CASA discusses strategy to fend off displacement

(l-r) CASA leaders Christian and Vega-Rivera lead the presentation on displacement.
Community News Group / Steven Goodstein

A tenant advocacy group recently released a white paper – but the paper’s color signifies anything but a surrender.

On Thursday, May 18, fair-housing organization Community Action for Safe Apartments released ’Resisting Displacement in the Southwest Bronx: Lessons from CASA’s Tenant Organizing’, during a briefing at the New Settlement Community Center, 1501 Jerome Avenue.

In the 22-page report packet, CASA addresses displacement, landlord tactics, tenant harassment, rezoning and other challenges that residents have faced since the proposed rezoning of a 73-block corridor along Jerome Avenue was announced by the mayor’s office.

The upzoning from manufacturing to high residential will impact nearly 25,000 households in that section of the Bronx.

The primary purpose of the strategic report is to expose tactics that landlords will use to displace tenants, which includes charging non-rent fees, denial of basic repairs and services and high rents charges through preferential rent loopholes for landlords who manage rent-stabilized apartments.

Following a slideshow presentation by CASA, those in attendance, which was mostly comprised of media, separated into groups to discuss possible solutions for tenants who have suffered displacement or and are in jeopardy of being forced to leave their homes.

Each group concluded that tenant participation, organization, such as the formation of tenant associations, recording landlord watch lists as well as maintaining records and documents were key strategies that tenants could use to resist displacement.

The groups also concluded that nonresponsive landlords, extended court cases, illegal buyouts and tenant intimidation also contribute to forcing tenants to leave.

“These landlords are new kind of predator,” said Omar Owens, a resident of 1005 Jerome Avenue for nearly 60 years. “We are being forced to leave communities where we have lived for decades. We stayed here during the tough times, we helped build this borough back up – and now (the residents) are being run out of our homes.”

“One-bedrooms in the five boroughs are currently going for $1,500, $1,700 – even $1,900,” said Stacey Batista, another Jerome Avenue resident. “The Bronx has some of the lowest rents in the city – so there is nowhere for us to go.”

“The goal here is to assist the tenants of this area in resisting displacement with information and knowledge so they are not taken advantage of,” said Fitzroy Christian, leader of CASA, who led the briefing with Carmen Vega-Rivera, another CASA leader.

In the last year, CASA has provided assistance to more than 7,000 tenants in over 90 buildings. The tenants have faced a lack of repairs, landlord harassment and shortage of affordable housing.

“This white paper is important because it clearly and accurately defines displacement to counter the false assertion that most tenants leave their neighborhood by choice,” said Susanna Blankley, director of CASA. “Tenants are being forced out of their homes because they do not have adequate protections – not because they want to leave. The city has to do more to protect tenants and ensure them that there is safe, affordable housing in the Bronx.”

All are invited to attend the Bronx Public Hearing on Monday, June 12 from 5 to 8 p.m. in the lower gallery of the Bronx Museum, 1040 Grand Concourse, at East 165th Street.

More from Around NYC