Protest is Just the Beginning For Tenants Organizing at Bushwick’s 431 Bleecker

Protest is Just the Beginning For Tenants Organizing at Bushwick’s 431 Bleecker
A crowd gathers outside 431 Bleecker Street during a rally by tenants fighting against harassment from their landlord (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

BUSHWICK – It isn’t an uncommon sight in Bushwick: tenants, community organizers and politicians outside a building, calling out a bad landlord. But today, those gathered outside 431 Bleecker Street had a bigger message: we’re organized, we’re not going anywhere, and we’re ready to fight.

The Solonje Burnett and Lucy Hunter, co-presidents of the 431 Bleecker Street Tenant Association, said tenants have been subjected to harassment in the form of intermittent heat, unfinished construction, harassment, buy-out offers and lawsuits for months on end.

As they spoke on the steps of 431 Bleecker, a television played a slideshow of images: hallways crowded by torn-out radiators and piping, unpatched holes in ceilings and floors, garbage piled in the building’s small courtyard.

At the rally, they out called their landlord, Kerry Danenberg, along with Grand Management, the company that manages the property.

Ermelinda Corchado, a grandmother who has lived at 431 Bleecker nearly 40 years, cried as she recounted how Danenberg threw her husband’s wheelchair into the trash last week, along with her grandson’s toys. Dannenberg has harrassed Corchado with calls and buyout offers for years, she said, recounting threats of lawsuits for allegedly unpaid rent in 2014 and 2018.

Lucy Hunter, Solonje Burnett and Ermelinda Corchado stand outside their building during the rally, calling out Grand Management for their actions (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

As life at 431 Bleecker became untenable, Burnett began to reach out to other residents, creating the tenants association with Hunter earlier this year. In response to the harassment and unfinished repairs, residents of the building went on rent strike almost 6 months ago, they told us.

As they organized, Burnett and Hunter discovered the myriad other properties Dannenberg owns or is tied to, and what they said is a pattern of harassment across his properties. They knocked on doors at 108 Central Avenue with community organizers, alerting tenants to their organizing efforts. In response, they were sued by Danenberg for trespassing and harassment.

The residents of 431 Bleecker aren’t alone, however, as their struggle has attracted the attention of local politicians and Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A (BKA), whose lawyers are helping residents fight their cases and sue for repairs at their building. Residents from 108 Central and 41 St. Nicholas Avenues attended today’s rally, attesting to similar experiences.

Local Assemblymember Maritza D’Avila (D-53), who grew up on Bleecker Street, said she remembered growing up without heat or hot water, and vowed to fight at a state level to curb what she called landlord greed.

“I understand what it means to be targeted,” D’Avila said. “To Grand Management: Were are waiting for the new Attorney General to be sworn in—this will be the first building in her hands.”

The Department of Buildings website lists numerous complaints in 2018 against the landlord, as well as a number of violations for which fines were assessed. But even a handful of $400 fines aren’t enough, said organizers.

“All those fines, they’re nothing,” said Kevin Worthington, an advocate from BKA. “That’s the cost of doing business [for landlords]—criminal harassment deserves criminal prosecution.”

It was a sentiment echoed by many of those present. Even with inspections and fines from the city, they felt that something more had to be done to hold accountable, and even punish, those landlords that engaged in serious patterns of tenant harassment.

“Lock them up!” shouted Robert Camacho, chairman of Bushwick’s Community Board 4, flipping the Trumpian rally chant into a cry for social justice in the neighborhood he’s lived in all his life.

As the 431 Bleecker Street Tenants Association fights for their own apartments, they’re aware of the movement growing in Bushwick to push back against landlords, harassment and the pressures of gentrification.

“He may own the block, but he doesn’t own Bushwick,” Camacho said. “We’re not playing no more.”

We reached out to Mr. Danenberg for comment and their perspective on the issues raised at the rally, leaving messages on an answering machine and with an assistant, but have yet to hear back. We will update if and when we do.