With two weeks left until NYCHA plans to eliminate its security program at senior buildings, tenants weigh in on their safety needs.

Senior security cuts

Adi Talwar

The lobby of NYCHA’s Vandalia Houses in Brooklyn, one of dozens of senior public housing buildings expected to lose its unarmed security program at the end of June.

Terry Campuzano, tenant association president at Meltzer Tower, a 20-story senior building in Lower Manhattan, wants to expand security guard service hours at his complex.

Following a May 7 budget hearing, Campuzano told City Limits that he’s noticed non-residents following New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) workers into the building, using bottle caps and spaghetti sauce cans to prop open the lobby door.

There are security cameras all over the building, he said, but no one monitors them, and the intercom system is broken. “People are afraid because they have roaming kids coming in the building,” he added. A security guard is stationed at the development daily from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m, but Campuzano wants to see daytime hours covered as well.

But rather than expanding security coverage, NYCHA is on the cusp of eliminating it. On June 30, NYCHA says it will be suspending its unarmed security service at its 55 senior buildings, a subset of the authority’s 2,411-building portfolio. Most of these senior buildings currently have security for one eight-hour shift each day, according to NYCHA. 

Cutting the service, according to the authority, will save close to $7 million, helping to close a $35 million gap in its 2024 operating budget. 

Since 1999, NYCHA has had a security program which places guards in senior housing developments across the city—a program that tenants told City Limits makes them feel safer in their homes and have a good night’s rest.

But with the program sun-setting in two weeks, senior tenants and politicians alike are voicing concerns about what this change could mean for the safety of a vulnerable population of New Yorkers.

At the budget hearing last month, NYCHA Chief Executive Officer Lisa Bova-Hiatt said she must prioritize improving building conditions—a responsibility overseen by federally-appointed monitors as part of a 2018 agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“Right now, we are laser focused on our requirements of providing water, elevators, everything that’s required by us by the HUD agreement—security is not one of them,” she testified.

There are “no good tradeoffs,” added Chief Operating Officer Eva Trimble, noting that utility costs increased by $40 million this year, exacerbating budget challenges. 

NYCHA is making other efforts to boost security, she said, including walk-throughs with residents to identify “risks and security hazards” and calling on the New York City Police Department to canvas campuses across its portfolio with additional patrols. 

NYCHA Budget hearing security cuts

John McCarten/NYC Council Media Unit

NYCHA officials, including CEO Lisa Bova-Hiatt (center), testifying before the City Council at a budget hearing on May 7, 2024.

“This includes having patrols with [Department of Homeless Services] and NYPD together to patrol in our buildings for homeless folks that may be in the buildings and offering them services,” she said. 

But Bronx Councilmember Diana Ayala voiced concerns at the hearing about over-reliance on the police. 

“I just want to make sure that NYCHA is not calling the cops on kids that are hanging out in the lobby because I consider that something that is the responsibility of the landlord to address. It is not a policing matter,” she said. “And I want to remind you of the dangers of over policing Black and brown communities and the history behind that.” 

Brooklyn Councilmember Justin Brannan, chair of the Finance Committee, said that the security program for seniors should be prioritized. 

“I know better than anybody that the peanuts add up after a while, but $6.8 million for security at senior developments at NYCHA seems like something that should have been prioritized, [and] seems like something we’re going to have to fight over,” he said. “We could be spending time fighting over other things.”

“I don’t see how that doesn’t end up back in the budget in the end,” he predicted. 

Meanwhile, security remains a concern for other senior NYCHA residents around the city, including at Bronx River Addition. 

On May 22, residents at the Soundview complex had an introductory meeting about the Preservation Trust—a new funding model that a majority of voting tenants opted for in April.

During the event, which took place in the backyard of the development, residents did not talk specifically about the impending security program loss, but expressed safety concerns such as broken entrance doors and unfamiliar faces in their lobby area. 

Robert Allende, who has lived at Bronx River Addition for the past three years, said that a security guard is present during the evening hours. 

“I feel like there should not only be a security guard at night, but also during the day as well,” said Allende. “We need the security here because you never know.”

Prior to the May Council hearing, Brooklyn Councilmember Chris Banks, who chairs the Committee on Public Housing, held two emergency town hall meetings, one at the Rosetta Gaston Neighborhood Senior Center in Brownsville and the other at Vandalia Senior Center in East New York.

To his surprise, Banks heard from Vandalia Avenue residents that they had not seen a security guard present for years. “That’s an issue in itself,” Banks said at the May 6 event. 

While there are security cameras throughout the development, he continued, that is not enough to ensure safety. He cited three murders of seniors at the Carter G. Woodson Houses in the Brownsville neighborhood between 2015 and 2021.

Senior security cuts

Adi Talwar

The senior center at NYCHA’s Vandalia Houses in Brooklyn.

“This administration is not prioritizing our seniors,” Banks said. “This is a slap in the face of folks who have paved the way for us and who deserve to be prioritized.” 

“We do checks on our guards to make sure they’re showing up,” Trimble testified at last month’s budget hearing, when asked about Vandalia Houses. “So I will look into that situation.”

Larry Barton, the tenant association president, told City Limits in early May that he wasn’t even aware his building was supposed to have eight hours of security each day until the town hall took place.

Barton, who has lived at Vandalia for about six months, said he often notices cars without sticker permits in the complex’s parking spaces. He ends up calling a towing company, but would prefer to have a security guard to make those calls.

Reached for comment, NYCHA said there is security guard presence at Vandalia Avenue Houses between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. each day. 

On a visit to the campus Thursday, Vandalia Avenue tenants who spoke with City Limits gave conflicting accounts of if and when a security guard was present, some saying they have seen an individual they believe is security on-site, and others saying security was around only during the holiday season. Some were unsure if a security guard is there for a night shift because they do not go out at night.

A resident of six years at 17 Vandalia Ave. told City Limits that security guards were once present in her building but she has not seen them in about two years.

“We’re seniors, we don’t move like we used to,” she said. “I’m the one going out and coming in at 10 or 11 at night, thank god nothing happened to me.” 

Additional reporting by Jeanmarie Evelly and Chris Janaro. 

To reach the reporter behind this story, contact Tatyana@citylimits.org. To reach the editor, contact Emma@citylimits.org.

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