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Columbia Spectator Staff

Over 100 residents gathered on 135th Street on Saturday afternoon to protest alleged discrimination against affordable-housing tenants in 3333 Broadway, a giant housing development where many are now struggling to remain in residence. Alicia Barksdale, president of the 3333 Broadway tenants association, said the protesters' demands included that the building rejoin the Mitchell-Lama Housing Program and eliminate alleged discrimination against Section 8 affordable housing tenants. Mitchell-Lama is a state-subsidized program that provides affordable apartments for low- to middle-income residents. Section 8 is a federally subsidized program that provides vouchers for low-income residents to live in privately owned apartments. 3333 Broadway's ownership removed the building from the Mitchell-Lama program in 2005, and Barksdale said rents have largely increased to market rate since then. "Section 8 tenants are paying more, but we can't get anything renovated, and we have to pay for our repairs," Barksdale said. "They're repairing cosmetics on the outside, but there are leaks on the inside." "We have to pay a lot of rent, and they don't fix our apartments," added Frances Gutierrez, who has lived in 3333 Broadway for 22 years. "We don't even know who's the owner." The building is owned by a real estate firm, Urban American Management Corporation. "Urban American is committed to investing in this building and making sure people stay here in the long run," Joe DePlasco, a spokesperson for for the company, said last spring. "We have bought many buildings in awful areas, and invested significant dollar amounts in improving tenant life." The firm could not be reached over the weekend after the rally took place. Representatives from the nearby Schomburg Plaza and MetroNorth apartment building tenants associations also spoke at the event, noting that they face the same problems. "Yes, our neighborhood is changing, but we have to make sure we're part of the change," said Leona Frederick, a board member of the MetroNorth Tenants Association. Several local politicians spoke at the event, including State Senator Bill Perkins, State Assemblyman Keith Wright, City Council member Robert Jackson and his election opponent Julius Tajiddin, Council member and City Comptroller candidate John Liu, Borough President Scott Stringer, and District Leader Martin Smith. Two tenant protection bills, both sponsored by Wright, have been passed by the State Assembly and are currently pending in the State Senate. The first would repeal vacancy decontrol laws, which allow landlords to remove rent controls on an apartment when its tenant moves out, and the second would preserve existing Mitchell-Lama housing. "What's happening in 3333 is happening everywhere," Wright said. "Yes, we have to march. We have to demonstrate. We have to let Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg know that we will not be kicked out of our neighborhood." Perkins, who lives in Schomburg Plaza, announced he was the "No. 1 supporter" at the rally. "Ever since the doors opened, we've been having problems. This is a very personal situation," Perkins said. "Families are being hurt, denied decent, affordable living conditions. We have to protect Mitchell-Lama so that you and our neighbors can afford to live in the homes you've been living in for so long." Nearly all of the speakers emphasized the need for the tenants to stand up for their own rights in addition to seeking help from their political representatives. "If you don't come to the [tenants organization] meetings, don't ask us what happened," Barksdale said. "You have to fight. You have to come out and show your support. You have to help us help yourselves."