NYCHA residents protest policies

Protesters march in Harlem on June 24 to demand increase funding for public housing.Photo: Ryan Kelley

Marchers criticize city, HUD for lack of investment, incompetent leadership

NYCHA residents from the South Bronx joined their counterparts from around the city to protest city and federal policies they say ignore the increasingly desperate need for repairs and other investment to public housing.

A sea of red T-shirts that read “Stop NYCHA from Pushing Out the Poor” could be seen from blocks away as the demonstrators marched through the streets of Harlem on June 24.

Housing advocates argue that the city continues to neglect NYCHA’s needs while prioritizing new affordable housing developments to help Mayor Bill de Blasio fulfill his promise to build and restore 200,000 units of affordable housing.

The protesters shouted “NYCHA says get back, we say fight back!” and other slogans while making their way south between East 143rd Street and Lennox Avenue to 110th Street.

Much of the frustration that sparked the protest stems from the city’s proposed solution to the budget shortfall for public housing. In 2015, Mayor de Blasio announced the launch of NextGeneration NYCHA, an initiative to bring in $17 billion in capital improvements for dilapidated buildings. Part of the 10-year plan includes selling underutilized land on NYCHA properties, such as parking lots and trash collection areas, to private developers. Additionally, 50 percent of new apartments in developments to be built on NYCHA property would be slated for market-rate tenants, and the other half for those earning up to 60 percent of the Area Median Income. NYCHA estimates that part of the plan could generate between $300 and $600 million, with the goal of “ensuring the Authority’s financial sustainability.”

But residents have long suspected that the city wants to drive out the poor so they can privatize their homes and facilitate future windfalls for private developers. That suspicion was revived in May when it was reported that the mayor selected a developer who had donated to his campaign, to build a 47-story tower on NYCHA’s Holmes Towers on East 91st Street in Manhattan.

One marcher, Eld. Brenda J. Wheeler, said she spends most of her time caring for her 90-year-old uncle, who has live in the John Adams Houses in Morrisania since 1964. Although Wheeler, 66, does not live in public housing, she has experienced the neglect first hand, and is concerned for her uncle and his neighbors’ futures.

“He’s in a wheelchair now…where is he going to go?” said Wheeler. “Every week the elevator is broken down. I was on there and the elevator lifted up from the floor, and I could see the bottom. I jumped off, because I didn’t know what was going on.”

Ronald Topping, president of the Adams Houses tenants’ association, directed several demands at NYCHA. Among them, he called for the city to invest in repairs and provide federal jobs for residents.

“We are exhausted with the thought of being pushed out of our homes from one location to another,” Topping said. “It is time for NYCHA residents to take a stand.”

Two-time presidential candidate Dr. Lenora B. Fulani, who helped organize the rally, addressed the protestors afterwards, saying that if residents mobilize, “neighbor to neighbor within housing, I think we have a fighting chance.”

The Housing Authority and de Blasio administration weren’t the protestors’ only targets. In May, the Trump administration revealed a plan to cut $340 million from the Housing Authority’s budget and require tenants to pay more. In a budget hearing in March, Housing Authority Chair Shola Olatoye suggested that federal cuts would leave the city no choice but to move forward with the NextGeneration plan.

Even more trouble emerged for NYCHA in June when Trump appointed a novice to head HUD’s Region II office, which includes New York and New Jersey. Lynne Patton, a long-time Trump associate who has helped organize Eric Trump’s wedding and tournaments on the president’s golf courses, enters the world of urban development with no prior experience.

In a June 16 statement, Assemblyman Michael Blake, whose 85th District includes Melrose, was just one of numerous elected officials from around the city to sound the alarm over the appointment, saying Patton has “absolutely zero qualifications” for the position.

“This is further proof that President Trump is not really concerned about the consequences of his actions on urban, low-income and communities of color, rather his primary motivation is empowering the top one percent and those in his circle,” Blake said in the statement. “As the Assembly Member with the second highest concentration of (NYCHA) residents, I am keenly aware of the impact that  H.U.D. funding has on the lives of Bronxites and New Yorkers.” Housing, Blake said, is “the number one issue that constituents come to my office with every day.”