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Residents and staff discuss how public housing can be preserved. (Photo by Pete Mikoleski)
Residents Are Talking; NYCHA is Listening

Community Conversations a Key Part of Plan to Preserve Public Housing

Some residents knew exactly what the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) should do: “Fix the elevators,” or “Add more surveillance cameras,” or “Replace the whole roof.” While the series of 10 Community Conversations NYCHA is holding across the City to engage public housing and Section 8 residents will set goals for the agency, it also is a discussion about the future of NYCHA. The Community Conversations are a key part of the Authority’s Plan to Preserve Public Housing – the Authority’s comprehensive plan that will serve as a vital roadmap for the next five years.

The format of the Community Conversations facilitates the dialogue needed for residents and NYCHA to work together to come up with solutions to problems. The key issues that are being addressed in the Plan are a result of extensive outreach to residents, including focus groups, a phone survey of public housing residents and Section 8 clients and an extensive survey of employees. “If we all work together, we can find solutions,” said Carlos Laboy, Deputy General Manager for Operations. “We need to make a plan together and then enact it together.”

Authority senior staff and members of the Citywide Council of Presidents jumpstart the conversations by pumping up the enthusiasm in the room, getting residents excited about the opportunity to have a significant impact on the Plan to Preserve Public Housing. “What does NYCHA mean to you,” they ask, and for many, “it’s home.” But the discussions also lay the harsh realities that need to be faced, including funding being rolled back steadily on the national level, even as NYCHA’s buildings continue to age and its budget deficits increase. There also is the potential elimination of funding for resident services that are so vital, and even longer waiting lists to get a home.

Residents view PPPH presentation as part of the Community Conversation in Williamsburg Community Center. (Photo by Pete Mikoleski)

At a Community Conversation at the Williamsburg Community Center in Brooklyn on May 2, the excitement in the room readily was apparent – the din was so loud, it was hard for people to hear the person sitting right next to them. The focus quickly turned to the first topic of the evening – why is NYCHA important to you? Having access to affordable housing overwhelmingly was the most mentioned item, but residents had other reasons as well, including access to social services. “If someone has some sort of mental illness, NYCHA has social workers. In the event that things get bad, there is someone there for you,” said Cheryl Uzamere from Pink Houses. “There isn’t another housing community that has that.”

The next group discussion, titled “Your Home,” focused on maintenance and repairs and safety and security. Residents had no shortage of ideas on things NYCHA could do. “When they come to plaster, they should find where a leak is coming from and fix it first,” said Eva Garrett from Williamsburg Houses. “There should be a live, on-line system to chat, instead of calling and sitting on hold when calling for repairs,” said Melanie Cubilete from Williamsburg Houses.

The final group discussion focused on “Ensuring NYCHA’s Future.” For NYCHA to help more people in need and take better advantage of opportunities, it needs assistance from residents. The Authority will transition families to right-sized apartments and phase in a rent increase for families that are paying less than 30 percent of their income for rent. Gloria Bonilla from Bushwick Houses said having families move into more appropriate-sized apartments is a good idea. “There is a resident in my development, a senior citizen with four bedrooms, and she is willing to downsize, but wants to stay in her development,” she said. “People would be willing to downsize if they don’t have to move to a different development.”

The Community Conversations end with a call to action to residents to stay involved and get their neighbors to join in the effort. Based on the sustained positive energy at the Williamsburg event – and the several rounds of rousing applause the residents and staff gave when it was finished – it appears this joint effort to preserve public housing in New York City is just getting started.

Residents interested in joining with NYCHA and their neighbors as part of the solution can send an e-mail to plan@nycha.nyc.gov to find out more information. Below is the schedule for the remaining Community Conversations, which will be held over the next two weeks. The first was held on April 30 at Van Dyke Houses in Brooklyn.

Saturday, May 7th 2 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Manhattanville Community Center
530 W 133rd Street – Manhattan

Saturday, May 7th 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Classic Community Center
286 E 156th Street - Bronx

Wednesday, May 11th 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Queensbridge Community Center
10-25 41st Avenue - Queens

Thursday, May 12th 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
West Brighton Community Center
230 Broadway - Staten Island

Friday, May 13th 12 p.m. – 3 p.m.
Chinese Speaking
Rutgers Community Center
200 Madison Street - Manhattan

Saturday, May 14th 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Rutgers Community Center
200 Madison Street - Manhattan

Saturday, May 14th 2 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Young Adults (18-25 yr olds)
Rutgers Community Center
200 Madison Street - Manhattan

View photos from the Community Conversations 
The Plan to Preserve Public Housing 

By Eric Deutsch
May 06, 2011