A woman and her two daughters are being forced out of their home — not by their landlord — but by the City of Kingston. Civil rights activists are calling a city building inspector's actions a "moral atrocity," and said city officials need to "wake up," and "back off."
What You Need To Know
- The family was told on the fourth day of school they must vacate their home because of an occupancy violation
- City officials are refusing to say how many other families have been told to move for occupancy restrictions
- Civil rights activists are outraged
The story begins with Krista Riveramarin, 5, in the bedroom she shares with her sister and mother.
Krista told Spectrum News she wishes to have her own room one day, but nowadays life is still good at her family's apartment at 199 Downs Street.
Krista just started kindergarten and is in her school's Head Start program. She loves to color at her tiny desk and she dreams of being a teacher one day.
While Krista shared her story, her mother, Isaura Riveramarin, was in the other room trying to sort out a family crisis. On the fourth day of school, their landlord and a city building inspector visited the building's rear apartment to tell the family they should leave the apartment by October 31.
At the kitchen table, covered with applications for public housing assistance, Riveramarin said she is trying to keep everything together for Krista.
“I just [help] do her school, and right now, I’m not telling her too much about that situation," Riveramarin said. "Because I don’t want her to get nervous with me. She doesn’t need that.”
The inspector's reason for telling the family to move: The family outgrew the apartment because last year Riveramarin had a second child, Avalon.
The inspector said the family is now too big for the one-bedroom apartment. According to an email from a spokesperson, the city agrees that the apartment became dangerous when Avalon arrived in December 2019.
Other public institutions have not viewed the situation the way the city has.
Riveramarin shared with Spectrum News that she is a domestic violence survivor, so Child Protective Services representatives have visited the family several times to ensure the children live in a proper environment. Riveramarin said CPS workers told her she needed to buy a new crib and a new bed — which she immediately did — but never took issue with the size of their home.
Isaura Riveramarin and her daughters were told on 4th day of school they must move out because of occupancy violation, even though there is an #eviction #moratorium. Civil rights activists are furious to learn how the city is getting around the moratorium to displace children. pic.twitter.com/AskWid1lB2— Ben Nandy (@BenNandyNews) October 9, 2020
Kingston City Spokesperson Summer Smith cited property maintenance code which she said indicates the apartment must be at least 320 square feet for three occupants. Several online listings advertise the apartment as having between 500 and 550 square feet. A Spectrum News reporter measured the space to find the space has about 400 square feet.
Despite Spectrum News' requests for the city inspector's recorded measurements, Smith would not provide them. Riveramarin said that when the landlord and inspector arrived to inform her of an occupancy violation, the landlord did not measure the space.
Activist Diana Lopez of immigrant advocacy group Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson wonders why city officials are digging deep into code to justify removing two children from their home when the community is in crisis.
“If they would be put in that person’s shoes, they would not feel happy being kicked out of their home, during the pandemic, when there’s no housing available," Lopez said during an interview at her Poughkeepsie office Monday.
"It's just bizarre," immigrant rights advocate Fr. Frank Alagna told Spectrum News during a Zoom interview on Wednesday.
Alagna, the founder of the Kingston-based Ulster Immigrant Defense Network, was outraged to learn the city is using state code defending the inspector's actions, while apparently not using any discretion.
“There has to be some attention paid to the current reality and the inappropriateness of forcing a mother and her two children out of their home right now," Alagna said.
Riveramarin said she will cooperate by vacating before the end of the month whether or not she can find a larger apartment, and whether or not she can afford it. She currently pays $950 a month for the family's current space.
She said her main reason for agreeing to an interview was to warn others, especially immigrants, that even though Governor Andrew Cuomo has set an eviction moratorium, families can still be pushed out of their homes in other, less formal ways.
She also said she feels as though the city is penalizing her for having Avalon, 10 months after she was born. She's moving the family out, but she is not doing it quietly.
“She deserves to be alive. She deserves to be part of the planet where she was born," Riveramarin said. "So the small part of the planet that I’m using now — and I’m paying for it — is this apartment, and I’m sharing it with my daughters. Where else can they live if I’m not there? They should live in the same place where I am. So, always, it would be like that. My daughters would always be with me, even in the small corner I would be [in]. If one day, they send me to the streets, they will be with me.”
Kingston city administrators are refusing to tell Spectrum News how many residents they have advised to move out of their homes for occupancy reasons since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Spectrum News has submitted a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request seeking the inspector's personnel file and emails.