Supporters of tenants of 273 Lee Avenue rallied last Wednesday evening in the rain, chanting and sharing their stories. The residents spoke about the conditions in which they live, and accused the landlord of discrimination based on race.
Sara Oyola, who has lived in Williamsburg for three decades, said her family received an eviction notice two weekends ago after they lost in housing court. According to attorneys representing the tenants, the residents also filed a federal case, accusing the landlord of violating Fair Housing laws.
A judge heard that case on Monday as the families await the decision.
“We’ve been here awhile,” Oyola said in Spanish. “We’ve been trying to fight this case for a long time.”
Oyola’s daughter, Carolina Varela, said for now their family is packing their belongings, clothes and other items into bins in case they have to leave immediately. They’re also getting rid of things “that we don’t need.”
“It’s hard to look for a new apartment right away,” she said. “It’s hard to get everything done within a week or two.”
Varela said the landlord has treated the building’s three Latina families unfairly. She said they often don’t do a good job making appropriate fixes or come to appointments unprepared.
“If you look at the apartment, you’ll see the paint job and floors are cracked, the walls are cracked,” she said. “It’s like us they’re telling us they don’t really want us here.
“We had to take days off work. They tell us someone is going to come and fix, and they don’t come,” she added. “Or we set a time and they come here late or without the materials. It’s really frustrating.”
Cindy Sanchez, a 20-year tenant of the building, said it’s especially difficult during the winter. Their landlord won’t work on anything over the weekend for religious reasons, Sanchez said. That often leaves tenants without heat.
“It’ll be ridiculous to be carrying my kid with layers and layers of sweaters. You’re calling the management office and they’re closed,” she said. “If we’re lucky, we will get heat Sunday night or Sunday afternoon. If not, we will have to wait until Monday.
“It will always be every weekend, it’s been going on for years,” Sanchez added. “If it’s not heat, it’s hot water.”
Attorneys from Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, who are representing the tenants in court, said the landlord has made several attempts to force the residents out through eviction. Varela said the landlord told her he wants the first floor for his daughter, even though he owns several properties in north Brooklyn.
Barbara Schliff, an organizer with the community organization Los Sures, said many years ago, the tenant association took the landlord at 273 Lee Avenue to housing court and won. An administrator was appointed to the building to make repairs.
But when the court gave the building back to the landlord “conditions went down again,” she said. Then a new owner bought the building and wanted to kick out the tenants.
“This has happened too much in our community, we have to stop it,” Schliff said. “This displacement is not fair. It’s happening to the people who have lived here for years and years, who have fought for the community and are living here.”
Sanchez said she has noticed the changing demographics in her neighborhood.
“I saw the neighborhood change in a flash. I walk outside and it’s not where I grew up as a girl,” she said. “They make me feel like I don’t belong here, I shouldn’t feel like that.”
Kathleen Santiago, who has lived in the building for 32 years, said she felt the same way. She lives with her husband, two sons and a granddaughter, and said she would have nowhere else to go.
“I am tired,” she said. “I don’t want to be removed from my apartment because I love my community.”
Varela said she’s currently staying with her sister, while her mother, Oyola is staying with her other sister. Her brother is moving to Florida.
“It was so fast,” she said. “Within a week, they’re telling us we have to leave.”
But Varela said she knows her mother “is a fighter” and will join the remaining families in the building to stand their ground. Despite the uncertainty of their future at 273 Lee Avenue, where their families have lived for decades, Varela said she will continue to fight.
“We’ve been through it for such a long time,” she said. “We’re not going to let that happen to us.”