Have you ever considered how you might feel if you were ever evicted from your home?
Well, on January 18, of this year 27 Chinese immigrant families living at 85 Bowery, here in New York City where told by the Department of Buildings they had to leave immediately. And within 2 hours all of those families were suddenly homeless. Some of the residents were as old as 82, and others were school-age children left to live in a shelter.
Prior to the eviction, the tenants had won a court case against the landlord securing rent stabilization for their apartments. And then shortly after, the Department of Building made the decision that the building was not safe. A staircase needed repair, but to do that the residents had to leave.
The residents were promised that they would only be out of their apartments for two weeks. Unfortunately, the work order that was needed to begin repairs, was not applied for until 2 days before the promised return date. So now, the delays began. After weeks of delays to repair the staircase, it was then discovered that asbestos had been found in the building. Not surprising since most old buildings in New York City used asbestos to insulate its pipes.
Again there would be further delays in returning to their homes. In New York City, and I would think in most places, landlords use harassment and lack of repairs to get people out of the building, so new tenants would be charged a higher rent.
During the period mentioned above and after many demonstrations the tenants were moved from shelters to a hotel in Chinatown.
The frustration the tenants felt from the lack of assistance from the Housing Preservation Department led them to hold a hunger strike. It was now February, and as I said above, some of these tenants were in their 80s; but still strong and very determined. They sat outside the Housing Preservation Department, at 100 Gold Street in the coldest period of the winter. I myself caught the flu just being there with them in solidarity.
The media showed up from time-to-time and occasionally a politician looking for good press too. Aid was sort from the mayor's office but all the tenants got was lip service from the deBlasio administration.
Weeks later, an agreement was made with the landlord as to when the tenants could return home, but after that agreement had been agreed upon the tenants became aware that their belonging that they didn't have time to take with them when they were being evicted, where now found in a dumpster outside the building.
Again, it was decided that another hunger strike would take place, but this time it would be outside City Hall.
In the tenant's minds, none of this would be happening without the collusion of the mayor with greedy landlords and developers. The attention that this action held was incredible. The media came out day after day, support groups from all over the city came out, and politicians, including Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor, actually participated in a hunger fast for three days, the former Mayoral candidate Sal Albanese, and David Eisenbach gave speeches in support.
These actions from the tenants and the supporters from around the city were too much for the landlord and the city, so the hunger strike ended with an agreement from the landlord. The tenants would return home at the end of August.
What this event proved, was that alone, we can not win against deBlasio and his greedy landlords and developer friends. Without the tenacity of these tenants, and the gathering of support from all over the city the outcome would not have turned out the way it did. Tenant groups and community associations must build a unified effort to take back this city from those trying to steal it from us, the people that built it and make it the great city it is.
Last night, October 19th, the tenants held a celebration party that was fantastic. Let's hope we can learn from their efforts and keep our city the way we want it.