In the fight against negligent landlords, not-for-profits like Make The Road By Walking have a secret weapon: Dedicated volunteers like Jose Luis Rodriguez, who helps organize rallies for the group.
Rodriguez, who has been part of Make The Road for the past year-and-a-half, said he takes great satisfaction in his role, which involves organizing other volunteers through the telephone.
He also enjoys helping working-class families empower themselves against abusive building owners those who vacuum up their tenants’ rent each month without providing essentials like heat and hot water.
With winter on the way, Rodriguez said he expects the number of visits from tenants seeking help to increase. "In some cases, the tenants have to boil water to take baths," he said after a recent rally. "The normal necessities you go through on a regular basis, these tenants don’t have them."
Things are especially bad for tenants in working-class neighborhoods like Bushwick and Bed-Stuy, where Make The Road does its primary outreach. Many residents, Rodriguez said, have a limited grasp of English and have no idea how to look for help.
"They’re afraid that if they fight against [the owner], they might get deported, whereas as a tenant, if you pay rent, you have rights," he said.
Rodriguez said all are invited to Make The Road’s headquarters at 301 Grove Street in Bushwick to discuss their problems. Meetings take place every Thursday night, between 6:30-8:30 p.m.