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Forum for tenants draws few

St. Luke’s Church on E. 139th Street, where a forum to help tenants navigate housing issues was held on Mar. 12.

A resource fair for tenants at St. Luke’s Church on 139th Street, failed to cause the kind of buzz public officials had hoped it would.

Only about a dozen tenants attended the Mar. 12 forum, which was organized by Councilwoman Diana Ayala the New York City Department of Housing.  , Representatives of Ayala’s office and the housing department, along with others from the NYC Commission on Human Rights, the New York City Housing Authority, outnumbered those it aimed to serve.

The fair was largely informal. Residents went from table to table, taking flyers and asking questions.  

But the stakes were high for those who were there. Gino Lay, 34, had a double lung transplant to treat his cystic fibrosis a year ago, and has been searching for housing in Mott Haven ever since. Lay said he is still very sick and has been living on a fixed income of disability checks. 

All of the affordable housing options he’s applied for have told him the same thing: His yearly income of just under $9,000 is too low. 

Lay floated from agency to agency Tuesday, looking for a solution. He said his doctors told him he doesn’t have much time. 

“They said one to five years,” Lay said. “I’m trying to live more than that. But I can’t like this” 

Among the many flyers on tables wrapped around the room, none showed options for tenants living on disability payments. The NYCHA representative, who had been on the job for only a week, had a difficult time answering questions. 

Ayala said that her team took down Lay’s name, and would be looking for housing options to fit his needs. But housing is tricky for everyone in the neighborhood right now, she said. 

“I think, of about everything we do in the office, about 95 percent of it is housing,” said the councilwoman, who was elected in 2017. “People are being priced out, so we wanted to have a resource fair where people could kind of get all those questions answered and meet some additional groups who provide services in the South Bronx.”

The department of finance offered advice to seniors on how to freeze their rents through a program called SCRIE or The Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption. 

But the housing system leaves out middle-aged adults also struggling with landlords who continue to raise rents and make living harder, said Angel Vega, adding he’s lived on the block for over 30 years. He said he is worried about his daughter, who is 30 and a single mother. 

Vega, who is skeptical of his daughter’s landlord, said he wants to be proactive in protecting his family from unfair housing practices. 

Tenants can learn more about freezing their rent here. And more about housing connect here.

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