Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Out and About in the East Village

In this weekly feature, East Village-based photographer James Maher provides us with a quick snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village. James had another commitment for this week. East Village photographer Stacie Joy compiled today's post.

Name: Wasim Lone
Occupation: Director of Housing Services, GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side)
Location: 171 Avenue B
Date: Oct. 10, 2 p.m.

Editor's note: We changed up from our usual Out and About format this week to highlight this critical neighborhood resource.

How has the neighborhood changed in the 30-plus years you’ve been at GOLES?

Working-class people, the poor, elderly, artists and writers are all struggling to find or keep affordable rents and are being replaced by corporate tenants paying high-dollar rents. There is a visible and tangible difference in the area. Stores and restaurants that used to serve the community have closed and big box and chain stores are replacing them. Now shops serve upper-income people.

After the 1997 vacancy decontrol legislation things changed rapidly in the area. A cultural shift changed the neighborhood. No longer is it the LES that used to exist. The flavor, the taste of the area has changed. There has been a tenant cleansing and the new order of the day is maximizing rents. We need to protect the tenants who are left, specifically the Section 8 housing members, public housing tenants, those with rent stabilization.

What does GOLES do for the neighborhood?

GOLES informs, educates, protects and counsels tenants on their rights. It offers legal representation in court, helps tenants form tenant associations and coalitions; for example, the Croman Coalition, which is very strong, and the newly forming Icon Realty Coalition, which is still in progress. People should contact GOLES if interested.

We fight for rules, regulations and laws, policy changes in city, state, and federal levels to protect tenants from predatory landlord behavior. The current mechanics to fight harassment are weak, very weak. In tenant harassment cases nine out of every 10 cases are not signed by judges. That’s 90 percent! Other courts are slow, like civil court or state Supreme Court, and most tenants do not have the resources to fight, especially against frivolous litigation and cases with no merit. They burn out the tenants.

How do you feel the new mayor and administration will affect East Village residents?

The new mayor’s changes remain to be seen. With the new administration there has been a climate change from the Bloomberg years. City Council is more progressive, and the new Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James are in the process of getting legislation, and calling out violators, like the new list of worst landlords...GOLES is pleased with its access to City Hall and the mayor.

But there haven't been any on-the-ground landlord changes.

What do you like best about the neighborhood? What do you like least?

I like the fact that what we provide is much needed. In fact it’s critical, so critical, to be there to help. Vestiges of the ’hood are still here: Section 8, public housing, rent-regulated tenants. And we are pleased to be here to help them.

Worst, I guess, are the challenges. We can put out fires but overall we are losing the war. Especially with state laws to decontrol rent, and the lack of enforcement at the local level. We see families and individuals getting evicted. Consistently.

GOLES facilitates processes to have tenants take leadership, like with the Croman Coalition, and coalitions regarding Marolda Properties and Icon Realty (forthcoming). The level of harassment the 9300 Realty Corp./Croman bring to bear on their tenants is shocking.

Despite having been doing this work for more than three decades, I am still saddened by the blatant disregard for tenants and their rights. It’s mind-blowing. The deprivation of services, frivolous lawsuits, lack of respect, and the greed of landlords to maximize profits at the expense of the people who make up the neighborhood is horrible.

Want to get involved? Visit GOLES for more information.


nygrump said...

Wasim helped us to try and get a tenants group together - sadly the transient pod people couldn't get off their facebook pages and we were not successful - but his patience and knowledge and focus was impressive.

Anonymous said...

GOLES helped me out over 10 years ago when I moved to a place on the LES that stopped providing heat and hot water; they are awesome, hardworking peeps and a rare resource in this day and age. Wishing them the best and grateful for their help!!!Thank you GOLES!

Anonymous said...

Wasim has been extraordinarily helpful over the past few months here at 149 First Avenue, where we are dealing some very serious landlord issues - he's been an incredible resource and really the catalyst for much of the progress we've made. A huge thanks to Wasim and everyone at GOLES for their tireless work over the years.

As nygrump noted, organizing tenants can be a challenge, particularly in buildings with high turnover, but it's pretty impressive what a core group of tenants can accomplish when they do stick together and use all the resources at their disposal.

The tide may be against rent-regulated and public housing tenants, but we're still swimming... Every small win makes a statement, and its significance is magnified when it comes on behalf of those without money on their side.

Thank you, Wasim, for inspiring and empowering us and others to keep up the fight! And thank you, Grieve, for taking the time to highlight this crucial neighborhood resource.

Anonymous said...

GOLES is doing great work and on a shoe-string budget. Please support the work they do in any way. One time I spoke to a group of the staff at GOLES and several told me how they can't afford to live in the hood anymore, but despite that they come to work everyday to help us! Would love to see more stories about community groups and community activists making a difference - a real difference for real people.

C Wilson said...

Fortunately I haven't been harassed, but rather just run of the mill slowly priced out of my NYC, so I haven't had the need to use GOLES resources but a big thank you to them for fighting the good fight!

Anonymous said...

I'm comforted that Wasim is still out there helping tenants, he's a great guy, a great friend I hope he sticks around for many years to come.

Scuba Diva said...

Organizing tenants is like herding cats—especially with the high number of transients in rental housing nowadays.

My newest neighbors in the building are the ones least likely to stay; my roommate told me one of our neighbors is paying $2700. For a sixth-floor walkup!

There are great cardio-vascular benefits to walking up to the sixth floor (100 steps) four times a day, but I don't think the landlord uses it as a selling point. ("Stairmaster included! No charge!")

Anonymous said...

thank you Wasim for your help. I know I am not the only one being harassed by my landlord. Thank you for being the fighter you are against all odds. Nina

Unknown said...

Hey Wasim, 28 years ago I visited East Harlem Youth Action. Dramatic that this is how things have gone. Resilience of Capitalism. Nicky works with Shelter Cwmru in West Wales in same field. Link up? Audley

Anonymous said...

Wasim is a fine man, he is incredibly kind, patient and compassionate. Thanks for all you have done and will do for the working class in our community.There are not enough kind adjectives to describe Wasim.

Desirable! said...

Dear Friends. This is new to me and I like to ask this question; this location 171 Ave.B - I like to know What happened to Ms. Nori Poliakoff who rentet this place probably in 1954? She had this shop where she sold art and was a sculptress herself after returning from Havana Cuba. Does anyone know anything about her?