TENANTS, POLS DEMAND THE DIRT ON PUBLIC HOUSING PLAN

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It’s a little early to tell, but last week’s hearing just might mark the the beginning of the end for some of the New York City Housing Authority’s new plans to revamp public housing. Outraged tenants crammed a 700-seat auditorium, leaving hundreds more to chant and wave flags outside. Politicians who normally don’t pay much attention to public housing showed up or sent their blessings (surprise supporters included Public Advocate Mark Green, Representative Ed Towns and Staten Island/Brooklyn State Senator Vincent Gentile). And NYCHA blinked–pledging to hold nine more public hearings by the end of the month.

“It was sort of a snowball effect,” said the Center for Community Change’s Dushaw Hockett, who directs the public housing organizing campaign. “We started out small, but folks started latching on.”

Under federal public housing reform laws, the housing authority is obliged to release one-year and five-year plans. But NYCHA’s documents are vague on crucial details, and the parts that are clear have tenants in a tizzy.

For one thing, NYCHA might soon change the way it calculates rent, potentially giving rent hikes to thousands. The authority also wants to increase the number of working-class tenants in the projects, allowing them to leapfrog ahead in the 109,000-family waiting list, and offering them bigger apartments as a reward. That irks poor residents who have been living doubled or tripled up for years.

“We’re not against the changes; they’re just coming too fast,” said one Brooklyn tenant outside the hearing. “And people just aren’t getting any answers.”

Another big mystery is the authority’s stated plan to “privatize” at least one development, Baruch Houses on the Lower East Side. So far, the Authority hasn’t been forthcoming about what that might mean for Baruch tenants, or what its future privatization plans might bring.

NYCHA spokesperson Howard Marder said the federal housing department’s guidelines changed late in the process, forcing the authority to produce a plan that was confusing in some ways. “If we feel that the [tenants’] comments are noteworthy enough, we are more than willing to make changes in the plan if they’re for the better,” he said.

As for the organizers, they’ll be continuing to push for more information, and for forums where NYCHA reps will provide more answers. “We need a process where residents can pose clear and direct questions about the implications of these plans, and NYCHA provides clear and direct answers,” said Hockett.

Additional public hearings will be held at nine locations on three October dates: October 19th: In west Brooklyn, Queens, and north Bronx. October 21st: In east Brooklyn, south Manhattan and South Bronx. October 25th: On Staten Island and in south Brooklyn and north Manhattan. Exact locations will be announced later.