We are tenants of New York City and we are being harassed out of our homes. Sofia Green is a mother of five and has been living in her current rent-regulated apartment in Bushwick for the last couple of years. In Bushwick, too many tenants face harassment from landlords who want to push them out, renovate their apartments, and double the rent. In her building, this is exactly what the landlord is trying to do. Her landlord has failed to make basic repairs. Her stove does not work. Her windows are broken. She has spent months without heat and hot water. And on top of this, her landlord has even threatened to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on her.
Sofia’s story is not unique to her or to Bushwick. It is a citywide issue. Landlords harass tenants daily, and often when they do make repairs, they make superficial ones that reoccur a short while later. This type of harassment makes tenants want to give up calling 311 to report violations, and it makes them want to leave the apartment altogether.
Felix Urena lives on W. 109th Street in Manhattan. He’s been harassed by the landlords and management of his Upper West Side apartment building since the 1970s. He’s gone long periods with no heat, limited or no repairs, and no garbage service. The landlords took away his laundry room, and he hasn’t had a super to maintain his building for the past seven years. He feels like his building is an ATM machine — the landlords can collect, but they don’t put the money back in again. They don’t want rent-stabilized tenants, so they neglect his repairs and basic services to try to get him and his neighbors out.
As a faith leader, Bishop James I. Clark hears from congregation members every day who are suffering, living in rent-stabilized apartment units actively neglected because the value of housing in Harlem has suddenly become more valuable than what they are currently paying. He and other clergy and faith leaders see many of our pews empty during services, with congregational numbers diminishing because the neighborhoods where they have made their homes are no longer affordable to the congregants who built them. He sees members commuting into their spiritual homes from the far reaches of the Bronx, New Jersey, Connecticut, and beyond because they can no longer afford to live in New York. And as a pastor who seeks to build New York into a sanctuary city, into the beloved city on earth, he believes we cannot move forward when our people cannot find a sanctuary in which to sleep at night.
We support the Certificate of No Harassment legislation because we believe it will help prevent other tenants from going through the experiences we’ve had. The law would prevent landlords with a history of tenant harassment in their buildings from accessing building permits unless they committed to setting aside a portion of the building as permanently affordable housing. The goal is not actually to create new affordable housing, but to set up an effective deterrent to harassment, by saying harassing tenants will actually cut into owners’ future profits.
But as we know from the changes in our three neighborhoods, this bill will only truly protect New York City tenants if it includes a powerful financial deterrent. As it now stands, we can do better.
It is up to our councilmembers and the administration to bring the potential this legislation has into into action in our city today. Let’s make this legislation as strong as we can in order to give tenants and communities a special reason to be thankful this year.
Sofia Green is a Bushwick resident and a member of Make the Road New York. Felix Urena is a Morningside Heights resident who works with the organizers of the Goddard Riverside Law Project. Bishop James I. Clark is the Senior Pastor of Christ Temple Church; the Director of the Social Justice, Economic, and Racial Equality Commission for the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith; a member of the board of the New York Interfaith Commission for Housing Equality; and the co-chair of the board of Faith in New York, a multi-faith, multi-racial, and citywide network of congregations organizing for social justice. All three are members of the Coalition Against Tenant Harassment, a coalition of community organizations from around the city that are fighting against the displacement of low-income tenants through grassroots organizing and by promoting new proactive tools to disincentivize tenant harassment.