Eviction battle in Chinatown leads to charges of ‘smear campaign’

A senior claims she has been unlawfully evicted from her Chinatown apartment amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Lichang Wang was joined by neighbors and community supporters outside of the Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) on Aug. 24, the landlord’s office, at 111 Division St., to call for a way back home.

According to Wang, who told her story while clinging to a protest sign on Tuesday morning, she had resided on Norfolk Street for over a decade. However, she said things changed when her estranged husband moved out from the premises.

Although her name was not on the lease, the 62-year-old was informed that she would be able to remain in her home with the help of governmental assistance — but Wang said the AAFE had other plans.

“The apartment was under my ex-husband’s name. He got public housing, so he moved out,” Wang told amNewYork Metro through the help of a translator, adding that her ex-husband advised her to go to a shelter for help. 

A press conference was held outside of the Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) on Aug. 24, at 111 Division Street, to call for Wang to be allowed back into her apartment. Photo by Dean Moses

“When I got there, a social worker told me that I don’t have to move and they helped me apply for government assistance, like rental assistance,” Wang said, “I even called the police and the police told me that I didn’t have to move.”

On July 12, Wang said that the AAFE’s staff arrived at her apartment and attempted to change her locks. She immediately called the 911, who she says informed her that while she is there, they cannot alter the locks and she is permitted to remain in the apartment. Police sources confirmed that at 4:50 p.m., officers responded to a 911 call at Wang’s address.  

Despite NYPD intervention, Wang asserts that she was lured away to discuss the issue, at which time the locks were changed.  

AAFE vehemently denied these claims, sharing that Wang’s ex-husband signed a document stating that no one else resided within the apartment when he informed them of his intentions of moving. 

“There is no truth to claims made today that a tenant at 141 Norfolk St., a building owned by AAFE, was locked out of her apartment. In April, the tenant of record in a 1-bedroom apartment at 141 Norfolk advised AAFE of his intention to vacate the unit and submitted a signed document testifying that no one else was living in the unit or had rights to live in the unit,” an Asian Americans for Equality representative said.

Wang showcases a picture of her couch that was tossed out into the street. Photo by Dean Moses

The representative also highlighted that after tenants move, locks are changed as a safety procedure. 

“After he moved (in early July), the locks on this apartment were changed, which is standard practice. A short time later, Lichang Wang, who was previously unknown to us, came to our management office claiming to be a tenant in this unit. She was not listed on any of the income certification documents filed with the city or any other documents. Ms. Wang indicated she had been married to the former tenant of record a decade ago or more, but they had since divorced. According to the income certification forms and lease documents, the former tenant lived in the apartment with another woman. After confirming with the tenant of record that anything left in the apartment should be discarded, our staff offered to move items left in the unit to a storage unit of Ms. Wang’s choosing. We advised Ms. Wang that it would not be possible to place her in the apartment in the absence of any proof of tenancy,” Asian Americans for Equality wrote in a statement to amNewYork Metro. 

Wang presented documents to amNewYork Metro displaying her mailing address yet declares that AAFE still refuses to allow her to return to the apartment after visiting the management office. Asserting that the experience has been an avalanche of problems, she has not only lost her home and all of her belongings, but she is also now forced to reside within a shelter during a global pandemic. 

Bob Angles, a member of Broome Street Tenants Alliance, has been assisting Wang with her case and refutes the view that Wang was not a tenant in the property.  

“We are against all evictions. Unfortunately, in this community, evictions are beginning. Landlords are illegally getting tenants out. In the case with this woman, she was locked out which is illegal, subject to imprisonment. And AAFE, which is supposed to be a community organization, has illegally changed the locks on her door. She is illegally evicted during COVID,” Angles said.

On the other hand, AAFE called the action outside their office a “smear campaign.”

“The protest held today was staged by Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association, which made no effort to learn the facts about this case, instead disseminating falsehoods and sowing division. As our community struggles to overcome the devastating impacts of the pandemic, there is no room for divisive smear campaigns. This is a time for unity, collaboration and working together for solutions benefiting low-income communities across New York City,” the AAFE representative said. 

Still, Wang remains without her belongings, such as clothes and other personal affects, and is currently residing within a shelter. She even showed images on her cellphone of her couch left in the street.

Despite the senior’s predicament, she says she will continue to fight until she can once again find her way back home.