East Harlem Residents Make Halloween Protest Against Potential Landlord
By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Residents of 47 Dawnay Day foreclosed buildings went trick or treating at their potential new landlord's offices, though the only treat they wanted was for the company to pull out of making a deal.
Members of The Movement for Justice in El Barrio donned Halloween masks and marched into Hope Community offices on 104th Street to hand out pictures of rats and roaches posted on candy shapes for Halloween.
"We do not want Hope Community to buy our homes," Maria Mercado, one of 30 residents, said in Spanish inside the offices.
"Tenants who live in your building have joined our organization because they say they endure rats and roaches and non-functioning elevators."
Hope Community executive director Walter Roberts came out and calmly spoke with the group.
"The facts they present about Hope are incorrect," he said. "Our tenants are well treated and we maintain our buildings at a high quality."
Some Hope tenants disagreed.
Janet Morales, 60, said she lived in Hope Community buildings for more than a decade until they evicted her after she lost her subsidy. She has lived with her daughter in a homeless shelter in Manhattan since April.
"They said there was nothing they could do for me," Morales said. "I'm 60 years old. I shouldn't have to go through this."
Another Hope Community tenant, Melvin Newbold, said he was a single parent who often did not have heat and hot water when he got up early in the morning to go to work. He said Hope had tried to raise some of his neighbors' rent by 33 percent for a two-year lease and he feared he was next.
"Do you live under these conditions?" Newbold asked Roberts. "You probably live somewhere where you get all the heat you want and can walk around in your boxers."
Roberts took both Morales' and Newbold's contact information and said he would meet with them individually as well as the group's leaders.
He said Hope's goal was to maintain the units as affordable housing and cited improvements that his group was making to several of its existing buildings, including new windows and new boilers, with no rent increases to tenants.
"At the end of the day, we want to preserve these units," Roberts said. "We think we have the experience to do so."
Juan Haro, a coordinator for Movement for Justice in El Barrio, said the group is also upset with East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito for supporting Hope Community's ambitions to acquire the buildings.
"She's not listening to her constituents. She is bypassing us to listen to a landlord," said Haro. "We are investigating every interested landlord to see if they are good because we don't want to perpetually fight landlords. We want a better solution."