Greene Guerrillas

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In the last few years, 71-year-old Leonor Rodriguez has seen her Fort Greene neighborhood become prosperous and hip. Too bad she can’t stick around to enjoy it.

In January, landlord Kathryn Lilly decided the snug apartment Rodriguez shares with her 91-year old mother and disabled son–just blocks from a restaurant serving $21 ostrich fillets–is worth a lot more than $550 a month.

Evictions like this are not unusual in rapidly gentrifying Fort Greene. But this time, something unusual happened: On February 10, a diverse crowd of locals, many with their own real estate war stories, marched a tight circle on the sidewalk in front of Lilly’s Realty on the Greene, waving signs that said Sí se puede and passing out flyers that warned, above a woodcut fist, “With all these upwardly mobile yuppies moving in, landlord$ would really like to kick you out.”

A tenant advocacy group called Brooklyn Community Action, which is an arm of the Pratt Area Community Council, hopes that the protest can accomplish something legal action can’t–shame the landlord, Kathryn Lilly, into allowing the family to stay in its apartment above Realty on the Greene. The goal is a two-year lease that might buy them enough time to move up on the city’s waiting list for federally subsidized housing.

Her neighbor, Emma Rivera, is also being evicted–from a $725 a month two-bedroom–and she’s furious but also scared. “I can’t find nothing,” Rivera says, twice. “I looked and looked and I don’t know what to do anymore.”

Rodriguez says that if she can’t stay, her family will be homeless. “I don’t have any money extra,” says Rodriguez, a retired factory worker who scrapes together the $550 rent from her Social Security check. “Where am I going to find the savings for the deposit, for the moving?”

Despite the protest, Lilly remains unmoved. “The real estate taxes alone are not covered by their rent,” she says. “I’m not social services, I’m not a government agency. Sorry, but that’s the reality of it.”

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