The rats just tore the grate open,” Marie Miranda tells me, pointing to a large hole outside her building at 231 East 117th Street in East Harlem. “I see them coming out of there all the time.” The thick metal slab is bent back despite, she said, multiple repairs by the building’s residents. It was late August, and Marie, a 66-year-old former salsa dancer and waitress, and I had just come from a tenants union meeting held in the back offices of Manhattan Legal Services. Eight tenants from 231 East 117th met to discuss strategies for confronting the building’s owner, Emerald Equity, a private equity firm, and doing something about their horrendous living conditions.
Emerald Equity and the company it hired to oversee the six-story walkup, ArchRock Management, were harassing undocumented tenants, threatening to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they complained, and forcing many to move out. There had been no hot water in the building since Aug. 1, and the gas had been shut off July 1. Some tenants had been without gas for nearly a year — the result of unpermitted construction in seven recently vacated apartments, which workers were converting to luxury homes.
The tenants had recently formed a union and filed a lawsuit against 231 E 117 LLC, the limited liability corporation that serves as a shell for Emerald Equity. They discussed a rent strike, seeking rent abatements and how to reach residents of other buildings owned by the company, in the hopes of forming a coalition. In the months that followed, their organizing efforts would provide a glimpse into both the potential of tenant-led struggles against gentrification and the nitty-gritty challenges facing them — at a time when profit-seeking investors are trying to drive out tenants in many of New York City’s 900,000 rent-stabilized apartments. // Photo by Isaak Liptzin. Text by Georgia Kromrei. To read the full article go to Indypendent.org
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Brooklyn, New York