What to Know
- More than 80 tenants were forced out of their Chinatown homes earlier this year and four began a hunger strike Thursday
- It comes nearly a month after the tenants were evicted by the city from their homes at 83 and 85 Bowery in Chinatown on Jan. 18
- Their landlord, Joseph Betesh, has been accused in the past of trying to vacate the building then renovate it and hike up the rent
Four tenants forced out of their Chinatown homes earlier this year began a hunger strike on Thursday during a demonstration aimed at getting them and more than 80 other tenants back into their building.
The four demonstrators donned red headbands with Chinese characters that read “juéshí,” meaning “hunger strike,” as others chanted demands outside the city Department of Housing Protection and Development in lower Manhattan. It comes nearly a month after the tenants were evicted by the city from their homes at 83 and 85 Bowery in Chinatown on Jan. 18 because of a slanted staircase and other code violations at the building.
Initially placed in a hotel in East New York they have since been moved to Wyndham Garden Inn in Chinatown.
“We don’t want that, we want to go home,” said Don Lee, chairman of Homecrest Community Services, a non-profit organization providing multi-social services for seniors and immigrant families in NYC.
Their landlord, Joseph Betesh, has been accused in the past of allowing the building to deteriorate so that he could eventually evict them and then increase the rent or build a new complex--many calling him a “Slumlord.”
“This is not a show," said Lee. "We will be here today, tonight, tomorrow. We urge everyone who cares about New York City, who cares about people who are simply being forced out of their homes, to show up, show your support, speak in solidarity with them, to make sure that the city can simply fix five sets of wooden staircases.
She added, "if the city cannot fix five sets of staircases, then we have no hope."
Since the residents have been evicted by the city, the HPD has worked in tandem with the city Department of Buildings to conduct a thorough investigation of the building.
In an official status update on Feb. 7, the HPD concluded that after the structural assessment, the building would need extensive repairs. However, the HPD rejected the tenants’ request for an Emergency Repair Program, stating that it would “slow down the projected timeline and would delay residents from moving back into their homes.”
The timeline is an estimated additional eight weeks, after Betesh missed his initial deadline to fix the staircase on Feb. 1.
“HPD and DOB in coordination with City Hall have been working closely with the tenants’ representatives to get displaced families back to their community and homes as soon as possible. The owner is working to make needed repairs and has now agreed to pay for hotel rooms for most of the tenants, until the building is safe for them to return to. He has much more work to do, and we will be closely monitoring his progress,” said HPD’s Deputy Press Secretary, Matthew Creegan.
For the time being, the families are staying in nearby hotel Wyndam Garden Inn. Lee said that there are as many seven family members per room.
"How is it that we live in a city that postures as a so-called ‘sanctuary city,’ but then again, they’re displacing people,” said Yanin Peña, an advocate with People First, a coalition to protect residents of Chinatown and the Lower East Side.
A spokesman for Betesh's holding company said the landlord is complying with the city's conditions and timelines for the repairs. He added that the units themselves also have safety hazards that will need to be addressed afterward.
"Any reports claiming that we seek to demolish the building or replace it with a hotel or condominiums are false," he added. "We all share the same goal – moving families back into their homes as quickly as possible."
Still, some residents said they may never be able to move back in.
In a video posted on its Facebook page, Youth Against Displacement interviewed evicted tenants who shared their experiences.
"I've lived there for 20 years. He kicked me out in 2 hours," said one resident.