By Patrick Donachie
City advocates for tenants’ rights were familiar with Donald Trump long before the celebrity, the reality television and his successful campaign for the presidency. In New York, many tenants knew him as a landlord, when he was alleged to have harassed and intimidated renters living in buildings he owned, according to members of the Metropolitan Council on Housing.
“Before he did any of this, he was a landlord for rent-stabilized apartments,” Andrea Shapiro, the program coordinator for the MET Council on Housing said. “He was known to harass tenants in the apartments.”
The MET Council was one of the many groups to participate in Saturday’s Women’s March in New York City. It was founded in 1959 and is the city’s oldest tenants’ union. It was formed in response to Robert Moses’ remaking of the city and the group pushed for stronger housing laws in the face of rampant redevelopment. The council works citywide and partners with the Ridgewood Tenants Association, some tenants’ groups in Astoria and also works with the Queens League of United Tenants.
Angela Pham, a Manhattan resident, was one of the tenants who marched Saturday. She first became acquainted with the council after she had been sued in housing court by a landlord trying to force her out of her rent-stabilized apartment. She successfully fought the attempt, but said it took over her life and made her realize that a renter’s life can be turned upside down if they are harassed by a landlord and cannot afford an attorney.
Pham said she was enthused to see such a high turnout at the march, saying that “power in numbers” was the best immediate response to a Trump presidency. Both Shapiro and Pham said their concerns stemmed from Trump’s conduct as a landlord, with Shapiro saying he had settled a suit in which he was accused of violating the Fair Housing Act. They also contended that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser to the president, had been accused of trying to force out stabilized tenants to raise rents, and they were both disappointed in the selection of Ben Carson as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
“It’s contempt for the housing system we have that keeps the city functioning and keeps a lot of people living here,” Shapiro said.
Pham and Shapiro also said their participation in the Women’s March was significant since tenant advocacy in the city had been primarily driven by women, with Pham remarking that the majority of volunteers and board members at the council were female. Shapiro said the challenges ahead of them were sizable but surpassable.
“We’ve done it in the past,” she said. “We’ve created rent stabilization laws, and we’ve helped legislation come about in not-friendly environments. We need to do that again.”
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona