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EXCLUSIVE: Homeless given one day to leave long-term shelter

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PROSPECT-LEFFERTS GARDENS -- Gentrification can be a difficult issue because it can improve communities while also sometimes making conditions for the poorest and most vulnerable residents even worse. A clear case of this is found at a large apartment building in Brooklyn where the landlord gave residents no more than a day's notice to vacate.

It left them scrambling to pack up years' worth of personal belongings, and it underscores a negative side of a neighborhood increasing in wealth.

"It was last minute," said Marquita Holloway, one of at least 160 residents of 60 Clarkson Avenue.

"[It was], 'Pack up all your stuff and just move,'" she said about the notice that she and her fellow residents received from their building's property management company, called We Always Care.

Residents call the name ironic, particularly noting that the notice they received from management on Monday of this week said that they were expected to be out of their apartments on Tuesday, less than 24 hours later.

Also, none of the 83 apartments in the building had that much to recommend them.

"Look at these roaches," said Merlinda Fernandez, a five-year resident of the building, as she pointed to a wall in her apartment on which a half dozen of the insects were crawling. "I spray every day."

Dorothy Boyd, who has lived in the building for years, said there's mold coming out of the wall as she faced the tiles in her bathroom.

Another tenant, Deborah Fernandez, showed a photo of the area under her kitchen sink that had clearly rotted from extensive water damage.

All of those conditions are being paid for by taxpayers: 60 Clarkson Avenue is actually a type of city homeless shelter. Under a Department of Homeless Services program, the city pays the landlord at least $3,000 a month for each apartment in the building, even though their condition is poor. In fact, the building currently has a lengthy history of code violations.

The situation is the latest chapter in a thorny residential history for the building. A few years ago, it was the subject of scrutiny because the landlord, Barry Hers, got longstanding rent-controlled tenants out in order to collect far higher fees for housing the homeless.

Now, Hers seems to seek an even bigger payday by selling the building in the fast-gentrifying neighborhood. Housing law experts told PIX11 News building residents, even in a family shelter, are required to have at least 10 days notice to vacate, although 30 days is the norm.

In his vacate notice, the landlord did promise to move the tenants to some of his other properties, but one resident who took him up on his offer took photos inside the apartment to which she was to be relocated. It had roaches in various parts of the refrigerator, as well as in a light fixture. Also, some of the apartment's doors were off their hinges, and there were apparent rodent feces visible.

Hers's property management company, We Always Care, keeps an office in the building it's trying to clear out. PIX11 News made a variety of attempts to contact the company, to no avail.

PIX11 News also went to landlord Barry Hers's personal office, in Borough Park, Brooklyn. His staff said he was not there at the time. He never responded to our requests for comment.

For its part, the Department of Homeless Services made clear that it is not trying to force residents out.

It issued a statement that said, in part, "When exiting or transferring any family, we have a client-focused approach that is individualized and addresses their specific needs with least disruption to their lives."

For now, residents told PIX11 News they intend to stay in their homes unless city authorities -- not their landlord -- forcefully remove them, or they get what they view to be a reasonable and respectful solution from landlord Barry Hers.