Chants of “Fight! Fight! Fight! Housing is a human right!” filled City Hall Park as about 100 demonstrators rallied to call for continued funding of the city’s Anti-Harassment Tenant Protection Program.
For City Councilman-elect Shaun Abreu, the issue of protecting tenants with free legal services is a personal one.
“When I was a kid, I came back from school one day to find my mother holding an eviction notice on our kitchen table,” said Abreu, a Democrat who will represent an upper Manhattan district and was among the officials who joined the Nov.17 rally. “I’ll never forget the look in her eyes and the things she went through when we had to leave our home behind.”
The program’s $9.8 million in funding for legal services and advocacy for low-income tenants is at risk of being cut, according to the rally organizer, LEAP Coalition, a group of 18 civil legal-services providers in the city.
Abreu said in seeking the program’s renewal by the city Human Resources Administration, tenants should also push for broader coverage with the funding.
“We should also be funding tenants’ rights to sue their landlords when they fail to make repairs,” he said.
According to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, there have been 76,693 eviction filings in the city since the start of the pandemic, with most of the cases brought in minority communities.
“This pandemic has shown how aggressive heartless landlords have been when illegally harassing tenants,” said Carlos Calzadilla, community relations director for State Sen. Julia Salazar, a Democrat who represents much of northern Brooklyn. “If it wasn’t for all the amazing organizations that are funded by the Anti-Harassment Tenant Protection Program, I don’t know how our office could be as effective as it is.”
Calzadilla says the program’s budget is at risk because the Mayor-elect Eric Adams and the City Council that will be seated in 2022 will face tough spending choices.
“Every time there are budgets, there’s a risk of getting tight,” Calzadilla said. “We want to make sure that the new incoming City Council not only protects our funding, but expands that as well.”
Calzadilla added that the program also funds other programs supporting disenfranchised populations, such as immigrants and people who become homeless.
The dozens of tenants at the rally included several who said the program helped them stave off eviction and battle negligent landlords. The tenants were accompanied by elected officials and community organizers.
Johnny Rivera, a community outreach and intake specialist at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, said landlords motivated by higher returns often take advantage of tenants.
“It’s a profit-motive enterprise,” Rivera said “It’s not a benevolent service.”
Rivera said all New Yorkers have a stake in continuing the program, which can prevent the need to shelter families that become homeless, resulting in “all the tax dollars going to fund expensive daily rates of rent.”
Protecting tenants by giving them access to lawyers and advocates is more productive, he said.
“That money is better used in an apartment where families can grow, create memories and flourish in school and jobs and have a better society.”