In a sanctuary city, immigrants forced out of their Bowery home

BY CHRISTOPHER MARTE | Residents of 85 Bowery came home from work and school last Thursday evening to flashing sirens and swarms of officers from various City agencies. Lines of yellow tape, news anchors and cameramen blocked the entrance to their front door. Officers spoke only English, while many of the residents spoke only Chinese. When a translator was finally found, residents were told they had two hours to pack. They were being forced out.

Children as young as a few months old, as well as seniors in their 90s, climbed down their broken staircase for what many feared was the last time, clutching suitcases and tote bags filled with only the necessities. The Department of Buildings issued a full vacate order, ruling the slanting staircase to be unsafe, and the fire escapes to be unstable.

Tenants of 85 Bowery being vacated from their building based on a judge’s ruling that the interior was unsafe.

Just weeks after receiving the support of New York State Homes and Community Renewal in an ongoing court case regarding the status of their rent-regulated units, this eviction came as a painful blow to tenants who have been struggling against their landlord for years. They say that the landlord, Joseph Betesh, has been neglecting building repairs in a deliberate attempt to either get the building condemned and build a hotel, or gut the units and renovate them into luxury condos. While his end goal has only been hinted at, his short-term objective has always been clear: remove the rent-stabilized tenants from the building.

The tenants now find themselves in a mice-infested hotel shelter in East New York. They are far from school, work, senior centers and the neighborhood they have always called home. According to the D.O.B. order, the repairs must happen within two weeks of the eviction notice. As of this writing, the landlord has eight days to comply, but has not yet filed the request to begin construction. No notification has been given to residents as to when they can return.

On Jan. 24, residents and more than 100 neighbors rallied outside the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s Lower Manhattan offices to demand that the city agency expend just as much energy getting the tenants back into their homes as it did to evict them. The agency ignored their pleas.

The deadline for the construction to be finished and for the tenants to return to their homes has now come and gone. There is now no timeline, and these 75 New Yorkers are left in a torturous limbo of bureaucracy and greed.

Displaced tenants from 85 Bowery and supporters rallying outside the offices of H.P.D. last week.

As New York City continues to brand itself as a sanctuary city, we must not forget about the immigrant families that came here decades ago to build the thriving communities we live in today.

If you would like to help with the immediate needs of these low-income tenants, please consider donating to their tenants association: gofundme.com/stopdisplacement, and attending a rally to support them on Fri., Feb 2, at 3:30 p.m., outside H.P.D.’s offices at 100 Gold St.

Marte was a candidate for City Council in Lower Manhattan’s District 1 in last year’s primary and general elections

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