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Fight Continues for Displaced Tenants in Chinatown

HOST INTRO:  Our next story takes us to Manhattan’s Chinatown where displaced residents are in their fourth month since being evicted from their homes.  Tenants are demanding a deadline for return. It’s the latest in an ongoing skirmish between the tenants and their landlord over their right to remain in- the building.  Augusta Anthony has the story. (0:20)

ANTHONY 1:   85 Bowery is 5 story tenement on the edge of Chinatown.  The fire escapes are rusted, the earthy red paint is chipped. The glass door is plastered with papers: construction warnings, permits and two official city notices in red ink saying, VACATE: DO NOT ENTER.  71 year old Zun Jin, a tenant of the building, and Vincent Cao, tenant representative, are peering through the glass at the hallway inside. (0:30)


Caution tape, yellow caution tape, red tape.  The red tape saying asbestos hazard and yellow caution tape. (0:09)

ANTHONY 2: In January this year, all 73 residents were evicted after the Department of Buildings said the staircase was unsafe. They were told they’d be back in their homes by the end of March.  But since then, the landlord claims the building must be treated for asbestos.  The landlord, Joseph Betesh, bought the building and it’s neighbour 83 Bowery as part of 62 million dollar deal in 2013.  As Cao explains, things were quiet until two years later Betesh tried to evict one of the tenants. (0:32)


Landlord fought the eviction case at 83 first for just one apartment.  First family got the eviction notice was my cousin. (0:10)

ANTHONY 3:  Cao says it’s a typical harassment case.  He says rich developers swoop in, buy up buildings and try to force tenants out by neglect or by burying them in legal fees. After Cao’s cousin was evicted, Cao began to organize the tenants to fight the landlord.  (0:17)


I kind of know the issue right?  It’s about the whole building. So we come together, create tenants association. (0:07)

ANTHONY 4: Cao works at a dim sum restaurant a few blocks away on Mott Street.  He’s tall with slicked back hair and an anorak. He came to Chinatown almost 20 years ago from Fujian in Southern China.  Now, he says many landlords are ignoring rent control laws. (0:18)


And landlords say, oh this is not rent stabilized, forcing us to hire private lawyer.  So we have a very good engineer report showing these two buildings are rent stabilized. (0:14)

ANTHONY 5: After suing Cao’s cousin, the landlord filed again against all the tenants in the building — this time, in New York’s Supreme Court.  A judge referred the decision on rent stabilization to the Division of Housing and Community Renewal and they sided with the tenants.  The landlord declined a request for interview. But a spokesperson asked about the landlord’s understanding of the rent stabilization, said they couldn’t comment because of pending litigation.  In January, city agencies inspected the building and found it unsafe. The tenants were forced out overnight. Zun Jin is one of the tenants, she’s also from Fujian and has lived in the building since in arriving in New York over 10 years ago.  (0:33)


Speaking in Chinese (0:03)


They came into the apartment and told everybody to leave.   I don’t want to leave but I’m afraid they will push us out so I told my husband to go out first. (0:10)


Speaking in Chinese (0:02)


Go, go, go, that’s the only thing I can understand. (0:03)


Speaking in Chinese (0:02)


We had to leave everything in the apartment.  They took us very far away. My husband is sick and needs to see the doctor.  But we don’t know how to take the subway, so we just stay there. We can’t go anywhere.  (0:13)

ANTHONY 6: The tenants were put on a bus and taken to a shelter in Brooklyn.  Jin was so desperate to return home to Chinatown that in February, she and her fellow tenants went on hunger strike to demand action.  They gathered tents and blankets and camped outside the Department of Housing Development and Preservation. (0:17)


Speaking in Chinese (0:02)


I went on hunger strike because they gave me no choice.  I want to go home. (0:04)

((SOUND: local news ABC introduction) (0:04)))

ANTHONY 7: The hunger strike attracted attention and even made local television news. (0:04)

((SOUND: News anchor “Protesters camping out in the freezing temperatures for a hunger strike.  About a dozen people who call 85 Bowery home are demanding quicker building repairs”) fade out (0:07))

ANTHONY 8:  And the landlord agreed to move them to a hotel a few doors down from their former home.  And he’s footing the bill. (0:06)


It’s not many tenants like them able to force the landlord to pay the hotel. (0:04)

ANTHONY 9: Three weeks ago, a tenant spotted construction workers carrying out large trash bags and tossing them in a dumpster.  The landlord said they were removing perishable items. But the tenants rummaged through the dumpster to find personal items including clothing, and children’s books.  Local elected officials condemned the landlord and a spokesperson has since apologized and said the tenants will be reimbursed. But for now the building remains shut. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez has asked the District Attorney to investigate the case and the tenants maintain that a vacate order without a specified date for return is illegal. (0:37)

((SOUND: Protest “Shame on you DOB”) (0:01))

ANTHONY 10:  Last week, the tenants took to the streets again, protesting outside the Department of Buildings next to City Hall in Lower Manhattan.  They’re carrying signs, some featuring the face of their landlord. (0:12)

((SOUND: protest “Knock, knock, who’s there, angry tenants everywhere”) (0:04))

ANTHONY 11:  Cao says the fight over 85 Bowery is creating a coalition across New York.  He says low wage immigrant communities must stand together against real estate interests. (0:09)


You can see a lot of Chinese, brown, latino, white, we all come together, this is very special. (0:06)

ANTHONY 12:   He makes his way to the front of the crowd and delivers a letter to the Department of Buildings that accuses city agencies of siding unfairly with the landlord. (0:090


Ok I’m going to deliver the letter now, our demand, stop collude with the landlord.  The DOB must give us the deadline when the 85 Bowery tenants can go home. (0:12)

((SOUND: cheers) (0:04))

ANTHONY 13:  The Department of Buildings did not agree to be interviewed but said in a statement that they are pushing forward to complete repairs and holding the landlord responsible to provide a safe home for tenants.  But, as Cao comes out of the building coming delivering the letter, Cao says they won’t stop until the tenants are back in their homes. . (0:17)


We think we can win and we give them two weeks and they will respond.  Otherwise we continue, we go to City Hall, make it bigger. (0:07)

ANTHONY 16:   A spokesperson for the landlord could not give a deadline but said they remain committed to returning families as soon as possible.  Augusta Anthony, Columbia Radio News. (0:10)


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