85 Bowery – 100 days and counting

By Andrew H

Tenants evicted from 85 Bowery more than 100 days ago will rally on the steps of City Hall May 30 to demand that Mayor de Blasio guarantee a date they can return to their homes. DSA has co-sponsored the rally, which will deliver this petition. Join us there to tell the city to stand up for tenants, not luxury developers!

Developer Joseph Betesh bought 11 buildings along the rapidly gentrifying Bowery for $62 million in 2013, betting that he could push out long-term, low-income tenants and hike rents. Tenants in two of the buildings, 83 and 85 Bowery, have made it difficult for him to cash in on his bet. Working closely with the Chinese Staff and Workers Association in Chinatown, they organized a tenants’ association and have successfully defeated numerous eviction attempts.

The tenants, mostly immigrants from Fujian Province in China, have also become strong allies in the zoning struggles against luxury development and displacement in the neighborhood. DSA became involved in the tenants’ struggle last fall by helping to organize a boycott of Betesh’s clothing store chain, Dr. Jay’s, and supporting protests outside outlets in Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Early this year, it became clear that the tenants were likely to win a major ruling in their favor from the State Supreme Court, so Betesh got the Department of Buildings to declare 85 Bowery unsafe. The building had been deteriorating for years, as the city failed to enforce court orders for the landlord to make repairs. Though the city had responded sluggishly to tenant complaints of harassment, it acted with lightning speed when the landlord expressed concern over unsafe conditions he himself had created.

On January 18, an emergency vacate order was issued for 85 Bowery. About 75 tenants—including seniors and infants—were thrown out within a couple of hours. (Tenants of 83 Bowery remain in their homes, though harassment continues.) Tenants in 85 Bowery were told they’d be able to move home when repairs were completed, in about two weeks.

Two weeks came and went. When it became clear the city wouldn’t get them home quickly, eight tenants staged a five-day hunger strike in front of the Department. of Housing, Preservation and Development. Members of DSA worked with the Chinese Staff and Workers Association and other neighborhood groups to coordinate support and publicize the action.

Mayor de Blasio has appointed his Commissioner of Community Affairs to oversee the landlord’s repair process, but city agencies still refuse to guarantee a date for the tenants’ return. The tenants haven’t been allowed inside to collect their belongings, and in April, workers employed by Betesh threw bags of tenant possessions—including jewelry, family portraits and money—into a dumpster. Tenants had to sift through trash to recover what they could.

To help the tenants and fight gentrification and displacement, contact the Lower Manhattan branch at lower.manhattan@socialists.nyc.