Sunset tenants rally outside Fourth Avenue building to battle discrimination

“Fight! Housing is a right!” was one of many chants shouted by tenants outside an apartment building at 430 61st Street in Sunset Park on Friday, July 29.

Residents were joined by elected officials, organizers from Neighbors Helping Neighbors (NHN) and the Urban Justice Center, and others to announce that a complaint had been filed with the Commission on Human Rights and to discuss the mistreatment of immigrant families that live in the complex by its landlord, Soo Fung Dong.

Residents claim that Dong, who purchased the building eight years ago, has bullied them.

“For a minute, imagine yourself in your home, about to fall asleep when there is a knock at your door at 10 p.m.,” said 11-year-old resident Samantha Bravo during her speech. “You open the door and see a woman handing you letter that states that you must leave your home in three weeks.”

Bravo also claimed that the apartment’s condition compromised her family’s health and said Dong would threaten them when they sought help. “The landlord also insults and screams at my mom since she and my dad reported to 311 that there’s no heat and hot water in the winter,” she said. “Because we had no heat, my brother got pneumonia and since I have asthma, it made it hard for me and my brother to breathe.”

Other tenants shared similar experiences “I’m representing my grandmother,” said Felix Mesa Jr. “The landlord follows us. I’d try to go upstairs and she’d say ‘You don’t live here.’  Everyone deserves a right to live in their building without being harassed.”

Samuel Wicks, a tenant organizer for NHN, said he admired how residents had come together. “It’s hard to organize tenants in buildings because not everyone gets along with their neighbors, but these people are committed to the cause and they are united and like a family,” he said. “They are strong. I’m impressed by their courage and how they’ve endured suffering for so long. They have been living in fear and threatened with being deported.”

Derogatory racial remarks have allegedly been made by Dong, leaving Councilmember Carlos Menchaca calling for action. “What we are talking about today specifically is the hate speech that is being used in the hallways of their home where they are being directly attacked because they’re Latino and that’s not only illegal, it’s hateful and it’s disgusting,” he said. “We need to call it out now.”

Gentrification was also mentioned as a catalyst. “This is a direct result of the gentrification that is currently happening in Sunset Park,” said NHN tenant organizer Marcela Mitaynes. “The displacement pressures are being exacerbated by speculation and the rise of property values. “

“This is the disgusting nature of gentrification and it needs to stop,” added Menchaca.

Aura Mejia, another tenant organizer for NHN, mentioned tenants’ current hardships. “There’s harassment telling them that she’s going to call immigration to go back to their countries,” she said. “She also hasn’t provided heat or hot water and calls the police when they try to organize a meeting of the tenant association. But they stand together.”

“The ideal outcome would be for the landlord to be taken away in handcuffs,” said Wick. “She has violated in my estimation, although it’s alleged at this time, their human rights and I’ve seen the harassment take place. I’ve witnessed videos of the harassment. I’ve experienced it firsthand. We want an end to this harassment.”

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