Demonstrators demand to know when they will be able to return home
SUNSET PARK — “Fight! Fight! Fight! Housing is a human right.”
That was one of many phrases chanted outside Brooklyn Housing Court, 141 Livingston St., on the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 29 as tenants of a Sunset Park apartment building that caught fire two years ago gathered to remind authorities that they were still displaced.
In January 2018, the fire at the building at 529 56th Street resulted in eight families living there having to find temporary housing; however, the landlord signed a document in Housing Court, promising that their homes would be ready for them to move back into by August 1, 2019. With the homes still not ready, those same residents returned to Housing Court to demand answers.
Takeroot Justice and Neighbors Helping Neighbors joined the tenants in the demonstration.
“My family got separated, “ said Zulma Cruz, who lived in her apartment for 39 years prior to the fire. “I lost my personal belongings, I had unexpected financial expenses and setbacks, and endured personal trauma. Everyone has a right to live in a dwelling of one’s choice without fear of being forcefully displaced. My children have had to spread out to live with different family members [one in the Bronx, one in Staten Island], which created a huge separation for all of us.”
Cruz pointed out that the place she is now living is half the size of her previous one and the rent is $400 higher.
Twelve-year-old Jeses Brito was also displaced because of the fire and currently lives on Staten Island. He said he wants to move home to Sunset Park as soon as possible, explaining that he and his brother Marcus have a long trip to get from Staten Island to school in Sunset Park
“What if something happens to our family members?” he asked “It’s stressful waking up at 6 in the morning, and it feels like I don’t sleep. I need more rest and my parents as well. It’s a long journey, and going to school is stressful.”
“This has taken way too long,” Karen Broughton, chief of staff for Assemblymember Felix Ortiz, told this paper, adding that Ortiz “is working with the landlord, imploring him to just do the remedial work.”
Attorney Greg Baltz of TakeRoot Justice, who is representing the displaced residents, wants answers.
“It took months of fighting to get the landlord to agree to make repairs to return them to their apartments,” he said. “The landlord committed to have their apartments ready by Aug. 1, 2019. Now, six months later and two years after the fire, they’re still spread across the boroughs with no indication of when they’ll be back in their homes.”
He told this paper that he hopes the judge holds the landlord accountable for not completing the work in a timely fashion.
“It’s extremely frustrating, because in addition to being displaced from their apartments and having all of their transportation and housing costs basically doubled, there’s been very little communication on what’s going to happen,” Baltz said. “When the Aug. 1 deadline was coming up, people had to think about where their kids were going to be enrolled in school, whether or not they were going to be signing leases in the apartments they were in.”
Baltz said that the landlord has said that, “Everything that has caused delays hasn’t been their fault, and the reason for not providing updates is they think they’ve given enough.”
“This is a real struggle for all of us,” added Cruz.
By press time, the landlords’ attorneys had not responded to a request for comment.