Manhattan Chinatown Residents Form Tenant Union

This is an edited version of a CAAAV media advisory.

Manattan Chinatown residents celebrated the Lunar New Year by announcing the formation of the Chinatown Tenant Union. They also announced a campaign for bilingual inspectors at City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

As the fruits of efforts of Chinatown tenants and the Chinatown Justice Project of CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, the Chinatown Tenant Union has identified its first goal as the hiring bilingual inspectors for the HPD.  This will help preserve rent-stabilized buildings in the community.

Chinatown was heavily impacted by September 11th.  Yet money from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has not gone to preserve housing that the community desperately needs.  Instead, many tenants face displacement through harassment tactics used by their landlords, such as cutting off heat and hot water in the middle of winter.  HPD only has two inspectors for all of Manhattan. Moreover, these inspectors speak Cantonese, most of the 70,000 tenants in Chinatown speak Fujianese and Mandarin.  The housing inspectors’ inability to communicate with immigrant tenants contributes to the lack of enforcement of housing codes in Chinatown, therefore causing the displacement of low-income residents.

“It is HPD’s responsibility to be able to communicate with tenant and respond to their emergency housing problems, such as heat and hot water complaints, but it has not lived up to its job,” said Zhi Qin Zheng, a Chinatown tenant.  “The City does nothing to protect immigrant tenants who don’t have language access.  Therefore it is important for City Council to pass a law for bilingual inspectors that will help protect the community.”

Additionally, City Council Member Alan Gerson has $50 million for the preservation of housing, yet no plan for the preservation of rent-stabilized units, which make up 54% of the housing stock in Chinatown.  Therefore it is also important for Gerson to support the demands of the tenants and include them into his proposal.