Tenants’ group puts the world on notice

APR 7, 2008

CITY HALL. Members from the Movement for Justice in El Barrio — an East Harlem tenants group that battles abusive landlords — brought their fight against gentrification to the steps of City Hall yesterday. Next week, they’re taking their struggle to the world.

The group’s former nemesis, Steve Kessner (one of New York’s “worst landlords,” according to the Village Voice), sold his 47 rent stabilized East Harlem-buildings to the London-based investment bank Dawnay, Day Group last year. Residents claim conditions have gotten worse since then. “They want to get rid of the tenants with low income,” said Filberto Hernandez, “to bring white people in with more money and to double the price of the rent.”

Phil Blakeley, a director at Dawnay, told the Times of London in August that the firm was attracted to East Harlem in part because of lax tenant protections. “There are lots of young professionals moving in. It is a bit like buying in Brixton 15 years ago, where house prices have since gone up five-fold,” Blakeley told the paper. “Our intention is to build up. We are not just looking at New York — that is just a start. Our aim is to have in excess of $5 billion within a short period — within a few years.”

The East Harlem tenants said their struggle must be local and international. Some will leave next week on a monthlong trip to visit groups in England, Spain, France and Scotland also fighting gentrification. Their International Campaign in Defense of El Barrio will demand slumlords and multinational corporations “cease their attacks on the community.”

“They want to destroy our neighborhood,” Oscar Dominguez said. “They want to replace our small delis” and “bring in enormous and expensive shops and restaurants.”

Though Bloomberg signed a bill last month to help tenants fight harassment by allowing them to bring claims against landlords in housing court, East Harlem tenants didn’t support it. “These owners hire expensive top-notch lawyers who can convince the judge the tenants claims are ‘frivolous,’” the movement’s Juan Haro said.

Last edited on Sat, 2011-06-25 03:53