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June 18, 2007 - Image 5

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Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2007-06-18

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Monday, June 18, 2007
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
DEVADATTA GANDHI RACHEL WAGNER
GrwnTrouble or tenantsGrwn stem cell support

Developer Adam Mermel-
stein is an enterprising
fellow. By age 21, he had
acquired 600
rental units If you think
in New Jer- A2 has hous-
sey.Thisyear, ing problems
he expects to - tr NYC.
make more ty
than $50
million in revenue from his
business ventures. Of late, however,
Mermelstein has achieved less-wel-
comenotoriety: He was dubbedNew
York City's "most abusive landlord"
by a convention of hundreds of ten-
ants from 12 neighborhoods.
In 2005, Mermelstein started
TreeTop Development LLC with
partner Azi Mandel. "The strength
of TreeTop Development has been
our progressive approach to resi-
dential development," Mandel told
The Real Estate Weekly. Merm-
elstein added, "In Williamsburg,
r Brooklyn, we're currently renovat-
ing two buildings which will intro-
duce more than 70 upscale rental
homes to the market."
Contrary to Mandel's proclama-
tion, the tenants at 188 S. 3rd St.,
Brooklyn found TreeTop's tactics
to be far from progressive. Resi-
dents of the 41-unit building say
that Mermelstein has been illegally
denying them heat and hot water
and delaying necessary repairs,
forcing them out and replacing
them with tenants willing to pay
much more. Condominiums on the
block are listed for more than $1
million, while the rent-stabilized
apartments on S. 3rd can cost less
than a $1,000 a month, The New
York Daily News reported.
A previous landlord scared off
or - bought out several tenants,
explains tenants' attorney Martin
Needelman of Brooklyn Legal Ser-
vices Corporation A, where I am
interning this summer. Needel-
man adds that this scenario is typi-
cal of what happens in gentrifying
areas; market forces cause massive
displacement pressures, forcing
lower income people from their
homes. He believes it's particularly
galling that this is happening with
laws in place to protect long-term
residents from being forced out of
their homes. However, he points
out, without adequate law enforce-
ment these laws are ineffective,
and this case is an example of the
critical role of both legal advocacy
and organizing as tools against

injustice.
The legal case against Merm-
elstein is being heard in Brooklyn
Housing Court. The tenants seek to
hold Mermelstein in contempt for
non-compliance with a court order
to correct hazardous violations.
According to New York state law,
neither substantial compliance nor
a good-faith effort is a defense for
civil contempt. The tenants are try-
ing to show that there is an ongoing
and unabated pattern ofneglectand
abuse, while the landlord's lawyer
is attempting to demonstrate that
sufficient repairs are taking place.
Mermelstein recently told the
Daily News that tenants are wel-
come to stay, and that the major
violations have been corrected and
tenant complaints were "fabrica-
tions." The facts, however, weigh
heavily against him. Although now
he wisely claims that he doesn't
wish to get rid of the tenants,
his intent has always been clear.
Before the litigation proceed-
ings, he freely proclaimed to news
sources and in real-estate listings
that all apartments in the building
would be available to new renters
at significantly higher rates than
the current low-income residents
could afford.
Furthermore, the New York
housing department website lists
numerous uncorrected violations
- and many remain that are notyet
listed. The Daily News interviewed
tenants who said that vacant apart-
ments cause problems as potential
places for squatters and as danger-
ous areas for children. Mermelstein
countered that they "have not been
left unlocked unless they're being
worked in." The Daily News found
six apartments unlocked.
Unfortunately, this negligence
and harassment is but one exam-
ple. At the convention where he
was dubbed most abusive land-
lord, The Columbia Journalist
reports that many tenants accused
their landlords of abusing undocu-
mented immigrants, telling them
that if they didn't leave, immigra-
tion authorities would be called. A
Hispanic tenant in the Bushwick
neighborhood said she once heard
her landlord storming down the
hallways, yelling, "I wish I had a
machine gun to get rid of all these
immigrants!"
Devadatta Gandhi can be
reached at debu iumich.edu.

For the last 30 years of his
life, my uncle suffered
from Parkinson's disease,
a degenera-
tive disorder The House's
affecting stem cell bill
brain cells could be a
that control
motor skills lifesaver.
and speech.
In the early stages he could still
move around, but as the disease
progressed, he became almost
completely immobile and lost all
ability to talk. He became depen-
dent on my aunt and a slew of
home nurses to help feed, dress
and do any other basic daily task
for him.
When he first got the disease,
there were hardly as many treat-
ments for Parkinson's as there are
now, and even though drugs were
being developed, it was too late for
him to benefit from them. For the
sake of people living with degen-
erative diseases like Parkinson's
or Alzheimer's, it's imperative that
we raise awareness about these
diseases to find more treatment
options and a cure.
In a promising push forward,
last week the U.S. House of Rep-
resentatives passed legislation to
loosen current restrictions on fed-
eral funding for embryonic stem
cell research - a measure the Sen-
ate already approved in April. As
of August 2001, only research on
existing stem cells could be feder-
ally funded, greatly restricting the
amount of research and progress
that could help people with diseas-
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com/thepodium.

es like juvenile diabetes or certain
types of cancer.
Embryonic stem cells can dif-
ferentiate into various types of
tissue useful in replacing diseased
or damaged tissue in a patient.
Despite its medical benefits,
embryonic stem cell research
remains controversial because
of the feeling that it destroys a
human life. However, the pro-
life argument regarding stem cell
research is fraught with complica-
tions and contradictions.
Foremost, the embryos used
in current research come from in
vitro fertilization clinics where
they would have been thrown
out anyway. Similarly, the new
bill stipulates that the research
embryos will be donated from fer-
tilization clinics with the donor's
permission in cases where they
would have otherwise been dis-
carded.
How, then, is it more pro-life to
save an embryo that will ultimate-
ly be thrown away than to use that
embryo to improve and save lives?
It's counterintuitive to protect
something that will never have a
fully developed life over a person
who already has a life but suffers
from a permanent, debilitating
disease.
New developments have arisen
in stem cell research that scientists
hope will let them avoid any such
"pro-life" controversies altogether.
The cultivation of adult and amni-
otic stem cells allows stem cells to
be developed without harming an
embryo. However, adult stem cells

are not as flexible as embryonic
ones. Scientists are still unsure
about the extent of an amniotic
cell's flexibility since research
here remains relatively new. But a
recent finding from Japan shows
potential for adult skin cells to
be reprogrammed back to their
embryonic state. The only catch is
that this research has been done
solely on mice, and scientists are
not quite sure the technique can
work on humans.
All of these alternatives should
be further explored, but these
new developments should not be
a reason to further delay embry-
onic stem cell research. Embry-
onic stem cells have already been
proven effective and can turn into
more than 220 cell types. Some
politicians want to delay embry-
onic research funding based on
the promise of these less contro-
versial alternatives. Ironically, in
postponing embryonic stem cell
funding, more people will die of
diseases like diabetes, Parkinson's
and brain cancer.
I would like to think that my
uncle did not suffer in vain and
that we will find a cure for Parkin-
son's disease. I would like to think
that President Bush will not veto
the new embryonic stem cell leg-
islation. I would like to think that
all the politicians who emphasize
pro-life and family values will
come around to value the life in
my family.
Rachel Wagner can be reached
at rachwag@umich.edu.

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