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Rebels against dodgy Rent-A-Center consumer practices took their fight to Borough Hall last week, where they claimed Borough President Marty Markowitz had taken money from the rent-to-own retail chain.
As they braced the cold and carried signs stating “We Don’t Want Your Party Marty,” about a dozen protestors from the Brooklyn Anti-Violence Coalition, Man Up Inc. and the Hip Hop SUV Club charged that Markowitz had accepted $25,000 in charitable contributions from Rent-A-Center for his Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Concert Series.
Protestors said that Markowitz shouldn’t have taken a dime from the chain, because they prey upon the borough’s low-income residents.
“Mr. Markowitz has taken money from predators who rip off black and Latino people daily for a concert in the name of Dr King,” explained East New York City Councilmember Charles Barron, who joined the January 30 protest. “Mr Markowitz should be ashamed of himself and he should give the money back.”
Protestors cited a recent City Council oversight hearing on rent-to-own retailers, which determined that Rent-A-Center shoppers end up paying hundreds of dollars more in interest and fees for furniture and electronic items through these companies than if they saved the money themselves and bought them outright.
Rent-A-Center, which has 38 stores throughout the city, prey upon residents in low income minority communities, where they almost exclusively set up shop, the hearing also determined.
“The high fees that rent to own Businesses charge is nothing more than consumer loansharking,” Fort Greene Councilmember Letitia James told Rent-A-Center executives at the meeting. “You are stripping the wealth of the community.”
Rent-A-Center refuted these claims, saying that they are an asset for those who need home furnishings and electronics, but are unable to purchase them the traditional way. Their rent to own transactions are also a “great convenience” to customers, they said.
When contacted, Markowitz said that he did not know that Rent-A-Center money helped fund his concert series.
“I am the host of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Concert Series, but am not involved in its day-to-day operations,” he said. “Any questions should be directed to the nonprofit organization that runs the concerts.”
Commenting on Rent-A-Center consumer practices, Markowitz said that he had “heard the allegations expressed by some in the community.”
“Believe me, if any of our Brooklyn businesses are taking advantage of vulnerable Brooklynites, I take it very seriously,” he said. “I also support any and all efforts to strengthen the laws that regulate the rental and rent-to-own industry and protect our consumers in Brooklyn, New York City and New York State.”
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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