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The city housing authority has systematically weakened its officially-sanctioned tenants council to the point where the group has become useless, tenant leaders tell City Limits.

A growing number of tenant leaders are organizing to criticize the New York City Housing Authority’s treatment of the nine-member Interim Council of Presidents (ICOP). Since its creation five years ago, ICOP has served as the authority’s advisory group on tenant issues.

Advocates say NYCHA has long tried to manipulate ICOP chairmen and, according to tenant leaders, that pressure reached its apex last spring during the authority’s failed attempt to gain resident approval for a plan to set aside a handful of projects for middle-income tenants.

“The Housing Authority wants us to be passive and to go along with the program,” said Ron Ward, Brooklyn East’s ICOP chairman. Ward claims the authority has denied ICOP any means of communicating directly with tenants, including a column in the Housing Journal, which is distributed to all tenants. “They have a way of jerking people around.”

Ward and others also claim NYCHA denies council members space to meet at its lower Broadway headquarters–unless NYCHA officials sanction the meeting.

Tenant leaders–and some ICOP chairmen and women–have been meeting regularly with advocates from Legal Aid, the Community Service Society and the New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition to figure out a way to reform ICOP. “The leaders are beginning to see they’re being used,” said Claude Rolo, organizer and policy analyst for NYSTNC. “Any [tenant leader] who has tried to do stuff has had problems.”

Hilly Gross, NYCHA’s spokesman, denies that the authority has ever put pressure on members to obey them. “It is selected by the tenants, run by the tenants and chosen by the tenants,” he said. “We have no say in its constitution. ICOP represents the tenants to us. It is not an ideological love-slave. It is definitely not part of the Housing Authority.”

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