On May 5 of every year many people around the country celebrate the Mexican holiday of “Cinco de Mayo”, literally translated “The 5th of May”. The holiday commemorates the day on which 4,000 Mexican soldiers under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated the invading French-led army of almost 8,000. The victory, in addition to being a great victory for the Mexicans, was instrumental in the defeat of the Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. The true significance of Cinco de Mayo is in the portrayal of a smaller, seemingly weaker group being able to defeat a larger opponent.
This David-vs.-Goliath image runs parallel to the story of P.A.’L.A.N.T.E. Harlem. They started as a group of tenants intent on getting much needed repairs in their homes. The deplorable conditions these tenants lived in ran the gamut; from dangerous mold conditions, bedbug infestations, waterfall-like pouring through the ceilings, and the all-too-familiar burden of no heat during the coldest winter nights. The tenants knew they deserved to live in habitable homes. While many naysayers believed that a group of tenants from Harlem was no match for a well-connected landlord, P.A.’L.A.N.T.E. Harlem believed that through a strong sense of unity and, more importantly, by running a tight and organized ship that they would come out the victors. After several court hearings, two press conferences, a couple of personal visits from Hon. Judge Jackman Brown, and the indispensable support of local elected officials, the three buildings P.A.’L.A.N.T.E. Harlem were fighting for were submitted to New York City’s 7A Program. The landlord in effect had no power to manage the buildings. The New York Housing Preservation & Development will step in to make the repairs and will allocated monies to do this which the owner will need to pay in order to regain control of the buildings after the repairs are made. To date, the buildings received a new boiler; new electrical grid system, plumbing and tenants are in the process of moving into almost brand new apartments in return.
One would think that after such a victory P.A.’L.A.N.T.E. Harlem would rest on its laurels and enjoy the spoils. In fact, P.A.’L.A.N.T.E. Harlem has now taken its mission to the rest of Harlem and New York City. It has been involved in organizing tenants in over 40 buildings. They have been instrumental in educating residents about their rights as tenants and the resources available to those who have not been treated fairly by their landlords. P.A.’L.A.N.T.E. Harlem continues to fight for “the little guy”; for those who thought they had no voice and no support. It is to these people that P.A.’L.A.N.T.E. Harlem has extended an open arm of help in solidarity so that the working class is no longer held hostage to irresponsible landlords.