Maria Montealegre Evicted Today, a Lot of "Community," but Little Help

Steven Thrasher
Maria Montealegre, the tenant at 1985 Amsterdam Avenue who was assaulted by her landlord and evicted after helping organize neighbors, has been evicted today. A marshal showed up roughly around 4 this afternoon, leaving 95 percent of her, and her family's, belongings on the sidewalk.

A bevy of people from "community groups" -- mostly from the Mirabal Center -- came to a press conference outside her building. Despite the presence of many people in yellow Mirabal shirts, no one had a real plan in place, nor anywhere for Montealegre and her four kids to go tonight.

And though Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Robert Jackson's offices seemed like they might get heavily involved in recent days, neither were there today.

In fact, almost everyone who has ever said they were trying to help Montealegre is doing little more than to wait for her to actually get evicted, put on the street, and to be put into the homeless-shelter system after she's actually homeless.

At the press conference today, the Mirabal Center repeated the same charges it had made when the Voice first spoke to its members several months ago. Yet despite the long article we published, and the fact that it has known this eviction has been coming for months, it didn't seem to have actually done much of anything to find someplace for the Montealegre family to go. It amassed members in yellow T-shirts to create what looked like an ad for the Mirabal Center (and they held a banner of themselves in a similar formation at a similar event), but despite their network of people who rent rooms and sublet rooms, they didn't seem to have any plan for the Montealegres to go anywhere tonight.

Meanwhile, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio seems to have proved himself to be every bit as powerless as when we placed him on the Voice's list of 100 Most Powerless New Yorkers. We wrote in our feature about how his office didn't bother to return our initial calls about Montealegre's plight at the hands of Moshe Samovha, one of the landlords on his list of the city's worst. This prompted a series of calls from his office, and what promisingly seemed to be action on the part of one of his constituent advocates.

But no one from his office was in attendance at the press conference today. Sarah Figuereo, a representative, is going there tomorrow for a general meeting with tenants, to talk to them about what they can collectively do. But by then, Montealegre will not be a tenant in that building anymore.

"It seemed like [the Public Advocate] was going to move heaven and earth [for Maria]," said Andres Mares Muro, a former staff member at the Mirabal Sisters Center, who has been following Montealegre's case since the beginning. "But nothing happened."

Similarly, Councilmember Robert Jackson's office is planning a constituent meeting at 1985 Amsterdam tomorrow night, after the eviction. Juan Rosa, director of community affairs for Jackson's office, says that they were just contacted by Montealegre last Friday. (Montealegre's camp says this is not true, and Jackson's office did not respond to multiple calls about her case from the Voice several weeks ago. We got them on the phone for the first time today.)

The Mirabal Center told the Voice that Jackson's office wouldn't help unless Mirabal stepped aside, and they seemed defensive about the possibility of giving up Montealegre's case. Meanwhile, Jackson's office said its policy is to "let it be" whenever a constituent is involved with another group, and it doesn't want to get too involved.

But it wasn't clear what either side would be "giving up," as neither one was obviously doing anything to help with the most pressing problem: Montealegre and her four kids will be homeless. No one -- not Mirabal, not its members, not the Public Advocate, not Jackson, not anyone at the press conference -- seemed to have a Plan B in mind, except letting the eviction go forward and to then move them into the homeless-shelter system.

Montealegre said that Jackson's office recommended she go to housing court today with a letter from their office and ask for an extension, but she said that she couldn't stay in her apartment any longer.

"They wanted me to file the paperwork all over again, and I can't start over. I'm still getting harassed by the super and his assistant. The smell here is unbearable. We've been through too much already to start over again."

Even Shafaq Islam, a lawyer for the Urban Justice Center, came to lend his support but said that his legal options were exhausted. He wanted to make sure that "Ms. Montealegre has a plan" and "a roof over her head tonight," but admitted that "because she's been pulled in so many directions" in recent weeks, no clear plan has emerged.

Karina Aybar-Jacobs, program director at the Dominican Women's Development Center, said they were going to "do all they could" to help Montealegre find shelter tonight, but couldn't guarantee anything.

