Before even five people had appeared on Imani Henry’s front stoop on East 22nd Street around noon on Sunday, a squad car from the 70th Precinct slowly rolled to a halt. The two officers inside lowered their windows and chatted with Henry before parking their car further down the block. Within 15 minutes, six officers were milling about on the curb.
Henry, who had begun passing out fliers on the street, bristled at their presence.
“We are viewing this as an occupation,” Henry told the small crowd of people from the top of his front steps.
“Do you see who our base is?” he wondered aloud to the officers. “Do you not see who is here today?”
Henry, a local activist against gentrification in Flatbush, was hosting a move out party of sorts – except he was being evicted.
On the steps and on the tiny concrete front lawn of his Flatbush apartment, members of Equality for Flatbush and Taking it Back Before It’s Gone, rallied to support the rights of unregulated tenants. About 15 people, many wearing shirts emblazoned with “Brooklyn Is Not For Sale” in stark large letters, shared their stories while distributing fliers to pedestrians and drivers on the block.
Many of the protestors came because they saw Henry’s situation as just another, somewhat hyper-local, iteration of a developer forcing local residents from their homes with sudden evictions or exorbitant price increases.
“We are seeing the same patterns of people being pushed out of their homes,” Loan Tran, a rally attendee from Durham, North Carolina and a friend of Henry, said. “It’s just a handful of the same developers who are pumping a bunch of money into the next ‘it’ city, the next city that they consider to be hip.”
“There isn’t enough attention given to the lack of rights that unregulated tenants in New York City have,” Pooja Patel, a housing lawyer attending the rally, said. “They’re often silenced because if they call 311 about repairs, their landlord retaliates by not giving them a lease.”
About one in three clients seeking legal services for eviction have lived in their homes for ten years or longer according to a 2016 annual report from the NYC Office of Civil Justice.
Even those with highly regulated or rent-stabilized apartments may be at risk. For instance, a decision by the Rent Guidelines Board allowing modest increases for rent-stabilized tenants became effective at the start of October. Many affected by these increases like Marian Swerdlow worry that it’s a sign that politicians are deeming it no longer worthwhile.
“I feel that the stabilization laws are not going to continue unless rent regulation is extended to more and more tenants and more and more people have a stake in it,” Marian Swerdlow said. “It’s either going to grow or it’s going to die.”
“I think it’s our duty to fight against gentrification against evictions against people of color and poor people being pushed out of their homes and their neighborhoods in Brooklyn,” Gretchen Begley, a member of Equality for Flatbush, said. “We are in the middle of a block in Flatbush where somebody is being evicted from his home.”
“I am being displaced out of this house,” he said. “I am not being displaced out of this neighborhood. I’m not born and raised [here], but I’m fighting to die here in Flatbush.”