BITTERSWEET VICTORY

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Residents of Medgar Evers Housing in Bed-Stuy have been hopeful ever since the Department of Housing and Urban Development promised to kick out their delinquent landlord, BPC Corporation, in 1997 in exchange for more reputable owners. [“Sweet Victory,” City Limits, October 1997]. Although these new owners would be permitted to rent vacant apartments at market rate, said the feds, the current tenants were told not to worry, their rents would remain subsidized under the federal Section 8 voucher program. All you have to do, HUD said, is reapply for the subsidy.

This spring, however, tenants learned it’s not that simple. Close to 10 percent of the 315 residents were rejected for renewal, and another 25 percent were told their applications are flawed. Many are appealing their cases, but if they fail, these tenants could face a rent hike to market rate as early as this fall, or, if they can’t make the bills, be forced to leave their homes.

Without government subsidies, or the ability to pay much higher rents, say the new owners, the tenants can’t stay. “No landlord can afford maintenance and operating costs of a building without getting rent,” said Brent Sharman of the Community Service Society, which is vying to run the building with the Settlement Housing Fund, Long Life Information and Referral Network and the Medgar Evers tenant association. CSS is helping residents appeal the New York City Housing Authority’s application decisions, but, Sharman predicts, without changing the re-screening process, few will be successful.

Medgar Evers is one of the first buildings run under the Housing Authority to undergo a switch from so-called project-based Section 8 housing to a voucher system. HUD began these conversions in 1997 when many buildings’ contracts with HUD expired. Some landlords were offered the option of leaving Section 8 entirely, while, in the case of Medgar Evers, mismanagement led the feds to foreclose on the buildings and put them in receivership.

Many tenants fought for those changes, but did not foresee the reapplication process. Cases were closed for a missed appointment for which the tenant never received notice, or for a relative’s criminal record. “I can see it if I was the one that did something wrong,” said Hazel, a 17-year resident of Medgar Evers whose case was closed because of her son’s criminal record. “But I didn’t, and I don’t have the least idea what I’m going to do.”

Both HUD and NYCHA say they are working to address the application problems. Refusing to take chances, tenant advocates traveled to Washington this week to lobby Congress members for a change in the reapplication requirement. “Everyone at Medgar Evers has already proved their eligibility,” said Michelle Bonan of New York State Tenants and Neighbors. “They shouldn’t have to reapply.”