Michelle and her two sons have been limping by in their ruined home—an apartment with no daylight, no running water and no toilet—for nearly a year. (Video origianally aired on May 2014 Edition of 219 West)
Rays of sunlight, peeking through cracks in the plywood, are all that Michelle and her family have left of their old kitchen.
Their rent-stabilized apartment has no running water and no toilet. They cook with an electric stove in what used to be their living room, and every morning they gather their towels, tooth brushes, empty water gallons and a bucket, and trek upstairs to a neighbor’s apartment—to use a bathroom that’s now shared by a total of 14 people.
In June last year, the family’s landlord sealed off the kitchens and bathrooms on the bottom floor of 98 Linden Street, saying that he needed to do some repairs. Soon after, says Michelle, two men showed up with chainsaws and sledgehammers. Only two hours later, her apartment had been utterly demolished.
The destruction at 98 Linden Street in Bushwick is one of the most egregious examples of a worrying new trend. Local activists and politicians say that in New York City’s most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, they’ve seen a noticeable uptick in landlords destroying their own properties in an effort to force out long-time, rent-regulated tenants.
Michelle’s family has lived in their Bushwick apartment for 24 years. Their unit is rent-stabilized, and as a result, the family pays less than $800 per month, in a neighborhood where market rate apartments nearby have soared to as much as three times that.
Local politicians are now calling to designate acts of sabotage against rent-regulated tenants a Class D felony—but for Michelle, that legislation will come too late. Her only recourse is a long battle in court to remain in her home.
“It’s just patience,” says Michelle. “This whole thing is just patience. Waiting around for the city to do something, and not giving up. Cause we’re not giving up, at all.”