Politicians, activists, and tenants rallied outside of a notorious privately run homeless shelter in Brooklyn on Wednesday night to pressure the city and landlord Isaac "Barry" Hersko to keep residents from being removed to other Hersko-owned shelter buildings they say are in even more dire shape. The 83-unit building in Prospect Lefferts Gardens was mostly rent-stabilized apartments until around five years ago, when Hersko began moving in homeless families through the controversial cluster site program, and collecting higher monthly fees of around $3,000 per apartment.

Now just 6-10 rent-stabilized households remain and a handful of shelter residents, having received notices two weeks ago saying they had less than a day to leave, are in a position that would have been hard to imagine before, given the mold, mice, roaches, collapsing ceilings, and crime that afflict the building. They are demanding to stay.

"It's bad enough we're living in a shelter," said Ashanti Jackson, addressing supporters and journalists. "Now we have to move!"

The city's Department of Homeless Services now says it is closing the shelter because of the conditions there, but has held off on removing people. Two residents said new apartments they were shown at nearby Hersko buildings were in worse shape, with broken doors, windows, and rodent holes at 401 East 21st St., and garbage in the halls and more severe roach infestations at 250 Clarkson, an address with 20 open building code violations.

Isis Sapp-Grant grew up in 60 Clarkson and her mother, who still lives there as a rent-stabilized tenant, is currently hospitalized. Sapp-Grant blames the mold of a collapsed bathroom ceiling and the stress of feeling like "her home is falling all around her." (Nathan Tempey/Gothamist)

Officials who turned out to the protest, including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, state Sen. Jesse Hamilton, Councilman Matthieu Eugene, and Assemblywoman Diana Richardson, expressed their support for tenants and residents in tough terms. Richardson related to their crisis, having been homeless for two years as a teen, and said she was calling on the city to seek a resolution.

"Just because you are homeless doesn't mean you are second-class citizens," she told the crowd. "You can hear by my tone, we mean business."

Adams called for organized tenants to "destroy this environment" landlords have created, and Hamilton tied the crisis on Clarkson to income inequality and weak rent regulation, adding that laws are needed to "make sure [abusive landlords] are arrested and they pay large fines." But what happens to the residents of 60 Clarkson is ultimately in the hands of Mayor de Blasio and the homeless services agency he controls.

In 2014, de Blasio commissioned an investigation into the cluster site program, which was drastically expanded under former mayor Michael Bloomberg. In March, the Department of Investigation came back with a scathing report saying that the private shelters, which house 3,000 of the 11,900 homeless families in the shelter system, are the worst maintained, least monitored type of shelter housing, with the least adequate social services, and in many cases no social services at all, nor any measures in place to compel landlords to fix dangerous conditions.

DHS agreed to begin overhauling the system and has stopped opening new cluster sites, but a Mayor's Office spokeswoman said the government needs to continue working with Hersko for now, because without him it would have to put people out on the street.

According to DHS, out of 64 families on the building, 36 have been provided with subsidies to help them rent their own apartments, and 28 will be transferred within the shelter system, including to Hersko buildings, according to personal needs such as where their kids are in school. That is news to Marquita Holloway, who said she has no voucher lined up and hopes 250 Clarkson isn't being considered as her next destination. She said the roaches in 60 Clarkson trigger her and her son's asthma, and that the infestation in the apartment she saw down the street is bigger, not to mention the garbage in the halls and urine in the staircase, echoes of 60 Clarkson.

"250 shouldn't be an option," she said. The Hersko buildings still in the running have been deemed possible to improve, according to DHS.

Residents and advocates who spoke agreed the city should keep the residents where they are and force Hersko to fix up the building, but differed on what should happen next. Resident Marlene Fernandez called on the city to give residents 90 days before relocation, while the group Tenants and Neighbors demanded the city end all dealings with Hersko, and restore the building's rent-stabilized status. The Legal Aid Society is making the case for the shelter residents to have status as rent-stabilized tenants, a notion they first have to sell to the residents themselves.

"No, I'm not a tenant, I'm homeless," one woman said to a Legal Aid team during a meeting in the lobby following the rally. "This is a shelter."

Holloway, a seven-month resident who said she is unable to work due to back problems, said she wants to stay for now, but that she wouldn't want to be a tenant, "not if [Hersko is] the landlord."

"Every time we need a repair we'd have to take him to court," she said.

Darlene Fernandez said that an upstairs neighbor trying to break down her door drove her to create this brace out of half a scooter and a board. She fits the scooter piece into place before bed each night. (Nathan Tempey/Gothamist)

One resident, Frederick Gardner, a father of two, is preoccupied simply trying to finish out the rest of the week at the shelter. He works selling tickets to the Statue of Liberty, but said ever since he got a removal letter more than two weeks ago, the man who usually sits in the lobby with a sign-in sheet has been keeping odd hours. Residents must sign in daily to prove continued residency, and if they go more than 48 hours without signing in, they have to move out and report back to a temporary shelter in the Bronx, he said. He has been leaving work early to try to catch the worker, but he was nowhere to be found on Wednesday at 5 p.m.

"I'm on the verge of losing my job because I'm coming home early," Gardner said.

In an email, Hersko insisted he never forced any rent-stabilized tenants out without the blessing of housing court, and that he is receiving "not even half" the $3,000 per apartment shelter rate that has been reported. A July public assistance report provided by resident Darlene Fernandez showed a shelter payment of $2,737 for a one-bedroom that she shares with her husband and stepson. Hersko also said he stopped using the social service provider CAMBA because it stole $800,000 intended for him. A CAMBA spokeswoman said she wasn't aware of such a claim but would look into it, then deferred to DHS.

Hersko did not respond to a request for elaboration, or the rest of a detailed list of questions.

Fernandez's kitchen sink is sinking into oblivion, and mold is radiating out from it. (Nathan Tempey/Gothamist)

Fernandez keeps a tidy house, despite the rot and mold underneath her kitchen sink, the cracked tiles and sagging ceiling in her bathroom, and the water trickling from one corner of her bedroom ceiling. She said she has had a $1,550 housing voucher for five months, but has yet to find a livable apartment with a landlord who will accept it.

Discriminating against voucher holders is a crime in New York City, but she said she is too busy pursuing 311 complaints about her shelter apartment to report those who have denied her housing. Her last prospect was in Staten Island, but the landlord upped the rent to $1,950 at the last minute, something she said her family can't afford on the $11 an hour her husband makes as a part-time security guard.

Her stepson is going into second grade at PS 135 in East Flatbush and she has converted a wide spot in the hall into a study area. He's doing well in school and, if someone fixed up 60 Clarkson, she could see staying being a good thing. But for now he's not getting science lessons the way she'd like him to.

"What makes the mildew grow, mom?" he asked from the couch during a reporter's visit.

"Heat and moisture, honey," she replied.