LONG ISLAND CITY, QUEENS — When an eviction notice slid under the door of Kim Marston's Queensbridge Houses apartment, her first reaction was to laugh.
The letter, dated July 8, accused Marston of breaching the New York City Housing Authority's rules and regulations and of "non-desirability," meaning someone in her household "displayed behaviors that have disturbed or endangered other NYCHA residents," the letter reads.
"I just laughed," Marston, who has lived in Queensbridge since the 1980s, told Patch. "Why, after 34 years, am I undesirable?"
To Marston, her family, her neighbors and tenants' rights activists, the letter had a clear message, though it wasn't actually spelled out on the piece of paper slipped under her front door.
"They’re doing it for retaliation, because I was not supposed to open my mouth," Marston said.
Marston, like many other tenants in Queensbridge Houses and public housing complexes across the city, had been waging a long battle to get NYCHA workers to make much-needed repairs in her apartment. Marston's bathroom was leaking so badly that the water ended up in her neighbor's apartment. There was mold and peeling paint and a light fixture dangling from the ceiling, and her sink had been ripped out.
But unlike other public housing residents, in June, Marston finally got many of the repairs she'd been requesting, after a group of activists and a congressional candidate joined her in marching to NYCHA's management office to demand action and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney raised the issue in a letter to the agency.
Less than a month later, Marston's eviction notice arrived.
NYCHA Deputy Press Secretary Rochel Leah Goldblatt denied that the eviction was retaliation and said it relates to an arrest of Marston's son.
“As the tenant is aware, repairs to her apartment were made in June. She was not advised about the violation of her lease until July," Goldblatt wrote in an emailed statement to Patch. "There is no connection between repairs to this apartment and this tenant being called in to discuss her son’s arrest with the Manager. No administrative action has yet been taken."
View this post on InstagramTwo weeks ago, a group of us marched w a tenant to the management office at their development to demand necessary repairs be made. Last week, we learned those repairs were finally made. BUT we also learned that the tenant received a letter threatening them w eviction. More info to follow on how we are supporting this tenant and how you can too, but KNOW that this is not about this one tenant. This is citywide tactic that is used by NYCHA to intimidate those that speak out about the neglect and inhumane treatment and living conditions, and this is intended to be a warning to all NYCHA tenants. Well we're not gunna stand for that bullshit. Stay tuned for updates about how we're putting NYCHAon notice.
A post shared by Justice For All Coalition (@justice4allqns) on Jul 14, 2020 at 5:28am PDT
But Marston's letter mentions nothing about her son's arrest, which happened in November 2019, according to criminal court records. He was arrested on a charge of first-degree robbery and is being detained on Rikers Island. He has not been convicted.
Asked how Marston's son's arrest last year relates to the eviction letter she received this month, Goldblatt, the NYCHA spokesperson, responded, "This is all we have to say on the matter."
Lashawn Marston, who goes by Suga Ray and is Marston's son and the brother of the man who was arrested in November, cast doubt on NYCHA's reasoning: "They had plenty of time to address it if that was the real issue," he wrote in a message to a Patch reporter.
His mother shared her story during a rally Thursday in front of the Queensbridge Houses leasing office to bring attention to the struggle tenants like herself face trying to get apartment repairs.
Queensbridge resident Beverly Cowan was among those demanding action. She lives in a two-bedroom apartment with cracks running through the walls, including one right above the bed where she sleeps. Her radiators are rusted, and the paint is chipping off the walls and the pipes. Centipedes, water bugs and roaches are common sights.
She's been waiting since 2017 for NYCHA to fix the issues, she said.
“My walls are open and they’re breathing," Cowan told Patch. "What’s coming out of there I don’t know. What I do know is I’m asthmatic.”
Justice For All Coalition, a grassroots group of NYCHA residents fighting for better living conditions that co-hosted the rally, has started collecting dozens of letters from Queensbridge residents about their living conditions in preparation to file a lawsuit.
The group plans to eventually file similar lawsuits on behalf of tenants in Ravenswood Houses, Astoria Houses and Woodside Houses.
A Queensbridge resident received an eviction notice shortly after pressing NYCHA to make much-needed repairs in her apartment.
At a rally today, @Justice4AllQns @SugaRay4506 @CarolynBMaloney criticized NYCHA for what they say was retaliation, plus called for more repairs. pic.twitter.com/9H3cLq26Ha
— Maya Kaufman (@mayakauf) July 16, 2020
Queensbridge tenants and activists hope that the lawsuit, called an HP action, will force NYCHA to finally make the repairs.
"People have the right to a decent place to live, especially during COVID-19," Stan Morse, Justice For All Coalition's lead organizer, said. "How do you quarantine in an apartment or house that’s falling down around you?”