Residents of a privately-run Prospect Lefferts Gardens homeless shelter says they’re living in a moldy, rat-infested dump — but they don’t want to leave.
The city says it plans to relocate formerly-homeless residents of an apartment building at 60 Clarkson Ave., where the Department of Homeless Services has been paying landlord Barry Hers to house families it doesn’t have room for in its own shelters. But the residents and attorneys rallying to help them say they have been living in the building long enough to have rights as tenants, so the city can’t just up and move them on a whim.
“We have civil rights, tenant rights, and human rights,” said Ashanti Jackson, who shares a one-bedroom apartment with her husband and four kids.
Lease-holding tenants once occupied the 83 rent-stabilized apartments at 60 Clarkson, but Hers began moving homeless families into the complex several years ago, cashing in on a city program that pays landlords $3,000 per apartment to house the homeless, according to housing advocates.
Only around six of the original rent-paying tenants now remain, but advocates and attorneys claim moving homeless families into a rent-stabilized property does not alter the building’s status, and that the once-homeless legally became de facto rent-stabilized tenants after living the building for 30 days.
“Our position is they are rent-stabilized tenants and they cannot be forced to leave unless they opt to,” said Katie Brennan of the Legal Aid Society, which joined tenants, housing advocacy groups, and local pols at a rally outside the building last Wednesday.
But the building is far from home sweet home — occupants claim it is unsafe, unhygienic, and plagued by mold and vermin. Housing activists claim Hers deliberately ran the building into the ground to drive out all his rent-stabilized tenants — who were paying less than $1,000 a month, according to one of the attorneys — to make way for the more lucrative homeless ones.
One shelter resident says her apartment is nearly unlivable for her 6-year-old son, whose asthma has been exacerbated by the nasty conditions.
“Last September, the ceiling caved-in in the bathroom and my son came down with an asthma attack and wound up in the hospital,” said Darlene Fernandez. “A lot of these tenants and their kids have asthma and are allergic to the roach feces, mildew, and mold.”
But residents worry the city will transfer them to even more squalid facilities. They say the city has proposed moving them down the street to 250 and 270 Clarkson Ave., where they claim the rooms are just as filthy and the doors are falling down.
“It’s a disgrace,” said Fernandez. “They’re in the same condition or worse. The doors are off the hinges, they have animal feces in the bathroom and rats in the hallway.”
The residents also fear that moving to buildings even further afield would uproot their kids, who attend local schools.
“Everybody has school-aged kids, and the kids don’t want to keep moving to new schools every year,” said Jackson. “It’s not like they’d be moving us somewhere permanent.”
The homeless residents say Hers is now trying to drive them out as well, and served them with eviction notices on June 29 that said they had 24 hours to scram. The Department of Homeless Services says Hers’s eviction orders are not valid — he can’t just kick their clients out with a day’s notice — but it still plans to boot the residents itself within 90 days.
Legal Aid reps say they haven’t taken any legal action yet, but if residents like Jackson and Fernandez are willing to fight to stay at 60 Clarkson and are willing to become plaintiffs in a lawsuit, the lawyers will campaign for them to be recognized as rent-stabilized tenants.
But some formerly-homeless residents say they would only opt to stay as the lesser of two evils. If the city offered them a more safe, hygienic, and comfortable alternative, they would leave their current hellhole in a heartbeat.
“It’s been seven months of hell,” said Marquita Holloway said of her seven months living at 60 Clarkson with her two children.
Hers could not be reached for comment.