Their buildings on 114th Street won’t be torn down–merely gutted and rebuilt. Nonetheless, the news was a bombshell for the tenants of A. Philip Randolph Houses in Harlem. This winter, they learned that they would be displaced for a long time, and that some of them weren’t going to be able to come back.
Now the residents have been hit with another surprise: In May, the New York City Housing Authority announced that it will not be seeking the federal funding that would not only have fixed the buildings but added social services counseling, job training and a computer lab to the project.
Earlier this year, tenants learned that the local housing authority planned to apply for federal money to rebuild the 36 run-down tenement buildings that form this housing project. But there was a big catch, one that outraged residents. The funding was to come from HOPE VI, a federal housing program that requires that developments be scaled down in size or density. Once the rehab was complete, there wouldn’t be room for all 322 families that now live in the buildings.
With the help of Harlem elected officials, tenants successfully pressured NYCHA to revise its blueprints and squeeze in additional low-rent apartments alongside the new condos and higher-priced rentals that the federal government requires through this program. It seemed to be a brilliant compromise, fulfilling tenant needs, housing authority priorities, and federal funding rules.
But weeks later, the housing authority suddenly announced that it wouldn’t apply for the money after all.
According to sources familiar with the discussions, an internal housing authority review concluded in late April that the application wouldn’t meet the federal government’s stringent requirements for the competitive HOPE VI grants. (Among many other things, the projects to be rebuilt must be seriously deteriorated and be replaced largely with low-rise, owner-occupied townhouses.)
Tenants were furious about the decision, and even angrier that Sharon Ebert, the agency’s director of housing finance and development, had given a detailed presentation on the plan only days before at a community board meeting–even though she reportedly already knew the application was dead.
The switcheroo was particularly embarrassing for tenant association leader Roberta Coleman, who had announced at the meeting, “I am in agreement with HOPE VI. If there are things I don’t know, I’m relying on elected officials to tell me.”
“This is the hope that turns into a lie,” rages Councilman Bill Perkins, whose Harlem district includes the buildings. He predicts the housing authority will have a tough time regaining tenants’ trust. “People are now going to fear the worst–the racism fears, the gentrification fears, all the bogeymen are going to come out.” Perkins had a particularly strong stake in the process because he helped the tenants negotiate the deal.
NYCHA Commissioner John Martinez reportedly told the project’s planners that the city will proceed with the reconstruction anyway, using other sources of money.