Bowery tenants temporarily end hunger strike for Chinese New Year

The Bowery tenants who went on a hunger strike temporarily ended  the protest on Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, to celebrate Chinese New Year.
The Bowery tenants who went on a hunger strike temporarily ended the protest on Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, to celebrate Chinese New Year. Photo Credit: MTA New York City Transit / Leonard Wiggins

A hunger strike over the repairs to a Chinatown building deemed unsafe to live in temporarily ended on Monday so the tenants involved can celebrate Chinese New Year.

The tenants of 85 Bowery were evacuated on Jan. 18 when a Department of Buildings inspection revealed an unstable staircase that needed to be replaced. Illegal partitions were also found in some of the apartments during the inspection.

Eight of the tenants went on a hunger strike on Thursday, Feb. 8, outside the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development headquarters in lower Manhattan, urging the city to issue a deadline for them to return to their homes, among other demands. The city has said replacing the staircase will take six weeks and removing the illegal partitions will take another two weeks.

The tenants remained on the hunger strike through Monday afternoon, but announced a temporary end to the protest around 4 p.m. in order to celebrate Chinese New Year, which begins on Friday.

“Usually, they need to prepare for the cleanup before Chinese New Year. They need to invite friends and hang out with family,” Zishun Ning, a representative of the participants, said during a news conference Monday afternoon. “After you finish a hunger strike, you need to come back to the normal state; they need to adjust. With the weather and the health issues — it’s all compounded and they need time before the new year.”

The demands to officially end the strike include a city-imposed deadline for tenants to return to their building, not for construction to be completed, with written consequences if the deadline is not met; written confirmation that the vacate order will be lifted by the DOB and the padlock on the building removed as soon as the staircase is replaced; and an agreement that no alterations to tenants’ units will take place until they are able to return to their homes, so they can oversee the process.

The city has appointed a commissioner to oversee the repairs and make sure they are completed as quickly as possible, as well as ensure construction on any apartments won’t be done without consent of the tenants, but a firm deadline has not been set, according to Caitlin Kelmar, another representative for the group.

The city aims to get tenants back into their apartments “as soon as possible,” a statement from the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit said.

While repairs are happening, the tenants are living in hotel rooms, some of which are being paid for by the building’s owner, Bowery 8385 LLC.

The tenants of 83-85 Bowery are also involved in a lawsuit with Bowery 8385 LLC and their landlord, Joseph Betesh, over whether the apartments are rent-regulated. The tenants allege that Bowery 8385 LLC and Betesh have purposely delayed making needed repairs to the building in an effort to force them to leave so the units can be converted into market-rate apartments.

A spokesman for Bowery 8385 LLC has denied any claims the company is trying to force tenants from their homes.

A host of elected officials — including New York Rep. Yuh-Line Niou, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez, city Comptroller Scott Stringer and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer — have called on Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance to investigate Bowery 8385 LLC’s housing practices.

With Lauren Cook and Rajvi Desai