William Spisak, director of programs at Chhaya, said the organization works to build “economically stable, sustainable and thriving communities” through community organizing, housing preservation, asset building and financial empowerment.
It’s especially important for immigrants who are new to the country and may be unfamiliar with their housing rights.
“Particularly in rent-stabilized units, we find that landlords are increasingly being incentivized to vacate those apartments so they can raise the rent,” he said. “As Jackson Heights and other areas are gentrifying and more wealthy residents want to move in, landlords clearly have an incentive to do that. It’s illegal, it’s wrong and it’s really disheartening to see in the community.”
Chhaya is part of a coalition called Stabilizing NYC, which organizes tenants from buildings with “bad landlords who have a history of harassing” residents.
“We organize with them to do actions, to file complaints collectively and push back at the landlords,” Spisak said. “We’ve had some success, and we’ve had some ongoing battles.”
Organizing tenants in Jackson Heights can be tough, given the multitude of cultures and languages spoken in the area. But Spisak said Chhaya’s staff speak nine languages, which helps when communicating with tenants.
One of the biggest challenges is finding out where these problems are happening in the first place.
“That typically is the hardest part of the job,” he said. “When we go to a building, a lot of times it might not even be because a tenant came to us. We do research and we find where perhaps violations are occurring.
“We go into the building, knock on doors and speak to tenants,” Spisak added. “We try to let them know what their rights are.”