A crowd of applicants for subsidized apartments began forming before dawn on April 17th on E. 163rd St in Longwood. Photo by Joe Hirsch

Desperate applicants hope for housing

A crowd of applicants for subsidized apartments began forming before dawn on April 17th on E. 163rd St. Photo by Joe Hirsch

Nearly 200 wait for hours for a shot at a place to live

Police from the 41st Precinct were called to the main office of a housing complex on East 163rd Street on April 17th to disperse an angry crowd seeking to apply for apartments in several Section-8 subsidized buildings in Longwood.

In a sign of the demand for an affordable apartment, many in the line of about 200 that stretched for more than a block between Kelly and Tiffany Streets had arrived at PRC Management’s office during the night to secure a spot near the front of the line. Some cradled wailing babies, while others sat in fold-up chairs they’d brought to brave the long wait.

But when the doors opened at 9 a.m., a staff member told the applicants standing at the front of the line that there were no applications. Instead, they were instructed to send self-addressed stamped envelopes so the company could put them on a waiting list to be considered when an apartment becomes vacant in one of the roughly 400- federally-subsidized units in the eight buildings along E. 163rd and Simpson streets.

Terrence and Selena Brown came to claim their spot at the head of the line at 1:30 a.m. in front of the office doors so they wouldn’t miss their chance to apply when the office opened eight hours later.

“We’re in a shelter, trying to get help,” said Selena Brown, 36. Brown explained that she, her husband and two teenage children were forced to leave their Gerard Avenue apartment in February and move to a shelter in Soundview when the city’s Work Advantage program was slashed. The monthly check they used to receive from that program supplemented their low-wage jobs, helping them pay the rent.

“That’s why we’re number one in line,” said Terrence Brown, 41, who works in maintenance in Manhattan’s West Village. “They just told us you’ve got to beat the crowd.”

Leopole Roberts, 65, said that he had seen a mob of people in front of the building the day before while riding in the back of a car. When he got out to inquire, people told him he would have to come early to get an application.

“There are four people living in a one-bedroom apartment that’s broken into rooms. There’s too many traffic. I can’t live like that,” said Roberts, adding he showed up at 4 a.m. to “beat the hundreds.”

Tempers rose when word fanned through the crowd that there were no applications available. Some tried forcibly to gain access to the building’s main office, and shouted obscenities at staff and a local housing activist who tried to relay the company’s instructions. Security guards kept the crowd out of the office until two police officers arrived and told the group to leave.

David Gartenlaub of PRC Management’s main office in Westchester explained that the company’s local staff had handed out applications the previous day but then, too, some in the long line had become belligerent, so the staff decided to have prospective tenants send requests for applications in the mail instead of getting them in person.

Gartenlaub said a false rumor circulated among the crowd that vouchers for Section-8 housing would be given out, causing many to return to the central office on the 17th, although some applicants insisted PRC staff had sown the confusion by promising to hand out applications the following day.

“I’ve been here since 2:30 this morning,” said Jessica Hernandez, who lives in a shelter in Mott Haven and said she was told by staff while waiting on line Monday to return Tuesday. “I just want them to honor what they said.”

Michael Nowlin, the general manager of the 163d Street complex, said that although there are no apartments currently available, the first 500 applicants will be put on a waiting list.

“One of the things we don’t want to do is have people on the waiting list for 10 years,” he said, explaining that the company’s decision to cap the applicant pool at 500 is due to the sharp increase in the need for subsidized housing. “The demand is so overwhelming,” he added.

Through Section-8, the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development pays private building owners up to  30 percent of tenants’ rents, making up for the portion low-income renters cannot afford to pay.

Those wishing to apply should send a self-addressed, stamped envelope no later than April 27th to: PRC Management LLC, 955 E. 163rd St., Bronx, NY, 10459.

The buildings included in the complex are 975, 985, 995 and 1000 Simpson St., 1075 and 1083 Longfellow Ave, 1076 Faile Ave. and 1240 Westchester Ave.