As the only working person in the household, Romero has to not only pay rent, but take care of everything for her kids.
But in her new lease, her rent spiked to $2,100 a month. Like many tenants at 371 South 5th Street, Romero has preferential rent, which allows her to pay rents lower than market-rate.
Under the rules of preferential rent, the landlord can legally increase the rent to market rate, putting tenants in a difficult financial predicament. In Romero’s case, the market rate value of the apartment is $3,600.
On Monday night, Romero and her family joined other neighbors and supporters outside their building to protest the recent rent hikes.
“That’s why I’m fighting,” she said in Spanish, “so that I won’t get any more raises.”
The rent isn’t the only problem the Williamsburg tenants face. According to Marilia Richards, staff attorney at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, which is representing the tenant association, they’ve also been having issues with lack of repairs.
“Some of them haven’t had any repairs in over 20 years,” Richards said.
Others have faced stretches of time with no heat or hot water, as well as problems with mold. But Richards said tenants were afraid to report the issues to their landlord out of fear she would raise their rents.
According to Richards, four tenants who couldn’t afford to pay the higher rents have already moved out in the last six months.
With the legal support of Brooklyn A and housing groups like Los Sures, the tenants will soon go to housing court to demand repairs.
“We’re hoping to get something done in the next couple of weeks,” Richards said.
Lucas Renique-Poole, a Los Sures organizer who has worked with the tenants, said tenants have wanted to organize since 2015. They finally created a tenants association last summer.
“They were afraid to organize,” he said. “But the last batch of leases, most of them got rent increases between $300 and $1,000. They figured they’re going to organize anyway.”
Los Sures is among dozens of groups across the state pushing for universal rent control and a host of other tenant protections, including banning preferential rent. Renique-Poole said the prospects this year has looked better than in the past.
“There’s a Democratic majority in Albany,” he said, “so we’re hoping we get all of our bills passed.”
As for Romero, she said she “needs this fight to be won” because her family was already displaced once before. She used to live in a non-regulated building on Grand Street.
When the building was sold, the tenants were forced out.
“That happens to far too many immigrant families in our area,” she said.
But Romero remains optimistic that they’re going to win this fight.
“I’m a fighter,” she said. “I know many other tenants like me are fighting and we will win.”