Serving Brooklyn Renters’ Info Needs Through Collaboration and Digital Art

Artwork by Vernando Reuben (IG: @vernandoreuben) BK Eviction Freeze (IG: @bkevictionfreeze)

It was the day before Thanksgiving when Najee Wilson received a petition of eviction in the mail. The letter was disheartening, but it wasn’t a surprise for the 33-year old Crown Heights resident. Najee has been living in his apartment on Eastern Parkway for 9 years, but hasn’t paid rent to his landlord since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

He lost his job at the beginning of the pandemic and on top of that, Najee’s landlord refuses to make critical repairs to his apartment. Video footage and photos of his apartment show wet, bubbling paint on the walls, leaking ceilings and pipes, and brown tap water running from the faucets.

Video by Terrence Fraser

COVID-19 is a public health emergency that’s stolen the lives of 400,000 United States residents. This death toll is nearly one-fifth of all COVID-19 related deaths globally.

When COVID-19 arrived to the U.S., New York City was hit the hardest in terms of total number of cases and deaths.

Early Map of COVID-19 Deaths by Terrence Fraser

While COVID-19 quickly spread to other regions in the country, Black, Latinx and indigenous communities continue to be the most hospitalized and killed by the virus.

The role of institutional racism cannot be understated in this trend. White supremacy and institutional racism play a critical role in determining the environmental spaces we live in and the health treatment we receive. These brutal, preventable deaths are the result of a long-term lack of investment in our health and discriminatory treatment against our community members.

Center for Disease Control “COVID-19 Hospitalization and Death by Race/Ethnicity”

ProPublica and THE CITY have documented the connection between pollution and COVID-19 deaths, and how low-income people of color tend to live in these polluted areas. Other outlets have highlighted New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo’s obsession with cutting hospital funding and closing hospitals in low to mid income communities of color. This is real, systemic racism that shows the lack of concern by government for Black and POC lives, and for the working class.

And that’s just the start of the suffering.

According to THE CITY, New York City also lags significantly behind the rest of the country in terms of jobs recovery. Undocumented workers specifically are being crushed by firings and a lack of government protection. 56%- 66% percent of POC households have lost income due to COVID.

THE CITY “NYC Unemployment Pain Far Worse Than Nation’s in Lagging Pandemic Recovery”

And now, many Black and POC New Yorkers are also at risk of losing their homes.

According to CBS and the Housing Justice for All Coalition, 1.5 million New York residents are unable to pay rent and are at risk of eviction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both reports are based on studies analyzing Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey data.

Housing Justice 4 All Coalition “Census Data Shows Rent Must Be Cancelled”

People’s livelihoods and well-being are at stake.

And for the many at risk of losing their homes like Najee, available resources and information can be confusing, contradictory, out-of-date, and overwhelming.

To fill this need, I created BK Eviction Freeze.

Artwork by Vernando Reuben (IG: @vernandoreuben) BK Eviction Freeze (IG: @bkevictionfreeze)

BK Eviction Freeze is a multimedia campaign that spreads awareness about the COVID-19 fueled housing crisis. BK Eviction Freeze uses digital art and video interviews to help people find legal advice and organizing support. The campaign also creates public awareness around state-level legislative solutions that would keep people in their homes.

You can follow the new page on Facebook and Instagram.

BK Eviction Freeze has been a highly collaborative process. I have been working closely with community organizers at Brooklyn Eviction Defense in order to get information that will help people who are at risk or eviction.

For most tenants, it would be helpful to speak with a lawyer, who can help them manage any cases against them or sue their landlord. Housing Court Answers and 311 are good places to start in terms of getting connected with a lawyer. If you live in Brooklyn, you can also contact Brooklyn Eviction Defense, which will connect you with lawyers from Legal Aid.

Artwork by Vernando Reuben (IG: @vernandoreuben) BK Eviction Freeze (IG: @bkevictionfreeze)

I’ve also been working with Flatbush Tenant Coalition, a member organization of the Housing Justice for All Coalition and the Right to Counsel Coalition, who have informed me about the local housing justice solutions that would solve the upcoming eviction crisis and keep New Yorkers in their homes. These solutions include:

  • Governor Cuomo extending the eviction moratorium through executive order. He has emergency powers to create and modify law while the COVID-19 pandemic is legally considered a state-wide emergency.
  • NYS Legislature passing Senator Julia Salazar’s Cancel Rent Bill (S8802),which would cancel rent for the duration of New York State’s COVID-19 state of emergency.
  • NYS Legislature passing Senator Zellnor Myrie’s Eviction Moratorium bill (S8667), which would freeze all evictions in the state “through the end of the state of emergency in the state of New York plus one full year.”
  • NYS Legislature passing Senator Brian Kavanagh’s Housing Access Voucher Program (S7628A) which would provide “emergency support to those who are currently homelessness or chronically unhoused.”

According to activists from the Housing Justice Coalition, New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has been blocking a vote to pass the aforementioned bills.

So posters like this one below help people understand who to target.

Artwork by Vernando Reuben (IG: @vernandoreuben)

Language justice is really important to this campaign as well. NYC is a city of immigrants and many don’t speak English as their first language. Because I am working with my community of Black and POC renters facing housing difficulties during COVID-19, it only makes sense to include Kreyól and Spanish at the very least. Shout out to Flatbush Tenant Coalition for the translations.

If the campaign and the artwork can leave an impression that causes someone to read or share the information, then BK Eviction Freeze’s mission is accomplished.

Artwork by Vernando Reuben (IG: @vernandoreuben) BK Eviction Freeze (IG: @bkevictionfreeze)

No one deserves to be evicted or thrown onto the street, and especially not during a pandemic. Help us connect residents to resources.

Share and like BK Eviction Freeze’s content on social media. And support the campaign to keep us in our homes.