Residents in city-lease program fight institutional disinvestment

Residents of 161 West 140 Street want the city to keep their promise.

“This is a passion now for me, that we have to do more.”

Elsia Vasquez is imploring city officials to renew their commitment to the Tenant Interim Lease program — a program which allowed tenant associations to enter into lease agreements with the city, allowing them to manage and inhabit low-cost apartments. Presumably through the TIL program, rent payments would pay for operational and structural costs of maintaining the building. Sustained low-rents, along with an increasing number of vacancies in TIL buildings add to the long list of issues affecting the predominately lower-income, elderly residents of several TIL buildings.

Vasquez, who is originally from Harlem, began her work with P.A.’L.A.N.T.E. Harlem after realizing the housing inequalities breeding in the neighborhood.

“My community called me back, and I came back, but didn’t realize that Harlem had changed so much that we have slumlords.”

Vasquez’ current passion is supporting residents of 161 West 140 Street — a TIL building that has deteriorated following years of neglect and disinvestment from the city. City-owned TIL buildings, like 161, qualify for a city and federally funded rehabilitation, to ensure the structural maintenance of the buildings following decades of inhabitance. Rather than rehabilitation, a range of problems plague 161, like severe mold infestations, a bed bug epidemic, dilapidated floors, and a damaged boiler that could cost thousands to fix.

Vasquez worries that the degradation of 161 and other TIL buildings aligns with current gentrifying trends throughout Harlem.

“This is a housing rights thing — a human rights issue.”

New Harlem World covers stories relating to displacement, gentrification, and social unrest in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. You can reach Martika Ornella on Twitter @martikaornella. New Harlem World is also on Tumblr, and will soon be available as a seasonal zine.

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