Residents evicted from run-down Dryden buildings still struggle to find housing

Correction: The Dryden Code Enforcement Department performs Fire Code Inspections, not the Fire Department. This article has been updated to reflect this error.

DRYDEN, NY — Six weeks after tenants were released due to dangerous and precarious living conditions, buildings on West Main Street in Dryden remain inactive as former residents have had to disperse to try to find housing.

The closure of properties inspired a protest, organized by the Ithaca Tenants Union, in November on West Main Street in Dryden. ITU has also worked with some of the displaced tenants, organizing fundraisers to help with mutual aid, food costs, transportation needs, housing expenses for those who have found a place, and more. , the fundraising that continues to this day as the dozen or so displaced tenants have struggled to get back on their feet.

The buildings now bear vestiges of this protest, but not much else. From the outside, the buildings look relatively beautiful, at least not unusual for the older structures on Dryden’s Main Street. But the buildings are largely empty, and the windows are only filled with protest signs calling for landlords to be held accountable and for displaced tenants to be funded by the government that displaced them. The wooden slats of an unfinished back porch are bare behind one of the buildings.

A fire inspection revealed several worrying conditions in the buildings, cited in a letter dated October 15, 2021. They range from strange but not dangerous, such as the need for better identification of the premises, to more serious: open wiring or exposed, carbon monoxide monitors and smoke detectors missing throughout the building, holes in walls, broken windows and doors, and more.

Tenants like Keionzie Clements and her boyfriend Troy Washington, among others, have also complained of bugs and cockroach infestations, mentioned but not verified in the code enforcement document, as well as harmful mold (also not mentioned in the code application document). In an interview with the Ithaca Voice in November, Clements explained how concerns she voiced even during her August 2020 move-in process were never addressed, including mold issues and burners on her stove that she saw as dangerous.

An example of conditions in Keionzie Clements’ apartment. (Photo provided)

Perhaps most damning, Clements said her toilet was unusable for a long time after moving in, forcing her to find creative ways to ensure she and Washington could use the bathroom when needed.

“We kind of created a system, Mirabito opens at 5 am and Speedway stays open all night,” Clements said. “So we’ve created a system, but you don’t know when it’s going to be. “

Clements said she pleaded with the property and management to resolve her issues, including making a tearful bathroom video on a particularly rough night, but her concerns were generally dismissed, though her situation in the toilet was eventually corrected. Clements and Washington set up a GoFundMe to try and raise enough money to move in October.

“I can’t live like this,” she said in the video.

The village board certainly took the concerns seriously when they were expressed publicly after the fire inspection revealed several concerns, although when presented with a list of questions, the village mayor , Mike Murphy, did not elaborate on why the village did not respond to building conditions until 2021. The board called a special emergency meeting for the morning of October 27 regarding emergency measures at took over the four properties at 8-10, 12 and 14 West Main Street and approved their closure, agreeing that the buildings would be posted with 72 hours to vacate notices just before the Thanksgiving holiday on November 19.

The tenants of the building called a meeting to allow them to publicly appeal the decision and find a different approach that would not force them to find completely new accommodation, but their attempt was unsuccessful. Clements said that she and members of the ITU had actually worked on parts of the building in hopes of repairing it to the point of avoiding condemnation, which they managed to do, but failed to do. could not avoid the evacuation order. Although the meeting took place on November 9, stories heard during it only exacerbated the board’s feeling that the building needed to be closed quickly. The minutes of the meetings were not posted by the village.

“Council heard about even more dangerous conditions from tenants during the meeting,” Murphy said. “This confirmed that our security concerns and the initial notice of cancellation of the order were appropriate. The cancellation order was placed in the building the next day.

In a statement to Ithaca Voice, Murphy insisted that the decision to deem the buildings unsafe for occupancy was made in the interest of the health and safety of the tenants, and “is not a condemnation of the building or a expulsion ”. While village resolutions authorize village lawyers to “seek appropriate redress for the safety of tenants,” Murphy’s letter only mentions that tenants have been given advice on accessing resources that could help them while they are on the move. were looking for accommodation on an extraordinarily tight schedule in Tompkins County, hungry for vacancies.

“After the code enforcement officers informed the village council of their findings, the council felt it needed to take immediate action to protect the safety and lives of the tenants,” he said. . “Occupant safety is the basis of steps taken to evacuate the building until the building meets NYS Fire and Safety Code regulations. Tenants moving out of their apartments and finding accommodation in the current rental environment is a hardship. The council understands this, but the village council has determined that, given the nature and extent of the violations and in part based on statements from the tenants themselves, the council should take this action for the safety of the residents. tenants.

Linda Bruno, owner of one of the buildings on Main Street West that was closed, did not respond to a request for comment on the situation. Murphy did not answer a question about the pitfalls of closing a building in the name of tenant safety, only to then expose those same tenants to the various forms of danger that homelessness presents. This same sentiment was expressed by the legal representatives of Legal Assistance of Western New York (LAWNY).

“As the reason given for the resolution of the village officials was the safety of the tenants and was not intended to relocate the tenants, our office expects the village officials to enforce the code against the responsible parties, the landlords. , and compel compliance with village orders to remedy, “wrote Alissa Hull of LAWNY, who represented the tenants, in a letter dated November 10, 2021.” Relocation of tenants, even when necessary for safety reasons, does not constitute code enforcement and does not remedy landlords’ persistent violations against tenants who live in your village. “

Hull suggests that the Village take legal action against the landlords responsible for the situations, and that LAWNY pledge to help in such an effort, but at this point no lawsuits appear to have been filed.

Regardless of the exact terminology, the tenants, who were universally low-income tenants with already precarious housing conditions, were banned from their homes anyway, although some squatted the building for a short time after the looming. display of the notice. Clements and Washington, for their part, have continued to collect donations as since the buildings closed they have had to relocate several times, remaining mostly transient since mid-November.

“It has been difficult and increasingly difficult,” Washington wrote in the couple’s latest update on their GoFundMe, which arrived on New Years Eve. “We still have to move. Lost a lot of revenue. We are looking to raise money every day to pay for the room. Need help immediately no money to transport food to the room tonight please if possible we need your help. [sic]

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