Fight The Power

South Bronx Tenants Plan Day of Action

by Christian Decker

Editor-In-Chief

This article probably should have been published two days ago, but because my internet has been crapping out, I haven’t gotten the chance to publish.

In any event, in shadows of Covid-19, there are people who are starting to say that we’re not going to take it. Two days ago, the paper got an email from bronxtenantsunited@gmail.com, detailing a day of action going on today, April 1st, at the corner of Willis Avenue and East 139th Street in the Bronx. At 2pm, the tenants in the South Bronx will converge to demand rent freezes as well as better living conditions during this international pandemic.

Although recently we’ve been going through some dark times, it’s heartening to see that some people are using this opportunity to promote collective action. I can’t say anything better about the situation than the tenants have themselves, so here is their full press release that they sent to us:

TENANTS OF EAST 139TH STREET IN THE SOUTH BRONX DEMAND PERMANENT RENT FORGIVENESS AND SAFER CONDITIONS DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS

________________________________________________________

Protest DetailsPress Contact
Location:  Corner of Willis Avenue and East 139th Street, BronxTime: 2pm on Wednesday, April 1st Emmanuel Pardilla 
South Bronx Tenants Movement
(646) 6676024 bronxtenantsunited@gmail.com 

The Tenant Associations (TAs) of two adjacent buildings in the South Bronx — 386 and 380 East 139th Street —  demand that their rent be forgiven for the duration of the COVID-19 public health crisis. The TAs also demand that their landlords and the City of New York immediately improve conditions in their apartments. Tenants refuse to acquiesce to dangerous and unhealthy conditions, like mold, leaks, pests, and lack of cooking gas while they are being asked to quarantine in their homes to stem this crisis. Moreover, because the landlord of 380 has a mortgage financed by Freddie Mac, they have the option to request a debt service deferral. In light of that, the 380 TA demands that money saved from that payment deferral be put back into the building to keep tenants safe and healthy during the crisis. 

Tenants are planning an action in their buildings to express these demands at 2pm on Wednesday, April 1st, the day that rent is due. The action will take every precaution to abide by NYC health and safety guidelines. 

386 East 139th Street

The tenants of 386 East 139th Street have been organizing against notorious landlord Saul Piller in an effort to make their conditions livable. The TA has had to battle pest infestations, mold, leaks, irregular availability of heat and hot water, and a decrepit staircase that has made living in the building difficult for families and the elderly. For the past year and a half, tenants have been in housing court in an ongoing battle to remedy issues that they refused to grow accustomed to. 

With preexisting health issues caused by living in these conditions many tenants have developed asthma, and they are concerned that they may be particularly vulnerable to the Coronavirus. As they struggle to stay indoors, many are forced to go out to work so that they can purchase food and have money prepared in case the landlord charges them rent. But many others decided to take the government’s advice to prioritize their health and stay home. 

Juana Mercado, a long time tenant with multiple generations of family members living in the building, said, “If I had the option to stay home and not work I would do it for my health and my family, but if my housing is insecure then I would have to work because I have to afford food for my children and pay the rent.”

Last week, tenants received their bill underneath their doors and they are questioning why the government has not canceled rent prior to telling people to stay home. To this, Juana added, “I want the Governor to be conscious of the communities of renters… we should not pay rent in this crisis. The Governor should protect the rights of tenants not landlords, they have money… we don’t. I ask that the Governor cancels rent, it would give great peace of mind to people and keep people home.” The Tenant Association has since sent a letter to their landlord and local council member that they will not be paying rent. 

380 East 139th Street

The tenants of 380 East 139th Street, a 10-unit building owned by Carlo Careddu, have also formed a Tenant Association. Tenants have not had cooking gas since October, 2019 and now in the midst of the crisis he is trying to install an electric system that would allow him to put electric stoves in everyone’s apartment. The tenants do not want an electric stove as they foresee a looming MCI increase to their rent for this upgrade. Long standing tenant, Rosalba Flores said, “I would really prefer the gas. We sent our letter and he’s (the landlord) ignoring us.” 

When tenants called the landlord to discuss their letter, they were met with insults as well as a temporary black out of the building courtesy of electrical workers that refused to say if they were licensed or not. In the conversation, Mr. Careddu expressed, “I don’t need to acknowledge the Tenant’s Association, it’s not an LLC. This is my building, not yours.” 

The Tenant Association at 380 also confronted the landlord about the rat infestation on the first floor, mold throughout the building, leaks, holes, little to no electrical outlets in bedrooms and broken ceilings. Sandra Ayala, a long time tenant of the building and first floor resident describes what she has to do to barricade her family from rats: “Under here there’s holes, I have to put this (slab of wood) here, this sticky thing here so the rats won’t come in.” She has attributed the rats and clutter used to ward off the rats from entering as determinants for her asthma. 

Finally, even though the building was purchased for $1.25 million in 2004 along with the adjacent building, by 2017 the landlord was able to secure a mortgage totaling $2.85 million, which was eventually purchased by Freddie Mac. The difference between the purchase price and the total loan principal is the landlord’s equity, meaning that the landlord has made approximately $1.5 million on the rising asset value of the buildings over time. 

Freddie Mac recently announced a 3-month mortgage payment deferral program for its landlord borrowers, in exchange for the promise not to evict tenants. However, the 380 TA believes this does not go nearly far enough. According to Freddie Mac data, debt service on this large loan totals approximately 50% of the entire rent collected. This means that a deferral of payment would save the landlord a significant amount of money, and given how much money the landlord has made over the years on the building, tenants demand that the saved cost of mortgage payments should be put back into the building, to improve conditions to a level that makes it a safe and habitable place to quarantine. 

Tenants will be meeting on Wednesday, April 1st, at 2pm on the corner of Willis Avenue and 139th street, to drop a banner letting the governor know that tenants in the Bronx want rents to be canceled and their homes to be habitable as they attempt to shelter-in-place. 

Tenants will be available to be interviewed in both English and Spanish.

The South Bronx Tenants Movement is a grassroots organization that unites residents in the South Bronx to build a fight back movement against tenant displacement by promoting tenant power.

These guys could use all the help they could get, so if you are able to help, consider shooting them and email, or finding out other ways to get involved.

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