By George Capsis
This was the most difficult article I have ever written for WestView. It took me five days and what I produced is mostly a paraphrasing of a New York Times article and bits of a phone interview with the President of the Fulton Housing Tenants Association, Miguel Acevedo. What made it difficult (not impossible) is that the public housing story is huge, with over 500,000 people in the system; it also goes back some 80 years. This is just an introduction, with the remainder to follow next month.
“That’s ridiculous,” offered attorney Arthur Schwartz when I quoted a New York Times article that reported a family living in public housing (“the projects”) making over $500,000. But 10,000 families do make over the highest allowable NYCHA income for a family of four, $72,500. In fact, the City now wants to keep these high earners to help “gentrify” the area a bit and help pay the enormous and growing maintenance bill. So, just like our rapacious landlord Steve Croman, the City is raising rents but nobody, and I mean nobody, is moving out.
“You can’t afford to move,” said Michael Acevedo, a 26-year-old third-generation resident of Fulton Houses who lives in his parents’ four bedroom apartment, along with his sister, three cousins, and a cousin’s baby. Young Mr. Acevedo, a floor installer, said he longed to someday be married and live in a house in New Jersey or have a nice apartment somewhere in the City. Together, the Acevedos make enough to afford something nicer, but not individually, at least not if they want to stay close to their jobs in the City.
Mr. Acevedo’s father, Miguel, aged 55, is the only one of 11 siblings to remain in Fulton Houses. His mother, now 84, still lives in the apartment where he grew up (he, like all of his siblings, was born at St. Vincent’s Hospital).
Acevedo, the family head, is a school custodian and his wife Dawn is an administrative assistant to an investment advisor. He is not moving from what he calls “one of the most desirable parts of the City.” He quotes those who have left and afterwards pleaded with him, as the President of the Tenants Association, to let them back in.
In the last few days, I have learned that once you enter public housing—that’s it. You can stay in that cheap, cheap housing no matter how much you and other family members make. You can also pass the apartment on to your kids and they to theirs. If you have many kids you can even apply for a second apartment or a bigger apartment. And, while it may take a year or two, you will get it.
A pleasant surprise was that Acevedo went to I.S. 70 (formerly located near 9th Avenue and 17th Street) with my daughters Ariadne and Athena. However, in the very first year, the “incidents” started and the Village parents started to take their kids out of I.S. 70. I remember a frantic Principal Blanche Schwartz pleading with us Village parents to keep our kids in the school, but it did not work and I.S. 70 was closed.
Acevedo revealed that there is a class distinction within NYCHA housing. Second- and third-generation NYCHA dwellers resent that de Blasio is moving unwed mothers with multiple children, the mentally ill, and part of the 60,000 homeless who, as Acevedo pointed out, need supervision and care and can be dangerous—into NYCHA (we still have the lady in the black bag on the steps of the Charles Street Synagogue).
NYCHA housing has some very valuable real estate. According to MNS Brands’ statistics, the median cost of a square foot in Chelsea is now $2800, up from $1100 during the same quarter just three years ago. NYCHA has a new trick to take advantage of that incredibly valuable real estate—building on the parking lots. They invite private developers to create market-rate and affordable apartments. With this revenue, they help to pay the enormous cost of maintaining “NYCHA City” (it is the size of Boston).
Oh sure, the Times goes on about the smell of urine and scattered food in the halls. Mr. Acevedo attributes that to low-end homeless people who are allowed to jump the waiting list and get into NYCHA. He also gives the example of women with kids who complain that their husbands beat them and are given apartments only to move the batterers in a few days later.
I am sure that Fulton Houses is one of the many public housing projects with class distinctions and rivalries. My Colombian handyman complained of the “take-over” by the Chinese of a City housing project that was mostly Hispanic and spoke darkly of “payoffs.”
As I often say: Bureaucracy is a blunt instrument and the inequity it attempts to correct in one decade becomes a new, different, and sometimes bigger inequity in the next.