Leave Her Home on East Third? Not Without a Fight

Outside 50 East Third StreetEntwined Studio The author, second from right, with friends on the stoop of 50 East Third Street.

A few weeks ago I had a night so magical it only could have happened in New York City: rooftop skyline, cocktails, killer jams. We were giddy. It was one of those nights that makes you want to dig out your old “I heart NY” t-shirt and wear it to bed.

The next morning, I got a buzz from the mailman. It was a registered letter from the landlord: we were getting evicted from our home at 50 East Third Street.

Our building sold and the new landlord had no interest in renewing our lease, so we were given 60 days to pack up our lives and vacate our apartments by May 14. Around 20 other people in our building and two neighboring ones at 54 and 58 East Third Street received the same notice. I was told that the sale of the building hinged upon the vacancy of our apartments. Our lives were used as a bartering chip.

The rug was literally being pulled from underneath us.

My husband is a social worker who runs a shelter for homeless victims of domestic violence and now we are faced with homelessness. Of course, our predicament isn’t that uncommon. I’m a hairstylist, and in one day of work, all five of my clients said they had been through something similar.

In the 15 years that we’ve bounced from apartment to apartment in the East Village, we’ve weathered some pretty deplorable conditions: a broken hot water heater in the dead of winter; a garbage-picking, ex-Nazi, hoarder neighbor; a crumbling foundation; tranny junkie prostitutes; robberies; a bloody vestibule; a serious roach infestation, not to mention the worst of the worst: bedbugs. Yes, I said it, bedbugs.

Just when we had reached our absolute breaking point with all of the above, a longtime client of the salon where I work came in and said, “Ladies, I’ve fallen in love and I’m moving to L.A. Hey Sue, do you want my apartment?” Yes, I said. Yes. Sight unseen. I couldn’t believe her kindness and our luck: she was even selling all of her furniture (we were leaving ours for fear of bringing along things that go itch in the night).

When I actually saw the apartment, I fell to my knees and sobbed. After 15 years of strife, I felt that I was “home.” It seemed that karma was finally working in our favor. Or, so we thought.

Now, I must fight to stay in my home. It’s a fight that I willingly take on. It isn’t just that we won’t move: we can’t move. In 60 days we are supposed to find a new apartment, schedule time off of work, pack up our home and drum up around $8,000 (my estimate for the first and last months of rent plus a security deposit and moving costs).

IMG_3170Stephen Rex Brown 50, 54 and 58 East Third Street

It isn’t happening. Maybe some people have that sort of money on hand, but we are not those people. Even if we wanted to move, we simply don’t have the means. I don’t use the term “homelessness” just for dramatic effect; it’s a terrifying possibility.

So how exactly do we fight? We Occupy. We stay in our homes. We organize, we unite, and we don’t leave. We are willing to pay rent, and we will continue to pay rent; but if they are still that determined to vacate our buildings, then we deserve due process. Take us to court. All of us.

We’ve organized a Third Street tenant’s group and have a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, April 18 at 7 p.m. at Perseverance House at 535 East Fifth Street. We’ve invited members of the press, council members, and members of the community. We plan to discuss our options, our rights, and how to proceed from here. We are trying to drum up as much press and community support as possible. There is strength in numbers.

If New York has taught me anything, it’s that I’m a fighter. We’re all fighters. You fight to move here, and once you’re here, you fight to stay here. You fight to find an apartment and a job. You fight for a seat on the subway. You fight in line at the DMV. You fight the crowds in Midtown, and you fight the strollers in the West Village. You fight the interlopers every Friday and Saturday night who vomit on sidewalks, pee between cars, scream at the top of their lungs and then disappear into the night. You fight the N.Y.U. kids who throw loud parties till the wee hours of the morning on weeknights when you have to get up early the next day. You fight the banks, 7-Elevens, and Starbucks that are replacing your favorite restaurants, watering holes, coffee shops, and vintage stores. And now we fight greedy landlords who don’t think that our fair-market rents are fair enough. (Most of us are already paying around $2,500 in rent).

My home is worth fighting for. The family that lives upstairs, with the son who’s enrolled in the nearby school is worth fighting for. The Ph.D. student who paid a $6,000 broker’s fee to get into the building, only to be given the boot less than a year later, is worth fighting for. The disappearing integrity of the East Village is worth fighting for. Enough is enough! These are our homes! We pay a fair rent! How much is too much?

I recognize that gentrification is a fact of life and yes, we are a part of that gentrification. But we respect the neighborhood for its tradition, its charm, and all that it stands for. We are not bartering chips. We are people, and these are our homes. Landlords entice people to pay their exorbitant rents with promises of living in “the edgy East Village.” Yet everything “edgy” about the East Village was priced out a long time ago. But I’m not giving up that easily. In the day and age of Occupy, I choose to Occupy Third Street.

And if we lose? At least I know that I gave it a good fight. I’m a fighter. I learned that living in New York.