The Distrust Grows in Brooklyn

New York Daily News, June 16, 1997
This is the second in a series of stories looking at the effect of the rent battle on one Brooklyn building.

It was showdown day, and Inez Figueroa was ready. She awoke at 9 a.m. and headed straight to the living room of her Park Slope apartment, turning on Channel 4 to see what legislators had in store in the final hours of the rent debate.

"I am watching every minute," Figueroa said. "I wouldn't miss it."

Figueroa, 37, a mother of two, has kept a keen watch on the debate between state legislators for months, worried that her $360-a-month rent might suddenly balloon beyond what she can afford on her $20,000-a-year salary. She has become a neighborhood expert, too, informing neighbors on her Eighth St. block of their rights as tenants.

Yesterday, with the clock ticking, Figueroa played host to a miniversion of the debate raging in Albany. Concerned neighbors most of whom said they cannot afford a rent increase streamed in and out of her kitchen, stopping for a cup of coffee and a dose of political debate.

"It's just a lot of politics," Thomas Wright, 30, a city caseworker who lives on Sixth Ave., said angrily. "The landlords fund the Republican campaigns. Now the landlords are cashing in."

"Well, we'll see," Figueroa countered. "There are more tenants than landlords."

Of the more than half-a-dozen tenants who trickled through Figueroa's apartment, not one favored deregulation or the politicians backing it.

Neighbor Susan Loeb, who is running for City Council, railed against Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) as his picture flashed on television.

"Bruno is absolutely and completely out of control," Loeb said.

With the television on, Figueroa read aloud guidelines from the South Brooklyn Legal Society, telling the group they did not have to leave their apartments, that only a judge could order them out. Her advice was peppered with opinions: about landlords, about politicians.

And repeatedly, as politics came up, the visitors blamed Mayor Giuliani for not doing more. Not one person planned to vote for him in November not even Zolmaria Hernina, a mother of four who supported Giuliani in 1993.

"He should've spoken up for us," said Hernina, who pays half her monthly income, $550, for a rent-stabilized apartment on Eighth St.

"I think if there were an election tomorrow, 98% of the people would go out and vote," added Raymond Morales, 75.

The group disagreed on particular points: Whether Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan ) should bend on luxury decontrol, or whether legislators should even try to complete negotiations by the midnight deadline.

Figueroa, who has rallied, written letters and read every available pamphlet, said she wanted her anxiety to end. "We have to reach a compromise at some point," she said. "We just have to."