Scores of Ridgewood residents of every age and background marched through the neighborhood on Saturday morning, Nov. 19, as they fight to keep their community affordable for everyone.
Organized by the Ridgewood Tenants Union, the boisterous crowd — chanting through the streets and accompanied by a band — demanded that the city preserve rent-stabilized apartments in the community. They also urged that developers creating luxury apartments give something back to the longtime residents in the area.
“We are here today to say to developers that they need to stop treating Ridgewood as their luxury playground,” said Raquel Namuche of the Ridgewood Tenants Union, who led participants on a guided tour of apartment houses where longtime residents have felt the economic strains created as a result of gentrification.
The march started in front of 1819 Cornelia St., a six-family home recently sold at a public auction following the sudden death of the owner, who left no inheritors. Five families living there wanted to purchase the home but were unable to do so before the auction, and now they want the new owner to let them remain there.
Hilda Coll-Valentin, who leads the 1819 Cornelia St. Tenants Association, said that the new owners wanted to meet each of the families individually, but the families refused their request, concerned the owners would find a way to increase the rent.
Valentin said that the large developers purchasing and building luxury apartment buildings in Ridgewood aren’t doing anything to help the longtime community residents.
“Big companies are coming into our neighborhood, and they’re not investing in our neighborhood,” she said. “I think if you’re going to buy in the building, you should give back to the community. This is Ridgewood community, not Ridgewood commodity.”
Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who has been working with the families of 1819 Cornelia St., and Public Advocate Letitia James also addressed the crowd prior to the march. Reynoso said he would seek a City Council resolution calling on the state Legislature to change the housing law in order to give tenants the opportunity to purchase their own building collectively.
“We are proactively or intentionally putting ourselves in a position where these landlords have to kick people out,” Reynoso said. “Why would you auction off something knowing that it’s rent-stabilized and rent-regulated? You can only get so much money for it. You can only get so much money for it, but you’re taking out a loan that’s double [the price]. We’re encouraging this to happen in Queens.”
James, citing her fight more than a decade ago against the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, said that the neighbors need to unite against conditions created by owners of rent-regulated homes to intentionally force their tenants to move in order to rent the units out for much higher prices.
“All of you have a duty and an obligation to stand up for residents whose voices are oftentimes ignored,” James said. “There’s those who believe they don’t have a right, but housing is a right. They do not want to be displaced, and they will not accept [their] dirty, filthy money.”
The participants then walked up several Seneca Avenue and Palmetto Street, accompanied by a band and chanting all the way, “Ridgewood’s not for sale!” and “Ridgewood is a community, not a commodity!” They stopped at a Seneca Avenue apartment house where a longtime resident, who spoke in Spanish, said that his landlord has intentionally kept four units in the rent-regulated building empty for years. The property owner is now working to have him evicted.
The crowd also stopped in front of a six-family home on Palmetto Street between Seneca and Cypress avenues. He noted that many of the buildings on the block, which are rent-stabilized, have been purchased in recent years by developers looking to drive the tenants out and rent out the units at or above market rate.
The march concluded at the corner of St. Nicholas Avenue and Palmetto Street, where a 17-story luxury apartment building will soon rise from the empty lot.
“They’re going to build a 17-story luxury building with rents going for $2,000 or more a month, none of them are being built for this community,” Namuche said. “When developers come in, it impacts the surrounding neighborhood. Other landlords will take notice: ‘They’re charging higher rents, let me do the same.'”
Namuche observed that “this is how displacement occurs; this is how people lose their apartments.”
“This is how this working-class community that we’ve built is destroyed,” she added.
Local residents, such as Mario Uquillas, an Ecuadorian native who’s lived in the area for seven years, said they would fight to keep Ridgewood affordable for everyone.
“We’re not going to move from Ridgewood,” he said “This is the community place and we’re not going to move from here. It’s not going to happen. We’ve got to work together. We have to stick together for a better future for us.”
Caitlin Shann said she moved to Ridgewood six years ago, and while she and her wife are able to afford higher rents, they choose to fight skyrocketing prices.
“I’ll be honest, I can afford to pay $2,000 a month, but I’m not going to,” Shann said, “because just because you can doesn’t mean you should. We all need to be devoted to the cause. … I’m going to stay in my community and I’m going to keep rents cheap for everyone. We all have a part to play.”