A campaign on raised $840 for Montealegre and her family.

[ACruz] [@chelipj]

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This is the Andres mentioned in TrailsofHarlem's comment. i'm certain that the person who wrote the piece won't identify herself openly. however, its clear to anyone who knows about the so-called tenant association at the buildings at west 146th street in central harlem that the writer is none other than the so-called founder/leader of that group. (she writes: "my tenant association members"). you and i met at those buildings a few years ago when i was working on a project that predated my staff work with Mirabal Sisters and before i knew how you operate. i'm certain i know who you you dare reveal your name?

i don't know much about the situation at west 150th as that was before my time but i do know about what Mirabal Sisters did at 1985 Amsterdam ave. and what you did to the tenants at west 146th.

Mirabal Sisters decided to challenge your so-called tenant assoc. after several mexican tenants reported ethnic discrimination towards them by you and your group. a Div. of Human Rights discrimination case was filed by those tenants against you and the 7A administrator at the time who was in league with you. those tenants lost the case due to the immunity privilege that city agencies enjoy, and consequently because of your official connection with that entity you also were able to evade justice...however, it was very clear that you and your organization conducted themselves in a racist fashion against the mexican families in the buildings. those families may have lost the bureaucratic battle at DHR but their claims of discrimination on your part were upheld by that state agency.

in that regard your record is very similar to Moshe Samouha's: showing outright disrespect for undocumented immigrant families. in Samouha's case he repeatedly threatened to call immigration on the tenants at 1985 amsterdam ave. his scare tactics worked--they were so terrified that they wouldn't go to court on the day of Maria's trial and support her claims with their testimony. based on what numerous people in the west 146 bldgs swore to in their depositions, your actions towards the mexican families  were not unlike Samouha's.

additionally, in the proceedings at court involving your organizational activities, your monetary interests in keeping that so-called tenants assoc. alive were revealed. you used the so-called tenants assoc. to obtain a very comfortable life-style. if you're going to call people poverty pimps you'll need to take a good long look in the mirror first.

you say that blaming elected officials is not a solution...its easy to see why you'd prefer not to judge elected officials for their conduct as you were/are closely affiliated with a state representative from harlem who funded your group for some time (i don't know if you still receive money from his office).

your accusation of i or anyone else at Mirabal Sisters conspiring with Samouha on Maria's eviction, or with any landlord whatsoever is ludicrous.  Urban Justice Center's lawyer advised Maria Montealegre to not pay her rent in cash and to use money orders. the LL subsequently took her to court on the basis of non-payment after making certain that other tenants in the building wouldn't step up to confirm her claims due to their clear fear of being evicted, deported or worse.

to claim that Mirabal Sisters sold out Maria Montealegre is idiotic, slanderous and self-serving. as advocates we may have made mistakes in the handling of this case, but unlike the writer of TrailsofHarlem we never targeted a group of tenant families for exclusion or harassment. 

Maria is now in the shelter system and she's justifiably unhappy with the situation and with how this battle turned out. she will keep fighting for her family even though now she can no longer fight for her fellow tenants. and she will continue to receive my support and solidarity.



The Community Vocie

Elsia Vazquez, nicknamed Trailsofharlem, ED of the Harlem Pa'lante organization has a case pending in the New York State Division of Human Rights. Elsia is accused of discriminating against eight Mexican families harassing them, because of Mexican origin. The investigation remains open, as they found evidence that commit her. This lawsuit has been brought to this division through the efforts of the Mirabal Center.


Mirabal Center is a sham.  They put this family in an awful predicament and caused the family to become homeless.  Similar to the other 35+ other families that I know and who became homeless because of their underhanded deals with landlords.  They put on their famous and must I add useless tshirts to rally and take pictures to seek funding while cutting deals with the very same landlords that they rally against.  Check out 305 W 150 Street.  According to the media, this was a 'building collapse' when in fact the building was never falling.  The tenants were instructed to call 911 to report that the structure of the bldg.  was being compromised.  After the third call, the landlord (Steven Carter- Manhattan North) got his wish.  What do you know... they bldg. was collapsing.  Everyone ended up in shelters for over 3 yrs. on that Sept. 11, 2007 and the owner converted the building to a condo.  BTW: the bldg. NEVER collapsed.  In fact, the structure was quite sound.  Today, the bldg. counts with luxury apts. 


