The city has been thwarted in two attempts to bar tenants from using a street near their East Village project to demonstrate against the New York City Housing Authority's proposed deregulation scheme.
The rally and information meeting was still scheduled for Saturday at noon as of press time–after a week of legal volleying between NYCHA and lawyers for the Jacob Riis Houses tenants association.
For a month, tenants groups and housing advocates have been organizing to oppose the city's request to free NYCHA from federal public housing regulations–which could allow the authority to rent to richer tenants, disregard some rent caps for low-income tenants and even sell some NYCHA properties to private developers.
Val Orselli, executive director of the Cooper Square Committee, said the idea of a meeting was hatched in early April by his organization, the Riis tenant association and a Lower East Side coalition of public housing tenants.
“We are planning to inform tenants of the potential dangers they face with NYCHA,” Orselli said. “Dangers like them being able to charge higher rents, opening apartments up for families with significantly higher incomes, elimination of tenant grievance procedures. Basically, we wanted people to know that deregulation is part of a movement to privatize public housing.”
On Monday, city lawyers claimed NYCHA had rejected the application because event leaders wanted to use the rally for partisan political purposes. On Wednesday, State Supreme Court Justice Helen Freedman shot that argument down. Then, early Friday, a team of three NYCHA lawyers filed an appeal–a move which, for the moment, barred the demonstration.
“There will not be any meeting,” said NYCHA spokesperson Ruth Colon late Friday afternoon.
“I am willing to get arrested if that means I'll be able to use my first amendment rights,” responded Carlos Gonzalez, a Riis tenant leader, later Friday afternoon.
Moments later, Gonzalez learned that yet another state judge had okayed the demonstration–but only allowed Riis tenants to attend.
“This whole thing was crazy, they had three lawyers working full time just to keep a group of tenants from meeting,” said Judith Goldiner, the Legal Aid lawyer who represented the Riis tenants. “The New York City Housing Authority is crazy.”
The demonstrators will have to sidestep one more hurdle however: sometime during the week of fervid lawyering, road crews began tearing up the disputed pavement. “I walked by and I saw the sidewalk being torn up by whatever you call those big, loud machines,” Goldiner added.