By Jill Colvin
CHELSEA — Activists slowly transformed the garden of Chelsea's Holy Apostle Church into a makeshift tent city dubbed "Cuomoville" Tuesday morning in a demonstration of what they say will happen if the state's rent regulation laws expire June 15.
"The point is to really illustrate what New York City would look like without rent laws," said Mary Tek, 22, campaign manager for the Real Rent Reform Campaign, which maintains that, without the regulations, people would be pushed out onto the street.
While activists are confident a deal will be signed before the laws sunset two weeks from Wednesday, they say that more must now be done to protect the remaining one million rent-stabilized and 35,000 rent-controlled units city-wide.
About 300,000 rent-stabilized units have been lost over the past decade, Tek said.
Members of the group struggled through the morning to assemble large camping tents in the church's garden at West 28th Street and Ninth Avenue, where they plan to spend the night in the open air.
As they juggled tarps and tent poles, others hung large, cardboard signs around the garden's fence, proclaiming the encampment "Cuomoville," in a dig at Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who they say has not done enough or acted fast enough to strengthen regulations.
"Nothing has happened and it's very scary. It's very, very scary," said Maxine Zeifman, 83, who lives in a rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper East Side, and has collected more than 500 signatures in recent weeks to push Cuomo to act.
"He's letting it go down to the wire," she complained.
"Until they're renewed, people are up the creek," agreed long-time Chelsea resident Edrie Cote, 69, who said what concerns her most is that rising rents will push young people out of Manhattan — and Chelsea — entirely.
"I'd like to see future generations stay in the neighborhood," said Cote, who has lived in the neighborhood for the past 40 years. She said that when she first moved in, rich and poor lived side-by-side. Her West 20th Street and Ninth Avenue apartment, for instance, was bordered by what she described as a tenement on one side and David Bowie's townhouse on the other.
"New York is really losing a lot of its soul," she said
Once the tents are mounted, the group plans to welcome musicians, elected officials and local school kids to the campsite. A candlelight vigil will begin at 8 p.m.
The protests will then continue through the week, with a march on City Hall and camp out at Broadway and Warren Street Wednesday, followed by another gathering at Ft. Washington Collegiate Church, at 181st Street and Fort Washington Avenue Thursday.
Critics argue that extending rent regulations will stifle construction in the city, driving up prices in the long run.