I must add that the yellow t-shirts with plenty of able bodies which on multiple occasions rallied in front of the bldg. failed to noticed the huge sign by the Dept. of Bldgs. that claimed that the building was vacant.  The bldg. was not vacant and the massive contraction should not have taken place.  The landlord simply wanted to gut out the bldg. and that is exactly what he got. After the dust settled, only 7-9 (out of 31 families) returned to their apts.  Living in the shelter broke their self steam during the 3 yrs. they lived in the shelter and specially after asking HPD and the local elected officials to not get involved in their case, these poor families did not have a fighting chance.  According to them,  they were going to 'work with the landlord' and Mirabal Center.   A Court appointed 7A Administrator (to administer the day-to-day repairs) was not needed.  There are of course more stories.  The one just mentioned is just 1 case.  


How in the world would you not inform a tenant to pay their rent in the form of a check or a money order but ask them to organize a bldg. for you?  Tenant protection is the most important thing when organizing and blaming our local elected officials is not a solution.  You know what, I won't be surprised if the organization leaders were the ones who told the landlord how they could evict Maria.  The prior article shows her, being the only tenant during a tenant meeting, admitting that she pays her rent in cash. 


This organization uses poor unsuspecting latino families to cut deals with landlords. Yes! Trust me.  They cut a huge deal with my very own slumlord.   I am however very happy to hear that Andres is no longer with the organization specially after he confronted my tenant association members at every housing court case since 2010 to fight on behalf of my slumlord so that he could regain control of the three buildings that the tenant association took away from him.   The ED should be next. Pimps of poverty!  Their actions caused four unsuspecting families who decided to join them and dismiss our tenant association to be evicted.  Four since February 2012. It is quite sad to see them evicted.  Worse, this is just the beginning.  I hope that the organization steps up to the plate and prevent other illegal evictions.


Simply put,  one day they are community advocates... the next day they are thugs working with your landlord to get you evicted.  I can only hope and pray that they stop using this poor family for media attention and t-shirt wearing opportunities.  They should call their landlord friends and get that poor family an apt. already.


I was there in support, and I was not wearing a yellow t-shirt, although I’ve been a volunteer with Mirabal Sisters in the past.  It was very sad, and when the Marshall finally evicted her (long after the Voice’s reporter had left) many of the present including me were in tears.  In the press conference just like the Voice’s article, Mirabal called attention to the fact that none of the elected officials had stepped in to help.  They denounced a system that doesn’t work and that lets people like Maria fall through the cracks.


Through its programs the NYC Department of Homeless Services provides basically two kind of services: homelessness prevention and shelters.  Prevention mostly means legal assistance in housing court and rent arrears grants (paying your rent so that you don’t get thrown out).   But as the article points out, Maria exhausted all legal options in her case, and starting a new case in the face of the harassment and everything else that she had to deal with in there, was just out of the question.  The city does not provide housing to people facing eviction.  Shelters are provided to people only after they become homeless, and they have to prove that they have no place to go in order to be admitted into them. 


It’s hard to tell, but maybe as it turns out, the best place for Maria to be right now is in a shelter and not in a sublet or room.  Being in a shelter with kids will guarantee her some time soon an apartment along with other services like food stamps, child care, and health care.  Again, its hard to tell.  The only thing that is sure is that Mirabal was the only one supporting Maria through her ordeal.  Legal support from the Urban Justice Center was provided by Mirabal, and I’m pretty sure that it was Mirabal or Urban Justice who pitched this story to The Voice.  I agree that all the banners were a little too much, but that’s how they are, and they are the only ones calling attention to what is happening in this community.  It was them who posted a flyer in my building and moved me to attend and support Maria, and it was them at the end of the day that took Maria to a shelter.  I, on my part, joined a couple their members after they got a truck and helped them move Maria’s stuff to a secure place.


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