Immigrant Tenants Feel the Gentrification Squeeze in Sunset Park
Maria Carmen Valencia and her two children are the "last tenants standing" in an otherwise vacant 6-unit rent-stabilized building in Sunset Park. The other tenants have all moved out and Valencia says her landlord wants her out too—and he's willing to use the threat of deportation to do it.
"The owner came and said he was going to call immigration," said Valencia, a Mexican immigrant who works as a maid and has lived in 273 23rd Street for 10 years. "Then he offered us a buyout of $5,000 to leave."
As Park Slope becomes gentrified, and magazine articles tout the express train service to Sunset Park, many longtime residents of that neighborhood are slowly being forced out to make room for condos or wealthier tenants, said tenant organizers.
Valencia's landlord, Stephen Locicero, did not return repeated calls for comment left at his real estate office on Fourth Avenue. Earlier this year, residents protested outside his office.
“Unfortunately the harassment faced by Ms. Valencia and thousands of rent stabilized tenants was financially incentivized under the Pataki administration," said Dave Powell, Tenant Advocate from the Fifth Avenue Committee. "Unless Governor Patterson and the State Senate take action, we’re in for much more of the same”.
In addition to threatening to have her deported, her landlord Steven Locicero, of Park Slope Management Inc, has systematically tried to force Valencia out through other forms of intimidation, said Powell. He's physically prevented a roommate from moving in although the practice is allowed by rent-stabilization laws, filed unnecessary lawsuits against her and cut off her hot water, Powell and Valencia said. The renovations that Locicero is doing on the other units creates enough noise and dust to make living there nearly impossible, Valencia said.
Locicero did not return repeated messages for comment left at his Fourth Avenue real estate office. The phenomenon of the "last tenant standing" is becoming more prevalent as landlords are able to "convince" long-term tenants to vacate their rent-stabilized apartments so that they can demolish the buildings to create condos—or do extensive renovations that will bring the units closer to the $2,000 "luxury threshold" for deregulation, Powell said.
What's more, Powell and other tenant organizers say, is that landlords, looking to make room for invading yuppie and hipster hordes, are increasingly using immigration status as a tool to intimidate Sunset Park residents, many of whom are from Mexico and Latin America.
"The people landlords used to intimidate may have been Puerto Rican or Italian-American, but now you are seeing people from different parts of the world being subject to new forms of intimidation based upon national origin," said Powell.
The view outside of Valencia's kitchen window. Developers hope to turn low-rise building such as the ones you see in the distance into high-rise condos.
Such as these, which can also been seen from Valencia's kitchen
The city corrected lead paint violations in the apartment earlier this year.
A view of the exterior of 273 23rd Street, the building where Maria Carmen Valencia and her two children remain the "last tenants standing."
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