more than allowed for her rent-controlled
apartment. Meanwhile, she fears another rent increase.

"Can you imagine? I’m going to move my son and my daughter together, and I’m going to rent my room," she said.

Puglla said that like many immigrant residents in Bushwick,
she did not know her rights until she began attending meetings held by Make the Road
New York
, a group that lobbies for better rent laws and helps
tenants wade through the process of fighting a landlord. The group also holds
meetings in Spanish.

"These people are fed up and … realize they have to stand up because
otherwise we’re going to lose Bushwick," said Irene Tung, director of
for the group.