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Formerly Homeless Tenants in Prospect-Lefferts Building Fight Order to Move

 Tenants at 60 Clarkson Ave. held a rally outside the building Wednesday night.
Tenants at 60 Clarkson Ave. held a rally outside the building Wednesday night.
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DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

PROSPECT-LEFFERTS GARDENS — Dozens of formerly homeless families whose landlord wants them out of his Clarkson Avenue building are fighting back against the order — as they and their legal advocates say they have every right to stay.

Residents of 60 Clarkson Ave. said they received notice on June 29 that they had one day to leave the Prospect-Lefferts Gardens building where landlord Barry Hershko rents a majority of his 83 units to the Department of Homeless Services, tenants and housing advocates said.

The relocation notice — from “We Always Care Inc.,” the nonprofit registered as the shelter operator that manages the building — warned that 60 Clarkson Ave. was “being phased out,” without further explanation.

Residents who called the city's DHS couldn’t get an explanation for the move, according to Merlinda Fernandez, a tenant and a mother of six who was among those who gathered at a rally outside the building Wednesday night.

“They didn’t know what was going on,” Fernandez said. “My six children and I have been through so many long, stressful challenges due to mold, bugs, chipped paint, lead and grime... I'm not giving up without a fight."

Since the notice went out, local advocates including the Crown Heights Tenant Union, Picture the Homeless, Tenants & Neighbors and the Prospect-Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association have thrown support behind the tenants of the building, partnering with the Legal Aid Society, which is fully prepared to go to bat for the residents, they said Wednesday.

“We firmly believe that all the residents here at 60 Clarkson are rent-stabilized tenants and they’re deserving of those protections,” staff attorney Jeremiah Schlotman said, drawing cheers from the crowd.

The legal group said it believes Hershko cannot claim that any tenants in the building — which was full of rent-stabilized tenants before We Always Care began its contract with DHS, they said — are exempt from rent-stabilization, and hope to prove that in court, though no filings have been made, Schlotman said.

A former tenant of 60 Clarkson, Isis Sapp-Grant, said her mother and aunt lived in the building for 50 years in rent-stabilized apartments, but like many of the tenants there, got pushed out by Hershko.

“This is by design that he’s trying to empty this out so that he can make more money, but on the backs of a lot of people who worked and have been in this building for a very long time,” she said. “If that’s the case, where’s DHS? Why is this allowed to happen?”

Calls for comment to We Always Care, Hershko and the DHS were not immediately returned on Thursday.

Many of the area’s elected officials came out to support the tenants on Wednesday, including Borough President Eric Adams and the area’s state representatives, state Sen. Jesse Hamilton and Assemblywoman Diana Richardson, who said she was homeless for a time as a young woman.

“When you are homeless, it is hard enough that you are without a house," she said. "But it is even more difficult when you have a landlord such as the one here at 60 Clarkson who is going to take advantage of your circumstance.”