Volume 23, Number 10 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 16 - 22, 2010

Advocates hope to alter NYCHA plan before it’s too late

BY Aline Reynolds

Fifty-year-old Rosa White, a tenant of Smith Houses, lost her father and baby brother on the same day. She is now facing eviction, after living for 40 years in NYCHA housing, because they say White’s mother never added Rosa to the lease of the apartment. She also died recently.

White pays her rent regularly, even though she is currently unemployed.

“They’re trying to push me to the side like I’m not important,” she said. “I’m trying to not be homeless.”

Good Old Lower East Side, a housing and preservation organization committed to preventing homelessness, helps tenants such as White avoid eviction.

Close to 100 people representing the New York City Alliance to Preserve Public Housing rallied on the steps of City Hall on June 30, the day of the hearing on NYCHA’s 2011 plan, to voice their complaints. Members of the Alliance include Council Members Chin, Rosie Mendez and N.Y. State Senators Daniel Squadron and Tom Duane. NYCHA’s 2011 annual plan will be finalized in the fall, but they hope that certain revisions are made before then.

“Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers make their lives and homes in NYCHA developments — the city and the state have the obligation to make sure that families have safe, high-quality affordable housing,” said Squadron in a statement.

Public Housing Residents of the Lower East Side, a division of GOLES focusing on tenant advocacy, partnered with the Community Development of Urban Justice Center to survey nearly 300 Lower East Side residents about the management staff, the repair process and the general state of NYCHA buildings in the area. They hope to collect a total of 1,500 surveys to complete the report by the fall.

Nearly 40 percent of respondents claim that NYCHA has lost their paperwork at least once in the past four years, according to the survey. White suspects that NYCHA lost her mother’s paperwork needed to add her to the lease a few years back.

“Now they’re saying I was denied because of my criminal background check,” White said.

She had previously had drug problems that might have put her in poor standing with the authority.

NYCHA contends that it has a long line of tenants waiting to move in, and that it has to abide by its own rules.

“As we speak, there are 136,203 households on New York City’s public housing waiting list,” according to NYCHA’s Occupancy and Remaining Family Member Grievance Testimony presented to the City Council on June 28. “If the Authority did not have consistent standards for the governance of its leases and the occupancy of its apartments, the already significant number of families on the NYCHA waiting list would grow even more.”

Surveyors asserted that all NYCHA employees should be given additional customer service training and be more reliable and transparent when putting forth NYCHA policies. Residents gave the management staff a “C” for availability and accountability. “Residents report that management staff are often rude and are unable to properly manage the buildings,” the report stated.

But NYCHA Communications Officer Sheila Stainback insisted that all employees do currently receive customer service training.

White said management officers treated her poorly when notifying her of the eviction notice. Two people from management awoke White at 8:15 a.m. on a weekday morning to hand her the eviction papers. White didn’t even have a chance to discuss her situation with them prior to that day.

“They don’t care about me. It’s just about the dollar,” White said.

She will be taken to court for a hearing if her request to stay in housing is denied.

Other surveyed tenants also complained they have trouble getting through to NYCHA about repairs, and that sometimes several months go by before the repairs are made.

“It takes about six or seven months from the date you put in the request,” said White.

NYCHA has created a centralized calling center to expedite the repairs process, but tenants graded it an F for timeliness and a C for overall reliability. Once the repairs are made, tenants gave a C for quality and a C for competence. Some residents complain that when they call the Centralized Calling Center, they’re told that the repairs won’t be made until 2011.

“Some repairs, depending on the scope…may have delays that mean final completion cannot take place until 2011,” said Stainback in an e-mail. “However, NYCHA does take steps to put temporary upgrades in place to minimize the impact on residents of these delays.”

The tenants’ report also suggests that residents’ buildings are not properly maintained and are dirty and infested with rodents and pests. They gave NYCHA an F for elevator maintenance, a D for cleanliness, and a D for pest management.

Tenants are also up in arms about the new pet policy, which states that a tenant’s dog must weigh under 25 pounds and be of a certain breed. The new rule went into effect on February 1 of this year, after NYCHA residents successfully petitioned to extend the registration deadline of the old pet policy. The NYCHA rule states, “Residents are not permitted to keep dangerous dogs, fighting dogs or attack dogs on NYCHA property.”

“I think it’s a ridiculous policy—golden retrievers wouldn’t be under 25 pounds,” said Ari Soto, who owns an 84-pound German shepherd mix that assists her with her health problems. When she registered her pet in the mid-2000s, Soto added, there was no indication of weight limit in the forms she filled out.

“I’m afraid to go outside with my dog,” she said, fearful that NYCHA will target her next. Soto will not give up in her fight to keep her pet. “I see her as a family member. It’d be like asking to get rid of a child.”

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