PRICE NO BARGAIN FOR TENANTS

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When the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development finally moved in January 2000 to foreclose on the owners of Bed-Stuy’s Willard J. Price Houses, tenants at the 192-unit Section 8-subsidized complex thought their troubles were finally over. The owners, a company called BPC, had been caught misappropriating repair money from HUD, leaving the buildings in terrible condition. By 2001, tenants were told, HUD would sell the dilapidated buildings to a new owner, who would finally fix perpetually broken elevators, install fire alarms and take care of other badly needed maintenance.

Nearly a year and a half later, however, the residents are still waiting, as HUD slowly works through the technicalities of foreclosure. Meanwhile, tenants say the company HUD has hired as interim manager has made only shoddy repairs at best.

“We’re still paying rent. Shouldn’t we get basic upkeep and services at least?” asked Carmella Smith, a tenant at Willard J. Price. Even when management does respond, Smith said, the repairs are not done well–her new kitchen floor, for example, is splintering and full of holes. (HUD officials did not respond to questions for this story.)

HUD uses the same company, Arco Management, to run most of the buildings it removes from New York City landlords who seriously violate the terms of their federal subsidies. Arco also has a similar arrangement at Shiloam houses, a HUD-subsidized complex five blocks away from Price that is also going through foreclosure.

But the management deals at Price and Shiloam are temporary, and Arco staff say the arrangements prevent them from doing effective maintenance. “We don’ t have the money to do much more than emergency repairs,” explained Arco’s Lillian Figueroa, who manages Shiloam.

Arco started out with $90,000 awarded to Willard J. Price tenants who sued HUD in 1999 seeking repairs. With that money, Arco has replaced doors, windows and ceilings. But Figueroa says that there are not enough funds to finance the complete rehabilitation the buildings need; money is available only for emergency repairs, such as fixing leaky pipes and getting rid of fire hazards. For anything else, said Figueroa, residents will have to wait until the new owner, Proto Property Service, takes over.

Jeffrey Dunston of the Northeast Brooklyn Housing Development Corporation, which has been organizing the tenants, says that once the transfer of ownership is complete HUD will provide a $3 million grant to jump-start the buildings’ rehabilitation. But that may be as much as six months off, according to Dunston. And the money also comes at a price: Under the new owner, the buildings will leave HUD’s Section 8 program, allowing vacant apartments to be rented at market prices.

Current tenants, who will receive Section 8 subsidy vouchers from the city Housing Authority, aren’t putting promises in the bank. “I think the whole situation comes down to a total disrespect for us,” said Smith. “Our resident association has been trying to set up a meeting with ARCO and HUD for almost a year to discuss these problems, and they simply haven’t responded. It’s frustrating that they refuse to communicate with us.”