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January 30th, 2009


by Joelle Panisch

Thanks to Rob Hollander for the heads up.

Ever since the economy has tanked, downtown activists have been especially fierce regarding housing issues. The ramifications of displacement are unquestionably dire and activists are doing everything they can to keep families in their homes. Recently, despite adverse efforts, the residents of 81 Bowery were evicted for unsafe conditions— a shallow reason, protestors believe, because it should fall on the landlord to institute repairs.

The CAAAV (Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) has been seeking jurisprudence to allow displaced tenants back into their homes, and to enact legislation that will make it policy to have landlords remedy safety violations rather then to evict tenants in the first place. According to the CAAAV, the group has asked the Department of Buildings and Commissioner Robert LiMandr to meet with them, but they have repeatedly been refused.

Along with the CAAAV, the Chinatown Tenants Union is not taking no for an answer and they want your help to make the message clear. The groups are doing a push to send 100 letters of protest to the DOB via fax or email from 9am on February 2,nd through 1pm on February 6th. Letters can either come from organizations or individuals, and should detail reasons for your opposition. A sample letter is below.

The key to ending tenant displacement and what seems like endless gentrification is organization and participation. The Chinatown Tenants Union has organized, now its time for you to participate!

For more information, contact Helena Wong at or (212) 473-6485.
Fax your letters to (212) 566-3785 or email them to (Please cc Helena all letters so she may keep track of the number of letters sent.)


FAX to: (212) 566-3785
Email to:
Subject: Housing Justice for Chinatown Tenants

February ___, 2009

Robert LiMandri
Department of Buildings
280 Broadway, 7th floor
New York, NY 10007

Dear Commissioner LiMandri:

I am writing in support of CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities and the approximately 100 long-term Chinatown residents – from 81 Bowery, 32 Market Street, 15 Catherine Street, and 103 East Broadway (a FDNY vacate that was assisted by DOB) – who are left homeless because of vacate orders issued by your agency between November 13 and December 16, 2008.

In all four buildings the issue was secondary egress, which is a hazardous violation that should be corrected by their landlords immediately. I do not question that secondary egress is a fire hazard and that your agency has an obligation to ensure all tenants’ safety. However, there is a more viable policy the Department of Buildings can and should adopt to address safety violations that do not lead to forcing people out of their homes during the coldest months of the year with no notice whatsoever. For example, the DOB can require that landlords hire fire guards at their own cost while they correct the violations. These vacate orders penalize residents who are paying rent, when the DOB ought to hold the landlords responsible for not complying with the law. The landlords allowed these violations to exist for years, putting tenants’ lives in danger. The DOB should work to ensure that tenant safety issues are addressed in ways that protect tenants and ensure they live in safe and habitable homes. By issuing vacate orders that penalize the tenants, the DOB is in fact condoning these landlords to continue to violate the laws of the City.

It is in times of economic crisis that the DOB should take even more care to ensure that no one is forced out of their homes, yet current cuts to social services essentially guarantee that residents’ need for these services will exceed what can be provided, adding more strain on scarce and valuable resources.

I urge that you meet with CAAAV to discuss the following:

1) The DOB allow all residents from 81 Bowery, 15 Catherine Street, and 32 Market Street to return to their homes immediately.

2) The DOB require the landlord to hire fire guards at all buildings until the landlord has corrected the violations.

3) The DOB should not approve any new Certificate of Occupancy applications for these three buildings that do not allow for current residents to return to their homes.

4) The DOB puts into place a policy that allows for landlords to fix violations at the landlord’s expense, rather than issuing vacate orders that penalize tenants and make them homeless.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


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