Demetrius, a native New Yorker with family roots in tenants’ rights, has lived in his Bushwick apartment for 17 years.
“My mother raised me knowing the importance of diversity and exercising your rights. She was an activist for tenants’ rights in the 60s during my childhood. Growing up in the Upper West Side, I learned the value of many cultures and social classes living together and learning from each other. It is something that attracted me to live in Bushwick. But increased gentrification is making that harder and harder to maintain.”
Demetrius is that friend that everyone goes to for advice. As Demetrius himself was facing problems in his apartment and heard the same from neighbors, he knew they should organize and work together for a common goal, to make their lives and living situations better. While the landlord may find it easy to ignore individual tenant demands, a group of tenants speaking with one voice may be harder to ignore. Demetrius became President of his apartment building’s tenant association.
“Those of us that have lived in rent-regulated apartments for a long time have experienced what feels like every kind of challenge and discrimination from our former landlord. I have temporarily lost my hearing due to mold in the apartment, which impacted my ability to work. I have lost tens of thousands of dollars due to water damage from leaks. The owner has overtly discriminated against me for the color of my skin. He tried to make me believe that I could not use my disability voucher to pay my rent. I have my real estate license so know none of this was right.”
Demetrius and other members of his tenants’ association, with the help of attorneys and organizers at Brooklyn A, have fought to uphold their fair housing rights. Their achievements include the return of overcharged rent, and winning the appointment of a 7A administrator on the building to step into the owner’s shoes to receive the rent roll and make necessary repairs. Brooklyn A and the tenant association ultimately won the transfer of the building to a more reasonable owner who, under the tenant association’s watchful eyes, has made critical repairs and restored housing subsidies.
Access to free legal services is crucial in ensuring access to justice for communities of color. If services like the ones Brooklyn A provides were not available, Demetrius and others would be face harassment alone – with real consequences to health, housing stability, and wellbeing – without having advocates to help balance the scale of justice.
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