West Side Housing Activist, 45
The housing movement lost a dedicated and longtime advocate August 17 with the passing of Matthew Abuelo, at the age of 45. Matt was a member of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance’s steering committee practically since its inception in the mid-2000s.
Matt was a tireless warrior for tenants in Hell’s Kitchen and the Upper West Side, particularly around the issue of illegal hotels—specifically, the use of residential apartments as commercial hotel units. Before the emergence of Airbnb and other online platforms, he helped to organize numerous building campaigns against local landlords who were illegally renting out single-room occupancy units to tourists. Tenants came to Housing Conservation Coordinators and WSNA complaining bitterly about tourists hammering their doorbells at midnight or loud parties across the hall. Matt, along with Assemblymember Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) helped build the sustained campaign to pass legislation making short-term rentals illegal and to enforce the law against the billion-dollar illegal-hotel industry.
As a WSNA steering committee member, Matt was always willing to pitch in, and was steadfast in his commitment to all the tasks large and small that come with building a membership-based group. He spent hundreds of hours phone-banking to get people to come to monthly meetings, actions, and rallies, assisting with mailings, and co-leading meetings.
Matt was also a longtime volunteer for Met Council on Housing’s tenant hotline. He volunteered his time often twice a week to help the tenants who called in, sharing information about their rights and his practical experience fighting back against landlords. He also used that experience to coach other team members and interns on calls—as well as sharing his passsion for movies and writing with staff and members.
More than anything, Matthew Abuelo will be remembered as one of the most kind-hearted souls of this world. He leaves a tremendous legacy of service and compassion for his family, his friends and the community that he loved so much.
He is survived by his wife and fellow WSNA steering committee member, Vivian Abuelo-Riffelmacher. “His spirit lives on in the quest to preserve housing for New Yorkers, a cause very dear to his heart,” she wrote in a post on Facebook. “In remembrance, please consider donating to Housing Conservation Coordinators in Hell’s Kitchen NY. It is what he would have wanted.”