NYCHA Tenants Battle Eviction
By Paul DeRienzo
West Side Congressman Jerry Nadler faced boos and catcalls September 6th at the Fulton Senior Center in Chelsea. Dozens of tenants of the Elliott-Chelsea and Fulton Houses jammed the meeting chanting “My house is not for sale,” and “no demolition.”
Residents of the two housing projects located between Ninth and Tenth Avenues are enraged by Nadler’s support of a plan to demolish and rebuild the half dozen buildings and replacing the public housing with a luxury 3500-unit development.
Jerry Nadler being heckled at Fulton Senior Center in Chelsea NYCHA meeting Photo credit: Marni Halasa
Three-quarters of the new units would rent at New York City’s astronomical market rate. One quarter would be reserved for low- and middle-income tenants. The current rent at the projects is less than $700 a month. Market rates in fast gentrifying Chelsea are well over $3000 a month.
The separate but adjacent NYCHA projects include Elliott-Chelsea Houses, two 21-story towers sitting in a grassy park setting, the first of their kind when built in 1947. They’re named after John Lovejoy Elliot who founded the Hudson Guild, an early advocacy group for poor New Yorkers.
Nearby are four 1960s era 12 story buildings named after Robert Fulton, inventor of the steam boat. Both projects are administered as one unit and are home to about 2500 low income and elderly tenants living in 1000 units.
Among the famous residents born there are Whoopie Goldberg, and the multi-talented Wayans family.
On Wednesday a steady stream of tenants seized the open microphone part of the Community Board 4 monthly meeting expressing their opposition until Nadler arrived to speak about another subject. He seemed shocked by the angry response.
The veteran congressman could be barely heard over the heckling while a nervous bodyguard hovered nearby as Nadler was met by chants of “traitor, traitor.” Leaving the meeting Nadler ran a gauntlet of enraged residents.
West View News caught up with Nadler on the sidewalk, asked why the tenants were upset he replied, “because they don’t understand. The buildings they’re living in now are in terrible condition, the plan is to build new buildings in the empty space and then move them into the news buildings.”
Nadler was the only elected official at the meeting. Community activist and former candidate for city council on the west side Marni Halasa says that’s not unusual, because politicians “don’t want to be held accountable” for the privatization push.
Former Lower East Side council member and community activist Margarita Lopez was also at the CB4 meeting for another issue, opposing the city’s plan to move retirees to a private managed care health plan. Lopez was involved in building five low-income projects on the Lower East Side, she says the key ingredient is communication, “If that communication is not there,” Lopez added, “I don’t see how they can get to a place where they feel they’ll get back,” into their homes.
Pact-Rad’s Sad Survey Slammed
The drama began when The Related Companies, Inc. a multi-national real estate developer with offices as far flung as Shanghai, London and Abu Dhabi and its partner Essence Development came up with a proposal to demolish the projects. They would then rebuild and replace low income, city owned structures with a brand new 3500-unit complex, where 2,625 units, 75% of the total, would be market-rate rentals.
Related rationale is that the buildings are in poor condition and renovations would cost $1 billion.
The development is part of a shift in how the city wants to finance its public housing. The largest public housing authority in North America, NYCHA began on the Lower East Side in 1934 when Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor and the depression saw mass evictions of destitute renters. The Authority has grown to house 360,000 New Yorkers in 335 public housing developments. NYCHA also administers the Section 8 program, subsidizing rent for another 235,000 New Yorkers.
The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD came up with an initiative to turn over much of the city’s public housing stock to private developers who would receive vouchers for poor tenants.
The HUD initiative is called “Pact-Rad,” neatly packaging the tongue-twister full name of the initiative, the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together-Rental Assistance Demonstration.
More than 36,000 NYCHA apartments have either been converted or are on their way to being converted to Pact-Rad. Billions of dollars have been raised to repair city housing under the scheme according to officials.
Opposition to the conversion among tenants was sparked when NYCHA announced a “residents survey” last spring. Prepared with input from a not-for-profit headed by Howard Slatkin, a former executive at the Department of City Planning.
Claiming an “unprecedented outreach effort,” NYCHA says more than half of tenants who took the survey approved their plan. But there have been doubts of the fairness of the survey from the start. The Legal Aid Society and Community Service Society denounced the vote, saying it was “in violation of principles,” and “misleading.”
Low Income Tenants Say They Belong in Chelsea
The coterie of tenants from the two projects rallying outside the CB4 meeting say they are being left out of decision making and that their needs, including preserving their community, are being bum-rushed in the haste to demolish their homes.
21 years ago, tenant Jacquelyn Lara says she was living in a homeless shelter, “when we moved in it looked like condos.” Another resident held an electric pink sign, “These buildings are not deteriorating, take a look yourselves,” it read. Several had t-shirts emblazoned No Demolitions, as a slogan. Lara says she can’t trust the city, “we were the last to know,” that there was a demolition plan.” Asked about the promise to rebuild, Lara scoffed, “that’s the promise, I don’t believe it.”
Lara admits the Chelsea neighborhood where the projects are located is “rich.” The federal government in the 1940s was already criticizing the Chelsea site as too expensive. But Lara fondly remembers the annual Pride Parade that passes by her home, and the feeling of belonging that brings. She adds, “I belong here too, even though I’m low income, I belong here.”
Whether NYCHA agrees is yet to be seen.