Bronx tenants protest Fannie and Freddie

Banging drums and chanting as they held signs, more than 100 Bronxites rallied at the midtown offices of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to demand fair treatment from landlords.

On Thursday, August 12, the group, which was led by the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Association and the Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) New Settlement Apartments, marched from the offices all the way to Grand Central Terminal.

Their goal was to send a message that the two mortgage giants need to work with tenants to help cut down on predatory landlords who neglect their properties and ignore renters’ rights.

“I hope it made people aware of what’s going on here,” said Rebecca Benn, a resident at 2427 Webster Avenue. “Going to their front door, and letting them know in person… they didn’t like that very much.”

For the last 10 years that Benn has lived at the Webster Avenue building it has been neglected by the landlord, she said.

According to Benn and officials that organized the rally, the building is one of many across the country that was being purposefully neglected by landlords in order to force tenants out so rents could be raised.

Most buildings owned by the neglectful landlords simply deteriorated and owners began to lose money on the properties, organizers said.

When the owner of the Webster building started defaulting on its loan with Fannie Mae, Benn was hopeful that the bank would force out the landlord and work with the tenants to find a responsible owner who would maintain the building and treat the tenants fairly.

But the tenants were not consulted, and Fannie Mae sold the property to the highest bidder, Benn said.

“With the last landlord we had no heat, no hot water, no working elevator, and there are people living here with disabled kids,” Benn said. “We’re just trying to make sure that any new landlord doesn’t let the building go back to that, but we’ll wait and see.”

According to Tamara Czyzyk, of CASA, Benn’s story is common for tenants in buildings owned by predatory landlords.

The group that rallied is demanding that the companies restructure mortgage loans so that new property owners will not look to increase profits by ignoring tenants or purposefully neglecting properties.

“This can’t be a building-by-building decision. It needs to be a policy change,” Czyzyk said. “The bad players need to be taken out. Their intentions were not good and they can’t be turned into good owners. New owners need to be brought in. We prefer non-profits because that keeps away speculation.”

Although tenants at the Thursday rally were turned away from the doors at Fannie Mae, officials from Freddie Mac agreed to pass a letter along to company executives of the group’s demands.

“I’m hoping that they really do something about it,” Benn said, who recently traveled to Washington D.C. to bring the issue to U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “Most people don’t know and they don’t care, but we’re just asking for what we deserve.”

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

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