On Thursday night, Eric Groomer came home to his room at the White House Hotel, stared at the cubicle walls, and wondered where he was going to sleep the next night. Without notification or explanation, the city welfare center had stopped paying rent for Groomer and 50 other men who live at this single room occupancy hotel on the Bowery. Now, Groomer was about to be thrown out.
Groomer has been living in the White House since January, getting regular checks from the Human Resources Administration for his $215-a-month rent. But in August, the checks stopped coming. Groomer figures that he called his caseworker about 80 times since then, but he never got an explanation as to why he was cut off.
Last week, Groomer was facing a Friday morning session in housing court. “I don’t know what I’m going to tell the judge,” he said sadly on Thursday night. “I’m gonna get evicted for sure.”
The White House is one of the few SROs left on the Bowery, places where men can get a tiny room or a six-foot-square cubicle for about $10 a night. Many of the men at the White House are clients of the Waverly Center, the 14th Street branch of the city welfare office.
Tenants there started getting requests for their regular rent checks denied in May, according to one White House employee. By the fall, 51 men were no longer getting their checks.
Now, the rent on some of the cubicles is as much as six months behind. Unless a last-minute reprieve from the welfare agency comes through, the men may get the boot.
After holding off for months, hoping the checks would be restored, the White House management recently started filing eviction cases. “This business has been through hell,” said the employee, speaking on condition of anonymity. He pointed to a ledger of current tenants, heavily lined with red. “We have lost money for the past six months. They’re not only hurting the guys, they’re hurting the businesses that serve the guys.”
Lawyers at the Urban Justice Center (UJC) and MFY Legal services have been helping the men with their eviction cases and leaning on the Waverly Center to restore their benefits. But the rationale behind the check denials is still a mystery to the attorneys. “The only official reason I’ve been able to get is that it’s policy” not to pay rent for White House tenants, said UJC lawyer Jenny Watson.
The Waverly Center declined to discuss the denials. But one employee, who refused to give her name, read a memo from HRA headquarters over the phone on Thursday. Dated December 2, the memo indicated that “a clearance was obtained” allowing the agency to again pay rent to White House residents at the level of $215 a month.
Back at the White House on Thursday, nobody yet knew about the memo, and it wasn’t clear if the money would come through in time to stop the evictions. If it didn’t, said Eric Groomer, “I’ve got to get out of here and I have nowhere to go.”