For the last 15 years, the Good Old Lower East Side has been headquartered in a discreet storefront at 525 East 6th Street. But in the changing neighborhood that it’s served for a quarter of a century, the housing advocacy group is now fighting to stay put.
As the Lower East Side becomes increasingly gentrified, the GOLES office has become one of the few familiar places where neighborhood residents could turn for help in dealing with landlords who cut off heat or hot water, refuse to repair leaks or threaten them with eviction.
But in September, the managing agent for the building, 14K Management, informed GOLES that its $1,200 monthly rent would more than double in the coming year, after the group’s lease expires at year’s end.
Margaret Hughes, executive director of GOLES, whose 13-person staff has also organized tenant associations and worked to preserve Section 8 housing, said she could not afford the rent increase. The agency’s $700,000 annual budget is funded by grants and contributions.
“All the places where low-income people have been able to carve out a niche are being attacked,” said Hughes. “The Lower East Side is a microcosm.”
The attack on GOLES has also been somewhat personal, Hughes suggested, explaining that representatives from 14K insisted that she and other GOLES workers stop conferring with tenants in their building, which the group helped convert into a low-income co-op.
Howard Cohen, president of 14K Management, said he knew of no such demand. He added that with only eight apartments and low monthly maintenance, he is dependent on revenue from the storefront to pay bills and taxes.
“I think we came up with an equitable rent,” said Cohen, who added that market rates in the area were higher than the $2,500 he is asking.
As of press time, Hughes said she was working to negotiate a last-minute agreement with the building’s board of directors to support a short-term extension of their lease while exploring other spaces. Regardless of the outcome, she said, GOLES would continue working on the Lower East Side.
“People who can’t get out of the cycle of poverty need help dealing with the system,” she said. “It’s crucial that we continue to exist.”