Es-crow Bar Hangs Over Her

by ANNE E. KORNBLUT
NY Daily News, June 17, 1997
This is the third in a series of stories looking at the effect of the rent battle on one Brooklyn building.

Sitting up in bed in her Park Slope apartment late Sunday, Inez Figueroa felt a wash of relief when she heard about a rent compromise on television.

Then she heard the details.

"I was devastated," said Figueroa, 37. "I was so scared. I stood at the edge of the bed, and I said, I can't believe it. They've shafted us."

Figueroa, who is raising two daughters in a rent-stabilized two-bedroom walkup, said she sees danger in one of the agreement's key points: Forcing tenants to put money in escrow during court disputes with landlords.

Three years ago, Figueroa's eight-family building on Eighth St. between Fourth and Fifth Aves. was owned by a slumlord. There was no heat or hot water. Wild dogs roamed the basement. Drug dealers left crack vials on the stoop.

"We held out on our rent for two years," Figueroa recalled. "Without that, we would have been weak. It would have been a disaster."

The tenants, led by Figueroa, eventually won their battle, forcing the courts to threaten the slumlord with taking the building out of his control. A new landlord Bob Scibetti, whom the tenants feel is honest rescued the building last January, buying it for $198,000.

"Holding out on rent was vital," Figueroa said. "In organizing the tenants, that was key."

Figueroa fears that if the money is placed in escrow, it will be easier for landlords with the help of high-powered attorneys to get at the cash.

Figueroa, a tenant leader who educated neighbors about the importance of rent stabilization before Sunday's deadline, said the compromise was proof her work is not yet complete.

In the insurance office in Brooklyn where she works as an administrative assistant, Figueroa said she has kept quiet about rent stabilization. Her co-workers own apartments, she said, and the environment is "very corporate."

But in lower Park Slope, where eight members of her extended family live in stabilized apartments, Figueroa plans to become even more of an activist working on campaigns, writing letters and holding living room debates as she did during Sunday's stabilization countdown.

"I'm going to educate people that the Republicans do not serve us," she said. "We can't give up."