LOWER MANHATTAN - A dozen people on a hunger strike sat huddled together on a cool spring night outside City Hall, sending a loud message to their landlord and the de Blasio administration: they want to return home.
Tenants were evacuated from 85 Bowery back on Jan. 18 because of unsafe conditions. The 75 people forced from their apartments have been waiting to return to their homes since.
Speaking through a translator, 71-year-old Zun Jin Zheng says she and her 80-year-old husband just want a guarantee.
“I want the government to give us a date when we can go back home," she said.
Repairs were initially set to take a few weeks. That deadline was pushed again and again and now mistrust runs deep. The residents have been told the work won’t get done until August, prompting resumption of their hunger strike. The first one was in mid-February.
“Their entire lives are turned upside down and I think also what we forget a lot of times with displacement and evictions happening the emotional and mental toll it takes,” said advocate Sarah Ahn. Ahn is with the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side.
Their landlord Joseph Betesh has been paying for rooms at a nearby hotel. Animosity grew further in April when tenant belongings were thrown out. The owner claims it was by mistake.
When this began, the tenants said Betesh was dragging out repairs to push them out, saying he wants to turn the units into market rate apartments. Now they say the de Blasio administration let them down and City Hall is trying to make their protest even more difficult.
Wednesday's hunger strike grew to more than the displaced residents of 85 Bowery. People rallied for tenants' rights citywide.
They held signs and chanted “Bring the tenants home," “Chinatown not for sale," and "NYC not for sale!”
Some are here fasting in solidarity.
“I think Mayor de Blasio is doing a disservice to our community by forgetting us and protecting developers like Betesh,” said Carmen Hulbert.
The landlord and the City tell PIX11 the timeline has grown because the scope of the work has grown. It now involves a complex project involving replacement of the main staircase and rotting floor parts along with asbestos removal.
Department of Building engineers are monitoring the work of the landlord’s contractor.
The owner of the building sent us a statement. You can read it here.
The Department of Buildings also responded:
"DOB and our fellow agencies are pushing the owner to complete major repairs at 85 Bowery as quickly as possible – and substantial work has been completed. We remain committed to holding the landlord responsible for providing tenants with a safe place to live.”