LES Tenant Activist Evicted From Apartment

Tenants' Rights Rally

Maizie Torres at 10th Street vigil, April 22nd. Photo by A. Jesse Jiryu Davis

This week a Lower East Side tenant activist, Maizie Torres, appears to have lost a long-running battle to stay in her East 10th Street apartment.  Acting on a court order, Torres’ landlord (Center Development Corp.), planned to evict her this morning. Torres is a longtime organizer with the influential housing preservation organization, Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES). Over the weekend, GOLES sent out a press release blasting the landlord, prominent affordable housing developer William Hubbard:

…Maizie Torres has been a champion of the Lower East Side and will not go down without a fight.  We need to put an end to tenant harassment.  We will fight to the end, and past, to defend HUD tenants’ right to organize,” said Damaris Reyes, Executive Director of Good Old Lower East Side [GOLES]. CDC Management has used its massive legal reach to break down the spirit of Ms. Torres and criminalize her family for the purpose of stifling her tenants association.   Maizie’s landlord … (and his staff) started their campaign against Ms. Torres in 2002 when Maizie worked, as a single mother of four children—in the immediate aftermath of her successful organizing drive to build the Lower East Side Phase I & II Tenant Association. CDC Management took opportunity after opportunity to bring Maizie to court to entrap her into probations.  In 8 years of frivolous litigation, CDC Management forced her to quit her job due to constant harassment of her children; forced her family to live in the overcrowded conditions of a six member family in a two bedroom apartment; endangered the well being of her family by colluding with known questionable residents in their harassment campaign; and blamed her for problems that were actually rooted in 30 year old plumbing…

This morning, we contacted Hubbard, who said his on-site staff have described the Torres situation as a case of “chronic non-payment (of rent)” and other issues relating to “the quiet enjoyment by her neighbors (of their apartments).” Hubbard said a New York City housing court judge approved an agreement many months ago requiring Torres to “vacate” her apartment in six to nine months. Hubbard told me he has been advised the case was considered on its merits, and that the court “operated accurately and appropriately.”

Asked about the accusations that the eviction is merely retaliation for Torres’ tenant activism, Hubbard said he believed the tenant association had not been active for at least 5 years, perhaps longer. The court would not have ordered the eviction, he argued, if there were not “ample grounds” for the decision. “I can say categorically that (retaliation) was not our motivation.”

Tenants' Rights Rally

Pastor Fernando De Leon, speaking at last month's vigil. Photo by A. Jesse Jiryu Davis.

Last month,  GOLES organized a vigil and protest outside the apartment on 10th Street, near Avenue C. Several activists spoke – and Torres received words of encouragement from representatives of U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Councilmember Rosie Mendez.

As the event was breaking up, another group lined up on the opposite side of the street. The two groups heckled each other, and then two young women became involved in a brief fist fight. Several men pulled them away moments before a NYPD cruiser arrived. No charges were filed.

Torres’ most recent troubles began last summer, after another fight in the lobby of her building, in which her son’s pregnant girlfriend was allegedly attacked by a group of women. Maizie Torres became involved in the altercation and, in a later court hearing, signed a document agreeing to give up her apartment. According to Angel Seda, a GOLES organizer, the incidents are all connected — and part of a campaign by another family to intimidate Torres, and her five children.

Torres was featured in a New York Times article in 2000 about a “Section 8″ rent subsidy dispute with Hubbard. She also authored an article published online a year later, after Hubbard agreed to stay in the program. Torres was one of the main organizers of a group, “Mothers and Fathers in Arms,” which was created last summer to combat youth violence.