It’s been four long years for the residents of Medgar Evers Houses since the federal government announced they were giving the boot to their troubled Bedford-Stuyvesant public housing project’s indifferent owners. Finally, last week, they got the news they’d waiting for–a court decision that removed the final roadblock to an ambitious plan by the tenants and their nonprofit partners to rehabilitate their homes.
“Pretty soon the cigars will be lit,” said Carol Lamberg, executive director of the Settlement Housing Fund, a member of the non-profit partnership that will manage the complex of 13 buildings which contain 465 apartments, several stores and a boxing gym.
Last week’s decision from Judge Nina Gershon in Brooklyn federal court rejected a list-ditch effort by the project’s current owners, Medgar Evers Houses Association Limited Partnership, formerly known as BPC Management, to block the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development from taking its property.
HUD took over the buildings and began the lengthy foreclosure process in 1996 after tenants successfully sued Medgar Evers Houses Association Limited Partnership for failing to provide safe housing despite receiving more than $20 million in federal rent subsidies since 1986. Not only were their apartments riddled with violations of the city housing code, but lax security helped make the complex a notorious and violent site for drug dealing and prostitution.
Last September, after running the project for five years, HUD agreed to hand over the complex to the Settlement Housing Fund, Community Service Society, Long Life Information and Referral Network and the tenant associations. Once the foreclosure is complete, they hope, by January, the group will begin a $24 million rehab of the apartments and the common and commercial spaces, including the famed Bedford-Stuyvesant Boxing Center, which has trained fighters like former heavyweight champ Riddick Bowe. The nonprofits hope to ultimately provide an ambitious array of on-site services from job training to counseling.
“The tenants suffered for decades through a very inattentive previous owner,” said Angela Hope Weusi, director of Long Life. “Now, we’re just like, Yeah!”