By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
When she heard that an elderly woman and her son were involved in a tenant-landlord dispute with their building owner, Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez (D-Sunset Park-Red Hook) reached back into her past as a tenant rights advocate to help them.
Gonzalez, who was a Sunset Park civic activist and a housing advocate prior to running for the City Council in 2002, brought the woman and her son to her district office.
Gonzalez noted that the elderly woman and her son, who is also a senior citizen, were having trouble with the landlord over their rent controlled apartment.
After speaking with the family and their advocate, Gonzalez consulted the tenant rights organization Neighbors Helping Neighbors. Marcella Mitaynes of Neighbors Helping Neighbors came to the Gonzalez’s district office the next time the councilwoman met with the troubled tenants.
While it was a complicated proceeding, Gonzalez Mitaynes poured over the documents and decided on a course of action with the family. The mother and son have been living in the rent controlled apartment for over 46 years. They were concerned about the possibility of having to search for a new apartment in a housing crunch, Gonzalez said.
In the end, the mother and son were assured that their case was not as dire as they feared. Neighbors Helping Neighbors agreed to accompany them to any housing court dates and Gonzalez pledged that she or a staff member would also attend.
“I detected their high level of distress immediately as I passed by them. So I stopped and as they explained their situation to me, they began shaking and crying. What I love most about my job is that I have an opportunity to help people and I get special satisfaction when I see color and joy returning to the faces of anguished people,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said that affordable housing and ensuring the rights of tenants are high priorities for her as a lawmaker.
As a member of the Land Use Committee, affordability in housing is her highest priority when casting a vote, she said. She was active in efforts to put pressure on real estate developers to include affordable housing units in new construction projects for which they are receiving tax abatements.