Scene: Legal Aid Society, Downtown Brooklyn.
Cast of Characters: Six poorly paid lawyers, four brave women whose families are in the Homeless Shelter System; a leader each from PLGNA, Tenants & Neighbors, Crown Heights Tenants Union, an advocate for the women, chief of staff at Diana Richardson's office, yours truly, and a lady named Isis whose mom's lived at 60 Clarkson for more than 40 years.
Action: The ladies of 60 Clarkson lay it all out there. They've been kicked around one too many times and they're looking for redress. They don't want to be forcibly removed, sometimes with TWO hours notice, to even worse buildings. And most of all, they don't want to be sent up to PATH in the Bronx to start the whole process over again. They're IN an apartment, they're getting their lives together, why throw it all into chaos again? So the Landlord can throw on some paint, turn everyone out, and sell to an unsuspecting dolt who thinks the building comes without baggage? Enough is enough, say they.
Re-action: Legal Aid says they too have been sniffing at the scent of Municipal Betrayal. The case of 60 Clarkson and its shamefully greedy and deceitful landlord Barry Hers has the makings of landmark. They write a letter for each resident to use if someone tells them they must leave, saying that legal issues are being worked on and besides, you can't just turn someone out on their ass because you want to.
MacGuffin: Barry Hers, a name none of us ever assumed to be given, is actually surnamed Herskowitz, first name Isaac or somesuch. There are many reasons why a man like Barry wouldn't want people to know his real name, but we're on to you dude.
Plot Summary: Herskowitz buys building, runs building into the ground through neglect, forces out rent stabilized tenants by any means necessary, replaces them with homeless clients thru the poorly overseen DHS "Scattersite" system, gets over $3K a month for apartments that used to fetch less than $1,000, has to share some of that dough with CAMBA to provide social services, doesn't like sharing, so creates his only social services provider called "We Always Care" so he can get ALL the money, continues to run his building into the ground, does the same with at least five other buildings, looks for an exit strategy in which he sells nearly vacant buildings for tens of millions of dollars leaving a trail of misery and heartbreak and the stink of rodent feces.
At least one of the lawyers smells blood. This is good. This is very good. The whole system is rotten, and guys like Herskowitz exploit both the City and human beings for private gain. Is it illegal? No one can say for sure. It's only been tested in housing court and never made it to Appellate Court for a true rendering of whether this program is really legal. Here's why it needs to change.
Essentially, each time a landlord like Hers(kowitz) turns a rent stabilized apartment into a "temporary" home for someone in the DHS system, it's no longer available for rent-paying lease-holding tenants. In a housing crisis of current magnitude, that's absurd on top of cruel. It incentivizes a landlord to kick, harass or lure out tenants who pay the legal rent. PLUS, he then assumes that he's deregulated the apartments. After all, they've been fetching north of $3,000 apiece for years. Some folks like Merlinda have been in this "temporary" housing for five years! That's a lot of money for one landlord to make while doing ZERO repairs and providing NO security and at best SHODDY social services. Whoever said poverty doesn't pay wasn't a slumlord. It pays just fine, thank you.
Barry needs to be taken to court, no doubt about it. But it's the system that nurtures the Barries of the world that needs an overhaul. Think about it; all the court needs to do is say that these women ARE living in rent stabilized apartments. Instead of working hard to get them vouchers like Section 8 or its offshoots so they can move somewhere else, why not give them the option to stay right where they are and pay less taxpayer money than currently? Their kids are in local schools, they've made friends on the block, the building has become a family. Sure you need to look case by case to see if it's appropriate and whether the homeless families have been upholding their side of the bargain, but a legal victory for sanity means keeping these apartments affordable even after the homeless families are gone. DHS gets to take one family off its rolls. The De Blasio Administration can claim it saved a rent-stabilized apartment. Right?
AND...if you need facilities for homeless folks, let's agree not to take away the most valuable asset in the City right now. Affordable apartments.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case. Oh, right. I'm not a lawyer. Dang, I knew there was a problem in my plan somewhere. But wait! We have Legal Aid Society on the case! Right?
The Q at Parkside
News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.