85 Bowery Tenants Launch Hunger Strike; Niou and Kavanagh Urge Speedy Repairs

Feb. 2, 2018. Protest at the offices of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development on Gold Street.

Feb. 2, 2018. Protest at the offices of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development on Gold Street.

Some of the residents of 85 Bowery will be staging a hunger strike at the offices of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) in Lower Manhattan beginning at 11 a.m. today.

It has been three weeks since city inspectors ordered a full vacate order on the 16-unit tenement due to structural stability concerns. The owner, Joseph Betesh, is in the midst of replacing a stairwell and making other critical repairs. The tenants, who have been fighting Betesh in court for several years, say the vacate order was merely a ploy to deprive them of their rent stabilized apartments. While city officials initially gave the property owner two weeks to fix the building, they now concede tenants will be displaced for at least eight weeks.

A hunger strike was announced at a rally this past Friday, and it’s set to begin later today. The 83-85 Bowery Tenant Association has made the following demands: a firm deadline for residents to return, a promise to prosecute Betesh if he fails to meet the deadline, a promise from the landlord not to make alterations to apartments without consent from tenants and confirmation that the vacate order will be lifted when the staircase is replaced. There are at least 75 tenants at 85 Bowery. We were told 11 would be taking part in the hunger strike, although later reports indicated 6 were actually camped out in front of HPD’s offices. The action is being supported by a local advocacy organization, the Coalition to Protect Chinatown & the Lower East Side.

“The fact that human beings,” wrote the coalition in a Facebook invite, “are being deprived of their basic right to housing, and must resort to such extreme measures is egregious. We ask that you support and stand in solidarity with the Bowery Tenants in these critical moments. Your support is your way of fighting displacement across the city.”

Yesterday we heard from two local elected officials who are among those trying to help the displaced tenants. Along with several colleagues, they wrote a letter to city and state officials Jan. 26 that raised many questions about the handling of the situation at 85 Bowery. The agencies responded in the past several days (more about that in a moment).

State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou said in a statement:

The tenants of 85 Bowery continue to be without a home, and it’s critical that repairs be done quickly and safely so families can return to their homes as soon as possible. I understand tenants’ skepticism on repairs given the landlord’s track record of willful neglect, and I will continue to push both the City and landlord for accountability and speedy construction. It is a positive step that the City is exploring taking over repairs should the landlord fail to meet construction milestones. However, the pressure must be kept as we approach three weeks since the vacate order left dozens of families homeless. Lunar New Year is about a week away, and it’s a shame that my constituents will welcome this significant holiday without their homes. I will continue to stand with tenants and keep pressuring for quick repairs at 85 Bowery.
State Sen. Brain Kavanagh added:
My office and our colleagues in government have been working every day to ensure that City and State agencies are taking all appropriate steps to hold the landlord accountable, protect the tenants’ rights, and enable them to return to their homes. I appreciate these written responses to our ongoing advocacy and particularly the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s efforts to clarify the City’s approach. It is disappointing to me and to the tenants that they will not be home for Lunar New Year. I remain committed to supporting them during this crisis, and to working with the City and with my colleagues to ensure the repairs are completed and the vacate order is lifted as soon as the building is safe.
83-85 Bowery.

83-85 Bowery.

In its response, HPD delivered the unwelcome news that repairs are expected to take eight weeks (six weeks to replace the stairwell, two weeks to address other other safety issues, including the removal of, “unsafe partitions that are blocking means of egress.”) HPD said repairs are underway and that inspectors from the Department of Buildings are visiting the building daily. “If the owner,” wrote HPD Assistant Commissioner Francecs Marti, “does not continue to do the work necessary to rebuild the stairs and the DOB issues an Immediate Declaration of Emergency, HPD will be prepared to contract out the necessary work to restore the building to occupancy.”

The landlord, tenants city agencies are due back in court today. At that time, the city will seek a court order to ensure that Betesh carries out construction, “on the agreed-upon timeline.”

A spokesperson from 8385 Bowery LLC, Betesh’s holding company, said in a statement:

Our team is working diligently each day to repair and replace the severely damaged infrastructure of 85 Bowery and make the building safe for habitation. Any reports claiming that we seek to demolish the building or replace it with a hotel or condominiums are false. We all share the same goal – moving families back into their homes as quickly as possible. We understand this a very difficult time for families of 85 Bowery and we are providing quality hotel accommodations in Chinatown, for the duration of repairs, so families are able to remain in the local community while our work continues.

Although the tenants were initially relocated to a shelter/hotel in Brooklyn, Betesh eventually agreed to provide 18 rooms at the Wyndham Garden Chinatown, a hotel just up the street from 85 Bowery. Not all of the tenants are staying in the hotel, however.

 

HPD Response to 85 Bowery by The Lo-Down on Scribd

DHCR Response to 85 Bowery by The Lo-Down on Scribd