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Residents Join City and State Representatives at Rally to Support NYCHA. Photo by Pete Mikoleski
Elected Officials: “It’s Time for New York City to Get Behind Public Housing”

Residents Join City and State Representatives at Rally to Support NYCHA

New York City Council Members, State Representatives and residents banded together on August 14, to publicly support NYCHA’s efforts to preserve and improve public housing.  The rally was held as a response to recent negative published reports about NYCHA.

We Need Public Housing – Support NYCHA and its Residents Now
NYCHA residents held signs that had messages such as “Public Housing – Our Collective Responsibility” and “We Need Public Housing – Support NYCHA and its Residents Now.”
Photo credit: Pete Mikoleski

“I am a product of public housing,” said Rosie Mendez, the Chair of the City Council’s Committee on Public Housing, who lived at Williamsburg Houses in Brooklyn for 23 years.  “While there have been problems at NYCHA, they’ve been making lots of progress and that progress wasn’t being reported.  I see a light at the end of the tunnel and we need to have the residents see that light.  You don’t help the residents by blasting the leadership.”

Reports have claimed that NYCHA has hundreds of millions of dollars available that it is not spending.  However, the Authority spends its Capital funds – used for building repairs such as roofs and elevators – as quickly as the process allows for, and has met every deadline for using the funds.  “The money coming in does flow slowly, but it is a process that has to be followed,” said Bronx Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo.  “I have worked very hard with resident leaders and NYCHA to find where the money can best be used.”

Many people spoke about the sense of partnership they feel with NYCHA.  Nancy Ortiz, the Resident Association President at Vladeck Houses in Manhattan said it was that teamwork that helped lead to all 54 buildings in her development receiving security cameras and layered access control.  “We’ve had constant communication and worked together to ensure we have a security plan that is good not just for residents, but the entire community,” Ms. Ortiz said.

Elected officials have allocated approximately $41 million to install security cameras and/or layered access control at certain developments, with installation work scheduled to begin in 2012.  Queens Council Member Ruben Wills, who grew up in South Jamaica Houses, said there is too much of a focus on buildings that do not have security cameras.  “We get a lot of attention for the negative acts that happen in our developments,” he said.  “But no one ever talks about that if it weren’t for the cameras we have, we wouldn’t catch the people who commit crimes.”

Media reports have attempted to portray members of NYCHA as out of touch with the residents they serve.  But residents and elected officials spoke about how often they are in contact with NYCHA leadership and what that means to them.  This includes Mary McGee, the Resident Association President at Soundview Houses in the Bronx, who said she has been a frequent and vocal critic of NYCHA.  “We had an area that always flooded in front of our development; it had been there for more than 18 years.  They came and fixed it,” she said.  “(NYCHA Chairman) John Rhea is not just talking; he’s listening and doing something.”

Other residents held signs that had messages such as “Public Housing – Our Collective Responsibility” and “We Need Public Housing – Support NYCHA and its Residents Now.”

A common theme was the continued decrease in funding NYCHA faces from the federal government.  Brooklyn Council Member Letitia James, who also said she was critical of Chairman Rhea in the past but was won over by NYCHA’s increased efforts to help residents, said the funding cuts are a major cause of the Authority’s issues.  “We need to raise our voices and ensure resources go to people who need it the most,” Council Member James said.  “Point the finger at Washington, not here, and not at the Chairman, who has been doing the best he can.”

Despite the lack of funding, NYCHA continues to provide community and social services for residents to assist them in becoming more self-sufficient.  “NYCHA is working hard to give opportunities to residents, like the Resident Training Academy and the NYCHA/CUNY Scholarship,” said Queens Council Member Leroy Comrie.

The elected officials and residents emphasized that they will continue to fight for more funding for NYCHA, and called on others to do the same.  “A big issue is changing the mindset of residents,” said Aixa Torres, the Resident Association President at Smith Houses in Manhattan.  “We live on billion-dollar property and we need to start acting like it.  Let’s show who we are.”

By Eric Deutsch, with Ryan Dicovitsky
August 14, 2012

NYCHA Residents Applaud Maintenance and Repairs