Tenants at Gates-Patchen Apartments, a 104-unit development in Bedford-Stuyvesant, thought their problems were over. After years of leaks, sagging floors and electrical problems, the city had finally negotiated a deal under which a local nonprofit would help convert the buildings into a tenant-owned cooperative. But on Aug. 31, when the development’s “project-based” Section 8 contract expired, that plan was thrown into jeopardy.
Although the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has agreed to issue the tenants individual portable vouchers instead, they have not yet been distributed. That’s left the new nonprofit owner, the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB), in limbo. Without the development’s $23,000 monthly HUD subsidy, UHAB says, it can’t afford basic maintenance. Without necessary repairs, the apartments won’t pass inspection and the tenants, even if they are granted vouchers, won’t be allowed to stay.
“We’re just sitting here and waiting to see what’s next,” said Nadiyah Abdullah, co-leader of the Gates-Patchen tenants’ association and a resident for 26 years. “When you’re dealing with the federal government, you’re always on guard, always ready for a fight.”
The tenants and UHAB, which shares offices with City Limits, filed suit against HUD in U.S. District Court on Oct. 13. Their motion argues that HUD is required by law to extend a building’s project-based Section 8 contract if an owner requests it. If not, tenant-based vouchers should at least be processed early enough to insure a smooth continuation of services for the tenants.
HUD officials in Washington and New York declined to comment on the litigation.
The motion is expected to be heard on Nov. 8. Meanwhile, a local coalition of tenants and advocates is pursing another legal remedy. The Partnership to Preserve Affordable Housing convinced Senator Charles Schumer to introduce legislation that would require HUD to issue new project-based Section 8 contracts following foreclosure, and provide extensions upon owners’ request. The amendment to the Senate appropriations bill passed the full Senate last week and will now go to conference committee.
Even if the Gates tenants win their battle, however, other residents of distressed HUD properties might not be so lucky. In an effort to meet mandatory budget cuts, the Bush Administration has proposed eliminating upfront grants, which help fund the rehab of dilapidated properties like Logan Gardens and Ennis Francis Houses, both in Harlem. “Without the federal subsidy, I fear that they would have gone into the hands of speculators,” said David Greenberg, policy director for the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), a membership group.
The city has vowed to fight the cuts. Upfront grants “have been very valuable to New Yorkers,” said Carol Abrams, spokesperson for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. “We are fighting in Washington for their continuation.”
Meanwhile, ANHD and other groups are keeping up the fight in New York. They took to the streets Sunday to demand that the city take greater measures to maintain its Section 8 housing stock. Already, things seem to be moving in the right direction, notes Greenberg, who praised Mayor Bloomberg’s plans to create a new city entity to oversee preservation. “We need a comprehensive strategy,” Greenberg said. “We can’t reinvent the wheel for every single building across the city.”