A group of 150 East Harlem families on the verge of eviction now have a reprieve–although it’s precarious, to say the least.
As we reported several weeks ago, the Department of Housing and Urban Development took over eight federally-subsidized apartment buildings at the Pleasant East development in February, when the negligent landlord finally gave up on the properties. According to the feds, the buildings are in such wretched shape that all the residents must be out by July 1. But many of the tenants don’t agree. They say that problems aren’t so bad–things like corrosion, mold, pests, missing tiles, broken windows, leaky roofs–and they don’t want to leave.
Now, under pressure from tenants and from the organizing group ACORN, HUD officials say they’re trying to work out a deal to repair the run-down buildings.
Charlie King, the new regional representative for HUD secretary Andrew Cuomo, told City Limits that the department was now calculating how much it would cost to make the buildings viable again. (King has been on the job less than two weeks, replacing Bill DiBlasio, who left in order to manage Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign.)
For HUD, it’s a matter of throwing good money after bad. The department is now stuck with multi-million dollar defaulted mortgage, and has been pouring as much as $560,000 a year into these buildings in rent subsidies for the last decades. What it comes down to, said Deborah Van Amerongen, local director of Multifamily Housing, “is a matter of whether the buildings can support the amount of debt that would have to be incurred [to repair them]. Based on [the information] we have now, the buildings cannot support it.”
But for the tenants, it’s a matter of having to leave a long-time home, buildings that they’ve patched up for years.
King said that in the meantime, eviction plans would be on hold, although he would not officially rescind the order. “[ACORN] asked us to not use r-word, which is relocate, for three weeks,” he said. “We’re working very closely with them to come up with best information to resolve the situation.” But King was cagey about the ultimate fate of the tenants, and refused to disclose HUD’s preliminary repair estimates for the buildings.
ACORN is working with contractors to provide an alternate cost estimate, which HUD has promised to review.