Brooklyn Housing and Family Services, the 37-year-old non-profit tenant advocacy organization, held its annual awards dinner recently.
The dinner represented a rare moment of self-congratulation for an organization whose small staff of 14 tirelessly fights the good fight against unscrupulous landlords.
Since its founding in 1971 by a young community advocate named Marty Markowitz, BHFS has served between 50,000 and 60,000 tenants in approximately 1,200 buildings.
Its staff is as diverse as the borough it serves, providing services for those who speak English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and French Creole.
“We can literally help anybody who walks through the door – that’s our ultimate goal,” said Executive Director Larry Jayson, who came to the organization in 1979.
While BHFS seeks to help all Brooklynites, it does not cover those living in Community Boards 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6. If a tenant living in those neighborhoods comes into the office, BHFS refers them to an organization that serves their area.
The bulk of the organization’s funding comes from the city’s Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the State’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR). Because BHFS also runs safety and education programs for children, the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development contributes funding as well.
“We’re often a trouble-shooter for HPD and DHCR, and we’ve trained many City Council members’ staffs” said Jayson, underscoring the vital importance of BHFS to the city.
At their annual dinner, the organization usually honors someone from the political, governmental, education, health, and legal fields.
This year’s recipient in the political category was Councilman Simcha Felder, who Jayson said “has been very supportive of our organization in the City Council.”
For his part, Felder said: “It’s organizations like this that make the city livable. I am grateful to be an honoree tonight, but more importantly, I’m grateful this organization does outstanding work on behalf of Brooklyn tenants.”
Vito Mustaciuolo, an associate commissioner at HPD, was the recipient in the governmental category.
“He’s a hero to any tenant. When there’s a ‘problem building,’ he’s the guy we call,” said Jayson.
In the education category, Lynne Olsen-Pagano, the administrative assistant to the principal at Ditmas IS 62 (700 Cortelyou Road), received the honor for her help with the organization’s program for children.
In the health category, the recipient was Dr. Michael H. Weiss, Director of Otolaryngology (head and neck) Surgery at Maimonides Medical Center (4802 Tenth Avenue). Jayson described Weiss as “a real community-oriented, Brooklyn guy.”
In the legal category, the honoree was Hon. Maria Milin, a judge in the City’s Housing Court.
“A lot of tenants have appeared in front of her. We believe she is a very fair, honest judge of great integrity,” said Jayson.
Jayson took time to remind tenants of some of their basic rights.
For instance, landlords are responsible for making all necessary repairs to an apartment. In addition, landlords must paint apartments every three years.
Also, Jayson said that many tenants do not pursue their security deposits after they move out of an apartment even though they are entitled.
“Security deposit loss is probably in the millions of dollars in this city,” he said.
Jayson recommended that communication with landlords – whether about repairs, security deposits, or anything else – should be conducted in writing via certified mail.
“Notify the landlord in writing. Tell him what the problem is, give him a number to reach you back at and a time you can let someone in for the repairs,” he recommended.
Also, Jayson stressed that tenants in large buildings should join together to form a unified front before enlisting the help of Brooklyn Family Services and confronting their landlord.
“If you’re standing in the lobby face-to-face with your landlord alone, I can guarantee you’re going to be more intimidated than if you’re standing there with 25 people who have the same problems you do,” he said.
“Empowerment is a big thing.”
Brooklyn Housing and Family Services is located at 415 Albemarle Road. The organization can be reached at 718-435-7585.